President of Finland Sauli Niinistö has suggested that the vandalism on Holocaust Remembrance Day was a token of broader racism, and pledged to take action.

Spots of blood-red paint appeared on the walls and door of the Turku synagogue, which belongs to the city’s Jewish congregation.

According to national broadcaster Yle, the synagogue’s front door, steps and walls were splattered with a large amount of red paint, which appear to be the result of paint balls being fired at the door or paint balloons being thrown at it.

The damage occurred on Monday, as the whole world observed Holocaust Remembrance Day. On 27 January 1945, the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Red Army.

​The chair of the Jewish congregational supervisory board, Harry Serlo, told Yle that he was informed about the vandalism as he was going on a trip and promised that the matter would be reported to police.

Commenting the news of the synagogue vandalism from Poland, where he was attending a Holocaust memorial in Poland with dozens of other world leaders, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö called the incident “very disturbing”. He said the vandalism was an indication of broader racism, and stressed that the growth of racism and anti-Semitism was worrying and that their development was linked, pledging to address the issue and take action.

Built in 1912 and located in the centre of the city, the Turku Synagogue is one of Finland’s two synagogues; the other is located in Helsinki. Finland’s Jewish diaspora numbers some 1,200 people.

Catholic church also targeted: “Stop hiding the paedophiles”

Turku’s Catholic congregation was also targeted in a vandalism attack, as a local church was also sprayed with paint.

“Someone had written ‘Stop hiding the paedophiles’ in black and ‘Liars’ in red”, said Stanislaw Zawilowicz, the chaplain of Saint Birgitta’s and Blessed Hemming’s congregation in Turku.

According to Zawilovicz, this was the second time this year that the church had been vandalised.

Registered Catholics only account for 15,000 people out of Finland’s population of 5.5 million population.

“Turku Synagogue has been defiled on Auschwitz Memorial Day. Earlier a Catholic church. This is not just vandalism. This is repugnant intimidation, a narrowing of space and a stigma of memory of the worst persecution in history”, Niina Ratilainen, Green party chair in the City Council of Turku, tweeted.

President Niinisto: “Very worrying”

On the very same day the Turku synagogue was targeted by vandals, neo-Nazi group Towards Freedom burned the Israeli flag in Tampere during a demonstration in the city centre unrelated to the Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said that the two anti-Semitic incidents that took place in his country on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day are “very worrying” and stated that judicial proceedings concerning the cases have been initiated.

“This certainly seems to be the case in Turku and flags were burned in Tampere as well. It is very worrying. But what can be done? We do have cases ongoing in the justice system and that is good. I will say more about the matter,” Niinisto said, as quoted by Finnish broadcaster Yle.

Catholics “deeply concerned” about anti-Semitism

For his part, Marco Pasinato, chancellor at the Catholic Diocese of Helsinki, also condemned the anti-Semitic attacks, saying that “Catholics in our country are deeply concerned about the rise in hateful acts against the Jewish community in Finland and other religious communities”.

“These acts cause anxiety and a sense of insecurity among all those who wish to live in peace for one’s own good and the good of the Finnish society”, Pasinato lamented, calling for a “clear and unequivocal” condemnation and a “responsible investigation” into the acts of hate.

The Helsinki chancellor furthermore pleaded that “everything be done to prevent” these acts from happening again, and called on “all people of good will, who in our experience are the vast majority of the Finns”, to work “together with greater determination to build a society where people are respected and have equal rights, regardless of their religion or creed”.

(With information from Sputnik)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.