Urho Kekkonen

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Kekkonen redirects here. For the Finnish porn star, see Mariah Kekkonen.
Urho Kekkonen
Urho Kekkonen

Urho Kaleva Kekkonen (September 3, 1900August 31, 1986) was a Finnish politician who served as Prime Minister of Finland (1950-1953, 1954-1956) 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, the son of Juho Kekkonen and Emilia Pylvänäinen, but spent his childhood in Kainuu. His family were farmers (though not poor tenant farmers, as some of his supporters claimed). His father, originally a farm-hand and forestry worker, eventually became a forestry manager and stock agent at Halla Ltd. It was claimed that Kekkonen's family had lived in a poor farmhouse without a chimney; however, it was later found out that the photographic evidence to back up this claim was fake, and that the chimney had simply been retouched off the photographs depicting Kekkonen's childhood home. 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. Kekkonen personally admitted to having killed a man in battle, but not to a mass execution of Red troops committed by his squad. However, a photograph taken at the time proves that Kekkonen was there during the execution.

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. During his studies he continued to work for the police. It was during this time that he met his future wife, Sylvi Uino, a typist at the police office. 1927, he became a lawyer and worked for the Association of Rural Municipalities. However, he had to resign in 1932 due to abrasive comments. At Helsinki University he was active in the Northern Ostrobothnian Students' Association and was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper Ylioppilaslehti 1927-1928. He was also an active athlete. His best achievement as a sportsman was to become Finnish high-jump champion (1.85 m) in 1924. The standing jump was his best discipline.

Early political career

Politically, he was a nationalist and his ideological roots lay in the nationalistic student politics of the newly independent Finland and and the redicalism of the right. In 1933, Kekkonen joined the Agrarian League (later renamed the Centre Party). That year he also became a civil servant at the Ministry of Agriculture and made his first attempt to get elected to Parliament.

His second try to get elected into parliament succeeded in 1936 and he became Interior Minister. Kekkonen also served as Justice Minister from 1937 to 1939, where he commited a procedure that was known as the "Tricks of Kekkonen" (Kekkosen konstit) when he tried to ban the right-wing extremist Patriotic Peoples' Movement (Isänmaallinen Kansanliike, IKL). The procedure was not entirely legal and was halted by the Supreme Court.

He was not a member of the cabinets during the Winter War or the Continuation War. He opposed the Moscow peace treaty in Parliament in March 1940 and during the Continuation War, he served as the director of the Karelian Evacuees' Welfare Centre from 1940 to 1943 and as the Ministry of Finance's commissioner for coordination from 1943 to 1945, his task being to rationalise public administration. 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 the 1950 Presidential election, Kekkonen was chosen as the candidate of the Agrarian Party and conducted a vigorous campaign against the incumbent President Juho Kusti Paasikivi. Kekkonen received 62 votes in the electoral college, while Paasikivi was re-elected with 171. After the election Paasikivi appointed Kekkonen as 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.

President of Finland

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 in its relations with Finland.

In April 1961 Kekkonen was already planning to dissolve parliament in order to influence the alliance behind his potential presidential rival Olavi Honka. In addition, the Soviet Union sent a diplomatic note in late October, citing an article of the FCMA treaty referring to the threat of war. Concerning this 'note crisis', the most common view is that the Soviet Union was motivated by a desire to ensure Kekkonen's re-election. After Honka dropped his candidacy, Kekkonen was re-elected by an overwhelming vote of 199 out of 300 electoral college votes in the 1962 Presidential election. As a result of the note crisis, genuine opposition to Kekkonen disappeared, and he acquired an especially strong - later even autocratic - status as the political leader of Finland.

Throughout his time as president, Kekkonen did his best to keep political rivals in check. The Centre Party's rival, National Coalition Party was kept in opposition despite good performance in elections. On a few occasions, the parliament was dissolved as the political composition did not please Kekkonen. Too prominent Centre Party members 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.

In the 1960s Kekkonen was responsible for a number of foreign-policy initiatives, involving for example the Nordic nuclear-free zone, the border agreement with Norway and a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1969. The purpose of these initiatives was to avoid the enforcement of the military articles in the FCMA treaty - in other words, military co-operation between Finland and the Soviet Union - and thus to strengthen Finland's attempt to practice a policy of neutrality. Following the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 pressure for neutrality increased. Kekkonen informed the Soviets in 1970 that he would not continue as president, nor would the FCMA treaty be extended, if the Soviet Union was no longer prepared to recognise Finland's neutrality.

Kekkonen was re-elected normally in 1968. In 1973, he was re-elected by emergency law which saw his presidency extended by four years. The elimination of any significant opposition and competition meant de facto political autocracy for Kekkonen. The year 1975 can be regarded as marking the zenith of his power, when he dissolved parliament and hosted the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Helsinki with the assistance of a caretaker government. In the 1978 Presidential election, with Kekkonen's candidacy being supported by the Social Democratic, Centre and National Coalition parties, there were no serious rivals left. Kekkonen won 259 out of the 300 electoral college votes, with his nearest rival, Raino Westerholm of the Christian Union. receving 24.

Later life

In 1981, Kekkonen begun to suffer from an undisclosed disease that seemed to affect his brain functions. In the same year, Prime Minister Mauno Koivisto had already defied Kekkonen and 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 at Tamminiemi in 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. 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 the President. Several of these changes have been initiated by Kekkonen's successors.

  • The terms of a President were limited to two
  • President's 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 Kekkonen's face was on the 500 Markka banknote during his term as President. The series of Finnish Markka 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 Markka note while still alive, and Kekkonen was the last one to do so.

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 Törngren
Prime Minister of Finland
Succeeded by:
Karl-August Fagerholm
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