The World Cup qualification match between Finland and Russia yesterday in Helsinki was in many ways an unprecedented event. The sheer number of foreign fans in the city was astonishing - and for a Finland supporter, somewhat alarming. There were Russian fans everywhere - on the sidewalks, in the cars, on the trams, and later on, at the stadium. The Helsinki Olympic Stadium has a capacity of around 37 000 spectators, and it had been sold out. Now, naturally, one would assume that fans of the away team would colour a small section of the stadium, while the home team would occupy the remaining sections with their colours. Yesterday, it was the opposite. I don't know how they'd done it, but the Russian tricolour was dominant everywhere except in the small section that constituted the designated area for supporter group of the Finnish national team. Had the Russians of Helsinki bought tickets and sold them on the Russian market? From colours alone I'd guess that the proportions of Russian vs. Finnish fans were something like 80 to 20. No one would have guessed that Finland was the home team. Of course, the Russians who had been travelling to Helsinki for the game were more likely to be a football fan than the average Finn on the stadium. And the Russian domination on the field must have subdued the Finnish fans somehwat. But the white, blue and red was so overwhelming that these explanations are beside the point - they simply won the supporter game, fair and square, in a foreign capital! They didn't need to organize in supporter groups, they just showed up with their flags and mobilized seemingly every Russian already living in the Helsinki area.
After the game, Russian cars with flags were roaming the streets, making noise, celebrating what can't have been an unexpected win. Mannerheimintie could have been in Moscow. Or maybe the celebrations of a home win take altogether different proportions in Russia, proportions we, who live in a country not naturally inclined towards football, can't even imagine.
I couldn't help thinking this is a small manifestation of an ever stronger Russia, a neo-imperialist Russia, if you will. It was absolutely clear that yesterday was something fundamentally different to when thousands of English fans fly to Helsinki to watch their team play Finland. I guess Helsinki is nowadays predisposed to Russian takeovers like this. Expect something similar during the 2012 Ice Hockey World Championships, by the way.
But the Russian influence is and will not be limited to sport events and this is something we all have to adapt to. Although the skirmishes between Russian and Finnish fans before, under and after the game were nothing more than usual football fan thuggery (again, not something Finns are naturally inclined to), Finns, including myself, might need to work on their attitude towards Russia and Russians. Nationalism will never solve anything. We will have to rethink our relationship with our neighbours once again.
The supporter group for the Finnish team had a gigantic banner with a modified version of the famous painting Hyökkäys (”The Attack”) which depicts the Finnish maiden attacked by an eagle, prying the law (in book form) from her hands. The hefty volume was now swapped for a football (and the eagle succeeded three times yesterday). The original painting was a painted 1899 as a protest against the February manifesto enacted by the Czar. The manifesto sharpened Russian rule over the autonomous Finland and increased the Russification efforts. The symbolism of the banner was brilliant, no doubt. It was finely tuned to stir up national sentiments in the silly football manner. But was it all fun an games? At least to me, it was all bit eerie. Well, let's see.
written by Mattias