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Speeches, 3/9/2018

Opening remarks by Minister Soini at the Perspectives from Peace Diplomacy Seminar

Opening remarks by Mr. Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland at the Perspectives from Peace Diplomacy Seminar. Helsinki, 9 March 2018.

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It is my great pleasure to welcome you all this morning to our seminar with the theme "Perspectives from Peace Diplomacy". The motivation for this event was to provide an opportunity for a Finnish audience to discuss with Professor Peter Wallensteen from Uppsala University. Together with Professor Isak Svensson, professor Wallensteen has done a study on peace diplomacy and the Nordic actors who have played a part in it since the Second World War. The conclusions of this study were published in 2016 in a book titled “Fredens diplomater: Nordisk medling från Bernadotte till Ahtisaari”.

As Professor Wallensteen and Professor Svensson write, the Nordic region has produced more mediators than its geographical size or population would lead one to expect. They have also been remarkably successful. There are many valuable lessons here that should be kept in mind and applied as we develop new ways of helping resolve conflicts and promote peace across the globe.

The promotion of mediation activities, and engaging in mediation ourselves, are among the strategic priorities of Finnish foreign policy. Building on our traditional role of a supporter of international efforts for peace and stability, we have established an active profile in mediation in Europe, and beyond, in close collaboration with our partners. Our approach to mediation is holistic: It includes conflict prevention as well as the promotion of national dialogues and the inclusive participation of civil society actors in peace processes. We emphasize the participation of women and youth, as well as traditional and religious leaders, where appropriate.

Finland supports peace processes in a number of countries, both politically and financially. Our embassies are in a key position to monitor and analyze developments on the ground, so that we can decide when and where Finland can play a useful role.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is currently looking into enhancing effective mediation skills and coordination capacity within its own ranks. This is a critical factor for our ability to provide good offices over time to parties to conflict, and to assist international structures in mediation. In its essence, diplomacy is an instrument of peace, as are its practitioners.

There are many ways to create conditions for, and to facilitate steps toward conflict resolution. Diplomatic skills are required in direct mediation, which is about human interaction, active listening, communication, respect, response, mutual understanding, and above all, tireless dialogue. Here it is useful to recall that the original Greek concept, dia-logos, consists of two elements. While logos means words, dia does not mean two, but "through", and suggests movement. Dialogue therefore implies a multidirectional exchange of ideas; words that can – and often seek to – cause change within the interlocutors.

So far, the human mind continues to be more complex than any artificial intelligence – both for good and for ill. However, the evolution of technology does affect also mediation, and its multiple potential uses are worth exploring.

Success in mediation often relies on strong political experience. It is not an over-statement to say that politics is a tough school and, at its best, equips mediators with qualities and perspectives that are useful tools in mediation. I have nominated Ms. Jutta Urpilainen, Member of Parliament, as my Special Representative on Mediation. In her work, Ms. Urpilainen is focusing on women and youth in particular in Africa.

I would also like to highlight the nomination of President Tarja Halonen to the High-level Advisory Board on Mediation in support of the United Nations Secretary-General. By listing these names, I also wish to stress that, in mediation, the personality of an individual can really make a difference. I truly admire the stamina, determination and extraordinary personal skills of successful mediators. Challenges in the actual mediation process sometimes seem insurmountable. However, the potential rewards to the victims of conflict may literally be life-changing, and the cost of inaction unbearable.

The Nordic countries are in many respects a unique part of the world. Our stable and prosperous societies allow for an active stand beyond our borders. Nordic cooperation is another asset in pursuing common goals in the global setting. Peace diplomacy is an excellent area in which to exercise leadership, individually and jointly. Sweden is currently a member of the UN Security Council. Together we have promoted initiatives like the Nordic Women Mediators’ network. These initiatives can bring leverage that is useful in other contexts as well.

In their book, Professor Peter Wallensteen and his colleague Isak Svensson present a comprehensive review of the Nordic peace diplomacy since the Second World War. The list of persons, and the record, are impressive. The analysis provided in the book gives us insights into a variety of situations and helps us understand the specific function of mediation in solving violent conflicts. Even if there are protracted conflicts that have not been solved, we must never give up hope and trust. Attitude and direction count.

I believe it is vital for the future of mediation that knowledge and experience are passed on to future mediators. I would like to take this opportunity to commend Professor Wallensteen for making such an important contribution to this. While many things in the world are changing fast, the root causes of conflicts are more durable, and human nature is rather constant.

Experienced mediators are in a unique position to serve as mentors for aspiring mediators. I do hope that this seminar provides one opportunity for such an outreach. In Western societies, the wisdom possessed by the so called senior citizens is all too often disregarded.

We simply cannot afford this. We also need to be humble enough to learn from our counterparts in Africa, Asia and Latin America where traditional or religious leaders are seldom youngsters. While systematically emphasizing the youth and their role in mediation processes, we should be careful not to build unintentionally any generational gaps in mediation ourselves.

It is clear that the work of mediators is by no means concluded in the world. Many old conflicts simmer, and new ones break out. Many of the forces at work in the world are putting pressure on human societies. The nature of conflicts is evolving in ways that make their resolution more challenging. This seminar on Nordic traditions of mediation diplomacy could therefore not be more timely.

This year, we are celebrating the legacy of 100 years of Finnish diplomacy. Peace diplomacy is, and will continue to be, at the core of Finnish foreign policy. For Finns, the year 2018 is also a year of recollection; of reflection on how our own nation has survived violent conflicts. A hundred years ago, we were able to come together and consolidate peace. Today’s discussion is a most appropriate way to celebrate peace overcoming conflict.

Finally, to aim high in mediation, we do not need to agree conceptually on what peace means, other than the opposite of war or conflict. Still, we will all probably feel comfortable with the thought put forward by Erasmus of Rotterdam. I quote: "The most unfavorable peace is better than the most just war". In mediation, the challenging task is to make all parties to see and understand the advantages of peace. I think this remains a pertinent and relevant piece of guidance to present and future mediators.

Thank you.

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Updated 3/9/2018

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