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Nobel laureate who’s bowed out of the world stage

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Martti Ahtisaari was a global advocate for peace and diplomacy. His career was marked by an unwavering commitment to conflict resolution and human rights. His influence extended to Finland, where he championed both domestic and international issues. Beyond official roles, Ahtisaari founded the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) and played crucial roles in resolving conflicts in Aceh and Kosovo.

In later years, Ahtisaari faced health challenges and he retired from public life due to Alzheimer’s disease, which eventually led to his demise.

Martti Ahtisaari biography

Martti Ahtisaari

Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari (June 23, 1937 – October 16, 2023) lived a remarkable life that was characterised by his contributions to politics, diplomacy and international peace efforts. Born in Viipuri, Finland (now Vyborg, Russia), Ahtisaari’s journey began amid significant historical events as his father, Oiva Ahtisaari, underwent trials during World War II. To ensure the safety of his family, Ahtisaari’s mother, Tyyne, relocated with her son to Kuopio, Finland.

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Kuopio would be the backdrop of Ahtisaari’s formative years as he attended Kuopion Lyseo High School. In 1952, his family moved to the city of Oulu in search of employment opportunities. Ahtisaari continued his education, ultimately graduating from high school in 1956. He also became involved with the local YMCA. Following his military service, during which he held the rank of captain in the Finnish Army Reserve, he pursued further studies at Oulu Teachers’ College and he qualified as a primary school teacher in 1959.

Ahtisaari’s linguistic abilities were notable as he spoke Finnish, Swedish, French, English and German. In 1960, he embarked on an international adventure, relocating to Karachi, Pakistan, where he led the Swedish Pakistani Institute’s physical education training establishment. This experience exposed him to a more diverse and global environment. Ahtisaari’s responsibilities in Pakistan included the management of the students’ residences and the training of teachers.

Returning to Finland in 1963, he became actively engaged in non-governmental organisations that focused on assisting developing countries. He became involved with AIESEC, an international student organisation. This experience sparked his passion for diversity and diplomacy.

In 1965, Ahtisaari joined the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, specifically in its Bureau for International Development Aid. Over the years, he rose through the ranks to become a respected diplomat and the President of Finland.

Martti Ahtisaari career

Ahtisaari had a long and influential career in international affairs. His career began with his service as Finland’s Ambassador to Tanzania from 1973 to 1977. Subsequently, Ahtisaari assumed crucial roles within the United Nations, serving as the UN Deputy Secretary-General from 1977 to 1981 and as the United Nations Commissioner for Namibia from 1976 to 1981. His efforts in Namibia were focused on securing the country’s independence from South Africa.

Between 1987 and 1991, Ahtisaari took on the role of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for administration and management. However, during his tenure in this position, there were controversies, such as an internal investigation of massive fraud within the UN. Ahtisaari revealed that he had secretly extended the grace period for UN officials to return misappropriated taxpayer money, which led to mixed feelings within the organisation. Despite the investigation, the harshest punishment for the 340 officials found guilty of fraud was the dismissal of 20 corrupt individuals.

In 1994, Ahtisaari contested for the Presidency of Finland and he won the election. He served as the country’s President from 1994 to 2000. His presidency faced some challenges, including opposition from the Centre Party government, led by Prime Minister Esko Aho, who did not support Ahtisaari’s active involvement in foreign policy and domestic issues like unemployment.

During his presidency, Ahtisaari adopted the nickname “Travel-Mara” for his extensive travels throughout Finland and abroad as he fulfilled his promise to visit one Finnish historical province every month. He also supported pluralism and religious tolerance publicly.

Ahtisaari’s dedication to international diplomacy and peace continued after his presidency. He held positions in various international organisations, including Chairman of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. He founded the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) to work towards peace in conflict-prone areas. Ahtisaari’s involvement in resolving conflicts extended to places like Northern Ireland and Indonesia.

One of his most notable roles was as the UN Special Envoy for the Kosovo status process, where he worked on determining whether Kosovo should become independent or remain a province of Serbia.

Ahtisaari continued to engage in international peace efforts and was a member of organisations like The Elders, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Ibrahim Prize Committee and the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Martti Ahtisaari’s achievements

Martti Ahtisaari talking at an event

Ahtisaari’s achievements in the realm of international diplomacy and conflict resolution are indeed notable. On October 10, 2008, he was announced as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, a recognition of his outstanding contributions to global peace and diplomacy. Ahtisaari received this prestigious award on December 10, 2008, at Oslo City Hall in Norway.

Ahtisaari’s peacemaking efforts extended to various conflict zones around the world. He played a pivotal role in finding a solution for the Kosovo conflict, working diligently in 1999 and later between 2005 and 2007. He also collaborated with others to seek peaceful resolutions to the issues in Iraq. The Nobel Committee acknowledged his significant contributions in these areas.

Furthermore, his organisation, the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), made substantial efforts to address conflicts in Northern Ireland, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa. Ahtisaari’s commitment to peace and his ability to mediate in diverse and challenging situations showcased his remarkable skills in diplomacy and conflict resolution.

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Here are some of the notable awards and distinctions he received:

  • 1995: Zamenhof Prize for International Understanding, bestowed by the World Esperanto Association
  • 1998: Honorary doctorate from Helsinki University of Technology and the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy
  • 2000: J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding
  • 2000: Freedom Medal.
  • 2000: Germany: Hessian Peace Prize
  • 2004: OR Tambo Award.
  • 2006: Gold Medal of the American-Scandinavian Foundation
  • 2007: Germany: Manfred Wörner Medal of the German Ministry of Defence
  • 2007: Honorary degree from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland
  • 2008: Delta Prize for Global Understanding
  • 2008: Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize.
  • 2008: Nobel Peace Prize
  • 2008: Netherlands: Geuzenpenning.
  • 2011: Honorary degree from the University of Calgary, Canada

Martti Ahtisaari’s net worth

According to reports, Ahtisaari was said to have a net worth of $14 million at the time of his demise.

Martti Ahtisaari family

Martti Ahtisaari in his office

In 1968, Ahtisaari married Eeva Irmeli Hyvärinen. The couple welcomed a son, Marko Ahtisaari, who is a technology entrepreneur and musician.

Martti Ahtisaari age

Ahtisaari was born on June 23, 1937. He died at the age of 86.

Martti Ahtisaari’s death

Martti Ahtisaari’s later years were marked by health challenges, which ultimately led to his passing. On March 24, 2020, amid the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was announced that Ahtisaari had tested positive for the disease. His spouse, Eeva Ahtisaari, had also contracted the virus, as announced on March 21, 2020. However, it was reported on April 14, 2020, that both Martti and Eeva Ahtisaari were on the path to recovery from the coronavirus infection.

Ahtisaari, however, faced another health setback. On September 2, 2021, it was revealed that he had Alzheimer’s disease, and, as a result, he retired from public life.

Ahtisaari’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease came to an end when he passed away on October 16, 2023, at the age of 86. His legacy as a diplomat and peacemaker will always be remembered.

A state funeral has been scheduled for November 10, 2023, also known as St. Martin’s Day. The funeral service will take place at Helsinki Cathedral, followed by his burial at the Hietaniemi Cemetery in Helsinki.

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