Former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari dies at 86
Former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari dies at the age of 86.
Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland and global peace broker awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his work to resolve international conflicts, died Monday. He was 86.
The foundation he created for preventing and resolving violent conflicts said in a statement it was “deeply saddened by the loss of its founder and chair of board.”
“It is with great sadness that we have received the news of the death of President Martti Ahtisaari,” Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö said in a statement. “He was president in times of change, who piloted Finland into a global EU era.”
In 2021, it was announced that Ahtisaari had advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
Among his most notable achievements, Ahtisaari helped reach peace accords related to Serbia's withdrawal from Kosovo in the late 1990s, Namibia’s bid for independence in the 1980s, and autonomy for Aceh province in Indonesia in 2005. He was also involved with the Northern Ireland peace process in the late 1990s, being tasked with monitoring terrorist group IRA's disarmament process.
When the Norwegian Nobel Peace Committee picked Ahtisaari in October 2008, it cited him "for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts."
Ahtisaari who was the Nordic country's president for one six-year term — 1994 until 2000 — later founded the Helsinki-based Crisis Management Initiative, aimed at preventing and resolving violent conflicts through informal dialogue and mediation.
Born June 23, 1937, in the eastern town of Viipuri, which is now in Russia, Ahtisaari was a primary school teacher before joining Finland’s Foreign Ministry in 1965. He spent some 20 years abroad, first as ambassador to Tanzania, Sambia and Somalia and then to the United Nations in New York.
After that he joined the U.N., working at its New York headquarters, before heading the U.N. operation that brought independence to Namibia in 1990. Ahtisaari had become deeply involved in activities aimed at preparing Namibians for independence during his diplomatic tenure in Africa in the 1970s.
He was appointed as the special representative of Namibia by U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in 1978, and is widely credited for leading the African nation to independence under his mandate as the head of U.N. peacekeeping forces there in the late 1980s.
The Namibian government was grateful for Ahtisaari’s work and later made him honorary citizen of the country.
After returning to Finland in 1991, Ahtisaari worked as a foreign ministry secretary of state before being elected president in 1994 for a six-year term. He was the first Finnish head of state to be elected directly instead of through an electoral college.
Having lived abroad for so long, he came into the race as a political outsider and was seen to bring a breath of fresh air to Finnish politics. Ahtisaari was a keen supporter of the European Union and NATO which Finland joined in 1995 and 2023 respectively.
His international highlight came in 1999 when he negotiated — alongside Russia’s Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin — the end to fighting in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Ahtisaari also hosted Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton at a U.S.-Russia summit in Finnish capital, Helsinki, in March 1997.
As president, Ahtisaari traveled abroad more widely than any of his predecessors. At home, he often appeared impatient and vexed by media criticism — he was clearly much more comfortable in international circles.
He declined to run for a second term in the January 2000 presidential election, saying he wanted to devote the time he would otherwise have used for campaigning to run the rotating EU presidency, which Finland held for the first time in 1999.
After the Finnish presidency, he was offered several international positions, including in the United Nations refugee agency, but decided instead to open his own office in Helsinki which has centered on mediating in international crises.
In May 2017, Ahtisaari stepped down as chairman of the Crisis Management Initiative he founded in 2000 to help resolve global conflicts, but said he would continue working with the organization as an adviser. He was replaced by former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb who is now running himself to become president.
Ahtisaari is survived by his wife Eeva and their adult son.
CMI said Ahtisaari will be laid to rest in a state funeral. The date will be announced later.