Petri Tuomi-Nikula: Public Diplomacy, Finland and the U.S.A.

Public diplomacy has become the buzz word in the context of international relations management. It refers to governmental exercise of influence abroad with a view to fostering civil society’s understanding of the government’s goals and interests by means of culture, science and art. Recently, public diplomacy has become increasingly important. It is clear that neither brute force nor traditional diplomacy alone meets the requirements of situations where the key to the problem lies in intercultural dialogue and enhancement of understanding.

In the 21st century, countries want to make themselves known, to establish a profile and a brand, and to distinguish themselves from others in a positive manner. This is particularly important for small countries, such as Finland, whose geographical area or economic or cultural influence are not sufficiently powerful on their own to attract the interest of audiences abroad.

An early example of effective public diplomacy was Finland’s decision to pay back the loans that the U.S.A. had granted after the First World War. This action was not only in keeping with Finnish values but also an informed decision, part of our image building. Finland made use of this image capital also long after the wars by inviting more foreign journalists to visit the country and to learn about its people and policy than any other Western European country. The idea was to underline Finland’s strong commitment to the western value community, democracy, and the rule of law, and Finland’s desire to maintain warm relations with the U.S.

During recent years, Finland has featured in the European media as a model country of social innovations. Finland would like to be known also in the U.S. for being the most competitive, and at the same time, the least corrupt economy of the world – and also for achieving high educational standards across the board. Finland wants to be known as a country where everyone finds it easy and safe to live and study.

For decades, Finns have been enjoying the opportunity to spend lengthy periods of time in the U.S. Nearly every high-school student born in the 1950s or 1960s considered the possibility of a year in the States as an exchange student. In Finnish academia, a Fulbright scholarship is a self-evident part of the career of researchers and specialists. As much as 80 % of the funding for the Finnish-American Fulbright program comes from Finland. The Finland-America Educational Trust Fund plays a key role in this action. Half of the Finnish share of the funding is financed by the Trust Fund and the rest is obtained from private funds, Finnish universities, and the Finnish Government.

It is good to recall how the Trust Fund received its capital. When Finland made the final loan repayment with interest in 1976, the U.S. government then placed the full amount in a newly created Trust Fund. The fund capital has been carefully managed and has accumulated over the years while the yield capital has enabled the operation of the Fulbright Center. The Trust Fund is comprised of representatives from both the Finnish Ministries of Education and of Foreign Affairs as well as the U.S. Embassy in Finland. The Fund’s Board is chaired by the Director General of the Finnish Foreign Ministry’s Department for Communication and Culture, the office in charge of Finnish public diplomacy.

The Fulbright program has become an important and valued part of the relations between our countries. Thousands of students and scholars have developed and shared their knowledge and know-how in a new environment.  While it is easy enough to read books and watch films about Finland and the U.S.A., enhancing our knowledge and understanding of each other, it is really only by visiting and communicating directly with people from the other country that a true and valid impression can be formed.

Every Finnish student and scholar who travels to the U.S. is also an ambassador of Finnish culture and way of life. And Americans coming to Finland likewise have this opportunity to share their customs and values with their Finnish colleagues and friends. The Fulbright program is a central part and one of the most appreciated elements of public diplomacy of Finland and the U.S.

Petri Tuomi-Nikula
Director General
Department for Communication and Culture, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland
Chair of the Finland-America Educational Trust Fund


Published in the Fulbright Center News 1/2008