Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s words of remembrance at the memorial ceremony for former president Mauno Koivisto on 25 May 2017
Honourable Mrs Tellervo Koivisto, Family and Relatives of Mauno Koivisto,
President of the Republic and Mrs Haukio,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
Dear Family and Relatives,
From recent experience, I know that grief is a very personal thing. We all respond to it in a different way. It is particularly important to emerge from the midst of grief to the stage where we can delight in the years spent together. I believe that you are thankful for the long and rewarding life of your loved one.
I am glad that your wish for a memorial ceremony was that it be bright and forward-looking, honouring the memory of President Koivisto.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mauno Henrik Koivisto died on Snellman Day, the day on which we celebrate Finnish heritage, and in the same year in which Finland celebrates 100 years of its independence. Mauno Koivisto’s life encapsulates the history of independent Finland.
Today, Finland is one of the world’s most successful countries, measured by success in material wealth, quality of education, happiness, reliability of public administration and fulfilment of human rights. Mauno Koivisto was both a visionary and a player in this success story.
As a person, Mauno Koivisto realised the Finnish dream. The child of a working-class family, he attended elementary school and from there he entered the world of work. When the Winter War broke out, he joined a fire-fighting unit at the age of sixteen. During the Continuation War, he defended his country gun in hand, ultimately in the 1st Division light infantry company led by Lauri Törni.
When the guns fell silent in September 1944, Koivisto recalled that he sat on the edge of a trench and pondered that there must be some other way of settling issues than warfare. In this way, he came to sum up as an ordinary soldier the foreign policy line that was followed by all of the post-war presidents of Finland.
After the war, Mauno Koivisto went to evening school and then to the University of Turku, from where he graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in 1956. Talent and determination always took him into increasingly demanding roles, twice as Prime Minister and finally as President of the Republic in 1982. Mauno Koivisto’s life is a great Finnish story.
Even though his term as President ended 23 years ago, Mauno Koivisto’s imprint on the life of society today remains strong.
As foreign policy leader, he piloted Finland with a sure hand from the world of the Cold War into the European Union.
In domestic policy, he promoted stability and development towards genuine parliamentarianism. During his term as President, three parliamentary elections were held, after which each of the Governments appointed by Koivisto sat for their full parliamentary term. This practice has become an established part of Finnish parliamentarianism.
As a politician, I belong to a different generation from Mauno Koivisto, so I will leave the drawing of the character portraits ordinarily included in words of remembrance to those who knew him better. I will only state that the books written by Mauno Koivisto, the interviews he gave, the other public appearances he made and the experiences of people who met him all consistently testify to the fact that Mauno Koivisto was not only a highly educated but also a civilised man in the deepest sense of the word. He was faithful to the values he embraced. The spiritual heritage of his home supported him throughout his life.
To me, Mauno Koivisto was a unique combination of professional economist and foreign policy expert. Yet I can still see in my mind’s eye those news images of volleyball games, where the average age of the team was frighteningly high. Even so, the passes hit their mark and the smash shots succeeded.
Mauno Koivisto’s “fundeerausta”, or careful contemplation, was sometimes considered to be opaque, and not all of his contemporaries always seemed to understand it. He has left us, however, with many succinct aphorisms. I will freely quote a few that I have personally found to be very apt:
“One should not overestimate people’s interest in politics, but neither should one underestimate their political judgment.”
“Politics is always wrong from some perspective.”
And another one:
“Matters have a tendency to sort themselves out.”
That’s how it is.
One of the subjects that occupied Mauno Koivisto’s thoughts was the relationship between individual responsibility and social responsibility. This theme is still topical today. He addressed the subject, for example, during the economically difficult period in the early 1990s.
Mauno Koivisto stressed, sometimes even against public opinion, that individuals could not completely forget their own responsibility for themselves. In the face of problems, he did not want to absolve the people of responsibility and recalled how ineffective a society can be if it is too intrusive. As a frugal man, he was also concerned about the present generation’s desire to incur debt at the expense of future generations, because those generations are not able to vote here and now.
This is also an important message today. We must remember that life will continue after we have gone. Social power is always borrowed, it must be used judiciously and wisely.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In Mauno Koivisto’s youth, most Finns earned a living from forests and fields. Now, 100-year-old Finland is reaching out to digitalisation, robots and artificial intelligence. Mauno Koivisto’s idea that in life it is wise to trust that everything will go well gives us belief in the future and the courage to grasp the opportunities presented by change.
Let us remember with joy his unique life and the strong imprint that he left on us and Finnish society.
We bid him farewell. Mauno Koivisto, former President of the Republic, has departed. Although, through him, one era ends, he will live long in our hearts. Mauno Koivisto was the herald of the Finnish dream.