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Tarja Halonen
11th President of Finland

Tarja Halonen

Tarja Halonen
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro 11th President of Finland
A.K.A. Harja Talonen, Tarja Kaarina Halonen
Is Politician Diplomat Lawyer
From Finland
Field Law Politics
Gender female
Birth 24 December 1943, Kallio, Helsinki, Helsinki sub-region, Uusimaa
Age 78 years
Politics Social Democratic Party of Finland
Spouse: Pentti Arajärvi
Children: Anna Halonen
The details (from wikipedia)


Tarja Kaarina Halonen ([tɑrjɑ kɑːrinɑ hɑlonen]; born 24 December 1943) is a Finnish politician who was the 11th President of Finland, serving from 2000 to 2012. She was the first female head of state in Finland and while she was in office, in 2003 and 2010–11, Finland also had female prime ministers (Anneli Jäätteenmäki and Mari Kiviniemi). Halonen held two appointments as a minister and served as a member of the parliament from 1979 to 2000 until her election to the presidency. In addition to her political career, Halonen had a long and extensive career in trade unions and different non-governmental organizations. Her work for advancing human rights has been notable. She was, among other things, an early proponent of gay rights, chairing the main Finnish gay rights organization Seta in 1980–1981.

Halonen rose from humble beginnings, having lived through the wartime as a daughter of a single mother in the Kallio working-class neighborhood in Helsinki. She graduated from the University of Helsinki, where she studied law from 1963 to 1968. She was active in student politics and served as the Social Affairs Secretary and Organization Secretary of the National Union of Students from 1969 to 1970. In 1971 she joined the Social Democratic Party and worked as a lawyer in the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions until she was elected to parliament in 1979.

Halonen served in the parliament of Finland for six terms, from 1979 to 2000, representing the constituency of Helsinki. She also had a long career in the city council of Helsinki, serving there from 1977 to 1996. She started her campaign for the presidency at the beginning of 1999 after President Martti Ahtisaari announced that he would not stand for a second term in the office. She easily won her party's nomination, and eventually got 40% of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections, and 51.6% in the second, thus defeating the Centre Party's Esko Aho and becoming the 11th president of Finland.

During her presidency, she was extremely popular among Finns: her approval ratings rose and reached a peak of 88% in December 2003. Even though her ratings were so good, she was re-elected not in the first round in the next presidential elections in 2006 but only in the second round, against National Coalition Party candidate Sauli Niinistö by 51.8%–48.2%. Ineligible to run in the 2012 presidential elections because of term limits, Halonen left office on 1 March 2012 and was succeeded by Niinistö.

Halonen is widely known for her interest in human rights issues. In 1980–81 Halonen served as the chairman of Seta, the main LGBT rights organization in Finland. During her presidency, she has participated actively in discussion of women's rights and problems of globalization. In 2006, she was mentioned by many sources as a potential candidate for the United Nations Secretary-General selection, but later she stated that she wanted to finish her term as president before thinking about other career options.

Halonen is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.

In 2009, Forbes named her among the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world.

Early life and career

5-year-old Tarja Halonen in 1948.

Tarja Halonen was born on 24 December 1943 in the district of Kallio which is a traditional working-class area in central Helsinki. Her mother Lyyli Elina Loimola was a set-dresser and her father Vieno Olavi Halonen worked as a welder. Halonen's parents married each other at the beginning of World War II and Tarja was born a few years later. Vieno Halonen was at the frontline and Lyyli Halonen was working in a shoe factory when their daughter was born. After the war the couple decided to get a divorce, and in 1950 Lyyli Halonen married her new husband Thure Forss, who worked as an electrician and was very active in the working-class community.

Both Halonen's mother and her stepfather influenced her world view extensively. Halonen later said that her mother was a true survivor, always an extremely active and resilient person who valued good, honest and modest hardworking people. When she entered politics, Halonen stated that these are also the qualities and attributes she respects in people.

In 1950 she began her studies in Kallio Elementary school from where she later moved to Kallio Gymnasium and finally finished her matriculation examination in 1962. She began to study Art History in the University of Helsinki in 1962 but in autumn 1963 she changed her studies to law, and obtained her Master of Laws degree in 1968 specializing in criminal law.

She began to work as a lawyer, already before obtaining her degree, in a credit surveillance company Luotonvalvonta oy in 1967. After working there for a few years, she was hired by the National Union of University Students in Finland to work as a Social Affairs and General Secretary from 1969 to 1970. Her work in the Union spurred her interest in politics, and in 1970 she obtained a post as a lawyer in the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, being the first female ever to work as a lawyer in the Union.

In 2012, Tarja Halonen joined the Nizami Ganjavi International Center Board, it is a cultural, non-profit, non-political organization dedicated to the memory of Persian poet, Nizami Ganjavi, the study and dissemination of his works, the promotion of the principles embodied in his writings, the advancement of culture and creative expression, and the promotion of learning, dialogue, tolerance and understanding between cultures and people.

Political career: 1970–2000

Trade unionist

In 1971 Halonen decided to join the Social Democratic Party of Finland which had close ties with the trade unions where she worked as a lawyer from 1970 to 1974.

In early 1970 she was elected to represent Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions in a committee that called for the recognition of the German Democratic Republic. Later she became the Vice-President of the committee, which lobbied then-President Urho Kekkonen. During the presidential elections of 2006 she was criticized by rivals for this. She responded that the committee was formed by members from many different political parties including conservative parties. In 1973 Finland recognized both the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany.

First elections

In 1974 Prime Minister Kalevi Sorsa appointed Halonen as his parliamentary secretary. She became acquainted with the world of Finnish politics and government and her political career took a great step forward, as she went on to hold a number of public offices. Sorsa later said that he wanted his parliamentary secretary to have good ties with the trade unions of Finland and have skills in jurisprudence.

Working in the Parliament made Halonen even more interested in politics and she decided to take part in the municipal elections of 1976. She was elected to the Helsinki City Council, a position she held continuously for five terms from 1977 to 1996. Additionally, in 1979 she was elected to the Parliament of Finland as a representative of the Helsinki constituency. She served five full terms and less than a year of her sixth term in the parliament until her inauguration as President in 2000. In the Parliament her first formal post was as Chairman of the Social Committee from 1984 to 1987.

Minister career

In 1987, Halonen was appointed by Prime Minister Harri Holkeri to be the Minister of Social Affairs and Health in the government, a position she held until 1990. In addition to this, she served as Minister of Nordic Cooperation from 1989 until 1991, the same year in which she was also appointed chairman of the International Solidarity Foundation, a post she relinquished in 2000.

From 1990 to 1991 she served as Minister of Justice, and from 1995 until her election as President she served as the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the government of her Social Democratic colleague Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen.

2000 Presidential campaign

Halonen announced in 1999 that she wished to stand as a candidate for President in the 2000 Presidential elections. In the preliminary elections of the Social Democrats Halonen ran against Pertti Paasio, a member of the European Parliament and former party chairman, and Jacob Söderman, the European Ombudsman. The incumbent, Martti Ahtisaari, refused to run in party preliminaries and thus announced that he would not run for a second term. Halonen won the preliminaries by a landslide, getting 7800 of the total of 12,800 votes.

Halonen was a surprising candidate as she didn't represent many traditional values: She was known as a left-wing social democratic party member, who lived in a domestic partnership, was a single parent and had resigned from the national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. While Halonen started from fourth place in the presidential election polls, surprisingly in the first round of the elections she got the most votes, 40.0%. Her nearest opponent, the former Prime Minister Esko Aho of the Centre Party, got 34.4%.

Since neither of the two candidates got over 50% of the votes, a second round was held as required by Finnish Law. In the second round, Halonen narrowly defeated her opponent with 51.6% against 48.4% thus becoming Finland's first female President. Her first term began on 1 March 2000.

First term in office: 2000–2006

With then President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in 2002.

After her narrow election victory in the first election, Halonen's approval ratings rose and reached a peak of 88% in December 2003.

In a 2001 Halonen said that she is worried about the Russian response if NATO approved membership bids by Baltic countries. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga asked what she meant and whether Halonen is actively opposing NATO membership of Baltic countries.

In the Iraqgate scandal, Halonen's advisor Martti Manninen leaked confidential documents to the Centre Party leader Anneli Jäätteenmäki, who had become Prime Minister. The revelations led to the resignation of Jäätteenmäki.

Halonen has opposed the use of landmines in Finnish military doctrine.

Halonen has defended cluster bombs and did not sign a treaty which would have banned Finland from using these kinds of weapons.

2006 Presidential campaign

On 20 May 2005, Halonen held a press conference in Mäntyniemi where she announced her willingness to run for a second term. Officially, this was the desired answer for the SDP delegation that had visited her two days earlier. In addition to her own party's support, the leader of the Left Alliance, Suvi-Anne Siimes, gave her support for Halonen's future campaign.

SAK openly lobbied for her re-election. It used its members' money on mudslinging campaigns on behalf of Halonen. In those flyers, "Niinistö is presented as the horror of worker, whereas SAK-supported Halonen is like a worker's dream". Halonen said she approved of the flyers.

A study analyzed newspaper articles and concluded that the main newspaper Helsingin Sanomat produced almost exclusively positive tone stories about Halonen and much more negative tone articles about candidates Niinistö, Vanhanen and Hautala.

American talk show host Conan O'Brien made recurring jokes about Halonen on his show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, because of his own resemblance to her. He endorsed Halonen and produced humorous mock campaign ads and attack ads against her opponents. He went as far as visiting Finland and meeting Halonen.

On 19 November, the SDP's party council meeting was held; praised as "the president of the whole nation", she was unanimously chosen as the presidential candidate. Shortly thereafter, the party council of the Left Alliance gave the party's official support to Halonen.

Halonen's received 46% of the first round vote in the election. Sauli Niinistö (of the National Coalition Party) was second with 24%. They faced each other in a runoff on 29 January 2006, where Halonen was re-elected with 51.8% of the vote against Mr. Niinistö's 48.2%. The re-election was a close call. She led in the advance voting, but she eventually received fewer votes on the actual voting day than Mr. Niinistö did.

Second term in office: 2006–2012

Tarja Halonen (right) meeting with the third President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and the then Prime Minister of Finland Mari Kiviniemi (left) in 2010.

In 2008, Halonen nominated SDP-affiliated Ritva Viljanen for a second term in the Interior Ministry. The Council of State had nominated Ilkka Laitinen, who was unambiguously seen as the most competent candidate. Over the course of the past 50 years, the President had previously only once chosen to not obey the Council of State consensus, leading to Halonen thusly being accused of outright cronyism.

In September 2008, Halonen was perceived to insult Estonia by saying that the Estonians suffer from "post-Soviet stress condition". Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves commented on the issue, saying that "Estonia has never condemned, and will not condemn foreign affairs decisions of another EU country. It neither will assess psychiatric state of other EU countries". In 2009, Halonen rejected calls to apologize for Finland's attitude towards Estonian independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

At the end of her second term Halonen's presidency and economic views received harsh criticism from Björn Wahlroos, the chairman of the two largest banks in Finland.

Political views

Halonen together with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, then President of Brazil.

Early in her political career Halonen represented the far left wing of her former party (Social Democrat). She publicly opposed the proposed free trade agreement of the European Economic Community (EEC, later European Union) in 1973, by signing a petition along with 500 other more-or-less prominent social democrats and socialists. As an employee of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, Halonen advocated diplomatic recognition of the German Democratic Republic. Otherwise she was loyal to President Kekkonen's foreign policy, which was founded on Finnish neutrality and good relations with the Soviet Union.

Throughout her political career, Halonen has described herself as supporter of international solidarity. She describes herself as a "relative pacifist", meaning that she doesn't support unilateral disarmament. She has strongly defended the President's role as the commander in chief of the military. She opposes NATO membership. Her strong stands on these issues have characterised her presidential term and shaped Finnish foreign policy, in part in cooperation with the like-minded former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Erkki Tuomioja.

Halonen has publicly supported SAK involvement in politics.

The Constitution of Finland and Halonen's decision to take part in some European Union meetings with the Prime Minister has created the so-called "problem of two dinner plates" in Finland. Since most other countries only have their Prime Ministers representing them, it was also decided in Finland that the task is reserved for the Prime Minister in most cases.

On 20 March 2013, Halonen publicly voiced her support for same-sex marriage.

Personal life

Halonen and her husband Dr. Pentti Arajärvi in 2010.

President Halonen says her interests include art history, the theatre and swimming. Halonen had two cats as of 2005. She says she speaks Finnish, Swedish, and English, and is studying Estonian.

On 26 August 2000, President Halonen married her longtime partner, Dr. Pentti Arajärvi, in a civil ceremony at her official residence, Mäntyniemi, after a relationship of more than fifteen years. Halonen's adult daughter Anna, and Arajärvi's adult son Esko, acted as witnesses. Both children are from previous relationships.

She promotes Finland in her personal accoutrements, such as wearing a Moomin watch.

In the 1960s, she left the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, to which the majority of Finns belong, to protest against its policy of taxing church members and its stance against female priests. Today, the church accepts women as priests and Halonen has stated that she has no personal reason not to return to the church but refrains from doing so in order not to give a signal that might be misinterpreted. In the 1990s, Halonen acted as the chairman of Suomen setlementtiliitto, a Christian social work organization. After her presidential term, Halonen rejoined the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. According to her statements, she had previously refrained from it as it might have been considered an attempt to garner political support. Since then, Halonen has even preached publicly in a divine service of her home parish of Kallio. This is a privilege that the parish priest may grant only in exceptional cases to persons known for their Christian conviction.

In 1980–1981 Halonen served as the chairman of Seta, the main LGBT rights organization in Finland. When she became Minister for Justice in 1990, there were high hopes among Seta members that she would stand up for gay rights.

According to her authorized biography published in 2005, Halonen is critical of some unnamed members of the Finnish civil service for being gay or lesbian and not coming out and campaigning for sexual equality. She accused these closeted homosexuals of reaping the benefits of other people's work for sexual equality without contributing themselves.

Chronology of her political career

  • Member of the Social Democratic Party 1971–2000
  • Vice-President of the GDR Recognizion Committee 1972–1973
  • Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary 1974–1975
  • Member of Helsinki City Council 1977–1996
  • Member of Parliament (Helsinki constituency) 1979–2000
  • Member of the Parliamentary Social Affairs Committee 1979–1986 (chair 1985–1986)
  • Deputy member of the Parliamentary Commerce Committee 1979–1982
  • Presidential elector 1979–1986
  • Member of the Parliamentary Trustees of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland 1980–1984
  • Deputy member, Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee 1982–1986
  • Minister of Social Affairs and Health 1987–1990
  • Minister of Nordic Cooperation 1989–1991
  • Minister of Justice 1990–1991
  • Member and vice chair of the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee 1991–1995
  • Member of the Parliamentary Grand Committee 1993–1995 (chair 1995)
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs 1995–2000
  • President of Finland 2000–2012

Honours and awards

Tarja Halonen Coat of Arms


National honours

  •  Finland: Former Grand Master Grand Cross of the Order of the Cross of Liberty
  •  Finland: Former Grand Master Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the White Rose
  •  Finland: Former Grand Master Grand Cross of the Order of the Lion

Foreign honours

  •  Austria: Grand Cross of the Order of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria, Special Class
  •  Belgium: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold I
  •  Brazil: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Southern Cross
  •  Chile: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Merit
  •  Croatia: Grand Cross of the Order of King Tomislav
  •  Denmark: Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Elephant
  •  Denmark: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Dannebrog
  •  Estonia: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana
  •  Estonia: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the White Star
  •  France: Grand Cross of the Order of the Legion of Honour
  •  Germany: Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Special Class
  •  Greece: Grand Cross of the Order of the Redeemer
  •  Greece: Grand Cross of the Order of Honour
  •  Iceland: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Falcon
  •  Italy: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic
  •  Japan: Knight Grand Cordon with Collar of the Order of the Chrysanthemum
  •  Kazakhstan: Grand Collar of the Order of the Golden Eagle
  •  Latvia: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Three Stars
  •  Liberia: Grand Cross of the Order of the Pioneers of Liberia
  •  Lithuania: Grand Cross with Chain of the Order of Vytautas the Great
  •  Luxembourg: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau
  •  Netherlands: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the House of Orange
  •  Norway: Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of St. Olav
  •  Qatar: Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Merit
  •  Poland: Grand Cross of the Order of the White Eagle
  •  Portugal: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Prince Henry
  •  Romania: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Star of Romania
  •  Russia: Recipient of the Medal of Pushkin
  •  Saudi Arabia: Grand Cross of the Order of Abdulaziz al Saud
  •  Senegal: Grand Cross of the Order of the Lion
  •  Slovakia: Grand Cross of the Order of the White Double Cross
  •  Slovenia: Member of the Decoration for Exceptional Merits
  •  Spain: Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Isabella the Catholic
  •  Sweden: Member Grand Cross with Collar of the Royal Order of the Seraphim
  •  Sweden: Member Grand Cross of the Royal Order of the Polar Star
  •  United Kingdom: Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath


  • Finland University of Helsinki, Faculty of Philosophy, 2010
  • Russia Kazan (Volga region) Federal University, 2010
  • Finland Theatre Academy Helsinki, 2009
  • Sweden Umeå University, Sweden, 2009
  • United States University of Minnesota Duluth, 2008
  • Finland Helsinki University of Technology, 2008
  • Armenia Yerevan State University, 2005
  • Estonia University of Tartu, 2004
  • Nicaragua University of Bluefiels, 2004
  • Finland University of Turku, 2003
  • United States Finlandia University, 2003
  • China Chinese Academy of Forestry, 2002
  • Hungary Eötvös Loránd University, 2002
  • United Kingdom University of Kent, 2002
  • South Korea Ewha Womans University, 2002
  • Finland Helsinki School of Economics, 2001
  • Finland University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law, 2000

In popular culture

A long-running joke, which stems from the recurring segment "Conan O'Brien Hates My Homeland", is that American talk show host Conan O'Brien resembles Tarja Halonen. After joking about this for several months (which led to his endorsement of her campaign), O'Brien travelled to Finland, appearing on several television shows and meeting President Halonen. The trip was filmed and aired as a special.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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