YEARS SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
The atmosphere in
which the new millennium begins is auspicious from
Finlands point of view. Economic development is
brisk and the general mood in society is one of
confidence in the future.
The past year
strengthened Finlands active international
role. The success of our term in the Presidency of
the European Union will be reflected in our future
status. We shall continue to have the ear and trust
of the international community.
The strong development
of Finnish society can be seen also in international
comparisons. Our country has been recognised as
innovative and competitive. People elsewhere in the
world are increasingly interested in how we manage
Economic success is
reflecting itself in the lives of growing numbers of
citizens. The goals with respect to reducing
unemployment that we set just over five years ago
have been met fairly well. A lot remains to be done
to overcome joblessness, but the past few years have
shown that changes can be achieved through consistent
and resolute cooperation.
well-educated people and competitive companies have
been necessary for the success of our economy.
However, individual performances do not on their own
explain the leap forward that in the space of a
single century has transformed Finland from a poor
and remote country into one of the worlds most
advanced and affluent societies.
One of the
cornerstones of success is the concept of equality
and sense of common responsibility that prevail in
Finland. Everyone has the opportunity to obtain an
education, irrespective of their parents income
or where they live. Both outstanding individuals and
a solid know-how base are our trump cards.
security and health care have brought security into
peoples lives. That has provided them with a
good foundation on which to develop their own skills
and abilities. Trust in the strength of common
responsibility has helped our nation to get through
times of crisis.
From time to time we
hear expressions of opinions to the effect that a
sense of common responsibility is merely a burden
that hampers the success of talented individuals and
thereby adversely affects the development of society.
Thinking like that amounts to building on a
foundation of sand.
A society is not just
the sum of the individuals that comprise it; its
strength and development depend also on the social
capital that consists of peoples mutual trust
and their ability to cooperate.
decision-makers easily tend to examine only averages
and macro-figures. When they are contacted by
citizens, however, they find it easier to understand
the everyday life of individual people and are
reminded that not all boats have been lifted by the
rising tide. Speaking on my own behalf and for my
wife, I wish to thank you for the messages that we
have received over the years. We must remember the
necessity of looking after those of our citizens who
have not been able to share in the growth of
prosperity in Finland.
A task like that is
not at all easy. It requires every member of society
to have a strong sense of shared responsibility and a
willingness to distribute the results of economic
activity in a way that helps the more disadvantaged.
Selfish individualism can prove dangerous also for
the implementation of equality. We must beware of
this, because only in a society based on equality can
the life of each and every one of its members rest on
an assured and stable foundation.
On 17.7.1995 I
confirmed an amendment to our Constitution bringing a
comprehensive revision of the basic rights provisions
into force. The provisions now correspond in practice
to the commitments that Finland has made under
international human rights conventions. The revised
basic rights provisions were also incorporated as
such into our new Constitution.
It is stipulated in
the Constitution that the public authorities must
ensure the implementation of basic rights and human
rights. Now an active obligation to develop has been
imposed on the State and local authorities as well as
on other bodies in the public sector. Thus, invoking
basic rights, authorities can be required to
implement measures to guarantee peoples
security and freedom of movement. The basic rights
provisions must guide political decision making as
The principle of
common responsibility is not confined to our own
country alone; it needs to be observed also between
nations. There is a particularly great need for it
when, for one reason or another, a state ceases to
look after its citizens fundamental rights and
begins restricting and violating them.
A question that we had
to ponder on many occasions during the past year had
to do with just when the international community is
forced to intervene when individual states cross a
certain line in the way they treat their own
citizens. Where events in Kosovo were concerned, that
line was crossed. Making refugees of over a million
people and driving them from their homes led to
international use of force.
In Kosovo and nearly
the whole of the Balkans it has now been possible to
begin the work of building a post-conflict society.
It is an undertaking that will demand a commitment at
least a generation long on the part of also countries
outside the region.
Likewise in our
neighbouring country Russia there has been a need to
give serious thought to where the commitment and
reforming spirit required to build a healthy society
can be found. In the final analysis, these must be
found in the Russians themselves; the outside world
can only be a support. At the same time, however,
Russia must avoid being isolated from international
cooperation and the norms of the international
Ten years ago, when
the Cold War system was being dismantled, I was among
those who believed that it would be possible to
divert funds from armament to developing the poorest
countries and helping the worst-off people.
In this hope we have
had to suffer disappointment. Managing a variety of
crises has tied up resources, and often short-sighted
selfishness is no unknown phenomenon on the
international scene, either. Also our participation
is needed in managing crises. However, something that
is at least equally important is to try to prevent
crises by supporting sustainable development in poor
* * *
responsibility for our neighbours, equality and
justice are things that can be realised only in a
tolerant society. Acceptance of and respect for
diversity are among the prerequisites for our
collective success in the new millennium.
Nevertheless tolerance does not mean accepting all
At the same time as we
recognise how diverse people are, we must also see
the ethical factors that we share. We must emphasise
the values that unite humankind in its common
struggle to eliminate inequality, hunger and want.
development will not be brought about merely by
redressing the shortcomings that economic
globalisation has created. It will also require the
positive, constructive contributions of cultures and
religions. In the new millennium development will
have to be sustainable also in the cultural sense.
I have often stressed
the importance of change. Adhering to permanent basic
values is a prerequisite for being able to adapt to
change. We must respect each other and look after
I wish all citizens a
happy New Year and the blessing of God.