Eulogy by President Martti Ahtisaari at the memorial ceremony of former Prime Minister Harri Holkeri at the House of the Estates, on 27 August 2011
Losing a friend is always hard. Losing a close relative is even harder. Although these are hardships an individual faces, on some occasions the entire nation feels the loss of something valuable. Harri Holkeri is among those whose significance and value to Finnish society has become clearer as each year passes.
Domestic affairs formed the main focus of Harri Holkeri's life work. He had a long career which spanned an eventful period in our country's history. This career is an impressive demonstration of the possibility to succeed in politics while being upstanding, honest and open. And yet, this does not have to mean rigid attitudes or the inability to change one's position as the facts change.
On many occasions, adopting a new position and acknowledging new facts requires more courage than clinging to the old. Holkeri understood that, in politics, several conflicting objectives can exist simultaneously. In such a situation, choices have to be made; not on tactical grounds, but on grounds that carry long into the future. Accomplishing the EEC agreement involved one such tangle of conflicting goals. Another was the enactment of the exceptive act on presidential elections, which faced harsh criticism. Securing the country's wellbeing in the long term was the most vital issue.
First and foremost, the Finnish people knew Harri Holkeri as a conciliator. His tolerant attitude towards those who held different views enabled the formation of a broad-based political government. This happened at a time when fundamental changes were underway in Finland's operating environment. Radical reforms in the Soviet Union, the changing role of the European Economic Community and intense changes in Finland's own business sector, prior to and during the depression, created a situation that was difficult to manage.
At the time a broad-based, cooperative government was absolutely necessary to Finland. Prime Minister Harri Holkeri's balanced, trust-engendering personality guaranteed the Government's ability to function. Everyone was aware of and admitted that Holkeri's primary goal was to further Finland's interests.
Although Finland was always the starting point for Harri Holkeri, this did not mean narrow, provincial patriotism. After leaving domestic politics, his sense of duty led him to accept difficult, dangerous and extremely demanding international duties. His efforts in concluding the peace accords in Northern Ireland were of particular significance. When the sad news of Harri Holkeri's death reached Northern Ireland, the country's Justice Minister David Ford said: "The people of Northern Ireland owe Harri Holkeri an enormous debt of gratitude". Former parties to the crisis spoke in the same vein when evaluating Holkeri's life work; with appreciation, gratitude. George Mitchell, the American senator who brokered the peace in Northern Ireland alongside Harri Holkeri, asked me to convey his condolences at this event.
Serving as President of the United Nations General Assembly was a major recognition of Holkeri. But he did not regard this task as a mere formality. Through his own initiatives, Holkeri aimed to render the General Assembly more efficient, by trimming unnecessary formalities and emphasising the value of efficient, precise action.
Kosovo, the most difficult and demanding of his duties, proved fatal to Harri Holkeri. His energy ebbed and health suffered under the burden of work and responsibility brought on by a long-standing armed conflict. When he assumed the task, he knew what difficulties lay ahead, but this did not stop him giving of his best. From close by, I followed many of the phases of Harri Holkeri's endeavours. His uncompromising honesty was particularly valued by all of us who worked with him. He kept his word. His promises could always be trusted.
These qualities are respected in both national and international activities. They are also the necessary virtues of a credible peacemaker.
The payment of respects, condolences and the accounts of Harri Holkeri's life work in so many key media show that he had accomplished something significant, something that is remembered with gratitude not only by us Finns, but by many other nations too.
An example worth following is the best a national leader can leave behind. By these standards, Harri Holkeri has left us a heritage worth cherishing.