Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to the Paasikivi Society and the League of Finnish-American Societies in Helsinki, Finland

May 27, 1988

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Prime Minister, and ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by saying thank you to our hosts, the Finnish Government, the Paasikivi Society, and the League of Finnish-American Societies. It's a particular honor for me to come here today. This year—the Year of Friendship, as Congress has proclaimed it, between the United States and Finland—this year marks the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Finns in America and the establishment of a small Scandinavian colony near what is today Wilmington, Delaware—an ancient people in a new world. And that is the story not only of those Finns but of all the peoples who braved the seas to settle in and build my country, a land of freedom for a nation of immigrants.

Yes, they founded a new world, but as they crossed the oceans, the mountains, and the prairies, those who made America carried the old world in their hearts—the old customs, the family ties, and most of all the belief in God, a belief that gave them the moral compass and ethical foundation by which they explored an uncharted frontier and constructed a government and nation of, by, and for the people.

And so, although we Americans became a new people, we also remain an ancient one, for we're guided by ancient and universal values, values that Prime Minister Holkeri spoke of in Los Angeles this February when, after recalling Finland's internationally recognized position of neutrality, he added that Finland is "tied to Western values of freedom, democracy, and human rights." And let me add here, that for America those ties are also the bonds of our friendship. America respects Finland's neutrality. We support Finland's independence. We honor Finland's courageous history. We value the creative statesmanship that has been Finland's gift to world peace. And in this soaring hall, which is the great architect Alvar Aalto's statement of hope for Finland's future, we reaffirm our hope and faith that the friendship between our nations will be unending.

We're gathered here today in this hall because it was here, almost 13 years ago, that the 35 nations of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe signed the Helsinki Final Act, a document that embodies the same ethical and moral principles and the same hope for a future of peace that Finns and so many other European immigrants gave America. The Final Act is a singular statement of hope. Its "three baskets" touch on almost every aspect of East-West relations, and taken together form a kind of map through the wilderness of mutual hostility to open fields of peace and to a common home of trust among all of our sovereign nations—neutrals, nonaligned, and alliance members alike. The Final Act sets new standards of conduct for our nations and provided the mechanisms by which to apply those standards.

Yes, the Final Act goes beyond arms control, once the focus of international dialog. It reflects a truth that I have so often noted: Nations do not distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. The Final Act grapples with the full range of our underlying differences and deals with East-West relations as an interrelated whole. It reflects the belief of all our countries that human rights are less likely to be abused when a nation's security is less in doubt; that economic relations can contribute to security, but depend on the trust and confidence that come from increasing ties between our peoples, increasing openness, and increasing freedom; and that there is no true international security without respect for human rights. I can hardly improve on the words President Koivisto used in this hall 2 years ago when he recalled that "security is more than the protection of borders and social structures. It is emphasized in the Final Act that individual persons who live in the participating states have to feel in their own lives security which is based on respect for fundamental human rights and basic freedoms."

And beyond establishing these integrated standards, the Final Act establishes a process for progress. It sets up a review procedure to measure performance against standards. And despite the doubts of the critics—for the past 13 years, the signatory states have mustered the political will to keep on working and making progress.

Let me say that it seems particularly appropriate to me that the Final Act is associated so closely with this city and this country. More than any other diplomatic document, the Final Act speaks to the yearning that Finland's longtime President, Urbo Kekkonen, spoke of more than a quarter century ago when he said, in his words: "It's the fervent hope of the Finnish people that barriers be lowered all over Europe and that progress be made along the road of European unity." And he added that this was, as he put it, "for the good of Europe, and thus of humanity as a whole." Well, those were visionary words. That vision inspired and shaped the drafting of the Final Act and continues to guide us today.

Has the Final Act and what we call the Helsinki process worked or not? Many say it hasn't, but I believe it has. In the security field, I would point to the most recent fruit of the process: the Stockholm document of confidence- and security-building measures in Europe. This agreement lays down the rules by which our 35 states notify each other of upcoming military activities in Europe; provides detailed information on these activities in advance; and lets the others know their plans for very large military activities 1 or 2 years in advance and agrees not to hold such maneuvers unless this notice is given; invites observers to their larger military activities; and permits on-site inspections to make sure the agreement is honored.

I am happy to note that since our representatives shook hands to seal this agreement a year and a half ago, all 35 states have, by and large, honored both the letter and the spirit of the Stockholm document. The Western and neutral and nonaligned states have set a strong example in providing full information about their military activities. In April, Finland held its first military activity subject to the Stockholm notification requirements and voluntarily invited observers to it. The Soviet Union and its allies also have a generally good record of implementation, though less forthcoming than the West. Ten on-site inspections have been conducted so far, and more and more states are exercising their right to make such inspections. I can't help but believe that making inspections a matter of routine business will improve openness and enhance confidence.

Nor was Stockholm the end of the process. In Vienna all 35 signatory states are considering how to strengthen the confidence- and security-building measures in the context of a balanced outcome at the CSCE followup meeting that includes significant progress on human rights. In the economic field, as in the security field, I believe there has been progress, but of a different kind. Issues and negotiations regarding security are not simple, but military technology makes arms and armies resemble each other enough so that common measures can be confidently applied. Economic relations, by contrast, are bedeviled by differences in our systems. Perhaps increases in nonstrategic trade can contribute to better relations between East and West, but it's difficult to relate the state-run economies of the East to the essentially free-market economies of the West. Perhaps some of the changes underway in the state run economies will equip them better to deal with our businessmen and open new arenas for cooperation. But or work on these issues over the years has already made us understand that differences in systems are serious obstacles to expansion of economic ties, and since understanding of unpleasant realities is part of wisdom, that, too, is progress.

The changes taking place in the Eastern countries of the continent go beyond changes in their economic systems and greater openness in their military activities. Changes have also begun to occur in the field of human rights, as was called for in the Final Act. The rest of us would like to see the changes that are being announced actually registered in the law and practice of our Eastern partners and in the documents under negotiation in the Vienna followup to the Helsinki conference.

Much has been said about the human rights and humanitarian provisions in the Final Act and the failure of the Eastern bloc to honor them. Yet for all the bleak winds that have swept the plains of justice since that signing day in 1975, the accords have taken root in the conscience of humanity and grown in moral and, increasingly, in diplomatic authority. I believe that this is no accident. It reflects an increasing realization that the agenda of East-West relations must be comprehensive, that security and human rights must be advanced together or cannot truly be secured at all. But it also shows that the provisions in the Final Act reflect standards that are truly universal in their scope. The accords embody a fundamental truth, a truth that gathers strength with each passing season and that will not be denied—the truth that, like the first Finnish settlers in America, all our ancient peoples find themselves today in a new world and that, as those early settlers discovered, the greatest creative and moral force in this new world, the greatest hope for survival and success, for peace and happiness, is human freedom.

Yes, freedom—the right to speak, to print; the right to worship, to travel, to assemble; the right to be different, the right, as the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote, "to step to the music of a different drummer"—this is freedom as most Europeans and Americans understand it and freedom as it is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, yes, in the Helsinki accords. And far more than the locomotive or the automobile, the airplane or the rocket, more than radio, television, or the computer, this concept of liberty is the most distinct, peculiar, and powerful invention of the civilization we all share.

Indeed, without this freedom there would have been no mechanical inventions, for inventions are eccentricities. The men and women who create them are visionaries, just like artists and writers. They see what others fail to see and trust their insights when others don't. The same freedom that permits literature and the arts to flourish; the same freedom that allows one to attend church, synagogue, or mosque without apprehension; that same freedom from oppression and supervision is the freedom that has given us, the peoples of Western Europe and North America, our dynamism, our economic growth, and our inventiveness. Together with Japan and Australia and many others, we have lived in this state of freedom, this house of democracy, since the end of the Second World War.

The house of democracy is a house whose doors are open to all. Because of it, because of the liberty and popular rule we've shared, today we also share a prosperity more widely distributed and extensive, a political order more tolerant and humane than has ever before been known on Earth. To see not simply the immediate but the historic importance of this, we should remember how far many of our nations have traveled and how desolate the future of freedom and democracy once seemed. For much of this century, the totalitarian temptation, in one form or another, has beckoned to mankind, also promising freedom, but of a different kind than the one we celebrate today. This concept of liberty is, as the Czechoslovak writer Milan Kundera has put it, "the age-old dream of a world where everybody would live in harmony, united by a single common will and faith, without secrets from one another"—the freedom of imposed perfection.

Fifty, forty, even as recently as thirty years ago, the contest between this utopian concept of freedom on one hand and the democratic concept of freedom on the other seemed a close one. Promises of a perfect world lured many Western thinkers and millions of others besides. And many believed in the confident prediction of history's inevitable triumph. Well, few do today. Just as democratic freedom has proven itself incredibly fertile—fertile not merely in a material sense but also in the abundance it has brought forth in the human spirit—so, too, utopianism has proven brutal and barren.

Albert Camus once predicted that, in his words, "when revolution in the name of power and of history becomes a murderous and immoderate mechanism, a new rebellion is consecrated in the name of moderation of life." Isn't this exactly what we see happening across the mountains and plains of Europe and even beyond the Urals today? In Western Europe, support for utopian ideologies, including support among intellectuals, has all but collapsed, while in the nondemocratic countries, leaders grapple with the internal contradictions of their system and some ask how they can make that system better and more productive. In a sense, the front line in the competition of ideas that has played in Europe and America for more than 70 years has shifted East. Once it was the democracies that doubted their own view of freedom and wondered whether utopian systems might not be better. Today the doubt is on the other side.

In just 2 days, I will meet in Moscow with General Secretary Gorbachev. It will be our fourth set of face-to-face talks since 1985. The General Secretary and I have developed a broad agenda for U.S.-Soviet relations, an agenda that is linked directly to the agenda of the Final Act. Yes, as does the Final Act, we will discuss security issues. We will pursue progress in arms reduction negotiations across the board and continue our exchanges on regional issues. Yes, we will also discuss economic issues, although, as in the Helsinki process, we have seen in recent years how much the differences in our systems inhibit expanded ties and how difficult it is to divorce economic relations from human rights and other elements of that relationship. And, yes, as our countries did at Helsinki, we will take up other bilateral areas as well, including scientific, cultural, and people-to-people exchanges, where we've been hard at work identifying new ways to cooperate. In this area, in particular, I believe we'll see some good results before the week is over.

And like the Final Act, our agenda now includes human rights as an integral component. We have developed our dialog and put in place new mechanisms for discussion. The General Secretary has spoken often and forthrightly on the problems confronting the Soviet Union. In his campaign to address these shortcomings, he talks of glashost and perestroika, openness and restructuring, words that to our ears have a particularly welcome sound. And since he began his campaign, things have happened that all of us applaud. The list includes the release from labor camps or exile of people like Andrei Sakharov, Irina Ratushinskaya, Anatoly Koryagin, Josef Begun, and many other prisoners of conscience; the publication of books like "Dr. Zhivago" and "Children of the Arbat"; the distribution of movies like "Repentance" that are critical of aspects of the Soviet past and present; allowing higher levels of emigration; greater toleration of dissent; General Secretary Gorbachev's recent statements on religious toleration; the beginning of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

All this is new and good. But at the same time, there is another list, defined not by us but by the standards of the Helsinki Final Act and the sovereign choice of all participants, including the Soviet Union, to subscribe to it. We need look no further through the Final Act to see where Soviet practice does not—or does not yet—measure up to Soviet commitment. Thirteen years after the Final Act was signed, it's difficult to understand why cases of divided families and blocked marriages should remain on the East-West agenda or why Soviet citizens who wish to exercise their right to emigrate should be subject to artificial quotas and arbitrary rulings. And what are we to think of the continued suppression of those who wish to practice their religious beliefs? Over 300 men and women whom the world sees as political prisoners have been released. There remains no reason why the Soviet Union cannot release all people still in jail for expression of political or religious belief, or for organizing to monitor the Helsinki Act.

The Soviets talk about a "common European home" and define it largely in terms of geography. But what is it that cements the structure of clear purpose that all our nations pledged themselves to build by their signature of the Final Act? What is it but the belief in the inalienable rights and dignity of every single human being? What is it but a commitment to true pluralist democracy? What is it but a dedication to the universally understood democratic concept of liberty that evolved from the genius of European civilization? This body of values-this is what marks, or should mark, the common European home.

Mr. Gorbachev has spoken of, in his words, "the artificiality and temporariness of the bloc-to-bloc confrontation and the archaic nature of the 'iron curtain.'" Well, I join him in this belief and welcome every sign that the Soviets and their allies are ready not only to embrace but to put into practice the values that unify and, indeed, define contemporary Western European civilization and its grateful American offspring.

Some 30 years ago—another period of relative openness—the Italian socialist Pietro Nenni, long a friend of the Soviet Union, warned that it was wrong to think that the relaxation could be permanent in, as he said, "the absence of any system of judicial guarantees." And he added that only democracy and liberty could prevent reversal of the progress underway.

There are a number of steps, which, if taken, would help ensure the deepening and institutionalization of promising reforms. First, the Soviet leaders could agree to tear down the Berlin Wall and all barriers between Eastern and Western Europe. They could join us in making Berlin itself an all-European center of communications, meetings, and travel. They could also give legal and practical protection to free expression and worship. Let me interject here that at one time Moscow was known as the City of the Forty Forties because there were 1,600 belfries in the churches of the city. The world welcomes the return of some churches to worship after many years, but there are still relatively few functioning churches and almost no bells. Mr. Gorbachev recently said, as he put it, "Believers are Soviet people, workers, patriots, and they have the full right to express their conviction with dignity." Well, I applaud Mr. Gorbachev's statement. What a magnificent demonstration of good will it would be for the Soviet leadership for church bells to ring out again not only in Moscow but throughout the Soviet Union.

But beyond these particular steps, there's a deeper question. How can the countries of the East not only grant but guarantee the protection of rights? The thought and practice of centuries has pointed the way. As the French constitutional philosopher Montesquieu wrote more than 200 years ago, "There is no liberty if the judiciary power be not separated" from the other powers of government. And like the complete independence of the judiciary, popular control over those who make the laws provides a vital, practical guarantee of human rights. So does the secret ballot. So does the freedom of citizens to associate and act for political purposes or for free collective bargaining.

I know that for the Eastern countries such steps are difficult, and some may say it's unrealistic to call for them. Some said in 1975 that the standards set forth in the Final Act were unrealistic, that the comprehensive agenda it embodied was unrealistic. Some said, earlier in this decade, that calling for global elimination of an entire class of U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range nuclear missiles was unrealistic, that calling for 50-percent reductions in U.S. and Soviet strategic offensive arms was unrealistic, that the Soviets would never withdraw from Afghanistan. Well, is it realistic to pretend that rights are truly protected when there are no effective safeguards against arbitrary rule? Is it realistic, when the Soviet leadership itself is calling for glasnost and democratization, to say that judicial guarantees or the independence of the judiciary or popular control over those who draft the laws or freedom to associate for political purposes are unrealistic? And finally, is it realistic to say that peace is truly secure when political systems are less than open?

We believe that realism is on our side when we say that peace and freedom can only be achieved together, but that they can indeed be achieved together if we're prepared to drive toward that goal. So did the leaders who met in this room to sign the Final Act. They were visionaries of the most practical kind. In shaping our policy toward the Soviet Union, in preparing for my meetings with the General Secretary, I have taken their vision—a shared vision, subscribed to by East, West, and the proud neutral and nonaligned countries of this continent—as my guide. I believe the standard that the framers of the Final Act set, including the concept of liberty it embodies, is a standard for all of us. We can do no less than uphold it and try to see it turn, as the Soviets say, into "life itself."

We in the West will remain firm in our values, strong and vigilant in defense of our interests, ready to negotiate honestly for results of mutual and universal benefit. One lesson we drew again from the events leading up to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty was that, in the world as it is today, peace truly does depend on Western strength and resolve. It is a lesson we will continue to heed.

But we're also prepared to work with the Soviets and their allies whenever they're ready to work with us. By strength we do not mean diktat, that is, an imposed settlement; we mean confident negotiation. The road ahead may be long, but not as long as our countries had before them 44 years ago when Finland's great President J.K. Paasikivi, told a nation that had shown the world uncommon courage in a harrowing time: "A path rises up to the slope from the floor of the valley. At times the ascent is gradual, at other times steeper. But all the time one comes closer and closer to free, open spaces, above which God's ever brighter sky can be seen. The way up will be difficult, but every step will take us closer to open vistas."

I believe that in Moscow Mr. Gorbachev and I can take another step toward a brighter future and a safer world. And I believe that, for the sake of all our ancient peoples, this new world must be a place both of democratic freedom and of peace. It must be a world in which the spirit of the Helsinki Final Act guides all our countries like a great beacon of hope to all mankind for ages to come.

Thank you, and God bless you. And bear with me now—Onnea ja menestysta koko Suomen kansalle [Good luck and success to the entire Finnish people].

Note: The President spoke at 3:05 p.m. in Finlandia Hall. In his opening remarks, he referred to President Mauno Koivisto, Speaker of the Parliament Matti Ahde, and Prime Minister Harri Holkeri.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to the Paasikivi Society and the League of Finnish-American Societies in Helsinki, Finland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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