The national Ahtisaari Days were held this year for the third time. The events took place on Thursday, 7 November. The programme involved many activities especially in the town of Kuopio, the main site this year. The Ahtisaari Days for 2013 included an analysis of the current state of the world, campaigns organized by schoolchildren as well as highlighting the role of mediators in everyday life.
Mediation plays a central role in Finnish society. Settling conflicts is learnt and practised already in schools and day-care centres. Schools receive special attention at the time of the Ahtisaari Days.
President Martti Ahtisaari visited two schools in Kuopio on Thursday to grant awards to mediator students. The purpose of the annual awards granted on Ahtisaari Day is to raise awareness in schools of students, groups or even school staff members who have acted in the spirit of mediation.
“The theme of Ahtisaari Day this year is fairness. It means that everyone is treated the same way, and fairly. My message is that you schoolchildren should believe in yourselves and support each other,” President Ahtisaari said.
At the upper secondary school Kuopion Lyseo, President Ahtisaari awarded the Dove of Mediation to Pietari Turunen, who had been chosen the mediator student from among his peers.
“I've tried to listen to everyone’s opinions and to ensure that everyone is heard. This includes those who otherwise perhaps would not dare to open their mouth,” the award-winning student said in accepting the Dove of Mediation.
The students chose Turunen for the award on the grounds that he is able to prevent conflicts at the school in advance. In addition, Turunen was described as tolerant, polite and positive.
“He spreads cheer to others and thus breaks the cycle of negativity,” his schoolmate Anni Savolainen said.
At Kuopio market, people were delighted by a sky full of balloons when a group of students released 300 balloons as a reminder of the importance of peace.
In Helsinki, at the upper secondary school Etu-Töölön Lukio, students had the opportunity to quiz Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja about current international issues. The Ahtisaari Day panel set up by the students discussed the situation in Syria, the role of the EU as a mediator and even human rights.
“Human rights are universal principles. As nations, we have not only the right but also the responsibility to follow the human rights situation in other countries. It is therefore important that Finland, too, is a target of this type of monitoring,” Foreign Minister Tuomioja stated.
When the students asked about Syria, the Foreign Minister said that it is the greatest tragedy in the world’s recent history. “The only sustainable solution is to bring the war to an end. It is necessary to create a secure environment in Syria so those who have fled can return to their homes.” The Foreign Minister pointed out that the neighbouring states – Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – carry a great burden in helping Syrians, and they need support.
Ahtisaari Day culminated in a public event at the University of Eastern Finland with a discussion by President Martti Ahtisaari, Chairman of the Board of CMI (Crisis Management Initiative), Professor of Sociology JuhoSaari, Kristiina Kouros, Acting Director of the Human Rights Centre, and Jukka Tuononen, Director of the Crisis Management Centre Finland. The moderator of the discussion was Jari Tourunen, Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Savon Sanomat.
The topics discussed during the event were the situation in the Middle East and Syria, as well as social peace in Finland. Jari Tourunen, the Editor-in-Chief of Savon Sanomat, asked President Ahtisaari whether he was concerned about a fair society.
“No,” he replied. “I will fight for it. I don’t see how we could allow what we have achieved to slip away. It is important that everyone – whether born into a poor or a rich family – for instance gets a good education. But each one should also make use of these rights,” Ahtisaari said.
Hate speech also emerged as a key theme of the discussion.
“It’s no different from what is happening abroad. Only we haven’t seen the most radical phenomena that are associated with hate speech. When enough 20-year-old young men are idle, then things start to happen, “ said Jukka Tuononen of the Crisis Management Centre Finland.
A glimpse of next year’s Ahtisaari Days was seen already on Wednesday, when schoolchildren in Turku organized a flashmob event at the Hansatori there. Nearly a hundred young people surprised those present by singing and dancing, among others, the ‘peace jenkka’. The surprise event advertised next year’s Ahtisaari Days which Turku will be responsible for organizing.