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Interview with a Finnish Conscientious Objector Made Prisoner
by Alexandra Pereira
2009-05-15 09:41:25
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It is timely for International Conscientious Objectors' Day 2009 to republish an interview from late 2008 with a Finn imprisoned for refusing to take either option of Finnish Conscription.

* * * * * 

First of all, please describe your complete experience in prison.

During the first two days I was held in a Prison building that is condemned by the European Council because it does not fulfill all the human rights requirements. It was during the wintertime and the window was rather drafty. I was cold and shivering under the blanket. I tried to stay still not to waste energy because the food really didn't have sufficient nutritional contents. In general I didn't get enough to eat. I had even announced beforehand that I was a vegan and still they hadn't done anything about it.

When I saw the cell I was thrown in to, I decided that it would be mandatory to clean the contraption as well as I could manage. The walls were partly covered with vomit or other secretion substance that wasn't coming off during this century. The walls were dripping with tar and nicotine when I washed them so that a blue towel I used for cleaning turned greenish-brown. There was sand and glass on the floor and there was a hidden surprise behind the toilet... a dirty razorblade that cut my finger. It took months before I got to know that it did not contain any diseases. During that time I suffered from stress induced diarrhoea and could not absorb food properly. My weight dropped four kilos within the first month.

When I wiped my nose I blew out black snot or mucus, the air in there was that bad. I do not smoke. When they locked me up they did not give me a chance to make a phone call even though I asked it twice and it is listed as my right in the prison law. They did not provide me with a list of human rights’ authorities, even though it is requested by the law as well. When my friends tried to call me from outside the prison to ask if I was all right they refused to give any information.

Afterwards I was transferred to a building next door, a so-called open prison. I was situated in a cell with a cell mate who used to smoke indoors. Regulations are clear on the matter that people who do not smoke should be given a cell of their own. I got my own smoke free cell only after forty days or so, even though it could've been possible to organize it earlier. I was suspected of drug use more often than people who were in there for drug use or had actually used drugs, my locker was being inspected when I was not around, even though the prison law is quite clear that I should be present during inspections.

There was this one time when I was coerced to give a urine sample for drug tests by threat. When I entered the room in which the sample was to be given I asked if I could see when a clean cup is taken from the wrappers. I got threats immediately that I was to be thrown in the shitty cell which I once already cleaned up. I never refused to give a urine sample; I only asked to see if the cup was clean. The most shocking part is that the person coercing me was threatening with a place that actually does not even fulfill the human rights requirements of Finnish constitutional law.

Once they made an inspection for all the cells in the department I lived in. My room was clean and my bed was made and so forth. There really was nothing to complain about. And still, I was asked if my mother did not teach me how to make my bed. And I was shown how to make my bed quite meticulously. I actually could not believe it. And still can't. Do they actually think that they are doing a university student some kind of favour in self control or something, by forcing to make beds in certain way instead of other?

There are so many things that I could complain about. Most them have something to do with unequal treatment of COs. They did not allow me to see my girlfriend without supervision and told me that even if I could get a marriage certificate it would not be of any use. Later I heard that other inmates got to meet their girlfriends with only a copy of their renting bills or were even advised to get married by the prison officials.

Just during the last weekend I was accused of drug trafficking without any evidence and my room was turned upside down. I tried asking on what grounds I was suspected, and got no answers. After they brought sand on my floor and messed my bed and damaged a few books and read my letters they told me to clean up the mess. They even called me names and did not make a proper document of the search. They even told me to leave the room while they were messing up my cell.

I need to add that when I was blamed for trafficking I was made to strip bare in front of three people and even my hair was checked through. My arms were twisted to see if I had any needle marks on my arms. (No, I did not have any).

This is clearly against the law; the prison law states that I must be present if my room is searched. Afterwards I was threatened that all the other inmates would soon know who is doing the trafficking if I told anybody about what had happened. Worst part about this whole thing is that it is very hard to get people held accountable for these violations. And all I did wrong was the fact that I gave a copy of the prison law to one of my friends who got transferred to a closed prison I was in. He had apparently been using something or so I was told. I do not know what the truth is, but I do know that the search was not done properly. Apparently one is not entitled to be aware of one’s rights in prison.

The health care in prisons is such that they do not do anything until people’s arms or legs are rotting off. I have seen this with my own eyes. They let you suffer until the last minute before doing anything. They do not do anything even if someone is suicidal. They actually let people try and kill themselves, I know, I tried strangling my self and tried cutting my arteries. It is surprisingly hard to kill yourself, if there is even a small part in you that wants to live, apparently I had.

Why did you think that being a conscientious prisoner would be the best way to fight against the rules (mandatory military service) of the Finnish military system?

It is not so much a way of fighting the system. It is more like an attempt to minimize the damage that people are causing each other and the planet. It is about the fact that I can prove with my own actions that a different way of acting and living is possible. I try to be an empirical proof of the fact that veganism and antimilitarism is possible and only thing that makes it a suffering is the system. One cannot fight against the military; one can only resist giving away personal responsibility for independent thinking and blind obedience of authorities.

In today’s society obedience to authority is one of the most irresponsible things people can do. That way they are making way for the greedy and slime tongued politicians. Besides, I have no property to defend or to die for, stupidest thing ever would be to die defending somebody else’s assets that have been acquired by legalized robbery. I am too poor to go to the army and too smart to realise it. Life probably would be a lot easier if I could make other choices, too bad I do not believe in the freedom of volition.

Most young men who choose military service are scared that employers will discriminate against them if they don't. Do you know many cases of friends who chose military service because of this/or who were discriminated at work, and what do you think about it?

I think that it’s utter nonsense. Finnish law forbids discrimination on these grounds. Doing armed service is not going to benefit anybody in post-modern world. Employers don't care what you have done but what you can do for them. How are you going to bring in money for the firm and with what costs. If employees actually cared if one has a military service record, they would not hire women, and yet there is plenty of work that is effectively done daily by people who have not done any kind of service.

I actually think that proper civil service can benefit a lot more when looking for a place to work. Doing civil service instead of going to the army gives an edge at the modern labour market because it is actual work experience in a proper work place. I have friends who are actually being employed as museum and research assistants. I think the whole story of not getting a job because of not going in the army is a major hoax that people are made to believe so that they'd think that they are volunteering for military service.

18-year-olds are seldom independent thinkers. Major part of Finnish elementary education is filled with patriotic ethos and rituals. Children are told in regular intervals how the army is beneficial, etc. Even in high school the military propaganda is being propagated in totally weird contexts like in history courses of Finnish language.

Finland has been criticised by the United Nation's Human Rights Committee for human rights violations on the treatment of the Conscientious Objectors. Have you been engaged in appealing to international organisations and requesting them to intervene in such national laws?

No I have not. But I would truly appreciate the help or knowledge on how to do this. I am an Amnesty International adopté but that's about it. I'm willing to do more, but I lack the intellectual means and energy. I think that there are several stories of CO's that would deserve more day light, I am quite sure that people would be treated even worse if the political climate were any different. I would not be surprised at all if Finland would start executing its political prisoners or start treating them more harshly. It is pretty appalling that love for life and strive for equality causes CO's to end in the same place as arms dealers, killers, batterers, rapists and so forth. In some places the CO's get worse treatment than the major criminals.

If a national referendum was done with regards to the military conscription in Finland, do you think that the results would prove that your struggle is also the wish of the majority? Even if it is not, do you think that a referendum would be a viable solution, or should the law be changed directly by the parliament?

Finns are utterly brainwashed by the state's quite effective propaganda machines (especially elementary school and the national holidays). National referendum would not support my side of the issue. If people could make the choice from their hearts without the feelings of obligation to imaginary history of their ancestors or feelings of need for being a macho guy, then probably the vote would turn out differently.

Finns have been socio-historically traumatized by a war that lasted for about three months and these three months have been used over and over again in an Orwellian manner to control Finns in many different ways. Finland took part in WWII twice and the second time Finland was the culprit. It was Finland that decided to attack not the Soviet Union and this issue is still a bit hazy when discussed in history lessons of the younger generations. Finns fought with the Nazis and it is still something that is not to be spoken about.

Somehow the wrongs suffered in the miniwar of 1939 (which was lost) are turned into a heroic saga about victorious people who live in harsh conditions eating trees bark (so called pettuleipä). This heroic epic is turned into a victorious war story in which the second participation in the WWII is being justified as righteous act and we are told that it somehow saved us... but from what we're not told?

In Finland it’s very hard to get people to act disobediently against the establishment; most are scared witless by the police, army or any of the state’s officials. People are not very into defending their civil liberties in here because they trust that if something is made illegal it’s also morally right thing to do not to raise controversy or to even criticize it. Here the state officials do not make mistakes. If something is the political will of the state then it's also the right order of things and not to be questioned and many people actually believe that this is the right way to act. This crazy country has managed to get working people to vote for the parties that actually try to make things worse for them.

The law should be changed directly by the parliament, because it could not happen any other way in here. One way of getting rid of this silliness would be through the EU. If EU made it mandatory to abolish conscriptions then it could happen. Other possibility could be some kind of mysterious awakening of the collective consciousness. Alas I am not a metaphysic and do not even believe in the prospect of such things. People are so forcefully socialized to believe that countries are entities to die for and if you do not want to die for your country you are a bad you.

The brainwash mechanism taps right in to our evolutionary core, it attacks our "self" our subjective feeling of well-being. No animal wants to feel bad, because then something in "you" is wrong; perhaps a disease and it threatens one's existence. By attributing the selfhood of a person to be bad is an effective way of creating anxiety. Anxiety drives us to find something that makes it stop, makes us feel safe - being a good Finn guarantees that you are safe and can propagate your genes.

Finnish women have the choice of joining to the military service or not. Finnish men don't. What do you think about this? Will they be/are Finnish men also fighting to abolish this difference?

There are several people fighting to change this particular detail. But as stated earlier, Finns are not the kind of people who would actually want a change in the "natural" order of things ("women make babies so men must protect them"). Conservativeness is deeply enmeshed within the minds of the masses. It's hard to get people organized and to do the lobbying or to change the attitudinal climate. Many marketing mechanisms depend on the sex role stereotypes and every time there are commercials that show a proper way to be a woman or a man, the military is also given a boost as a side effect.

How do you wish that Finnish military service law will be when it's your kid's turn, when they are young adults?

I hope the nation states are being abolished and EU turns into a federate. If I am (un)lucky(?) to have a child or a few I hope they will not live in Finland if Finland still has these Stone Age laws and disregard of human rights. Finns as a collective should be ashamed of their self and yet they are not, the national pride is imprinted hard in the minds of the young early on. It’s wrong to put oneself in a position that makes the Finnish State do evil things.

COs are the ones to be blamed for, not the Human Rights violators. That is the mentality here. In a science barometer for the year 2007 there is an interesting measurement of the people’s trust in science. Finns trust the official authorities more than they do trust science. Police and the military are two of the most trusted institutions in Finland. I really think that is sad.

Can you do a final appeal?

I am not sure. Legal advice is hard to get in prison. All I can hope for is that people who read this try to write to the Finnish Minister of Justice (Tuija Brax) and the President (Tarja Halonen).

You can do just that here:

Tuija Brax, Finnish Minister of Justice:

President Tarja Halonen:

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Get it off your chest
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Emanuel Paparella2008-06-22 10:28:57
This is really sad! In my opinion the root cause of the problem of violations of human rights lies in a frank and serious discussion of this question: where are human rights anchored? The conscentious objector here interviewed is hoping that the EU representing a higher authority, hopefully possessing higher standards on human rights, will somehow rescue him from the present predicament in which his nation has placed him; or perhaps the activism of those who support his cause. But this higher authority called EU and run by the "Newropeans" is, if truth be told, nothing but a hyper-nation. If it reflects good old nationalism it will end up doing exactly what nationalism wrought, and worse. If it is the nation and/or the hyper-nation that ensure human rights via political power, what guarantees are there for the individual citizen that his rights will not be violated at will whenever the authorities representing the nation or hyper-nation so deem? None, I am afraid. Another way of putting the problem in perspective is this crucial question which I have repeatedly placed on the table in this magazine, but in vain, alas; and it is this: if there is no transcendent power on whom to anchor inalienable human rights as enshrined in a Constitution, then human rights are at the mercy of those who hold temporal power here on earth. Raw power usually ends up crushing the individual conscience.

As the representative of another hyper-power,Pilate, told Christ during his trial: “don’t you know that I have the power to condemn you or liberate you?” Unfortunately, modern man in search of his soul, has forgotten the answer that Christ gave to Pilate and his likes; or perhaps he is not interested in listening to an answer for he thinks he already knows the answer.

AP2008-06-22 18:19:30
What comes to my mind on this subject is just this: who is the criminal here, who wants freedom of choice or who forces the choices of the individuals to go a determined way?

Emanuel Paparella2008-06-22 18:40:14
The answer to that question is obvious: the State. History and Machiavelli teach us that the State, which has the power, usually wins the argument since it is the State that has the political power on which inalienable human rights are anchored. How about anchoring them somewhere else? Does that come to anybody's mind? One wonders!

AM2008-06-22 19:28:03
Today, after I took my friend - the one being interviewed here - back to prison after two-day prison leave, he was inspected very carefully. Now that he is being suspected from drug trafficking, they are doing all kinds of less funny things. Just the paranoia of prison guards made them to test his urine and alcohol level of breath, followed by performing the most careful inspection of his belongins so far. I can only hope that they will forget about him, so that he can suffer the rest of his penalty.

I have been following my friend's case since around 2001, when he first talked about refusing to go to the army. One of the issues that were left out from this interview is the whole insanity of the democratic theater called trial of justice. Late 2007, when there was four conscientious objectors (CO) having their trial, the session itself lasted for less than an hour. Every single one of them got the maximum penalty, no matter whether they were first-timers or without any previous criminal record. Each of them got maximum of 15 minutes of time to get the judgement, which simply cannot be enough to even hear the case.

Theater play, I say, with lives of young men. Seems that Finns are still having a head start to Sweden in using Orwell's 1984 "as an instruction manual" (http://bergie.iki.fi/blog/big_brother_lives_in_sweden.html) as another friend of mine stated after the controversial eavesdropping law passed through.

When I asked what more can I do for our common cause, he told me that one important thing would be to give support for conscientious objectors. There are 11 CO's in Finnish prisons at the moment, usually very alone with their opinions. If you have a moment of extra time, please write a supporting letter to them in person. Even a postcard will do, but the best is probably a letter.

It is very important for them to get a message that their opinions are heard outside prison walls, that they have the strength to keep on going. My friend tried to commit suicide and I want to do everything from preventing others of having similar ideas.

List of CO's of 2008:


Thanos2008-06-23 08:41:26
To say I'm shocked it will be a lie, unfortunately things are even worst for conscientious objectors in Greece, you see there is the excuse of Turkey and the resent events in Cyprus and being conscientious objector is simply ...unwelcome for the often nationalists. As far I know the conscientious objectors have to serve five years in prison and the conditions are really bad, as our friend here says much worst than been a murderer.

Rene Wadlow2008-06-23 13:10:37
This is an interesting interview, and a sign that we must work for prison reform in all countries, since Finland is probably not the worst. I had been active in the long process to get co status recognized as a human rights in the UN Commission for Human Rights. A review of the issue comes up every two years. While the Human Rights Council (as it is now) is not a court and does not have power to impose its decisions on a State, there is a moral pressure. The Council does not deal with individual cases but with "country situations". However we know country situations but the addition of individual cases. Oral or written presentations can be made only by NGOs in consultative status with ththe UN. I would suggest writing to two NGOs who have been active on the CO issue. You can mention my name as the link. The International Peace Bureau, 41 rue de Zurich, CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland and the Quaker UN Office, 13 Ave du Mervelet, CH 1209 Geneva. With best wishes, Rene Wadlow, representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

AP2008-06-23 13:36:14
Priceless tips once again, Mr. Rene :) Thank you.

Jonni Lehtiranta2008-06-30 16:19:14
I'm a finnish pacifist and find myself disagreeing very much about most things with the interviewee.

We have freedom of several options. Either army training, army training without weapons (you'd be a medic / cook / something), civil service, or jail. So yes, the state demands a little something from us, and we have several options, one to suit everybody.

Why anyone in their right minds would rather go to jail than do civil service really beats me. And additionally, if someone does not want to be a part of the finnish society, so that he would also give something in addition to receiving so much, what should I actually think of him? Civil service means spending 3 weeks in training (computers, first aid, protection of population) and one year in a productive, beneficial job.

And no, I do not want Finland to depend on USA for military protection. War unfortunately happens, and it's great that societies protect themselves by preparing for it.

AP2008-07-01 19:45:08
"We have freedom of several options." Of several previously chosen options, dear Jonni.
"And additionally, if someone does not want to be a part of the finnish society"
Since when being a CO means not wanting to be part of a society??
"Civil service means spending 3 weeks in training (computers, first aid, protection of population) and one year in a productive, beneficial job."
Productive and beneficial for whom??
"And no, I do not want Finland to depend on USA for military protection."
What does that have to do with CO's?
"War unfortunately happens, and it's great that societies protect themselves by preparing for it."
interesting... one prepares oneself by forcing others to war and war-framed thinking and destroys oneself by preparing to peace?

ML2008-07-28 16:05:27
State already demands taxes and that is already enough for many nations in the world.

Most of the things the state provides are aquired with taxes and do not demand slave labour or sadistic treatment of it's citzens. How participating to the military or the civil service benefits the tax revenues of the state and benefits social organization of the society is a mystery.

Jonni Lehtiranta2008-11-08 13:14:41
"Since when being a CO means not wanting to be part of a society??"

Being a CO means not accepting the less wanted aspects of belonging to a society.

"Productive and beneficial for whom??"

To the society and to the civil servant himself. At least if he has a skill he can use while working.

To ML:

I believe the national service is the MOST moral way to support an army. A paid army would effectively mean rich people paying poor people to die for them, and including normal people in war efforts is likely to keep them relatively sane, instead of only employing professional killers.

ML2008-11-21 12:15:15
War does not keep any one sane – or if it does then that is such an extraordinary claim that it demands empirical evidence to support it.

Mandatory military service is the most immoral option available. This way we are sure to have wars and keep up the stratification of societies everywhere.

JTR2008-12-18 12:06:57
Disobedience of military power is the most moral option to support the planet and the people living on it.

Emanuel Paparella2009-05-15 17:05:22
These comments are one year old. Does that mean that the interview has also been recycled on a commemarative date and it is not a new interview a year later? That things have remained exactly the way they were a year ago? As sad as that is, it may be appropriate to say so at the beginning of the article so that readers and commentators don't get the chronology confused.

Asa2009-05-15 20:35:38
It does say so on the front page intro> It is timely for International Conscientious Objectors' Day to republish an interview with a Finn imprisoned for refusing to take either option of Finnish Conscription.

Alexandra Pereira2009-05-16 00:05:14
Mr. Paparella jumping on his activist horse....

Alexander Mikhaylov2009-05-16 02:08:33
I believe that I have as much moral right as anybody to comment on this article, being a conscientious objector in my raw youth against Soviet military service and having suffered much more serious consequences than not being able to make a phone call or having to clean my cell. Finland, as a democratic country, indeed offers many choices to its youth and it is not up to many of us, as guests in this country to criticize its rules and values. Finland has been independent politically less than a hundred years, and there are still Finns alive who remember the horrors of the Winter War. With Russia as their neighbor, Finland has a moral right, nay, duty to keep an active and well trained national army. While Sweden is surrounded by democratic and cultural close neighbors, Finland has to be prepared to deal with Russia, which politics and aggression tend to change suddenly and violently. Finnish society and voters find it advisable. So why anybody should argue with their well intended policy of building strong fences? Remember, strong fences make good neighbors. And yet, again the Finnish voices are shut up by the foreigners. I would like everyone to encourage to be a gracious visitor and to address one’s interest to the situations that are truly appalling. Hint: The Russian army is still drafting every male and they made them fight, kill and die far away from home

Emanuel Paparella2009-05-16 06:26:00
Indeed, I stand corrected Asa, a regrettable oversight on my part, but obviously, having skipped reading the cover carefully before jumping on my “activist horse” the misguided observation was not directed at the editors. Regarding the all too common “activist horse” which often ends up behind the cart of theory and contemplation, there is an intriguing paradox at work there which has to do with the war against war, perhaps best expressed by Thomas Merton with this insight:
“...there is a contemporary form of violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace. It destroys one's own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of one's own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

Asa2009-05-16 08:58:27
No worries! In fact, as you may have noticed, I did add that same paragraph to the start of the article.

Alexandra Pereira2009-05-16 18:46:22
Mr. Mikhaylov: just for... once... I don't agree with you at all. If you read it right, this interview was made with a Finnish national, and was suggested by Finnish nationals too, who were concerned with him and wanted to discuss this subject matter (he attempted suicide and suffered humiliations and agressions on too many levels), turning the public attention to others in the same situation. I don't mean that the situation of Russian CO's is better - I never believed it could be, taking into account the living imperialistic desires and the fact that the Russian government is free to conspire and murder "inconvenient" Russian citizens in Moscow's downtown at daylight -, but somehow from Finland we expected something different. Don't we have that right?

Alexandra Pereira2009-05-16 19:10:23
Of course, I come from a country where this would all sound just too weird (not respecting the freedom of thought of your citizens and their right to defend peace instead of war is not constitutional; after a 20th century dictatorship which forced thousands of men to do the military service, kill and die overseas, or die after coming back - people don't forget so much pain that easily), it would all sound just far from democratic (just as the way how Bush's administration recruited soldiers in poor areas of the US, with no other life options, had very little to do with the way how a democracy is supposed to work), where military service is not compulsory anymore but voluntary, the army is for professionals (many people consider the army useless, actually) and before that law was approved it was compulsory for 3 or 4 months only. I was sensible to the appeals from my Finnish friends to make this interview, because:
1) I know several Finnish citizens who don't agree, were harmed and suffered because of such rules;
2) I remember when things, regarding this issue, changed in my country and I think they can and should change in Finland (and Russia, btw... oh but so many things have to change in Russia!) too;
3) I have a twin brother and I would have found very unfair (I wouldn't admit it, actually - and I'm sure the all family, including my father who was forced to go to the army in dictatorship times, would have exactly the same opinion/attitude) if instead of going on with his studies he was forced to go to trial and prison and be humiliated there, just because he is a pacifist anarchist and has his own head;
4) I know that the army is appealing to some women, but that's a type of career/experience that I would only consider for myself... over my dead body.

Emanuel Paparella2009-05-16 22:33:07
While riding my activist horse in cyber space I bumped into this piece of very recent interesting news directly from Finland. I know not if the person pardoned by the President of Finland is the same as the one interviewed in the above article but I think that this "noblesse oblige" pardon may be of interest to concerned readers willing to irenically consider both sides of the controversy; for indeed there are always two sides and it takes a brave journalist and a brave philosopher to consider the side he/she disagrees with:

Finnish president pardons conscientious objector

27.3.2009 at 17:27

Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president, pardoned Aki Greus, a conscientious objector, on Friday.

Last year, the man was discharged from non-military service against his will before the discharge decision was revoked as ill-founded. He then refused to serve beyond the original period of service as this clashed with his work and study plans.

Mr Greus was subsequently handed a 111-day prison sentence for refusing to complete his non-military service.

He had served about two months of the sentence before the presidential pardon.

Alexandra Pereira2009-05-17 17:14:49
How sweet of President Halonen. Doesn't she want to give a pardon to them ALL, and BEFORE they go to prison? No, Mr. Paparella, it's not the same CO.

ap2009-05-17 17:21:59
errata - "the whole family"

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