Secretary of State Pertti Torstila’s speech at the inauguration of the Embassy of Belarus in Helsinki
22 February 2012
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Vice-Minister Guryanov, Ambassador Drazhin, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The establishment of the Embassy of Belarus in Helsinki is a welcome event. It is a concrete manifestation of the diplomatic relations between our countries and a response to the opening of Finland’s diplomatic Liaison Office in Minsk one and a half years ago. The Embassy of Belarus is the 61st diplomatic mission based in Helsinki.
This week we will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Finland and Belarus. 1992 marked the beginning of the new Europe. Several new independent states emerged, and Belarus was one of them.
The Follow-up Meeting to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was launched in Helsinki in March 1992, exactly twenty years ago, and the Heads of State and Government of 52 countries convened in the CSCE summit meeting in Helsinki in July 1992. Since the beginning of the 1970s, Finland in the Helsinki Process had actively contributed to the creation of a new Europe without divisions and supported the trend that in 1989 led to the historical events in our continent. The newly independent Belarus sent its own delegation to the Helsinki Follow-up Meeting.
Countries in the close neighbourhood are important to us. The geographical distance from Helsinki to Belarus is shorter than to Rovaniemi in the Finnish Lapland, and Helsinki is closer to Minsk than Moscow. It is essential that we learn to know each other better and that we learn to understand each other’s past, culture and present. The diplomatic missions play a central role in these matters.
Finland wants to engage in closer communication with Belarus and has sought to promote the integration of Belarus into various fora of regional cooperation. Helsinki will provide an interesting window for Minsk to the Nordic countries, the Baltic Sea region and to wider Europe.
Finland has learned a great deal in the Baltic Sea cooperation, and this may serve as a foundation for fields of cooperation benefiting both parties, including protection of the environment, higher education and research, and cooperation between business world and companies.
Contacts between civil society actors provide precious added value to the cooperation between the public authorities. In the Nordic countries, the civil society plays a key role and we are ready and willing to present our model to others.
Finland can support Belarus also in the areas of high technology and protection of the environment and waters. We know that Belarus is interested in diversifying its energy production and especially the development of bio-fuels to meet the European standards.
In the environmental sector, Belarus has vast challenges. The Daugava and the Neman rivers run into the Baltic Sea carrying nutrient loads. Belarus has an observer status in the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). Finland has promoted Belarus’ access to the Northern Dimension activities and we hope to see Belarus become from an observer to an active participant in the ND partnerships in the future. You are located at the crossroads of many transport links and your contribution is of importance.
The European Union offers Belarus an opportunity to take part in the European Neighbourhood Policy. From our partners we expect progress in the human rights, rule of law, and democracy development. Membership of the UN and the OSCE and being a European country create expectations and impose obligations in your regard.
We expect that the Embassy of Belarus in Helsinki will be active and help establish networks in the domains of trade and sustainable social development
To date, there has not been much tourism between Finland and Belarus, but we believe that visas granted by the Embassy of Belarus in Helsinki and the direct flight connection between our capitals will boost this interaction as well.
Cooperation between the scientific and cultural communities is still limited, but the demand has been on the rise from the part of Belarus. Schoolchildren, students and researchers are looking for contacts in the European Union. We hope that the Embassy will foster these contacts. Finland can offer its good experiences of cross-border training and researcher cooperation which we have gained in the North-West of Russia.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
President Urho Kekkonen said in his CSCE speech in 1973 that “security is not gained by erecting fences. Security is gained by opening gates”. With these same words I wish the Embassy of Belarus and its staff warmly welcome to Helsinki and wish you every success in building new bridges of cooperation, in opening doors.