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Finland's future worries Soviets

By Chris MoseySpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 23, 1981



Stockholm

The latest indisposition of Finnish President Urho Kekkonen is said to be worrying Soviet leaders, afraid their small Nordic neighbor might swing to the right should Kekkonen depart the political scene.

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It seems highly unlikely that the 81-year-old Kekkonen will be able to continue running the country. Thus elections may have to be moved forward, since they are next scheduled in 1984.

Prime Minister Mauno Koivisto, who has taken over as president during Kekkonen's illness, has thus staked a major claim as his permanent successor.

It is believed that the Kremlin would welcome Koivisto, a Social Democrat, who would likely continue Kekkonen's policy of conciliation with its awesome eastern neighbor. This is bound to be a major consideration for Finns.

Kekkonen has held power for 25 years, ruthlessly disposing of his political opponents.

Born the son of a small farmer in Kajanaland in northeastern Finland, Kekkonen rose rapidly through the ranks of what was then the Farmer's Party (since retitled the Center Party).

He held a ministerial post in a coalition government in 1937 and was prime minister of four different coalition governments from 1950 to 1953, returning to head his fifth government in 1954.

Two years later he was elected to the presidency, inheriting from his predecessor J. K. Paasikivi a policy of neutrality that bows deeply toward "the bear next door," Finland's awesome neighbor, The Soviet Union --what Paasikivi called "thinking geographically."

Today Soviet dissidents caught fleeing to the West via Finland are sent back. Finnish trade is heavily dependent on exports to the Soviet Union. Finland has become dependent on Soviet oil and gas. And films considered anti-Soviet are banned.