homepage_name! > Editions > Number 143 > Ambassador - Finland

H.E. Mr. Kimmo Lahdevirta, Ambassador of Finland to Serbia


Finland, officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country located in Northern Europe. It shares its land borders with Sweden to the west, Russia to the east, Norway to the north, and is defined by the Gulf of Bothnia to the west, as well as the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea across from Estonia to the south. Finland covers an area of 338,455 square kilometres, with a population of 5.5 million. Helsinki is the country's capital and largest city. Finnish, the native language of the Finns, is among the only few Finnic languages in the world. The climate varies relative to latitude, from the southern humid continental climate to the northern boreal climate. Finland is primarily a boreal forest biome, with more than 188,000 recorded lakes.

1. Your Excellency, how do you feel about being in Belgrade? Can you tell us about your impressions of Serbia?

I am very happy to be here! Luckily, as my wife and I came here before the pandemic, we were able to meet people normally and see places. Also, last summer, as we decided to stay in Serbia for our summer vacation, we toured around the country by car. There are wonderful places to see here, from Uvac to Vršac, from Pirot to the Tara National Park, and from the Iron Gate of the Danube to the Drina Valley, not forgetting the cities and historic places.

2. How long have you held the position of Ambassador in Serbia, and what was the course of your career in diplomacy before you came to Serbia?

I started in this position at the beginning of June 2019 – just before our EU Presidency, which began in July 2019.

I came to the Foreign Service in 1990. After a training period, I was posted to our United Nations Mission in New York from 1991 to 1994. After that, we spent four years in Helsinki before being posted to London from 1998 to 2003. During that decade, I also followed the developments in this region from different angles. I was therefore very pleased to have the opportunity to come here and see how things are now.

Before coming to Belgrade, I was the Director-General of the Department for the Americas and Asia, at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Helsinki. Before that, I was Ambassador in Hanoi, Vietnam, and before that, the Deputy Head of the Mission at our Embassy in Beijing. Altogether, we spent eight years in Asia, which really was an eye-opening experience in many ways.

3. What is the current diplomatic and economic cooperation of our two countries like, and what was it like in the past? What should be changed in order to improve that cooperation?

Traditionally, the relations between Finland and Serbia are very good. This is also the case today; there are no problems or open issues. There are regular meetings at a high political level. The latest meeting between our Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Mr Nikola Selakovic and Mr Pekka Haavisto, took place virtually in February. Mr Haavisto visited Belgrade in autumn 2019.

Economic cooperation is on the increase but there is still a lot of room for improvement. I think both countries have a strong interest in green technologies and I hope that we can strengthen cooperation particularly in this sector.

However, we need to create more awareness and interest in Finland among Serbian citizens and Serbian companies, and vice versa. People-to-people contacts make the difference in developing our relations further.

4. What is the current situation regarding the pandemic in Finland?

Finland has been able to keep the number of infections and deaths at a relatively low level during the pandemic. However, the third wave in spring 2021 has been a difficult one in Finland as well, and a state of emergency was introduced again in March.

Overall, I think that the Finns have shown good resilience during the crisis. There has been broad acceptance and obedience of the measures proposed by the government. This has helped the healthcare system to take care of those who have fallen seriously ill, without its capacities being severely overburdened.

The economic and social price of the pandemic is high. Economies have started recovering faster than expected, but social recovery can only fully start when vaccines are available everywhere and people will sign up for the shot. This pandemic has highlighted the growing need for international cooperation and multilateralism that Finland values highly.

5. Today, Serbia is a candidate country for the EU membership - negotiations started in January 2014. In your view, where is Serbia on its way to EU membership and what will be crucial for Serbia to reach membership status?

Serbia is already an experienced EU candidate and it has all the knowledge and expertise needed to progress in the negotiations. Therefore, Serbia needs to concentrate on the substance of the reforms and provide tangible results.

The focus for Serbia should be in the field of rule of law. Serbia needs to strengthen its judicial independence as well as the role of independent bodies, and parliamentary oversight has to be stepped up. Equally important, Serbia needs to guarantee media freedom and pluralism, as well as a conducive environment for civil society and human rights defenders. In addition, the ongoing inter-party dialogue will only serve its purpose if it really creates conditions for free and fair elections, where all parties are on a level playing field. All these reform processes are an integral part of Serbia’s path to the EU and Finland is committed to supporting Serbia on this path. And, last but not least, relations between Belgrade and Pristina need to be normalised as well.

6. When it comes to investments, how do investors from Finland regard the Serbian market? How many Finnish companies are operating in Serbia at the moment, and which are the most important companies investing in us?

At the moment, we have around 20 Finnish companies and their representative offices in Serbia and around 50 distributors of various Finnish equipment and solutions. In general, Finnish companies have good experience investing and doing business in Serbia.

At first, Finnish companies mostly recognized the potential in outsourcing and manufacturing in labor-intensive industries. The biggest labor-intensive investment from Finland is PKC Group’s wiring harness factory in Smederevo. Lately, there has been more interest towards capital-intensive industries, as well as interest related to renewable energy and circular economy. Large investments in coming years are needed for a green transition of Serbia’s economy and to reach the minimum EU requirements. In this sector, the Finnish company, Taaleri Energia, is one of the major investors into the largest wind farm in the region, Cibuk 1.

7. How would you describe your cooperation with the Serbian Government and business associations for the purpose of entrepreneurship development?

We have directly contributed to the development of entrepreneurship in Serbia by promoting innovations and local startup companies. For instance, the Serbian Innovation Fund has implemented the Finnish model for the support of innovations. Furthermore, we ran a program by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs locally in Serbia, through which local startup companies could participate in the Global Impact Accelerator program and Slush conference in Helsinki.

At the same time, we are constantly working on numerous topics important for the development of sustainable entrepreneurship in Serbia. The Embassy has been involved in sharing Finnish experiences and know-how in areas such as public procurement, digitalization, smart cities, education, and other relevant areas. We usually join forces with other Nordic embassies, as well as the Nordic Business Alliance. This year, together with our Nordic colleagues, we are promoting circular economy through workshops and other events in the second part of the year.

8. What is the nature of the foreign trade cooperation between our countries and which industries in Serbia have the most potential? What does Serbia export to, and what does it import from Finland?

Trade figures between Finland and Serbia are at a moderate level, but there is a positive trend. According to the official data of the Finnish customs, the value of trade exchange between Finland and Serbia in 2020 amounted to EUR 94.8 million, which is a 37.3% increase compared to 2019. Out of this, imports into Serbia from Finland amounted to EUR 56.4 million and exports from Serbia to Finland amounted to EUR 38.4 million.

Serbia mainly imports machinery, paper, and plastics, including related products. The main export commodities from Serbia to Finland are again machinery, but also rubber and footwear.

It is good to see that even during the pandemic there has been significant growth of trade exchange between Finland and Serbia. However, there are still numerous opportunities to improve the current trade figures and hopefully, they will be explored in the future. I would particularly hope to see the Finnish expertise in IT and clean technologies more present here in Serbia.

9. Can you tell us about the relationship between Serbia and Finland in the fields of science, culture, and education?

These are all areas where I would like to see further cooperation. Not least because cooperation in these sectors bring those highly valuable people-to-people contacts that can bring our countries closer together. Regarding culture, we have plans of displaying Finnish life and culture in a few Serbian towns later this year. Also, we will organise a Finnish Film Week in the Cultural Centre Belgrade again in the spring of 2022.

Finland has a good reputation concerning education here in Serbia and elsewhere. This is a topic that I have the pleasure of talking about at various events and occasions. I am especially proud of the equal nature of the Finnish education system. Every child has access to quality education, no matter which part of the country they live in.

Regarding science, the University of Helsinki, together with a company called Reaktor, have launched an online course on Artificial Intelligence. The course is directed to anyone interested in learning the basics of AI and how it affects our everyday lives. We are currently working to make it available in Serbian too.

10. How would you present your country as a tourist attraction? Which characteristics and sights would you highlight?

Well, over 188,000 lakes and over two million saunas would be good reasons to visit in my opinion!

Finland is definitely a good place for those who appreciate a pure environment and spending quality time in nature.

There are four varying seasons, each with their unique characteristics. While winter can be somewhat extreme, it also offers some of the most memorable experiences, such as ice swimming, or the Aurora Borealis, best observed in the north of the country. The summer, on the other hand, could be spent at a summer house in Eastern Finland – also called the Lakeland – the largest lake district in Europe, or sailing in the Finnish Archipelago.

For those who prefer to stay in cities, one can easily immerse into the easy-paced, modern Nordic lifestyle in our capital, Helsinki, a meeting place of western and eastern influences. When in Helsinki, I would not miss a short boat ride to the Suomenlinna fortress, our counterpart to Kalemegdan.