Life in movements and commemoration of Jyri Jaakola

How can you come from Mexico? Do they not murder everyone there? This was the question I was asked by children at the activist community Annikinkatu in Tampere when I told them that I just arrived from a social forum in Mexico.

I came to late to Jyri Jaakola’s funeral in his hometown Tampere in Finland followed by a commemoration among friends at Annikinkatu collective in the center of Tampere. Jyri Jaakola was murdered together with Beatriz Carino on April 27 while being human rights watchers to defend an indigenous autonomous commune in Oaxaca in Southern Mexico.

My work in Sweden stopped me from coming in time. But there was a commemoration also during the Tampere Social Forum later the same day were I finally could join in. As traditional in Finland a minute of silence was capturing our souls in memory of an activist that so many knew and respected. But there was also as so many times in Finland a throughout analysis of the situation for indigenous people in Oaxaca, Mexico, and other places as India and Brazil.

Outi Hakkarainen to the right and Ville Veiko Hirvelä to the right at Tamoere Social Forum commemoration of Jyri Jaakola 20th of May 2010

Outi Hakkarainen who have been many times to Mexico highlighted the polarized conflict in Oaxaca and in general the indigenous conditions in Mexico. Clarissa Abreu from Friends of the Earth in Brazil brought up the Amazonian problems and Ville Veiko Hirvelä the conflicts for Adivasis, the largest group of indigenous in the whole world with some 80 million people facing similar problems as in Mexico and Brazil. Living on land rich of natural resources and often without Western kind of formal ownership of their land they are faced with severe threats against their livelihood and the future of their people. In many places on earth the violence against indigenous peoples are increasing, and so sometimes as well against those that commit themselves to defend their rights.

In few or no other Western country is the closeness between practical commitment, intellectual efforts and politics as close as in Finland. Jyri Jaakola belonged to this tradition. It is no coincidence that he was willing to take risks to support the building of alternatives in Mexico. He did the same in Finland contributing to the solidarity efforts of the Finnish alternative movement.

Direct action against dam building at Koijärvi 1979

The alternative movement struggling for solidarity across all borders and ecological awareness came late to Finland. But when it came it all happened at the same time. It was heralded by a Gandhian style direct action to prevent the building of a dam at Koijärvi in 1979, a breakthrough for civil disobedience in the consensus oriented Finnish political culture. Soon followed occupation of houses and a music movement, mass peace movement, trade union revival and a strong movement in solidarity with the third world. In a year or two a political campaign had gained momentum gathering hundreds of people at seminars on the third world issues while activists showed their naked ass towards politicians at the step of the parliament in disgust of political unwillingness to raise the development aid.  Huge part of the population was soon informed about every popular movement aid project and given the possibility to voluntarily tax themselves of 1 percent to any of the projects. An initiative that soon gathered millions of euros each year in stable income for a wide range of projects and formed tha basis of a new organization, the Service Center for Development Cooperation with both the churches, trade unions and most other mass movements joining it making the sum of added members exceeding the total number of inhabitants in Finland. As one can imagine the campaign was a success and was able to double the amount of Finnish development aid but also became a NGO which made it necessary to also establish more radical organization as Ympäristö ja Kehitys, Center for Environment and Development. It was from this third world solidarity movement that the radical Finnish environmental movement emerged that already 1990 put the issue of climate justice on top of their agenda with people from India leading marches against the building of motorways and coordinating climate action days in 1991 in 70 countries. And thus it was no coincidence that Jyri Jaakola not only was a strong third world solidarity activists but also active in Climate Justice Action.

Estelle

Important was that the organizational efforts was backed by strong practical initiatives. Three were central with Jyri Jaakola engaged in the foremost symbol, the fair trade sailing ship Estelle. It started as the other two in the mid 1980s with an effort of building on the old sailing traditions in Finland, the last nation to have shipping companies with sailing fleet until the 1930s with their main headquarters on Åland islands. An old ship was rebuilt in Turku and finally after very many years it could sail and participate at many campaigns and summits starting its first long trip if I remember correctly at the EU Summit in Amsterdam 1997.

Jyri Jaakola belonged to this special activists community of sailors and made it to the European Social forum in 2008 were indigenous people had a special place to be at Estelle in the harbour and many sailors from neighbouring countries and more far away had their gatherings.

Peace Station in Helsinki

The two other practical Finnish initiatives from the mid 1980s has the same stubbornness stamped on them. One is the Peace station, which is exactly was it says. One of the central railway stations in Helsinki was to be teared down, one of the last traditional wooden stations in the capital surroundings. Now the station was surrounded by only new huge modern houses and no traditional wooden houses were more to be seen. So what did the Finnish movements do? Well they put the house into parts, moved it some 500 meters and put it up again as a center for all peace organizations in Finland, and still it is.

Annikinkatu in Tampere

In the mid 1980s there was also a fight in Tampere, the second biggest city in Finland and the most working class town of them all. Here as in Helsinki modern times brought the idea to destroy any sign of the working class poor past and tear down every wooden house bloc in the city center. But people started to make resistance. In the Annikinkatu bloc the residents were able to influence the selection of those renting the apartment. While all other wooden blocs in the city with people living in them disappeared this bloc is still standing.

The threats against the collective have been numerous and the rights of those living there insecure. But finally after 25 years there now seems to be a solution nearby.

It is at Annikinkatu the activists gathered to commemorate their fellow Jyri. Here the spirit is kept alive in what is labelled sometimes as the inland harbour of Estelle. Here children and grown ups are living while activists from the neighbouring community and from far away can gather strength. The future of Estelle is uncertain. The costs of maintaining the ship is very high and it is hard to make longer trips anymore. But Peace station and Annikinkatu is alive and so are we on visit.

Two days after the commemoration of Jyri Jaakola a new child with parents living in Annikinkatu was celebrated in the midst of the wooden house bloc. Flowers and presents were carried forward and there was singing. New life was welcomed.

The Mexican filt that I brought with me from Mexico was also well received among the Annikinkatu children. After the first mystery was solved, that not everyone visiting Mexico was murdered the Mexican colours was something to hug dearly. Lets hope that the Mexican rug gets a long life at Annikinkatu helped by the solidarity of Jyri Jaakola and all his likes in all the world.

The commemoration at Tampere Social Forum ended in a Mexican way. Contrary to the Finnish tradition of being silent in memory of a person the Mexican way of doing the same thing at the social forum in Mexico City was adopted. Thus the commemoration ended by a minute of applause for Jyri Jaakola and Beatriz Carino, a ceremony that was well adopted and did not only make the hands warm.

Tord Björk

Listen to their voices:

Jyri Jaakola interview 01.02.2010

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMy7yTvFiNU

Discurso de Bety Cariño. Tecuán News – Kolectivo Azul. Embajada de canada, 3 de diciembre de 2009

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWPkLcoVoaI

About the murder: Mexico’s state of impunity

http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/2349

SIPAZ Peace blog posts about the caravan attack with many links:

http://sipazen.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/oaxaca-information-update-on-observation-caravan-attack/

http://sipazen.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/oaxaca-the-peace-network-condemns-armed-attack-against-observation-caravan-in-san-juan-copala/

http://sipazen.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/oaxaca-attack-on-observation-caravan%E2%80%942-dead-and-4-missing/

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