Famous landings at Helsinki Airport: Nelson Mandela, 1992
The human rights defender was in Finland two years after he was freed from prison and two years before he was to become the first black President of South Africa. What else made his visit to Helsinki important?
This series recalls famous visits and historical landings at Helsinki Airport. This time, we look back on Nelson Mandela’s first time in Finland in 1992, the year the country celebrated its 75th anniversary.
When Nelson Mandela arrived in Helsinki in May 1992, it had only been two years since he was freed from prison in South Africa after 27 years.
Amid growing domestic and international pressure, and with fears of a racial civil war, his release followed the relaxation of apartheid laws by South African President FW de Klerk. In 1994, Mandela would become the first black President of South Africa. The intervening years saw him evolve from political prisoner to mediator, philosopher and leader-in-waiting, making his visit to Finland rather significant.
The human rights defender was in the Finnish capital to congratulate the country on its 75th anniversary.
The human rights defender was in the Finnish capital to congratulate the country on its 75th anniversary and to thank the Finnish state for supporting human rights efforts during the apartheid period.
“We have every confidence that precisely because of your own history and respect for the right of nations to self-determination, you will continue to support our struggle for democracy, human rights and freedom against one of the most evil systems known to humankind – apartheid,” said Mandela during a luncheon given by the Prime Minister of Finland, Esko Aho.
The statesman mentioned that while in prison, he keenly followed Finland’s role in the independence struggle of Namibia, particularly through former President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari. “Given this background, we have no doubt that you understand and will support our
call for international monitoring teams to urgently investigate the horrific violence that has been unleashed against our people,” he continued.
In this same address, Mandela also showed his lighter side. “For those of us from the far South, reindeer and Lapland are the stuff dreams and fairy tales are made of, so it is quite fascinating to be here.” In his speech, he even said that he looked forward to stopping by Mannerheim Museum and Sibelius Monument.
Mandela retired as President in 1999, the year he visited Finland the second time. From 2004 until his death in 2013 at the age of 95, he gave up politics to focus on his family. The towering figure of Africa’s struggle for freedom chronicled his life in a 1995 autobiography called Long Walk to Freedom, which was turned into a biopic starring the British actor Idris Elba and released shortly after his passing.
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