OPENING OF THE FINNISH POPULATION AND FAMILY WELFARE FEDERATION'S
SEPTEMBER 23, 1996, AT PARLIAMENT HOUSE
OPENING SPEECH GIVEN BY MRS EEVA AHTISAARI AND PRESENTATION OF THE 'PEEK INTO THE FUTURE' AWARD
The millennium is about to change - an occurrence which has happened only once in the history of the Western world. There is a sense of historic change in the air. Although our expectations are high, it looks likely that the last years of the 20th century will be marked by fear, uncertainty, general chaos and increasing insecurity. Scientists talk about a 'risk society', characterized by an individual and collective atmosphere of panic, by an awareness of risks and catastrophes.
The theme of this year's Homes' Week is 'Insecurity is part of life'. With this theme, the Finnish Population and Family Welfare Federation is underscoring its belief that the spirit of the times will be marked by a growing awareness of the transience of all things. We will have to learn to live with many conflicting pressures, without a clear picture of the direction the future will take. Insecurity also finds a reflection in our national identity: we will have to reflect whether Finnishness can survive in our changing world.
Insecurity is the result of external factors, such as the break-up of old political, cultural and economic structures and unemployment. Families, workplaces and schools also seem to suffer from insecurity. The nature of work has changed, and temporary jobs and projects are replacing permanent employment relationships. Age and professional experience are no longer values per se. The competition for jobs is fierce. Stress and exhaustion are a problem at work. Schools, too, need to adjust to the demands of continuous change.
Is this situation new and unprecedented? A closer look into history shows that the Finnish way of life has had to tolerate a great deal of insecurity in the past hundred years. As a nation, families and individuals have had to adjust to rapid and radical changes in their living environment. The difficult war years and the period of post-war reconstruction, sudden swings between economic boom and recession, numerous governments and uncontrollable structural changes, the fast modernization of society and large-scale internal migration have left their mark on every Finn.
But insecurity has also been a source of strength. Many cultural historians emphasize that the Finns have always managed to summon up their strength and brace themselves if faced by some external threat or insecurity. Numerous surveys of Finnish attitudes recently have shown that Finnishness is closely linked with national and spiritual independence, national defence, regard for work and education, and values related to nature and the forests.
Should we therefore accept insecurity as a permanent part of our lives? Where can we find security and give our lives meaning at a time of transition? It is symptomatic that we are once again showing an interest in the role of the home, the family and relations. The new coming of the family and relations is founded on the growing feeling of insecurity in society. We need a sense of continuity and a safe community to belong to. The significance of the family for passing on traditions is on the rise.
The financial insecurity of families also reflects on children and the young. The child is the weakest link in the chain and will react first. Today, many children and young people are in danger of having their wings clipped. Unemployment and debts are a cause of great concern in too many Finnish homes. Many families are in distress. The anguish of how to survive overshadows the lives of many people. The overloading of family life, shortage of time with the family and poor inter-personal relations may also be problems in families where the parents work outside the home.
Although the outlook for the future may sometimes seem gloomy, even hopeless, it is the duty of us adults and parents to encourage and educate, to inspire the young with confidence in the future. The family, a good home and belonging to an unbroken chain of generations may even provide a depth of love, tenderness and joy of togetherness that no institution can offer. The power of the family lies in its ability to adapt to the conditions that society sets at any given time.
Extended parenthood is another of today's issues. The existence of a model adult is important for the young. All children need to be attached to an adult and a home. They need good care, upbringing and the love of an adult. Growth is based on the child's trust in the adult. This is the soil which will provide trust in the future.
The dismantling of social structures requires citizens to replace them on their own initiative and through their own efforts. The strength of the Finns has always been that, even in times of insecurity, they have been able to draw on their natural strength and will to survive. The Finnish Population and Family Welfare Federation's 'Homes' Week' seeks to promote the spiritual and material welfare of homes and families. The key words are self-reliance, helping others and deeper understanding between the generations.
In 1992, the Finnish Population and Family Welfare Federation stopped nominating and arranging award of the 1st class Order of the White Rose medal to distinguished mothers on Mothers' Day. Since the Association wants to continue to reward those working for the home and the family, however, it created a new 'Peek into the Future' award to foster parenthood and responsibility in a more comprehensive way. This award is presented every year for innovative work in the interests of children and families.
In 1996, the Finnish Population and Family Welfare Federation chose the Espoo-based 'Good Everyday Life' association as the winner of its 'Peek into the Future' award.
'Good Everyday Life', founded in 1990, helps people to cope with their everyday problems. The association has shown that individuals can directly, and on their own initiative, assume responsibility for their fellow human beings. It seeks to improve people's everyday lives mainly by working with those who have no salaried income or are in poor health, and with the unemployed, old-age pensioners, mothers at home, students and children.
The association maintains two lunch canteens. It accepts and passes on work assignments and arranges recreational activities. It offer a place, and the opportunity, to take part in study and hobby groups. It describes itself as a 'multi-purpose centre for good cheer', whose participation threshold is low and getting lower all the time.
I ask the chairperson of the association's Board Raija-Liisa Leinonen, and its activity leaders Arja Dolgov and Helena Korhonen to come up and collect the award.