Urho Kekkonen

(b. 1900)

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(b. Kajana, Finland, 3 Sept. 1900; d. Helsinki, 31 Aug. 1986)

Finnish; Prime Minister 1950–3, 1954–6, President 1956–81 The son of a forestry foreman, Kekkonen attended school in his native township and university in Helsinki. Here he graduated in law in 1926 and took his doctorate in 1936. From 1927 to 1931 he was a lawyer with a local government federation and 1933–6 with the Ministry of Agriculture. From 1936 to 1956 Kekkonen was an Agrarian (Centre) Party member of parliament and served as Speaker 1948–50. In 1936–7 he was Minister of Justice, in 1937–9 Minister of the Interior, and in 1944–6 Minister of Justice again.

In this latter post Kekkonen helped build bridges with the Soviet Union after the two Finnish-Russian wars. Similarly he helped bring about the 1948 Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union that laid the groundwork for Finnish neutrality policy. This reflected a subtle awareness of Soviet security fears and a determination to defend the democratic Finnish political system—though as President Kekkonen was not above using foreign policy considerations to his own domestic political advantage. He was greatly helped by establishing friendly personal relations with successive Soviet leaders, based partly on his earthy realism and partly on his ability to outlast even his hosts when it came to the consumption of hard liquor. In domestic politics Kekkonen skilfully defended the interests of the poorer agricultural areas of Finland, incorporated the Communists into the political system without prejudice to his country's freedom, and dominated the political scene from 1963 to 1975. In foreign policy the presidency gave him large powers which he used to help bring about free trade agreements with EFTA in 1961 and with the EC in 1973 while encouraging trade with the East to show a profit. He also rebuilt Finland's defences and hosted the 1975 Helsinki Conference on Security. In 1981 he was compelled by ill-health to resign office.

Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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