On behalf of the National Organising Committee, I wish you a warm welcome to the 52nd Session of the International Statistical Institute.
In popular parlance, Finland is often described as "the land of Sauna, Sibelius and Sisu". In Finland, many key decisions are made in the sauna. Sibelius' works, his Finlandia hymn, for example, symbolise the national culture, and "sisu" stands for that indefinable quality of determination, strength and tenacity. Each of these elements in its own way characterises Finland.
Throughout history, Finland has been positioned between the western and eastern political and cultural spheres of influence. Culturally and socially, Finland is predominantly western. In the 1990s, Finland's memberships in the EU and European Monetary Union have signified the stabilisation of the country's international position. In the post-war era, Finland served as a diplomatic and trade clearing house between the east and west. Nowadays, Finland sees herself as more than just a gateway to the east. The new concept used is the Northern Dimension of the European Union.
Finland's position has improved considerably in the course of the 20th century. The century started under Russian rule, when Finns aspired for independence under poor economic conditions. The independence was reached in 1917. Today, Finns can prepare for the coming millennium celebrations as an economically well to do President country of the European Union. The bedrocks of our success have been active internationalisation, participation in European integration and strong investment in education, research and the latest technology. In recent years, Finland has been placed among the most prosperous and competitive countries in international benchmarking comparisons.
Finland is the third smallest of the EU Member States in population (5.1 million) but the fifth largest in size. We have room to live; the average population density is 17 people per square kilometre. Four fifths of Finland are covered by boreal forests and ten per cent by water, with 190,000 lakes and some 180,000 coastal and lake islands. The fragmented coastline and the lakes were formed at the end of the Ice Age when the edge of permanent ice retreated to the north. One third of the country lies north of the Arctic Circle. Less than 10 per cent of Finland is under agricultural cultivation. The forests and lakes are used widely for recreational purposes.
Nature is an inseparable part of the Finnish way of life. The needs of the economy and Nature have been reconciled reasonably well in Finland. The quality of both air and water is good and has even improved in the last few decades. Despite the strong economic growth, environmental emissions produced by industry have in many respects diminished. While the world's forest resources have continued to dwindle, wood reserves in Finland have grown even in the 1990s.
Finland's welfare is based on open and modern market economy, which brings to bear its Nordic sense of social responsibility. Women participate in the working life in great numbers and in other respects, too, equal opportunities between women and men are well advanced. Democracy has a long history in Finland. Both regional and income differences, for example, have been relatively minor.
Today, a visitor to Finland may wonder at several things, most probably at Finns' great excitement over modern technology. At the moment, Finland, and Helsinki, are in the midst of a real technological boom. The breakthrough of the most recent information and communication technology has advanced here faster, and further, than in most other countries. Finns' enthusiasm for technology has been explained by our remote location and long distances. The latest technology appears to offer a solution to many of these problems. In the 1990s, Finland has moved swiftly from economic dependence on the forest industry into one of Europe's leading high-tech economies.
This Helsinki Session of the International Statistical Institute, to be opened today, will also bring the Sessions of the ISI fully to the Internet era. I hope this Session will give you all a positive picture of our know-how in information technology.
The high quality infrastructure of information technology offers a good basis for developing the information society in Finland. Statistical and computer sciences have become an important tool for utilising information technology and other fields of technology, too. Statistical science provides a means for managing uncertainty. It also offers ways for seeking the relevant and essential information. In co-operation with applied sciences, statistical science helps to find significant universally applicable solutions to the problems of people, businesses and nations alike. The importance of statistics has also continued to grow in the economic, social and political life.
Statistical science has a specific role from the point of national statistical institutes. The independence of statistics production has to be safeguarded with high professional expertise and methods approved by the world of science. The development of sampling techniques and statistical programmes has facilitated the production of high quality statistics at reduced costs. In Finland, the national statistical institute, Statistics Finland, collaborates closely with universities, and this collaboration has already borne excellent fruit.
The President of the Republic of Finland, Mr Martti Ahtisaari, has kindly sent his written greeting to this opening ISI Session. In his greeting, he stresses the need for global co-operation in the field of statistics, in which the International Statistical Institute plays an important part. The lack of such global "statistical language" has become evident e.g. with different economic crises in the 1990s. Statistical considerations have been taken into account in the outlining of the new international financial architecture.
As Chairman of the National Organising Committee, I am very glad that Helsinki was chosen as the meeting place of the 52nd Session of the International Statistical Institute. Later this year, Helsinki will be the focus of wider European attention during the summit of the EU heads of government. In the year 2000, Helsinki will celebrate its 450th anniversary and, at the same time, will be one of the nine European Cities of Culture.
The venue selected for the ISI Session is Finlandia Hall, a Congress and Concert Centre representing modern architecture in Helsinki. Finlandia Hall was designed by the world famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The Hall was built at the end of the 1960s as part of Alvar Aalto's more extensive plans for the city centre. The Hall recently received new exterior cladding of Italian Carrara marble. For Aalto, white marble represented a link to the Mediterranean culture he wanted to bring to his home country. One of the basic philosophies of Aalto's architecture was that architecture has to act as a background to people. Therefore, one's main attention in Finlandia Hall is not drawn to particular forms, or the interior decoration, but to the audience and presenters. This will also set high standards for the presenters and audience at this ISI Session.
The fact that some 1,800 participants from more than 80 countries are represented in this Session is both a pleasure and a responsibility to the National Organising Committee, and to Finland. Thanks to the Program Committees, we have before us a rich scientific menu from which, I hope, anyone can find interesting meetings. A number of topics are analysed not only at the theoretical level, but also with an eye to finding solutions to the problems in our changing societies.
I hope that your stay in Helsinki will be an enjoyable and meaningful experience.
I now declare the 52nd Session of the International Statistical Institute opened.