Two-term Finnish President Mauno Koivisto led his nation out of the Soviet Union’s shadow.
Mauno Koivisto, Finland’s last president during the Cold War, who led the Nordic nation out of the shadow of its huge eastern neighbor, the Soviet Union, and into the European Union, died May 12 at a Helsinki hospital. He was 93.
The Finnish president’s office announced the death. His wife, Tellervo Koivisto, said earlier this year that he suffered severely from Alzheimer’s disease.
Mr. Koivisto served two sixyear terms between 1982 and 1994, enjoying great popularity among ordinary Finns.
For most Finns, his presidency marked the end of the long reign of predecessor Urho Kekkonen, who had ruled Finland with an iron grip for 25 years until his resignation in 1981.
Mr. Koivisto was seen as ushering in a new, freer era, changing the face of the country by reducing the powers of the head of state and strengthening the role of parliament.
Above all, he was recognized for his foreign policy skills with a fine balancing act of maintaining the small country’s good relations with the West — particularly with the United States — and the Soviet Union during the Cold War years.
His second term from 1988 to 1994 was crucial in cementing the Nordic nation’s neutral status until the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 — a great concern for Finland, which shares an 800mile border with Russia.
A fluent Russian-speaker, Mr. Koivisto developed a bond with the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, but he also stayed in close contact with U.S. President George H.W. Bush with whom he regularly exchanged views on developments in the crumbling and rapidly changing Soviet Union. In 1990, he hosted Bush and Gorbachev at a summit meeting in Helsinki.
Earlier, Mr. Koivisto reportedly also had a good rapport with former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, who stopped in Helsinki in 1988 for talks en route to Moscow.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in the fall of 1991, Mr. Koivisto began to steer Finland out of international isolation. He unilaterally nullified two longstanding treaties that had placed restrictions on the Finnish military and limited Finland’s integration with European security structures.
In 1992, Mr. Koivisto initiated the country’s application to join the European Community — the precursor of the European Union. Finland formally joined the E.U. in 1995 with overwhelming approval in a national referendum.
Mauno Henrik Koivisto was born Nov. 25, 1923, in Turku, Finland. His father, a carpenter, died when his son was 10.
Mr. Koivisto was unusual among Finnish heads of state because he possessed first-hand war experience. At the age of 16, he served as a volunteer on the home front in the bitter 1939-40 Winter War against the Soviets.
He also fought in the Continuation War against the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1944.
After the war, Mr. Koivisto joined the Social Democratic Party, taught school and worked as a vocational guidance counselor. He received a doctorate in sociology in 1956 from the University of Turku and later became a banking executive.
In the late 1960s, he helped raise the Social Democrats’ popularity in Finland, which had been dominated by the agrarian Center Party in the post-World War II era.
Before becoming head of state, Mr. Koivisto held several ministerial posts and had served as the governor of the Bank of Finland.
Survivors include his wife and daughter.
Former Finnish president Mauno Koivisto served two six-year terms between 1982 and 1994 and was widely popular.