The Prime Minister’s New Year’s speech

01.01.2021 - 15:38
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The Prime Minister’s New Year’s speech
Below is an English translation of Prime Minister Bárður á Steig Nielsen’s traditional New Year’s Speech from yesterday evening
Prime Minister Bárður á Steig Nielsen
 

Dear people of the Faroe Islands. Brighter days lie ahead.

A beacon of hope has been reignited, and its light is growing brighter by the day.

It casts a light on an unknown year ahead of us and a gradual return to what we regarded as normal at the start of this year.

When I sat here last New Year’s Eve, there were no signs of the impending worldwide state of emergency.

But the people of the Faroe Islands know that good times and bad times come and go.

This year started well. But along with the spring came an abrupt change in our lives.

This serves as a reminder that however much plan and wish, some things remain out of our control. We cannot defend ourselves against everything.

So, what is there to say about this year – a year with such profound challenges to our individuals, our communities and our industry?

How do we sum it up?

A single word stands out in my mind. A word which for centuries has been an integral part of life in the Faroe Islands. This word is ‘trust’.

Trust is one of the key elements of the relative success we in the Faroe Islands have had in fending off this unwelcome intruder.

We have a high level of trust in one another – and throughout this period, we trusted that together we could get through the hard times.

And now that we are seeing a light ahead of us, my trust in the Faroese people and our future is stronger than ever.

There have been critical voices saying that introducing restrictive legislation was the only way out of the crisis. Trust is “a weak foundation,” they said.

Politicians are used to hearing opposing views from the public. Legislation for and against is a crucial element in a healthy democracy.

This was, however, a highly unusual situation. Especially at the start of the outbreak, it was difficult to know right from wrong.

I certainly had my doubts at times, and looking back, I am sure that we could have made some wiser decisions.

As yet another wave hit us toward the end of the year, I remain eternally grateful that no-one has died from this disease. This was our primary objective, but there were times when we feared the worst as we witnessed the situation in the countries around us.

Our highly skilled health professionals recommended a strategy of testing, contact tracing and quarantine. And we stuck with this strategy throughout. The final decisions were mine, and I take full responsibility for each one of them.

I am from Vestmanna, born and bred. People from Vestmanna are not known for a particularly brisk pace of life, nor are they regarded as fast-talking types. So, a few wry smiles emerged when a Vestmanna-based Prime Minister suddenly advised the Faroese public to slow down at the start of the outbreak in March.

This was not an easy decision. No Prime Minister wants to tell the public to go home, close their doors and just sit there twiddling their sanitised thumbs.

Many special events were cancelled this year. Birthdays, weddings and graduation parties. I, a Prime Minister who should encourage high spirits and celebrations, put a stop on all that.

Recurring events such as Easter and Christmas celebrations were cancelled, as were education, sports, along with a host of religious and cultural events. As your Prime Minister, I should encourage such activities at all times, but instead I recommended shutting it all down.

And this was topped off with even stranger restrictions – funerals with barely anyone attending and a temporary ban on visiting hospital patients.

I am aware of the pain and discomfort all this has caused. And this was certainly not what I had planned for. I want to inspire people’s desire to work and make full use of their talents – to be happy and enjoy constant development.

But we did what we did because we had to. And I stuck by my principles of trust and recommendations over hard restrictions.

I did this because the question of trust versus control lies at the very core of my beliefs.

When you display trust in people, they take responsibility, rise to the challenges they face and are inspired to seek out new solutions.

Conversely, when you micromanage people, they become frustrated and their desire to find solutions dwindles away.

This past year has further reinforced this belief for me.

The people of the Faroe Islands have been trustworthy and reliable, not out of fear of retribution, but wholly based on their own convictions – to protect themselves and others.

There is no doubt that trust forms the lifeblood of the Faroese people.

At times, we have strong disagreements, but when it all comes down to it, we stand together. As inhabitants of a group of remote islands in the harsh North Atlantic Ocean, who else do we have if not each other?

Life on these islands has for centuries been marked by constantly changing weather conditions, differing fortunes for our fishermen and unsteady agricultural growth.

We help each other because we have a profound understanding of what it means to be isolated from the rest of the world. This is how we as a people have survived, and this remains as true today as it was centuries ago.

We leave our houses without having to worry about closing our front doors. If we lose our wallet, we expect to find it again untouched.

You could say this is a naive but there is some truth in it. Our unconditional trust has proved its worth time and time again. This is how we were raised, and this is how we raise our own children.

Being dependable is a core value to all Faroese people. And we expect others to be worthy of our trust. Trust is not something you give and take when you need it. And if you break this trust, it can take a long time to regain it.

So, when people asked why the government insisted on ‘only’ issuing recommendations instead of introducing restrictive legislation, this ‘only’ always sounded out of place to me.

This year, we have enjoyed the greatest degree of freedom in the best country in the world, and we have even managed to more or less return to normal life for parts of the year amid a worldwide crisis.

We could of course have introduced restrictive laws. We could have banned all international travel, we could have made mass gatherings or even leaving the home illegal and we could have arrested anyone who was required to go into quarantine.

Such measures were taken in many other countries. But, hand on heart, is this the kind of society we want? I sincerely do not think it is.

All legislation is a knife-edge balancing act. Laws are, of course, necessary but they should always be based on common sense – not on rushed decisions and a lack of deliberation.

Again, we saw the benefits of living in a small society. In some contexts, being small is a disadvantage but it is easier to steer a tiny ship than a huge one.

We have all stood together, despite the hardships caused by the restrictive guidelines. All of us – from little babies to our oldest citizens – have had to make sacrifices. Some have suffered intense loneliness, others great financial losses.

But through all this, we have persevered. We have all formed a strong defensive wall around our most vulnerable citizens and our health system. And the industries that have suffered through this period have also been given a helping hand.

We have seen unprecedented levels of cooperation between the private and the public sectors, with businesses generously donating millions for research on statistics and the so-called ‘dark figures’, research equipment for hospitals and other research facilities.

We have seen solidarity and goodwill well beyond what we are used to seeing. There has been broad political cooperation, churches and other religious organisations have prayed for us all and people across the country have been stretching out a helping hand.

We have learned of the great importance of each individual citizen. We have seen how much difference each one of us can make in other people’s lives. But at the same time, we have also witnessed the great effect that careless acts by individuals can have on others.

Each time the risk has increased, we have all managed to stand together and bring the situation under control. We have continually adapted and made the best of a bad situation.

And although many people have been confused and wished we had acted differently, everything has gone off peacefully.

Despite the repeated waves of uncertainty and doubt, our innate trust in one another has never washed away.

This is not something we should take for granted because we have seen the opposite tendency in many other countries this year – distrust in politicians, citizens, health authorities, laws and systems.

When the votes were counted after our local elections in November, there were no doubts about the validity of the outcome.

This has not been the case everywhere this year. Such mistrust creates deep cracks in a democracy because a democracy is only as strong as the people’s faith in it.

The Faroese democracy remains as strong as ever because the fundamental trust on which it is constructed remains intact.

In general, we are in a good position here at the beginning of a new year.

We have started our vaccination programme. The Treasury is in a better condition than we forecasted in the spring. We provided rescue packages, but we also acted prudently to ensure we could cope with a potentially prolonged crisis extending well into 2021. We still want to be able to afford keeping our schools, health and social services at a top level.

We are now ready to resume the political matters that had to be shelved this spring. These include the housing situation, public access to outlying areas, fishing fees and the transition to green energy. This year, we have witnessed how nature and our ecosystems can recover if we limit our consumption. It is not too late to make a difference, but we need to make changes now.

Faroese industry is doing well on the whole. This year was tough on some, while others enjoyed record-high profits. We have purchased locally produced goods, we have travelled domestically and I am confident that our fish exports will return to normal soon. We know that with the vaccine, our lives – along with our trade and industry – can soon start to resemble what we had at the start of this year.

But there are some growing problems in our society, not least with our younger generation. There has been a recent increase in drug smuggling, and many of our young people are struggling with low confidence in themselves, their society and their future. This is something we must address with the utmost seriousness.

Meanwhile, new possibilities are arising as we now have three subsea tunnels bringing our islands and our people even closer together.

We have also witnessed this year how closely the world is connected. Something that originated in China ended up temporarily paralysing the Faroe Islands in only a matter of months. But despite being even more isolated this year than usual, we have managed to sell our goods to the EU, Russia, China and the U.S. – and we will continue to develop our international trade.

The possibilities are almost endless as we have gone from being an invisible dot on the world map to suddenly becoming a focal point in the power struggle between the superpowers. This puts us in a strong position, and we need to make the best of this situation. The Faroe Islands are part of the western world. We are members of NATO as part of the Danish Commonwealth, and the NATO member nations are our closes allies. This is something we need to acknowledge to the world.

Dear Faroese people, at home and abroad.

This has been a special year. A year filled with anxiety, confusion and longing.

But it has also been a year full of joy, love, trust and a strong willingness to help those around us.

We have rediscovered the true value of a good hug, of community spirit, good company and presence.

As I speak to you here tonight, my thoughts go out to those of you who suffered through this period. The people in the risk groups, who were deprived of the warm Faroese care for long periods. I wish you all the best in the coming year.

It also pains me that we have not been able to show adequate care and compassion to those of you who have lost a dear one. I extend my deepest condolences to you. May you find peace and warmth in the loving memories.

2020 proved a costly reminder that tomorrow is an unknown story.

We know that the same is true of the coming year.

I am, however, optimistic.

Our prospects are looking good. While many nations are adopting a cautious approach to the year ahead, we in the Faroe Islands are ready to resume the ambitious plans that we had to put on hold earlier this year.

Let us not forget to bring the lessons and values from this year with us into 2021.

Let us continue to enjoy all the wonderful things that our country and our people have to offer.

Let us not forget that we humans cannot defend ourselves against everything. That we have a shared responsibility for one another, whether fate strikes us all at once or one person at a time. And let us hold on to our unfailing trust that we will continue to help each other when the need arises – just like we have always done in our country.

This year has made us stronger. I am confident that we will soon be able to resume our everyday lives and get together again to enjoy the beautiful feeling of unity and closeness.

Because brighter days lie ahead.

Happy New Year, dear people of the Faroe Islands.

God bless our country.

 

Translated by prosa.fo

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