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Juho Kusti Paasikivi president of Finland, 1946-56

The Finnish statesman Juho Kusti Paasikivi was a leading proponent of the relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union that permitted Finland's postwar development. For decades, Paasikivi had been the leading noncommunist Finn advocating reconciliation with the Soviet Union. Before World War I, he had been on Old Finn and a Compliant, who advocated accommodation with Russification. In the negotiations over the Treaty of Dorpat in 1920, he had argued for drawing Finland's border farther away from Leningrad. In the fall of 1939, he had recommended giving in to some of the Soviet demands, because he considered the ensuing war avoidable. He had also opposed Finland's entry into the Continuation War.

As a former prime minister under the Finnish White government of 1918 and as a member of the Conservative National Coalition Party (Kansallinen Kokoomuspuolve--KOK), Paasikivi was politically an anticommunist. His lifelong study of history, however, convinced him that Finland's policies toward the Soviet Union needed to be governed by pragmatism. By late 1944, Finland's previous policy of antagonism to the Soviet Union had been shown to be counterproductive, because it had nearly led to Finland's extinction as an independent state. Summoned out of private life to serve -- first as prime minister from October 1944 to March 1946 and then as president from March 1946 to March 1956 -- Paasikivi established the policy of accommodation with the Soviet Union that, with time, became almost universally accepted among the Finns. The change in Finland's policy was so marked that some observers considered the post-1944 years to be the era of the "Second Republic."

The underlying assumption of Juho Kusti Paasikivi's foreign policy was that the Soviets could tolerate the existence of an independent Finland only because Finland was peripheral to the Soviet Union's main strategic interests in Central Europe. Paasikivi sought to reinforce that Soviet attitude by actively demonstrating that Finland would never again be a source of danger to the Soviet Union. The combination of traditional neutrality plus friendly measures toward the Soviets was known as the Paasikivi Line. Continued by Paasikivi's successor as president, Urho Kekkonen (in office 1956-81), the policy came to be known as the so-called Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line. It remained the foundation of Finland's foreign policy in the late 1980s.

Paasikivi's statesmanship was rewarded in 1955, when the Soviet Union returned the Porkkala Peninsula to Finland, well before the end of the fifty-year lease granted in 1944. The return of Porkkala ended the stationing of Soviet troops on Finnish soil, and it strengthened Finland's claim to neutrality. The Soviets also allowed Finland to take a more active part on the international scene. In December 1955, Finland was admitted to the United Nations (UN); in that same year Finland joined the Nordic Council (see Foreign Relations , ch. 4). In the three parliamentary elections held during Paasikivi's presidency--those of 1948, 1951, and 1954--the SDP and the ML received the largest number of votes and provided the basis for several of the government coalitions. These so-called Red-Earth coalitions revived the prewar cooperation between these parties and laid the basis for their subsequent cooperation, which was a major feature of Finnish politics after World War II. The communist-dominated SKDL retained some power because of domestic discontent; in the elections of 1951 and 1954, it won more than 20 percent of the vote.

Domestic politics during Paasikivi's presidency were characterized by conflict and instability. During those ten years, 1946 to 1956, there were nine government coalitions, nearly one per year. The issues that divided the parties and brought such frequent changes of government were primarily economic, centering on the rising cost of living. One early attempt to solve conflicts among the various sectors of the economy was the so-called General Agreement made in 1946 between the Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiyhdistysten Keskusliitto--SAK) and the Confederation of Finnish Employers (Suomen Ty÷nantajain Keskusliitto--STK). The General Agreement, which called for compulsory negotiations between labor and management, was used as a basis for reconciling industrial disputes. Another milestone was the Castle Peace Agreement of 1951 that brought together the main economic interest groups for a wage and price freeze that helped to establish a precedent for wage and price control. Nevertheless, throughout these years there were frequent strikes.

The intensity of the conflict over economic issues was demonstrated by the general strike of 1956, the first general strike in Finland since November 1917. The cause of the nineteen- day general strike was an increase in food prices for which the trade unions demanded a wage increase as compensation. When the employers refused the wage increase, the trade unions called the general strike. More than 400,000 workers--about one-fifth of the total work force--participated, the flow of various vital supplies was disrupted, and some violence occurred. The strike ended when the employers agreed to the wage increases demanded by the unions. These wage increases, however, were largely cancelled out by subsequent rises in consumer prices.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:57:10 ZULU