Martti Ahtisaari, Finland’s Nobel Prize Laureate, Dies at 86

Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland and Nobel prize recipient who brokered peace on three continents, has died. He was 86.

(Bloomberg) — Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland and Nobel prize recipient who brokered peace on three continents, has died. He was 86.

Ahtisaari died at 6:40 a.m. in Helsinki on Monday, the Finnish president’s office said in a statement. He had withdrawn from public life in 2021 due to advanced Alzheimer’s. 

Ahtisaari focused his life around peace building, culminating in the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. His notable efforts to resolve conflicts included helping win Namibia’s independence from South Africa in 1990 and aiding the resolution of a dispute in Indonesia’s Aceh province in 2005.

“He was a peace maker whose career contained an extraordinary number of internationally significant achievements,” President Sauli Niinisto said in televised comments. 

Another of Ahtisaari’s efforts was negotiating peace in Kosovo before it declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after a war over the territory.

“He stood shoulder to shoulder with us as we penned our story as a sovereign, democratic, and independent state,” Kosovo’s president, Vjosa Osmani, said in a tribute on social media. “His visionary legacy will forever live in the memory of the people of Kosovo.” 

Ahtisaari served as Finland’s 10th president for a single six-year term until 2000, steering the Nordic nation to European Union membership.

“Ahtisaari believed in humankind, civilization and goodness, and he lived a great, significant life,” Niinisto said in the statement. “He was president in times of change, who piloted Finland into a global EU era.”

Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari was born on June 23, 1937, in Viipuri, which was then part of Finland and is now the Russian city of Vyborg. 

His father, Oiva, was a military technician. His mother, Tyyne, was a housewife. The family was forced to flee when war broke out in 1939. The experience made him an “eternally displaced person,” Ahtisaari said in an interview in 2008.

Having studied education at university, Ahtisaari began his career as a primary-school teacher in Finland and Pakistan, before joining the Finnish Foreign Ministry. 

There, he rose through the ranks to become ambassador to several African nations, including Tanzania and Zambia. As a diplomat, he worked most of his life abroad, holding numerous positions at the United Nations starting in 1978. 

As a mediator, Ahtisaari was unrelenting, persistent and knew how to defuse pressure through negotiations.

As his term as Finland’s president was ending, Ahtisaari didn’t seek reelection. Instead, he founded Crisis Management Initiative, a nonprofit peace-brokering organization that works to prevent and resolve violent conflicts through informal dialog and mediation. The organization later became CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation.

He also served on the boards of UPM-Kymmene Oyj, a Finnish forestry company, and Elcoteq SE, a former contract manufacturer of consumer electronics.

He is survived by his wife Eeva and their son, Marko.

(Adds comment from Kosovo president in sixth paragraph.)

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