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Prime Minister Vanhanen at the Celebration of J.V. Snellman

Valtioneuvoston viestintäosasto
12.5.2006 11.00
Speech -

Ladies and Gentlemen, Two hundred years ago Finland and the whole of Europe stood on the threshold of an age of modernisation, something that in today's context would be termed globalisation. Pressure for change had been building up for some time and at last a new era emerged through the American and French revolutions of 1776 and 1789. Freedom and democracy had gained a strong foothold in the new world. Europe, however, was to face much hardship before democracy was firmly established here.

When Johan Vilhelm Snellman was born in Stockholm on 12 March 1806, Europe was entangled in the wars set off by the French Revolution. In the previous autumn Napoleon had secured a great victory at Austerlitz. A year later he was to meet Tsar Alexander I of Russia at Tilsit to pressure him into joining the Continental Blockade against Great Britain. Subsequent developments led to the War of Finland, the Porvoo Diet, the Peace of Hamina, and the birth of the Autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland.

News about the developments in continental Europe made Johan Vilhelm's parents Christian and Maria Snellman ponder which country they actually belonged to. While Napoleon was launching his attack on Russia, Alexander I, in an attempt to secure his flank, proposed a meeting with the new Swedish ruler Bernadotte in Turku. With that encounter, Sweden began a foreign policy that it has pursued up to the present day. Alexander, for his part, decided to annex ‘Old Finland’ to the new Finnish Grand Duchy and move the capital from Turku to Helsinki.

These political developments sealed the fates of Sweden and Finland, and in July 1813 the Snellmans moved to Kokkola on the west coast of Finland. Johan Vilhelm completed his education in Oulu and took his matriculation examination in Turku in 1822 at the same time as Elias Lönnrot and J.L. Runeberg.

After the Congress of Vienna, the Holy Alliance of emperors sought to control Europe, but the needs of people in all walks of life and the opportunities offered by the new era inevitably pushed modernisation forward in the economy, politics, and society.

A battle of ideas was fought concerning the direction of future development, something that we in Finland are familiar with from the works of Anders Chydenius, Henrik Gabriel Porthan, and A.I. Arwidson. Soon enough, a spirit of nationalism spread around Europe to challenge the policies of the Congress of Vienna. While the developments in Finland were part of this big picture, the main themes in the national awakening in this country became education and realism, thanks in the main to Snellman's efforts.

A common thread running through the ideas of the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Liberalism was that European man was ready for freedom if only he dared to cast off his shackles and the constraints imposed on him. In contrast, claiming freedom for the poor people of this cold land, which had just become subject to the most powerful ruler in Europe, was not first and foremost on the minds of the Finnish nationalists.

While Snellman's objectives included compulsory education, freedom to pursue a trade, and national awakening, they were based on a deeper concept of the development of humanity and nation. To him, material and social progress rested on a solid foundation only when based on a nation‘s high standard of culture and education. In a manner of speaking, Finland was born and developed as a cultural and educational project.

To Snellman's way of thinking, such a national project was part of the overall development of mankind, i.e., achieving a higher standard of civilisation. In reaching a higher level of achievement, a nation refines its language, customs, expertise, legal system, and other forms of culture. In this task, the state plays an important part because it is through the state that a nation defines in its legislation what it considers right and wrong.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A remarkable achievement of the Snellman Anniversary Year celebrated twenty-five years ago was the decision to edit and publish Snellman's Collected Works. Now they are available in Swedish and Finnish, and even a brief look at the texts shows Johan Vilhelm as a living, somewhat rough-edged person with a wide range of interests.

The first thing that strikes the reader is that Snellman rejected Hegel's idea that a single nation or state, one at a time, would steer world history towards some goal. Snellman thought that each nationality is equally important as a representative of one form of human civilisation. This was obviously an apt point to make for a small country but at the same time it also served as a healthy reminder of the importance of having respect for others.

In rejecting the notion of history tied to a single goal, Snellman made man's will to perfect himself and his environment the driving force of history. ”Man's perfection does not lie in the fact that he has achieved a certain predetermined standard of knowledge and ethics, but in his ability to perfect himself continually. Any purpose of world history that is removed from itself and defined as its end point is groping in thin air,” Snellman says.

To him, the will to perfect and develop society represented a rational patriotism that served as the basis for the development of every state and society. Such a perception of political action as deriving from the people created the necessary prerequisites for the evolution of a democratic frame of mind for future needs.

The period in which Finland was an Autonomous Grand Duchy was its first extended era of peace. Snellman stressed that cultures and nations evolved in interaction with other peoples. We would be well-advised to be aware and remember what we gained while still part of Sweden. But we would be equally well-advised to be aware and remember the opportunities offered by our new status as an Autonomous Grand Duchy, something that the Finns seized with vigour under Snellman's leadership.

The strategy chosen for this poor frontier country was one of progress: the development of Finnish culture, society and economy with spiritual strength and intellectual resources at its core. On this road we have, in a number of areas, caught up with many of the world's leading countries, and this is the road that we intend to keep travelling.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For Snellman and his generation, nation-building got off to a good start. But fearing the spread of the revolutionary movement in Europe, the authorities introduced strict censorship laws. In 1859, a decree was issued banning all publications in the Finnish language except for religious and economic texts.

Snellman's university career foundered on a dispute over the division of the Ostrobothnian Students' Association and his insistence on delivering a lecture on academic freedom in December 1837. This led to nearly three years of academic exile in Tübingen, Germany, and Stockholm, where he wrote his seminal scientific works, the Idea of Personality and the Theory of the State.

Upon his return to Finland in early 1843, he was unable to find employment in Helsinki but was subsequently appointed head of an upper elementary school in Kuopio. It is a fine example of the splendid history of the Finnish press and media that the decisive step in inculcating Finnish public opinion with the ideas of cultural and educational progress and future national awakening took place through newspapers, Saima and Maamiehen ystävä (Farmer's Friend). However, conditions at the time and censorship soon closed the papers down, and the father of a by then large family withdrew into political silence for five years by accepting employment with the Borgström company in Helsinki.

Once again, world politics came to the aid of the Finns and Snellman. At the beginning of the 19th century, Russia was in a strong position and eager to consolidate it. By mid-century it had become focused on Turkey, while many suspected that its ultimate goal was free access to the Mediterranean. England and France took countermeasures that culminated in the Crimean War. In May 1854 a detachment of the British fleet anchored off Hanko, and in August the British and the French destroyed the Bomarsund Fortress in Åland.

At that time, writings were being published in Sweden speculating about the prospects of reclaiming Finland, an idea that was also not completely alien to the allied forces. But the British met strong resistance when they sailed into the Gulf of Bothnia, for example in Kokkola. The new Tsar, Alexander II, was pleased with the loyalty of his subjects and proclaimed that a reform policy would be introduced to address the weaknesses encountered during the war.

Soon thereafter, in January 1856, Snellman received the professorship that he had been denied eight years earlier. Although he had been the preferred candidate, he had been passed over by Tsar Nicholas I. Intensive efforts were taken to develop the country. The first Finnish-speaking secondary school was founded in Jyväskylä and the Helsinki-Hämeenlinna railway was completed. In 1863, developments culminated in the Language Decree, which consolidated the status of the Finnish language, accompanied by regular sessions of the legislative body, and Snellman's appointment as Senator. At the same time, Finland obtained a currency of its own, the markka. Reforms in popular education and local government were initiated. While Snellman did not, of course, accomplish any of this on his own, he seems to have been involved in all the projects in one way or the other.

The Finnish strategy for development was to focus on education and infrastructure. The full freedom to pursue trades advocated by Snellman was granted in 1879 and efforts were made to attract foreign craftsmen and traders to Finland, one objective being to start a forest industry that could draw upon domestic natural resources.

One of Snellman best-known statements coincided with the turmoil at the beginning of Alexander II's reign in connection with the uprising in Poland in early 1863. No intervention was planned in the West, although there was a heated debate on the subject in the press. In Finland, newspapers representing the rising liberal movement proposed that Finland declare itself neutral. Snellman was appointed to the Senate in April, and in July he set pen to paper to write his well-known article ”War or peace for Finland”.

The message from the philosopher, a proponent of historical idealism, was radically realistic. After analyzing the reactions of the great powers to the rebellion, he goes on to say that all the parties are promoting their own interest with little thought for Poland. Arguing from this premise, he cautioned Finns against involvement in any speculation and advised them not to try anything that they could not back up with real force and to rely only on themselves. Snellman's writing can be understood to reflect his idea of state. Each state represents a specific form of human development and defines its own concepts of right and wrong through legislation. No court of law exists above such states to arbitrate conflicts.

Snellman's Collected Works provide us with a comprehensive perception of his thinking in this respect as well. One year before the publication of his article ”War or peace for Finland” Snellman reflected on the position of small states in an essay written for a German publication, outlining, instead of the ”might is right” approach, a system of international justice that would give due consideration to the rights of small nations as well.

According to Snellman, it was the great powers that dictated what was right in the international context and small states tried to cope as best they could. Then he went on to say that ”The political system of European states, the amalgamation of their pursuits in a variety of ways that provide protection for small states as well…” depends on the participation of each individual state in human culture and on the extent to which they share in its furtherance. ”While the planning of a European political system based on culturally advanced countries was not one of his principal themes, it cannot be completely excluded on the basis of his thinking.

Today, the best Snellmanian policy is to strengthen our educational and cultural strategy to the extent that it serves as an example for others, to draw upon a realism based on the existing world order, and to do our best to enhance the European and world political system to ensure that it respects the rights of small nations as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After a five-year term as Senator, Snellman was appointed Chairman of the Mortgage Society of Finland, which led to another remarkable career in the service of Finnish business. He continued to be involved in a wide range of pursuits. Finland's rise and development had gained enough momentum to reach the point of no return. Yet another development in great power politics occurred during Snellman's lifetime that threatened, but failed to prevent, the nation's evolution towards independence.

What had been of great importance to Finland's peaceful development was that Sweden, located as it was on the rim of the Baltic Sea, adhered to its 1812 policy and the disunited Germany pursued a cautious policy towards Russia for several decades. However, things started to change when Germany was unified in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War. In 1875 an uprising against the Turkish occupiers broke out in Serbia. Russia rushed to Serbia's aid. This led to the ”Balkan War”, in which the Finnish Guard Battalion took part as well. England, in particular, felt that the Treaty of San Stefano was overly advantageous to Russia, and Germany convened the Congress of Berlin in 1878, where the interests of the united Germany and those of Russia clashed in the open for the first time. Russia started making preparations for new conflicts: this was gradually reflected in fortifications in border areas and a policy of russification designed to ensure the loyalty of the population. In Finland this period was termed the era of oppression.

By this time, however, Finland's rise as a nation was so firmly established and advanced that it could not be stopped. Finally, in December 1917, E.N. Setälä could quote Snellman's programme in the Declaration of Independence as justification for separation: ”The people of Finland feels deeply that they cannot fulfil their national and international duty without complete sovereignty.”

At his 75th birthday celebration in 1881, Snellman received the recognition of a grateful nation for his achievements. In his novel "Fatherland", Arvid Järnefelt gives his impression of the occasion at the Old Students' Union Building 125 years ago:

”The doors swung open – and there stood Juhana Vilhelm Snellman himself, an old grey-haired man. He walked in steadily, making silent bows left and right, with tears of genuine emotion in his eyes. He was the definitive hero of the young people here, the object of their enthusiastic admiration…

After a speech delivered in his honour, full of unearthly words of sublime praise that moved all in attendance, the old man climbed to the podium….”

Since then, the anniversary celebrations of Snellman's birth have been events of national importance. One hundred years ago, 25,000 people adopted Finnish names in a mass finnicisation of surnames. Around the same time, Juhani Aho published the roman à clef of his generation called ”Spring and Late Frost”.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we can only wonder how Finland, from such an adverse point of departure and within such a short period of time, has been able to establish and consolidate a modern democratic state that relies on widespread popular education and culture. While we have had our share of problems, Finnish democracy withstood all the European setbacks of the previous century. Today we are an active member of the European Union and live in harmony with our neighbours. It is safe to say that the educational and cultural project launched by Snellman and his contemporaries has succeeded.

Today, in the age of globalisation, new nations and new continents are entering the modern age, often with starting points similar to ours in the 19th century. Here in Finland and elsewhere in Europe the road to the present day has been rocky and narrow, but our experience testifies to the conviction that education and the development of a civil society are a sound basic strategy for any nation. This is how it will be in the future as well. In this century, civilization will increasingly call for greater consideration of the limitations imposed on mankind by the natural environment.

Once again, the nation is looking at education, research and universities to define the right response to the challenges of the present times.

Hence, we have to take good care of our school system, which enjoys widespread international recognition, and develop it further. We have to maintain this high level of accomplishment while at the same time cultivating the students' whole personality. In collaboration with parents, school must offer young people an education solid enough to offset the often undermining effects of consumerism in order to enable a good life based on sound reason and a healthy mind in a healthy body.

Snellman emphasized that national culture thrives in interaction with others. Today international interaction in research and higher education is more important than ever. Here our traditions go back several hundred years. Beginning with the 14th century - before the founding of the Turku Academy - more than four hundred Finns studied at the leading European universities, as Jussi Nuorteva showed in his doctoral dissertation. Considering the conditions prevailing at that time, this was a remarkable achievement.

In future Finnish teachers and students should be increasingly able to work abroad, and people from other countries to study and carry out research in Finland. Universities should be able to engage in more dynamic research and development efforts in collaboration with Finnish and foreign companies and public sector players. In the true Snellmanian spirit, we must see to it that every university in this country maintains an adequate level of performance by international standards, and that a sufficient number of individual institutes rank among the best in the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a resident of Nurmijärvi, I have often thought about the ending to Aleksis Kivi’s Seven Brothers, and particularly the character called Eero. A new perspective was revealed when I noticed that Snellman had written about the value of education in his preface to the 1873 edition of the novel.

Kivi describes Eero, who started writing to newspapers and developed an interest in community affairs after a wild youth. And Kivi goes on to conclude his description in a style that has become dear to us:

”This kind of activity broadened his view of life and the world. To him, his native land was no longer an indefinite part of a vague world, its kind and location completely unknown…. He knew its boundaries, its seas, its quietly smiling lakes, the woody picket fences of its piney ridges. The complete picture of our homeland with its kind, motherly face, was forever imprinted deep in his heart. And out of this arose a will always to strive for the best and greatest good fortune for our land..” [Translation by Richard A. Impola]

In Snellman's view, Finnish culture evolves by absorbing the achievements of previous generations and perfecting the fruits of their labours. When the understanding of life and the world provided by school and university for the new generation leads to an ambition to achieve success and prosperity for the country, we have come a long way towards realising Snellman's idea that by carrying on the efforts to further Finnish culture and education we can help ourselves while at the same time contributing to more general progress in the context of all humanity.

Matti Vanhanen
 
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