New Year Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö on 1 January 2017

My fellow citizens,

Milestone anniversaries are important to us. For some, it is a certain age, for others when a community reaches round figures. Many of us remember that significant events, good or bad, happened so and so many decades ago.   

No one of us has experienced the feeling of turning a hundred together. This year there are so many events that nobody can help noticing it. Little by little, throughout the year, the feeling will roll over us.

I am intrigued to hear how we, you there and myself along with you, will feel it.

Reaching a centenary is something special, brings back memories and flashes from along the way, in different ways to different age groups. Many young people too will surely be stirred – so it is this important, high five to Finland! 

Not everybody will be celebrating with us. Fireworks, festivities, let alone the words of speeches; it is difficult to rejoice if your own life is too difficult.  

One key message of a 100-year-old Finland could well be: You will do  well if no one is doing badly. So help as much as you can. Another message could be: Take reasonable responsibility, at least of yourself. That is, do what you are capable of.

By acting like this, you will be participating, you will be part of this nation.

Citizens of Finland,

Let’s have a closer look at our 100-year-old country. We are actually much older than that, the people who arrived here from east and west a long time ago. But we have become Finns and as Finns we will remain.

The first thing that comes into mind when thinking about nationalism is a romanticized image of the decades before independence. The feelings which our national artists described in words, brush strokes or notes. Noble, lofty and brave action for a good cause against oppression. Language and culture built our national spirit and our nation. In a way that still touches us, as when someone walking in the Sibelius Park sees the lit monument of our greatest composer – and can almost hear the Finlandia-hymn humming in the trees.

Let me take another image, from soon after our independence. I call it participatory patriotism. It is a feeling founded by means of democracy. Noble, lofty and brave action so that following a bloody period, we could end fighting against each other and start building our country. Equality and justice created participatory patriotism; I too am part of this. We were successful and the Winter War Miracle is a glorious manifestation of it. Everyone shared the same feeling, from the young female volunteers to officers, from the working class to the wealthier, from city dwellers to farmers. The fact that we had something worth protecting and that we were protecting it together. Because we were all participants.

I will now jump to today’s feelings. There is plenty of talk about social inclusion and even more about social exclusion. I have personally emphasised a sense of justice and national unity as values that are important to us.

Participatory patriotism is based on interaction: Finland acts in a way that takes into account individuals, who in return contribute to a common objective. This creates a silent agreement between community and individuals, and results in an appreciative national spirit and a positive feeling of togetherness.

The Finnish community is much more than the state. Our fellow people, those close to us, we all have the power to do good. Simple, everyday things are important when helping someone, whether it is about social exclusion, bullying in school or making someone feel less lonely. This does not undermine public power, as is sometimes feared; on the contrary, we are building our country together.

A community that shares such a spirit can be more successful than others, but does not consider itself to be better than others. It does not exclude anyone, regardless of their origin or any other reason, but invites people to participate. It tells you that it is good to live in this country.

My fellow citizens,

We are now walking in a land of shadows, in this world. We hear news of cruelty and death every day, be it Aleppo, Berlin, and who knows where next.

Evil has always existed, but now it is more and more present. We had already learned to think that we had got rid of evil. And we have also been taught to think that good will triumph over evil in the end, always. 

Finland is part of Western culture, and we think in a Western way. Promoting wellbeing and creating peace has been our objective. But how about preparing against evil, that is a question we may not have realised to ask. 

In a beautiful world, you have beautiful thoughts, and that is right. If only the world were only beautiful.

Our constitution provides good protection for the fundamental rights of the individual. But now we are facing some very difficult questions: what should we do in a situation where we have to weigh collective safety against rights of the individual? 

When something bad has happened, often afterwards it is asked why enough was not done in time to stop a terrorist. It is a poor answer to say that we did not have sufficient powers. This only conveys a feeling of powerlessness. 

Evil must of course be opposed with good. But we must set limits to evil. We also need to be strong and resolute.

Europe has been a strong defender of democracy, equality and human rights. These are values that we have exported, even to the point of being didactic. Today we have to defend these within European borders. 

The European Union is needed more than in decades, but it is now weaker and more fragmented than ever.  

The EU has been losing its footing in international politics. There has been speculation that Presidents Putin and Trump will be discussing Europe over Europe’s head. As regards Syria, we hear that Russia and Turkey are brokering a peace agreement. The EU cannot be absent from the negotiation tables where decisions about the future are made.

Through its own action, the EU in its heyday went into considerable detail and expanded quickly. Now the focus must be on what is the most important for European people and families. The answer is: to live in peace and security. Threat of terrorism, fear or war and the forces of migration create uncertainty.

Can we overcome these challenges better together or each country individually? The year before last with the flood of migration we saw countries within the EU even turning against each other when individual decisions were made. There may even be the odd benefit to some at the expense of others. But they will weaken unity and in the end turn against whoever may have enjoyed some benefits. The EU is only as strong as its weakest link.

The Union’s security and defence co-operation has taken a step forward. This is good, and an avenue that must be kept open. There is no point in first defining what cooperation does not include. It is better to proceed one step at a time and see how far down the road we get without difficulty.

Terrorism is a common enemy everywhere and to everyone. In order to defend against this evil, a key role is played by effective gathering and exchange of information and flexible co-operation between the authorities of different countries. Action is needed from the EU.

Migration occurs when people flee from war and persecution, but also when their living conditions are weakened. There is a wide consensus that aid is at its most helpful when delivered locally. Now the 28 EU Member States and also the Commission each engage in development cooperation individually. This results in overlaps and even competition among them. Joining forces would bring much better results. 

Climate change will risk living conditions in many areas. Fighting against climate change also contributes to reducing forced migration. The EU was the flag bearer in reaching the Paris Agreement, and must continue in this role.

Dear listeners,

“People, animals and plants, all from the same root, made of the same matter,” said author Juha Hurme on the TV news around Christmas. I guess he is right, and we must be able to get along with each other.

Last year we also learned about Sulo Karjalainen who has a bear for a friend. There an animal looks at a human being, and the human being at the animal, face to face. Do they understand something, even a lot, about each other? Humanity or animality, both creatures of nature.

How about humans looking at humans, face to face? It helps you to see, perhaps if someone needs help. It helps you to understand that other people too have goals and requirements. Or teaches you to recognise danger and to manage fear.

The world of shadows requires a counterforce. If we have understanding and participation in people, humanity and the creation, the shadows will withdraw.

I wish you all a good centenary year and God bless you!