Martti Ahtisaari


Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari (IPA ) (born on June 23, 1937) is a former President of Finland (1994–2000), 2008 Nobel Peace Prize winner and United Nations diplomat and mediator, noted for his international peace work.

His most recent appointment was as UN Special Envoy at the Kosovo status process negotiations, aimed at resolving a long-running dispute in Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia 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".

Youth and early career

Martti Ahtisaari was born in Viipuri, Finland, while his father, Oiva, was a non-commissioned officer in the service corps. Oiva Ahtisaari, whose grandfather had emigrated to Finland from southern Norway, took Finnish citizenship in 1929, changing his surname from Adolfsen in 1935. The Continuation War took Martti's father to the front as a military 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 and first attended school.

In 1952, Oiva moved to Oulu with his family for employment reasons. In Oulu, Martti Ahtisaari 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 the teachers' college in Oulu. There 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, Ahtisaari speaks Swedish, French, English, and German.

In 1960, he moved to Karachi, Pakistan, to lead the YMCA's physical education training establishment, where he became accustomed to a more international environment. As well as the managing of the students' home, the job involved training teachers, which in itself suited him well. He returned to Finland in 1963 and went to Helsinki Polytechnic and also was active in organizations responsible for aid to developing countries, joining also AIESEC, the current world's largest university students organization. In 1965, he joined the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in its Bureau for International Development Aid, eventually becoming the assistant head of the department. In 1968, he married Eeva Irmeli Hyvärinen (1936– ). The couple has one son, Marko Ahtisaari, a noted musician and producer.

Diplomatic career

Following the death of UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, on Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988 – on the eve of the signing of the Namibian independence agreement at UN headquarters – Ahtisaari was sent to Namibia in April 1989 as the UN Special Representative to head the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG). Because of an alleged incursion of SWAPO troops from Angola, the South African appointed Administrator-General (AG), Louis Pienaar, sought Ahtisaari's agreement to the deployment of SADF troops to stabilize the situation. Ahtisaari took advice from British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who was visiting the region at the time, and approved the SADF deployment. A period of intense fighting ensued when at least 375 SWAPO insurgents were killed.

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".

President of Finland

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.

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"). 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.

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 organizations 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.

President Ahtisaari supported Finland's entry into the European Union, and in a referendum in 1994, 56 percent of Finnish voters were in favour of membership. During Ahtisaari's term as president, Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton met in Helsinki. He also negotiated alongside Viktor Chernomyrdin with Slobodan Milošević to end the fighting in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo in 1999.

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 was succeeded by the foreign minister Tarja Halonen, who became the first female president of Finland.

Post-presidential career

Since leaving office, Ahtisaari has accepted positions in various international organisations. Ahtisaari also founded Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), an independent, non-governmental organisation with a goal in developing and sustaining peace in troubled areas. On December 1, 2000, Ahtisaari was awarded the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding by the Fulbright Association in recognition of his work as peacemaker in some of the world's most troubled areas.

In 2000–01, Ahtisaari and Cyril Ramaphosa inspected IRA weapons dumps for the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.

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 August 15, 2005 with a treaty on disarmament of GAM rebels, the dropping of GAM demands for an independent Aceh, and withdrawal of non-organic 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 should become independent or remain a province of Serbia. (Kosovo had been administered by the United Nations since the 1999 Kosovo War.) 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. The alternative view, critical of Ahtisaari, is that of Carl Kosta Savich.

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.

As a former head of state, Ahtisaari is a member of the Club of Madrid.

Ahtisaari strongly defended the actions of United States at the crisis that preceded the current war of Iraq. After the war had started, Ahtisaari gave a statement in November: "Since I know that about a million people have been killed by the government of Iraq, I do not need much those weapons of mass destruction". (Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were the primary reason the USA gave to justify its attack.) Finnish intellectual and the professor of history Juha Sihvola, who thinks the current war in Iraq was not justified, criticized Ahtisaari's conclusions about the morality of the war, saying that they were "astounding".

Johan Galtung, Norwegian founder of peace studies, has heavily criticized Ahtisaari's way of handling peace processes. Galtung claims that "Ahtisaari does not solve conflicts but drives through short-term solutions that please western countries". He further says that Ahtisaari "lets the EU make use of him". According to Galtung, Ahtisaari does not hesitate to favor solutions that bypass the United Nations and international law. On the other hand, the Prime Minister of Finland Matti Vanhanen said Ahtisaari has been very determined in his peace negotiations and that results are only achieved when peace processes are being moved ahead determinedly.

In 2008 Ahtisaari was awarded an honorary degree by University College, London. That same year he received the 2007 UNESCO Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize, for "his lifetime contribution to world peace".

It was announced on October 10, 2008 that he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, that includes a medal, a personal diploma, and 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.4 million) in prize money. The Committee plans to award the prize to Ahtisaari on December 10, 2008 at Oslo City Hall in Norway to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel. Ahtisaari twice worked to find a solution in Kosovo – first in 1999 and again between 2005 and 2007. He also worked with others this year to find a peaceful solution to the problems in Iraq, the Committee said. According to the Committee, Ahtisaari and his group, Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), also contributed to resolving other conflicts in Northern Ireland, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa.


He has caused anger by some for his controversial solution to peace.



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