Urho Kaleva Kekkonen (September 3, 1900 - August 31, 1986) was a Finnish politician who served as Prime Minister of Finland from 1950 to 1956, and as the most long-standing president of Finland from 1956 to 1981. Kekkonen continued the neutrality policy of President Paasikivi, which came to be known as the Paasikivi-Kekkonen line.
|Table of contents|
2 Early political career
3 Term as president
4 Later life
Urho Kekkonen was born in the Savo region of Finland, but he lived his childhood in Kainuu. His family were farmers (though not poor tenant farmers, as his supporters claimed). His school years did not go smoothly. During the Finnish Civil War, he fought on the White side and led an execution squad in Hamina.
In independent Finland, Kekkonen worked as a policeman and a journalist. In 1927, he became a lawyer, but had to resign due to his abrasive comments. Politically, he was a nationalist, and close to right-wing radicalism. He was also an active athlete and columnist.
Early political career
In 1933, Kekkonen joined the Agrarian Party (later Centre Party). He was in Germany from 1932 to 1933. His second try to get elected into parliament succeeded in 1936 and he became Interior Minister. He was not a member of the cabinets during the Winter War or the Continuation War. In 1945, he became a minister of Justice and had to deal with the war-responsibility trials.
In 1950, Kekkonen lost the presidential election, but Juho Kusti Paasikivi selected him as a prime minister. In all his four cabinets he emphasized his role to create and maintain friendly relations with the Soviet Union. This was called in foreign countries as Finlandization. He was authoritarian and embarrassed his opponents in public. He was ousted in 1953.
Term as president
Kekkonen was elected president in 1956. As president, Kekkonen continued the neutrality policy of president Paasikivi, which came to be known as the Paasikivi-Kekkonen line. From the beginning he ruled with the assumption that the Soviet Union accepted only him.
In 1961, the Soviet Union demanded negotiations based on the military treaty, which helped Kekkonen oust his potential presidential rival Olavi Honka. Kekkonen's opposition disappeared when he accepted only cooperative cabinets.
Throughout his time as president, Kekkonen did his best to keep political rivals at check. The Center Party's rival, National Coalition Party (Finland) was kept in opposition despite good performance in elections. In a few occasions, the parliament was dissolved as the political composition did not please Kekkonen. Too prominent Center-partists often found themselves sidelined, as Kekkonen negotiated directly with the lower lever. The "Mill Letters" of Kekkonen were a continuous stream of directives to high officials, politicians, journalists etc.
The authoritarian behaviour of Kekkonen during his presidential term is one of the main reasons for the reforms of the Finnish Constitution in 1984-2003. In these reforms, the power of parliament and prime minister was increased at the expense of president. Several of these changes have been initiated by Kekkonen's successors.
Such was his impact on the Finnish political scene that his face was on the 500 Markkaa note during his term as president.
- The terms of president were limited to two
- Presidents role in cabinet building was restricted
- President is elected directly, not by an electoral college
- President may no longer dissolve the Parliament without the support of the Prime Minister
- Prime minister's role in shaping Finland's foreing policy was enhanced
Later lifeIn 1981, Kekkonen begun to suffer from undisclosed disease that seemed to affect his brain functions. In the same year, Mauno Koivisto had already defied Kekkonen by refusing to resign. In September, Kekkonen left for sick leave, and in October he resigned. There is no public report about his illness.
Kekkonen died 1986 and was buried with full honors. His heirs restricted access to his diaries. An authorized biography was commissioned from Juhani Suomi, who subsequently defended the interpretation of history therein and denigrated most other interpretations.
Some of the Kekkonen's actions are controversial in modern Finland. He often pulled a "Moscow card" when his authority was threatened. Still he was hardly the only Finnish politician with close relations to Soviet representatives.