Mauno Koivisto, the ninth president of Finland, has passed away on Friday evening at Meilahti hospital in Helsinki. He was 93 years old.
President Koivisto was known as a president of high moral and low profile. His reputation was so impeccable that the media found it boring. His rise from a poor child in a worker’s family to a university lecturer and the chair of the board of Bank of Finland – and from prime minister to president -, however, is a Finnish success story unparalleled to any.
”The lonely ranger, Manu (nickname for Mauno), sees himself as Gary Cooper in Fred Zinneman’s film High Noon, walking alone along the deserted street, making conclusions in the middle of torturing suspense,” a group of political journalists observed while speculating who would be the follower of Finland’s eight president, Urho Kekkonen, in 1981.
Koivisto served as president for 12 years from 1982 to 1994. During his time the Soviet Union broke and Finland sought the membership of the European Union. “Koivisto was a devoted democrat and the supporter of parliamentary politics. He was also a knowledgeable and an appreciated partner in international discussions,” said President Sauli Niinistö in a bulletin.
In January 1982, Koivisto pulled a record number of votes in the history of governmental elections, 50,642. He had charmed the nation with his straight talk and humble nature. President Koivisto appeared often in public with his spouse, Tellervo Koivisto, whom he met in 1950 while attending a ball of Turku students’ union.
When he pulled the door handle of the ballroom, it was, for his surprise, closed. At the same time a tall, dark-haired girl was trying to get in as well. The event had been canceled. Both turned away, disappointed, but then Mauno decided to approach the girl. He lifted his hat and suggested that maybe they could find another location to dance. The community hall of Pansio, perhaps? The girl said yes. The couple married in June 1952. In 1957, they had a daughter, Assi. Mauno and Tellervo were married for almost 65 years.
Koivisto was known as a trustworthy man in politics and private life. “He doesn’t even look other women in the eyes,” political journalists of his time wrote. Thanks to his presidency, Finland survived as a more stable and healthy nation than it was before, as a nation that had taken a giant’s breath away from the former Soviet Union. “And he had accomplished this with such caution and tactfulness that Finland enjoyed at least as a good reputation in the new Russia as it had in the Soviet Union,” said a political researcher Mikko Majander in the book Presidentti johtaa (The President Leads).
Early on Saturday morning at Helsinki’s Katajonkka district, funeral candles illuminated the doorstep of the beautiful building of art nouveau. This is where Mauno and Tellervo Koivisto had lived most of their lives since 1981. The low peeps of seagulls could be heard from the clear, sunny sky. The flags flew in half-mast as a sign of sorrow and respect.
It was quiet.
Sources: Tamminiemen pesänjakajat, Presidentti johtaa, Itsenäisen Suomen presidentit –
In the picture on the front page: President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and his spouse, Raisa Gorbachev, President Mauno Koivisto and his spouse, Tellervo Koivisto, President of the United States George Bush and his spouse, Barbara Bush. The presidents are standing in the Presidential Palace during Helsinki Summit in 1990. Picture: The Finnish National Board of Antiquities