Address by President of the Finnish Republic Tarja Halonen
to the III World Congress of the Finno-Ugric Peoples in Helsinki
on 11 December 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is heart-warming to see you all here. It feels like the family
and clan have journeyed from afar to come together.
The Finno-Ugric peoples are scattered across a vast area, far
from each other. Since we have different histories and numerous
other peoples and borders separate us, our opportunities to keep
in contact with each other have varied over time. The cohesive
force has long been Finno-Ugric linguistic research, which evolved
into an independent discipline around the middle of the 19th century.
However, observations concerning Finno-Ugric languages and the
relationships between them had been published much earlier.
Linguistic affinity provided a foundation on which cooperation
in also other fields gradually developed. The inter-war period
of the last century saw the arrangement of several Finno-Ugric
cultural congresses, the first of which took place in Helsinki
in 1921. When the third Finno-Ugric cultural congress took place
in Hungary in summer 1928, a special "friendship train"
was laid on to take 600 people there from Finland. That may seem
like a small number now, but it is not. We can only imagine the
kind of effort that had to go into arranging congresses in those
The international congresses of Finno-Ugrists that have been
arranged since 1960 have become important forums for researchers.
Thus interaction between Finno-Ugric peoples has been growing
again. The same applies to the outside world's knowledge of Finno-Ugric
peoples; where they are located, how they cooperate and the problems
they have to cope with.
The items on the agenda for the III World Congress of the Finno-Ugric
Peoples now opening are as topical as ever. They focus on questions
associated with preserving and reviving one's own language and
culture as well as with the rights of indigenous and minority
peoples. It is gratifying to see such a broad attendance at the
congress and that also very small peoples are represented here.
Every person has a right to their own language and culture. It
is a central human right, which is guaranteed in international
conventions. That these conventions are respected is especially
important from the perspective of small scattered peoples. Language
is quite central as a factor underpinning national existence and
identity. The preservation of one's own language is not something
that can be taken for granted. The right to one's mother tongue
or to be educated through its medium is equally important, irrespective
of whether this applies to old indigenous peoples or immigrant
groups who have come to be surrounded by a new culture.
One of the central themes for the Latvian Presidency of the Council
of Europe commencing at the beginning of next year is the status
of minor languages. I am pleased that this matter so important
to all of us will thus receive special attention right across
Similarly, it has been regarded as important within the European
Union that the official languages of all member states can be
used. This is of central relevance to the legitimacy that the
Union enjoys in the perception of citizens, besides which being
able to use their own languages makes it easier for everyone to
participate in meetings.
In addition to people's right to their own language and culture,
we can also speak of an entitlement to an unspoiled living habitat.
Concern for the environment is something that we all share, but
the concrete themes that are topical at any given time vary from
one Finno-Ugric people's homeland to another. Other things that
vary are the say that inhabitants have in planning concerning
the environment in which they live, the degree to which they can
participate in developing their living and working environment.
The regions where the Finno-Ugric peoples live are rich in scenic
beauty, the tranquillity of nature and untouched environments,
many of the things that we would like to show also to others.
When developing all of this, the public authorities must take
the will of citizens and their organisations into account.
A democratic civil society and the non-governmental organisations
that go with it need official support. Cultural, economic and
political cooperation, an interdependency of countries and peoples,
has become more and more important. A framework for cultural exchange
and trade is provided as official cooperation develops. But people's
genuine and natural interest in each other and building friendship
on a foundation of interaction between individuals, families and
groups are likewise of great importance. There is plenty of positive
experience of this among the Finno-Ugrian peoples.
One of the points emphasised in the final document of the II
World Congress is that joint measures should be directed towards
the goal of promoting the development of the Finno-Ugric peoples
without detriment to the rights and privileges of other peoples.
It was also noted in the final document that "a right of
national self-determination, membership of a national minority
and special features of cultures and languages have begun to be
recognised as belonging to human rights". Interaction and
cooperation between the Finno-Ugric peoples, the mutual solidarity
that their work for human rights demonstrate, could serve as a
good and encouraging example also globally. At the same time as
we emphasise the rights of the Finno-Ugric peoples, we must take
care of the rights of those national and linguistic groups who
live as minorities in our own midst.
I wish the III World Congress of the Finno-Ugric Peoples the
best of luck and success in its important work. I believe that
after this gathering the world will again be a little better.