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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

History studies are an advantage in politics

At the start of 2004 Jussi Niinistö’s good friend and colleague, Timo Soini, asked him to join politics by becoming a member of the Finns Party.

‘I met Soini in the early 1990s but I got to know him better when we were on the board of the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity. I didn’t consider saying “yes” for a very long time.’

The Finns were still a marginal party then, even though in 2003 they achieved a small election victory: three members of parliament instead of the previous one.

‘When I joined as a member in 2004 and then I started as the party’s coordinator for the European Parliamentary election, the Finns Party support was at zero or one percent in a Gallup poll. I tried to work for a better result. I have to admit that I was ready to throw in the towel when the 2004 EU election results came in and showed that only 0.5% percent voted for the party and that even the Communist Party received more votes with 0.6%. So it really went down the drain. EU-scepticism was not really biting at that time. I considered tendering my letter of resignation. But our long-term party whip Raimo Vistbacka offered some comforting words by saying that “sometimes the cradle rocks and sometimes it doesn’t”, and these words kept me at work.’

In his political career, Niinistö has gained an advantage from his history studies and his training as a historical researcher. Perceiving major policies and developments is very important for politicians so that they do not get hung up on the politics of the day.

‘Working as the General Secretary of the Finns Party Parliamentary Group from 2005–11 was instructive. For a long time I was the only member in our group, but still had to keep the same allocated speaking time and perform the same procedures as the other groups which had more members. My training in the field of history gave me a clear advantage. I could see what was absolutely necessary and what could be left out. If I had tried to do everything, the work would have killed me. By prioritising I was able to keep the party afloat.’

One could feel the potential for increased support at the Finns Party’s 8th party conference in Seinäjoki in 2009. Photo: Matias Turkkila.

In the 2011 ‘Jytky’ (‘Big bang’) election, Niinistö was elected into the Parliament House on Arkadianmäki, and later he became the Chair of the Defence Committee. After the next election in the spring of 2015, the road took him to Minister of Defence post. This has not, however, been due to any coherent plan on Niinistö’s part since political activity is full of uncertainties and coincidences.

‘In politics, you should take what you are given and be happy with what you get. Each time I progressed in my political career, I thought I had reached the top of it. I am happy that I have got this far.’

A background in the humanities has been an advantage to Niinistö in his role as Minister of Defence, especially in talking with colleagues from other countries.

‘If you talk about the possibility of Finnish and Swedish defence in the future, then I would argue that a historical perspective is good.’

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