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It is a great pleasure for my wife and I to attend the Convocation of FinnFest USA 2017. I want to thank the organisers for this wonderful opportunity.
FinnFest forms a part of a larger series of Finland100 celebrations that Finnish expats are arranging all around the world this year. The common factor uniting these events is that they are designed to bring people from various backgrounds together. “Together” is of course also the headline for Finland’s centennial celebrations.
As you know, Finland’s independence was not self-evident. Nor was our road to becoming one of the most successful countries in the world an easy one. Making our country industrialised and modern has been the result of dedicated long-term work. The world-famous “sisu” probably played a role as well.
We fought valiantly to protect our freedom and independence through the tumultuous Second World War. A different kind of future was planned for us by Stalin, but the Finns would not bend. But we paid a high price in the war. I want to thank the generation who fought and suffered during the war. Especially I want to pay tribute to the war veterans for their sacrifices made in protecting Finland. Without them we would not have retained our independence.
Independence made it possible for Finland to hold on to Western and Nordic values and democracy. Today we are an EU member, a firmly fixed part of the European democratic family and an active member of the global community. It is important to value the good things we have achieved. When different rankings measure and compare achievements, Finland is nearly always among the world’s leading countries. We have freedom of speech, creativity, we are the world’s most stable country and a nearly corruption-free community. We have made significant progress in equality between the sexes: Finnish girls have the world’s second best possibilities for realising their potential. And, believe it or not, according to some studies, the Finns are also among the five happiest peoples on this planet. I suppose we must believe this is true, even though, as you know, we Finns do not always excel at showing our emotions.
Around 380,000 Finns migrated to North America before the Second World War. A large part of them settled here in Minnesota. They must have found their home and happiness here as only one-fifth of them returned to Finland permanently. The reasons for their decisions to leave Finland were many, but a determination to succeed and make a better life for themselves and their children was no doubt at the core. To many, America was the promised land of opportunities and freedom.
At that time, just over one hundred years ago, new inventions, such as the train and the steam engine accelerated migration. Today digitalisation holds the same power. It minimises distances and facilitates communication and co-operation in an incredible, and at times also unbelievable way. Information technologies have opened the door for new opportunities to staying in touch and maintaining contact also between the Finnish expats and Finland. Your positive contribution to Finland is greatly appreciated and I hope and believe that we can give back to you in equal measure.
Every year witnesses the arrival of fresh migrants from Finland to North America. The tradition endures but the people are not the same. Today, technology companies are drawing experts across the Atlantic, and many pensioners have found a home for at least part of the year in Florida.
You, as Finnish Americans, represent the finest qualities of the Finnish people. Hard work, a will to succeed – sometimes even against all odds – have allowed you to make a life and ensure a better future on this new continent. You have created well-being for yourselves, but also for others, as part of a great nation. To be sure, this was not always an easy task. But you did succeed and found your place in the new world.
In a similar way, Finland arose from challenging initial conditions and hardships to establish its place among the world’s nations. Finland values you and your contribution highly. It is awe-inspiring to see how proudly you highlight your Finnish nature and origins. This is of great importance to me as the President of the Republic of Finland.
Once again, it is an honour and a privilege for my wife and I to be here with you today celebrating 100 years of Finnish independence and honouring the Finnish Americans. I thank you once again for this wonderful reception and wish you continued success and happiness in the years to come.