Aleksanteri Institute 20th Anniversary Seminar
University of Helsinki, 28.4.2016
Chancellor Thomas Wilhelmsson, professor and director Markku Kivinen, professors, students, dear guests, ladies and gentlemen,
When the Aleksanteri Institute was founded 20 years ago, those where the years when Boris Yeltsin was the President of Russia, Finland had joined the EU on January 1st 1995 and – being very personal – I had also just started as the Foreign Minister.
Those years in Russia have later been characterized as times of both liberation and chaos. The future brought the economic collapse of 1998 as well as the stable and prosperous years of the early 21st century. Ten years ago the Russian economy was growing and the relations with the West seemed quite promising. The modernization of Russia and even an active welfare policy seemed like a quite likely trend of development in Russia.
Now we are living once again under different conditions and expectations. While modernization is by no means forgotten, the current key concept in Russia seems to be import substitution. When before the crisis in Ukraine, all but one of the EU countries had entered into bilateral agreements to promote the modernization of Russia, today is shadowed by sanctions and counter sanctions.
In a paradoxical way the sanctions may prove to give more momentum to the structural change in the Russian economy than what the modernization partnerships would have. However, the increase in confrontation also bears a heavy cost. It will be difficult to meet the big global challenges together in a world where trust and confidence are low and military spending increases.
The world leaders agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Climate Agreement last year. Now it is the time for their implementation. Successful implementation is only possible if everyone participates and adequate resources are available. We also face challenges on a regional scale such as the environmental degradation of the Baltic Sea and Arctic issues. Artic issues have global importance and they are being dealt with in a constructive way. Cooperation is vital in todays interconnected world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The contradictory and surprising nature of the developments in Russia show how important it was to establish the Aleksanteri Institute in Finland. In addition to Finland, only Japan made efforts to increase its knowledge about Russia since the1990’s. Many in the West thought that resources spent on Russian studies could be cut as the ideological confrontation between the East and West had ended.
The Aleksanteri Institute grew from a small think tank of four researchers to become the biggest European research Institute in this field. Today it is a Centre of Excellence of the Academy of Finland. We must warmly congratulate all those who have built this success story. At the same time, we should also congratulate the officials at the Ministry of Education who had the foresight to prioritize the right things at the right time.
A beloved child always has many fathers and mothers. In this case, the idea of establishing an institute was born in a working group. The group included Chancellor Risto Ihamuotila, Mr. Tauno Matomäki and Ambassador Heikki Talvitie. Key actors were also the Minister of Education Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Permanent Secretary Markku Linna and Dr. Juha Martelius.
In the current situation, the potential in this area is easier to see when hundreds of Master’s degrees and more than 60 doctorates have been completed at the Institute. The fact that more than 1,300 international experts have applied to the Institute’s Visiting Fellows Program since 2008, shows how popular the Institute has become. A strength of the Institute is also its nation-wide orientation.
One could think that a weakness in the university funding model is that it does not encourage nationwide co-operation, even though in many areas a critical mass of students and sufficient variety in education can only be achieved through national cooperation.
It should be remembered that Finland needs expertise in Central Eastern European, Balkan, Baltic, Caucasian and Central Asian issues. The Institute’s training programs and curriculum deal with those regions. It is particularly important that Ukraine got its own study program well before the crisis started.
Economic growth, especially in the BRICS has raised hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The flip side of growth, however, are the major global challenges: persistent poverty and inequality, climate change, loss of biodiversity, uncontrolled population growth and migratory flows and new security threats. The solution to these problems becomes more difficult, if the world enters into a new kind of cold war situation or even cold peace.
Although the Russian leadership continues to speak of western actors as partners, the globe is round. And the role of China is now being much stressed. In any case the growth in Asia means that the largest buyers of Russian energy in twenty years are China and India. It is very important that these global megatrends will not happen in a spirit of confrontation but in the spirit of cooperation and trust.
The Cold War was a long period in history. It planted the idea of confrontation deep into the minds of people. It did not only become a world view, but also established practices. Proceeding from confrontation to co-operation is easier for small countries like Finland, which do not fight for spheres of interest and only loose when tensions grow. At the moment, political careers can be promoted and newspapers can be sold through stirring up confrontation both in Russia and in the West. Therefore it is more important than ever to have research based knowledge as the basis of our views and policies.
We must also have the courage to say that the great powers have a biased view of one another. Was Russia capable of taking advantage of President Obama’s reset policy? Is President Putin’s administration being demonized in the United States? The fact that these questions need to be asked underlines the importance of having ones own interpretation. Despite the changing cycles of political relations, the leaders of Finland and Russia need to keep a constant dialogue. It is in the interest of the nations of the Baltic Sea area to prevent a slip towards the development of military confrontation and start top level discussions before something that cannot be reversed happens.
The establishment of the Aleksanteri Institute is also linked to our membership in the EU and the subsequent demand for knowledge about Russia. The demand is greater today than ever. We also understand that in addition to the EU common policy Finland has a large number of bilateral issues related to its own interests which no one will take care of if we don’t do it ourselves. The management of bilateral issues has nothing to do with being soft on Russian demands or a secret Russian plot. Many of the challenges we face – be they related to the climate, environment, refugees, criminality, trade or energy – can only be solved through cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me once more congratulate the Institute, its Director Markku Kivinen and all the staff and students for the 20th anniversary. I wish you a wonderful seminar and fruitful discussions.
Please be happy and proud of your achievements and be brave to tackle new challenges.