Two-term Fin­nish Pres­i­dent Mauno Koivisto led his na­tion out of the Soviet Union’s shadow.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY JARI TAN­NER

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.

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