Juho Kusti Paasikivi ( November 27, 1870 – December 14, 1956) was the seventh President of Finland (1946–1956).
Representing the Finnish Party and the National Coalition Party, he also served as Prime Minister of Finland (1918 and 1944–1946), and was an influential figure in Finnish economics and politics for over fifty years.
He is remembered as a main architect of Finland’s foreign policy after the Second World War.
Paasikivi was born Johan Gustaf Hellsten in 1870 in a borrowed smoke sauna at Hämeenkoski in Päijänne Tavastia in Southern Finland, to Tampere-based travelling merchant August Hellsten and his wife, Karolina Wilhelmina, née Selin.
Paasikivi’s mother died when he was four, and his father died in debt when Paasikivi was 14. Paasikivi’s half-sister Karolina died soon after.
Upon his father’s death, Paasikivi’s aunt, Kaisa Hagman, assumed responsibility for his raising. Paasikivi Finnicized his name to Juho Kusti Paasikivi in 1885.
The young Paasikivi was an enthusiastic athlete and gymnast. His father had recognized his son’s academic talent and enrolled him at a top elementary school in Hämeenlinna following brief attendance at Hollola.
Paasikivi exhibited an early appetite for reading, and was the best pupil in his class.
He entered the University of Helsinki in 1890, graduating in May 1892 with a Bachelor’s degree in Russian language and literature, a course of studies that proved useful in later life.
The following winter, Paasikivi changed his major to law, earning a Master of Laws degree and eventually, in 1902, his Doctor of Law. During his schooling, Paasikivi supported himself by working variously as a teacher, lecturer, court bailiff, and lawyer in private practice in Lahti. It was also during his university studies, around 1894, that Paasikivi first became involved in the Fennoman movement, assuming leadership roles in its student organization.
On 1 June 1897 Paasikivi married Swedish-born Anna Matilda Forsman (1869–1931). Together they had four children, Annikki (1898–1950), Wellamo (1900–1966), Juhani (1901–1942), and Varma (1903–1941). Upon earning his doctorate in law in 1901, Paasikivi took on an associate professorship of Administrative Law at Helsinki University from 1902 to 1903.
Paasikivi left this post to become Director-in-Chief of Treasury of the Grand Duchy of Finland, a position he retained until 1914.
For practically all of his adult life, Paasikivi moved in the inner circles of Finland’s politics. He supported greater autonomy and an independent Cabinet (Senate) for Finland, and resisted Russia’s panslavic intentions to make Russian the only official language everywhere in the Russian Empire.
He belonged, however, to the more complying Finnish Party, opposing radical and potentially counter-productive steps which could be perceived as aggressive by the Russians. Paasikivi served as a Finnish Party member of Parliament 1907–1909 and 1910–1913. He served as a member of the Senate 1908–1909, as head of the finance division.
During the First World War Paasikivi began to doubt the Finnish Party’s obedient line. In 1914, after resigning his position at the Treasury, and also standing down as a member of Parliament, Paasikivi left public life and office. He became Chief General Manager of the Kansallis-Osake-Pankki (KOP) bank, retaining that position until 1934. Paasikivi also served as a member of the Helsinki City Council 1915–1918.
After the 1917 February Revolution in Russia, Paasikivi was appointed to the committee that began formulating new legislation for a modernized Grand Duchy.
Initially he supported increased autonomy within the Russian Empire, in opposition to the Social Democrats in the coalition-Senate, who in vain strove for more far-reaching autonomy; but after the Bolshevik October Revolution, Paasikivi championed full independence—albeit in the form of constitutional monarchy.
During the Civil War in Finland Paasikivi stood firmly on the side of the White government. As prime minister from May until November 1918, he strove for a continued constitutional monarchy with Frederick Charles of Hesse, a German Prince, as king, intending to ensure German support for Finland against Bolshevist Russia.
However, as Germany lost the World War, the monarchy had to be scrapped for a republic more in the taste of the victorious Entente. Paasikivi’s Senate resigned, and he returned to the KOP bank.
Paasikivi, as a political conservative, was a firm opponent of Social Democrats in the cabinet, or communists in the Parliament. Tentatively he supported the semi-fascist Lapua movement, which requested radical measures against the political Left.
But eventually the Lapua movement radicalized further, even assaulting Ståhlberg, liberal former president of Finland; and Paasikivi like many other supporters, turned away from the radical right.
In 1934 he became chairman of the conservative National Coalition Party, as a champion of democracy, and successfully rehabilitated the party after its suspicious closeness to the Lapua movement and the failed coup d’état, the Mäntsälä Rebellion.