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Eeva Ahtisaari

Eeva Irmeli Ahtisaari
Born June 18, 1936, Varkaus

Bachelor of Arts 1962, Master of Arts 1988 (history), University of Helsinki

First lady 1994–2000
Project interviewing veteran Members of Parliament 1990–1991
A year in Namibia (observing the free elections) 1989–1990
Spouse of the UN Special Representative for Namibia 1977–1989
Spouse of the Finnish Ambassador to Tanzania 1974–1977
Secretary of the Espoo Local Heritage Association 1968–1974
Posts as a substitute history teacher 1959–1968

University of Helsinki Alumnus of the Year 1996
Honorary PhD in Educational Science, University of Joensuu, 2004

Photo: Ari Aalto
Writen by Tero Juutilainen
Translated by Matthew Billington

Advisor on domestic politics

After leaving university and beginning her career in the 1960s, Eeva Ahtisaari still had no final university degree. Her initial enthusiasm for her studies was strong, but money worries had, in part, hindered her concentration.

– I took various positions as a substitute teacher in Kuopio, in addition to which I was working at what was then the Helsinki University Library. I was particularly thrilled by the architecture of the library and the atmosphere inside.

At the end of the 1960s, Mrs Ahtisaari was employed as Espoo Local Heritage Secretary, with the task of managing the Espoo City Museum and collecting artefacts.

– This was quite a new post and the first of its kind in Finland.

Mrs Ahtisaari had no experience of museums other than in the role of visitor, but this didn’t stop her.

– If we can speak of my strengths, then they have been the ability to find and seek help. We strove to make the museum the kind of place that was pleasant to visit.

Her contract ended when her husband was posted to Tanzania. The following 15 years were spent more in representative roles. Eeva Ahtisaari returned to her own career at the beginning of the 1990s, after completing her Master’s degree. Friends at the Department of History were able to point her in the direction of a post as a substitute teacher at Tikkurila upper secondary school. The school world had changed, however. Group work now constituted a large part of teaching, and it was no longer possible simply to lecture.

Eeva Ahtisaari also participated in an oral history project in connection with the Finnish Parliament Library, where Members of Parliament, past and present, were interviewed.

– Naturally, one needed to prepare for the interviews extremely well. It was necessary to know Finland’s domestic political history and the speeches and deeds of the interviewee alike. We were able to collect the kind of information that would otherwise have been lost in the mists of time. However, left-wing MPs, in particular, had had such tough experiences that I didn’t dare to dig too deep.

The approach of the 1994 presidential elections also signified change for Eeva Ahtisaari. Her husband was chosen as the SDP’s presidential candidate, and Martti Ahtisaari toured the country on the campaign trail.

– It was the height of the recession. At some point, documents were brought to our sofa on the Finnish economy. They were absolutely dreadful. I asked Martti whether it was worth running for president. Martti replied that this was the very time to run. Nothing scared him.

Although her spouse was running for office, Mrs Ahtisaari’s own role was far from that of a bystander.

– As a result of the oral history project, I was better informed about Finnish domestic politics than my husband. During the election campaign, I would occasionally say, ‘listen, don’t do that’.

Martti Ahtisaari was elected President of the Republic, and Eeva Ahtisaari became the nation’s First Lady.

– At the start I disliked the term ‘First Lady,’ but those six years were an extremely interesting time. I became fully acquainted with Finland, for better or worse.

The official portrait of Eeva Ahtisaari as First Lady of the Republic was painted by Timo Vuorikoski.


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