Nov 5, 2016

Former neo-Nazi joins anti-radicalisation project

October 31, 2016

Finland's first project aimed at preventing radicalisation is off to a promising start. The project is intended to support those who want to leave extremist groups, whether they are political or religiously motivated. Bringing expertise to the project is a former neo-Nazi leader.

Esa Holappa käytti ennen toista nimeään Henrikiä, koska nimikirjaimet HH sopivat hyvin natsiaatteeseen. Nykyisin hän suosii etunimeään.
Esa Holappa at the Helsinki Book Fair Image: Eero Mäntymaa
This past weekend at the Helsinki Book Fair, the former neo-Nazi leader Esa Holappa took part in a discussion on the Finnish Resistance Movement, which he co-founded and led until four years ago.

"I wanted to keep everyone of a different colour out of Finnish and European society. In Nazi terminology, I considered them enemies of the white race," he said after the event based on his book Minä perustin uusnatsijärjestön (I Established a Neo-Nazi Group).

Last month the white-supremacist Finnish Resistance Movement was back in the headlines after a rally in central Helsinki during which one of its members allegedly attacked a passerby, who died of his injuries.

Far-right nationalists and jihadists

Now Holappa serves as an expert to a national project called Exit Radinet, which is part of the EU-funded Radical Awareness Network. The fledgling Finnish venture, which was launched early this year, is partly funded by the Slot Machine Association (RAY).

That he means he listens to and provides support and counselling for individuals who want to detach themselves from extremist groups, whether they are far-right nationalist or jihadist. It also offers support to those whose loved ones have become radicalised.

So far 12 young men – all young men who've been radicalised – have made contact with Radinet.

"They're people who are in difficult situations and who want to make changes in their lives. Regardless of whether the extremism is based on religion or politics, the starting point and how the process begins are usually quite similar," explains Radinet project coordinator Oussama Yousfi. He's an Algerian-born community educator and member of the city of Turku's youth board.

Breaking the cycle of violence

Practical help may include helping to find a new place to live or a job, as well as peer support from those with similar experiences such as Holappa. The former right-wing leader says that he wishes he had had someone like that to talk to when he was a teenager fascinated by Nazism.

"If I think about myself at the age of 18, somebody could have challenged my views by offering me more education and communication. I think that can be a way to influence extreme racist thinking," he tells Yle.

Although the project is just getting off the ground, it has already achieved some small successes, says Yousfi.

"The best thing about this work is the feedback, when we hear that through Radinet people have regained their faith in humanity," says Yousfi.

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