Opening words by Foreign Minister Tuomioja at FinnFest in Philadelphia

Mr Erkki Tuomioja Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland FinnFest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States 26 July, 2001

Dear Finns, Finnish Americans and Friends of Finland

I have a great honor and pleasure to greet you all on behalf of the Government of Finland and to wish every success to FinnFest USA 2001.

I want to commend the organizers for keeping the tradition of this event alive and strong and, in particular, want to commend the dedication and determination of those many individuals who, through their personal efforts, have contributed to the continued success of this festival.

The location of this year’s FinnFest is most appropriate. This area symbolizes in many ways the close relationship between our two nations. This is the very place where the first Finns landed when they entered the new continent 363 years ago. Traveling this far so long ago is evidence of perseverance, a special characteristic of the Finns. When the Colony of New Sweden on the Delaware River was lost to the Dutch and taken in turn by the English, the Finnish settlers remained in the area. They hold an established place among the early builders of this great nation.

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I hope that the tradition of FinnFests will continue to flourish and that the coming generations will have an opportunity to learn about their Finnish-American heritage. At the same time, I also encourage you to keep abreast of topical developments in Finland. Finland today is no longer a poor peripheral country struggling to get along with the help of our famous “Sisu”. We are a successful, modern high-tech society which is a world leader in technology and telecommunications. We have our problems, of which unemployment looms largest, but even there after severe crises of the 90’s we have managed to create proportionally more new jobs than any other European country.

International rankings place Finland at the top of the league in terms of competitiveness, investment in research and development, environmental responsibility and lack of corruption.

In view of the very interesting debate about different social models I want to say clearly: this is not despite our being a Nordic Welfare State; it is because of the strength and flexibility of our universal education, health and social services, and comprehensive social security, which is the basis of our welfare model, and to which Finns remain committed.

We still have our idiosyncratic ways and traditions and our small languages, which nevertheless have not prevented us from gaining in culture some of the positions we have lost since we were a world power in sports – through there too, we can point to many Flying Finns who have succeeded in fields which were unknown to most of us only a few decades ago.

FinnFest 2001 provides a unique opportunity for Finland to demonstrate some of these contemporary achievements to the Americans, for which we are very grateful.

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Finnish Americans continue to play an important role in the success story of Finland. They deserve full recognition for their contribution to the strength of our common bond. And naturally, the Finnish Government remains firmly committed to keeping the bridge between the United States and Finland open.

Our will to foster this relationship becomes evident in several ways. For me as Minister for Foreign Affairs the connection with expatriates is of great importance. In this respect the Finnish Expatriate Parliament made an increasingly important and valuable contribution.

We are well aware of the long-standing question of dual citizenship that has been troubling many of you for years. I am pleased to report that significant progress has been made in this area lately. The citizenship law reform is currently well underway. The bill has been drafted already, and the Finnish Parliament will discuss it sometime next spring. Also other important issues, such as care for elderly expatriates, are being paid attention to.

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When I say that Finland is no longer in the periphery it does not mean that we have shifted on the map. It means that globalization and the tremendous development of information and communications technologies have opened us new global networking opportunities irrespective of geographical location, which we have used to the hilt.

But it also means that Finland today is in the heart of Europe as a member of the European Union since 1995, and has a seat at the tables where, among other issues, relations between the United States and Europe are debated and formulated. We will still continue to have our own bilateral relationship with the US, but at the same time influence American – European relations in the spirit of a genuine global partnership in a world where neither isolationalism nor unilateralism is sustainable.

We in Finland appreciate the way in which those Finns who have come to this country have been able to adjust and integrate themselves into a new society while recognizing and cherishing their roots. The same has been true of Finnish people in the face of the integration into wider European structures. The fear of losing our national identity has been proved unjustified. Although I must admit that saying goodbye to our own currency, the markka, in a few months’ time when the euro will be introduced will mean a new test to our culture and identity.

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To conclude, I want to thank you all for coming to Philadelphia today to attend the opening ceremony of Finnfest 2001. I am sure you will have a good time here during the next few days.

Thank you.