Paasikivi, Juho Kusti (1870 - 1956)
President of Finland
J.K. (Juho Kusti) Paasikivi was one of the key decision-makers in the political and economic life of Finland for over 50 years. As President of the Republic from 1946 to 1956 he implemented Finland’s foreign policy – the ’Paasikivi line’ – which tried to avoid antagonising the Soviet Union and still preserve as much as possible of Finland’s independence.
Paasikivi is remembered above all as the main architect of Finland’s foreign policy after the Second World War. Yet his public career spanned a considerably longer period - from the turn of the century to the end of his presidency in 1956. For over half a century, Paasikivi’s influence in the making of key political and economic decisions was extraordinarily wide-ranging.
Paasikivi lost both his parents at an early age. His mother died when the boy was four, and his father passed away ten years later. The guardianship of the impecunious boy devolved upon his aged aunt. Under such circumstances, Paasikivi developed into an independent - even obstinate - young man. Later in life, the main features of his personality included down-to-earth realism, caution and pessimism, traits which were, however, associated with a highly effervescent temperament.
Paasikivi began his secondary schooling at the Hämeenlinna Normaalilyseo in 1882. The boy, whose insatiable appetite for books had attracted attention since his early childhood, soon conquered the position of dux of his class, retaining this honour for almost his entire time at school. Having passed his university entrance examination with excellent marks in 1890, Paasikivi began studying History and Russian. After completing his Arts studies in 1892 he switched to Law, which was financially more promising, and in 1897 he passed his examination as a Master of Law. In the same year, Paasikivi married the student Anna Forsman. In addition to taking on numerous short-term jobs, Paasikivi continued his studies in law, undertaking research trips to Stockholm and Leipzig. After receiving the degree of Doctor of Law in 1901, he was appointed as an assistant professor of Administrative Law at the Imperial Alexander University of Helsinki the following year; but only a year later he moved to the Finnish State Treasury as director-in-chief, a position which he occupied for the next decade.
Influential Figure in Society
As far back as his time at school and university, Paasikivi had embraced the Hegelian-Snellmanian view of the crucial importance of language and nationality in history. Thus at the turn of the century, he found his way into the conservative nationalist Finnish Party (Suomalainen puolue) which had formed around the newspaper Uusi Suometar. The development of the young Paasikivi’s political views was decisively influenced by J. R. Danielson (from 1906 Danielson-Kalmari), a professor of General History. Danielson represented the ’compliance’ trend which stressed a policy of appeasement in Finland’s relations with Russia and the importance of social reforms in domestic policy. From him Paasikivi acquired the idea that all groups within society, regardless of their linguistic and social background, had to be mobilised in defence of Finnish autonomy. This was particularly important now that Russia was putting increasing pressure for greater integration on Finland. The preservation and strengthening of both the special political status of Finland and of social peace thus required the implementation of an extensive reform programme in the area of social policy. Paasikivi had already played a significant role in drafting this reform programme before the general strike of 1905. He also participated in various activities of the co-operative Pellervo-seura, and as a writer of newspaper articles fought on behalf of suffrage reform at the national and local levels.
After the general strike, Paasikivi became an important driving force in the country’s politics. As a member of the committee for parliamentary reform during the session of 1905-06, he played a key role in formulating the principles on whose foundations a new, single-chamber parliament was constructed. Paasikivi was elected as an MP on the Finnish Party list in 1907 and immediately attracted attention in parliament as a talent ranking amongst the most prominent in his political grouping. In line with his orientation towards social policy, Paasikivi devoted especial attention as an MP to the problems of tenant farmers and landless peasants, and to questions of state finance. In 1907 he occupied a particularly delicate position as chairman of the Agrarian Committee, and was responsible for delineating the principles of the 1909 land-rent decree. Paasikivi also had a good relationship with the left wing of the liberal Young Finns (Nuorsuomalaiset). After Leo Mechelin’s ’constitutionalist’ Senate resigned in 1908, Paasikivi joined K.J. Ståhlberg in initiating negotiations leading to a coalition government, which began its work under the leadership of Edvard Hjelt. Paasikivi became head of the Senate's Finance Subdepartment (i.e. finance minister).
Politician of Compliance
Paasikivi’s ministerial career was to be brief. The coalition Senate fell apart in the spring of 1909 over questions of policy with regard to Russia; and in autumn of the same year, the ’Rump Senate’ of Old Finns (Vanhasuomalaiset), of which Paasikivi was a member, resigned as a result of differences of opinion with the Russian government concerning procedural matters. Paasikivi sketched the boundaries of both his own and his political group’s politics of compliance, justifying his resignation on the grounds that not even the Finnish Party could commit itself to enforcing every Russian demand. Thereafter governmental power shifted into the hands of the largely Russified ’Admirals’ Senate’.
As a politician of compliance, Paasikivi thought, however, that the Finnish State Treasury of which he was the director must conscientiously pay the annual sums determined by the russified Senate, and known as ’the military millions’. When the parliamentary session of 1913 approved a report which concluded that such payments were illegal, Paasikivi decided to quit his official career and politics entirely. In 1914 he resigned from his position as director-in-chief of the State Treasury. In addition, he left parliament at the end of the 1913 session and also resigned from the national board of the Finnish Party.
When the doors of the Bank of Finland remained closed to Paasikivi, he deviated from the ideals so characteristic of his generation, quitting the service of the State and moving to a private company. For the next twenty years he served as chief general manager of the Kansallis-Osake-Pankki (KOP) bank.
When the First World War broke out, Paasikivi shared his party’s loyalty to the Russian Empire. But after the experiences of the period of oppressive russification, there was no longer a question of moral or legal allegiance, and Paasikivi came to the conclusion that the Finns should now keep their options open. Especially when Germany demonstrated its strength in the offensive of spring 1915, Paasikivi also began to take into serious consideration the possibility that Kaiser Wilhelm’s armies might crush Russia completely.
The Russian Revolution in the spring of 1917 raised the liberals to prominence in the Russian leadership. In this new situation, Paasikivi acted as a representative of the Finnish Party on the constitutional committee, chaired by K. J. Ståhlberg. The committee was responsible for drafting a new form of government that would have increased Finland’s autonomy within Russia. Because of his command of Russian, Paasikivi took charge of the negotiations on this issue with the Provisional Government. Alongside other Finnish loyalists, he thus worked right up to the October Revolution to consolidate Finland’s autonomous status within the framework of Russia.
It was only the Bolsheviks’ rise to power that stripped Paasikivi of his last shreds of loyalism. In his view, events of historic magnitude on the world stage had brought with them the chance for Finnish independence like "a gift from heaven". He had no respect for Finnish activists, and he could not find words strong enough to condemn the Socialist uprising in Finland. Because Soviet Russia had recognised the rebel government and had not revoked its recognition, Paasikivi believed that the achievement of independence was not enough in itself; it also had to be made secure. It was self-evident to him that Russia - whether ruled by Reds of Whites - would sooner or later attempt to reconquer its lost border territories. During his trip to the Scandinavian countries in the winter of 1917 - 18, Paasikivi realised that hopes for Swedish intervention on behalf of Finnish independence could be buried.
From a geopolitical and strategic standpoint, the Western Powers were too far away to excercise any decisive influence on the remote shores of the Baltic Sea. Thus only Germany, which up to this point had enjoyed military success, might be able to provide Finland with concrete security if it wished to do so. This plan involved joining Eastern Karelia to Finland. In the spring of 1918 Paasikivi was one of the leading figures in Finland to rely upon German support. When Pehr Evind Svinhufvud became head of state in May 1918, he invited Paasikivi to follow him as deputy chairman of the Senate’s Economic Department (i.e. prime minister). Together Paasikivi and Svinhufvud then forged a plan to ensure the support of Kaiser Wilhelm II by choosing a German prince as Finland’s ruler. In addition, they were prepared to offer Berlin a military alliance. Although a monarchy under a Hohenzollern king would have increased Finland’s dependency on Germany, Paasikivi thought it would not exceed those forms of dependency that already existed between nations in the modern world. However, Svinhufvud’s and Paasikivi’s project as such did not receive support from Germany.
In the late summer of 1918, Paasikivi began to have doubts about a favourable outcome for Germany in the Great War, but he did not yet regard its complete collapse as possible. When this did occur in November 1918, the foundations of the policy to which Paasikivi had adhered, with Svinhufvud’s support, were shattered, and his government was forced to resign. Before resigning, Paasikivi’s Senate made some important decisions in the areas of domestic and financial policy; the most significant of these was the 'emancipation law' concerning tenant farmers and the landless agricultural population, enacted in November 1918. Its content was essentially based on the guidelines drawn up by the general land settlement commission which met from 1912 - 14 and was headed by Paasikivi.
Peace Negotiator in Tartu
As Paasikivi saw it, the collapse of Germany again made Russia the most important factor in Finnish foreign policy. In order to neutralise the threat from the East, he stressed the importance of developing a good relationship with the Russian Whites, who were expected to win the civil war still being waged in their country. Thus he supported Mannerheim’s idea of participating in the capture of St. Petersburg, for which Finland would receive Eastern Karelia as a reward. However, together with Lauri Ingman, Paasikivi insisted upon precise conditions for the offensive; these were not met, and the plan came to nothing.
When the tide of Russian civil war turned in favour of the Bolsheviks, the idea of concluding a peace treaty with Lenin’s government began to gain ground in Helsinki - as the Bolsheviks were regarded as weak enough for the Finns to succeed in pushing through major territorial and financial demands. These were formulated in the spring of 1920 by the Paasikivi Committee, which consisted of representatives of all parliamentary parties.
During the peace negotiations in Tartu (Dorpat), the Finnish delegation - which consisted of the Committee - had to put into practice the objectives drafted in Helsinki. In contrast to many other conservative politicians, Paasikivi avoided rigid adherence to pre-established goals based mainly on ideology. In his view it was necessary to follow the general political situation closely, and, if need be, to reformulate plans accordingly. Paasikivi regarded the compromise reached with the Russians as more than satisfactory. Nevertheless, he and Ingman believed that the idea of world revolution inherent in Bolshevik Russia’s objectives constituted a continuing threat; from this perspective, the achievements at Tartu merely amounted to gaining time.
When the British fleet withdrew from the Baltic in 1921 and Finland was left without firm military support from any quarter, Paasikivi considered it important to maintain at least tolerable relations with the Soviet Union. Although the League of Nations with its principles was fine in itself, Paasikivi thought that any concrete assistance from that organisation must be regarded as uncertain, at least for the time being. During the 1920s and 1930s Paasikivi thus laid constant emphasis on the importance of the national defence system.
In his position as chief general manager of KOP, Paasikivi had had to face the task of steering the bank through the difficult years of the First World War and the Depression era of the 1930s. During his tenure both the turnover and the number of branches increased greatly, and KOP was developing into the largest commercial bank in the country. In his actions Paasikivi pragmatically adhered to the doctrines of classical liberalism. The economy had to be kept in balance, and it was necessary to achieve savings to ensure not only growth but also the well-being of the people. As the representative of a major bank, Paasikivi was one of the key figures on various business and government committees.
Because of the rigorous methods that he employed in directing the bank, Paasikivi clashed with the rest of the management. Biting criticism on the part of the Depression-driven social movements did not spare KOP and its chief general manager. The pressures created by the crisis, together with the worries caused by his wife’s poor health and her death in 1931 strained Paasikivi’s nerves to the utmost and led to a deterioration in his ability to co-operate with the members of the board, and finally to his resignation as chief general manager in 1934.
In independent Finland, Paasikivi championed firm governmental power and believed that the Left should be kept out of government. As far as Väinö Tanner’s moderate form of social democracy was concerned, his opinions changed only in the late 1930s. He initially adopted a cautiously positive attitude towards the right-wing Lapua movement, but later became a fierce opponent of right-wing radicalism. As chairman of the conservative National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) in 1934-36, he drew a clear line between his own party and the extreme right-wing Patriotic People’s Movement (IKL: Isänmaallinen Kansanliike) and ensured that his conservative-hued party stayed on the side of Scandinavian democracy.
After Finland adopted a Scandinavian orientation in its foreign policy in 1935, the post of Finnish envoy in Stockholm became important. The long-term aim of Finnish foreign policy was now the conclusion of a defence alliance between Finland and Sweden. The first step towards this goal was to be the project to jointly fortify the Åland Islands. Paasikivi, who had just retired and had found a new wife in the person of Alli Valve, was persuaded to accept the post of envoy in 1936.
As a diplomat, Paasikivi firmly believed it was his main task to convince the Swedes of the sincerity and enduring nature of Finland’s Scandinavian orientation. The credibility of this new orientation was put to the test, however, in Finnish domestic politics. Paasikivi stressed that moderation was necessary as far as the language question was concerned, since it would otherwise be impossible to persuade Swedish-speaking Finns to join a common front with other non-socialist parties, whose co-operation was now of crucial importance. Even the Social Democrats were now a factor to be recognised.
Peace Negotiator and Moscow Envoy
When, in early October 1939, the Soviet Union proposed the initiation of discussions "on concrete political issues", the Finnish government chose Paasikivi - who was considered to be an expert on relations with the East - as its negotiator. He made three trips in all to Moscow in October/November; on the last two, he was accompanied by Finance Minister Väinö Tanner. Initially Paasikivi approved of the strict guidelines set by the government; he himself had been involved in formulating them. Had there been any foreign assistance available, Paasikivi would have accepted it willingly, regardless of where it came from. But as the negotiations in Moscow proceeded, he became convinced that Stalin was determined to push through his basic demands and that Finland faced them alone. From this perspective Paasikivi thought it essential that the Finns should be ready for sufficiently far-reaching concessions in order to prevent a war that would mean the destruction of Finland. Despite the fact that if it yielded to the Soviet demands, Finland would be forced to abandon Scandinavian neutrality and to enter the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, Paasikivi considered this a better alternative than war. In Helsinki, the military commander Marshal Gustaf Mannerheim shared Paasikivi’s opinion; whereas the government, strongly influenced by the foreign minister Eljas Erkko, adopted the opposite stance. Paasikivi’s and Mannerheim’s attempts at persuasion were to no avail, and the negotiations were broken off in mid-November.
When the Winter War broke out on 30 November 1939, Paasikivi was nominated as a minister without portfolio in a new government formed by Risto Ryti. Paasikivi was to be a foreign policy advisor to Ryti and Tanner; and in fact, a triumvirate consisting of Ryti, Tanner and Paasikivi became the nucleus of this government. In January 1940 Paasikivi welcomed the contact with Moscow brokered by Hella Wuolijoki and Aleksandra Kollontai. Unlike Ryti and Tanner, he already felt it necessary for the conclusion of the peace treaty that Russia be granted a base in the western section of the Gulf of Finland. During the peace negotiations in Moscow, Paasikivi, who was a member of the Finnish delegation led by Prime Minister Ryti, was nevertheless still seriously considering with his colleagues the acceptance of available Western assistance. In the end, however, he came round to accepting the Soviet peace diktat, which was signed on 13 March 1940.
After the conclusion of the treaty, Paasikivi agreed to take on the demanding job of Finnish envoy to Moscow. His first priority was to ensure that questions directly connected with the treaty should be dealt with as soon as possible; eventually, good relations should be established between the Soviet Union and Finland, as long as obsequiousness could be avoided. Initially Paasikivi’s discussions with Foreign Minister Molotov mainly concerned questions relating to the interpretation of the treaty, but after the occupation of the Baltic States in the summer of 1940, the Soviet Union presented Finland with four difficult political demands in quick succession. These concerned the Petsamo (Pechenga) nickel reserves, the Åland question, transit through Hanko and Tanner’s resignation from government. Paasikivi recommended to the Finnish government a policy of buying time by making concessions, but learned to his amazement that the government did not seem to share his concern about the immediacy of the Soviet threat.
Having been back in Helsinki in August 1940, Paasikivi was aware from the very beginning of the reorientation which was taking place in Finnish foreign policy during the late summer of 1940 as a result of the visit of a special representative of Hermann Göring to Helsinki. However, he did not learn more precise details concerning Hitler’s ’umbrella’ until his return to Finland early in the summer of 1941; fearing leaks, the government in Helsinki had kept Paasikivi - and Finland’s other envoys as well - in the dark concerning the rapprochement between Finland and Germany. Thus the reason for Paasikivi’s resignation as envoy was disagreement - based on inadequate information - concerning the expediency of the government’s tough line, especially on the issue of Petsamo, and the risks involved in such a stance.
Outside Member of the Inner Circle
When Paasikivi was finally informed of the political situation on his return to Finland, he adopted the government’s positive attitude towards Germany. He had officially been in retirement from summer 1941 onwards and was mainly working on his memoirs. The discussions that he held every few weeks with President Ryti nevertheless enabled him, as a sort of external member of the inner circle of government, to keep himself well-informed about political developments and the national leadership’s assessment of the situation - an assessment with which he agreed.
The autumn of 1942 saw a clear turnabout in Paasikivi’s views as to the final outcome of the Second World War. During numerous discussions held in Denmark in the course of a visit in August/September, he became convinced that the Allies possessed a much greater potential for an arms build-up than did the Axis countries. Before long, he believed, this would become evident in the actual waging of the war. As the year 1943 continued, Paasikivi finally came to the conclusion that Germany would inevitably lose if Hitler did not conlude a separate peace with Stalin - possibly at Finland’s expense. With such ideas, Paasikivi became something of a background figure in the emerging ’peace movement’, though he did not participate actively and carefully avoided public appearances in the company of peace opposition activists right up to the end of the war.
In the spring of 1944, Paasikivi played a key role in the many rounds of negotiations in Stockholm and Moscow, and at home as well. After Paasikivi returned from Moscow, his and Ryti’s political views began to diverge, and this also led to a cooling of personal relations. In the spring of 1944, Paasikivi’s differences of opinion with the president led to his exclusion during the process of reorganising the government. Dissatisfaction with a newspaper interview given by Paasikivi also caused the new president, Mannerheim, to drop him from the peace delegation that went to Moscow early in September 1944.
Last Term as Prime Minister
During the autumn of 1944 it became evident to President Mannerheim that satisfactory relations with the Soviet Union, which had emerged from the war as a victorious superpower, could not be built up without a contribution from Paasikivi. He had a good name in Moscow and had not been branded there as supporting a policy of war.
In these circumstances, President Mannerheim reluctantly asked Paasikivi to form a government in November 1944. For the first time the cabinet also included a communist, Yrjö Leino. The speech which Paasikivi gave on Independence Day 1944 constituted a declaration of the new prime minister’s political platform. In it Paasikivi highlighted the unconditional fulfillment of the terms of the Armistice Agreement as the government’s prime task. But this was not sufficient, he believed; Finland’s fundamental interests demanded that a good and trusting relationship with the Soviet Union be established in the long run.
With regard to Finland, the Soviet Union had security interests, which Paasikivi recognised as binding on the Finns. Moscow was preoccupied with the idea of making sure that Finland would not be used as a route for any attack against the Soviet Union. To maintain Finland’s credibility in this respect was in essence Paasikivi’s platform; indeed, for him foreign policy always took precedence over domestic concerns. In line with this view, Paasikivi was prepared to ignore pangs of conscience and to publicly recommend the election of "new faces" to Parliament. With regard to many articles of the Armistice Agreement, Paasikivi and his government were forced to bow to the interpretation of the Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission. This was especially true in the case of reparations and of the trial of wartime politicians, at which sentences were passed according to the demands of the Soviet Union.
The stabilisation of the situation was fostered by the results of the March 1945 parliamentary elections. After them Paasikivi was able to reorganise his government on the basis of a co-operation agreement among three large parties: the Social Democrats (SDP), the communist-dominated Finnish People’s Democratic League (SKDL) and the Agrarian Party (Maalaisliitto). During Mannerheim’s presidency, it was the prime minister who in practice ran the country. President Mannerheim had long leaves of absence on medical grounds, and in any case he relied heavily on the active and experienced prime minister.
President of the Reconstruction Era
Paasikivi felt that it was his primary task as head of the state to direct Finland’s foreign policy in such a way as to take Soviet demands into consideration until final peace allowed greater freedom of action. However, he also intervened with a firm hand in matters of domestic and economic policy when he saw these as related to the stabilisation of internal conditions. This became visible in connection both with the ’peace crisis’ fomented by the communists in 1946 during the Paris peace conference and with preparations for the possible use of military means to quell unrest in the spring of 1948. A peace treaty with the victorious Allies was finally signed in Paris in February 1947. For Finland it meant that the basic provisions of the Armistice Agreement remained in force. Upon completion of the ratification process, the Allied Control Commission left Finland in September 1947. When Stalin proposed a Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance (FMCA treaty) in February 1948, Paasikivi agreed to the general idea while at the same time trying to ensure that the treaty was drawn up on the basis of an outline produced by the Finns. In an attempt to win time for reflection, Paasikivi did not personally take part in the negotiations in Moscow, though he held the strings in Helsinki. The ten-year treaty was signed in Moscow on 6 April 1948. Consequently, it was not the Paris treaty alone that determined Finland’s status in a divided Europe; it was surpassed in importance by the FMCA treaty. For a long time - right up to the end of the Cold War - the two agreements together lent stability to Finland’s international position.
In 1946 Paasikivi had been elected president for the remainder of Mannerheim’s period of office, which ran until 1950. He was reluctant to participate in an election in 1950, but when one was held, he won 171 of the 300 votes of the electoral college, to continue as the head of state. In his second term as president, the main thrust of Paasikivi’s policy began to shift ever more towards the domestic sphere, which was characterised by a power struggle between the Social Democrats and the Agrarian Party as Urho Kekkonen built up his position with an eye to the 1956 presidential election.
The ’thaw’ in the Soviet Union that gained strength after the death of Stalin increased Paasikivi’s freedom of action in foreign policy at the end of his presidency. In 1955 Finland joined both the Nordic Council and the United Nations. The climax of his long career came in the autumn of 1955 with his trip to Moscow and the restoration to Finland of the leased military base at Porkkala. Paasikivi would have liked to make minor modifications to the FMCA treaty, which was due to expire shortly, but was wary of endangering the return of Porkkala on this account. Thus the treaty was renewed unchanged - a procedure that was repeated a number of times, right up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. By the end of Paasikivi’s second term, Finland had already rid itself of almost all of the restrictions and emergency measures resulting from the war; reparations had been paid in full, refugees settled and rationing gradually abolished.
Paasikivi did not stand again for president in 1956, though during the election itself he was - with his own consent - put forward as a 'dark horse'. But he did not gain sufficient support from the electoral college during the decisive round of voting and thus, at the age of 85, resigned on 1 March 1956. He intended to continue writing the memoirs he had begun decades before, but death intervened at Christmas 1956.
In July 1944, just before the conclusion of the Armistice Agreement, Paasikivi was following events from the idyllic resort town of Naantali. He gave vent to his anxiety in his diary: "In Finland we have traditionally trusted in the power of justice and fairness. History does not seem to be giving us cause to do so. Reading history, one becomes pessimistic. Countries are governed in their actions by raison d’état. It is frightful – red as blood! It is beyond good or evil. So far we have not succeeded in finding any system to restrict raison d’état and protect other states against it. The limiting of raison d’état, its relationship to morality, is a problem upon whose solution the future of small states in particular depends; but also, in the final analysis, the well-being of large countries and of the whole of mankind."
Paasikivi returned time after time to the problem he describes above. In a world ruled by power politics, in which international justice seemed to be becoming limited "mainly to questions of etiquette", his mind roamed restlessly within a vicious circle, looking for some way out. For a small country, there seemed to be no choice but to adapt to the demands imposed at any given moment by great-power politics that side-stepped moral issues. How this deplorable - and, especially for small nations - dangerous "law of the jungle" might be changed, was for Paasikivi a problem around which his thoughts revolved until the end.
Translated by Roderick Fletcher
Juho Kusti Hellsten from 1887 Paasikivi, born 27.11.1870 Koski, Häme province, died 14.12.1956 Helsinki. Parents: August Hellsten, merchant, and Karolina Wilhelmina Selin. First wife: 1897 - 1931 Anna Matilda Forsman, born 1869, died 1931, first wife's parents: Israel Forsman, elementary school teacher, and Anna Toivonen; second wife: 1934 - 1956 Allina (Alli) Valve, born 1879, died 1960, second wife's parents: Andreas Hilden, shoemaker, and Maria Charlotte Tegelman. Children: Annikki, born 1898, died 1952, architect; Wellamo (Ant-Wuorinen), born 1900, died 1966, dentist; Juhani, born 1901, died 1942, officer; Varma, born 1903, died 1941, Candidate in Medicine.