”President Ahtisaari is now going to come and meet you” was a sentence that made our hearts skip a beat or two today when we were visiting the office of the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) in Helsinki.
During the preceding hour the staff had told us about the work CMI does before, during and after conflicts all around the world but we had no idea that the founder and chairperson of the board of the organization would join us as well. Tina and the Finnish Eustory coordinator Hanna knew of the possibility to meet the former Finnish president, but they hadn’t told this to the rest of us in order to avoid disappointment if the meeting couldn’t be arranged. We were lucky that President Ahtisaari was even in Finland during our visit, as he travels an average of 100-150 days in a year. In fact, he had just returned from Bangkok a few days ago.
President Ahtisaari wanted us to ask him about things which we were interested in, and the first one to recover from the surprise and open his mouth was Malte from Germany. He wanted to know what motivates the 76-year-old Ahtisaari to keep on working in the field of crisis management. President Ahtisaari responded by telling us about his background as a Karelian evacuee and how he – according to his own words – became a “global civil servant”. “When I wake up in the morning, I don’t think that this is my last day, I think that this is my first day”, he highlighted to us.
President Ahtisaari is involved in many organizations – for instance, he is co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, chairman of the Independent Commission on Turkey, and yes, he even belongs to the board of Patrons of Eustory – but as if that wasn’t enough, he also belongs to the Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela in order to bring independent global leaders together. President Ahtisaari pointed out that he is in fact one of the younger Elders. “How could I retire, when Jimmy Carter, for example, will be 89 this year?”, the former President said. We took a moment to find out what Anniina from Finland had to say about meeting Ahtisaari at the CMI:
Earlier during the day we spent some time at Ressu, where another group of IB students joined us for an exercise in opinion-forming on the fly. We were given statements dealing with various forms of national identity and had to place ourselves on an axis of I agree-I disagree by physically moving in the area between two chairs symbolizing both extremes.
This put our participants and guests to the test, because you could not necessarily remain standing in the neutral middle without motivating the basis for your position. The topics that were covered inspired lively debate and the opinions presented were diverse enough to stretch over the entire spectrum of agreeing and disagreeing.
Here’s Alvaro from Spain and Vivien from Germany taking separate stances on the statement “My national identity is very important to me”:
Later we kept dealing with the concept of national identity and spent some time discussing a part of the work that the participants had to complete before coming to Helsinki. Our Eustorians could be seen comparing national symbols and phenomena sitting in the grass of a nearby park. Most of the participants had brought a physical object that somehow represented their country, and the results of this sunny outdoor session were presented after dinner. We invited Desiree to talk about the object she brought from Spain and how it relates to national identity:
Now it is time for our Eustorians to sleep on how to best structure their final projects in a way that relates to what has been covered during the week and also resonates with their own particular skills and preferences. Thinking outside of the box is very much encouraged – find out what these creative young minds bring to the table as we wrap things up tomorrow!