Urho Kekkonen

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Urho Kekkonen
Urho Kekkonen

Urho Kaleva Kekkonen (September 3, 1900August 31, 1986) was a Finnish politician who served as Prime Minister of Finland (19501956) and later as President of Finland (19561981). Kekkonen continued the "active neutrality" policy of President Juho Kusti Paasikivi, which came to be known as the Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line. This policy allowed Finland to live with both the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Warsaw Pact. Kekkonen was the longest-serving President of Finland.


Early life

Kekkonen was born in Pielavesi in the Savo region of Finland, but he lived his childhood in Kainuu. His family were farmers (though not poor tenant farmers, as some of his supporters claimed). His school years did not go smoothly. During the Finnish Civil War, he fought for the White Guard and led a firing squad in Hamina.

In independent Finland, Kekkonen worked as a policeman and journalist. He moved to Helsinki in 1921 to study law, graduating as a Master of Laws in 1926. In 1927, he became a lawyer, but had to resign due to 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 renamed the "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. Kekkonen also served as Minister of Justice from 1937 to 1939. He was not a member of the cabinets during the Winter War or the Continuation War. In 1945, he again became Minister of Justice and had to deal with the war-responsibility trials. He also served as Speaker of the Eduskunta from 1948 to 1950.

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 "Finlandization." He was authoritarian and embarrassed his opponents in public. He was ousted in 1953, although he returned as Prime Minister from 1954 to 1956.

Term as president

In the presidential election of 1956, Kekkonen defeated the Social Democrat Karl-August Fagerholm by two votes in the electoral college (151-149) and was elected as president. 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; the country at the time was some times called Kekkoslovakia. Because of defectors like Oleg Gordievsky and the opening of the Soviet archives it is known that keeping Kekkonen in power was the main task of Soviet Union considering Finland.

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. It is debated whether this was a fortunate coincidence for Kekkonen or part of Soviet pressure campaign to strengthen Kekkonen's position in the upcoming elections.

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.

Kekkonen was re-elected normally in 1968. In 1973, he was re-elected by emergency law. In 1978 there were no serious rivals left.

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.

  • 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 foreign policy was enhanced

Such was his impact on the Finnish political scene that his face was on the 500 marks banknote during his term as president. The series of Finnish mark banknotes used at this time was the second-to-last design series in the entire history of the currency. Very few Finns have ever got their face on a mark note while still alive, and Kekkonen was the last one to do so. Kekkonen's predecessor, Juho Kusti Paasikivi, had his face on the ten marks note at the time. A popular joke at the time was that by covering everything except the right edge of Paasikivi's face, you ended up with something resembling a mouse, which was said to be the only animal illustration in the entire design series. This banknote series was followed in the 1990s by a series by the famous Finnish designer Erik Bruun, which became the last mark note series ever, as Finland switched to the Euro in 2002.

Later life

In 1981, Kekkonen begun to suffer from an undisclosed disease that seemed to affect his brain functions. In the same year, Mauno Koivisto had already defied Kekkonen, but he still refused 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.

Preceded by:
Juho Kusti Paasikivi
President of Finland
Succeeded by:
Mauno Koivisto
Preceded by:
Karl-August Fagerholm
Prime Minister of Finland
Succeeded by:
Sakari Tuomioja
Preceded by:
Ralf Trngren
Prime Minister of Finland
Succeeded by:
Karl-August Fagerholm

Template:End boxde:Urho Kaleva Kekkonen es:Urho Kekkonen ko:우르호 케코넨 pl:Urho Kaleva Kekkonen ru:Кекконен, Урхо Калева fi:Urho Kekkonen sv:Urho Kekkonen


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