Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Finland Centennial Gala Dinner in Washington D.C.on 16 September 2017

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It is a great pleasure for me to join you all for this gala dinner. Tonight, we are celebrating the Centennial of Finland. A little ahead of time, actually, as the official birthday of Finland is not until December 6. But I hereby give us the permission to honor my country and enjoy the festive evening. For me it is already 2 o`clock in the morning and we all know that`s when the best parties begin.

This evening is not only about us Finns. It`s about Finns and Americans – old friends.
Many of you in this room have worked hard to strengthen the partnership and connections over the years, from both sides of the Atlantic, and across the United States. I thank you warmly for it.

I can safely say that today the bond between Finland and the United States is closer than ever. I have the air miles to prove it. It is only a little more than two weeks since my last visit here. But the Ambassador and her staff may be relieved to hear this: I do not intend to make a habit of coming to Washington twice a month, every month. 

When I met President Trump at the White House at the end of August – and President Obama at the US-Nordic Leaders’ Summit in May last year – we discussed a broad range of issues that have one thing in common. They were ones that none of us can successfully address alone. They need to be tackled together.

“Together” – Yhdessä, Tillsammans – is also the theme of our Centennial. At first sight, it may look like the exact opposite of the word “independence”. Doesn’t being independent mean the freedom to do things on your own and your way? Not being influenced by others? Yet a closer look makes it clear that “together” is the very essence of our independence. It always has been. 

“Together” begins at home, within our borders, in our communities. As a nation of 5.5 million people, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind. Pulling together has served us well throughout our history, in good times and bad. Equality between genders, in opportunities and in education provide the backbone for the resilience of our society. The backbone of what I have called participatory patriotism.

The power of “together” does not stop at the water’s edge. For Finland, international cooperation is critically important. Our prosperity is built on free trade and an open world economy. Our security is strengthened by international institutions and the rules-based order. And working with our partners, we give back in equal measure. Our companies and investments create jobs abroad. Our civilian and military experts contribute to security beyond our borders. 

As you well know, Finland currently chairs the Arctic Council, a role we inherited from the United States in May. The headline of our chairmanship is “Exploring Common Solutions”. A slogan designed for the Arctic can work elsewhere, too. When we move on to New York next week, for the General Assembly of the United Nations, exploring common solutions is precisely what it is all about. And there is certainly no shortage of wicked problems, crying to be solved. 

We are living in dangerous times. There are forces trying to sow division in our societies and between different countries in the world.

We need to be firm and decisive against those who threaten us. But we also need to be very careful to minimize collateral damage when doing so. Maintaining unity is crucial, nationally and internationally.     

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Anniversaries can easily be reduced to thinking about the past. And there is nothing wrong with looking back. We Finns have every reason to be proud of our history – but it has not always been easy. Turning a poor, agrarian country into one of the most stable, successful and competitive societies in the world did not happen miraculously overnight. It has been a result of sacrifices, perseverance – or what we call sisu – and vision.

But past achievement alone do not carry us very far.  Completing our first century as an independent nation should make us to think about the next century, too. We need to make sure that all the qualities that have brought us this far are fit for the future. In a rapidly changing environment, a fair amount of innovation and renewal will be vital as well. 

Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are the cornerstones of the American Declaration of Independence. Similar ideals echo in our own, issued a little less than one hundred years ago. What strikes me in the short text from December 1917 is the way in which independence and liberty were linked with the need to open up to the world.

Happiness is best pursued by ending isolation, by joining the free nations of the world.
This is the truth that I myself hold self-evident. It is also an ageless recipe for prosperity and security and something that we should follow as we begin our second century as an independent nation. We look forward to deepening our partnership with the United States ever further in the years ahead.

I hope you all have a wonderful evening. Enjoy the conversations with old and new friends.
As I look around and see so many familiar and friendly faces, I feel at home. Who knows, I might be tempted to return again in two weeks’ time, after all.