Eljas Erkko

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Person.png Eljas Erkko   GeniRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(editor, politician)
Born1 June 1895
Helsinki, Finland
Died20 February 1965 (Age 69)
Helsinki, Finland
Alma materUniversity of Helsinki
As Foreign Minister, botched the negotiations with the Soviet Union before the Winter War. President of International Press Institute 1954-56

Employment.png Finland/Minister for Foreign Affairs

In office
12 December 1938 - 1 December 1939

Juho Eljas Erkko was a Finnish politician and journalist.[1] He was a foreign minister and negotiated with the Soviet Union before the Winter War started.[2] Erkko's father was politician and editor-in-chief Eero Erkko and his son editor-in-chief Aatos Erkko.[1]

Early Life

Eljas Erkko graduated as Abitur in 1914, Vimpeli School of War in 1918 and Master of Laws in 1922. In 1918, he fought for the White Guards in the Finnish Civil War.[3]

After the Civil War, Erkko first served as secretary of the Trade and Industry Commission in 1919 and then in various positions in the Foreign Service, including as an attaché at the Finnish Embassy in Paris and as a secretary in Tallinn and London. He graduated from the University of Helsinki with a bachelor's degree in law in 1922.


In the summer of 1927, Eljas Erkko first joined Helsingin Sanomat as a journalist. In October of the same year, his father, editor-in-chief Eero Erkko, died and Eljas Erkko became one of the magazine's editors-in-chief. He was responsible for Foreign and Economic Affairs.

Shortly afterwards, the majority of the magazine's shares passed to Erko's family. In 1931, Erko became the sole editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat, a position he held until becoming Foreign Minister in 1938.

He was elected as a Member of Parliament on 1 September 1933 from Uusimaa constituency.[1]

Erkko's War

Erkko was the Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1938 and 1939,[4] as the Finns negotiated with the Soviet Union.

In March 1939, the Soviet Union sent its Ambassador to Rome, Boris Stein, to Helsinki to continue the talks begun by Boris Jartsev with Erkko. Stein proposed that Finland lease certain islands in the Gulf of Finland to the Soviet Union for 30 years, in return for which Finland would receive territories from Soviet Karelia. Erkko's line remained uncompromising.

However, Erkko did not get the immediate negative response he wanted to Stein, as many other ministers, and especially Marshal Gustaf Mannerheim, Chairman of the Defense Council, considered that Stein should not be allowed to leave Helsinki with negative results. According to Mannerheim, the islands in the Gulf of Finland could not be defended and did not even have military significance for Finland. Erkko eventually got his way through the Finnish government's consistent negative response to Stein's proposed territorial change.

When Councilor J. K. Paasikivi was leaving for negotiations in Moscow in October 1939, Erkko reminded him: "Forget that the Soviet Union is a great power!" Paasikivi, who supported concessions in relation to Moscow's demands, called the war "Erkko's War".[5]

During the negotiations in the autumn of 1939, Erkko considered that the Soviet Union was trying to bluff and not dare to start an open war. The break between Paasikivi and Erko was illustrated by the fact that when Paasikivi turned 70 in November 1940, Helsingin Sanomat was content to publish only a small picture and note. In his memoirs, Paasikivi wrote:

Erkko had grown up in an atmosphere of“ passive resistance ”in which the importance of formal, legal law in international relations was also estimated to be greater than it unfortunately still is. He trusted the public opinion of the world that supported us. “We have a right on our side, and Russia is bound by the agreements it makes with us in the eyes of the whole world,” he said. It was difficult for him to adapt to the idea that legally equal superpower and petty power had a different status in real life. ... Erkko was not alone. The vast majority of the Finnish people hovered in similar clouds and fantasies of haze.”[6]

As the Winter War started, Väinö Tanner assigned a new government and decided to appoint himself as foreign minister.[2]

Between 1939 and 1940 he was a chargé d'affaires in Stockholm. At the beginning of the Continuation War, Erkko was a head of POW office in Finland till 1942. Erkko himself saw this posting as a humiliation for a former foreign minister.

After the War

After the war, Erkko was charged in court-martial in 1946, but the indictment was rejected.

Erkko focused on journalism and business. In addition to his position as President and Chairman of the Board of media group Sanoma Corporation, he served on the boards and supervisory boards of numerous other companies and organizations, such as the National Equity Bank, the Finnish-American Association, the Finnish Railways, the Finnish Information Office and IBM.[7]

Erkko was also head of the Finnish American Association.[1] He helped found the International Press Institute and was its president 1954-59.


  1. a b c d https://web.archive.org/web/20120930194620/http://www.eduskunta.fi/faktatmp/hetekatmp/ed910346e-su.htm
  2. a b Turtola, Martti (1999). "Kansainvälinen kehitys Euroopassa ja Suomessa 1930-luvulla". In Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti (eds.). Talvisodan pikkujättiläinen (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö. pp. 13–46.
  3. http://vapaussota.com/merkittavia-taisteluja/ruovesi/%7Ctitle=Ruovesi
  4. https://web.archive.org/web/20110716073918/http://formin.finland.fi/public/?contentid=41366&contentlan=1&culture=fi-FI
  5. Mari K. Niemi ja Ville Pernaa: Entäs jos...: vaihtoehtoinen Suomen historia, s. 126. Helsinki: Ajatus Kirjat, 2005.
  6. K. Paasikivi: Toimintani Moskovassa ja Suomessa 1939–41 I, s. 58. Porvoo-Helsinki: WSOY, 1958.
  7. https://kansallisbiografia.fi/kansallisbiografia/henkilo/747/