In 1809, when Finland became a part of Russia after being under Swedish rule, Czar Alexander I described the event in very similar terms as President Vladimir Putin used in his speech on 18 March 2014 on the annexation of Crimea to Russia.
“Both rulers strove to reassure their audience of their goodwill towards the well-regarded people in the area and appealed to both history and divine right. Alexander cited Napoleon and Putin the United States as the arrogant enemy,” asserts Anneli Portman whose dissertation is due to be examined on 11 April at the University of Helsinki.
The czars who ruled Finland emphasised benevolence, spirituality and conformity in their public speeches. The speeches of the presidents reflect a much wider variety of values in addition to the political situation of the time.
“The czars spoke of society as a web of personal relationships and emphasized values related to the in-group and its well-being. The in-group includes the family and anyone else who can be included in ‘we’,” Portman explains.
A small nation educates itself
After Finland gained its independence, typical speech topics included education and rallying the national spirit. Financial politics were a topical issue when President Kyösti Kallio gave his Parliament opening speech in 1938:
“This favorable result [reduction in the nation’s foreign debt] has naturally been greatly influenced by the financial policy conducted in our country. The government has not placed roadblocks in the way of entrepreneurs or cooperatives, but has rather assumed the belief that such endeavours use our nation’s capacity for initiative and its creative powers to a fuller extent, and thus our country’s financial foundations are fortified when these two forces are free to test their strength and skill to increase production.”
Enhancing Finland’s reputation and position among the nations of the world was a major concern for President Urho Kekkonen, as was education, which he focused on in his New Year’s speech in 1965, before the reform of Finnish comprehensive schools:
“Allow me to further emphasize that the equal distribution of public education opportunities is an important goal in itself in terms of an educated democracy. Regional problems are already a greater obstacle than individual wealth. Inequality in the provision of education opportunities results in squandering mental talents. A poor person in rural Kainuu must have the same opportunities to educate his children as a wealthy gentleman in Helsinki.”
Conservation and spirituality
President Mauno Koivisto focused on nature conservation, world peace and security. The first Finnish president to be elected by direct popular vote, Martti Ahtisaari, continued with similar themes of general justice.
Spiritual values were also addressed, as they were in Ahtisaari’s New Year’s speech of 2000: “Sustainable development cannot be created by merely correcting the problems generated by economic globalisation. This development also needs the positive, constructive contribution of cultures and religions.”
The shifts in the values asserted in the speeches indicate that society had become more diverse, as expected. However, spirituality and spiritual values have not been eradicated.
The study used a total of 355 written speeches which were originally delivered to the nation between 1809 and 2000. Three types of speeches were used: Parliament opening speeches (1809–2000), prayer day declarations (1812–1999) and New Year’s speeches (1935–2000).