On the Fringes with Elizabeth Stewart

Naked Networking

Embassy Magazine was curious to learn of steamy scenes taking place in the basement of the Finnish Embassy. It’s nothing illicit, mind, simply Finland’s unique brand of ‘sauna diplomacy’.

Last Friday the Embassy invited female colleagues (the Embassy editor included) to a Ladies Night of nearly-naked networking in the mission’s purpose-built sauna.

“This is not something new,” Finnish Ambassador Pekka Huhtaniemi tells us. “We have found that you can sweat out a lot of issues in the sauna.”

He’s not wrong. Probing deeper, we found that the sauna is the secret weapon of the Finnish diplomatic armoury.

Urho Kekkonen, a Cold War-era president of Finland, was reputed to have used the sauna to ‘tenderise’ the Soviets. Legend has it that when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev came to Finland for Kekkonen’s 60th birthday in 1960, the two stayed in the sauna until dawn. The result? The visit concluded with a communiqué in which the Soviet government expressed its preparedness to support Finland’s desire to cooperate with the West.

Former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Laureate Martti Ahtisaari also used sauna diplomacy when he was Ambassador to Tanzania. Apparently the Tanzanian Foreign Minister John Malecela, who later on became Tanzania’s prime minister, was a regular in the Ambassador’s sauna.

In DC the Finns have even set up a Diplomatic Sauna Society, dating back to 2003. Contacts are invited over for some Finnish fare before everyone gets hot and sweaty in the sauna. Once initiated guests get a ‘sauna diploma’. Here at Embassy we think it’s a novel way for cultural exchange and we hope the idea catches on in London.