Kalevi Sorsa – International Statesman

Kirjoittaja Hildur Boldt Hildur Boldt

Taisto Kalevi Sorsa was born on 21. December 1930 in Keuruu, Central Finland, to Oskari and Elsa Sofia Sorsa. As a youngster he was active in the Social Democratic Youth Movement, where he also met his spouse Elli Irene Lääkäri.

Before his political career Kalevi Sorsa worked as a journalist and a civil servant. In the 1960’s Sorsa served as the Secretary General of the Finnish UNESCO Committee in Paris. Sorsa felt at home in Paris and UNESCO’s field of work represented many of the cultural values he held dear.

Kalevi Sorsa’s political career began in earnest when he was rather unexpectedly chosen the Party Secretary of the Finnish Social Democratic Party in 1969. He then became a long-term leader of the SDP and the longest running Prime Minister of Finland forming four governments in the 1970’s and 80’s. The development of the Finnish welfare state advanced greatly under Sorsa’s leadership in the 1970’s and 80’s. Public services were developed, social security was strengthened and Finland became socially, economically and culturally more equal and prosperous. Kalevi Sorsa’s public reforms were characterised by growth optimism and a belief in the idea of equality. He combined social democratic ideology and practical reform.

Under Sorsa’s governments Finland was able to rise from the depths of a deep recession in the 1970’s and to become the fastest growing economy in Western Europe. Kalevi Sorsa has been described as a guardian of the ’Korpilampi-spirit’, the Finnish consensus, developer of the domestic economic life and promoter of international co-operation. In the 1980’s Sorsa’s governments outlined and founded the Ministry of the Enviroment.

Kalevi Sorsa can be considered the first Finnish Party President with a truly international outlook. He considered the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so important the he learnt it by heart. Sorsa was a member of the InterAction Council from 1992 to 2004. The Council prepared a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities, which it seeks to have adopted by the UN alongside the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In his last years Sorsa strongly promoted the contents of the Declaration.

The relationship with the Soviet Union, was a question of immense importance for Finland after World War II. Kalevi Sorsa was one of the most central persons in maintaining this relationship.

Despite strong resistance, Prime Minister Sorsa and President Kekkonen rammed through the EEC Free Trade Agreement, which later opened the door for membership in the European Union. Kalevi Sorsa actively promoted European integration.

In 1978 Kalevi Sorsa was elected the Chair of the Socialist International’s Working Group on Disarmament. Central support for this work was given by the President of the SI, Willy Brandt. Sorsa served as the Vice President of the SI from 1980 to 1996.

Sorsa’s last official international mission for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when he was already retired, was to lead secret negotiations for a peaceful solution to the Cyprus question.

At the end of his active political career Sorsa was nominated a member of the Board of the Bank of Finland. Retirement from the Bank of Finland in 1996 gave Sorsa the opportunity to return to his literary interests and to again engage in ideological debate, free from the restraints of day-to-day politics. Subsequently the readers of the social democratic daily ’Uutispäivä Demari’ got to know a feisty Sorsa, who was not afraid to speak his mind and readily debated various issues.

Kalevi Sorsa worked up until the end of his life. When he passed away in 2004 following a serious illness, he was still working on several literary projects. Kalevi Sorsa was an idealist, who perceived the surrounding world as a challenge. For Sorsa politics was the art of the possible, but never a goal in itself. Politics was something for the people and the environment; a tool for the establishment of a better world. Kalevi Sorsa was not a demagogue, but an educator, who valued the educational work of the labour movement. Characteristic of his actions was to make a difference, rather than to be seen.