Don't Finnish the forests

Feature story - 22 April, 2005
The stillness of the night is broken by the sound of air raid sirens, rock music and chainsaws. Men in balaclavas and combat gear prowl around, looking in windows, blowing horns in the ears of anyone they can get close to.

Noose left as warning to Greenpeace activists at our Forest Rescue Station in Lapland.

Dangerous machinery is driven dangerously close to where people aresleeping, and trees felled in the middle of the night. Foul smellingliquids and chicken faeces are daubed on doors and walls.

Treesare set on fire. Burning crosses are waved, nooses are left hangingfrom trees. Snowscooters are driven around high speed - endangeringanyone who might get in the way. Death threats are the order of theday.

Welcome to Finland, April 2005 - an EU country thatlikes to pride itself on both its environmental and human rightscredentials. And these are the tactics carried out by members of theso-called "Anti-Terror Info Camp", set up by employees of, and with thepermission of, the state-owned forestry company, Metsähallitus, to driveGreenpeace activists out of the Forest Rescue Station.

Violence, intimidation

Nightafter night, since April 7th, in the woods of Nellim, Lapland, ouractivists have been subjected to systematic - but also chaotic -intimidation and violence.

It's getting more bizarre everynight - last night individual activists were cornered, with three orfour masked, intoxicated men blowing air horns into their ears. Thepolice were called to the scene after violence towards the ForestRescue team became imminent. The police arrived - but suggested thatthe behaviour of the masked men was 'normal'.

Our actions to save this ancient forest: undeterred, despite aggression and cold

Despitethis harassment, our work in Finland continues undeterred - a few daysago, they dumped a truckload of logging waste outside governmentoffices in Helsinki, about 1000km south of the Forest Rescue Station.

Climbersunfurled a banner from the roof of the Ministry of Agriculture andForestry (MAF) reading: "Don´t Finnish the Sámi forests".  Theministry has been deadly silent on the issue, despite sanctioning thedestruction of reindeer forests over several decades, and allowingMetsähallitus, to profit from the conflict between traditional reindeerherders and logging.  These ancient forests have been logged toproduce disposable products such as copy paper and magazines.

What does "Anti-Terror" mean to you?

Backin March, we set up the Forest Rescue Station to highlight the role ofMetsähallitus and paper companies such as Stora Enso in forestdestruction. But it seems Metsähallitus is unwilling to resolve theissue in a civilised way, and the conflict has escalated.  On 7April, Metsähallitus´ workers set up the so-called "Anti-Terror InfoCentre" close to our Forest Rescue Station.

There must havebeen some kind of translation issue when they decided on "Anti-Terror"as a name.  Workers at the camp have tried to intimidateGreenpeace activists during the night by brandishing chainsaws andhorns, banging metal drums, or driving snow-scooters around the Stationblasting an air-raid siren. A heavy forest machine has been illegallydriven around the Rescue Station, dumping tree trunks and stumps closeto people, violating safety regulations for such machines. Trees havebeen cut down and burned (despite a current moratorium on logging inthe area) and crucifixes have been burnt.  At least the"anti-terrorists" are probably not getting much sleep either.  

Monika,an activist who visited the camp, said, "Lucky as I am, I had thechance to see those loggers in reality when I was in the camp. Theirinfantile and useless behaviour, however, is not only quite annoying,but also funny enough to laugh about at the same time."

Death threats

Perhapsmore seriously, one of the Finnish campaigners has also received deaththreats via a mobile phone call.  Strangely, the caller did nothide his own number or identity, and blatantly stated "If you will notremove the camp in 48 hours, some people will be killed....You will bethe first one....I can kill if needed...There's no harm if I'll end upin prison." Concerned about our activists, the New Zealand ConsulGeneral wrote to the camp saying, "You can feel assured that I will notaccept illegal conduct by anyone - least of all the authorities. And I have the means of intervening if necessary."

To date,MAF has been unwilling to solve the conflict. They have pushed theirresponsibility and solutions back to local level of Metsähallitus,despite of the fact that it has no genuine will or tools to solve theconflict. The ministry hasn't even bothered answering letters sent bythe indigenous reindeer herders or a joint letter from WWF, Greenpeaceand the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.

Recently, wetook some authors from different European countries to the ForestRescue Station. Despite an initially tense atmosphere, the authorsapparently managed to make headway and hold very civilisedconversations with the "Anti-Terror" workers. Half way through thedialogue, the loggers even began to fold up their banners and put theirsigns on the ground. (The banners read "Greenpeace = Al Qaeda" and"F*ck FSC!" However, more positively was a longer banner that read: 'Welove you authors'!) The authors seemed to really appreciate someopportunity to hear the other side of the discussion, particularlygiven that Stora Enso and Metsähallitus have refused to meet with them.

Read more

You can read more about the rescue camp, including videos of the "Anti-Terror" workers, on the Forest Rescue Station weblog.

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