Member of the Board Sinikka Salo
European Cultural Foundation Network Finland (Euroopan Kulttuurisäätiön Suomen Osasto ry, EKSO) Chairman
40th anniversary celebrations of the European Cultural Foundation Network Finland
Helsinki 15 September 2009

President Ahtisaari, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

During the first 40 years of our association, the European Cultural Foundation Network Finland, Europe itself has undergone considerable change. For the first twenty years our organisation operated under the shadow of the cold war and our most essential role was of maintaining cultural relations with Western Europe. So, through discourse, seminars and happenings, and by participating in pan-European projects, we have been able to achieve the proclaimed aim of the Foundation "If we are unable to unite politically, let us at least unite culturally". By unification, naturally they meant then, as now, unification within a multicultural environment or – unity in diversity.

It will be twenty years in November, since we witnessed the bringing down of the Berlin Wall. This was an event that heralded the end of the cold war and opening up of Europe, and made it possible for Finland to become part of the uniting Europe. Our association was actively involved in national debates in favour of EU membership, reminding listeners that Europe is not merely a political and economic concept. In fact, an understanding and awareness of the Union's multicultural foundation is an essential prerequisite of that very political and economic unification.

One of the constants in our thinking, over all these decades of the European Cultural Foundation Network Finland's activities, has been to activate and maintain debate at national level, on European culture and thereby promote acknowledgement of a European identity and lifestyle alongside the roots of Finnish identity.

And where are we heading now? Where is the ECF's Finnish association needed in the coming years and decades?

We foresee a clear need for our activities in the future. It may be that the challenges we face will be more testing than before, as we now live in a world of rapid globalisation – a world village. Project Europe is not yet complete. In order to proceed it specifically needs the support of Europeans, citizens at the individual national level. Ownership of Project Europe at the EU level must be strengthened. Europe must become a project of all its citizens, not just that of a select few groups. We should see this as the central function of an organisation such as the European Cultural Foundation and its partners. Our Finnish association wants to be a constructive part of the process as Finns get to know the culture and lifestyles of other nations throughout Europe. We want to advance broad-based cultural debates at national level and through discussions between Europeans. This will lead to greater openness and a degree of unity that will, in turn, provide momentum for Project Europe, so that it may meet the challenges ahead of it, which in this global environment, are not limited by national borders. It is out vision that the Finnish people's trust in a united Europe will be built on a foundation of critical and open discourse between Europeans.

The operational vision of our association is to help make Europe an integral part of the heart of Finns. In this, culture has a highly significant position, for however essential economic strategies and guidelines may be, they are not enough when it comes to generating enthusiasm – at least for some. The principles and concepts of financial stability and growth don't set their light on fire − unless they're economists! Culture clearly provides us with inspiration and power when it comes to building Europe. In this, our association is a unique institution in that it has − throughout its operational history − always kept at the forefront of our thinking, the link between culture, politics and the economy. Similarly, our actions reflect this link: "Culture is such an essential issue that it cannot be left entirely to the cultural professionals!"

Particularly in the current serious economic situation that we now find ourselves, our levels of tolerance and openness, when it comes to understanding culture, are put to the test. The great depression of the 1930s led to protectionism and trade wars, ultra nationalism and, ultimately, to the Second World War. Happily, it doesn't look as if protectionism has been awarded a very strong role − at least not yet. Our association works against the forces of introversion and ultra nationalism, by bringing the European voice to our national debate, by accentuating European values and the essence of being European.

But why Europe, why not the whole world? Europe and being European do not − should not − form a fortress against the rest of the world. Europe – and the European Union − are our nesting ground, from which we can gain the strength to have a global impact, to act as citizens of the world. The recent crisis in the financial markets has underlined the significance of a common European Union within the global forum, to say nothing of a single currency and monetary policy, which has played a key role in helping bring about financial stability to the world's monetary economy and financial markets for 10 years already. From the perspective of a small country such as Finland, and its people, membership of the European Union is fundamental, but not even the bigger players can survive alone for very long in a globalising world.

We have aimed to build our celebrations to reflect ourselves. Our organisation's history, a copy of which you will each receive as you leave, tells of the story of a unique organisation within the cultural context of Finland. The seminars, happenings and other activities of our association have been enabled by open-minded people from the world of culture and economic life alike who have spent their time and means on activities they value above all. On behalf of our organisation, I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to all of them, to our corporate members and the other parties closely involved in our activities, without whose financial support we wouldn't be able to operate. Warm thanks must also go to the writer Suvi Kukkonen, for compiling the account of our history that will be presented to you, shortly.

I should like to extend my thanks to this evening's performers. We are delighted to have with us Gottfried Wagner, Director of the European Cultural Foundation, as one of our foreign guest speakers. He is based in Amsterdam, at our parent organisation's base, which is the sister organisation to the Finnish Committee of the ECF. Our other foreign speaker this evening is a force to be reckoned with in French media, and is here to speak to us on the intriguing mix of culture and television; as a joint citizen of France and the United States, Ms. Julienne is an embodiment of Europe's important transatlantic dimension.

We are also happy to listen fine musicians – our warmest thanks go to Jussi Merikanto and Gustav Djupsjöbacka, the Oliphant, and to Marjukka Riihimäki and the Chamber Choir of the Sibelius Lyseum. I would like to draw your attention to the pieces, which highlights in so many ways the richness of our cultural heritage. You will find more details about the evening's speakers and artists in your programmes.

And last, but hardly least, we are honoured to have President and Nobel Laureate Martti Ahtisaari as our celebrity speaker. We are delighted to hear what he has to say about the achievements of the project of peace and prosperity in Europe and about its cultural challenges.

Dear, honoured guests! Welcome to our celebrations!