Pekka Haavisto, who started his career in journalism, has been a Member of Parliament for 18 years. He has served as a cabinet minister twice – he was the first Green government minister both in Finland and in Europe. Pekka has also served as the chairman of the Finnish Greens and the chairman of the European Greens. Pekka is well-known for his activities in international affairs and he is famous in crisis areas in the world. The candidacy in the Presidential election in 2012 took him into the second round of voting.
Read more about Pekkas life and career in the timeline.
Read more about Pekkas life and career in the timeline.
Pekka Haavisto was born in March 1958. His parents were teachers and the family lived in Helsinki. Pekka´s father Jouko was Finland’s youngest principal at secondary school, and his mother Anja was a teacher of chemistry. When Pekka was born the family lived in Herttoniemi in a rented apartment and they moved to Munkkivuori, where Pekka spent his childhood and youth.
Age groups were large, and first graders went to school in morning and evening shifts. Already at a young age Pekka was a big fan of books. He was a lively, curious and speculative child. And in a boyish way he was a bit foolhardy too. In the early grades of school some of the guys made a bet on whether or not it would be possible to walk few kilometers barefoot on snow in sub-freezing temperatures, -10C in fact. Well, it was.
Children did cross country skiing around the school, and the badges they gained from skiing competitions were stitched to the sleeves of quilted jackets with pride. Kids also liked to do ski jumping from a small take-off ramp in Munkkivuori. Sometimes self-made skiing goggles would steam up, skis kept crossing – and kids came down the slopes rolling, covered in snow. And few pairs of skis were broken of course.
Years at the Munkkivuori co-educational school lit up a spark in Pekka towards culture, environmental protection and peace. Endless enthusiastic discussions in school hallways with teachers and friends continued into the late afternoons or even evenings, after other staff and students had already left the building.
There were several clubs children could attend after school hours, and Pekka participated eagerly in the activities of the acting club, arts club, photography club and the nature club Vanessa. One of Pekka´s best friends, Kai Vaara, took part in The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 and brought back the first booklet printed on recycled paper from his trip. This raised amazement among friends. Everyone at the nature club wanted to touch the booklet and it was passed from one person to another as a message of something new the world had not yet experienced, like a seed that was about to germinate and grow. Would recycling save the world?
Finland started becoming more prosperous in the 1970´s, but the atmosphere had stagnated. The 60´s generation would ponder in seminars why the youth of the day were not interested in public debate on political and social issues. The youth of the 70´s did discuss things, but the topics were new. Pekka launched a cultural magazine Köynnös with his friends in 1976. They sold it at summer concerts in Kaivopuisto and Pori Jazz Festival, and also at winter events of Luonto-Liitto – the Finnish Nature League. Smaller magazines and new wave of music walked hand in hand back then.
In 1979 a group of ”alternative youth” started Komposti, a newspaper focusing on current- and environmental issues. Pekka was the editor-in-chief. The magazine appeared every two weeks through 1982. The year 1979 was a turning point for new generation. They started to come out in the open. In spring 1979 there was a big environmental protest in Koijärvi, a lake in the south of Finland that was an invaluable bird sanctuary. Landowners wanted to drain the shallow lake, but the protest proved stronger. Pekka actively followed the events as the editor of Komposti.
In the same summer a Nordic environmental camp was held in Inkoo, west of Helsinki on Finland’s south coast. Pekka took part in organizing it. The theme of the camp was ”environment, society and way of life”. The main mission of the camp was to bring out the significance of environmental friendly lifestyle and the importance of right environmental choices. Later that summer the young activists took the possession of Lepakko, which became a significant centre for urban culture in Helsinki. It was a very eventful year.
The new generation in Finland followed Europeans very closely. They were very Europe-oriented. They admired and took influences from Tulenkantajat (The Flame Bearers), an influential literary group in Finland in the 1920s. Their motto was ”Windows open to Europe!” and their main task was to find a way to take Finland from its so-called backwoods culture to the new, modern European level of literature.
Pekka left for his first Inter-rail trip with his friend when he was 16 years old. During one month of inter-railing they had a chance to see both Paris and the Balkans.
During the following decade Pekka went inter-railing every year, and during the most active years he did both summer and summer trips. On these journeys the makers of new culture, environmental movements, event centers and book cafes became familiar to him. Pekka made and published his first Inter-Rail guide book in 1977, afterwards four editions of his book were released – the latest one being Nuori Eurooppa (Young Europe) in 1986.
1977 interrail guide book´s back cover declared: ”This is your life. Here and now, use it. Tomorrow you will be one day closer to your grave.”
Alternative movements and new jobs around them, new environmental movement and building new connections in Europe filled Pekka´s life for a decade after the school years. This Helsinki University student of political science felt that it was faster and better to learn new stuff among real life actions compared to the lecture halls of university.
Pekka made his living by doing different kinds of temporary jobs. His main work was being a publisher and editor-in-chief but financially it was more like volunteer work. After Komposti-magazine he begun with cultural Suomi-magazine in 1982, and beside that Pekka started as the publisher of rock magazine Rumba. Publishing society Perusta ry started publishing also different kinds of current pamphlets.
Occasionally Pekka worked as the summer editor of Demari-magazine, washed dishes at a vegetarian restaurant and was delivering bakery products for Samsara bakery, specialized in organic baking. Delivery van and narrow gateways in the center of Helsinki became very familiar to him.
Pekka has been involved with the Finnish Greens since the birth of the movement. He followed the campaign of the Vaihtoehtoinen Helsinki (Alternative Helsinki) list in the municipal elections of 1980. He was also actively involved in the parliamentary elections in 1983 when Ville Komsi and Kalle Könkkölä were elected to Parliament. At that time there was no Greens party yet. Pekka was the secretary of the first green parliamentary group. He also founded the Greens’ newspaper Vihreä Lanka.
In 1987, Pekka became a member of Parliament, and there were Osmo Soininvaara, Eero Paloheimo and Erkki Pulliainen in the four-party parliamentary group. At that time the Greens actively pursued environmental taxes, proposed setting up a Future committee in Parliament and insisted that the government’s revenue and expenditure proposal should also be able to present reductions, not just additions. All of these proposals have come true in time.
When Saddam Hussein had taken Finnish workers as hostages in Iraq in the fall of 1990, which happened before the first Gulf War, Pekka was asked to join a delegation traveling to Baghdad in order to negotiate the release of the hostages. MPs Saara-Maria Paakkinen and Marjatta Stenius-Kaukonen traveled with him. The trip that was expected to last for a couple of days eventually lasted for ten days, and finally the first batch of hostages was released. Pekka has said that this trip was his first experience of difficult peace negotiating missions.
Pekka was elected President of the Greens in 1994. In 1995 Pekka became the holder of two portfolios: Minister of Environment and Development. On the same year the Greens made it to the national cabinet. At the same time Pekka worked at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Environment, and was serving as a representative of the Greens in all ministerial groups. Pekka has said that during that period his hair began to turn gray.
The major issues after the depression were raising the development co-operation budgets, and implementing large European Natura 2000 conservation program in Finland. There was quite a bit of torque about the nature conservation and development co-operation issues at that time among the government . The ministerial partners always found Pekka as a calm but unyielding minister. If it was needed, the ministers gathered together tens of times early the mornings, and finally Pekka achieved his goals.
Pekka served also as the President of European Greens in 2000-2006. He has maintained close connections with many green activists in Europe. Pekka has also maintained his contacts in Russia since 1986. On his initiative, a large environmental event “Our Common Environment” was organized in St. Petersburg in 1992. It is one of the largest environmental events organized in Russia. In 2016, on Pekka´s initiative, a seminar about environmental history in Russia was held in Moscow.
Pekka´s life went through a major change in the years that he spent as a cabinet minister. In the summer of 1997 Pekka travelled to Colombia as a backpacker. On the last days of his trip he met Antonio Flores, an Ecuadorian, who had come to Bogota for work. They met again in Equador during Christmas, and Antonio visited Finland in the spring of 1998he never needed his return ticket.
Registered Partnerships for the same-sex partners became available in Finland in 2002. It provided most of the same rights and responsibilities as marriage does for male-female couples, with exceptions such as adoption rights and family names. Pekka and Antonio registered their relationship in the same year. Equality has taken a leap ever since; Same-sex marriage became legal in Finland on March 1st 2017.
In the world
After the Second Ministerial Period in 1999, Pekka was not elected to Parliament, and it was time to take on other challenges. Pekka was planning to return to work as a writer and journalist. One phone call changed these plans. The call came from Klaus Töpfer, Chairman of the UN Environment Organization. He asked in April 1999 if it would be possible for Pekka to start leading an environmental assessment in the Balkans after the recent end of the war in Kosovo.
Pekka was responsible for managing the work, gathering a scientific team, and arranging funding. It was also the first ever post-war assessment of the environment that UN would make. It should be done as field work. Pressure to succeed was hard, and the project also aroused many skeptics, even opponents.
Work at UNEP nevertheless succeeded, and solving environmental problems in Kosovo led Pekka to six more years of work at many different projects in the United Nations. After Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, the road led to Afghanistan, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Liberia, and Sudan.
One of the most challenging projects was producing a report investigating the military use of depleted uranium, conducted in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro. Permanent members of the UN Security Council demonstrated exceptionally high interest to that, so did NATO. This work was also successful at the end, and the report was handed over to Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of UN.
UN missions were sometimes dangerous. UNEP had an office at hotel Canal, in Baghdad, Iraq which had suffered a tragic bomb attack, after which UNEP´s activities were evacuated to Amman, Jordan.
During those six years Pekka was selected not only to do his UNEP work but also two major international evaluations. The first was the evaluation of UNECE (UN Economic Commission for Europe), another was the evaluation of the Arctic Council and Arctic Organizations. During the time of serving as a minister, Pekka had been setting up the Arctic Council in Ottawa in 1997.
The evaluation of UNECE led to major changes, and changes in priorities in the work of the UNECE. Former UN Secretary-General Karl Paschke worked as Pekka´s partner.
While working for the UN in Sudan, Pekka was contacted from the European Union. The EU needed a delegate for Sudan and Darfur in short notice. The Darfur peace negotiations in Nigeria were to be followed more closely. Pekka was elected as EUSR, (Special Representative of the EU). His superior was Javier Solana, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The mission of the EUSR, which started in 2005, came to a very intensive phase. Pekka had worked as an international environmental expert at UNEP and moved very quickly now in the middle of the hectic peace process. Among other things, he went to meet to meet John Garang, the New President of South Sudan, just before the dramatic helicopter accident in which Garang died.
Pekka became a key player in the Darfur negotiations after he got some groups to rejoin the negotiations in the autumn of 2005. These groups had already left the negotiations. The African Union carried him to remote villages by helicopter, and he regularly visited ministries in neighboring countries to negotiate and seek support for peace efforts.
The work in Sudan continued after the end of the EUSR period, when Jan Eliasson, Special Envoy UN deputy Secretary General, appointed Pekka as his advisor on affairs in Sudan.
Pekka was elected to the Finnish Parliament again in 2007, and he has been a member ever since. Pekka was also elected in 2011 and in 2015. In addition to parliamentary work Pekka has actively continued his work for peace. Three different Foreign Ministers – Alexander Stubb, Erkki Tuomioja ja Timo Soini – have appointed him as special representative in Africa-questions and the peace process. Pekka has been working on the supervising board of Finn Church Aid (FCA), and helping FCA with operations in conflict areas as well. In the autumn of 2016 Pekka was appointed President of the Board of Governors of the European Institute of Peace (EIP).
In 2013-2014 Pekka served as a cabinet minister again, discharging the duties of both Minister for International Development and as the minister responsible for corporate. As a development minister he worked, for example, in intensive co-operation with G7+ which is a group of fragile, conflict-affected states.
In addition to peace processes and fragile states Haavisto has worked in Sudan and, for example, in Somalia and Eritrea. He has done all of this while serving as a cabinet minister. He has also had special duties in the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and in Honduras. Haavisto visited Honduras at the request of the Foreign Ministry, after the murder of Berta Cáceres. He was the only representative of foreign governments at the Cáceres murder trial in Tegucigalpa.
In the presidential elections of 2012, Pekka got to the second round against Sauli Niinistö. In the first round, he received 18.8 percent of the vote, and in the second round he got more than a million votes, 37.4 percent of the votes cast.
The elections were exceptional because Pekka´s campaign comprised different kinds of initiatives coming from citizens and supporters, which drew inspiration from one another. At Helsinki’s central railway station, a flash mob of Pekka supporters sang the Finlandia hymn by Jean Sibelius. Several people had flags and posters with the No.2 (Pekka´s ballot number) hanging from the balconies of their private homes. And when supporters went to the polls, many photographed their ballots and spread it in social media. The campaign occasionally took on forms that were unprecedented in Finland. The band Ultra Bra headlined an exceptional show at Helsinki Ice Hall to support Pekka.
Pekka himself says that the end of the campaign was quite a bizzarre. So many people gathered in the Keskustori square in Tampere that the candidate was no longer able to get away from the speakers podium.
Pekka’s presidential election campaign 2012 focused on the themes of listening, dialogue and mediation. As an example of the possibilities of a different encounter, Pekka visited Finns Party MP Teuvo Hakkarainen at this sawmill in Viitasaari. Teuvo had previously suggested that all gay people and immigrants could be sent to Åland (an island which belongs to Finland).
Pekka’s campaign also brought up the role of Finland as a supporter and initiator of international peace processes. The slogan was ”Finland – bigger than its size.”
Pekka is a Member of Parliament and a Member of the Committee for Foreign Affairs. He is also a deputy member of Grand Committee and a deputy member of The Finnish Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (ETYJ).
Pekka manages International Affairs as a Chairman of the EIB Board, also at the Board of Directors on ENoP – European Network of Political Foundations, and as a member of the Board of Finn Church Aid FCA (Kirkon Ulkomaanapu).
Pekka has a wide network of international relations, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. He continues to engage in co-operation on peace and security issues with both the EU and African Union.
Pekka is a popular lecturer on international politics and security policy – and he has held many university lectures and lecture series on these issues as well as on international environmental policy.
Pekka has also written books about his experiences of international positions: Kesä Balkanilla (1999), Hatunnosto (2010) and Anna mun kaikki kestää (2011). His newest book Lipunnosto ja räätälin viisaus was published in the autumn of 2017.
Pekka is a passionate reader and a collector of books. He is a regular customer in antiquarian bookshops, and it is always hard for him to give up on a book. Every now and then new book shelves appear in his home.
Pekka has always liked cycling, and he can occasionally be seen – deep in his thoughts – on bike routes around Helsinki.
Pekka has always felt a passion for old cars, especially for VW Beetles. Pekka has restored and tuned up several of them according to his taste. He has had to give up on a few of them because of a lack of time, which he was not happy about.
Pekka has a 50-year-old mahogany boat which he bought from Sweden. He likes to spend time restoring it. Last summer you might have seen the boat slowly chugging towards the Tammisaari Archipelago National Park or floating anchored by some small uninhabited islands.
If you could have taken a closer look inside the boat, you might have seen a happy and relaxed man lounging in the cabin, listening to an old transistor radio.
But if you had started talking to him you might have found out that he was going through the experiences of his trip to Afghanistan and the meetings he had had with the delegates of the opposition. That is what Pekka is like.