Who is Pekka Haavisto?

Pekka Haavisto’s story follows a path that is similar to that of Finland – a country with influence that is greater than its size. Haavisto has experienced the social changes of the 1960s, the birth of the environmental movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the internationalisation of the 1990s and the 21st century.

His experiences in domestic politics and in foreign conflicts have moulded Haavisto into a firm negotiator, but also a skilled professional capable of listening to others, and building bridges.

Pekka Haavisto is a foreign policy expert and bridge-builder who has earned respect around the world. His long career both in domestic politics and in international arenas has made Haavisto a skilled negotiator, and a good listener who genuinely cares about issues affecting people.

Roots in the soil of Haikka, a heart that embraces the world

Pekka Olavi Haavisto was born in 1958 in Helsinki. Both of his parents were teachers. He spent many of the summers of his childhood at the Haikka family farm in Teisko, where the family would take a break from their small home in the city. In the Häme countryside Haavisto learned an appreciation for manual skills and agriculture, as well as the serenity and the ample space of the countryside.

After matriculating from the Munkkivuori School in 1976, Haavisto attended the University of Helsinki where he studied political science.

However, the world, travel, and social activism soon got the better of him. In 1977 Haavisto’s first Inter-Rail guide was published, and in 1979 he was involved in the Koijärvi Movement and the alternative newspaper Komposti. The rest is Finnish Green movement history.

Backpacking remained a favourite hobby in later years as well. In the summer of 1997 Haavisto went to Colombia. It is there that he met Antonio Flores from Ecuador. The following Christmas Haavisto travelled to meet the Flores family, and in the spring the native of the equatorial regions came to the Nordic region – and the return half of his ticket was never used.

Antonio and Pekka registered their partnership as soon as it became possible in Finland – in 2002.

Already as a child Pekka Haavisto learned to love to do things with his hands, and that love remains. In 2005 Haavisto bought a house with an illustrious history that had fallen into disrepair – it was the studio home of artist Eila Hiltunen in the Munkkiniemi district of Finland. Haavisto says that fixing and painting a house makes for a welcome change to peace talks with guerrilla leaders armed with Kalashnikovs. He also likes to do makeovers on old Volkswagen Beetles – a hobby that he has enjoyed since he was a young adult.

From green movement pioneer to peace negotiator

As a pioneering figure of the Finnish Green movement, Haavisto learned a new trailblazing, fearless way of thinking, the importance of interaction and tolerance, and the power of civic organisations. Haavisto was first elected to Parliament in 1987 after making a deep impression on voters in a televised election debate.

From 1995 to 1999 he became Europe’s first environment and development minister from a green party.

Haavisto has earned an exceptional amount of success in the international arena. Working for the United Nations from 1999 to 2005 he was able to see personally what life was like in crisis areas such as the Balkans, Afghanistan, Palestine, Liberia, and Sudan.

While he was directing field work of the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP, Haavisto investigated the destructive impact that wars have on people’s living environment. Haavisto suspects that he might have been in more mine fields than any other conscientious objector to military service in the world.

Haavisto’s work with the UN was followed by a post as the special representative of the European Union in Sudan and Darfur, where he also took part in peace negotiations.

In 2005-2007, Haavisto was acting as the European Union’s Special Representative for Sudan and Darfur and had a role as the EU’s special representative in the Darfur peace talks. In 2007, he served as the UN Senior Advisor in the Darfur peace process.

The Parliamentary elections of 2007 again put Haavisto in the centre of Finnish politics. As MP he has served as a visiting lecturer at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, as a lecturer at the University of Helsinki, at the NATO School in Oberammergau, and at Bristol University in the UK, as well as in numerous other international tasks. He has also published several books and studies, and has held a number of positions of trust in Finland.

At present, Pekka Haavisto serves as chairman of the Green Parliamentary Group in the Finnish Parliament.

Wisdom, experience, and consideration

Pekka Haavisto’s colleagues and friends describe him as a bridge-builder and a negotiator. He seeks opportunities for dialogue and cooperation, rather than confrontation. Haavisto is courageous, but not arrogant.

Many feel that Haavisto exudes a serenity bordering on sadness. However, this is not from a lack of energy. It is, instead, an indication of wisdom, experience, and consideration. Pekka Haavisto genuinely cares about people. He is warm, willing to listen to others, and is always looking for a solution. When all sides are needed for finding an understanding, Haavisto can often come up with a story which illustrates his thoughts. Pekka Haavisto is also capable of being strong and unyielding when necessary. In such a situation nobody can walk over or past him.

Political experience, education, and an ability to work together with people all converge in Pekka Haavisto. This versatile and skilled politician is in demand as a speaker in schools, and is a gifted storyteller and writer. His experiences, observations, and insights from around the world have been crystallised as an understanding that negotiation, reconciliation, and listening are always the first, and not the last choice.