Speech at the Max Jakobson International Seminar, 3.12.2013, Helsinki

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The influence of Max Jakobson’s life work extends much beyond Finland’s borders. One of his biggest merits was his exceptional talent for understanding the larger historical picture and context of events, and his extraordinary ability to address various audiences, both Finnish and foreign, from a historical perspective.

It is therefore a particular pleasure for me to welcome our three distinguished foreign guests, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Ambassador Jim Goodby and Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger. I am grateful for your willingness to come to Helsinki and share your views regarding Max Jakobson’s life and the current situation in Europe and in the wider world. Thank you.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My first personal contact with Max Jakobson dates back to his great study Diplomaattien talvisota (The Diplomacy of the Winter War) first published in 1955. I discovered the book in my father’s library in the early sixties. It was a book that through its analytical awareness and comprehension of past events inspired my later choice of historical research as my own field of interest.

Diplomaattien talvisota tells the story of Finland in the Second World War and how she came out from it. Jakobson masterfully developed a narrative of Finland’s recent past by maintaining that yes, after the War, Finland was ”a crippled but not conquered nation” and, in fact and against many odds, became a success story and not a basket case.

But there were plenty of questions. What was the explanation why Finland did not face the same fate as so many other European nations? How should its politics and positions, as a Western democratic society next to the Soviet Union, be assessed? Was everything real or fake? Was Finland a part of the problem or a part of the solution? Was it a dangerous example of a slippery path or a genuine sui generis?

As a close adviser to President Kekkonen Max Jakobson came into contact with many world leaders. Quite often he had to explain the origins and reasons of Finland’s success to them. One such person was President John F. Kennedy who wondered how a country as small as Finland could maintain its independence next to the totalitarian Soviet Union against all well-known iron laws of power.

True, the times of the Cold War were difficult for Finland. Many Finns assumed that it would perhaps be always a wise thing to try to please the Eastern neighbor. One of the most frequent lessons Jakobson always wanted to emphasize was the importance of values. He was concerned when our values were put to a test by the neighboring great power. Max Jakobson firmly believed that the democratic values must never turn into a grey area of compromise. A nation that wants to survive must always take the high road and maintain a clear moral ground; a straight backbone is essential in order to be able to carry even the heaviest burden or to face even the most gruesome trial.

After the War Finland had to gradually build up her credibility and earn the confidence of different partners in Europe, both East and West. During the Cold War this meant pursuing a policy of neutrality and presenting it as a positive and permanent element of security in Europe.

The use of the term ”Finlandization” irritated us in Finland. We recognized that the way our policy was conducted may not always have met the strictest criteria of how a liberal democracy should behave, but for us the main thing was that the policy worked. Max Jakobson – and many of his foreign friends and contemporaries – understood well that the model was the best possible – or realistically the best available – for Finland in those circumstances.

Max Jakobson was a truly international actor. His legacy to us Finns stresses the importance for us to view Finland as part of a larger process of humanity. We need to engage and not to isolate ourselves. We need to understand the world as it is, realistically but with a sense of optimism. We need to be ready to work together with other nations who share our values and aspirations, we need to be open to cooperation and integration, seize the opportunities as they emerge but also shoulder responsibilities that are commensurate with our own success.

Jakobson’s literary output was immense. As a diplomat, historian and journalist he actively contributed to Finnish and international debate on all aspects of world politics.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to bring to this seminar the best wishes of success of the Finnish Government. I wish to thank the Maanpuolustuskurssiyhdistys for working together with us in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to make this event a success.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, welcome to this seminar dedicated to the memory of Max Jakobson and his work. I hope you’ll find the program interesting and informative.

Thank you.