Finncon 2020. So.

I was quite sanguine about Finncon 2019. I praised the "more thriving, more diverse, more accepting community" I had found in Finland.

Thus this post is difficult to write. I'll start with the part of Finncon 2020 I was there for, then talk about why I had to leave.

The event was held online, as practically everything is under the circumstances (Fantasticon 2020 and IceCon 2020 are both going to be in person, which given how Denmark and Iceland have handled COVID is I think reasonably safe). I didn't blog about AmazingCon but something I thought they got really right was, they had an open non-program "green room" Zoom channel running through most of the event where you could just hang out and chat with other attendees.

Virtual Finncon meanwhile was much more one-way. There was a single programming track and it was broadcast over YouTube (attendees could talk & ask questions via the YouTube chatroom feature). I was scheduled to give a talk on Sunday and I was asked to pre-record this rather than giving it live. The overall impression was like watching a PBS fundraising marathon on US TV, not least because the linking was done by chairs Marianna & Karo Leikomaa speaking into handheld cardioid microphones in front of a beige curtain.

The panels themselves, those I was able to see, were good too, with high-caliber guests and literarily-oriented discussion; we're lucky that Cheryl Morgan regularly graces us with her presence. Finncon continues a tradition of being a "deep," intellectual event. Unfortunately the Discord-based writers' meetup that closed Friday kind of fizzled out. The relatively small number of attendees couldn't form a critical mass to keep things moving.

I'm glad there was the continuity. I've already signed up to volunteer for Finncon 2021 and for Archipelacon 2 in 2025, which I hope will also be a Eurocon. I want to honor the work put in by the Con organizers who had to convert this convention to an online one under novel circumstances and who put in the effort of organizing high profile guests.

At the same time these organizers made decisions which showed that immigrants such as myself were neither fully welcome at Finncon 2020 nor in the Con's view valued members of the fan community.  In these circumstances it was necessary for me to withdraw my talk. I've spoken to other members of the Finncon community who have indicated their support for my decision and who, like me, believe the organizers must engage in reflection about maintaining an inclusive and open community at conventions.

There is an individual who has been active in fandom for several years and who has also chosen not just to associate themselves with the extreme right but to take up a leading role. Here, for example, is video of this person leading a demonstration by Suomi Ensin, a violent anti-immigrant group. I've blogged about this person before after they harassed me in 2017 (while they were leading another rally of violent anti-immigrant extremists) but since then, I haven't had cause to think about them.

Finncon 2020 didn't just bring this person back, they put them on the Con Committee.

When I found this out I was shocked and immediately contacted the designated chair--show that this person has made amends, I said, ask for their resignation, or I walk. I also asked for the opportunity to use  some time in my program slot to make a brief statement on the situation--this was rejected for easily-circumventable "technical reasons."

I've never asked for this person to be banned from a convention. I think it would be good, but it would set a complicated precedent. What I did ask after the 2017 incident was that this person not contact me, and that they never record me. This person did both these things during Finncon 2020. I asked the chair how this situation would be handled as a Code of Conduct issue and was told that the chair and the head of security had a conversation--one which I was never asked to participate in to give my side--and already determined there was no CoC issue.

From what I gather this person's role at Finncon 2020 was as IT head. This is central to the problem. The far right has an extensive record of taking people's personal information and using it to cyber-stalk and harass them, up to and including the point of grievous physical violence.

I know some of my own information is already on the hate site Redwatch. Moreover not only am I an immigrant and an activist, thus a target for the goons this person incites, but I teach at a school which is mostly non-Finns, where some of my students are refugees, and that has already been targeted with neo-Nazi vandalism in the recent past.

This isn't about "muh freeze peach," this is about real harm to real people. Even if you take my own having been harassed out of the equation, it's reckless to put this person in a position where they can access attendees' personal information.

Moreover this person has a history of dishonesty and duplicity. After they led that rally in 2015 they promised to cut ties with the extreme right organizations they worked with and went back on that promise. After they were challenged in 2017 they never apologized, but instead made a statement with the astonishing assertion that they had no idea there would be violent far-right extremists speaking and were shocked--shocked!--to hear people had been cited for breaking hate crime laws at the rally they were leading. They've continued to spread vicious xenophobic lies on their blog without interruption. If they say they've changed, there's no reason to trust them.

I was especially disappointed that the Finncon organizers pointed at this person's record of LGBT activism as cover for their xenophobia. Oppression is not a points-based system. The most angelically liberal pro-LGBT pamphleteer in the world is still a bad person if they incite hate against another oppressed group, and it's an insult to assert otherwise.

Look, the point of all this is that justice is supposed to be transformative. A transgression, an attack, an instance of harassment is supposed to become a learning experience for everyone--victim, perpetrator, the whole community--so we all come away healing, smarter and stronger. What Finncon 2020's done is said "we don't care this person harasses and alienates members of our community, they got caught this time, we'll let them serve their time and then continue on as if nothing happened." It's the regressive, old-boy-network attitude fandom is trying to move on from.

Failing to respect that times have changed led to the collapse of Arisia's con committee in the US. Getting the response wrong caused intense strife within the Worldcon 75 committee. When Finncon returns to being an in-person event, as I hope it will in 2021, it's likely going to build back up to being an event of five or six thousand attendees. Maintaining that community, and ensuring that community is accessible to as wide a range of fans as possible, is more important than one person escaping consequences for years of real, deliberate, organized harm to the oppressed.


Edmund Schluessel

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