Maa 21 2010
When I thought about what to say to you I made the choise between topics based on a theme that is common to all of us, that crosses many borders. That is the freedom of speech.
Freedom of opinion, freedom of expression. Our shared value has many names and many forms, but it is an important if not the most important of our fundamental rights as people. Many Europeans share that thought. I say many, not all, because today it is very clear how certain contributors, political and elsewhere, are expressing willingness to control that freedom.
People in Finland, Sweden and Denmark are doing pretty good – aren’t we? One should never be completely satisfied with the current situation as then there is no more room for improvement. Societies never live in a stable environment but they keep facing new natural and man-created phenomenon that maintain a constant atmosphere of change. As examples of rather recent phenomenon I would like to bring up the debates about global warming, immigration and multiculturalism. These three topics bring about passionate opinions that are not always based on reasoning or facts but feelings.
An older example of distorted freedom of expression comes from Finland. Finland’s history in freedom of speech has been quite bleak in the recent decades. What started as a war between Finland and Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s later on continued as mental violence – which took the form in Finnish self-censorship. The media of the time, mainly newspapers and TV, did not publish anything critical of the Soviet Union. Even the average citizen felt the tenseness of the atmosphere. You were not to say aloud things that were considered inappropriate. My mother and my grandmother remember well, how limited, even forbidden, it was to say anything negative about the Soviet Union in public.
Some consider this era of silence and censorship, which lasted from the 1960s to even up until when the Soviet Union broke apart, as a survival strategy that a small nation used against a much greater power. Later on the self-cencorship which the Finnish imposed upon themselves has been widely criticized and it is often brought up in different contexts. Even with our questionable background in issues relating to freedom of opinion and speech we have drifted into somewhat similar situation today. This time the regulator of discussion is not the big and the bad Soviet Union and Finnish politicians bowing down to it, but issues about immigration and multiculturalism.
Based on our past we could say that Finland has a tradition of silence, cencorship and manouevering of opinions. For some years now, fanatic liberal leftist models of thinking have been on top of the discussion. Such ideologies and beliefs have been widely marketed through the media as the only correct and acceptable way of thinking. Any differing opinions have been analysed against those ideas as if the different opinions are not just as valid and just as correct simply as they are. People voicing opposing opinions have not been silenced by scaring them to death but by branding them racist and intolerant which has worked very well as it is an effective means of putting someone to shame. When reaching for the politically correct level of debate in public and in the media the people in charge, the leading decision-makers, have become more worried about how to limit the freedom of opinion rather than about how to make sure that right is guaranteed to everybody.
People who are for the freedom of opinion and against the concensus way of thinking exist – just as they always have. I believe that there are a lot of people like that right here in this room. These people have the knowledge, skill and will to talk about the flaws in the society, the challenges and problems we must conquer. There are many serious questions to solve, and immigration-related matters are not the only ones – but their role becomes bigger and bigger as a result of current politics. As any other issue, this will bring about views for and against. And that is absolutely fine just as long as we all remember that both sides, and everything in between, has the right to their opinion and to say it.
The right to on opinion is not about whether that opinion fulfills the qualitative or ethical standards for an opinion laid out by someone else. The freedom of speech is not about whether someone gets sad or upset after reading or hearing another person’s opinion. Human interaction and conversations constantly create situations where someone feels offended. It is not the responsibility of the society or political parties to mend broken hearts or hurt pride. Instead, their job is to guarantee the people wellbeing, security and education. They need to provide resources, with which each individual can prosper and participate in the development of the society according to their own capability. Everybody’s input is needed. Everybody has rights, but they go hand in hand with responsibilities. Just as well each opinion is important and needed. We have cherished this value and it has made us proud.
Many people have arrived in Europe claiming they had to leave their homes because they had wrong opinions. I hope that no-one has to leave here for not saying the right thing.