History of Finland

Finland in the Era of Consensus, 1966-81

The parliamentary elections of 1966 marked a major turning point in Finnish politics. As in most of the recent Finnish parliamentary elections, the main debate centered on domestic issues. One issue in 1966 was the need to promote economic development in the northern part of Finland, which was lagging behind the more prosperous southern part of the country. The parliamentary elections were a great victory for the socialist parties, which gained 103 seats, their first absolute majority in parliament since 1916. Changes in the leadership of the SDP--which under a new party chairman, Rafael Paasio, had become more temperate in its attitude toward the Soviet Union--had made the SDP a viable partner in the government. Kekkonen thereupon took the major step of allying his Kesk with the SDP and with other leftist parties in order to help achieve a greater measure of cooperation in Finnish politics. The Red-Earth coalition was thus revived, and the communists enjoyed their first participation in government since 1948. Center-left coalition governments dominated Finnish politics for several elections after 1966, and this cooperation among center and left parties contributed to a growing consensus in Finnish political life.

The core of the developing consensus politics was the participation of all market sectors in major economic decisions. This had begun earlier, but was now intensified. A milestone, for example, was the conclusion in March 1968 of the Liinamaa Agreement, the first comprehensive settlement among the economic interest groups that regulated agricultural prices, workers' wages, and industrial productivity. This agreement brought together the trade union organization, SAK, the employers' organization, STK, and the Confederation of Agricultural Producers (Maataloustuottajain Keskusliitto--MTK). The agreement was made possible in large part by Kekkonen's active intervention. In succeeding years, the creation of package deals to regulate conflicts among the various sectors of the economy became a regular feature of political life. One important government-sponsored meeting among these various economic interests, at the Korpilampi Motel near Helsinki in 1977, led to the coining of the phrase "the spirit of Korpilampi" to describe this growing spirit of cooperation.

Another milestone in Finland's development was reached in 1969 with the amalgamation of two competing trade union organizations--the smaller, communist-dominated SAJ and the larger, Social Democrat-dominated Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiyhdistysten Keskusliitto--SAK)--into the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjarjestö--SAK). By the 1980s, it had succeeded in organizing about 85 percent of Finland's total work force, one of the highest percentages in the world.

Between the watershed election of 1966 and the late 1980s, there were several more parliamentary elections. Throughout these elections, the SDP remained the largest party, and Kesk, the KOK, and the SKDL competed for the next three positions. A series of center-left governments came into power from 1966 to the 1980s, and these generally broad-based coalitions--together with the package deals for regulating conflicts in the economy--helped to make this period the most politically stable in the history of the Finnish Republic. Although there was some instability at the cabinet level, where until recent years there was a new cabinet nearly every year, the presidency added stability; between 1946 and the late 1980s, Finland had only three presidents.

The pathbreaking center-left cabinet of 1966, which was headed by the Social Democrat Rafael Paasio as prime minister, lasted until 1968. Conflicts over economic issues, especially incomes and prices policy, brought the downfall of the Paasio cabinet and the formation of a new one under the Social Democrat, and head of the Bank of Finland, Mauno Koivisto. This cabinet, which lasted until the parliamentary election of 1970, included the three socialist parties, Kesk, and the SFP.

In spite of the growing consensus in Finnish politics, the 1970s witnessed increased votes for non-government parties and sustained conflicts in parliament. In the 1970 parliamentary elections, for example, Kesk lost about one-third of its strength, and the KOK, which was not part of the government, rose from fourth place among parties to second. Even more striking, the SMP, which relied on small, economically vulnerable farmers, increased its vote almost tenfold. In addition, the conflicts among the parties were so intense that no coalition could be established, and, instead, a nonpartisan caretaker government was installed. It lasted sixty-three days. Finally, a broad-based coalition was established under the Kesk politician Ahti Karjalainen. This coalition included Kesk, the SDP, the SKDL, the SFP, and the Liberal People's Party (Liberaalinen Kansanpuolue-- LKP). The SKDL withdrew from this government in 1971 because of conflicts within the party. Karjalainen's coalition fell in late 1971 because of disagreement over economic issues, especially inflation, the balance of payments, and growing unemployment. New parliamentary elections were called for early 1972, two years ahead of schedule. Another nonpartisan caretaker government held power until the election.

The results of the 1972 elections were similar to those of the 1970 elections, except that the KOK fell from second place to fourth. Political conflicts among the parties, however, still kept a workable coalition from being formed, and, as a result, a minority SDP government was created with Paasio as prime minister. It lasted five months. President Kekkonen's direct intervention helped to bring about the formation of a coalition under the Social Democrat Kalevi Sorsa in the fall of 1972; this four-party coalition included the SDP, Kesk, the SFP, and the LKP. The Sorsa government held together until the 1975 parliamentary election, an uncommonly long time in recent Finnish history.

Finland's growing economic difficulties, which stemmed from the world economic crisis that began in 1973, provided the background for the parliamentary elections of 1975. The SKDL increased its vote to almost 19 percent, making it the second largest party. Following the election, the parties were reluctant to agree on terms for a coalition government. Kekkonen thereupon appointed Keijo Liinamaa, a retired Kesk leader, as prime minister of a caretaker government that lasted about five months. Kekkonen's direct, public intervention made possible the formation of a large, five-party (the SDP, Kesk, the SKDL, the SFP, and LKP) coalition with the Kesk politician Martti Miettunen as prime minister. The following year, the SDP and the SKDL left the coalition as a result of conflicts with the other parties. The Miettunen government fell in 1977 because of Finland's continuing economic difficulties, and a center-left government was formed under Kalevi Sorsa, Finland's sixtieth government in sixty years. Included in the five-party coalition were the SDP, Kesk, the SKDL, the SFP, and LKP. The following year, the SFP withdrew from the coalition because of conflicts with the other parties, but the Sorsa government lasted until the 1979 parliamentary election.

The main issues in the 1979 parliamentary election were unemployment and taxation. The election witnessed a resurgence of the KOK, which became the second largest party, behind the SDP, but was still excluded from governmental coalitions. A major political crisis, called the "Midsummer Bomb," was unleashed by a Kesk leader's incautious statement that the KOK was kept out of power because it was unacceptable to the Soviets, although in reality domestic political considerations may have played a role in its exclusion from the government. Another protest against the established consensus was registered in the 1979 election by the Finnish Christian League (Suomen Kristillinen Liitto--SKL), which represented a religious backlash against secularization and which polled 4.8 percent of the total vote. Nevertheless, a center-left coalition was established under Koivisto; the coalition included the SDP, Kesk, the SKDL, and the SFP, and it lasted until early 1982, when Koivisto was elected president.

Corresponding to the growth of political consensus in Finland was the increase in social consensus: the divisions of previous decades, especially the conflicts between language groups and between the working class and the middle class, diminished.

The Swedish-speaking minority declined steadily in the twentieth century from 350,000, or 13 percent of the population, in 1906 (the year the SFP was founded to protect the interests of Swedish speakers), to about 300,000, or 6 percent of the population, in the 1980s. The decline has been attributed both to emigration to Sweden (largely for economic reasons) and to the gradual Finnicization of society. Swedish remains one of the two official languages of Finland, nevertheless, and a separate Swedish-language educational establishment is maintained.

The slow decline of the communist vote in Finland since the 1960s has been interpreted as a sign that the wounds caused by the civil war have gradually healed and that Finland has achieved a larger measure of national integration. In the seven parliamentary elections from 1945 to 1966, the SKDL won 20 to 25 percent of the popular vote and a correspondingly large representation in parliament. Active participation in the government, beginning in 1966, was followed by a decline in its electoral success. In 1969, Finnish communists dropped the aim of revolution from their program.

One major problem that developed in these years, however, was the urban-rural cleavage, which was compounded by regional differences. The relatively urbanized, industrialized, and prosperous south and west contrasted strongly with the basically rural, agrarian, and less prosperous north and east. The protest vote was typically stronger in the north and the east than it was elsewhere. The government has tried to relieve discontent with subsidies for the smaller, less-prosperous farmers and through other social welfare measures.

During the postwar era, Finland changed from a primarily agrarian society to an urban society, from a land of peasant proprietors to a modern society with a predominance of urban- dwelling, white-collar and blue-collar workers. Along with the changes in social and in economic circumstances went changes in popular attitudes; in particular, cosmopolitanism increased. Just as modern productive technology has made possible an unprecedented material prosperity, so also has modern communications technology speeded the diffusion of new ideas, breaking down Finland's cultural isolation. In the process, however, traditional values have come under assault by cultural imports from Western Europe.

President Kekkonen exerted a formidable influence on Finland's development during his long tenure as president from 1956 to 1981. He was re-elected in 1962 and in 1968 by larger percentages of votes than any other Finnish president had ever received. In 1973 his term of office was extended for four years by special act of parliament. This extension, it now appears, was designed to reassure the Soviets that Finnish foreign policy would remain the same, despite the free-trade agreement with the EEC that was concluded in 1973. It was evidence of Kekkonen's international stature that he hosted the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1973 to 1975, a conference that culminated in the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975. By then Kekkonen was generally recognized as indispensable to Finnish politics, and he was re-elected again in 1978 with the support of all major parties. Bad health forced him to resign in October 1981 at the age of 81; he lived in retirement until his death in 1986. His successor as president, the Social Democrat Mauno Koivisto, began his term of service in January 1982.

The great majority of the Finnish people and their political parties have continued to agree on the Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line as the basis of Finland's foreign policy. Only a few political extremists have opposed it, and they have been excluded from any role in formulating foreign policy. A tiny splinter group from the conservatives appeared during the 1970s as a protest against Kekkonen's allegedly too pro-Soviet foreign policy. Since 1980 this group has been called the Constitutional Party of the Right (Perustuslaillinen Oikeistopuolue--POP), but it has achieved virtually no influence.

Finland History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress