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Pehr Evind Svinhufvud

Pehr Evind Svinhufvud
Born December 15, 1861, Sääksmäki. Died February 29, 1944, Luumäki.

Master of Arts (History), 1881, Imperial Alexander University
Master of Laws (Roman and Canon), 1886, Imperial Alexander University
Master of Laws, 1888

Assessor, Turku Court of Appeals, 1902
Judge, Heinola Circuit, 1906
Judge, Lappee Circuit, 1908
Procurator, 1917–1918

Managing Director, Suomen Vakuus Ltd (finance), 1919–1920
President of the Senate, 27.11.1917–27.5.1918
State Protector, 18.5.–12.12.1918
Member, High Court of Impeachment, 1919–1931
Prime Minister, 4.7.1930–18.2.1931
President of the Republic, 1931–1937

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tero Juutilainen
Translated by John Calton

‘Ukko-Pekka’ as president

More or less throughout the 1920s Pehr Evind Svinhufvud remained on the margins of political life. He worked as a managing director in a bank, but when he didn’t get ahead, he turned his attention to farming in Luumki. Svinhufvud was however active in the civil guard.

It wasn’t until the end of the decade that he returned to politics. He was made prime minister immediately at the request of the incumbent president Lauri Kristian Relander. And the very next year he became president of the Republic of Finland, when he defeated professor Kaarlo Juha Ståhlberg by just two votes in the electoral college.

Svinhufvud differed from his predecessor in certain respects. For example he did not pay any official state visits and indeed only paid one or two unofficial ones. This was less attributable to a lack of interest in foreign policy and more due to his style of leadership: Svinhufvud set out the broad policy lines and delegated their execution to his ministers.

As for domestic affairs, Svinhufvud was active, taking a personal role in resolving the language dispute in the University. At the heart of the issue were the languages used in the University and their relation one to the other. Some supporters of the Agrarian League and the National Coalition Party wanted to have an entirely Finnish university, whilst the 1934 government proposed a quota for Swedish-speaking professors. There followed a long drawn out dispute which was settled in 1937 with the majority language to be Finnish. Provision was made for a quota of Swedish-speaking professors however.

The most dangerous internal situation facing Svinhufvud during his presidency was probably rise of the Lapua Movement and the subsequent Mäntsälä rebellion, which involved a good few members of the civil guard.

The affair had a direct impact on Svinhufvud because his son Eino had joined the rebels. Svinhufvud was set against his involvement and placed his son under effective house arrest. The president’s own objection to the rebellion had nothing to do with communist or leftist sympathies but as he saw it the rebellion was a display of strong-arming disobedience against the legitimate government. In a radio broadcast that was to become famous Svinhufvud appealed to the citizens and by March 1932 the rebellion had largely disbanded.

P.E. Svinhufvud delivering a radio broadcast. Photo: Yle​
P.E. Svinhufvud delivering a radio broadcast. Photo: Yle​

Sources (mainly in Finnish):


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