Magazine article History Today

The Birth of Urho Kekkonen

Magazine article History Today

The Birth of Urho Kekkonen

Article excerpt

September 3rd, 1900

FOR MOST of the last millennium Finland has been dominated by either Sweden or Russia, and in 1809 the country was absorbed into the empire of the Tsars. Urho Kekkonen, Finnish president for twenty-five years to 1981, was to lead a small country living in the shadow of a powerful and imperialist neighbour. Born the son of a foreman lumberjack at Pielavesi in central Finland, he was seventeen when Finland took advantage of the Bolshevik Revolution to declare its independence; at eighteen he became an officer in the White Guard in a civil war against the Moscow-supported Reds.

Kekkonen took his law degrees at Helsinki University, where he helped to obliterate the Tsar's monogram on the university's facade with a coating of tar. A notable high-jumper and cross-country skier, in his thirties he became an Agrarian Party member of parliament. He was still sternly anti-Russian and after the defeat by the Russians in the war of 1939-40, he was one of only three MPs to vote against a peace which yielded Finnish territory to the USSR. The Finns fought on the German side against the Soviet Union in the Second World War, but managed to remain independent afterwards, though ceding territory again in 1944 when an armistice with the Soviets was agreed.

By now Kekkonen had changed his tune. In 1943, as the Agrarian Party's leader, he argued that 'strict neutrality' combined with `good neighbourliness' towards the Soviet Union was Finland's only hope of remaining independent. …

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