Interview with 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Martti Ahtisaari, 21 January 2009. The interviewer is Marika Griehsel, freelance journalist.
Martti Ahtisaari discusses why his work in Namibia is his “most important undertaking”, why he is not in the business of leaving conflicts unresolved (13:00), why globalization can be a positive development (17:57), and why it is important to address employment possibilities for the youth (22:00). He also explains why he respects Nelson Mandela (26:34), why contemporary societies are threatened internally (34:32), and why he is prepared to learn from everyone he meets (40:58).
Telephone interview with Martti Ahtisaari, recorded three hours after the announcement of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize, 10 October 2008. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org.
[Unknown] Riikka Marjamäki.
[Adam Smith] Oh hello, it’s Adam Smith calling from the Nobel Foundation web site in Stockholm.
[Unknown] Hello. The President is sitting next to me and I’ll give the phone to him.
[AS] Thank you very much indeed, that’s splendid.
[Martti Ahtisaari] Hallo.
[AS] Oh hello. Congratulations on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize.
[MA] Thank you.
[AS] I just wanted to ask you a very few quick questions please.
[MA] Please go ahead.
[AS] Thank you. Well first of all, I wanted to ask whether your experience of the many conflict situations you’ve witnessed around the world give you hope that such conflicts are essentially solvable?
[MA] Yes, I tend to say every time I speak nowadays that every conflict can be
solved. I think it’s a disgrace for the international community that we have allowed so many conflicts to become frozen, and we are not making a serious effort to solve them.
[AS] And, do previous crises suggest that there are general principles that can be applied to conflict resolution?
[MA] First of all, I think the parties must be interested in settling the conflict. Then, all those countries that have an influence on the possible solution, they have to be able to cooperate. It’s actually perhaps my most fascinating experiences where, when I dealt with, many years with, Namibia. That we had a contact group then that included over and above the western five countries. We had meetings even during the implementation of the plan, in a group that included United States, the old South Africa, Angola, Russia and Cuba. And old Soviet Union because the change was taking place at the time. So, it simply shows that there are possibilities to get the different parties together. But it requires … Kosovo is a good example that, when we had a contact group that included Russian Federation, United States, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, France, Germany and Italy, it was absolutely vital in keeping the process together.
[AS] So it’s crucially important to get all parties involved to the table.
[MA] Yes, and then for a negotiator like myself, one principle is extremely important. I insist that I will have a free hand to pick my colleagues. Because, very often, the organizations tend to send people that are not perhaps the most suited in that. They may be excellent otherwise. So in Kosovo, for instance, and in Namibia, and in Aceh, I have always picked my own people. Because they are often very small and they have to be able to work together. They have to be professionals. They have to master their speciality area, so that you can trust them.
[AS] And I suppose therefore, hence the need for things like the Crisis Management Initiative that you’ve begun?
[MA] Yes, and I sincerely hope that one of the outcomes of this Prize which I’m going to receive in December is that we can secure the funding more easily. Far too much of my time goes for knocking on the doors of the donors. Because I think it’s important that those organizations like CMI who have proved their capabilities, that they will be supported. We can do much more than we have done so far.
[AS] And in general, do you see a more important role for independent organizations like CMI?
[MA] Yes, because we are much more flexible. And of course, the mere fact that I’m Former Head of State and Former Under-Secretary in the UN system, it means that I can get in touch with anybody in the world, in theory. And, because one thing is also very important – you should not work alone. Very often you need, like in Aceh, even if the UN was not involved, Secretary-General Kofi Annan helped me making phone calls when I had difficult times, and he was extremely helpful in that. But we were former colleagues. And you can ask the governments to step in and give you support when it’s badly needed. So, I think this rather ideal combination – my own background, and then the competent young professionals that are working with me in CMI.
[AS] Yes indeed. One thing you emphasize in CMI is rapid reaction.
[MA] Yes. And that is one thing which, where the sort of basic financing is needed. Very often the donors, they are very happy to finance different projects, but you need people to develop those projects. You need to carry out very careful pre-feasibility and feasibility studies before you enter any crisis situation. Core funding is of absolute importance and that’s something that the donors are not terribly good at at the moment.
[AS] And then core funding puts you in the position to be able to react rapidly.
[MA] Yes, exactly.
[AS] Yes. Okay, my last question. You’ve already mentioned one thing that you hope for the Nobel Peace Prize will bring in terms of the message that it sends out. Are there any other things that you wish to …
[MA] It has definitely reinforced my work in Kosovo. And I was very pleased this morning when I woke up and looked at the papers very early on today, that two neighbouring countries of Kosovo had recognized Kosovo – Macedonia and Montenegro.
[AS] That’s something to celebrate today as well, yes.
[AS] Okay, well thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.
[MA] Oh, that’s my pleasure.
[AS] And …
[MA] And my apologies that it took such a long time, but my assistants do nothing nowadays except to try to answer the phones.
[AS] I think it’s going to be that way for some days to come.
[MA] All my friends have been calling me. Which is of course extremely nice.
[AS] Yes, it must be nice to be so popular for a …
[MA] Thank you.
[AS] Okay, thank you. Bye bye.
Did you find any typos in this text? We would appreciate your assistance in identifying any errors and to let us know. Thank you for taking the time to report the errors by sending us an e-mail.
Watch the live stream of the announcements.