A Far-right Vigilante Group May Soon Be Synonymous with Unicorns and Glitter
A Finnish university student trademarked the name of an anti-immigrant vigilante group to start a unicorn-themed clothing line.
The Soldiers of Odin -- a far-right, ultra-nationalist vigilante group operating in Finland and Sweden -- has become synonymous with Europe’s xenophobic backlash to the migrant crisis. Famous for wearing black jackets adorned with a symbol of a Viking, the group has made a name for itself with its racist rhetoric and nightly street patrols aimed at purportedly protecting locals from asylum-seekers coming to northern Europe.
The Soldiers of Odin — a far-right, ultra-nationalist vigilante group operating in Finland and Sweden — has become synonymous with Europe’s xenophobic backlash to the migrant crisis. Famous for wearing black jackets adorned with a symbol of a Viking, the group has made a name for itself with its racist rhetoric and nightly street patrols aimed at purportedly protecting locals from asylum-seekers coming to northern Europe.
But if one Finnish university student gets her way, the Soldiers of Odin will become synonymous with something completely different: unicorns and glitter.
Riikka Yrttiaho, a 27-year-old Finnish student studying international politics at Stockholm University in Sweden, noticed that the vigilante group hadn’t trademarked its name. She decided to take it for herself, using the Soldiers of Odin name to launch a glitter-covered clothing line featuring cute and cuddly critters.
“There will be lots of unicorns and glitter — and maybe even some kittens, too,” Yrttiaho told Foreign Policy from Stockholm via Skype. “I want this to be soft and pretty because those are the things that society in Sweden and Finland needs right now.”
What originally began as an effort to prevent the Soldiers of Odin from being able to sell merchandise has since morphed into a political protest. Yrttiaho says she got the idea to buy the Soldiers of Odin name after the group registered itself with the Finnish government — but, crucially, failed to patent its name.
“It’s a fun project and we want to protest through humor,” said Yrttiaho. “But of course there is a deeper message that we want to stop the normalization of racism in Finland and Sweden.”
Founded in 2015 in Kemi — a northern Finnish town near the border where many asylum-seekers were crossing from Sweden to Finland — the Soldiers of Odin have spread across Finland and even into Sweden and Norway. Members of the group blame migrants from the Middle East and North Africa for an increase in crime and sexual attacks against local women. Their patrols and protests made headlines across Finland this year, as did their vehemently anti-immigrant message.
“In our opinion, Islamist intruders cause insecurity and increase crime,” the group said on its website, which has since been taken down following reports in the Finnish press about some members’ criminal backgrounds and links to neo-Nazi organizations.
Yrttiaho’s trademark application was approved in April and made public this week by Yle, Finland’s national broadcaster, after the news organization noticed that someone had officially filed a patent claim on the Soldiers of Odin name. The 250 euros needed for the trademark were crowdsourced on Yrttiaho’s Facebook page. The small donations were enough for Yrttiaho to buy the patent and fund the clothing-line, and friends have chipped in to grow her unicorn-themed brand’s social media presence. Meanwhile, artists in Finland and Sweden have contributed designs and professionals with experience in the clothing business have offered their help to get the clothing line in production and ready for distribution.
One design, seen below, has already been crafted.
Known for high living standards and generous social policies, asylum-seekers have been drawn to Northern Europe, particularly Finland and Sweden. More than 160,000 asylum seekers arrived in Sweden in 2015, more per capita than any other country in Europe. Stockholm originally tried to integrate the influx of migrants, but has since enacted new restrictions, such as border controls with Denmark, to curb the the flow of asylum-seekers. Finland, meanwhile, received 32,000 asylum seekers in 2015, a leap from 3,600 in 2014. Helsinki has similarly enacted restrictions to deter asylum-seekers, tightening its immigration policies and even offering to fly migrants back home for free.
Yrttiaho’s clothing line is not the first attempt to protest the Soldiers of Odin using comedy. A troupe of clowns who call themselves the Loldiers of Odin emerged in early 2016 to ridicule the vigilantes. The “loldiers” made international headlines for their creative protests, which involved the troupe finding the Soldiers of Odin out on patrol, skipping around them while dressed as clowns, singing children’s songs, and mocking them with oversized lollipops and feather dusters.
Photo credit: SAM KINGSLEY/AFP/Getty Images
Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan
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