Closing address by Prime Minister Antti Rinne at the jubilee seminar in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Finland’s Constitutional Democracy, 13 September 2019
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Dear friends, Ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to be here today to make a few concluding remarks before this seminar that commemorates the first centenary of our constitutional democracy.
I would like to extend my thanks to all those who have helped to plan and organise this occasion, enabling as to celebrate together the forward-looking form of government that Finland boasts. I also wish to thank the audience for attending our seminar and all the speakers for their interesting presentations.
As you all certainly know, the 100th anniversary of Finland’s constitutional democracy has been celebrated in many festive occasions this week.
Last Tuesday, we convened in Parliament, the principal forum of our constitutional republic and democratic system.
The fanfare played in the Plenary Hall, the speeches given by the President of the Republic, the Speaker of Parliament and the Prime Minister, and the choral work composed by Jean Sibelius and performed by the YL Male Voice Choir all underlined the dignity of the occasion.
This week, we have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of Finland’s Constitution Act that has paved the way for many important achievements: democratic development, the improvement of human rights, Western democracy, the welfare state, and the safest society in the world.
We have every right to be proud of this.
There is good reason to celebrate Finland's Constitution. It has facilitated so many things for us:
continuous democratic development;
systematic improvement of civil and human rights;
a rule of law in the Western tradition that protects individuals and guarantees their freedom;
a welfare state traditionally based on the principle that no one need be afraid of failure and that failure does not exclude the possibility of a second chance;
a society that is the safest place in the world for those who live here.
We should be very proud of these achievements.
When addressing Parliament last Tuesday, I mentioned that the current government is lending its support to the publication of statesman Leo Mechelin’s collected works.
Mechelin, who died three years before Finland gained its independence, is not as familiar to the general public as his achievements would suggest. For his fellow citizens, who were dreaming of an independent Finland, Leo Mechelin however represented a very significant personality, and he was instrumental for the emergence of rule of law and the birth of constitutional democracy in Finland.
The importance of Leo Mechelin in the eyes of his contemporaries is reflected in the commemorative poem that the great Finnish poet Eino Leino wrote for Mechelin, describing him as ‘the head of an oppressed nation’.
The hard work and efforts of previous generations, including Leo Mechelin and many others, has facilitated the task of today’s policy-makers. Our honourable past not only illuminates our future, but is also a source of inspiration and resolve.
As an example, let me quote the wise words of Finland’s former Prime Minister Rafael Paasio:
“When unsure of what to do, always stand up for the weaker party.”
Although most likely intended as a guideline for politicians, the Prime Minister might just as well have been describing the basic purpose of Finland’s democratic form of government and Constitution: to protect every person and individual; and to safeguard everyone’s freedom.
In Finland, we are used to enjoying the fundamental values of democracy and rule of law: human rights, independent courts, and the freedom of speech.
We are known for it all over the world.
Yet we should not forget that none of this has come about by chance – neither in 1919 nor in 2019.
We Finns are used to the fundamental values of Western democracy and the rule of law: human rights, independent courts, freedom of speech and of the press, and indivisible human dignity.
We are known for these values all over the world.
They are some of the things for which many other societies look up on us.
But we should remember that these values have never been self-evident – neither in 1919, nor in 2019.
They need to be defended every day. It is the responsibility of democratically-elected policy-makers.
There have been and will be attempts to attack democracy and the rule of law. We must have zero tolerance for such operations. We will act accordingly in Finland, in Europe and internationally.
Why is this?
Because attacks on democracy and the rule of law are above all attacks on citizens, on people.
We have witnessed such attacks even before, but each time Parliament has stepped up to the plate and defended Finnish democracy.
And we will keep defending it, because that’s our duty.
Because we know what would happen to people if the rule of law were to be set aside.
That is why we, the policy-makers, put here by the people through a democratic ballot, should bear in mind the following:
If we are not quite certain how to act, let’s always fight for democracy and the rule of law.
The reason is very simple: by doing so, we will always stand up for people and for freedom.
Just like our constitutional democracy.