Eulogy by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen at the funeral service of Harri Holkeri on 27 August 2011
- subject to changes -
An upright Finnish man!
That is how the media and citizens have described our friend and influential Finnish statesman, former Prime Minister Harri Holkeri.
The description could not be more accurate. It is etched on the minds and hearts of everyone who knew and followed Harri Holkeri and his career. Among his strongest characteristics were adherence to principals and readiness to bear responsibility qualities which showed in Harris work both in Finland and his major duties abroad.
The scope and impact of Harri Holkeris work only grew in importance with the passing years. He was appointed to more and more demanding positions with greater responsibility. This enabled him to acquire the intellectual abilities and emotional resources that are the hallmark of a true statesman. The son of a policeman from Toijala, he based his life on values he learned at home love of his country, Christian morals and serving society. Those were the cornerstones on which Harri Holkeri grounded his personal life and social thinking.
This solid ground was indeed necessary in the face of extraordinarily demanding responsibilities and situations. Harri Holkeri was at his best in adversity. He used to repeat his favourite phrases: In life, easy decisions are not possible unless you are ready to make hard choices first and In politics, you should occasionally step back and consider the fundamental questions, rather than pennies and percentages. It was characteristic of Harri Holkeri to act on his words. Not just empty phrases, these aphorisms became Harri Holkeris guidelines in life.
Forty years ago the then 34-year-old party secretary faced the following challenge: he was appointed leader of the National Coalition Party after Juha Rihtniemi, a position for which he was not fully prepared. However, there was no alternative and the situation was anything but easy. Without a strong sense of social responsibility and a certain philosophy of life, this burden would have been unendurable for the youngest conservative party leader in Europe. Work was to be based on J. J. Nervanders ideals as inscribed on Rihtniemis headstone:
My spirit youll always find from there
where most ardently kindle the minds
light, freedom and Fatherland.
Two important issues marked Harri Holkeris work as National Coalition party leader: efforts to establish cooperation with other political movements and lead the party back into the Government. Consistent in his approach, Harri Holkeri was able to crystallise even these aspirations into apt metaphors. The aim was to turn the National Coalition Party into a highly presentable party and lead it into Government through the main door.
Maintaining a relationship with President Urho Kekkonen, conducting a credible foreign policy and strengthening the partys internal unity were issues which called for skill, vision and the ability to strike a balance. Harri Holkeri wanted the National Coalition Party to become an ideologically and organisationally undivided governing party, with strong parliamentary representation. It was to be involved in political decision-making in line with its size and relative weight in Finland. Although this was not quite achieved at the time, the foundations for future success were laid during Holkeris chairmanship.
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Harri Holkeri served as Prime Minister during challenging times. Finland was in need of reform and economic and international liberalisation. Many people were momentarily blinded by the opportunities and freedoms brought about by the reforms, which made them believe in the easy takings of the casino economy.
In politics, one must accept responsibility, even at difficult times and when the roots of problems lie elsewhere. Amid these difficulties, it is possible to discern the true picture of Harri Holkeri as a man with a strong sense of responsibility, ready to give his all and keep his word.
Such characteristics were also clearly to the fore when Holkeri stood as a National Coalition Party candidate in the presidential elections of 1982 and 1988. As a realist, he knew that Mauno Koivisto, who enjoyed considerable support among the people, would be elected both times. But for Harri Holkeri, candidacy meant much more than just aiming for power. For him, candidacy was part of the political system, which he wanted to support. As he put it himself, it was a great patriotic honour.
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People have asked when was it that Harri Holkeri became recognised as a true statesman. Perhaps his term as prime minister and his two presidential candidatures already paved the way. However, major international responsibilities in the 1990s and 2000s made this indisputably clear.
From 1995 to 1998, Holkeri served as a member and one of three co-chairs of the international team for the Northern Ireland peace talks. During this process, his cooperation skills and persistence came strongly to the fore. In a television interview with the Finnish Broadcasting Company, US Senator George Mitchell, who led the multi-party team, said that Harri Holkeri was a good negotiator and a reliable man you could trust. According to Senator Mitchell, without Harri Holkeris input the peace agreement would never have been made.
The significance of the process is accentuated by the fact that the parties to the negotiations received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.
The pinnacle of Harri Holkeris career as a statesman, and perhaps as a personal lifetime achievement, was his appointment as President of the United Nations General Assembly in 20002001. In this position, he was internationally recognised for his negotiating skills, leadership and humane approach.
This Finn had become an international statesman whose childhood values were now complemented by strong efforts to promote development aid, international solidarity and peace.
Harri Holkeris fundamental values had not changed. It was just that their focus had shifted towards international responsibility for other human beings. Based on what he had seen and experienced in his UN duties, Harri Holkeri emphasised that, to promote world peace, it was essential to improve girls opportunities for education and human rights in developing countries.
It was in Harri Holkeris nature to reflect on the human condition, and he was known for his warm humanity. This is evident not only in his private life but also in his politics. He finishes his book Itsenšisiš ajatuksia (Independent Thoughts) with a chapter entitled "The most important thing of all people. In that chapter he emphasises that in social action there is no other acceptable aim than to promote the cause of humanity. At its best, politics serves the people.
In his own work, wherever he served, Harri Holkeri showed that these words were his guiding principle.