Safe and secure cities are not built inside City organisations – They are built together with citizens, authorities and partners

In the early hours of 24 February last year, our security environment was turned upside down. Russia’s vicious attack on Ukraine made us all hold our breath for fear of what would happen to Ukraine’s people and our fellow sovereign state. The war rages on and we are once again witnessing horrors that we never would have wanted to see repeated on European soil.

In our highly intertwined world, it is impossible to not be affected by such radical changes in the security environment. As this war of aggression continues, it shakes the pillars of our security structures. Brave Ukrainians are fighting at this very moment on behalf of our democratic values, defending the peace and safety of us all. The bravery, strength and willingness to fight for what is right, for Ukraine and its people, has demonstrated something that is difficult to describe in words.

These changes have had an impact on Finland as well. The 2023 Helsinki Security Forum will now be held for the first time in a new NATO country, whose relationship with the West and the United States has never been stronger. In addition to these structures, our tone and attitude have also changed – and that’s a good thing. The way we now speak about Russia is much changed from the way we were once accustomed to talking about our neighbour to the east. We are no longer afraid to say things as they are, without softening the blow.

A safe and enjoyable living environment and city centre are important both to residents and visitors of the city.

For people living in today’s cities, security is a perception that you can be yourself and reach your goals without having to face any peril. As city officials, we cover both security and safety. In Helsinki there is a large group of safety and security experts in the City organisation that are responsible for the City’s safety work. The work is led by the Safety and Preparedness Team in the City Executive Office, that coordinates the city’s general safety and security matters, steers the preparedness of the city and takes initiative in finding new solutions and practices. Safety is also one of the values that guide our work at the City of Helsinki. A safe and enjoyable living environment and city centre are important both to residents and visitors of the city.

It is evident that safe and secure cities are not built inside City organisations – we build them together with citizens, authorities and other partners and that is why we seek to continuously develop our operations together. On a national level, I would like to highlight the importance of the well-known National Defence Courses in particular. These courses are training programmes that instruct participants on the essentials of preparedness, national security structures and effective models of cooperation. The course is unique in the international arena, offering participants crucial skills and information that they can draw on for years to come. The course participants are selected from among the key actors in the civil service, media, private sector and the third sector.

We must band together and do the work that is necessary as a team, with the assistance of our valued national and international partners.

As the takeaways from the National Defence Courses make abundantly clear, none of us can provide absolute safety and security alone. We must band together and do the work that is necessary as a team, with the assistance of our valued national and international partners. Like I said last year in the first Helsinki Security Forum: an old Finnish proverb asserts that “Knowledge increases pain”, but when it comes to security, the opposite is true. With this in mind, I can say that I am extremely pleased that the City of Helsinki is such a visible part of the Helsinki Security Forum. In 2025, 50 years will have passed since the Helsinki Summit of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). And now the name of our capital acquires a new meaning as the capital of a new partner in the NATO Northern flank. I like to think that the very name of the Helsinki Security Forum communicates the importance of the role of cities as a fundamental component of the international security environment.

Welcome to Helsinki – the capital of a new NATO member state, and one of the world’s safest and happiest places to live and spend time in!

Juhana Vartiainen is the Mayor of Helsinki.

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About the author

Juhana Vartiainen

Mayor of Helsinki

Juhana Vartiainen is the Mayor of the City of Helsinki.