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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » March 27, 2013
Finland in Poland
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Optimism Amid Recession
March 27, 2013   
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Jari Vilén, Ambassador of Finland to Poland, talks to Ewa Hancock.

You’ve been in Poland six months. What are your impressions of the country?
I have to say that I’ve been impressed by the vitality, effectiveness, the willingness to succeed, to develop, to grow and to expand. I like all the positive elements I have found in Polish society, because most European countries are in recession or even depression. The atmosphere in Europe has been quite negative and worrisome, while in Poland you find optimism and belief in the nation’s future successes.

You can see cranes which show that cities are progressing, there are cranes all over Poland. Even if Poland is facing its own challenges, together with the EU, the overall impression of the country that I have is a feeling of optimism.

Have you seen much of the countryside?
One of my first decisions was that you can’t see a new country only from its capital. The capital has its own atmosphere, but to understand the nation you have to travel as much as you can. I, for example, am from Lapland, the northernmost part of Finland and I feel that if you only watch Finland from Helsinki, it won’t give you an accurate picture of the nation. My plan has been that I travel somewhere once a month at least and so far we’ve visited Bia³ystok, Olsztyn, the Tricity, Cieszyn, Poznañ, Wroc³aw and Cracow. We’ve been trying to travel around as much as we can.

How would you summarize Finnish-Polish relations and how do you see them developing in the future?
Finnish-Polish relations have been long-lasting, but they have also been part of Polish-Swedish relations, because Finland was for 700 years part of the Kingdom of Sweden. I am sure you have had a Finnish presence here since the Middle Ages under the Swedish flag. After regaining independence, we were more or less rebuilding relations. I think the overall atmosphere is very positive, the two nations’ knowledge of each other is quite good and we are familiar with each other’s special characteristics. Today, we are especially united by the fact that we have both been challenged by our neighbors and the historical events which have shaped our nations and culture. I believe the closest ties we have come from our membership of the EU. It is not a cliché to say that I think we are closer today than ever before, both in the EU and in the Baltic Sea area. The awareness of our willingness and need for further cooperation is there in both capitals and both prime ministers are strong advocates of closer cooperation and relations. I feel privileged by the fact that just before I came here, the prime ministers of the two countries signed a special agreement on a partnership between Poland and Finland. Using this agreement and everything that is in it has been the driving force behind my work. We are now trying to strengthen relations, from the economic aspect to political cooperation, to foreign and security policy. This work is progressing well. There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but the atmosphere and mood are excellent.

The most important challenge is strengthening economic and political ties. In terms of the economy, our bilateral trade is worth roughly 2.7 billion euros and Finland has invested 2 billion euros in Poland. But I do see there is a lot more potential for that and that is why I encourage Finnish companies to come and explore the potential in Poland. I believe that is my main mission.

On the political level, we are trying to look for cooperation in all possible fields. For example, and this is rather unique, the Finnish prime minister has announced that he wants all Finnish ministers to meet once a year with their Polish counterparts. This is a very strong statement of commitment on the Finnish side to the strengthening of the political relations that we have. We are progressing very well in this respect.

During your short tenure in Poland so far, you’ve already achieved some success—saving the famous Finnish Houses in Warsaw. Could you tell us more about this?
I must say that I was surprised to find the Finnish Houses in Warsaw. I came at a time when, after 60 years of peaceful existence, there was a question mark over the future of the Finnish Houses. The city authorities had their own future plans. I am happy to say that we have been able to find an agreement with the Warsaw authorities. They’ve accepted my view that the Finnish Houses are part of Poland’s contemporary history, part of the Polish legacy of rebuilding from ashes after World War II. And they are also a legacy of our unique bilateral relations. We have more or less reached an agreement with the city authorities, which will be confirmed in writing when we sign a declaration together next month. As many houses as possible will be preserved as a museum, a cultural institute and headquarters for NGOs. We will be able to keep this unique part of Polish history as a living part of the city.

What goals would you like to accomplish during your time in Poland?
I will be extremely satisfied if Polish and Finnish trade is higher than today, if there is more Finnish investment in Poland, if there are more Finnish companies that start doing business here. I would be also delighted if there is more Polish investment in Finland and if we can maintain this close political cooperation and dialogue between our prime ministers and governments. I will be delighted if awareness of Finland is better in this country when I leave. As for concrete achievements, I hope that we will have more active Polish-Finnish associations all over the country and an extended network of honorary consulates of Finland in Poland. We have two honorary consulates at the moment and I do hope that, if possible, every single province will have its own honorary Finnish consulate. That is my ambitious plan.
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