President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö held a speech at the dinner for the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace, 26 April 2018. Photo: Juhani Kandell/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland.
It is a great pleasure to see you all here tonight. The context is familiar, as this dinner is an established annual tradition. But traditions, like communities and institutions, live in time. They are only as strong as their constituent parts make them.
There are again several ambassadors in the room who have joined this diplomatic corps in the course of the past year. Some of you presented your credentials as recently as yesterday. I want to warmly welcome you and your families to Helsinki. I hope you become active members of the community here.
This is the time of year when Finland really comes to life. Light overcomes darkness. Spring takes over from the long winter. In nature, this is something that we can count on happening automatically. Seasons change. Time takes care of that, all we need to do is to wait. In international relations we do not have the luxury of just waiting for the seasons to change. Darkness does not disappear on its own. If we want the course of events to alter, we have to take action. It is up to all of us – us together, as members of the international community – to make sure that light prevails again.
Looking at the world in 2018, we certainly have our work cut out for us. There is plenty of darkness out there. The devastating war in Syria is a particularly brutal case in point. The amount of human suffering it has produced is unbearable. Increasingly, we have also begun to understand the wider dangers it poses to international peace and security on the whole. A further escalation could spiral out of control, with unpredictable global consequences. It is our joint responsibility to seek ways out of this crisis.
In Finland, after cheerfully celebrating our 100 years of independence last year, we have spent the first months of this year remembering the darkest chapter of our own history. Revisiting the bloody events of the civil war of 1918 has not been easy. But I have been proud of the way in which we as a nation have been able to do that. It is testimony to the unity and resilience that has made Finland what it is today.
In fact, going through the memories of the civil war has also enabled us to think of what happened in the decades following 1918. From a terrible starting point, it is quite remarkable how quickly the nation was able to find a way forward together, overcoming our divisions. Our institutions, based on democracy and the rule of law, were an important factor in that healing process. But making use of the institutions was only possible because we started to see ourselves as members of the same community again.
Our national experience after 1918 also gives me the confidence to see positive opportunities for the international community in the years ahead. Making use of those opportunities requires action. Wishful thinking will not take us anywhere. We need to call a spade a spade, and recognize that the international community is not in a good shape right now. The inability to achieve common solutions is on open display – in the United Nations Security Council as well as in other institutions forming the international order as we know it. But it would be a mistake to blame the institutions themselves. We, the members of those institutions, need to make them work again. In the end, they can only work if we start thinking of ourselves as a community, where we all have something to gain from our cooperation.
There are no shortcuts to such a sense of community. In order to bring it about, dialogue is essential. And dialogue cannot be limited to those with whom we already agree. Talking to each other does not mean accepting the other side’s views on every issue. But it may help identify areas of common interest in the midst of conflicting ones. Opportunities for dialogue need to be seized, not shied away from. Small, practical steps can be mightier than grand gestures.
Finland works persistently to contribute to this kind of a dialogue, in our bilateral relations as well as in the multilateral organizations. One particular avenue we want to make use of is our current chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The pragmatic cooperation in the Arctic has so far been spared from negative spillover effects from the otherwise tense international atmosphere. This state of affairs needs to be maintained. We are all better off, if the Arctic does not become an area of confrontation. But maybe we should be more ambitious about that. Why don’t we try to reverse the flow, and find ways of spreading the message of the positive dynamism of the Arctic cooperation to the broader international community? This Northern light could be an inspiring example to the world at large.
In this spirit, I would like to conclude by proposing a toast to dialogue and to a sense of community. I hope to be able to count on your support in seeking a brighter future together in the years ahead. Thank you!