(Feature photograph of Pekka Haavisto: Source)
Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series, we feature Pekka Haavisto. Pekka Haavisto is one of the kindest Finnish politician I’d personally met. He has completely no airs at all and is super humble and inspiring!! When I first watched him do the opening speech at the “Tomorrow” conference last year, I was particularly moved by his vision and conviction towards diplomacy and world peace.
I found myself thinking then, “How is it possible that a politician can be so kind, ethical, effective and sincere?”
Maybe it’s an exemplary Finnish thing–so today we are truly privileged to have him on board to share with us some of his views on “Finnish-ness”. Enjoy the interview!~♡
TH: Moikka Mr. Pekka Haavisto! Thank you for accepting our interview. Can you tell us more about yourself and what you do?
Pekka Haavisto: I am a Finnish member of parliament, representing the Green Party.
In addition, I am the special envoy of Finnish foreign minister for peace building.
Previously, I have been working six years in the UN assessing the environmental damages after the conflicts, and for European Union as the Special Representative in Sudan and Darfur.
TH: Can you also tell our international audience a little more about the political party Green League, and some of the values it embodies?
Pekka Haavisto: The first Greens were elected to the Finnish parliament in 1983.
The Greens entered the government in 1995. I was myself at that time Minister for Environment and Development Co-operation.
The Greens started as a citizen movement advocating the nature protection and greening of the economy.
Now the Greens have 15 seats out of 200 in the Finnish parliament. We are part of the European Greens and the Global Greens.
TH: You have always been vocal and active in the fight for gender equality not just in Finland, but all over the world. Can you elaborate a little about your passion towards this cause?
Pekka Haavisto: I could use many arguments, but let me now use only one: we still have countries in the world where women do not get equal education, equal working opportunities or equal property rights.
When you exclude women from the economic life of your country, you cut away half of your possibilities.
I think we cannot afford that.
TH: What is the Number One misconception foreigners have about Finns/ Finland, and why do you think it is far from reality?
Pekka Haavisto: Initially, you might think that Finns want to keep a distance from you. That might be true.
But this is a country where you can still find yourself very soon in the living room or in the kitchen of the Finnish person.
There is still hospitality – and we can also be curious. Even if the first impression is that we are shy.
TH: The Finnish economy has not been doing well since 2007. How do you think the Finnish welfare state can continue to take good care of citizens and residents in Finland?
Pekka Haavisto: We have to keep the welfare state but reform it.
Some ways to move forward are: Digitalisation, more effective services, more alternatives for citizens and the private and public sector working together.
TH: What do you feel about the current austerity measures undertaken by the incumbent coalition? For instance, we know that the budget for education has been significantly impacted by these cuts.
Do you think austerity measures could have been avoided?
Pekka Haavisto: I think we have to come back to our values.
Education has made the success story of this country.
Let us invest in education also for the future. Universities can be reformed, and education can also be more effective – but let us keep the resources.
I think sometimes we try to save money without remembering which are our priorities.
TH: Against the context of once again, austerity measures, what is your stance on refugees and asylum seekers in Finland?
Pekka Haavisto: This is a European crisis. We have to do things together with our European partners.
No country can solve this alone.
Of course, my scope is very much in the conflict areas – how to make peace and decent living possibilities for people in fragile states.
In the year 2015 we were taken by surprise by the amount of asylum seekers in Finland, for 30000 people arrived. We have managed to deal with this in a proper manner.
TH: What are some things you are proud of as a Finnish citizen?
Pekka Haavisto: Our free education and PISA results. Nature protection which have been advancing. Green technologies to save the environment. Finnish design, culture, language, literature. Close contact to the nature which we have maintained.
These are some things I am proud of as a Finnish citizen.
TH: How about the one thing you are not so proud of as a Finnish citizen? Do you think change is possible, and if so, how do you suggest change to be implemented?
Pekka Haavisto: We are silent people. Small talk is not our way of communicating.
But sometimes this turns into unfriendliness. It might translate to something like–“Go away from my backyard.”
The global world however, is based on communication. We should be better at that.
TH: What do you think is the one highlight of your career at the UN, and why?
Pekka Haavisto: I worked in very difficult circumstances after the Kosovo war in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro.
NATO had been using also depleted uranium ammunition, and many people were afraid of radioactivity. Some where afraid of returning back to their homes or cultivating their fields.
It took us almost one year to get the depleted uranium target coordinates from NATO. But we did that. We went to the sites. We marked them. In some sites we did the clean up. We worked closely with mine clearance people.
In my career it was politically, technically and security-wise one of the most difficult missions.
TH: Against the backdrop of globalisation, who do you think can and should define “Finnish-ness”?
Pekka Haavisto: When we say words “global” and “globalization”, it feels like we are going to speak of something which is far away from us.
But the globe is beyond our feet. We are global, by definition.
Maybe “Finnish-ness” is our unique relationship to the nature. Sometimes I feel that it was not so long time ago when we dropped down from the trees.
Maybe it is our advantage.
TH: How do you feel about success and being looked up to by so many?
Pekka Haavisto: At home you are always put to your right place.
“Could you please take the garbage out?”
TH: Haha, that’s funny! 😀 Can you tell us now Pekka, what was the happiest moment of your life in Finland?
Pekka Haavisto: Maybe it happened when I was young, maybe 8 or 9 years old.
I was walking on a sunny street in Munkkivuori, Helsinki, where I lived my childhood. When I was walking I was so happy… almost flying instead of walking.
The sun was shining. No special reason to be happy – but just happy.
Like a child can be.
I remember that moment always.
TH: Can you tell us the top 3 things/ traits you regard as “Finnish”, and why?
The 1st trait: When I was doing the peace mediation in Africa, many colleagues were shocked that I spoke in the same way to the ministers and generals – and to 16 year old kids with kalashnikovs from rebel-controlled areas.
“Don’t you understand that this guy is a general from an old family, and the other is only a kid from the bush?”
And I answered:
“Yes I can see that. But in Finland we have only one way of talking. We do not know what class society means.”
I think this very deep feeling of equality is part of our DNA in Finland.
The 2nd trait: When I brought an Alvar Aalto -style wooden thing as a present to my Russian friends, they remarked:
“It is nice but they forgot to paint it.”
Wood without paint is somewhere a symbol of poverty.
In Finland, our design and style is based on this simplicity. Like it or not.
Yet, we are not the only ones like that in this world: in Japan we can find soul mates in design.
The 3rd trait: My friend is a Finnish author, belonging to the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. When he and his colleagues visit Stockholm they face one difference:
When you celebrate an evening in the typical Swedish style, you drink a little bit, you make jokes, you have a pleasant evening and the atmosphere goes towards the sky.
But when you do it in a Finnish way, after a couple of glasses the melancholy takes over. By the end of the evening your discussion topic can be about death.
“That is why we are never coming to your table at the end of the evening”, my friend’s Swedish colleagues would say.
TH: Wow, thank you for sharing such interesting anecdotes. What are your personal dreams and visions for the future?
Pekka Haavisto: You cannot really plan your life.
I was hitch-hiking in Columbia when I met my partner with whom we have now been together for almost 20 years.
Good and bad things can happen.
I am glad that I have had the energy and health to work with the issues which have been important for me. I am particularly glad when I meet young people who share the same values.
TH: What is the one advice you have for aspiring young Finns who want to become a great, ethical and kind politician like yourself in future?
Pekka Haavisto: People think that politics is about making great speeches and convincing the audience.
But I am telling you the secret: politics is listening.
My only advice is to listen more. Be more curious. Meet people who think differently than you.
Have a dialogue. Be ready also to change your own views.
TH: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?
Pekka Haavisto: I was impressed when someone reminded me that “half of our 100 years we have been living after 1967” and that we should also pay tribute to that half.
I think there is a point.
When we look Europe and the world, democracy, self-determination and independence were not always granted.
I am thinking of those people who more than 100 years ago dreamt about an independent country between Sweden and Russia. Maybe then, they were thinking that there was a minor possibility for independence – “Let us work for that possibility.”
In the next 100 years, we will need the same commitment and optimism– the same spirit.
My wish is that the spirit remains.
TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?
Pekka Haavisto: I am thinking of peace.
I have a friend in the Horn of Africa who tells me that his country is perfect. But they have a terrible neighbour– a neighbour who is always interfering with their affairs.
I referred him to Finland – In history we have had a difficult neighbour. When Helsinki was bombed on last day of November 1939, it was a shock. That was the beginning of the Winter War.
My friend tells me that I do not understand him. He tells me that their terrible neighbour has been stealing part of their country. The border is in a wrong place.
I then told him about my father. He was a school boy when the family was evacuated from Vyborg, Carelia. People were packed in a cargo train without knowing their destiny. They had to leave their homes behind – forever.
My friend was shocked.
“And you accept all that?” he asked. “You are not taking revenge?”
I told him about peace agreements. Peace agreements are there to be respected. You might feel bitterness, you might feel nostalgia… amongst many other emotions.
But the history goes on.
When I told my friend about Finland, he admitted that he has had a wrong impression. He thought we have always been living in peace. I told him about about the bitter Civil War in 1918. I told him about Winter War and Continuation War.
Finally he asked: “How have you survived all that?”
Peace is not always an easy option. But it is worth choosing.
It was truly a huge honour having Pekka Haavisto with us. We hope you have enjoyed this interview as much as we did!