Red hair and a square face

Tarja Halonen has red hair and popular manners, in a ladylike kind of way. So has Conan O’Brien, except that his manners are more gentlemanly. Tarja Halonen has a rather square face. So has Conan O’Brien. So what? Red hair in combination with a square face is shared by millions, so the Tarja-Conan pair-wise likeness shouldn’t be all that remarkable. But this is precisely what it has turned out to be, most remarkably. What is more, it’s turning into a matter with political implications.

Because Tarja Halonen is none other than the incumbent President of Finland, soon up for re-election (January 2006). Conan O’Brien, the NBC talk show host, is apparently the one who discovered that they look alike. He has repeatedly made a point of his remarkable likeness with the President of Finland. And Finnish media have repeatedly made a point of that point. The result is that the Halonen-O’Brien likeness question is becoming an important factor in the upcoming Finnish presidential election.

In the news again, at long last

A small, peaceful, well-to-do country like Finland is seldom mentioned in the international news. Last time was in 1939, when little Finland bravely and successfully fought off Stalin’s attacking Muscovite hordes. The huge mobile phone company Nokia (approximate Finnish pronunciation "naugia", not "nauckia") is Finnish, but most customers don’t know that. So being mentioned on a big US talk show is indeed welcome PR for the Republic of Finland and its electorate, not to mention its President.

Not that Tarja Halonen particularly needs red hair support from the New World, with or without a square face. After a respected career as a social-democratic politician (Foreign Minister, Minister of Justice, et al) Halonen has become an immensely popular President (approval rates of 94-97%) in all Finnish quarters. She is also highly regarded internationally. Polls have consistently predicted that she will win the 2006 election in the first round, gaining significantly more than 50% of the votes. But there are indications that her international red hair connection will make the polls hit the roof.

Presidential cohabitation

Tarja Halonen (60), a lawyer by profession, caused a minor stir when she moved into the Finnish presidential palace in 2000, as Finland's first female President. Not that the Finns minded, but some people thought that it would shock international opinion if she took her long-time cohabitee (Dr. Pentti Arajärvi) with her into the presidential bedroom. So some months after taking office she bowed to the pressure and officially married Dr. Arajärvi. On the other hand, Halonen seldom ducks controversial issues. In the early 1980’s she served as a straight chairman of SETA, the Finnish gay and lesbian rights organisation.


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