“We want a world with many worlds!”

As Finnish students protest against the Orpo government, we share a statement from the occupation of the University of Helsinki.

3 min read

On the 19th of September at 8:00, a group of students marched into the main building of the University of Helsinki and announced that it was now occupied. Within ten days, almost all universities, universities of applied sciences, and some high schools across Finland had joined the movement, named Opiskelijat leikkauksia vastaan—Students Against Cuts. Staff members from the University of Helsinki also came out in solidarity, with 1,000 of them signing a petition expressing their support of the movement.

The occupation movement started as a response to the anti-immigration and austerity-led programme proposed by the government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo. Orpo’s National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) won the recent Parliamentary elections in April, and formed the most right-wing government of Finland’s history, in coalition with the anti-immigrant Finns Party (who increased their vote share, campaigning under the slogan Pelasta Suomi!, or Save Finland!), the Christian Democrats (KD), and the Swedish People’s Party (RKP). During the campaign, Orpo pledged to cut social spending by as much as 6 billion euros—and the rest of the Government’s programme, with its harsh austerity measures, redistribution of wealth from the poor, and strict anti-immigration policies, represents a sharp shift to the right.

In response to these harsh austerity and anti-immigration measures, the student occupation movement has made the following demands:

  1. No cuts to the housing subsidies proposed by the new government. On the contrary, the living conditions of all students—including international students—must be improved. More affordable housing must be constructed!
  2. No tuition fees for any students, national or international, now or ever.
  3. Mental health services for students must be guaranteed.
  4. Universities must support the demands and show solidarity!
  5. Universities must make a statement against racist immigration policies that further discriminate against international students, and defend the possibility for students to concentrate on their studies without worrying about their livelihood—regardless of their nationality.

While the demands are centred on the rights of all students (national and international), the movement is also a call for solidarity with other groups, such as pensioners, unemployed people, refugees and undocumented people, disabled people, and others dispossessed by austerity politics.

Demand #2: No tuition fees for any students, national or international, now or ever.

University demands to leave the building

On the evening of September 27th, the administration of the University of Helsinki issued a demand that the occupiers of the University’s Main Building should vacate the premises by the next morning. While they were unwilling to disclose the reason for this, students were able to discover from other sources that the Main Building had been rented for a private evening event organised by the National Defense Course Association (MPKY). The President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, was scheduled to give the opening speech.

Hundreds of supporters gathered inside and on the stairs of the Main Building at 9am, ready to resist the possible forced eviction. At noon, as we sat down to write this piece, the occupation continued. At 1pm, the University backed down, announcing that the students would be permitted to stay in the building during the event. Student resistance had worked.

The occupying students at the University of Helsinki are not the only ones being threatend by university management. On September 28th, students of the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences—who are also occupying their university, as part of a nationwide movement—were similarly instructed to vacate the premises by 9pm. At the time of writing, Metropolia students continue their occupation.

While the demands are centred on the rights of all students, the movement is also a call for solidarity with others dispossessed by austerity politics.

Parallels with the past

History is repeating itself. In 1968, students at the University of Helsinki occupied the Old Student House in protest at the undemocratic, anti-student way that the University was managed. Among their demands was a request that then-President Urho Kekkonen decline to attend the centenary celebration of the Student Union, which students felt was undemocratic, out-of-touch, and far too cosy with commercial banks. Kekkonen did attend the celebration—but he used his speech to side with the students, thanking them for their activism. Niinistö, on the other hand, entered through the occupied lobby of the Main Building, but walked straight past, refusing to acknowledge the occupying students.

Students are prepared to defend their rights, and are resolved to maintain the occupation of the universities and high schools in Finland until their demands are met.


Students Against Cuts!

We are a group of Finnish students protesting the austerity and anti-immigration measures of the Orpo government, particularly their impact on international students.