Monsieur le Ministre, Mon cher Alex


Rita and I apologize for not being in your undoubtedly lively and lovely party. I do not mean Kokoomus. But what would you have done if you had to choose between an event somewhere in the eastern part of Helsinki and a wedding in St.Tropez?  And in any case if I ever have to go over Pitkäsilta to the East I'll not stop before Karelia! By the way Alex, until you have been in Tuupovaara - you ain’t seen anything!

Given your international entourage tonight and a wide range of languages at my disposal I had difficulties to select the most convenient one. Finally I chose Shakespeare's language because your English is pretty good. With Tuupovaara accent you'd be more credible though.

I do not know if it's better to be born on 29/2 in a leap year and celebrate the birthday only once in four years or to be born on 1/4 when your entire life becomes a joke!  However 1/4 is a magic date for you and me. Our lives are nearly bundled up. 1/4 1978 was Saturday and while you were blowing out your ten candles - I was blown down altogether. I met Rita. A crazy couple like us could not have met on any other day. Only April Fool's Day was good enough!

Because there are no secrets between you and me and because tonight you are surrounded by friends only, I dare to reveal for the first time why I married Rita.

John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever film had just come out and when Rita asked if we would go see it I said to myself:" Oh no, not again". I had already seen it with a couple of girls - you would not have believed this from me, would you? So I said to Rita after the film ended:" let's get married" because I did not want to see the film anymore with anyone! Rita's usually faultless judgement let her down at that critical moment - but it was the "onnenkantamoinen" of my life!

With you Alex I have difficulties to resist the "what did I say" phenomen. I saw you for the first time in the beginning of the Millenium in a lunch meeting at our Embassy in Bruxelles. I did not know who you were but something about you drew my attention - it must have your new glasses. Having listened to you for a few minutes, I half guessed that you had contributed to Monsieur Lipponen's main EU-policy speech he had just given in Bruges. You failed to conceal your satisfaction of my guess and admitted your role behind the scenes.

When we bumped into each other next time I thought loud and clear that a guy like you should stand in the next EU-elections. You were nodding your head and right away we started scrutinizing potential parties.  Svenska Folkpartiet is insignificant and in Social Democrats there are not enough ahtisaaris, lipponens nor lehtinens to keep them in the middle of the road. Somehow Perussuomalaiset did not fit your image either. So we had to settle for Kokoomus. Never mind. In fact we both follow the Tanner/ Blair line and Kokoomus is our New Labour party. (Years later Mr. Niinistö borrowed this idea for his presidential campaign...)
You came to the politics with a bang and you are a fast learner. Unlike me who even now still starts speeches in the French UMP- party meeting by saying:" Here in UPM...” No wonder your rise has been meteoric with a trail of sparks behind. But no script writer would have dared to write the latest episode of April First!  A fantastic hole in one - on a par 40. I'd have loved to see the face of Monsieur Tuomioja when he heard the news... You will make the most of your opportunities and help to create a new political culture in Finland. It's long overdue.

At the same time I'm disappointed. I expected you to climb the ladder instead of jumping it and first become a minister of agriculture. The fact that you have relatives in Karelia makes you competent in that field.  You could have given my cow - which is in a ditch - maximum subsidies...

Your story is - is not exactly from rags to riches - but at least from Lehtisaari to riches. Lord permitting, you will go to many more places.  Although you now left European Parliament, nobody is saying that this was an end of your era in European institutions. Whereas they will say when many of us leave:” That was an end of an error".

At the age of forty we have statistically half of our life still in front of us. But we do not know what is behind the next corner. We do not know how many grains of sand are left in our hourglass. Life on earth is so limited and fragile. That's why it is breathtakingly beautiful. A gift beyond our comprehension.

May I remind you of one thing Alex? Political science does not teach the most important initials. They are not UM, WTO, NATO not even FIN nor BMW but: TLC. It's not Trade Labour Cohesion movement but: Tender Loving Care. The challenge of our life time.

That brings me to the queen of the evening: Suzanne. She holds everything together. She presents me with one problem however - her name. The last time I mentioned her name, you said immediately:” Sorry Ari, her name is not Sussanne but Suzanne". I felt like a hopeless "juntti". A flashback from my past crossed my mind. A few years ago I gave a season opening speech at Sarfvik golf club and I felt so happy standing there in front of Helsinki high society. Bearing in mind that my handicap in a good day is about 75. The Club president came to see me afterwards and told that I should not have pronounced "F" in the club name. He did not realise that in Tuupovaara we do not use "ähvä" at all and I was so proud of myself having just learnt to say it!  Suzanne, for you I promise to make an effort!The old cliché says that behind a successful man there is always a woman. And behind a failed man there are often several women.

Alex, you worked well in the constitutional committee but you earned my respect by holding Suzanne and the family in high esteem. Keep on holding them in your arms well above you. That keeps also your feet on the ground. At the end, the number of votes does not count. Only the love counts.

When I hear the Saturday Night film music on the radio, I close my eyes and my thoughts go back to that evening thirty years ago. As if it was yesterday. A smile comes to my face. So little is essential in life.
Just a Saturday night fever.

You asked all of us to give you a book to read. I give you a poem I got from Rita. It's Toivo Pekkanen's "Onni" - it sums everything up.

Life is but a brief moment.
The years pass quickly by
and old age steals upon us
before we know it. 

People desire so many things                       
and  waste life's lovely days
in their pursuit.  
One lusts for money, another for power,
a third seeks rank and prestige.

But when Death taps them on the shoulder,
and they turn and look back over the life they have passed,
they notice that the only moments of happiness were those
in which they loved.

Toivo Pekkanen

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