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Jussi Niinistö

Jussi Lauri Juhani Niinistö
Born October 27, 1970, Helsinki

MA 1994 and PhD 1998 (Finnish History), University of Helsinki
Docent in Finnish Military History at the National Defence University, 2004–
Docent in Finnish History at the University of Helsinki, 2004–

Minister of Defence, 2015–
Member of Parliament, 2001–
First deputy chairman of the Finns Party, 2013–

Editor-in-Chief of the Vapaussoturi (‘Freedom fighter’) magazine, 2006–11
Chair of the Defence Committee, 2011–15
General Secretary of the Finns Party Parliamentary Group, 2005–11
Researcher at the National Archives, 2003
Executive Director, Association of Finnish Culture and Identity, 1999–2000 and 2001
History researcher in various projects, 1996–2004
Research assistant, 1995–96

Photo: Ministry of Defence
Written by Tero Juutilainen
Translated by
Joe McVeigh

A quick doctorate

For Jussi Niinistö the University of Helsinki was the most natural option after upper secondary school. During his military service, he had planned a career in the military academy, but he ended up studying for the entrance exam in history in 1990.

‘In early May, I was discharged as a second lieutenant reserve. The entrance exam was in June and I started my studies in September. I never imagined being any other place than the University of Helsinki. In terms of Finnish historical research, the central archives and libraries, especially the Military Archives and the National Archives, were right next to the university. It felt like a compact entity.’

His university studies went very quickly. Niinistö praises the academic freedom which allowed for meaningful study methods. He was also interested in a research career in the archive field.

‘I finished a basic degree in archiving shortly before completing my dissertation. I planned to work in the area of archives, but the lack of jobs forced me to look elsewhere. I worked in organisations and as a researcher before I turned my attention to politics.’

In his dissertation, Niinistö examined Lieutenant Colonel Paavo Susitaival’s life as an activist, soldier, politician and author. He was also able to meet Susitaival before his death. His dissertation combined an interesting biography with Finland’s recent history and was therefore as much a political history as it was a military one.

‘Using military history as source material in a dissertation was not common. My supervisor, Docent Juha Siltala, suggested that I make the research more theory-based. Theorising, however, has always been unfamiliar to me. I could not get a perspective into the subject, so I wrote my dissertation from the traditional approach of a biography and military history.’

Niinistö at his doctoral defence giving his lectio praecursoria on activism and its long history. His topic was Finnish freedom fighters.

The popularity of military histories has increased in academic circles since the 2000s.

‘I think that the respect for military history has risen in Finland in recent decades, thanks particularly to Professor Ohto Manninen. It is now in an established position, possibly due to the National Defence University.’

After his dissertation, Niinistö worked as a researcher and in organisational activities at the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity. At the request of his friend Timo Soini, Niinistö went to work with the Finns political party at the start of the 2000s. During the first few years his work for the party and in parliament overlapped with his research work, but this pushed the limits of his time.

‘In the initial stage of my political career, I tried to continue my research and I was able to complete several projects. For example, in 2005 I finished a general reference work called Heimosotien historia (‘A history of the Kinship Wars’), which is one of my major works. And in 2008 I completed a book on Antti Isotalo. But then serious research needed to take a back seat. Politics took me away and there was not enough time and energy for any larger historical research unfortunately.’

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