From Kekkonen to Koivisto

Finns no doubt weary of hearing foreigners speak of their country largely in terms of its deference to the Soviet Union. There are many other things they would rather be known for. But the victory of Prime Minister Mauno Koivisto, a Social Democrat, in the first round of presidential elections this week cannot but remind the world again how deftly tiny Finland has adapted to its geography. Living in the shadow of the Soviet collosus, it has managed to develop amicable ties with the communist regime in Moscow even while preserving its internal political freedom and its orientation toward the West.

Much of the credit for this goes to retired President Urho Kekkonen who for a quarter of a century preserved a close relationship with Soviet leaders. Mr. Koivisto does not have the same experience in dealing with the Russians but is expected to pursue the same foreign policy as his predecessor. Certainly the Finnish people have shown their overwhelming confidence in him by turning out in record numbers to vote for the Social Democratic Party. Mr. Kekkonen came out of the Center Party and early on it had been expected his successor would, too. Mr. Koivisto, once governor of the Bank of Finland, thus will become the first socialist to serve as Finland's president (after the formality of a vote by the electoral college next week).

Interestingly, the Russians have always been cool to Finland's noncommunist left and reportedly preferred other candidates (one reason, perhaps, why Mr. Koivisto is so popular). But they are unlikely to do anything to rock the boat of Finnish-Soviet relations. The new president no doubt will see to it that Finland continues the policy of substantial trade with and noncriticism of the Soviet Union.

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The West, meantime, might highlight the positive rewards of this careful neutrality: increased trade with the Common Market, the growing integration of the Scandinavian countries (far beyond anything achieved in the European Community), a sturdy representative democracy, and one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Finlandia indeed!

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