Hesari answers its critics

We are pleased to report that a reply has arrived at the offices of Instant Kaamos from  Reetta Meriläinen, Editor-in-Chief of Helsingin Sanomat about the Holocaust cartoons which appeared in her newspaper (see previous post and comments). For the time being, I am just posting her email with my original message in full. (By the way, the English word “lowly” means the same as “humble” or “junior” and was not used by me to insult the artist, . The closest Finnish translation might be nöyrä .)

We are considering our response to Reetta Meriläinen’s message. One thing that immediately springs to mind is that she does not mention my suggestion that Hesari should offer a right of reply to an organisation representing the Jewish or Roma communities, or one that works with Holocaust survivors and their families. And although I didn’t ask for one, there doesn’t seem to be anything that sounds like an apology. Sometimes sori seems to be the hardest word…

If you have any other ideas that you’d like to see included in Instant Kaamos’ reply, feel free to post them here as a comment. I will be getting on the case in the near future…

…well, as soon as I’ve finished tidying my room.

From: Meriläinen Reetta
To: Instant Kaamos
Sent: Tue, June 1, 2010 10:43:01 AM
Subject: VS: Holocaust ‘Humour’

Dear Ike Moss,

Thank you for your mail and request. I know that explaining this kind of cases is doomed, but I try:

Fingerpori cartoons represent slapstick humour, which very often balances between bad and very bad taste. It ridicules almost everything between earth and heaven. It makes jokes about everything including Jews, Hitler and Nazis. Yet I can say that the basics of this cartoon are human. For a publisher this kind of cartoon always is a risk. It may sometimes cause grief and fury among the readers.

After publishing the first cartoon you mentioned we discussed seriously with the artist. We never asked the artist – who is not low – to apologise. That was the artist´s own decision. We had a spirited internal discussion about freedom of word, responsibility and content control.

The second cartoon was meant to be the artist´s extended apology, so I was told. It was meant to ridicule ignorant Finns, who don´t know the tragedies of history. Now it seems that the point was misinterpreted and caused more anger and grief.

That anger and grief I totally understand. Holocaust is in its own category among genocides and atrocities of history and need special discretion.

Since the early beginning Helsingin Sanomat has been for democracy and human dignity. You can be sure that the paper will never hurt or insult victims of Nazi holocaust on purpose. On the other hand the paper has always been liberal and has strongly supported freedom of word. I write this knowing that freedom always goes or should go together with the responsibility.

Publishing practises need trust and control. In these cases we had more trust than control.

Kind regards,

Reetta Meriläinen


Helsingin Sanomat



Lähettäjä: Instant Kaamos
Lähetetty: 27. toukokuuta 2010 0:50
Vastaanottaja: Meriläinen Reetta
Aihe: Holocaust ‘Humour’

Dear Reeta Meriläinen,

I am writing to you to ask for an explanation as to why you decided to print two cartoons ridiculing and insulting the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. To trivialise genocide in this way seems to give a poor example to young people who may know little about the atrocities of  Nazi Germany. You will also almost certainly give comfort to neo-Nazi and other far-right groups. The apology that appeared after the first cartoon was shown to be empty when the second Holocaust-themed strip appeared last Saturday. One might also ask why it is only the lowly artist  is made to apologise when the decision to publish is ultimately your responsibility.

I feel I should tell you that I have written about this on my blog which appears here: https://instantkaamos.wordpress.com

Since I criticise your conduct, I would like to offer you the right of reply. Whatever you wish to say in your defence can be posted either as a comment or if you prefer to send it by email, it will appear on a new posting. However, I am not prepared to publish a response from one of your junior members of staff.

I only hope that you yourself are prepared to offer a right of reply to Finland’s Jewish and Roma communities and to Holocaust survivors and their families around the world. I also hope that you are prepared for the consequences, especially for Finland’s image in Europe, when these cartoons are reported in the international press.

Yours sincerely,

Ike Moss


13 responses to “Hesari answers its critics

  • Mikko Jarvenpaa

    Nice to see some of the people who protest and support censorship in this case do so openly. I appreciate your opinion, Ike Moss, but I disagree with it.

    Freedom of speech is useless if it doesn’t also apply to offensive, parodying or otherwise flat out wrong opinions – as long as they are not presented as dogmas or absolutes. An opinion, a cartoon, a painting: all should be covered by freedom of speech.

    This was, to be sure, a borderline case, but while the core content of human morality is quite objective, the borders are relative. You are right to remind HS and the Finns that the borders are not the same to everyone. Joking about a recently deceased mother’s cancer in a small circle would be deemed offensive by any culture. Joking about Finland’s loss of life in WWII would certainly be unacceptable in Finland. I didn’t hear anyone object to two Taleban men wearing burkhas in next day’s Fingerpori cartoon. It is not within our borders of transgression, but in other circles, it would surely be condemned. I might personally happen to take exception to suggestions of mind-body dualism, but that’s just me.

    The Holocaust was a terrible episode of atrocity. There is nothing trivial about that. We will not forget. We have learned, I believe, and the world is more responsible by the day (with much to be done, still). But can we joke about horrible things? Genocides, epidemics, deaths, murders? Some people do. Many people are offended. Both parties are free to state their mind, as long as it does not impinge on the other party’s continued freedom.

    Additionally, as a matter of opinion, your reference to “preparing for the consequences” is a bit out of line in it own accord (which, per the above, is admissible, but may be disagreed with). Will we see boycotts of Finnish products across Europe? Surely we are dealing with more enlightened and civilized people?

  • Joose Norri

    Dear Ike Moss,

    to suggest that the cartoon ridiculed and insulted the victims of the Holocaust is absurd and insulting. It’s obvious it ridiculed anybody who trivialises genocides of any form, with possible subtler undertones. I hope you apologize to the artist and the paper.

    Your’s sincerely,
    Joose Norri

  • instantkaamos

    Thanks for all your comments. Unfortunately I am having trouble finding the time to read through them all — but I enjoyed the one telling me to “shut the **** up” – an interesting contribution to a debate about freedom of expression.

    But briefly, I am certainly happy to apologise to Pertti Jarla if I have ever given the impression that I think he’s a fascist. One of the reasons I started this discussion was to find out more and it now I believe that Jarla has the same low opinion of neo-Nazis as I do.

    Mikko’s point is absolutely spot-on about what might have seemed like a veiled threat to organise a mass anti-Finland campaign. I phrased that very badly.

    But it is precisely to avoid this kind of ill-informed reaction that I have tried to get a debate going in Finland before this gets reported elsewhere. Finland is no longer on the fringes of Europe but has to wake up to the fact that people around the world do in fact care about what goes on there. After all, you can buy a copy of Hesari on the news-stand outside Holborn Underground Station in London.

    But please re-read my post and tell me where I advocate censorship. Not only did I not criticise Jarla but I made it clear that it was a question of freedom to exercise editorial responsibility — in my book freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. As you say, Hesari would never print a cartoon making fun of the Finnish war veterans — and they would be absolutely right not to do so. It’s up to the editor, not the cartoonist and definitely not the Finnish state to decide what to print in her newspaper. I’ve called her to account and what’s more, I’ve taken the time and trouble to publish her explanation — does that sound like censorship to you?

    If Hesari’s intentions are misunderstood, they now have the opportunity to explain themselves — which after all is all I ever wanted them to do.

    • instantkaamos

      Post Script:

      The day before yesterday this blog was reported on the Finnish News Site Uusi Suomi.

      http://tinyurl.com/uusisuomi (in Finnish of course).

      I am very pleased that there is now a vigorous debate taking place on that site including comments critical of Instant Kaamos. I welcome this. If I don’t get any criticism, how can know if I’m getting it wrong?

      Unfortunately my poor Finnish might mean that I misunderstand some of the commenters but I would like to answer one of them. I am really not all that “publicity-hungry”. In fact I don’t even exist. As I am sure everybody has already guessed, ‘Ike Moss’ is a fictional character (like for example ‘Ali G’) and not a real person. I apologise unreservedly for any distress caused to real Ike Mosses around the world.

      I am not motivated by any religious convictions (I don’t have any) but I do think that journalists are subject to ethical considerations just the same any other profession such as doctors, accountants, politicians and lawyers. I also happen to think that in a free society, editors should be held to account by their readers.

      There’s an interesting page from our American cousins which sets out a proposed ethical code.

      It includes the following sentence which could have come straight out of the pages of Kant:

      Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

  • Not still going to school « Jees Helsinki Jees

    […] while you’re at it, do swing by Instant Kaamos‘ blog, a long-time fixture of our blog-roll, for some views on how Finnish democracy […]

  • John Stonefield

    Hi! As a big fan of Pentti Jarla´s Fingerpori, I hope you see more his strips at HS web archive. The big picture is, that this comic is making fun of everything, often about things you shouldnt find funny (handicapped people, sexual perverts etc). But in my opinion, we need comics like this to keep our mind open… and Jarla is making fun of finnish war veterans too… 🙂

    • instantkaamos

      Hi John

      Thanks for your very reasonable comment. It’s nice to know that fingerpori has sensible fans who can defend the strip so eloquently.

      I take your point. But it seems to me that there’s something wrong with the argument that if you insult everyone then it’s OK to insult anyone. The Finnish War veterans are probably not in a position to answer back — or am I wrong about this too? And, as an outsider it does seem to me (rather naively) that they made no small sacrifice so that Finnish people could enjoy freedom of speech.

      I was also wondering — because I haven’t seen all of Jarla’s cartoons, whether he has made fun of Newspaper editors and publishers who print cartoons and then blame the cartoonist (not that this is what Hesari’s editors would have done, of course). That would be a brave thing for a cartoonist to do.

      My argument has never been with Jarla who seems to be just as much the victim here. How can he feel free to draw what he likes if his editors are incapable of advising him on how a strip might be received before he has to apologise and withdraw it?

      And I would also like to apologise to fingerpori fanatics who have responded so angrily to this blog. Foolishly, I thought that the main religion in Finland was the Lutheran Church, I never realised that Fingerporians would be so sensitive. I am sorry if I have been misunderstood as blaspheming against Saint Pertti who I now accept is the greatest living Finnish artist. There is no need for you to burn copies of Instant Kaamos in Senate Square.

      But, seriously now, and for the tenth time, I have no argument with Pertti Jarla, only with the editors who made a decision that they are struggling to justify. To Pertti I have only one question…

      …can I offer you a cup of tea?

  • Tekno-Kekko

    Upon your request, this is a short version of awful ranting I posted. It is not short. I still cry injustice.

    During the last decade in Finland freedom of speech and especially comics have been under constant fire. In most cases the biggest noise have been made by persons who have not read the works in question or simply even refuse to study them. One psychologist claimed that Dragon Ball is in the border of celebrating pedophilia. Politicians believed wholeheartedly and did bring the issue into parliament. Series was withdrawn from bookstores. Ville Ranta drew his own Mohammed series, where the target was failed “kermaperse” liberalism of western democracies. His editor was sacked. Ranta resigned. A strip in the Green Party paper where Star of David was compared to swastika did lead to question in parliament. I have intentionally tried to forget the lesser instances. As a result my personal tolerance towards these continuous attacks is dangerously low.

    In every instance a maximal publicity is guaranteed. It is big news! Children/Society/Foreign Relations are in danger! This game is not based on equal time, but ultimatums. The one who cries first, always wins. Dissident opinions are buried in the commentary sections, if they appear even there. That would ruin the news. Besides, it’s not fashionable.

    What is fashionable is a right to feel hurt. It has rapidly become human right number one. Never mind that in HS Fingerpori discussion someone who called herself a ”Jewish mother” announced she sees nothing to become angry about. That was totally ignored in discussion. Obviously she must have been suspicious, because she refused to use her privilege to feel hurt like all the civilised people.

    Crux of the matter is Fingerpori’s constant theme of modern mass production in animal farms, that are indeed concentration camps, no matter how you look at it. It began with a strip of a trekking chicken looking a sunset on a cliff, leaving an egg behind that is grasped by a egg hunter hiding in bushes, and finally we see the egg in a store in a box titled ”Eggs of free hen”. Then came the strip about Land of pigs, where liberated farming pigs show tattooed number on their leg (is it correct English to say pigs have legs?) and tell that only a few did survive. Free jews’ soap was the last blow in the long series against the modern farming production. Of course, one should know the series to get the idea and see the constant theme. But wouldn’t that be boring? And certainly it’s not worth news, or blog posts, in that matter.

    Now the strip that irritated you is removed for good, which is a tremendous act of censorship and thanks to that the particular strip in question has began circulating around in net, become a template of further mutations and gained more publicity than it has ever been worth of. Now, who gained anything out of this?

    The fact that current attempts of limitation and censorship have a camouflage of anti-racism and anti-fascism, don’t make them less totalitarian. And for sure it doesn’t change anything. The big issue: how in the world am I supposed to support equality and brotherhood of men, when it is promoted by fascist means: bans, attacks, censorship, as in the current proposal to criminalise linking to web pages that ”promote hatred”.

    And still the simple fact is that anybody can feel hurt by anything! Here you have an open bill, write any name in it, any name you please, we ban it at once. This could be humour from the Python Land, but somehow I feel it’s more like grim reality from Orwell Land. And I am living in Finland, that has a long history of banned material, fight against oppression and problematic freedom of speech – that we never really took for real, for political reasons to the direction or another.

    Heinrich Heine said that first they burn books, then people. He was, as you very well should know, a jew. He was right. Could something be learned about this?

    By the way, congratulations for getting a response from HS. You have all the right to think you are more equal than others. A Finnishman would never ever get any kind of response in that situation. You had a tremendous advantage as a foreigner who writes in English. Take it from me. I know this too well.

    • Instant Kaamos

      Hei Tekno-Kekko,

      Thanks for your very thoughtful comment.

      There’s much I can say in reply but it’s a beautiful day here in London and I need to get out, go for a cycle ride or something rather than sit at my computer. I’ll try and get back to you with a proper response in the next few days.

      But briefly, I started to realise a couple of days ago that I hadn’t taken into account the Finnish notion of ‘self-censorship’. So far as I could see, if an editor decides not to print a story, article or a cartoon then that isn’t censorship — that’s just the editor doing her job. On the other hand, I do know about the painful history of what is called ‘self-censorship’ in Finland during the Kekkonen era, a period in history that both fascinates and bewilders. For my English readers, this was a time when newspapers and publishers would avoid printing anything that might offend Finland’s eastern neighbour. Even, I am told, The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was not published in Finnish translation during this time.

      I am quite shocked by your suggestion that “A Finnishman would never ever get any kind of response in that situation [of complaining to the editor of Hesari]. You had a tremendous advantage as a foreigner who writes in English.”

      If what you say is true, then the monopoly and unaccountable position of Hesari is even worse than I thought. I see no reason why they should take seriously criticism from a student from South London and not even reply to, for example, an Engineer from East Helsinki.

  • Instant Kaamos

    In case you have joined this discussion without coming from the Uusi Suomi article which links here, you might wish to join the discussion (in Finnish) which is happening there.


    (Friends who don’t read Finnish might try to make sense of a translation courtesy of Google translate: http://tinyurl.com/27n4w6e)

    You might also want to read the discussions going on at Helsingin Sanomat and Taloussanomat. I’ve listed them on my delicious bookmarks: http://delicious.com/instantkaamos

    I’ve also heard that there’s a Facebook group called (in Finnish) “Don’t Censor Fingerpori”. If someone can provide the link I’ll add it to my bookmarks.

  • Tero Merenheimo

    Not being a fingerpolian, I’d like to comment on your original letter to the Editor-in-Chief of Helsingin Sanomat, Reetta Meriläinen. You said that the two cartoons ridiculed and insulted the victims of the Nazi holocaust.

    I do – partly – disagree with you. The cartoon targeted and ridiculed Nazis (and probably, as someone pointed out in a previous comment, the way animals are treated in the modern food industry). I’m in no position to deny the possibility that someone was insulted, though.

    Jarla has indeed made strips, where the target has been Mannerheim, and others, where it’s been some humorous aspect of Finnish soldiers in WWII. I reckon, some people have been offended by them, too. Yet, they haven’t ridiculed the Fininsh veterans, nor did these KZ-lager strips make fun of the victims of the holocaust.

    Tero Merenheimo

    • Instant Kaamos

      Terve Tero,

      You say that the cartoons did not make fun of the victims of genocide and I have already conceded that this was probably not Jarla’s intention. However, any person who has survived the camps and lived to tell the tale could be forgiven for believing that their suffering was been trivialised by the cartoons. To say that a cartoon makes people feel ridiculed but does not actually ridicule them seems to me to , in that rather wonderful Finnish expression, sahata pilkkua — saw a comma.

      But as I’ve said over and over again, I do not think that a cartoonist is responsible for making this judgement. It is the editor’s job to think about how a cartoon comes across to a newspaper’s readers. On this occasion, she seems to have failed to do this carefully enough. What still surprises me is that while Jarla has had to eat humble pie on the website, so far as I know, nobody on Hesari’s editorial staff have made a statement in the newspaper itself, only on this blog.

      Isn’t that a bit…odd?

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