President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö’s New Year’s Speech on 1 January 2022

President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö’s New Year’s Speech on 1 January 2022. Photo: Matti Porre/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

My fellow citizens,

“My perhaps somewhat outdated understanding of the mutual relations between us people is that we need more good will, more willingness to understand one another and more humility before higher values.” These are the words of Nobel laureate Frans Emil Sillanpää, and his message remains as topical today as it was when he wrote them.

During the past year, there have been heated debates in Finland about the pandemic. And currently, for a good reason, security policy is emerging as a topic of discussion.

We should not shy away from differences of opinion. We can think of many different ways to address challenging situations. The expression of opinions is a sign of a well-functioning democracy. But we must not stop wanting to understand that someone else may see a matter differently from us. Otherwise, deep discord may arise. For a nation, fierce discord may be more dangerous than the challenge in itself.

The beginning of a new year is a time of promises and hope. At the turn of this year, the promise of seeking the common good is of particular importance.

* * *

The third year of the coronavirus pandemic is about to begin. The disease has turned out to be a persistent and cunning opponent. It has been difficult to keep up with the rapidly spreading pandemic. And it has been impossible to get ahead of it.

The time of living more freely did not open up quite the way we had hoped for. Two vaccinations and the COVID-19 passport created a sense of safety, which was, however, eaten away by time. When the virus changed its form, the disease took even more room than before.

It is understandable that people are frustrated with the continuous setbacks. We all feel the same. The fear for our own health or that of our loved ones is consuming us. Many people are worried about their finances and their livelihood. The virus, however, does not care about our weariness or our feelings. Now we are asked to be resilient over and over again.

In spring 2020, the virus appeared as a common enemy that we are all fighting against together. In Finland, we saw a lot of people helping each other and caring for others. Good will reigned, and it spread widely.

Now the feel is different. It is, of course, understandable that things we have not experienced before provoke different opinions, both on the dangers of the pandemic and on the ways of protecting ourselves from it. However, the differing opinions have begun to turn into quarrelling and spreading of ill will. A factor that unites us – the efforts to protect our health – should not be allowed to become the source of a quarrel.

* * *

However, I believe we can all agree about one thing: this disease is spreading. It is highly contagious and spreads widely. It infects people,  with effects ranging from mild symptoms to fatal consequences. I do not believe that anyone would deliberately take on any illness to bear or to spread.

Someone may still think that, in their case, the risk is not that high. And be indifferent. In other words, fail to take precautions, to take the vaccination or to wear a mask. But when taking the risk, no one takes it only on their own behalf. And no one knows in advance where their chain of transmission may lead.

No maelstrom lasts forever. The promise of a better tomorrow stems from the power of science and healthcare. A multitude of lives has already been saved.

The specialists in science and healthcare have been sharing their competence worldwide. Governments should also enhance their cooperation. We can beat this plague together.

* * *

The great power politics are currently in a rapid state of flux. The post-Cold-War era is definitely over. The characteristics of a new era are only beginning to take shape. But every time the shape of geopolitics changes, the impacts are also felt by countries smaller than the great powers. Sometimes particularly by them.

The conflict on the borders of Ukraine is on the verge of getting deeper. Tensions have also been building up as regards European security. The change has been rapid. Still last summer, following President Biden’s trip to Europe, the primary cause of concern seemed to be China. After Presidents Biden and Putin met in Geneva, it was assumed that the United States and Russia were in a process of building lines of communication. The polite host, Europe, was mainly listening.

Now the feel is different. The ultimatums Russia gave to the U.S. and NATO in December concern Europe. They are in conflict with the European security order. Spheres of interest do not belong to the 2020s. The sovereign equality of all states is the basic principle that everyone should respect.

Ultimately, patience, responsibility and dialogue are the only roads forward. It is not possible to build a sustainable future by threatening with the use of armed force or other kinds of violence. Accordingly, the response to the Russian demands has been the offer of dialogue. Finland has also made efforts to promote and continue dialogue for its own part.

We must, however, be careful about what is being talked about and with whom. Many Europeans have asked, and not for the first time: are we being discussed without us being included? Even though the challenge was presented to the U.S. and NATO, in this situation Europe cannot just listen in. The sovereignty of several Member States, also Sweden and Finland, has been challenged from outside the Union. This makes the EU an involved party. The EU must not settle merely with the role of a technical coordinator of sanctions.

* * *

International tensions cause concern in many Finns as well. European security also involves Finnish security. In an open society, there is always room for discussion and different opinions, no matter whether they concern the dangers of the situation or the ways of protecting ourselves from them.

We can all agree that the situation is serious. A factor that unites us – the security of Finland – should not be allowed to become the source of a quarrel. Let us keep trying to understand that someone else may see the matter differently from us.

In my opinion, when it comes to Finland, the situation is clear. Finland’s foreign and security policy line remains stable. It has been built to last even difficult times. In the fast-paced world, it is more valuable than ever to know when to hurry, and when to have patience.

National security, self-determination and room to manoeuvre are just as important to small nations as to big ones. While taking care of these fundamentals, we are also safeguarding Finland’s international status.

And let it be stated once again: Finland’s room to manoeuvre and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and of applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide. NATO’s business is the so-called Open Door policy, the continuance of which has been repeatedly confirmed to Finland, also publicly.

Presidents Biden and Putin talked with each other again the day before yesterday. We may be somewhat wiser in mid-January, when we see what will follow from the negotiation contacts between Russia, the U.S. and NATO. For Finland, it is important that also the OSCE is involved in this series of meetings.

We should maintain hope, but not succumb to mere wishful thinking. In times like this, Henry Kissinger’s lessons also come to mind. According to his cynical statement, whenever avoidance of war has been the primary objective of a group of powers, the international system has been at the mercy of its most ruthless member. This principle may also be put to the test in the dialogue due to start in the second week of January.

* * *

I belong to the generations born after the Second World War. To those generations for whom the circumstances have been getting better all the time. Knowing this, you end up looking at yourself: when you have been given a lot, you cannot leave only a little behind you.

Climate change, loss of biodiversity, and becoming burdened with material, financial debt are signs of how we are living at the expense of the future. That cannot be the legacy our generations leave to the next ones. Let us change it.

Young people today are being tested. The pandemic has robbed them of a disproportionate part of their life. The growing social malaise, drop in physical condition and the stagnation in the level of education are worrying signs. The parents, all of us, should hear the young people out. Sometimes already that can help. Understanding and support showed by an adult is a great gift to a young person.

Young people also have a lot to say. Activity is always a sign of a spark of life. Indifference among young people is a serious warning sign of a waning spirit. The happiest county in the world can only be satisfied when it offers its youth perspectives of hope.

* * *

A lot of things are also well. I want to thank you already in advance for having “more good will, more willingness to understand one another and more humility before higher values” this year, as Taata Sillanpää wished. Then things will be even better. I wish you all a happy New Year and God’s blessing.