President of the Republic of Finland Alexander Stubb held a speech at the main event of the annual National Veterans’ Day in Vaasa on Saturday 27 April 2024. Photo: Juhani Kandell/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Alexander Stubb at the National Veterans’ Day main event on 27 April 2024

Honoured war veterans, esteemed members of the veteran generation, ladies and gentlemen

Finland is the happiest country in the world for the seventh year in a row. Reading these news makes you feel a deep sense of gratitude for how unique a country our Finland is. We get to live in a safe environment and enjoy Finland’s beautiful nature.

Too often, we take the good around us for granted. Forgetting the long path that has led our nation to where it is today. Our welfare would not be possible without the invaluable sacrifices of the veteran generation. You defended tenaciously Finland’s independence during the greatest test of our nation. You fought against an overwhelming aggressor in harsh conditions. Many of you were not even of age when the order came to leave for the front. You followed orders. You did more than you were asked to do.

As it happens, I would not be standing here without veterans either. My grandfather, Medical Captain Kai Setälä, stepped on a mine during the Continuation War in Ontrosenvaara, near Rukajärvi. It was in a war hospital that he met his future wife, member of Lotta Svärd Inger Ekman. The proposal is said to have taken place within a week of the first meeting.

After the wars, it was by no means obvious that Finland would become a Nordic welfare state. The generation that rebuilt our country has not prided itself on the perseverance that the post-war period demanded of many of them. People had faith in the future and kept the most important thing in mind: to build a safe homeland for their children. We, the younger generations, are grateful for this tireless work.

The post-Cold War era is over. It ended with Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Russia once again attacked illegally and ruthlessly a sovereign, independent state. During the Second World War, the Finnish people had to bear a disproportionate burden in order to stop the invader. Today the Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom and defending their independence, just as the Finns did during the Winter and Continuation Wars. For them, this struggle for independence is a generational experience similar to the one you, the generation of veterans, lived through 80 years ago.

Now, even more than ever, our destinies in Europe and the world are intertwined. Ukraine’s cause is our cause. Ukraine’s security is our security.

That is why our support for Ukraine must continue. Although it demands a lot from us. Ukrainians are ready to sacrifice everything, just like you were. Ukraine is defending not only itself, but also international law, freedom and stability on our continent.

Finland is valued for its support of Ukraine and for taking care of its own defence. Over the years, we have renewed the capabilities of our armed forces, on land, at sea and in the air. Today we are a militarily allied country. Finland’s collective will to defend the nation is among the highest in the world. Our defence capability has always relied on a strong reserve, but many want to serve their country also in other ways.

Over the past two years, many Finns have asked themselves what they can do to strengthen our common sense of security. As a result, interest in voluntary national defence work has been growing across the country. For many, the desire to contribute to Europe stems from the valuable legacy of our veterans.

Honoured war veterans, esteemed members of the veteran generation

This year, the theme of the National Veterans’ Day is ”Preserving the heritage of veterans – together we succeed”. As the ranks of your generation dwindle, let us all remember the message of Veteraanin iltahuuto, the Song of The Finnish Veterans. We must keep in our hearts the memory of how dear this country was to you. We must tell our grandchildren about your sacrifices for the freedom of our fatherland. This memory must never fade.

In gratitude for your service for the fatherland, I wish you good health and a happy Veterans’ Day. Thank you.

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