Each month, we will feature a different WRI affiliate. This month it's Aseistakieltäytyjäliitto, an affiliate in Finland.
The Finnish Union of Conscientious Objectors (Aseistakieltäytyjäliitto, AKL) was founded in 1974. In its early days it worked mainly with questions relating to civilian service under the name Union of Civilian Servicemen (Siviilipalvelusmiesliitto). During the 1980s, total objection was involved in the organisation’s work and its name was changed to the Union of Conscientious Objectors (COs) in 1987. And since early 1990s, AKL’s field of activity has broadened and nowadays it is an antimilitaristic organisation working at a grassroots level on many different questions related to militarism.
Finland still maintains a very broad conscription for males (about 65% of young men do military service), so CO is still important part of our work. We help all people who do not want to: those who want to do civilian service, total objectors and people who seek exemption from service. Every year almost a thousand conscripts or their relatives/friends contacts us directly and ask for advice, and tens of thousands seek answers to their conscription-related questions on our websites. We also work for improvements to legislation by taking part in public discussion, by lobbying, by different kinds of protests and by using international human rights bodies.
Militarisation of youth is a very important theme also in Finland. In Finland it works mainly via conscription system but nowadays the military is also strongly present in schools and some youth happenings. For decades AKL has organised an ‘anti call up-campaign’ during the call-ups in autumn. Traditionally, this campaign has involved sharing our leaflets about the alternatives to military service outside the call up centres, but nowadays we put a lot of effort into distributing information also in social media. We are also present at many festivals during the summer. Other Finnish peace organisations have also projects to teach peace and nonviolence to young people in schools.
Nowadays we have also a lot of projects not directly related to conscientious objection. Since the 1990s, AKL has been an active participant in international disobedience actions against NATO and nuclear weapons in England, Scotland, Belgium and elsewhere. For almost 20 years we have coordinated the Food Not Bombs campaign in Finland and organised an international Food Not Bombs camp in Helsinki every summer. And one of our main projects for 2018 is a ’Baltic Peace Exercise’ which will be organised in Finland in the summer of this year and will gather activist from Finland, Sweden, Russia and hopefully also from Baltic states.
Finland is a very militarised society, although it might not look like it at first sight. Finnish militarism is partly wrapped in history, in Finland’s participation in the Second World War, and partly it’s a result of Finland’s geographical position as a neighbour of Russia. Many people have seen the military or even conscription as a necessity to guard against possible threats from an unpredictable eastern neighbour. The current tense situation in Europe has made these doubts more vocal and visible in Finnish society.
This if course shapes the context we are working in. Creating a civilian service which is non-discriminatory by international human rights standards has been a task too difficult for Finnish authorities. Finland still gives unconditional prison or home detention sentences to all total objectors. And until this decade there was hardly any discussion about the future and justification of conscription. Now there is, but the idea most promoted in public discussion is not to abolish it but to extend it, maybe by creating some kind of a “half-militarised” mandatory national service also for women.
However, things are slowly changing even in Finland. The discussion about “reforming conscription” is a sign that that the traditional Finnish male conscription is getting into a crisis. Ideas about “universal national service” are not realistic, as there’s no need for it, it would be vastly expensive and it would probably break against the ban of forced labour in international human rights treaties. So the only way out is to create a military system based on voluntary soldiers.
In February, the Helsinki appeal court decided that sentencing total objectors is against the Finnish constitution. At the moment total objectors are not sentenced, as the courts have postponed other cases until the Supreme court has given it’s decision.