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Risto Ryti

Risto Ryti (1889-1956), President of Finland 1940-1944.

Risto Ryti was born in Satakunta in landholder's family. He enrolled the university in 1906 to study law. In Spring 1914 he moved to Oxford to study Sea Law, but the First World War forced him to return. In 1917 he had to witness, together with his wife, how a Russian Bolshevik killed his wealthy supporter Alfred Kordelin[?].

During the Civil War in Finland Ryti had to hide in the Red-dominated Helsinki. Afterwards he was elected member of the parliament as one of the youngest representatives for the Liberal Progressive Party (Kansallinen Edistyspuolue). Already in 1921 he became finance minister for the first time. In 1925 president Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg appointed him as chairman of the Bank of Finland[?].

In 1925 Ryti was also nominated as the presidential candidate for the first time but his opponents concentrated their votes on Lauri Kristian Relander. His support increased over the years but was never enough in elections. During the 1930s he withdrew from daily politics, but influenced economic policies. He was successful enough that Wall Street Journal complimented him.

Ryti was selected as a prime minister in the beginning of the Winter War. He tried to concentrate on a realistic analysis of the situation, instead of pessimism or overt optimism. He convinced the rest of the government to sue for peace and was one to sign the Moscow Peace[?] Treaty March 13th, 1940. In the following precarious times Ryti bore the heavy responsibilities of the state leadership together with Field Marchall Mannerheim and the Social Democratic leader Väinö Tanner as President Kyösti Kallio was struck by illness leading to death in December 1940. Finland's changed policy from a Scandinavian orientation up to, and during, the Winter War, to a German orientation after the Winter War, was not the least pursued by the convinced Anglophile Risto Ryti. The relatively limited space given Nazi propaganda and Nazi ideology in Finland during the World War can probably be seen as one of the many important joint-contributions of Ryti, Tanner and Mannerheim.

In August 1940 Ryti agreed to secret military cooperation with Germany, in order to strengthen Finland's position vis-à-vis the threatening Soviet Union. This cooperation would in June 1941 lead to Finland preparing for re-annexation of the territories lost after the Winter War, in case Nazi-Germany would realize the rumoured plans on an assault on the Soviet Union. The Continuation War, when commenced, would also come to include occupation of East Karelia[?], which Nationalist circles had championed since the 1910s. Obviously Risto Ryti convinced Väinö Tanner and the Social Democrats to remain in Cabinet despite their opposition against the conquest of East Karelia, which strongly contributed to the morals and perceived national unity.

He was selected as the deseased President Kyösti Kallio's successor when Kallio retired. But the power of the Commander-in-Chief remained with Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, somewhat insufficiently motivated by the World War in Finland's neighbourhood, and Russia's threatening pressure on Finland.

Ryti's mandate as a President was intended to extend only through the rest of Kallio's term, i.e. to 1943, but as the government could not organize elections during the Continuation War, the electors from 1937 gathered to re-elect him.

The Soviet Union's major offensive begun in June 1944, in a situation when the relations to Germany were strained due to earlier attempts to sue for a separate peace. Finland was in dire need of food, but in particular of weapons and ammunition, as the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop demanded guarantees that Finland would not again seek a separate peace. Ryti gave this, expressed as his personal guarantee that Finland under his presidency would not. Soon after the situation was stabilized, Ryti resigned and peace negotiations could began again, this time from a stronger position although most territorial gains were lost again.

After the war Ryti attempted to return to the Bank of Finland. However, in 1945 Finnish communists and the Soviet Union demanded he should be tried as "responsible for the war". After considerable pressure from the Soviet Union, Ryti was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, in a trial widely held as a illegitime miscarriage of justice. President Juho Kusti Paasikivi pardoned him in 1949 after he'd become hospitalized.

Ryti did not return to the public life. He died in 1956 and was buried with full honors. Ryti's reputation was publicly restored after the Cold War.

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