Exclusive Interview with ambassador of Finland - VIDEO

For Kitabistan
article about 'Exclusive Interview with ambassador of Finland - VIDEO' and 'For Kitabistan'

Kitabistan started its research on the Nordic model from Finland. Because the path followed by Finland would be better understood in our region. Both Finland and Azerbaijan were invaded by the Russian Empire and although they both declared their independence one a year after another, Finland was able to maintain its independence. Today, Finland is considered one of the most successful models for developing countries, ranking among the top five in the world for human development, democracy, gender equality, freedom of speech, education, and other important indices. These achievements did not come easily. However, the stubbornness and determination of the Finnish character were able to ensure continuous development. How?

In this interview, we addressed these and other questions to Mrs. Kirsti Narinen, the Roving Ambassador of Finland to the South Caucasus. Madam Ambassador Narinen graciously accepted our interview request and answered our questions in detail with the openness and transparency typical of Nordic countries.

We are pleased to present to you an exclusive interview with Mrs Kirsti Narinen, the Roving Ambassador of Finland to the South Caucasus.


- Madam Ambassador, we appreciate you accepting our interview request. It is a pleasure to have you here in Baku. As you are aware, the founding of Kitabistan was inspired by the Enlightenment Movement led by Vilhelm Snellman in Finland. Therefore, Finland holds a distinct and special place among the countries studied by Kitabistan.

Until just 100 years ago, Finland was known as the land of swamps. Today, Finland ranks high in the world with its education and development model. According to the World Happiness Index alone, Finland has been ranked 1st in the world for 6 years. How did Finland initiate its development process, and how did it overcome the challenges faced along the way?

- Thank you first of all. Thank you for the invitation. We've been doing project with Kitabistan already earlier. It was a very successful process of translating and publishing the "History of Finland" with Professor Meinander. And actually, I would like to start with that book and the history of Finland. We grew up as a statehood or the state under the protective wings of the Kingdom of Sweden and the Kingdom of Sweden already in the 1700s was based on the values, that the Nordic values that we enjoy today - freedom of speech from the 1700s, self-governance already before that. Meaning that inclusiveness, democracy, human rights and freedoms - freedom of opinion, and freedom of assembly all that stems from the Swedish times. And then when Finland became the Grand Duchy of Russia in 1809 after the war the Tsar then, the first one and then some others also later wanted to keep or give us the right to keep the freedoms that we had. So, Finland was a very unique phenomenon already in the Tsarist Russian Empire in the 1800s. And of course, then the Russification period came and as a result of many political turnovers and Revolution Finland then became independent in 1917. But the statehood of Finland was already there. We had our own money, we had our own administration, we had our own democratic institutions, the suffrage and the right to vote also for women and the right to be elected was from 1906 which was during our stay in the Russian Empire. So, it was the desire of the people to have an impact on your life which also means responsibility on what is happening in your country. As for the education, the Lutheran faith had a lot to do with it because the Reformation in the 1500s already had the idea that you would need to be able to communicate with your God directly. And this meant that you need to be aware of what religion means and what God wants from you. So, you would have to be able to read the Bible which means that reading became a compulsory skill for you to be confirmed, to have your confirmation at the age of 15-16 which meant that you need to have that in order to get married. So, actually reading and education has so deep roots in the society that it's not even considered to be anything special. So, we gradually built a culture of democracy, culture of education and culture of hard work.

- The concept of Sisu is difficult to translate into any language, but it generally refers to the Finnish people's strong will and persistence in achieving their goals. I believe that this concept plays an important role in Finland's achievement of human values such as democracy, openness, and transparency. What exactly does Sisu mean to the Finnish people?

- It has had different meanings through the centuries. Of course, then in the beginning of building the state, particularly after the war, Second World War where, we lost a substantial part of Finland to the Soviet Union and suffered greatly humanly and economically of the results of the war. That's when the Sisu was really needed when we had to integrate 400,000 Karelians into the Finnish society and find sustainable foreign policy structures and but also economic structures. And it has never been easy. Then Sisu meant that you go through your trouble but you go through them jointly with your friends, with your society, with your family, with your village, with your community, with your friends in the office colleagues all that. So that you were all striving towards the same goal and the same goal would be survival of the Finnish society and the prosperity. I don't think that we knew in the 50s and 60s when we started building society, I don't think we knew how well things would work out. I don't think so. But with the efforts of everybody joining forces kind of in unity, we also have this consensus-based policy thinking which is a vital part of our democracy, building coalition governments, having right-wing and left-wing and different ideologies in one government. Because the aim was shared and the aim was prosperity and well-being of the people and well-being of the state. That obviously has changed. So, today's very very diverse trends in societies that affect us as well which means that basically, we should really come back to our roots more often than we do to think about what actually would be the benefit of the country and the people. Because that was the strength and the power that built us and took us to the position where we are at the moment. And as for the Sisu itself, I recommend you to watch a film which was recently published which is called "Sisu". It's not even translated, nobody aims at translating it and it's a very powerful example of one Finnish man who just refused to die.

- Finland has a long history of recognizing the importance of women's participation in the development of society. As early as 1906, Finnish women were given the right to vote, which was a significant milestone in the movement for women's rights. Today a remarkable 58 per cent of the government cabinet and 45.5 percent of the parliament members are women. How did the active role of women in Finnish society contribute to the development of the country?

- Women's participation has everything to do with the prosperity and democracy in our country. First of all, it's obvious that in a small country, every intelligence or every piece of intelligence is needed to build the prosperity. It wasn't self-evident. I mean if we go back to the 1970s or 1980s a female politician was still a very rare phenomenon. There were very few of them and the ones who were there were very strong women. And there was this idea that you have to be more of a man to be a successful politician as a female. But that of course has changed a lot like many other things as well. Yes, in the previous government, we had five parties and all those five parties had female chairs. Now we had elections in the spring, now we have a bit of a different composition of the government. But women are very strong and they are empowered by inclusion, by the tradition of not only being able to vote but also being able to be elected all through the centuries. Young women are more prominent in some parties and there is also the trend now that as, for instance, hate speech and internet harassment is increasing. This is a very very serious risk, particularly for young politicians and particularly are targeting young female politicians. So, I think that this is a societal phenomenon that we really need to address. Also in the Foreign Service, in diplomacy we have more women, actually more women than men at the moment. And the number of female ambassadors is growing. It's already more than half. So, it's a societal trend. And I think for any small country, also Azerbaijan, in a small country every person counts and we cannot afford losing any empowering power in the society to promote inclusion and to promote every voice to be heard.

- When discussing Finland, it is impossible not to mention its remarkable education system. Finland has consistently ranked 1st in the Global Education Index, and according to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, it has the best-developed education system in the world. What are the key features and differences of the Finnish education system?

- The key element in this, in education, is the educational tradition and the understanding of the fact that education is the natural resource that each small country has and that is basically the one that we can rely on and which is sustainable. And as part of that tradition is inclusion, equal opportunities for everybody to have an education. It's for free everywhere. All the way to university. My daughter studies at the university and the registration fee is 60 Euros. That's all she pays or we pay for that. Private schools are there, some language schools are there. But they all follow the state curriculum which means that being born to a certain region or certain social status doesn't bring you any benefits as far as education is concerned. And this also means that when you have equal opportunities, when the society offers you equal opportunities it is up to you to use those and to build your future based on that. Education is also a competitiveness ranking fundamental building block. Because with educated people you can expect innovation, you can expect them to question the procedures, be it societal or technological, to be ready to think out of the box. And this is what the education system is building you the skills. Not the skills that you need today, but the skills that you need tomorrow for problem solving. It is also a rather low-hierarchy educational system. So, the teachers are there and they are teachers but they are more like assisting students to learn. The responsibility of learning is not on the teacher's side alone but also on the student's side. Be it then lower educational levels or university or vocational education. And another element in that is the pre-school education. Actually you start learning things that you need in the future already in kindergarten. So, kindergarten the last years when you are 4-5-6 are already integrated more or in some cases less into the educational system. So, a lot of these elements are there. One very particular element is, of course, school buildings. If you travel in Finland in the countryside you would see new public buildings. It's most likely a school or a library.

- When studying the Nordic countries, we invariably see that the principles of openness, transparency, democracy, freedom of the press and citizen participation are very important for these countries. What is Finland's model of democracy?

- In the Finnish model of democracy, first of all, you vote directly for the candidate. You don't vote for a party, for instance, in Sweden you have the party list election. So, you choose the person who you vote which means that you have direct contact to your representative, be it in the city or the municipality council or over the parliament which brings democracy close to you. Because you have a personal message or the personal mandate, you have given the mandate to this particular politician. Also the voting percentage in Finland is a bit lower than it is in Sweden. And I think that this is very important now in the last elections and in also the previous ones we have appealed particularly for youth, for the young people to go and vote. Because usually, it's the older generations who have this tradition to vote. But to keep up this democratic tradition, the engagement and inclusion in society requires work. And that requires work also from the politicians’ side but particularly from the families and educational system that we actually would sustain this tradition of having inclusive society, transparency and kind of also the accountability of politicians. Because I mean, political parties are not ranking first in the society of trust. And today, as I mentioned earlier, the trends in societies are more divisive than they would be inclusive. This is why we really need to work on this. But anyways, I mean the tradition, as mentioned earlier, the tradition of democracy, the tradition of direct, the kind of understanding that I have the possibility to have an impact on what is happening in the society and that I can demand that from the decision makers but also that I have responsibility and my responsibility is to go and vote and to use this opportunity of being part of the democratic system. That is something that we continuously need to work on.

- Finland has a reputation for having high taxes, but it is also known for being a welfare state and ranks in the top five on the Quality of Life Index. It would be interesting for us to know about the Finnish government's social policies that aim at improving the living conditions of its citizens. What kind of social security opportunities does the Finnish government offer to its citizens?

- Well, that depends a lot on the government. The previous government we had until last spring was a left-wing Green government which had a very very strong government support program. Of course, that was also the time when we had corona, Covid-19 and we had the Russian aggression in Ukraine, so a lot of outside pressure was on that government as well. But then the government spending was a bit higher than expected and the higher than we can take. So, the present government which came in after the elections has chosen a different style and this is something which I want to specifically emphasize is the fact that when we have elections governments change which doesn't mean instability. Because in some circles democracy is also referred to as being unstable. But the stability comes from the understanding that legislation means sustainability. But democracy means that the voters have a say, the voters have the possibility to have an impact on certain fields of societal activity, such as social policy. I read a book recently which was describing the Finnish social sphere of state activities in the '60s and 70s when this welfare state concept was built and social democrats had a very key role in that also based on the Nordic cooperation of Social Democratic parties. So, here again we come to the Nordic tradition and  the Nordic family traditions. The basic principle of every government be it right wing or left wing, center, liberal, conservative has been to take care of those vulnerable groups that every society has. What can make you vulnerable? You can be unemployed, you can have illnesses, some other health issues or you can have a lot of children or you can have disabled people in the family members etc etc. So, the inclusion of everybody in the society is vital and that's the fundamental building block of the society and of the social welfare system. And as mentioned, the other building block is of course, education. So, that is the sector that no cost cuts are desired or are accepted by any of the parties. But this conservative new government is focusing more on employment and having jobs for people rather than relying on the social security benefits. It's a very complicated system. So far, Finns have been okay with paying high taxes because they see what they get for the money. They get the education, they get the healthcare system, they get the infrastructure, the roads, street lightning, railroads, airports, whatever that might be, they get the energy security, they get the water management, waste management, environmental sustainability, etc. So, you actually see when you walk around and drive around in Finland, you see where the tax money goes. And that is the best motivation for people to take part. Which also has this very strong connection of democracy, openness, transparency, what is done with your money, where does it go and the accountability of those who use public funds including myself. I also use public funds and I feel very responsible on how I use them. Because they are taxpayers' money and I'm also a taxpayer myself. University and all these low fees or no fees - that's part of that package. Yes, they are a bit on the higher side but as mentioned, I think that the motivation to build your society in an inclusive manner is there and it is strong.

- Lastly, I would like to address Kitabistan's traditional question. What book would you recommend our readers to read?

- Well, I obviously would say that "The History of Finland" is something that I hope everybody has a look at. Because that is the book that is telling the story and it's telling the story not only about Finland but Finland as part of the Nordic family and also all these questions we discussed earlier. 

And regarding the happiness, I think I haven't come to that in particular yet. I think each country should think for yourself what are the elements that make you happy. In Finland, they are not the same as they are in Sweden or in Azerbaijan. If those elements are there for our society it would be the environment, nature, clean air, clean water, inclusiveness and security. I know that in this part of the world, in the South Caucasus peace, stability, reconciliation and perspective for a stable future would be those that probably would be in your happiness index higher than they would be in ours. Because we have been able to enjoy peace for a very long time, for like almost now a hundred years. We joined the NATO in order to be able to sustain our peace. So, being a NATO member is actually a peace project. And reading in general is important. It's important to be aware, it's important to be informed, it's important to expand your knowledge on the world continuously every day. Also using different media channels because one media channel is usually telling one story or one version of the story. And if you read more, also national and international you get a better picture of what is going on. And that is the channel where you can then exercise your right of freedom of opinion, your freedom of expression and your media literacy.

- Thank you so much for the responses and the interview.

- Thank you very much for inviting me

Malak Hajiyeva