Ahtisaari was a United Nations special envoy for Kosovo, charged with organizing the Kosovo status process
negotiations, aimed at resolving a long-running dispute in Kosovo
, which later declared its independence
in 2008. In October 2008, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
"for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts".
The Nobel statement said that Ahtisaari had played a prominent role in resolving serious and long-lasting conflicts, including ones in Namibia
, and Iraq
Since the death of Mauno Koivisto
in May 2017, Martti Ahtisaari is currently the oldest living President of Finland.
Youth and early career
Martti Ahtisaari was born in Viipuri
, Finland (now Vyborg
, Russia). His father, Oiva Ahtisaari (whose grandfather Julius Marenius Adolfsen had emigrated with his parents to Finland in 1872 from Tistedalen
in Southern Norway) took Finnishcitizenship
in 1929 and Finnicized
his surname from Adolfsen in 1936. The Continuation War
(World War II) took Martti's father to the front as an NCO
army mechanic, while his mother, Tyyne, moved to Kuopio
with her son to escape immediate danger from the war.
Kuopio was where Ahtisaari spent most of his childhood, eventually attending Kuopion Lyseo
In 1952, Martti Ahtisaari moved to Oulu
with his family to seek employment. There he continued his education in high school
, graduating in 1956. He also joined the local YMCA
. After completing his military service (Ahtisaari holds the rank of captain
in the Finnish Army
Reserve), he began to study through a distance-learning course at Oulu teachers' college. He was able to live at home while attending the two-year course which enabled him to qualify as a primary-school teacher in 1959. Besides his native language, Finnish, Ahtisaari speaks Swedish, French, English, and German.
In 1960, he moved to Karachi
, Pakistan, to lead the Swedish Pakistani Institute's physical education
training establishment, where he became accustomed to a more international environment. In addition to managing the students' home, Ahtisaari's job involved training teachers. He returned to Finland in 1963, and became active in non-governmental organizations
responsible for aid to developing countries. He joined the international students' organisation AIESEC
, where he discovered new passions about diversity and diplomacy. In 1965, he joined the Ministry for Foreign Affairs
in its Bureau for International Development Aid, eventually becoming the assistant head of the department. In 1968, he married Eeva Irmeli Hyvärinen
. The couple has one son, Marko Ahtisaari
, a technology entrepreneur and musician.
Perhaps because of his reluctance to authorise this SADF
deployment, Ahtisaari was alleged to have been targeted by the South African Civil Cooperation Bureau
(CCB). According to a hearing in September 2000 of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
, two CCB operatives (Kobus le Roux and Ferdinand Barnard) were tasked not to kill Ahtisaari, but to give him "a good hiding". To carry out the assault, Barnard had planned to use the grip handle of a metal saw as a knuckleduster. In the event, Ahtisaari did not attend the meeting at the Keetmanshoop Hotel, where Le Roux and Barnard lay in wait for him, and thus Ahtisaari escaped injury.
After the independence elections of 1989, Ahtisaari was appointed an honorary Namibian citizen. South Africa gave him the O R Tambo
award for "his outstanding achievement as a diplomat and commitment to the cause of freedom in Africa and peace in the world".
Ahtisaari served as UN undersecretary general for administration and management from 1987 to 1991 causing mixed feelings inside the organisation during an internal investigation of massive fraud. When Ahtisaari revealed in 1990 that he had secretly lengthened the grace period allowing UN officials to return misappropriated taxpayer money from the original three months to three years, the investigators were furious. The 340 officials found guilty of fraud were able to return money even after their crime had been proven. The harshest punishment was the firing of twenty corrupt officials.
President of Finland
Ahtisaari holding a press conference during the 1994 presidential election.
Ahtisaari in 1997.
Ahtisaari's presidential campaign in Finland began when he was still a member of the council dealing with Bosnia
. Finland's ongoing recession
caused established political figures to lose public support, and the presidential elections
were now direct, instead of being conducted through an electoral college
. In 1993, Ahtisaari accepted the candidacy of the Social Democratic Party
. His politically untarnished image was a major factor in the election, as was his vision of Finland as an active participant in international affairs. Ahtisaari narrowly won over his second round opponent, Elisabeth Rehn
of the Swedish People's Party
. During the campaign, there were rumours spread by some political opponents of Ahtisaari that he had a drinking problem or that he had knowingly accepted a double salary from the Finnish Foreign Ministry and from the United Nations while trying to negotiate an end to the Bosnian War. Ahtisaari denied both allegations and no firm proof of them has emerged. During the three-week campaign between the two rounds of presidential elections, Ahtisaari was praised by his supporters for being more compassionate towards the many unemployed Finns than Rehn, who as Defence Minister had to officially support the Aho government's strict economic policies. A minor controversy arose during a town hall-style presidential debate in Lappeenranta
, southeastern Finland, when an apparently born-again Christian woman in the audience asked Rehn what her relationship with Jesus was. Rehn replied that she had personally no proof that Jesus had been a historical person. Ahtisaari ducked a precise answer by stating that he trusted the Lutheran confession even on this issue.
His term as president began with a schism within the Centre Party
government led by prime minister Esko Aho
, who did not approve of Ahtisaari's being actively involved in foreign policy. There was also some controversy over Ahtisaari's speaking out on domestic issues such as unemployment. He travelled extensively in Finland and abroad, and was nicknamed "Matka-Mara" ("Travel-Mara"
, Mara being a common diminutive form of Martti). His monthly travels throughout the country and his meetings with ordinary citizens (the so-called maakuntamatkat
or "provincial trips") nonetheless greatly enhanced his political popularity. Ahtisaari kept his campaign promise to visit one Finnish historical province every month during his presidency. He also donated some thousands of Finnish marks
per month to the unemployed people's organisations, and a few thousand Finnish marks to the Christian social organisation of the late lay preacher and social worker Veikko Hursti
Ahtisaari favoured pluralism and religious tolerance publicly. Privately, he and his wife practise their Christian faith. Contrary to some of his predecessors and his successor as the Finnish President, Ahtisaari ended all of his New Year's speeches by wishing the Finnish people God's blessing.
In January 1998 Ahtisaari was criticized by some NGOs, politicians and notable cultural figures because he awarded medals of honour to the Forest Minister of Indonesia
and to the main owner of the Indonesian RGM Company, a parent company of the April Company. The April Company was criticized by non-governmental organisations for destroying rain forests
, and Indonesia itself was criticized heavily for human right violations, especially in East Timor
. Ahtisaari's party chairman Erkki Tuomioja
said that giving medals was questionable since he feared the act may tarnish the public image of Finnish human rights policy. Students of the arts had demonstrations in Helsinki against the decision to give medals.
Often encountering resistance from the Finnish parliament
, which preferred a more cautious foreign policy, as well as from within his own party, Ahtisaari did not seek re-election in 2000
. He wanted the Social Democrats to re-nominate him for the presidency without opposition, but two opponents signed up for the party's presidential primary.
Ahtisaari was the last "strong president", before the 2000 constitution
reduced the president's powers. He was succeeded by the foreign minister Tarja Halonen
Ahtisaari mediating the Kosovo crisis
with US and Russian Defense Ministers in 1999
In Finnish politics, Ahtisaari has stressed how important it is for Finland to join NATO
Ahtisaari has argued that Finland should be a full member of NATO and the EU in order "to shrug off once and for all the burden of Finlandization
He believes politicians should file application and make Finland a member. He says that the way Finnish politicians avoid expressing their opinion is disturbing.
He has noted that the so-called "NATO option" (acquiring membership when Finland is threatened) is an illusion, making an analogy to trying to obtain fire insurance when the fire has already started.
Since leaving office, Ahtisaari has held positions in various international organisations. In 2000, he became Chairman of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group
an NGO to which he committed $100,000 in government funding in 1994 one month after becoming elected President of Finland.
He remains Chairman Emeritus.
In 2005, Ahtisaari successfully led peace negotiations between the Free Aceh Movement
(GAM) and the Indonesian
government through his non-governmental organization CMI. The negotiations ended on 15 August 2005 with the signing of the Helsinki MOU
on disarmament of GAM rebels, the dropping of GAM demands for an independent Aceh
, and a withdrawal of Indonesian forces.
In November 2005, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
appointed Ahtisaari as Special Envoy for the Kosovo status process
which was to determine whether Kosovo, having been administered by the United Nations since 1999, should become independent or remain a province of Serbia
. In early 2006, Ahtisaari opened the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Kosovo (UNOSEK
) in Vienna
, Austria, from where he conducted the Kosovo status negotiations. Those opposed to Ahtisaari's settlement proposal, which involved an internationally monitored independence for Kosovo, sought to discredit him. Allegations made by Balkan media sources of corruption and improper conduct by Ahtisaari were described by US State Department
spokesman Tom Casey as "spurious", adding that Ahtisaari's plan is the "best solution possible" and has the "full endorsement of the United States". The New York Times
suggested that this criticism of Ahtisaari on the part of the Serbs had led to the "bogging down" of the Kosovo status talks.
In November 2008, Serbian media reported Pierre Mirel, director of the EU enlargement commission's western Balkans division as saying: "The EU has accepted that the deployment of EULEX
has to be approved by the United Nations Security Council
, and that the mission has to be neutral and will not be related to the Ahtisaari plan," Mirel said, following his meeting with Serbia's vice-president Bozidar Djelic
Martti Ahtisaari in 2008
In July 2007, however, when the EU
, Russia and the United States agreed to find a new format for the talks, Ahtisaari announced that he regarded his mission as over. Since neither the UN nor the troika had asked him to continue mediations in the face of Russia's persistent refusal to support independence for Kosovo, he said he would nonetheless be willing to take on "a role as consultant", if requested.
After a period of uncertainty and mounting tension, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008.
In his work, he has emphasised the importance of the United States in the peace process, stating that "There can be no peace without America."
Ahtisaari was chairman of the Interpeace
Governing Council from 2000 to 2009.
Since 2009, Ahtisaari has been Chairman Emeritus and a Special Advisor.
In August 2012, Ahtisaari opined on the sectarian violence in Syria
and was mentioned as a possible replacement as Joint Envoy there to succeed former Secretary-General Kofi Annan
However, Ahtisaari then told the Finnish state broadcaster YLE
that "he wished the mission would fall on someone else"
which it ultimately did in the person of Lakhdar Brahimi
, a former Algerian
foreign minister and longtime U.N. diplomat.
In late 2015, Martti Ahtisaari reiterated charges he already had made in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle
in early 2013 against members of the UN security council
on the obstruction of a political solution to the escalating conflict in Syria.
Ahtisaari said in an interview in September 2015 that he held talks about Syria with envoys from the five permanent members of the UN security council
in February 2012. According to Ahtisaari, Vitaly Churkin
, Russian ambassador to the United Nations
, laid out three points during a meeting with him, which included not arming the Syrian opposition, commencing talks between Syrian president Assad
and the opposition and finding "an elegant way for Assad to step aside". But the US, Britain and France subsequently ignored the proposal. Ahtisaari said in the interview: "Nothing happened because I think all these, and many others, were convinced that Assad would be thrown out of office in a few weeks so there was no need to do anything."
Contraction of COVID-19
On 14 April 2020 it was announced that Martti and Eeva Ahtisaari are recovering from the coronavirus infection.
Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize 2008
According to the memoir of the former secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee
, Geir Lundestad
, former Foreign Minister and UN ambassador Keijo Korhonen
, who was strongly against awarding the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize to Ahtisaari, wrote a letter to the committee which negatively portrayed Ahtisaari as a person and his merits in international conflict zones.
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