Martti Ahtisaari was born on June 23, 1937 in the city of Viipuri, then still part of Finland. Finland lost Viipuri when the Soviet Union attacked the country. Along with 400,000 fellow Karelians, Ahtisaari became an eternally displaced person in the rest of Finland. With his mother, he moved from one household to another before settling in the eastern part of Finland, in the city of Kuopio. For Martti Ahtisaari this experience, which millions of people around the world have gone through, provided him with a sensitivity that helps explain his desire to advance peace and thus help others who have gone through similar experiences. For the past 45 years, his career has been intertwined with development issues and peacemaking. He made his career, first and foremost, as a civil servant in the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the United Nations. During his career he has worked on several continents, becoming a citizen of the world, an honorary citizen of Namibia and a New Yorker.
Mr. Ahtisaari joined the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in 1965, holding various posts in the Ministry’s Bureau for Technical Co-operation from 1965 to 1972, and serving as Assistant Director from 1971 to 1972. He served as Deputy Director in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, in the Department for International Development Co-operation between 1972 and 1973. He was also a member of the Government Advisory Committee on Trade and Industrialisation Affairs of Developing Countries from 1971 to 1973.
At the age of 36, Mr. Ahtisaari became the Ambassador of Finland to the United Republic of Tanzania (1973–1976) and was also accredited to Zambia, Somalia and Mozambique (1975–1976). This experience led him to become involved with Namibia. He first served as a member of the Senate of the UN Institute for Namibia between 1975 and 1976. Mr. Ahtisaari acted as United Nations Commissioner for Namibia from 1977 to 1981 and moved to New York. In July 1978 he was appointed Special Representative of the Secretary General for Namibia.
Still acting as the Special Representative for Namibia, Mr. Ahtisaari returned to Finland where he served from 1984 to 1986 as Under-Secretary of State in charge of International Development Co-operation in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. He was Governor for Finland in the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, as well as in the International Fund for Agricultural Development. During that period, he was Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Finnish Industrialisation Fund for developing countries.
From Finland, Martti Ahtisaari moved again to New York when then-Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar appointed him Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management, effective on January 1, 1987. Mr. Ahtisaari retained his role as Special Representative of the Secretary General for Namibia and led the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia from 1989 to 1990. UNTAG was the first ever UN operation that included both a traditional peacekeeping force and a civilian component dealing with electoral, police, human rights and educational matters. After 13 years of UN Namibia involvement, Mr. Ahtisaari’s position as Under-Secretary General ended on June 30, 1991. His first peace making task resulted in the independence of Namibia. This experience has had crucial importance in his later work.
Starting on July 1, 1991, Mr. Ahtisaari served as State Secretary in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in Helsinki.
From September 1992 to April 1993 he began his involvement in the Balkans when he was appointed Chairman of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Working Group of the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia. Beginning in July 1993, for a period of four months Mr. Ahtisaari served as Special Adviser to the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia and to the Secretary General’s Special Representative for the former Yugoslavia.
After this distinguished career with the United Nations and the Finnish Foreign Ministry, Martti Ahtisaari was elected President of the Republic of Finland in February 1994. He held office from March 1, 1994 to February 29, 2000. During this time Finland joined the European Union and overcame a severe economic recession.
Upon leaving office as President of the Republic of Finland, Mr. Ahtisaari wanted both to continue his career in international peace mediation and conflict resolution and to leave his legacy and know-how to future peace mediators. This led him in 2000 to found the Crisis Management Initiative, a non-governmental organisation of which he is Chairman of the Board.
The first of Martti Ahtisaari’s post-presidential tasks was the inspection of the IRA’s arms dumps together with fellow inspector Cyril Ramaphosa in 2000. In 2003 he chaired an independent panel on the security and safety of UN personnel in Iraq, after which he was appointed the Personal Envoy for Central Asia of the Chairman of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At the same time he became the UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, serving in this position between 2003 and 2005. In these assignments Martti Ahtisaari was assisted by CMI staff.
In 2005 Mr. Ahtisaari together with the Crisis Management Initiative facilitated the peace process between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement. In January 2005 the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) met in Helsinki for the first time to settle a conflict that had lasted for almost 30 years. This negotiation process lasted seven months altogether and included five rounds of talks, after which a common understanding on the content of the agreement was reached and the final Memorandum of Understanding was signed on August 15, 2005 in Helsinki.
In November 2005 Mr. Ahtisaari returned to the Balkans when he assumed the position of Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the future status process for Kosovo. Before this, in 1999, while still serving as the President of Finland, he joined with former Prime Minister of Russia Viktor Chernomyrdin and US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott in facilitating the withdrawal of Yugoslav/Serbian military and security forces from Kosovo and the establishment there of an international security and civil presence.
In November 2005 the UN Secretary-General, acting on the basis of the conclusions of the Security Council that the situation in Kosovo was no longer sustainable, asked Martti Ahtisaari to lead the political process to determine Kosovo’s future status. After 16 months of attempts to find a negotiated solution, Mr. Ahtisaari and his UNOSEK team sent a settlement proposal, the so-called Ahtisaari Plan, to the UN Secretary-General at the end of March 2007.
Today Mr. Ahtisaari is active in numerous non-governmental organisations. It is his firm belief that all conflicts can be solved, and his current main tasks deal with conflict resolution, peace-building and state-building. He remains Chairman of the Board of the Crisis Management Initiative. He is also the member of the Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee. In addition, Mr. Ahtisaari promotes youth employment and entrepreneurship through the ImagineNations Group.
Martti Ahtisaari believes strongly in the European values and potential of the European Union on the international scene and acts as the Co-Chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and as Chairman of the Independent Commission on Turkey, examining the challenges and opportunities presented by Turkey’s possible membership of the European Union.
Mr. Ahtisaari graduated from the University of Oulu, Finland in 1959 and holds 19 honorary doctorates from universities all over the world. He is married to Mrs. Eeva Ahtisaari and they have a son.
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/ Nobel Lectures/The Nobel Prizes. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.
Martti Ahtisaari died on 16 October 2023
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