Risto Ryti

Risto Ryti

Infobox President|name= Risto Heikki Ryti
order=5th President of Finland

term_start=December 19, 1940
term_end=August 4, 1944
predecessor=Kyösti Kallio
successor=Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
birth_date=birth date|1889|2|3|mf=y
birth_place=Huittinen, Finland
death_date=Death date and age|1956|10|25|1889|2|3
death_place=Helsinki, Finland
party=National Progressive Party (ED)|

Risto Heikki Ryti (February 3, 1889 - October 25, 1956) was the President of Finland from 1940 to 1944. He also served as Prime Minister (1939-1940). His time in office as President was marked by the Continuation War with the Soviet Union.

Early life and career

Risto Ryti was born in the Huittinen district of Satakunta, one of seven sons. His parents were Kaarle Evert Ryti, a farmer, and Ida Vivika Junttila. Although he came from a peasant farming background, during his childhood Ryti hardly participated in work on the family's large farm, being a bookish and academically inclined boy. He was educated briefly at Pori Grammar School, and was then tutored at home, before enrolling in the University of Helsinki in 1906 to study law.

After graduating in 1909, Ryti returned to his roots in Satakunta, where he established himself as a lawyer in Rauma. During this period he became acquainted with Alfred Kordelin - one of Finland's richest men. Ryti became his lawyer, and eventually the two men became close friends. During this period Ryti also undertook further studies, becoming a Master of Laws in 1912. In the spring of 1914 he moved to Oxford to study maritime law, but the outbreak of World War I forced him to return to Finland, where in 1916 he married Gerda Paula Serlachius (1886–1984). They had three children, Henrik (1916- ), Niilo (1919-1997), and Eva (1922- ).

In the period after the outbreak of World War I, before Finland achieved its independence, Ryti's business relationship with Kordelin grew even closer, and it appeared likely that Kordelin would ask Ryti to become general manager of his numerous business enterprises. However, in November 1917 Ryti and his wife witnessed the murder of Kordelin at the hands of a Russian Bolshevik.

Politician and banker

During the Finnish Civil War Ryti played no active part, remaining in hiding with his family in the Red dominated Helsinki. Afterwards, however, he would become deeply involved in politics, being elected as a National Progressive member of Parliament, at the age of thirty. He served as a member of parliament from 1919 to 1923 and from 1927 to 1929. During his first few years in Parliament, Ryti served as chairman of the judiciary committee, and later the finance committee. He also served as a member of Helsinki City Council 1924-1927.

In 1921, the thirty-two year old Ryti was appointed as Finance Minister. He served in that position twice until 1924. In 1925 President Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg appointed him as Chairman of the Bank of Finland, a post he remained in until he became Prime Minister in 1939.

In 1925 Ryti was also nominated as a presidential candidate 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. The "Wall Street Journal" recognized his success. In 1934 he was awarded the British honour of Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) due to his great merits in Anglo-Finnish relations.

Prime Minister and President

Ryti was selected as prime minister at the beginning of the Winter War. He tried to concentrate on a realistic analysis of the situation, instead of pessimism or overt optimism. He persuaded the rest of the Cabinet to settle for peace and was the one to sign the Moscow Peace Treaty on March 13, 1940. The peace, in which Finland lost large land areas and faced the burden of resettling 400,000 refugees, was generally considered crushing. In the following precarious times Ryti bore the heavy responsibilities of state leadership together with Field Marshal Mannerheim, industrialist Rudolf Walden and the Social Democratic leader Väinö Tanner as President Kyösti Kallio was struck by illness.

As a result, the duties of the president were transferred to prime minister Ryti. Kallio never recovered and as the exceptional circumstances prevented the election of presidential electors, a constitutional amendment was enacted by the Parliament of Finland to enable the electors of 1937 to elect a successor to Kallio. Ryti won the election with 288 votes out of 300. On the day of his retirement, December 19, 1940, Kallio suffered a lethal stroke during a farewell gathering. During Ryti's presidency the powers of the Commander-in-Chief remained with Mannerheim.

Towards German orientation

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 in the least pursued by the convinced Anglophile Risto Ryti. Traditionally Finland had been associated with Britain by stronger commercial ties, but as the Baltic Sea was dominated by the Germans, lost markets had to be found elsewhere, and Germans were willing to trade.

The relatively limited space given to Nazi German propaganda and ideology, or their domestic sympathizer fringe groups in Finland, can probably be seen as one of the many important joint contributions of Ryti, Tanner and Mannerheim. Ryti's government must also be credited for the fact that Finland remained a genuine democracy unlike any other continental European country that participated in WWII.

In August 1940 Ryti also agreed to secret military cooperation with Germany, in order to strengthen Finland's position vis-à-vis the threatening Soviet Union. Over time it became increasingly likely that the peace between the two great totalitarian powers would end, and the experts' opinion - even among the enemies of Germany - was that in case of invasion the Soviets could not stop the German war machine. Ryti apparently turned, step by step, to being in favour of seizing the opportunity to secure Finnish claims to areas he saw to be in the country's interests, in case the great realignment of ownership of East European territory by force would materialize. Thus the cooperation begun in late 1940 ultimately developed in 1941 into preparations for re-annexation of the territories lost after the Winter War, in case Nazi Germany would realize the rumoured plans for an assault on the Soviet Union. The Continuation War, when it commenced, would also come to include occupation of East Karelia, which Nationalist circles had championed since the 1910s.

The Continuation War (1941-1944)

When Germany's assault on the Soviet Union began in June 1941, Finland remained formally neutral until Soviet air raids gave an expected reason to fulfill the invasion plans some days later. Finnish troops soon regained the territory lost in the Winter War and a substantial buffer zone beyond. A substantial number of MP's were not excited by the idea of crossing the old borders, but obviously Risto Ryti convinced Väinö Tanner and the Social Democrats to remain in the Cabinet despite their opposition to the conquest of East Karelia. His ability to thus maintain a broad coalition government strongly contributed to morale and perceived national unity.

Ryti's mandate as 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. This exceptional procedure was mandated by a constitutional amendment passed by the Parliament of Finland.

The Soviet Union's major counter-offensive began in June 1944, in a situation when Finland's relations to Germany were strained due to earlier attempts to secure 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 guarantee, expressed as his "personal" guarantee that Finland under "his presidency" would not. Soon after the situation was stabilized, Ryti resigned and peace negotiations could begin again, this time from a stronger position although most territorial gains had been lost again.

After World War II

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". This came as a shock to the Finnish people who held Ryti in high esteem. After considerable pressure from the Soviet Union, Ryti was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, in a trial widely held to be illegitimate and a miscarriage of justice from the Finnish perspective. Along with Ryti, seven other high officials were sentenced to prison, although for shorter terms. The group was convicted using a ex post facto law, which had been instituted for the purpose by the Parliament of Finland. Although the Finnish constitution prohibited such legislation, the act in question was passed as a constitutional amendment, with a qualified majority in the parliament. Both the court and the parliament faced severe pressure from the Soviet Union and Great Britain during the process. [ [http://www.finlex.fi/fi/viranomaiset/foka/1992/19920420 " Kysymys sotasyyllisyystuomion purkamisesta"] A decision by the Finnish Chancellor of Justice. 11-27-1992. Retrieved 10-10-2007. fi] Despite Ryti and his fellow convicts not being treated particularly badly in prison, Ryti's health failed during his sentence. In 1949, all other convicts of the war-responsibility trials had already been released on parole, while Ryti was hospitalized. He was pardoned by President Juho Kusti Paasikivi during the year. Freed, Ryti did not return to public life. He concentrated on writing his memoirs but was not successful due to ill health. Risto Ryti died in 1956 and was buried with full presidential honors.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Ryti's reputation was publicly, but not officially, restored. The government's position on the propositions for the rehabilitation of Ryti and his fellow convicts has been that an official rehabilitation is unnecessary as the honour of the convicted has never been lost. The idea of annulling the sentences or the act retroactively has been considered to be unnecessary and contrary to Finnish judicial practice. [ [http://www.riksdagen.fi/triphome/bin/akxhref.sh?%7BKEY%7D=KK+656/1992 ASIAKIRJA KK 656/1992 vp] . (The answer of the Minister of Justice to the written question on the rehabilitation of the war-responsibility convicts). Retrieved 10-10-2007. fi]

In 1994, a statue of Ryti was unveiled near the Finnish Parliament House. In 2004, in the YLE TV-series Suuret Suomalaiset ("Greatest Finns") Risto Ryti got the second highest number of votes.


* Risto Ryti was a freemason, but after his prison sentence, was required to give up membership of his lodge, as convicts were barred membership.


Further reading

*cite book
editor = Barbara A. Chernow, George A. Vallasi (eds.)
title = Columbia Encyclopedia
edition = 5th edition
year = 1993
publisher = Columbia University Press
isbn = 0-395-62438-X
pages = p. 2387
quote =
ref =

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