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HS panel members do not fawn over Ahtisaari
Criticism and mockery of powerful seen as fringe benefit of democracy
By Jyrki Räikkä
Seven out of ten respondents on a Helsingin Sanomat panel feel that Martti Ahtisaari, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2008, had not been the target of unreasonable criticism during his term as the Finnish President in 1994 - 2000, or after it. Sixteen per cent of the cultural figures comprising the panel were of the opposite opinion.
During his presidency Ahtisaari was seen to be an aloof UN bureaucrat, although he first played the role of a man of the people, and a figure from the Moomintroll books, says journalist Timo Harakka. “I haven’t met anyone who would have wanted Ahtisaari to have served a second term. The most lasting legacy of his term as President was that he took away some of the superfluous pomp and prestige linked with the president.”
“Ahtisaari hit a seam, where the time of silence and unquestioning respect surrounding the President was irrevocably over”, says composer Lotta Wennäkoski.
In a country hit by a deep recession, more attention than ever before was paid to Ahtisaari’s appearance, and making fun of the President was opium for the people, says Annamari Vänskä, a researcher into visual culture.
“Ahtisaari’s girth was looked upon as the devil quoting scripture: it seemed to reveal that the political elite had no desire to rise above its desires of the flesh for the sake of staunch citizens struggling in their economic anguish.”
Ahtisaari has been treated too gently, complains painter Jani Leinonen. He feels that the defender of the war in Iraq and the member of boards of directors of large corporations does not represent capitalism with a human face. “Mr. Nobel would turn in his grave to learn that the recipient of the peace prize immediately urged his home country to join the NATO military alliance, and dismisses the prize money of over a million as small.”
“Here on the spur of the moment, my thoughts go to a few hundreds of thousands of Finns, who have been treated badly by Finland”, says writer Tuomas Kyrö. “Neither Martti Ahtisaari, nor any other president belong to that group.”
Ridiculing those in power is democracy, says Professor Kari Enqvist.
“I don’t think that Ahtisaari would even have wanted to be a Kim Jong-il, says media researcher Juha Herkman.
“Bloody hell, if we’re not supposed to criticise decision-makers even though people are always complaining about the lack of public debate”, says Professor Ullamaija Kivikuru.
Finns elected Ahtisaari President the one and only time that he was a candidate, notes Matti Kalliokoski, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Ilkka. Since then, Ahtisaari has had a state pension. “That is hardly mistreatment.”
The recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize does not have to be a saint, says Mirkka Lappalainen. “Besides, over the centuries, people who are much more controversial than Ahtisaari have been declared saints over the centuries.”
Director Taru Mäkelä feels that Ahtisaari jokes turn a great man into a human being.
Attitudes toward Ahtisaari in Finland are typically bitter, laments cartoonist Ville Ranta.
“On the one hand people here yearn for international appreciation, but on the other hand, they can’t stand the types who get it.”
“Self-deprecation and success through humour are forgivable, in the view of artist Marita Liulia.
“Ahtisaari has apparently not distinguished himself in either role, neither as a self-depricator, nor as a humourist.”
Appreciation for Ahtisaari has not corresponded to his skills or his achievements, says cultural entrepreneur Raoul Grünstein. “With his Western orientation, Ahtisaari was not the most politically correct figure in Finland.”
Artist Nanna Susi feels that Ahtisaari was too liberal and too cosmopolitan for his Leftist supporters.
Ahtisaari was not forgiven for being elected president past the political elite, says translator Jukka Mallinen. It is unpleasant to see how the elite, which tripped him up, is now basking in the rays of his reputation.”
Professor Seppo Zetterberg sees a positive side to the shabby treatment of Ahtisaari: if Ahtisaari had served a second term as President, there would have been less time for international peace mediation.
“The cool attitude of his own people was to the benefit of Ahtisaari and the world”, Zetterberg concludes.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.10.2008
The Helsingin Sanomat panel comprises more than 100 figures chosen by the Helsingin Sanomat cultural department from amongst the arts, sciences, and the media.
JYRKI RÄIKKÄ / Helsingin Sanomat