Dialogue for Peace

Mr. Ossi Leander

Finnish troops in Northern Afghanistan

- Finns are usually easy to approach since we respect everyone as equals. Sometimes Finnish peacekeepers are considered a bit quiet at first. That’s because we respect our counterparts by listening and learning. We might not be talkers, but we sure are doers, states Ossi Leander, a communications expert with field experience from different peacekeeping missions.

According to him, the start of a successful peacekeeping operation begins with friendship and trust.

- Without credibility and respect you might as well pack up and return home.

Leander says Finnish success in peacekeeping operations is not only based on high quality troops and equipment, but active listening and respect for different counterparts.

- Communication is a two way street. There is always something to learn from the other party. A failure in communication can escalate to a fatal disaster and that’s why we need to pay attention to what we say and do.

Leander points out that for a peacekeeping force to succeed it’s crucial to understand local information flow and traditions, because everything you do is communication.

- Finns go through extensive briefings and lectures on local cultures before entering any new area of operation. It’s not enough to have boots on the ground, you need to familiarize to the local culture so you don’t step on any other shoes. Weapons might bring you power, but to gain results you also need a constructive attitude.

Quiet professionals
Leander explains that a typical Finnish peacekeeper is recognized by high education, professionalism and impartiality. Most peacekeepers come from the reserve and have another profession back home which makes it easier to adapt to local customs and the ordinary life of a new environment.

He says fragmented information and lack of communication efforts affect the manner in which the whole operation and troops are perceived.

- When operating on somebody’s backyard it’s important to find proper channels to explain who we are and how is that going to affect the population. This goes right down to any group of soldiers operating in on tense grounds.

The Finnish society consists of different cultures and languages. Few are aware that Finland has two constitutional languages and  is among the most gender-equal nations in the world.

Eyes on rule-of-law
Leander says it’s good to remember that peacekeepers and the media usually have the same goal – peace. However, he has experienced post-conflict societies, which have a young or non-established media scene which makes it easier for corruption to flourish.

He claims supporting the prerequisites of an objective media and enhancing the flow of information is the basis for any stable society, rule-of-law and in the end – a successful finish for a peacekeeping mission.

- This is extremely important in areas like Afghanistan where access to any information is extremely limited and used for controlling people. There is no internet present at the illiterate and remote Afghan villages where the leading media might be the village elder or just rumours on the street. We cannot let the unstabilizing actors take advantage of this, but use information as a tool for our cause of peace.