President denounces extremism and intolerance in New Year speech

Niinistö gave his traditional speech to the nation to reflect the year just gone, and looking ahead to a changing world in the future as well.

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Finnish President Sauli Niinistö delivers his New Year message for 2019 / Credit: Matti Porre, Office of the President of the Republic.

President Sauli Niinistö has used his traditional New Year message to the nation to denounce extremism and intolerance.

He also touched on migration, integration, democracy, the rule of law, and the threat of a new nuclear arms race in his speech, which was laced with poetic imagery.

Extremism and intolerance

Niinistö said that while Europe had a long tradition of representative democracy, there were marches, movements and counter-movements demanding that changes happen more quickly with an immediate impact.

He said that while the right “to call into question is at the core of democracy” there were also “disturbing signs of dangerous extremist movements” influencing genuine civic protest.

Referencing the yellow vest protests in France, and an Independence Day march by Nazis in Helsinki, President Niinistö said that “anarchists hiding among the yellow vests and demonstrators marching openly under Nazi symbols reminds us of the cruelties and atrocities of the previous century”.

“In a democracy there is no room for them” said Niinistö.

A changing world picture

In his New Year’s Day speech, President Niinistö also said the world is becoming multipolar, with China using its economic power, Russia rearming and the USA distancing itself from cooperation. “In this transformation, we must remain vigilant” said the president.

“Foremost in my mind is the danger of the return of nuclear weapons to the everyday life of international politics. If the arms control treaties formulated during the Cold War collapse, we have to strive for the creation of new ones to replace them. Finland stands ready to offer its good services to build contacts for negotiation” the President said.

In September 2017, Finland joined NATO countries and refused to sign up to an international treaty banning nuclear weapons. Other EU countries like Austria and Ireland were among the first to sign the treaty.

Migration and integration 

Noting that migration has been “the most divisive phenomenon in Europe in recent years”, President Niinistö said migration had to be better managed – “whether it is labour-related immigration, refugee or asylum” he said in his speech.

He said that Finland has to help people who seek asylum, but those people must also be given the opportunity to participate in our society, while also being willing to adapt to it.

“Behaviour contradicting our laws and values increases the risk of stigmatisation of entire groups of people and arouses deep mistrust, even hatred” he said, seemingly referencing a police investigation into sex abuse allegations in Oulu which inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment.

Climate change mentioned

Finland, President Niinistö talked about climate change, a central theme of his second term in office.

He said the planet’s population was growing older and its ability to sustain us is reaching its limit.

“We must remember for whom and why we are writing our great story. We do it for our children” he said, noting that he could see groups of small children with their teachers from his window, and they were wearing yellow vests.

Niinistö ended his speech with the words of poet Eeva Kilpi “there is beauty. There is love. There is joy. All those who suffer from the misery of the world, defend them!”.