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Kustaa Vilkuna

Kustaa Gideon Vilkuna
Born October 26, 1902, Nivala. Died April 6, 1980, Kirkkonummi.

Master of Arts (Finnish Language) 1927, Licentiate of Philosophy (Ethnology) 1935, Doctor of Philosophy (Ethnology) 1936, University of Helsinki

Member, Academy of Finland, 1959–72
Minister of Education, 1958
Dean, Historical-Languages Division, University of Helsinki, 1952-57
Professor of Finno-Ugric Ethnology, 1950–59, University of Helsinki
Director, State Information Office, 1943–44
Head, war censorship office, 1939–43
Docent, University of Helsinki, 1936–50
Deputy Director, Sanakirjasäätiö (Lexicographical foundation), 1931–44

Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

The King Maker

During his time as a student, Kustaa Vilkuna hardly ever took part in student ‘nation’ activities or student politics. He only became politically active later, in the 1930s. From that point on, Vilkuna was an active power behind the throne in Finnish politics. He became one of the most indirectly influential people in postwar Finland.

Vilkuna got his start in politics in the Academic Karelia Society (AKS). He joined AKS and was an active member until the year 1932, when, among others, Martti Haavio and Urho Kekkonen left the society, along with Vilkuna. The reason for their departure was the fact that the society decided not to condemn the rebellion organised by the Lapua Movement. Vilkuna rejoined AKS in 1942.

Vilkuna's preferred way to influence politics was through writing. He also made his mark by overseeing the written word. At the beginning of the Winter War, Vilkuna was appointed head of the War Censorship Office. He held the post until the spring of 1943, when he was made head of the State Information Office. Notwithstanding his wartime occupations, Vilkuna called for and defended the freedom of speech, democracy and civil administration to the best of his ability. Following the war, for example, Vilkuna worked as the head of a task force charged with investigating espionage, and forged connections with the intelligence agencies in the West.

Vilkuna was a believer in realpolitik. And it was this that led him, to become a supporter in the postwar period of his former fellow AKS member, the opportunistic practitioner of realpolitik, Urho Kekkonen. Kekkonen's postwar reputation was not good. He was accused of duplicity, inappropriate behaviour and lacking integrity. Few could envisage him filling his presidential predecessor Juho Kusti Paasikivi's shoes.

Vilkuna set about clearing Kekkonen's name. Through his writing, he managed to burnish the image of an upstanding and brave, wholly Finnish leader, one reared in a farming family. In the 1955 election, thanks to the support of Vilkuna and his connections, Kekkonen was profiled as a representative of neutrality and collaboration between the Scandinavian countries. The support from the Finnish People's Democratic League, which determined the election in Kekkonen's favour, was also secured mainly through Vilkuna's Soviet connections. Kekkonen would most likely not have been elected president without Vilkuna's work behind the scenes. There is every reason to call Kuskaa Vilkuna “the King Maker” of Kekkonen.

The election victory sealed Vilkuna's position as Kekkonen's most important advisor. He became the president's longest-serving background figure, advisor and propagandist. Vilkuna was one of the great “éminences grises” of postwar Finnish politics, his opinions often carrying more weight than most politicians’.

The King and the King Maker: President Urho Kekkonen and academician Kustaa Vilkuna. Photo: WikimediaCommons.​
The King and the King Maker: President Urho Kekkonen and academician Kustaa Vilkuna. Photo: WikimediaCommons.​


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