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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Finland 101 Or Why Paavo Lipponen Really is An Important Speaker

I was saddened by President Freedman's comment in the Tuesday issue of The Dartmouth that he withheld the announcement of our commencement speaker "so students would not protest for someone more famous." I was further dismayed to hear student reactions all day Tuesday. "Paavo who? Finland? What about Bill Cosby?" While I, like many of my classmates, would have liked to have seen a woman speaker at commencement, I am thrilled that Lipponen was chosen. I will admit my bias up front: I wrote my government thesis on Finnish foreign policy and did include remarks about Lipponen. As the campus expert on Finland, I would like to take this opportunity to explain why Lipponen is not only a wonderful choice as speaker, but an impressive world leader.

Paavo Lipponen has been prime minister of Finland since 1995. He has presided over a cabinet which represents the most diverse spectrum of political parties in Finnish history. Finns tend to have strong party loyalties, so this in itself is a great feat. He is a very intelligent man, well educated, and speaks several languages fluently. He falls into that category of Western European Social Democrats, but this type of politician is relatively new to Finland. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland had to balance its friendly relations with East and West, creating a unique form of Finnish political leadership. In the Post-Cold War era, Lipponen has been an integral figure in creating a sense of acceptance by the Europeans that Finland is one of them. His personal understanding of European and American institutions has enhanced his personal strengths as a Finnish politician.

Lipponen is prime minister in one of the few states which has both a president and a prime minister. In the Cold War period, the president was clearly the stronger of the two, but in midst of this new European Architecture, the prime minister has taken on a greater role in foreign and domestic policy. This is due in many ways to Lipponen's strong personal leadership. Lipponen was the prime minister who led Finland's entrance into the EU in 1995. In this capacity he is not only a leader in the Finnish political arena, but in Europe as well.

Lipponen possesses charisma, which naturally enhances his ability to lead, as well as speak. As a speaker, he is probably one of the best that Finland can offer. This doesn't mean much to Americans, I know. However, reconsider your impressions of Finland as a small state somewhere in Northern Europe.

Finland's leaders, conscious of their position as a link between East and West, have a unique world view that Americans tend not to understand. Finland's proximity to Russia gives her people a much more pragmatic view of the politics and culture of that state. And Finland's inclusion in the Western world means that its leaders have an acute understanding of American and European politics as well. On a global level, Finland has taken a leadership role in promoting human rights in the UN and in promoting international security through the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. Lipponen, as Head of State, oversees all of these developments, and possesses an immense understanding of world politics and relations. Furthermore, as a former Dartmouth student, he possesses a unique perspective on and love for this place as well. I believe he will be able to incorporate beautifully his knowledge of and own perspective on world affairs, with his knowledge of this small world at Dartmouth.

And seniors, as you shake his hand on stage, you might want to say "Kiitoksia paljon, Herra Paaministeri," or thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister.