The Governor in the Piazza

Image size 27 Kb Mikkeli is the capital and administrative centre of the Province of Eastern Finland, created when several smaller provinces were merged in 1997. Its heart has long been the market square, where "everyone meets everyone" in summer. Dozens of influential Helsinki figures and at least as many from abroad have summer residences in the beautiful lake-studded countryside around the town. There are plenty of statistics to back up Mikkeli's claim to be one of Finland's most popular holiday areas.

The first Governor of Eastern Finland, Pirjo Ala-Kapee, enjoys the market square, of which she has an excellent view from her office window. Her office is in a yellow-painted stone structure designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and completed in 1843.

"Mikkeli offers bustle and tranquillity in the right proportions," says Ala-Kapee. "Above all nature and its primeval force draw people here. Many of the country's important leaders retreat here to recharge their batteries. In the town itself, all services and events are within comfortable walking distance. The people of Mikkeli know they're privileged and appreciate it. When I had been chosen Governor, one of them asked me how it felt to get to paradise before I died."

"That a woman was chosen as Governor didn't even arouse a debate. Finland is a pioneer in gender equality; at base, that stems from our system of parliamentary elections, in which no so-called long lists are used. Women are not trampled underfoot by men in our Parliament. In my experience, they are often better than men as leaders; after all, it is women who take care of practical matters in the family and allocate tasks," she says. She plans to have a sign reading "Power and responsibility to the people!" made and hang it in her office.

Like everyone else, she sees the market square as the heart of Mikkeli. In the relaxed atmosphere there, it is easy to meet with other decision-makers and establish new relations. "This square is like a huge Italian piazza," she says.