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A Lecture by H.E. Amb. Harry Helenius, Former Ambassador of Finland to Germany

March 19th, 2010

H.E. Amb. Harry Helenius

Former Ambassador of Finland to Germany

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News from Berlin. The President of the Republic appointed Harry Helenius on 9 July as Ambassador to Russia as from 15 August 2004. Helenius entered the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 1973. He has served in the Embassy in Madrid, in the Mission to CSCE Follow-up Meeting in Vienna, in the Embassy in Moscow, twice, and in the Embassy in Stockholm and as Consul General in St. Petersburg.

In the ministry Helenius has worked as Secretary General of the Commission for the Scientific and Technical Co-operation between Finland and the USSR, as Director of the Unit for Russia and Central and Eastern Europe in the Political Department, as Head of Division for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia and, since 2003, as Director General of Department for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. From June 2008 to June 2011 he served as Finnish Ambassador in Berlin, Germany.

Berlin Global

News from Berlin

A Welcome Address by H.E. Amb. Harry Gustaf Helenius (Ambassador of Finland to Germany) 

A World Without Walls

(Berlin; November 6th – 10th, 2010)


An Interview with H.E. Amb. Harry Gustaf Helenius (Ambassador of Finland to Germany)

19/03/2010 – Interview conducted by James Hood

Russia continues to speak to European states independently, tending toward with an east/west divide. Do you think the Europe can unite to create a singular approach or unified voice with concern to Russia?

I think there is possibility especially with the new structures of the Lisbon Treaty. Russia, like the United States earlier, wanted to know who to speak with when they wanted to speak to Europe. Now they know. I think a common Russia strategy for the European Union is very important in many central questions, but energy being one, but also in security matters, justice and home affairs. movement of people and also the security side and the control side. There are many structures, but they are complicated structures and really need a simplification, a common approach especially internally in the European Union, like the energy polices. I am optimistic. I think we have a possibility now and also a willingness from the Russian side.

Is membership to the EU and the concept of Europe defined purely by geography or is it by culture and values, commitment to cooperation? If Turkey can join Eu, then will Russia be allowed too in the future?

That is two questions that have been discussed in the think tanks level, Russia in EU and Russia in NATO. Both are of course, for all intensive purposes are theoretical. I think it is rewarding. Russia in EU is not for a long time because Russia does not need to join. Both in EU and NATO is even more theoretical. Russia will not join the supra-national structure like this giving up part of its own autonomy in a position where it finds itself weak. Today, especially in the defence sector, Russia considers itself to be weak and economically, also, is not strong. Being an old empire and big power, when, of course, entering these types of structures, must be done when one is strong enough.

In the 1990s Europe failed to understand the cultural and value differences between Europe and Russia. How confident are you in the future that Cultural diplomacy can play in EU and Russian relations? Do you think that Europe learnt it’s lesson and Russia is becoming perhaps a little bit more nuanced in their approaches? 

The 1990s was not successful in the effort of trying to influence the development of Russian society. Russia is a member of the Council of Europe and also part of United Nations. It has signed and ratified different conventions on human rights, on basic values in general. But the dialogue has been forgotten. I believe that we did not really appreciate the discussion with Russia at that time. Russia did not and still does not understand these questions. They do not see that the value question is one of the stronger issues in the European Union of 27 very different countries with a common value. This for us is one of the cornerstones.  I think Russia has yet to understand that, and consider it to be a zero sum game in politics. And it is that form of foreign relations that cannot be changed.

The trinity of Freedom, prosperity and security and the idea the freedom is sacrificed for the other two. Given the opinion of democratic ideals and the movement towards democracy is inevitable with increasing prosperity or are there cultural factors that western countries fail to appreciate in this regard?

I think its politics. There is one point that is difficult for us to understand, especially for the Nordic countries. All democracies rule from down up. Russian political structures historically and today are top down and during the soviet period that was a period when actively on the NGO level, they thought the development of the political structure was frowned upon. So you have in Russia people who are very happy saying that we are free and we do not have to take part in this. But the dynamism of developing democracy from developing down up is still lacking.