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Riitta Uosukainen

Riitta Maria Uosukainen (née Vainikka)
Born June 18, 1942, Jääski

Master of Arts (Finnish Language and Literature), 1969, and Licentiate of Philosophy, 1970, University of Helsinki

Speaker of the Finnish Parliament, 1994-2003
Minister of Education, 1991-94
Parliamentarian, 1983-2003
Councillor, City of Imatra, 1977-92
Trainer, Kymi Province, 1976-83
Lecturer in Finnish, Imatrankoski upper secondary school, 1969-83
Publishing assistant, Tammi Publishing House, 1966-67

Riitta Uosukainen’s CV on the Eduskunta website

Photo: Soppakanuuna / Wikimedia Commons
Written by Heta Muurinen
Translated by John Calton

A humanist in parliament

I got involved in politics late at the end of 1970s, literally by popular demand.  I was professionally qualified and cultural and other organisations were familiar enough. I joined the party very late in the day, compared to politicians nowadays, because I had been completely upset at how the party I had been voting for was pushed to the margins. I got a seat in the eduskunta in 1983, aged forty.

It was a humanist and idealist who stepped into the parliament building that day. I was given plenty of scope for action: I was appointed to serve on the two committees I wished to work for, education and defence, and there was more than enough to do for both. There was a lot to study, getting to know people and learning the ropes, finding ways to get my message across through the media. The basis for the work and the preparation of aims were supported by the diversity of studies and solid work experience. And even in opposition one could have some influence. Committee work is important. It shouldn’t be opened up to the media.

I was appointed Minister of Education and Science in 1991. The country was going through its most difficult recession since the war years. There had been no cuts, now there would have to be. I was the first to enter the fray, since the school year began in the autumn. It was thanks to my professional experience that I made it through this period.

To my mind, the most important principles at all levels of education were to provide quality regardless of the level. The University of Helsinki is an important institution and one I feel strongly about. As I saw it, the most important things to tackle in the University were to improve quality, increase international connections and pay attention to the teaching. I spoke passionately about quality to the then vice-rector of the University, Risto Ihamuotila. And we worked on it.

I discussed our University’s 350h anniversary celebrations with Ihamuotila. He told me how the University personnel had sniggered: “What passion about quality?” There’s no sniggering now. Since then quality has become mainstream thinking in the development of universities everywhere.

I took on some substantial tasks for the good of Helsinki University. I fought successfully to ensure that the Faculty of Veterinary Science remained in Helsinki and formed a part of the University. Another victory was to keep dentistry within the University of Helsinki. My principle was that there should be at least one university, universitas, in the country, which was difficult at the time for the Centre Party, which was passionate about regional institutes of higher education.

Riitta Uosukainen served as Speaker of the parliament, Minister of Education and MP.​
Riitta Uosukainen served as Speaker of the parliament, Minister of Education and MP.​

I was chosen to be speaker of the parliament in 1994 and altogether served for nine parliamentary sessions, something which I acknowledge with humble gratitude. I was the first woman in Finland to assume this role. The moments that stand out in my career have been Finland joining the European Union, the new Constitution (2000) and the much contested parliamentary annex: the preparatory work in each case was demanding.

In Finland the government belongs with the people, represented by parliament during the parliamentary session. I’d like to emphasise just how important the parliamentarian’s work is. It is ethically demanding, and is particularly well suited to humanists. The job of representing the people cannot just be reduced to an incomprehensible spreadsheet, a mechanised system dependent on social media. For us humanists, preserving the human contribution is what we should endeavour to do. It has been difficult, and will get more difficult still. But quality will win the day: we will make it through the present slump.

Work across the Gulf of Finland. [From left] Mrs Meri, President Lennart Meri, Riitta Uosukainen, Toomas Savi, Mrs Savi, Toivo Uosukainen and HE Oinonen.​
Work across the Gulf of Finland. [From left] Mrs Meri, President Lennart Meri, Riitta Uosukainen, Toomas Savi, Mrs Savi, Toivo Uosukainen and HE Oinonen.​


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