Trade and Diplomacy Between East and West
The election of Urho Kekkonen as the President of Finland in 1956 consolidated the country’s political position between East and West. He emerged from the Agrarian Leagues (the Centre Party after 1965), but he succeeded in getting across an image of himself as the only political leader able to maintain favourable relationships with the socialist Soviet Union (USSR). His presidency lasted for 26 years, for the most part through democratic procedures: four times by elections and once by the enacting of an emergency law. Although Finland had to respect the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with the USSR, it was also able to maintain political, commercial and cultural relationships with Western countries and to proclaim its neutrality in global political affairs. In many ways things worked out remarkably well. Finland was the only country with a major land border with the USSR (1340 km) that was able to maintain fully working democratic institutions, despite a degree of stagnation and political manoeuvring in certain aspects of the country’s foreign relationships. Finland gained prestige as a mediator between East and West, a balancing act that culminated in its hosting of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1975.