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News, 8/10/2017 | Embassy of Finland, Washington

Finland’s Faces in the U.S.: Fascinating Time to Be in Washington

Minister Counselor Petri Hakkarainen is the new head of the political affairs team at the Embassy of Finland.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I have been working for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs since 2006. My very first position was in the Unit for North America, so in a way this posting brings me back to where I started from. In the meantime I have worked at our Embassy in Berlin as well as at the Unit for Policy Planning and Research in Helsinki. Prior to moving to Washington, I spent two years as a Senior Diplomatic Advisor at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. I am a historian by training: I studied political history and international relations at the University of Helsinki and wrote my doctorate in modern history at the University of Oxford.

What do you think is the most important aspect of your new job?

Petri Hakkarainen
Petri Hakkarainen

The political affairs team of the Embassy covers a really extensive range of issues, regionally as well as thematically. And we are operating in an environment where changes can be rapid and difficult to foresee. Making sure that we do the right things at the right moment is therefore crucial. Faced with a constant information overload it is easy to get stuck with the latest headlines and the shiny object of the day, losing sight of the big picture. Urgent issues have to be dealt with, but we should also constantly remind ourselves of the need to put the daily events in a broader context.

There is a lot of interest in U.S. politics in Finland these days. Anyone can follow the news via traditional and social media. It does not make sense for us to try to compete with media outlets in our own reporting. Instead we should focus on identifying and analyzing those currents in the U.S. that are of particular importance to Finnish decision-makers. This is the real added value that we can provide from our presence here. And as always in diplomacy, it is a two-way street: we also actively work in presenting and advocating Finnish views to our American counterparts. This year, with our centennial, we have an additional asset in telling the story of Finland.

How has you time in Washington been so far?

In one word: busy. I arrived in Washington in April, and there has not really been a quiet moment since that. And I mean that in a positive sense: in this line of work it would be hard to think of a more interesting and motivating job than this. Washington itself is a really charming city. Everybody told me so in advance, but I have still been surprised by how easy it is to feel at home here. People are friendly and the atmosphere is very open and welcoming.

What are your expectations for your time in the U.S.?

This is a fascinating time to be in the U.S. for anybody who is interested in international relations and history. I had promised myself that I would start keeping a diary of my time here, but to be honest, I have yet to learn to include that in my daily routines. I think the next few years, not only in the U.S., will be something that future historians look back at. And with the benefit of hindsight they will be able to point at some decisive moments that really changed the course of history. For us contemporaries living in the thick of it all, it is much more difficult to identify those turning points, but it should not stop us from trying.

More broadly speaking, I really look forward to exploring the country and getting to know it better. Before moving here, I had visited Washington a few times and together with my wife we have made a couple of longer holiday trips across the U.S., but we have never actually lived here. My wife being a geographer and myself a bit of a history nerd, there should be plenty of things for the both of us to see out there. At some point we set ourselves the ambitious goal of visiting all 50 states during our time here, let’s see how far we actually get.

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Updated 8/10/2017

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