Mauno Koivisto

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Mauno Henrik Koivisto (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈmɑuno ˈkoiʋisto]; 25 November 1923 – 12 May 2017) was a Finnish politician who served as the ninth President of Finland from 1982 to 1994. He also served twice as Prime Minister, from 1968 to 1970 and 1979 to 1982. 

He was the first Social Democrat to be elected President of Finland.

Early life

Koivisto was born in Turku, Finland, the second son of Juho Koivisto, a carpenter at Crichton-Vulcan shipyard, and Hymni Sofia Eskola, who died when he was 10. After attending primary school, Koivisto worked a number of jobs, and at the beginning of the Winter War in 1939 joined a field firefighting unit at the age of 16. During the Continuation War, Koivisto served in the Infantry Detachment Törni led by the famous Lauri Törni, which was a reconnaissance detachment operating behind enemy lines. This detachment was only open to selected volunteers. During the war he received the Order of the Cross of Liberty (2nd class) and was promoted to the rank of corporal. While reflecting on his wartime experiences later in life, he said "When you have taken part in a game in which your own life is at stake, all other games are small after that".

After the war, he earned a living as a carpenter and became active in politics, joining the Social Democratic Party. In 1948 he found work at Turku harbor - in December that same year he was appointed manager of the Harbour Labour Office of Turku, a post he held until 1951. In 1949 communist-controlled trade unions attempted to topple Karl-August Fagerholm's Social Democrat minority government, and the Social Democratic leadership of the Finnish Confederation of Trade Unions (SAK) declared the port of Hanko an "open site", urging port workers who supported legality to go there. Koivisto went to Hanko to take charge of the harbour-master's office and recruit workers to break the strike, the government having banned strike action. The Communist newspapers branded Koivisto as their number one enemy due to his status as a major figure in the struggle for control of the trade unions.

Banker and politician

In addition to his political engagements and ongoing career Koivisto continued with his education, passing his intermediate examination in 1947 and his university entrance examination in 1949. In 1951 he became a primary school teacher; the following year he married Tellervo Kankaanranta (born 1929). Together they had a daughter, Assi Koivisto, in 1957, who was later voted to the electoral college during the Finnish presidential election in 1982. Koivisto graduated from the University of Turku with a Master of Arts degree and a Licentiate in 1953, and had plans to become a sociologist. Three years later he completed his doctoral thesis, which looked at social relations in the Turku dockyards. Koivisto also served as a Vocational Counselor of the City of Turku, and as a member of Turku City Council.

In 1957, he started working for the Helsinki Workers' Savings Bank and served as its General Manager from 1959 to 1968. In 1968 he was appointed Chairman of the board of the Bank of Finland, a position he retained until 1982.[5] During the 1960s, he witnessed a number of internal schisms within the Social Democratic party, and made efforts to improve the party's relationships with the communists and also with President Urho Kekkonen.

The 1966 Social Democrat election victory saw the formation of a new government under Rafael Paasio, with Koivisto, the party's expert on economic policy, appointed Minister of Finance. By the beginning of 1968, however, many people in the Social Democratic Party had become disillusioned with Paasio's leadership style, and Koivisto came to emerge as the chief candidate to succeed Paasio as Prime Minister; this happened on March 22, 1968. He served as Prime Minister for two years until the Parliamentary election of 1970, which saw the other parties in his coalition government suffer heavy losses, bringing about his own resignation.

In the 1970s, President Kekkonen started to regard Koivisto as a potential rival and instead threw his weight behind Koivisto's Social Democratic colleague, Kalevi Sorsa. For most of the decade Koivisto concentrated mainly on his work as Chairman of the Bank of Finland until the 1979 elections saw him return as Prime Minister. By this point there was an increasing dissatisfaction with the aging President Kekkonen, whose failing health was becoming difficult to conceal, and also a perceived lack of change. As a Prime Minister and Chairman of the Bank of Finland who enjoyed high ratings in opinion polls, Koivisto began to be seen as a likely future candidate for president.

In early 1981 President Kekkonen began to regret Koivisto's appointment as Prime Minister and started to offer support to those who wanted to get rid of him. In spring 1981, members of the Finnish Centre Party, which was serving as part of the government coalition, launched a behind-the-scenes attempt to bring down the government through a parliamentary vote of no confidence, so that Koivisto would not be able to conduct a Presidential election campaign from the position of Prime Minister. At the critical moment Koivisto managed to gain the support of the Finnish People's Democratic League; by now Kekkonen no longer had the energy to topple the government when Koivisto called his bluff by refusing to tender his resignation.

Finnish historians, political scientists and journalists still debate whether President Kekkonen really wanted to dismiss Prime Minister Koivisto or whether Kekkonen simply wanted to speed up Koivisto's slow and ponderous decision-making. Some question whether this government crisis was just a part of the ruthless "presidential game" that top politicians such as Koivisto and Social Democratic Chairman Sorsa were playing with one another. Later that year, as Kekkonen became too ill to carry out his duties, Koivisto became acting President and was able to launch his Presidential election campaign from that position as well.

During the campaign, Koivisto was questioned particularly thoroughly on two issues: the nature of his Socialism and relations with the Soviet Union. Describing the nature of his socialism, he referred to Eduard Bernstein, a revisionist, pro-market economics Social Democrat, saying "The important thing is the movement, not the goal." To a journalist's question, intended to be a difficult one, on the issue of relations with Moscow, Koivisto replied that they were nothing to boast about; this answer increased his popularity. Koivisto did not want to be elected with the support of Moscow.

The voter turnout in the elections reached almost 90%; Koivisto's wife and daughter were in fact among the members of the electoral college. Koivisto won 167 of the 301 votes of the electoral college in the first round; his closest competitor, the National Coalition Party candidate Harri Holkeri, received 58. As a result, Koivisto became the first Social Democrat to be elected Finland's president.


As president, he kept a low profile and used less authoritarian leadership tactics than Kekkonen had, refraining from using some of his presidential powers and initiating a new era of parliamentarianism in Finland. On the other hand, he had a sometimes difficult relationship with journalists, whom he famously called "lemmings". One practical problem that quite a few reporters had with Koivisto's statements was their deeply pondering and philosophical nature.

Those statements were not often easy to interpret, unlike Kekkonen's blunt and sometimes harsh statements (see, for example, "The Republic's President 1956-1982"/Tasavallan presidentti 1956-1982, published in Finland in 1993-94; "The Republic's President 1982-1994"/Tasavallan presidentti 1982-1994, published in Finland in 1993-94; Mauno Koivisto, "Two Terms I: Memories and Notes, 1982-1994"/Kaksi kautta I. Muistikuvia ja merkintöjä 1982-1994, Helsinki: Kirjayhtymä Publishing Ltd., 1994). As the leader of Finland's foreign policies he initially continued Kekkonen's line until the collapse of the Soviet Union. He also continued the established practice of returning Soviet defectors to the Soviet Union, a custom now considered a human rights violation.

In the critical moments in which the Soviet Union was collapsing, and the Baltic countries, particularly Estonia, were declaring themselves independent, Koivisto referred to the policy of neutrality and avoided publicly supporting the independence movement, but its members were allowed to work from inside Finland. Koivisto's Finland recognized the new Estonian government only after the major powers had done so.

Koivisto made two bold unilateral diplomatic moves that significantly changed the Finnish political position. In 1990, after the reunification of Germany, Koivisto unilaterally renounced the terms of Paris peace treaty which limited the strength and armament of the Finnish Defence Forces. The rationale was that after Germany had been given its full rights as a sovereign state, Finland could not remain bound by the antiquated treaty. The renunciation caused no official protest from Soviet Union or from Great Britain. The other major move was the renunciation of the Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948 in 1991, concurrently with the fall of Soviet Union. The treaty, the military article of which had shaped Finnish foreign policy for decades, was substituted with a new treaty without military obligations in the next year.

In 1990, partly motivated by nationalism, partly by the fear of the declining work force, Koivisto proposed that any Soviet citizen with either Finnish or Ingrian ancestry be enabled to immigrate to Finland as a returnee. The proposal resulted in a modification of immigration law to this end even during the year.

In the 1988 presidential election, Koivisto was re-elected with 189 out of 301 votes in the electoral college on the second round. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he supported more radical ideals like joining the European Union. In 1992, Koivisto initiated the process of Finnish accession to the European Community. The final terms of membership agreement were finalised on the day when Koivisto left office. He was followed by President Martti Ahtisaari, who was also a supporter of EU membership.

Koivisto's popularity sharply declined during Finland's economic depression of the early 1990s, because many unemployed, otherwise impoverished, and even employed citizens believed that he could have and even should have forced the centre-right government of Esko Aho to stimulate the economy and give many unemployed people temporary public-sector jobs.

Koivisto's term ended in 1994. He has published his memoirs in four volumes and continued as a commentator on economics and both domestic and international politics.


After his precedency Koivisto has occasionally continued to represent Finland officially abroad, most notably at the funerals of Queen Ingrid of Denmark in 2000, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 2002 and Ronald Reagan in 2004.

In 2009, Koivisto declined to apologize to Estonia that his administration did not support the independence of Estonia.

On 3 March 2010, he was hospitalized for cardiac dysrhythmia but was released less than a week later.


Koivisto's health deteriorated in December 2016 due to Alzheimer's disease and his wife Tellervo started as his caregiver. In January 2017, Koivisto fell badly at his home and broke his hand, after which he moved to a nursing home. In May 2017, Koivisto was put in end-of-life care.

Koivisto died on 12 May 2017, aged 93.


  • Sosiaaliset suhteet Turun satamassa, 1956
  • Linjan vetoa, 1968
  • Väärää politiikkaa, 1978 ISBN 951-26-1511-8
  • Tästä lähtien, 1981 ISBN 951-26-2285-8
  • Linjaviitat, 1983
  • Politiikkaa ja politikointia, 1978–81; 1988
  • Maantiede ja historiallinen kokemus: Ulkopoliittisia kannanottoja, 1992 ISBN 951-1-12614-8
  • Kaksi kautta, 1994 ISBN 951-26-3947-5
  • Historian tekijät, 1995 ISBN 951-26-4082-1
  • Liikkeen suunta, 1997 ISBN 951-26-4272-7
  • Koulussa ja sodassa, 1998 ISBN 951-26-4384-7
  • Venäjän idea, 2001 ISBN 951-31-2108-9
  • Itsenäiseksi imperiumin kainalossa - mietteitä kansojen kohtaloista, 2004 ISBN 951-31-3181-5


National orders
  •  Finland : Grand Cross of the Order of the White Rose
  •  Finland : Grand Cross of the Order of the Lion of Finland
  •  Finland : Grand Cross of the Order of the Cross of Liberty
  •  Finland : Grand Cross of the Order of the Holy Lamb of the Orthodox Church of Finland
Foreign orders
  •  Sweden : Knight of the Order of the Seraphim (16/04/1982)
  •  Norway : Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav (1983)
  •  Denmark : Knight of the Order of the Elephant (20.4.1983) 
  •  Iceland : Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Falcon & wife : Grand Cross (20 October 1982) 
  •  Estonia : 1st Class Cross of the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana (20.11.2001) 
  •  Poland : Order of the White Eagle
  •  Japan : Order of the Chrysanthemum
  •  Portugal : Order of Prince Henry (Portugal)
  •  Italy : Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Italy)
  •  France : Legion of Honour
  •  France : National Order of Merit
  •  USSR : Order of Lenin
  •  Spain : Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain)
  •  Luxembourg : Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau
  •  United Kingdom : Order of the British Empire
  •  Poland : Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland
  •  Austria : Order of Merit (Austria)
  •  Bulgaria : Order of Stara Planina (Bulgaria)
  •    Nepal : Order of Ojaswi Rajanya (Nepal)
  •  Jordan : Order of al-Hussein bin Ali (Jordan)
  •  Hungary : Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary (Hungary)
  •  Hungary : Order of the Flag of the Hungarian Republic (Hungary)
  •  Netherlands : Order of the Netherlands Lion (Netherlands)
  •  Yugoslavia : Order of the Yugoslav Star (Yugoslavia)
  •  Czechoslovakia : Order of the White Lion (Czechoslovakia)
  •  San Marino : Order of San Marinus (San Marino)
  •  DDR : Star of People's Friendship
  •  Colombia : Order of San Carlos
Honorary degrees
  •  Finland : University of Helsinki 1990
  •  Finland : University of Helsinki 1988
  •  Czech : University of Praha 1987
  •  Finland : University of Tampere 1985
  •  France : University of Toulose 1983
  •  Finland : Åbo Akademi 1978
  •  Finland : University Of Turku 1977


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