Right-wing street patrol group popular with Estonian military personnel and volunteers (9)
Dozens of members of the Defence League (Kaitseliit) as well as active servicemen of the Estonian Defence Forces are affiliating themselves with the Soldiers of Odin, a neighbourhood patrol of sorts that has its origin in the town of Kemi in Finland.
The group is widely perceived as racist, but as the Helsinki Times reported in January, the group denied this allegation, saying on Facebook that “Soldiers of Odin is not: a racist organisation, a National Socialist movement, a drug ring, a motorcycle club, a criminal organisation.”
Still, according to the same paper, the organisation admitted that its founder "espoused a National Socialist ideology and that some of its members had a criminal record."
As Päevaleht reported earlier this week, about 60 men gathered in an Old Town pub in Tallinn last weekend for a first meeting of the local branch of the Soldiers of Odin. Finnish members of the group attended the event, and one of the founders of the Estonian branch of the group, Valdo Kendla, said that they had already established a non-profit organisation and registered their name as a trademark.
The group's expansion to Estonia and immediate popularity can in part be explained with the ongoing migration crisis and its portrayal by right-wing political groups and media. Yet it ignores the fact that there are hardly any refugees in the country at this time. The Soldiers of Odin are quickly gathering support, with its Estonian Facebook group already having around 5,000 members, including high-ranking Defence League volunteers and military personnel.
The Defence Forces and the Defence League see no problem in their members participating, as long as they don't get in conflict with Estonian law and the values of the institutions they serve in.
Commander of the Defence League, Brigadier General Meelis Kiili said to Päevaleht on Wednesday that the problem was exaggerated in the media. "This doesn't mean though that we aren't keeping an eye on them – of course we are," he said.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Riho Terras, commander of the Defence Forces, dismissed the portrayal of the group’s following among military personnel as “far-fetched panic mongering.” A few dozen members of the Defence Forces and Defence League among several thousand Facebook fans didn’t have that much weight, the general said.
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) is critical of the group. "In the Republic of Estonia, law and order are enforced by the Estonian police. Self-proclaimed patrol gangs do not increase the Estonian people's sense of security in any way, rather the opposite,” Rõivas said on Facebook.