I’m a child of spring, and the increase in daylight has always given me strength. I thought at the turn of the year that once days become lighter and longer, spring will bring us back to normal life. I couldn’t have imagined even in my darkest nightmares what this spring would bring in its wake. As the Covid-19 crisis was finally improving, we were faced a month ago with a crisis even more terrible: Russia attacked Ukraine and started a war very close to us.
I was born at the end of the 1950s, so I’ve witnessed in my immediate circle how deep scars a war leaves in people. Because of this I thought that I would be a part of a generation that would never have to experience war. Once there was peace, those who fought in the war had to live with the immense psychological burden which they ultimately took to their grave. It was shocking how they were treated in post-war Finland. Their honour has only been restored in recent years posthumously and by showing respect towards the last veterans alive. I’ve also heard my mother’s stories from the home front where people had to keep on living their everyday lives and continue working under constant fear. The worry about the fate of a spouse, a father or a son fighting somewhere out there was always present.
Until this spring, I had always told my own children that I didn’t believe that we would ever face war or a hostile attack by another country. As many others, I’ve been forced to consider this from a new point of view during the past few weeks, and I’m not at all convinced about this anymore.
I thought that I would be a part of a generation that would never have to experience war.
I’ve always thought that the European Union is a project aimed at peace. I’ve been of the opinion that the shared economic and political dependence within the EU would be enough to avoid wars. There was a time when I believed that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War that the Second World War had brought in its wake and meant that hostilities in our neighbouring countries were over.
After Russia’s attack, Europe – and Finland with it – is not the same continent it still was a few weeks ago. Everyone will feel the impacts for a long time to come, regardless of how long the war actually is. Day after day and week after week an increasing amount of refugees leave Ukraine behind and head for Europe. Every country in the EU has a duty to help people who are forced to leave their homes and welcome them with open arms as they escape the war. We have to ensure that those arriving at Finland are quickly included in our integration operations and that especially the children coming here get access to early childhood education and basic education.
A significant number of people from Russia and Eastern Europe live, work and study in Finland and visit Finland. They are not to blame for Russia’s attack to Ukraine, and they should not be discriminated against or treated inappropriately. All kinds of hatred and aggression weaken the internal integrity of our society in the midst of a crisis, and we cannot give any room for it. Also in working life and in workplaces, there must be absolute zero tolerance towards racism and hate speech.
Every country in the EU has a duty to help people who are forced to leave their homes and welcome them with open arms as they escape the war.
It must also be ensured that the most vulnerable are not exploited in any way in working life or otherwise. This is a challenge for all of us but especially for the authority responsible for the supervision.
I’ve been asked whether I’m worried about or afraid for Finland’s safety or the safety of the Finnish people due to our unpredictable eastern neighbour. After considering this from different viewpoints, I must say that I’m worried but not afraid. I trust our political leaders and their ability to act in this changed situation.
A war always leaves a lasting imprint but we still need to keep our hopes up. Wars are fought with guns but peace treaties are signed with pencils. Peace will eventually return to Ukraine, and then it will be time to rebuild what has been broken. Before that the entire western world has to continuously strive to minimise the devastation caused by the war, ease the suffering of civilians and find peace as quickly as possible. Hopefully after this war and the devastation caused, the world would finally reach the ultimate wisdom that a war is the most useless thing there is – and no one would start a war ever again.
Antti Palola, Chairman, STTK