, , Finland
|| June 23, 1937
Apr 17, 2011 10:03am
|Info||Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari (born June 23, 1937 Viipuri, Finland) is a former President of Finland (1994–2000) and a UN diplomat and mediator, noted for his international peace work. Currently he is the UN representative and mediator during the Vienna peace talks that will determine the final status of Serbia's southern province, Kosovo (which has been under UN administration since 1999). In his proposal to the UN Security Council he has recommended supervised independence for Kosovo. |
Martti Ahtisaari was born in Viipuri (now Vyborg, Russia) 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, 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 was 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 but also was active in the organizations responsible for aid to developing countries. 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 have one son, Marko Ahtisaari, who is a noted musician and technology producer.
In 1973, President Urho Kekkonen appointed Ahtisaari as Finland's ambassador to Tanzania, and accredited him also to Zambia, Somalia and Mozambique. During his term (1973-1977) he formed contacts with the Namibian independence group SWAPO in Dar Es Salaam. In 1977, he was appointed United Nations Commissioner for Namibia, based in New York, and served until 1981. However, apartheid South Africa, which occupied South-West Africa (Namibia) in defiance of the Security Council, refused to recognise Ahtisaari or any of his four predecessors as UN Commissioner for Namibia. He stayed at the UN, as Under Secretary-General for Administration and Management – first with Kurt Waldheim, and then with Javier Pérez de Cuéllar.
Following the death of the seventh 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 UN Transition Assistance Group's (UNTAG) observer mission. Because of an alleged incursion of SWAPO troops from Angola, South African appointee Administrator-General, 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 escaped injury.
After the independence elections of 1989, Ahtisaari was appointed an honorary Namibian citizen.
Ahtisaari's presidential campaign in Finland began when he was still a member of the council dealing with Bosnia. Recession in Finland had 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.
Ahtisaari began his term with a schism with the Centre Party-led government, because Prime Minister Esko Aho did not approve of his wish to actively participate in foreign political affairs. There was also some controversy over Ahtisaari's speaking out on issues such as unemployment. His mannerism, unsteady walking and overweight were often ridiculed in the media. He travelled extensively over the country and abroad, and got the nickname "Matka-Mara" ("Travel-Mara"). His monthly travels to various towns in Finland and meetings with ordinary citizens (as called maakuntamatkat) still made him very popular among people.
President Ahtisaari supported Finland's entry into the European Union, and in a referendum in 1994, 56% of the 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 within the Finnish parliament, which preferred a more cautious foreign policy, as well as from his 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.
Since leaving office, Ahtisaari has accepted positions in various international organisations. In 2000, the British government appointed him to the team overseeing the inspections of IRA weapons decommissioning in Northern Ireland. Ahtisaari also founded Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), an independent, non-governmental organisation with a goal in developing and sustaining peace in troubled areas.
On 1 December 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 2005, Ahtisaari successfully led peace negotiations between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government through his non-governmental organization CMI. The negotiations ended on 15 August 2005 with a treaty on withdrawal of the armed Indonesian forces and dropped GAM demands for an independent Aceh.
In November 2005, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Ahtisaari as Special Envoy for the Kosovo future status process. In this capacity, Ahtisaari was charged with leading a political process to determine Kosovo's political status, i.e., whether it should become independent or remain a part of Serbia (Kosovo has 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 conducts the Kosovo status negotiations. His role was sometimes controversial, and some Balkan media sources made several badly sourced and speculative allegations of improper conduct against him in order to discredit his efforts.  Ahtisaari was during the entire process publicly supported by the Western countries. During August 2007 Ahtisaari announced that he had done what he could, but due to persistent resistance from Serbia and Russia he had to leave further negotiations to the Kosovo Contact Group, formed by representatives of several western countries and Russia.