Speech by the President of the Republic of Finland



I thank you heartily for your kind invitation to speak at this event. Berlin is a place that I am always delighted to visit - especially for the first Europäischer Presse- und Funk-ball of the new millennium. It is indeed a pleasure to address such a prestigious audience.

A change of millennium naturally focuses our thoughts ahead. And Berlin – where we are in the presence of not only Germany's and Europe's history, but also of our continent's future – is the best possible setting for this kind of examination.

Finland has been settling into Berlin since we opened our new embassy in Tiergarten. As many of you know, it is part of a complex of Nordic diplomatic missions; there, in a compound enclosed by a copper fence, each of the five countries in our family has its own chancellery. The area additionally contains a shared multi-purpose building with exhibition and public-service facilities. Berlin is an important metropolis for the Nordic countries. That is why we were among the first to relocate to here. We want to preserve and build on the good relations that we enjoy with our traditional cooperation partners. And of course we are eager to cultivate closer ties to everyone in Berlin and its neighbouring Länder who is interested in the Nordic region.

For us Finns the unfolding new millennium is one of growing links and contacts. If Bertolt Brecht were to re-visit Finland today, he would no longer describe us as a nation that is "bilingually silent". On the contrary, he would wonder what was so important that everyone walking in the street or sitting in a train or café felt a need to talk about it on a cellphone all the time. What would astonish him even more is that these gadgets are not just urban phenomena; indeed, they have become essential accessories for everyone, for example just as important to the lumberjack as his chain-saw.

Cellphones, the Internet and information technology in general are part of a global culture that is asserting itself everywhere. That borders are opening up and disappearing is due in part to information technology. We are no longer tied to time and place in the same way as we have been for most of our history to date. Information is easier to come by and pass on without anyone being able to impede its flow. Changes are continuing and new opportunities to be seized and problems to be solved are constantly presenting themselves.

Nevertheless it would be a mistake to imagine that as technology develops our link to history will be severed and completely new laws will govern our lives. On the contrary, the central challenges that will continue to face us relate to how we live in harmony with our neighbours, how we promote prosperity and equality, and how we can do all of this sustainably.

When we contemplate the future of Europe can not overlook Russia. We must remember that, hopefully, Russia will be an increasingly more integral part of Europe, with her people participating more and more intensively in European cooperation.

The vicissitudes of development in Russia in the past century made themselves felt also here in Berlin. Nor will the effects of progress and setbacks in Russian society be confined to that country in the future, either.

Russia underwent an unprecedented opening-up in the 1990s. A superpower that had carved out its own sphere of influence was transformed into a Eurasian state that depends on international interaction. Since the value of the rouble plunged in 1998, the share of exports has increased to one-third of gross domestic product. Now that the European Union has become Russia's number one trade partner with a 40 per cent share, the Baltic Sea region's importance as a trade artery has been further accentuated.

What Russia has achieved in the development of democracy is impressive, especially when we consider the lack of historical experience. Last December saw the country's third democratic parliamentary elections. The current flowed towards the centre. All of the major political forces were prepared to struggle for power in the Duma rather than against the Duma.

The procedure laid down in the constitution is likewise being followed in electing the next President of the country. Nobody has questioned the right of the people to choose their leaders through the ballot box. That became clear when President Yeltsin announced his resignation. His role in promoting a democratic development in Russia has been a major one. Russian history contains hardly any examples of leaders voluntarily stepping down and their successors being chosen in free elections. The Yeltsin era saw the beginning of Russia's development towards mature democracy, and there is no going back to the past.

Many of the changes that have taken place in Russia did not result from conscious planning, but rather from open borders and greater freedom of speech and action. In many cases decisions had to be made without any certainty about what the long-term consequences might be. Let us take the example of privatisation: it was an essential prerequisite for the development of a market economy, but could we have imagined how profoundly it would affect ownership structures and the economy generally?

Democratisation and the evolution of the market economy have transferred a lot of power from Moscow to the regions and companies. The most natural of cooperation partners for Finland are the parts of Russia in our immediate vicinity: the Murmansk region, the Karelian Republic, St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast. Most of the effects of devolution are positive. At its best, it is leading to greater activity on the part of citizens and stimulating healthy competition between different models of reform and development. Already now, for example, we can see other parts of the country trying to adapt the methods that have enabled the Novgorod region to accomplish so much success in promoting investment. Contrary to what some fear, devolution is strengthening Russia's economy and society rather than leading to weakness and disintegration.

The open wound in the development of Russia in the 1990s is the Chechen conflict that has now persisted for nearly a decade. The special status of the Chechens among the peoples of Russia was clearly expressed in classical Russian literature, for example by Lermontov and Tolstoy, and especially by Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. The Chechens were one of the peoples whom Stalin deported from their homelands in the 1940s. The history of Chechnya is strewn with rebellions against the central power. Thus when the Soviet Union began breaking up in 1991 the Chechen leaders tried to create an independent republic. However, the Soviet constitution allowed only the 15 constituent republics to secede from the union. As an autonomous republic, Chechnya did not have that right.

The bloody conflict in 1994-96 thrust the republic into the consciousness of the world. After a lull in the fighting it returned to the headlines last autumn. In the months since then, the Chechen conflict and the human distress resulting from it have become the most important theme in the dialogue between the European Union and Russia.

The European Union has strongly condemned the disproportionate and random use of force against the civilian population. The Union has supported a strengthening of the OSCE's role in the region. The Helsinki Summit also decided to examine what conclusions the EU must draw with respect to our mutual relations as Russia continues her war operations.

In our view, Russia wants to be and also is a part of Europe. That being the case, she must scrupulously adhere to the norms and ground rules of international humanitarian justice. That was clearly stated at the European Council meeting in Helsinki. The European Union is committed to a long-term partnership with Russia. This finds expression both in the Union's strategy on Russia and in its Northern Dimension policy. We are trying to prevent a situation in which Russia, through her own policies, drives herself further and further from Europe and the values that our continent represents. An essential precondition for success in this respect is constant work to strengthen civil society there.

Just under a month ago, the European Council decided at its meeting in Helsinki to allow more countries to begin pre-accession negotiations. The six that were already candidates have been joined by another half dozen, including Turkey. EU enlargement still has the same underlying goal as when the Coal and Steel Community was founded in the early 1950s: to enhance political stability and security and increase economic prosperity.

The ongoing negotiations and those soon to begin will take several years – depending on each candidate's own performance. But what about when the next major round of EU enlargement has been concluded? Where will Europe's external frontier ultimately run, and how shall we cooperate across it?

The sphere of stability and prosperity must not end at the EU's external frontier, either now nor in the future. Already now we must work to ensure that the borders that hamper cooperation are eliminated and the prerequisites for closer interaction put in place.

It has given me pleasure to participate, as one of the patrons, in the Dialogue of Cultures project launched by President Roman Herzog and continued by his successor Johannes Rau. The premises underlying the project have included Professor Samuel P. Huntington's theory of a "clash of civilisations" and a belief in a need to find means of averting the conflict that this rivalry could lead to.

Although Huntington's views have been criticised as one-sided, he has performed a valuable service in focusing attention on how important for the preservation of world peace it is to promote harmony between cultures and religions. It is not enough for us to concentrate on the economy and redressing shortcomings in it. We must also pay attention to the positive contributions that religions and cultures have to offer. In the new millennium we cannot have sustainable development if we forget the foundations of our cultures.

Cultural differences do not automatically lead to rivalry and conflict, but it would be beneficial to look for and emphasise the universal and common human values that unite us. Together we can struggle against inequality, hunger and want.

Thus cultures need not become similar to each other; instead, we must recognise that cultures and religions complement each other. From this perspective, every culture is of value and its message worth listening to.

The Dialogue of Cultures project emphasises educational means of bringing about this change. Conflicts of values can serve as alarm signals for more concrete clashes, and we should practise listening to them. For that we need open-mindedness and a new kind of ethical sensitivity.

One of the conflicts of values between Eastern and Western cultures has to do with the way we look at the relationship between rights and duties. The time has come for us to give some serious thought to Gandhi's comment, when he read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that "The Ganges of rights originates in the Himalayas of duties."

One means of prompting a sense of common ethical responsibility presents itself when we are drafting and enacting laws. The question that we must always ask ourselves then is how they take account of the ethical principles that all humankind shares and which are often called "global ethics". The Global Ethics Group in the Finnish Parliament is trying to arouse an awareness of this among our legislators. The group studies the principles underlying the value choices enshrined in laws and asks how they relate to our international ethical responsibilities. Setting up similar groups in various legislatures could be one means of promoting a spirit of collective global responsibility.

Technological development has brought us global direct contacts and made us impatient with regard to achieving results. Just as we can make a direct phone call to virtually anywhere on Earth, we expect our efforts in pursuit of goals – even very broad ones – to bear fruit immediately. When there is no sign of results at once and we suffer setbacks, we become disappointed and abandon our efforts.

Striving for immediate benefits can spur development and bring results in some spheres of life. But I do not believe it is a model that suits everything. In a world that pulsates ever-faster we still need projects that are carried out at a leisurely pace and within a long-term framework. I have always admired the conviction and infinite faith in the future that drove the construction of Europe's great cathedrals within time frames centuries long. Those building projects were suspended now and then. Wars laid realms in ruins. But even in the midst of scarcity and misery, people began over and over again to carry on something that had been started long ago. We need a similar conviction and long-term outlook as we search for the values that provide bridges between cultures.

Thank you.