teisipäev, august 15, 2006

Urho Kekkonen: Savisaare Eeskuju?

So I have been reading up on a very dead Finnish guy called Urho Kekkonen (1900-1986). When I was younger and more naive and reading about Finnish history in Helsinki, I noticed that Kekkonen was in power from 1956 to 1981. 25 years. "That's a long time for one president," I thought to my sunny, naive self. "Gosh, the Finns must have been in love with the guy to elect him so many times."

You can stop laughing now.

Anyway, Wikipedia has a great deal of information on Urho, including the following tidbits:


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.

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 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 1979 Urho Kekkonen was awarded Lenin Peace Prize.


God, does that sound like anybody you know? A 56-year-old Finnic man that likes to play with democracy, who is adored by the big pushy neighbor to the East? That led a big fluffy personality-based party called ... The Center Party?

I'd just like to say that I've been wrong all along. Edgar Savisaar's historical twin is not Konstantin Pats. No, his role model is pretty obviously uncle Urho from across the Bay of Finland.

3 kommentaari:

helsinkian ütles ...

The 1973 emergency law, when there was no national emergency, to re-elect Kekkonen by the parliament without the scheduled popular election, was the low point in Finnish democracy.

But the Centrists weren't alone in this. Even the Conservatives (who Kekkonen kept out of government after mid 1960s) supported his re-election without regular elections. The Finnish Conservatives also were the only such party in Europe whose youth organization had ties to the Komsomol. They were ready to do many things to be accepted by Kekkonen. Conservative Party (Kokoomus) support was actually very low throughout Kekkonen presidency and it's not at all so that they were artificially kept out of government all the time. They were in some of the early-Kekkonen era governments and it was only in 1979, when they scored a major electoral victory, when Kekkonen kept them out of government and hence did a bad thing for parliamentary democracy. Kekkonen never much cared for the parliament anyway, I believe he dissolved parliament three times for ridiculous reasons each time.

Still, even with the 1979 Conservative victory, Kokoomus wasn't the largest party in parliament and in other systems would not have automatically been assumed to take part in government just because their support increased markedly from the previous election.

Reading about Kekkonen can be really interesting, he's such an ambivalent figure. At one moment he outmaneuvers his rivals because he's the only one who can take care of Moscow, at the next moment he does the same thing, this time saying no-one else can build strong trade relations with Western Europe.

Having UKK as our president in the early 1980s was reminiscent of Brezhnev in the USSR and Tito in Yugoslavia. He was too frail and too old to take care of his duties. The difference between us and them (socialist dictatorships) was that we didn't have wait for him to die (just to become senile) before we could replace him with another one. Looking at Castro in Cuba also makes me think of Kekkonen and about the ultimate tragedy of too many lonely years in power. In some sense Kekkonen at his most tragic and ill (the months leading up to his resignation) reminded of a Latin American dictator. His rivals weren't physically afraid of him (as in Eastern European and Latin American dictatorships) and all it really took was Mauno Koivisto (his prime minister who realized UKK is no longer in charge and hasn't been for a while) to openly confront the president - the first bigwig to dare to do so, and Finland had gone from Kekkonen era to Koivisto era.

Giustino ütles ...

There could be benefits to a Savisaar government. I guarantee you Savisaar would have concluded the border treaty last year. There would have been no preamble controversy. He would have just done as Moscow wished and Estonia would have one less issue to deal with. He easily exploits the right's weaknesses because they are so into looking 'principled.' He doesn't have to worry about looking principled - just in charge.

The problem is that European and American investors strongly dislike him, and Estonia's economy - other than the transit trade - is built mostly on Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish capital - although Estonia has some of its own capital and has been investing in itself as well as in neighboring countries, like Latvia.

The Russians like him because, I think, they prefer dealing with a constant rather than a shifting democracy on their border.

Russians are just like the Americans in some ways - they want to see themselves in foreign countries. For example, Americans love Estonia's story of throwing off Soviet rule because it reminds us of us throwing off British colonial rule.

Russians probably like Savisaar because he seems like he could be Estonia's tsar - and Russians are enamoured with strong leaders and despise chaos. They like it top down, not bottom up.

That's probably why they liked to do business with Urho Kekkonen, rather than a rotating group of elected unknown quantities.

lafinn ütles ...

While Kekkonen inarguably possessed a crafty and ambitious personality, to compare him to Brezhnev, Castro or Tito is just ludicrous.

Sure, the 1973 fourth term was controversial. But you have to remember that Kekkonen served three terms before that with overwhelming victory in the elections. To talk about him like he was some kind of dictator is idiotic.

He was a clever politician who manipulated his opponents - so what? Who's the politician that doesn't? He was just very good at it.

Furthermore, he was a president during undeniably incendiary, difficult times at the height of cold war wedged in small country between the West and East, having to please both and offend neither, and did so well enough to maintain Finnish independency, survival and even development as a nation, and yes, even democracy; let's not forget that the survival of those were not that self- evident to the people living in those days. Possible threat of USSR was not a far- fetched idea.

Anyone wanting to be a leader must have ambition and skill to have his way. Kekkonen did that, and did it well. The last thing Finland needed in those times was weak leadership. Someone iron clad had to be at the helm, and Finnish people recognized that when they elected him the first three times. Even the fourth election, while exceptional, was still completely legal and had nothing to do with the kind of coups that animate dictatorships.

At no point was Finland out of her constitutional democracy during Kekkonen. In fact, at the end of the day it might have survived because of him.

All men of greatness (Brezhnev, Castro or Tito and the like NOT being great) can be made look worse than they really were. Kekkonen too. But he was still great, and a man in the right place at the right time.