National Geographic : 1968 May
Kekkonen, Finland's widely respected Presi dent (page 597), who recently won re-election for his third six-year term with 65 percent of the popular vote. Owing in large part to Pres ident Kekkonen's courage and understanding of Soviet affairs-and to the same traits in his famous predecessor, President Juho Kusti Paasikivi-Finland has steadfastly main tained its postwar independence, despite oc casional threats and rumblings from across the eastern border. At the same time, Finland carefully avoids ties that might provoke Russian interference. Despite historic bonds with the West, the Finns take no part in such military agree ments as the North Atlantic Treaty Organiza tion. On the other hand, they pointedly ignore the Communist-controlled Warsaw Pact alli ance. Like its Scandinavian neighbors, Fin land has representative government, but it is a republic rather than a constitutional monar chy. Also, like Sweden, it is basically socialist. I found President Kekkonen unusually tall for a Finn, and muscular. In the 1920's he was 598 Beaded bird takes shape on a steel frame at the Arabia china factory on the outskirts of Helsinki. Ceramics artist Birger Kaipiai nen displayed his creations in the Finland Pavilion at Montreal's Expo 67. Earlier, his sculptures captured a Grand Prix at a show ing in Milan, Italy. The Arabia firm allows Kaipiainen a free hand in concocting what ever decorative works he wishes. Backstage breather: Between acts of the ballet Romeo and Juliet, ballerina Terttu Hintsanen relaxes amid wigs, wardrobe, and hair drier at the Helsinki Opera House. The Finnish National Ballet has toured Eu rope, Canada, and the United States, and received wild acclaim for performances at Russia's famed Bolshoi in Moscow. Helsinki audiences in turn have given enthusiastic welcomes to such eminent dancers as Brit ain's Margot Fonteyn and Bolshoi balleri nas Ulanova and Plisetskaja. high-jump champion of Finland; in the 1930's he led his country's track and field teams to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and Ber lin. Three decades later, at 67, Urho Kekkonen still enjoys skiing 15 or 20 miles cross-country on a winter afternoon. In the presidential residence overlooking an arm of Helsinki's harbor, we talked of Fin land's independence and of relations between our two countries. I remarked that the Finns seemed genuinely fond of Americans, despite the fact that our nations had finished World War II on opposing sides-Finland as a co belligerent of Germany against Russia. Historic Debt Faithfully Repaid "Of course, there are many Finns living in the United States," President Kekkonen re plied, "but that is only one factor." He paused. "Perhaps we like you for a less obvious rea son: We never asked you for anything we could not pay back, and thus we never lost our dignity to you. Experience has taught us that gifts make poor friends, and we prefer to borrow, or better still, to learn from you. "Everyone," he continued, "remembers America's loan to Finland after World War I, to keep our people from starving. It may sur prise you to know that we are still repaying that debt-we will be finished in 15 more years. Today, the payments go into educa tional exchange grants between our two coun tries, so that both sides, in a sense, enjoy interest on the loan." Our talk turned to Finland's policy of strict neutrality.