At age sixteen, Koivisto enlisted in the Finnish military and was attached to a firefighters' unit during the Russo-Finnish War. After World War II he became politically active, joining the Social Democratic Party in 1947 and serving as a representative of the dockworkers' union beginning in 1949. In 1957 he entered the banking profession and was managing director of the Workers' Bank in Helsinki during 1959–1967. In 1966 he began his impressive political ascendancy.
Koivisto was first elected prime minister in 1968, a position he held until 1970. During 1979–1982 he served a second stint as prime minister. In 1981, when President Urho Kekkonen became incapacitated, Koivisto was named interim president. The following year he was elected president in his own right, and he was reelected to a second term in 1988. As president, Koivisto continued Kekkonen's policy of Cold War neutrality and continued to nurture a cordial relationship with the Soviet Union. In Koivisto's second term, the collapse of the Soviet Union offered Finland the opportunity to adopt a more independent foreign policy. Without abandoning his nation's tradition of neutrality, he opted for membership in the European Union (EU), which Finland joined in 1995. Koivisto decided not to run for a third term and left office in 1994. He was succeeded by Martti Ahtissaai.
Klaus Petersen and Nils Arne Sīrensen
Koivisto, Mauno. Witness to History: The Memoirs of Mauno Koivisto, President of Finland, 1982–1994. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997.