Martti Ahtisaari


Quick Reference

(b. Viipuri, 23 June 1937)

Finnish; President of Finland, 1994–2000 As a child Ahtisaari witnessed first hand the effects of being dispossessed. At the end of the Second World War, his home town of Viipuri became part of the former Soviet Union (and was renamed Vyborg). Virtually all its Finnish population (including Ahtisaari's family) had to create new lives for themselves in Finland, an experience that has informed his work as an international peace mediator. After graduating from the University of Oulu in 1959, he spent three years from 1960 in Karachi working for the YMCA. He joined the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1965, and served as ambassador to Tanzania (1973–6). In 1977 he became the UN Commissioner for Namibia. Over the next thirteen years, while also holding positions in the Finnish government and at the United Nations in New York, he painstakingly worked through a peace negotiation between the liberation movement SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization) and the South African government that delivered Namibia's independence in 1990. He acted as a UN special representative in Bosnia in 1993 and as a UN special envoy to Kosovo. In 2007 he put forward a settlement for Kosovo that was tantamount to proposing independence from Serbia, but Russian opposition to the plans ensured that there was no UN-mediated settlement. He also facilitated a settlement, through his own Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) organization, between rebels in Aceh and the Indonesian government in 2005 after many years of violent dispute. CMI is also active in discussions between Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shiites. During his presidency of Finland (1994–2000), the country became a member of the EU. In 2008 he became the first Finn to win the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Subjects: Politics.

Reference entries