Kallio, Kyösti (1873 - 1940)
President of Finland
Kyösti Kallio was a politician with a long-term vision. The central idea underlying his actions was to strengthen independence by integrating society through economic and social equality. The achievements of his career came especially in the periods of peaceful development when his tenacity and purposefully conciliatory attitude really came into their own. As president at the time of the Winter War, Kallio contributed in particular to maintaining and strengthening the nation's morale; the shaky state of his health to a large extent kept him out of political decision-making.
In 1937 Kyösti Kallio was elected as the fourth president of the Republic of Finland by the votes of the non-socialist Agrarian (Centre) Party and the Social Democrats. His election was the climax of a long life in politics and symbolised the process of internal integration that Finland had undergone since gaining independence. For the future of the country as a nation, the consensus born during the chaos of an incipient world war was a decisive factor. The central idea underlying Kallio's actions throughout his long political career had been to strengthen independence by integrating society through economic and social equality. As the most important means to this end, Kallio viewed land reform and settlement policy and the promotion of Finnish-language culture and education.
On the way to becoming a peasant politician
Kallio grew naturally into the role of a politician. His father was one of the municipal leaders in Ylivieska, and Kyösti gained practical familiarity with local self-government from childhood onwards. From 1895 onwards, in his new home district of Nivala, Kallio's higher level of education and his position as the owner of a large farm led to his being given community duties; he enjoyed these and was good at them, and he quickly came to occupy the most important local positions of trust. He contributed to almost all aspects of a rural community: business (especially cooperatives), municipal and parish administration and cultural and educational ventures, the most important of which was a youth club.
Already during his years at grammar school in Oulu, Kallio had adopted a constitutionalist, pro-Finnish outlook, and this was strengthened and broadened by his youth-club and cooperative work. The person who most influenced him during his school days was Mauno Rosendahl (1848 - 1917), the principal of Oulu's Finnish-language grammar school and a constitutionalist Pietist leader. During his youth-club work, Kallio became acquainted with the writer Santeri Alkio (1862 - 1930), who was later his most important partner in politics. The first period of russification turned Kallio into an active Young Finnish (Nuorsuomalainen) politician. He was elected to the Estate of Peasants as the representative of the Piippola judicial district for the last two sessions of the Diet of Estates in 1904 - 06.
Kallio was a farmer, a peasant. As the son of a fairly large farm, he became familiar with and enjoyed all the tasks that a farmer had to perform, and he engaged in physical labour until an advanced age. The attempts of his wealthy foster-mother Anttuna Kangas (1842 - 1919) to make him into a merchant or civil servant failed because of his poor performance at school and his unwillingness; but all the greater was the enthusiasm and success that he displayed when he got his hands on the reins of a large farm. Heikkilä-Mehtälä was the largest farm in northern Finland; when Kallio parted with it in 1939, it had about 250 hectares of arable land, most of it former marshland that Kallio had had reclaimed himself. Improving the living conditions of farmers and rural people in general was thus the idea which - both as an intrinsic and an instrumental value - underpinned Kallio's political career.
It was his peasant background that prompted Kallio to change parties. The universal suffrage brought by the parliamentary reform of 1905 caused an upheaval in Finland's party landscape. When the Agrarian Party (originally called the Suomen Maalaisväestön Liitto - SML - and later the Maalaisliitto) was founded in 1906, Kallio was elected to its governing body. However, in the parliamentary elections of 1907, he was a candidate of both the SML and the Young Finnish Party. As his grouping, he chose the SML, on the grounds that the Young Finns were indifferent to rural issues.
Alongside Santeri Alkio, Kallio became the young party's most important leader: chairman from 1908 to 1916, first minister in 1917, and prime minister in 1922. Both during his time as chairman and later as well, Kallio had a great influence on the Agrarian Party's platforms and on the formulation of practical policies. He laid stress on a matter-of-fact and moderate approach and shunned both the 'gentry-hating' and 'anticulturalist' traits characteristic of the young party and a one-sided class-agrarianism.
Kallio in the history of Finland's independence struggle
Kallio played a key role in Finland's achievement of independence. He was chairman of the Agriculture Subdepartment (i.e. minister of agriculture) first in Oskari Tokoi's Senate and then in those of Svinhufvud and Paasikivi. His actions were marked by moderation and a conciliatory attitude both before and after the war of liberation/civil war. As a mediator in the agriculture strikes of spring 1917 in the manor-house regions of southern Finland and as a rationing administrator when food shortages became acute, he learned to see both sides of a question.
Although Kallio sternly condemned the Reds' acts of violence and during the uprising was forced to hide, in fear for his life, in Red-controlled Helsinki, he did not lose his composure, and immediately after the end of the war, he began demanding that there should be no summary acts of revenge. His speech at Nivala Church on 5 May 1918 attracted much attention, as he became the first well-known White politician to demand that work should start immediately on building a Finland in which "there are no Reds and Whites but only Finns who love their fatherland, citizens of the Republic of Finland who all feel themselves to be members of society and who are at home here".
When legal power was restored, Kallio returned to government activities, which were dominated by a constitutional struggle. As an Agrarian Party member, Kallio was a republican, but a moderate one and also prepared to compromise. When Paasikivi's Senate held to its unbending monarchist policy, Kallio resigned from it on 17 August 1918. During the autumn, he made many appearances as an advocate of a republic at public meetings around the country.
Leading centrist politician
In the 1919 elections, in which the issue of the form of government was the main topic, the Agrarian Party became the largest non-socialist party. Its most experienced politician was Kallio, whose status was highlighted when Alkio became weary and retired from parliament in 1922. This contributed to the Agrarian Party's willingness to participate in governments. Kallio became one of the most important wielders of power in the 'first republic'; he was, for example, prime minister four times and a long-standing speaker of parliament.
Kallio concentrated in particular on land policy, the liberation of crofters and the promotion of settlement. He had become familiar before his time as a minister with the problems of tenant farmers when he served on a party committee, and he had constantly initiated proposals in parliament aimed at transforming rented farms into independent properties. Kallio made the settling of the land-rent issue a condition of his participation in Tokoi's Senate. The drafting of a bill for the liberation of tenant farmers was not completed until right on the eve of war; Senator Kallio presented it in parliament on 21 January 1918. A law on the redemption of rented areas was finally passed on 15 October 1918. After this, Kallio began to push for the improvement of other aspects of rural life. The settlement law, known as the Lex Kallio, enacted in 1922 after a long and passionate battle with the rightists, is one of the most famous laws in the history of post-independence Finland.
With his land policy, Kallio aimed both at increasing production and, in particular, at enhancing the stability of society. With the same goal in mind, he worked persistently on behalf of 'Finnishness' (suomalaisuus), defence and the infrastructure of agriculture and rural areas - roads, railways and electrification.
Kallio was a centrist politician, a conciliatory maker of compromises. He shunned the producer-agrarianism that gained strength in the Agrarian Party during the 1920s; the leader of this trend, Juho Sunila (1875 - 1936) was his keen and occasionally successful rival, especially when Kallio's relations with President Lauri Relander, a member of the Agrarian Party, were bad. Kallio described his own orientation within the party as "social". In the late 1920s, he even thought of quitting politics and becoming a provincial governor; the president enthusiastically offered him the opportunity.
Between communism and fascism
Kallio always actively opposed communism, which he regarded as dangerous and criminal. His first government smashed the organisation of the Communist Party of Finland (Suomen Kommunistinen Puolue - SKP) in 1923 with what was called the 'Kallio [surgical] operation'. Afterwards, too, Kallio favoured smothering communism by legislative means. When the Great Depression began in 1929, the communists, who were directed from Moscow, intensified their activities and organised a large-scale strike movement. Kallio's third government drafted anticommunist legislation but was taken by surprise by popular reaction from the right. The Lapua movement began. Kallio initially showed understanding for it, but he and his government began to be the target of increasing attacks after he had condemned the movement's violent methods.
Kallio was repeatedly asked to become leader of the Lapua movement - even dictator - but as a convinced democrat he refused. He was one of the movement's most hated opponents, and he was threatened with both death and kidnapping and dumping over the Soviet border. Pressure from the Right, which was supported by President Relander, forced Kallio's government to resign on 2 July 1930; the new government was formed by Svinhufvud.
Kallio was indeed re-elected to parliament after it had been dissolved, and he was even the Agrarian Party's candidate for president in 1931. However, caught as he was between right-wing radicalism and the 'Depression movements', his political future was threatened. His support-base was put under especial strain by the Depression movement operating in his home region in the Kalajoki Valley; this led to outbreaks of unrest (the 'Nivala Nag Revolt' in 1932) and to division within the Agrarian Party. Strong pressure was also directed at Kallio as an individual. In the parliamentary elections of 1933 he almost failed to be elected.
The repeal of the Prohibition Act in 1932 was also a heavy blow to Kallio. He had been a convinced teetotaller for his whole life, was a supporter of prohibition and was, after Alkio, the chairman of the Kieltolakiliitto, an association that supported the act. As speaker of parliament, he was now forced to bring down his gavel on the decision.
Kallio's position as leader of the Agrarian Party was strengthened again in the mid 1930s when Sunila retired from politics and the Karelian strongman Juho Niukkanen (1888 - 1954) was out of parliament for an electoral period.
The struggle against right-wing radicalism had brought the Centre and the Social Democrats closer together, which Kallio regarded as a positive development. The approaching presidential election also involved discussions on cooperation. After the 1936 parliamentary elections, the Agrarian Party and the SDP agreed to cooperate in forming a government, following the example of Sweden. However, President Svinhufvud refused to appoint a 'red-soil' government, and Kallio once again formed a centrist government. As its prime minister, he was elected president.
A parliamentarian president of integration
In 1925, Kallio had already given cautious consideration to his chances in a presidential election. His showing as a candidate in 1931 was a disappointment. He agreed to stand again with reluctance, and the result of the elections for members of the electoral college was not good (56 members, 16.6%). This was enough, however, since the SDP wished to ensure that Svinhufvud was not re-elected. Kallio was elected in the second round with 177 votes; Svinhufvud received 104 and Ståhlberg 19. The electoral-college members of the Swedish People's Party (Svenska Folkpartiet) may be regarded as the key to his victory; the 'toffs' refused to vote for Ståhlberg in the first round, even though they knew that Kallio would be elected if they did not. Kallio's 'real-Finn' attitude was known to have softened.
As president, Kallio was able to realise the goals of his long political career, in particular that of social reconciliation and integration. He had been elected in the shadow of two great national compromises: 'red soil' and linguistic tolerance. He appointed a majority Agrarian-Social Democrat government led by Aimo Cajander of the Progressive Party (Edistyspuolue) and supported it purposefully but while keeping in the background. The government resolved the long-standing linguistic dispute at the University of Helsinki ('lex Hannula') and settled the remaining rancour from the Red uprising ('lex Tokoi'). Kallio also used the notion of integration to justify his agreement to an initiative aimed at suppressing the Patriotic People's Movement (Isänmaallinen Kansanliike) and undertaken by his political protégé, the interior minister Urho Kekkonen.
Kallio adopted the role of a parliamentarian president and refrained from personal power-wielding; because of this, he has unjustly been called a weak president. It was not a question of weakness but of Kallio's view of the president's function. Under Kallio's leadership, Finland returned to "everyday parliamentarianism", as Jaakko Nousiainen has so aptly put it.
Kallio also emphasised his goal of integration by travelling extensively throughout the country to meet the public. His wife Kaisa Kallio often accompanied him on these trips, and the Kallios soon became a popular and respected presidential couple. The well-known aversion of right-wingers, which initially even manifested itself in small demonstrations, died down. The public's respect was increased by the awareness of the president's favourable attitude towards religion, his abstention from alcohol and the blamelessness of his lifestyle.
The president was less keen on foreign travel, partly because of his lack of linguistic skills. His only foreign visits as president were to Sweden in 1938 and 1939. The only state visit to Finland during his presidency was that of President Konstantin Päts of Estonia in 1937.
Kallio's period in office was clouded by health problems. In the spring and summer of 1938, he was ill or recuperating for two-and-a-half months, and in 1939 it took him until early autumn to recover from a heart attack that he suffered in January. Illness prevented him from participating in the negotiations that began in spring 1938 on the initiative of the Soviet Union; the foreign ministers Rudolf Holsti and Eljas Erkko led the Finnish side. When the president returned to his duties in September 1939, the portents of war could already be felt.
The president's Winter War
In foreign policy, Kallio's attitudes were also characterised by moderation. He had opposed the plan of the regent, Marshal Mannerheim, for a St Petersburg expeditionary campaign in 1919 and had displayed restraint on the issue of [Russian] Eastern Karelia. His attitude towards Hitler's Germany was one of distaste, as was - of course - his view of the Soviet Union; he thought that the threat from this quarter should be countered mainly by reliance on the League of Nations. As president he supported his trusted man, the foreign minister Rudolf Holsti (1881 - 1945) and favoured closer relations with other Nordic countries while seeking to further reassure the Soviet Union.
He did not, however, succeed in the latter endeavour; the atmosphere became ever tenser, developing into a threat of war. With the Moscow negotiations already in progress, Kallio in vain sought support from Sweden and other Nordic countries, the last attempt coming at the meeting of Nordic heads of state on 18-19 October 1939. At the same time he supported more effective preparations for war. When Mannerheim became involved in disputes with the government - in particular with Prime Minister Cajander and Finance Minister Väinö Tanner concerning money matters and with Defence Minister Niukkanen concerning scope of authority - and threatened in summer 1939 to resign as chairman of the Defence Council, Kallio prevented this through his personal intervention and his authority. Kallio and Mannerheim respected each other.
In the negotiations preceding the Winter War, Kallio took a more uncompromising line than, for example, Paasikivi and Mannerheim. The president feared that the laboriously created internal unity would be smashed if Finland agreed to the cessions of territory demanded. Nor could he believe that Stalin wanted only what he was demanding. Kallio thought that if a disunited Finland became the target of an attack later on, the danger would be greater than if the attack came now, while the country was united, even though he knew that military assistance could not be expected.
During the Winter War, Kallio concentrated on the role of a morale booster. Both at home and abroad he became the personification of the unity and will to defend itself of a small nation that had unjustly come under attack. With the attention of the world focused on Finland, the peasant president became a well-known and respected figure in the press; books about him were also published in a number of languages. The president's many public appearances had a great effect on the country's united determination to defend itself. "Our nation's unity of purpose, for which I have done a great deal of work, is magnificent", Kallio wrote to his author friend Maila Talvio as the war was nearing its end, and he stressed that it was precisely the achievement and maintenance of such unity that was his main task during the defensive battle. Kallio's son-in-law Paavo Pihlajamaa fell in the Winter War.
As far as political leadership during the Winter War was concerned, Kallio played a minor role - and a fumbling one at that. This was partly due to the fact that the 'inner circle' (Risto Ryti, Tanner and Paasikivi) initially tried to keep the president unaware of the peace feelers that were being put out. Kallio was more in sympathy with the line of those unwilling to compromise, but he had to bow to the inevitable. He finally agreed to the conclusion of peace after becoming convinced that the alternative would be the extension of the overall war to Finnish territory if the Germans tried to prevent the arrival of supporting forces from the Western powers. When he signed the document giving the Moscow peace negotiators authority to accept the terms of the treaty, the tormented president uttered the well-known words: "Let my hand wither, that has been forced to sign this piece of paper." Some six months later his arm became paralysed.
The last spell of work
After the Winter War, Kallio concentrated on raising the morale of a nation depressed by wartime sacrifices and harsh peace terms. Immediately after peace was concluded, he made a broadcast speech in which he stressed as most important the fact that the nation itself, its sense of nationhood and its honour had been preserved "transfigured and more purposeful than ever concerning its future tasks". It was now necessary for people to combine forces in the work of reconstruction. The president laid especial emphasis on a fair solution to the situation of evacuees; and his support did indeed contribute greatly to the swiftness and content of decisions on settlement and compensation. He set a personal example by handing over land.
As far as the increasingly difficult issue of foreign politics was concerned, Kallio did not play much of a role, merely confirming government decisions. These included agreement to Russian demands for military transit rights to their base at Hanko and the resignation of Väinö Tanner from the Council of State. The great change in Finland's foreign policy in August 1940 (the transit agreement with Germany) occurred without Kallio's participation (at least, active participation). His health suffered a final collapse with a stroke on 28 August and he recovered only sufficiently to make a dignified departure.
Kallio resigned on 27 November 1940. After parliament had unanimously elected Risto Ryti as his successor, Kallio made preparations to leave for Nivala to recuperate and spend his retirement there. But his heart was irreparably weakened and could not cope with the touching farewell ceremonies. The peasant president's death was the most memorable in Finland's history: in front of a guard of honour during the playing of the March of the Men of Pori (Porilaisten marssi) in the arms of Marshal Mannerheim. It is no exaggeration to speak of the Winter War's most distinguished fallen hero.
Posterity's assessments of Kallio have varied. He has been at once the exceptionally respected peasant president and a belittled "sideliner", a "weak" president whose inability to understand foreign policy contributed to Finland's becoming involved in the Winter War. The most recent research (including that of Jaakko Nousiainen, Lauri Haataja and Kari Hokkanen) has done more justice to both his stance as president, with its emphasis on parliamentarianism, and to his steadfast attitude on the eve of the Winter War.
Kallio is without question one of the most important politicians of the first decades after Finland's achievement of independence. One is even justified in calling him 'the first citizen of the first republic', because his career lasted the longest and took him the highest. His career is highlighted less by the dramatic turning points - 1917-18, the early 1930s, 1939-40 - than by the periods of more peaceful development during which his tenacity and purposefully conciliatory attitude really came into their own.
Translated by Roderick Fletcher
Kyösti (Gustaf, also Kustu, Kustaa) Kalliokangas, later Kallio, born 10.4.1873 Ylivieska, died 19.12.1940 Helsinki. Parents: Mikko Kallio (Kalliokangas), farmer, and Pieta Knuutila. Wife: 1902 - 1940 Katariina (Kaisa) Nivala, born 1878, died 1956, wife's parents: Matti Nivala, farmer, senior juryman, and Maria Raitala. Children: Vieno, born 1903, died 1938, Master of Arts; Veikko Kallis, born 1906, died 1980, farmer; Kerttu (Saalasti), born 1907, died 1995, agronomist, Member of Parliament; Niilo Kalervo, born 1909, died 1969, sculptor; Kaino-Antoona (Pihlajamaa), born 1911, housewife; Katri Inkeri (Kaarlonen), born 1915, horticulture teacher, Member of Parliament.