Helsingin yliopisto. (Kuva: Wikimedia Commons.)

Speech: Academic boycott and solidarity

n the Night of Science on January 25 2024 in Helsinki, Juulia Kela was chose to speak about Israeli apartheid instead of her announced topic, and ceded part of her time to the chair of ICAHD Finland, Syksy Räsänen, and Janette Kotivirta from Students for Palestine. This is Kotivirta’s speech. (Räsänen’s speech is here.)

I’m Janette Kotivirta, currently a doctoral student at this Faculty. I was a student a couple months ago and I would like to share some experiences from that perspective.

As Syksy points out, this is not the first time we hear these calls for academic boycott, as students and researchers have organised across this university campus demanding that the university ends any involvement with institutions and companies complicit in apartheid and genocide.

After significant pressure  the university issued a statement in which, I quote, it “condemned all violence and war crimes and hoped that the conditions of universities and higher education institutions in the conflict zone can be protected”. However, condemning violence and hoping for its end does little when we continue to silence pro-palestinian speech and collaborate with institutions that are active perpetrators of this violence.

On the 17.11 and the 29.11. students and staff walked out of their lecture halls and gathered in the main building of UoH. The demonstrations honoured Palestinian lives and the Palestinian struggle for liberation. We heard inspiring speeches and performances from Palestinian activists, Jewish activists, and allies. We sang, chanted, and danced. We stood in solidarity.

The students had direct demands for the university: To cut ties with Israeli universities, to end investments in companies that are complicit in the apartheid and to support palestinian students and scholars. 

Not only did the university ban these demonstrations, but it called the police on its own student body. 50 policemen – threatened with the use of OC spray and were accompanied by police dogs – removed the peacefully demonstrating students from university premises. 13 students were detained.

So not only has the university failed to live up to its claimed values by continuing its collaboration with institutions complicit in genocide – it is actively silencing any voices that ask it to do so: Palestine related emails are banned from mailing lists, all Palestine related posters have been ripped down by HYY staff and the university has completely ignored the requests from its student body. This is a huge and shameful failure from an institution that claims to stand for truth, freedom, community and inclusivity. The rights of EVERYONE must be safeguarded on this campus – this includes the rights and safety of Palestinian students and staff. 

So, I would like to end this by encouraging every single one us here to take collective responsibility and demand that the university spaces for discussion on this issue. We ask for this faculty, the Faculty of Social Sciences, to be courageous and show moral leadership in this moment to appeal to the university leadership to offer a space for dialogue and to end their complicity in the apartheid regime of Israel.

Our role as scholars is not only to think and produce knowledge – but to act on that knowledge! Let us not only talk of decolonisation but decolonise in practice. 

As Sai Engert and Christian Henderson highlight in their call for academic boycott: “The call for boycott is a call for solidarity in its truest sense. It provides a concrete, and urgently needed, support and solidarity to a people under colonial rule, but also an opportunity to democratise our university. It is a basis to create a platform to discuss – and to decide – the nature of our university’s mission, relations, and impact on [Finland] and the world”.

I ask all of us to demand from our leadership that we must do better – we must do everything in our power to end this genocide and Israeli aparheid. 

Thanks for listening. 

Siirry sivun alkuun