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Finns debate neutrality as leader heads for US

Finns are engaged in a fierce discussion about what can be discussed. In a neutral country like Finland, the question of what can be debated in public is an important political issue.

Has the emergence of the new President, Mauno Koivisto, opened the gates for too much discussion? Could it undermine the delicate balance between East and West that the previous President, Urho Kekkonen, constructed?

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one of the few parties not joining the debate. The operative phrase in Mr. Koivisto's Finland is ''low profile.'' It means that you keep quiet.

The discussion about discussion is not simply art for art's sake - even though Mr. Kekkonen's 25-year reign did frustrate a lot of politicians. There are issues involved as well.

President Koivisto's forthcoming visit to Washington is one of them. The White House canceled the agreed meeting with President Reagan apparently without consultations and without setting a new date. Not very diplomatic, thought Finns , but they did not talk about it.

Finland's Western neighbors in Sweden were quick to see politics in the cancellation and said so. Finns kept quiet and in a couple of days a new date was set. The Sept. 26 meeting was changed to Sept. 27. A sigh of relief was heard from the otherwise silent and taciturn Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was more a question of politics than of small Finland being pushed around.

In a tradition established by Mr. Kekkonen, the new President wanted to visit Washington as soon as possible after his June meeting with Yuri Andropov in Moscow.

But the Soviet shooting down of the Korean airliner created some difficulties. Finland's policy of neutrality means it tries to stay aloof from all problems even remotely reminiscent of big-power disagreement. Finnish pilots joined the boycott and do not fly to Moscow. But Finnair continues to fly to Leningrad, and Aeroflot flies from Moscow to Helsinki.

Domestic politics is not exempt from this debate about what can be discussed. There are four major and four important smaller political parties in Finland. The Stalinist wing of the small, deeply divided Communist Party shares some views with the Center Party, which has a share in the coalition government. The two parties are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both oppose the widely supported constitutional amendment to limit presidents to two six-year terms. President Koivisto is said to support the amendment.

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In Finland the President reigns supreme in the area of foreign policy. Communists especially fear that rapidly changing presidents might result in too much speculation and discussion about Finnish foreign policy. By this they mean Finland's special relationship with the Soviet Union.

Center Party chairman Paavo Vayrynen - who is also minister of foreign affairs - has joined the Communists in this and called at the same time for a more active Finnish foreign policy.

All this may give the impression that everyone is in disagreement with everyone else.

Not so. Everyone agrees that there should be no changes in the policy of strict neutrality for Finland. Although Finns have criticized the possible deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe, officially Finland has not taken sides.

Former President Kekkonen used to say that the Finnish role in the world should be that of a doctor, not that of a judge. But no one is doctoring policy toward the Soviet Union, except some Communists. They accuse Moscow of taking sides with the Stalinists in the bitter fight inside Finland's Communist Party.

So it is a question of the proper amount of discussion.

Since there is no agreement about this either, it has to be discussed.

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