Moscow — President Urho Kekkonen, whose quarter-century tenure helped ''Finlandize'' Finland, resigned Oct. 27, paving the way for the election of a successor in January.
''Finlandization'' has become something of a dirty word among some Western political commentators, implying spineless subservience to the Soviet Union.
In fact, as Finns are quick to point out, this is probably a misleading picture of the Kekkonen policy of deferring to his powerful neighbor on foreign-affairs issues while maintaining a Western-style democracy at home and expanding commercial ties with West European states.
A trade-off is involved. Finland does not publicly criticize Soviet policy, and the Soviets, by and large, are content to let Finland go its own way in other matters.
Diplomats expect Kekkonen's successor - possibly Prime Minister and interim President Mauno Koivisto - to stick to this line.
But they also point out that none of the candidates to succeed Kekkonen possesses his experience and proven acumen in dealing with the men in the Kremlin.
Mr. Kekkonen, who is ailing and had long been expected to step down, has built good personal relations with a succession of Soviet leaders since 1956.
His country played host to the 1975 East-West security conference in Helsinki. Since then he has been a strong advocate of detente, even after the Western backlash to Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
Monitor contributor Chris Mosey reports from Helsinki:
Prime Minister Koivisto, who became acting president when Kekkonen took ill nearly two months ago, is the most likely candidate to succeed him at an election scheduled for Jan. 17-18.
Koivisto is well ahead in the polls and is Moscow's favorite to take over and block moves that could lead Finland closer to NATO.
Koivisto has been an avid pupil at the feet of Kekkonen, the man responsible for the process US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. calls ''Finlandization.''
Kekkonen is remembered for arranging the 1975 Helsinki security talks at which European nations, the US, and the Soviet Union signed the so-called Helsinki Accords. The agreement has been a thorn in the side of the Eastbloc because of its insistence on civil rights.
One of Kekkonen's aims was to set up a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Nordic area, but some within NATO suspected the plan was a Soviet ploy to divide NATO, calling for Norway and Denmark to drop their option to use nuclear weapons.
NATO suspected Kekkonen was a watchdog for Brezhnev, dating from 1961 when Nikita Khrushchev threatened to invoke Finland's ''treaty of friendship'' with the Soviet Union, which could have led to Soviet troops going into Finland. Kekkonen avoided this but promised to keep a watch on Europe for him.