Elisabeth Rehn: The most important capital lies between our ears
Finland has been ranked as the top country by many indicators, but one of our achievements stands out: education. A long time ago our small country understood the importance of education, and every child, no matter their background, got to go to school. Also the first women elected as members of parliament were all strong advocates for education. Still, the most important capital in the almost 100-year-old Finland lies between our ears.
I’ve seen the importance of education while living in conflict zones around the world, too. The common hope in countries in crisis was: give our children education, so that they won’t be manipulated and mistreated like their parents. Many developing countries want to follow the example of small Finland in the hope of a better future.
We’ve been shaken quite a bit
At this moment, looking into the future is truly important, and the theme of the centenary, together, is especially current. It is important to stay together in both moments of joy and sorrow.
We are known as a safe, wonderful country, and we are respected peacemakers and negotiators. Our endeavour to be more involved in world politics has strengthened our international position, but it has also brought new challenges. We face new expectations, and our security is being tested, too. I hope that together we can solve these challenges, so that our reputation as a safe country doesn’t get compromised.
The centenary theme creates courage
The centenary’s theme, together, challenges the Finnish state of mind in a good way. We may seem cautious and as difficult to approach, but when we let people close to us, it’s a good place to be. Maybe the centenary and its theme ‘Together’ creates warm heartedness and courage to face other people, traits that come naturally to many nations. I have experienced this in Balkan, where I was given roses in the street on Mother’s Day, when my own family was far away. Or in Africa, where I got to be the African sister, even though I looked very pale to them.
The Finnish perseverance, sisu, is also known in the world. Sometimes it may seem like hard-headedly pushing forward even when the task at hand seems impossible. The swamps today are different than before, but they are built nonetheless. The key to success is flexibility and the ability to turn our loss into victory. We’ve witnessed this when Nokia fell: a situation that seemed like a disaster has created plenty of new things, thanks to capable, resilient people and our exceptional education system.
Elisabeth Rehn is the mother and grandmother of a big family, a former Member of the Parliament, and the first female Minister of Defense in Finland and in the world. After her retirement she has come to be known as a peacemaker and an advocate for human rights travelling around the world. During Finland’s centenary, the well-liked speaker’s calendar is filled with several large and small events.