Former President Martti Ahtisaari dies at age of 86.
Martti Ahtisaari served as Finland’s 10th president from 1994 to 2000.
He supported Finland’s membership in the European Union.
Nobel Peace laureate Martti Ahtisaari, who served as Finland’s 10th president from 1994 to 2000, has passed away at the age of 86.
Ahtisaari gained worldwide recognition for his role in mediating peace in conflict areas such as Kosovo, Indonesia, and Northern Ireland, and he firmly believed that wars and conflicts were not inevitable.
Ahtisaari’s global prominence also contributed to enhancing Finland’s international reputation as it emerged from the shadow of the former Soviet Union.
Ahtisaari was considered a political outsider, which worked to his advantage as he won Finland’s first direct presidential election in 1994, leading the opposition Social Democrats in his home country.
He supported Finland’s membership in the European Union and encouraged voters to back the 1994 accession referendum, which passed with 57% support as president.
Critics, however, argued that his extensive travels and his nickname “Travelling Mara” diverted attention from domestic issues, especially during Finland’s economic recession following the Soviet Union’s collapse, which had been its primary trading partner.
Ahtisaari departed from his party’s stance by advocating for Finland to become a full member of NATO in later years. This shift ultimately led Finland to join the alliance in 2023 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ahtisaari’s early life experiences had a profound impact on his perspective as he and his family were forced to flee Viipuri, which is now part of Russia, when Soviet forces attacked when he was just two years old.
He often referred to himself as “an eternally displaced person,” which made him particularly sensitive to the challenges faced by refugees.
His career included teaching and participation in an educational project in Pakistan, an experience that broadened his view of the world beyond Finland.
He joined Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 1965 and was later appointed as the Finnish ambassador to Tanzania in 1973.
One of his early diplomatic achievements was his role in helping Namibia achieve independence after years of conflict with South Africa. He served as the U.N. commissioner for Namibia from 1977 to 1981 and remained involved in the region in various capacities until the early 1990s.
Ahtisaari acted as the EU’s key negotiator, convincing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 1999 to accept NATO’s conditions for ending the Kosovo air campaign.
Ahtisaari remained focused on conflict resolution, contributing to the Northern Ireland peace process as a weapons inspector even after leaving the presidency in 2000.
He established the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), an independent organization dedicated to conflict resolution, and played a pivotal role in facilitating a peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement in 2005, ending a three-decade conflict in Aceh over a seven-month period.
He returned to the Balkans as a U.N. special envoy and is widely recognized for his role in paving the way for Kosovo’s independence with the backing of Western countries in the same year.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to peace and conflict resolution on multiple continents over more than three decades and several months later.
Martti Ahtisaari is survived by his wife, Eeva, and his son, Marko, who is a tech entrepreneur and former head of design at Nokia.