Martti Ahtisaari – a Crisis Solver from Finland Part I

Martti Ahtisaari 1

On October 10, 2008, it was announced that former Finnish President, diplomat and peace mediator Martti Ahtisaari has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

  • Where has Ahtisaari conducted peace work?
  • What peace work has won the Ahtisaari Prize?
  • How does the Nobel Committee base this year’s award?

Prior to this year’s award, the 71-year-old Ahtisaari probably knew that he was a hot candidate for this year’s award. But he was also two years earlier. Ahtisaari and his staff at the Crisis Management Initiative – the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) – were therefore very low before the announcement at the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

In 2006, “everyone” believed that Ahtisaari would receive the award for his successful work for peace in Indonesia’s Aceh province. But then they had to put away the champagne and the soft cakes that had been made ready. Many thought that the chance for Martti Ahtisaari to get the high-hanging prize was thus over. This was not the case, and the Nobel Committee in its justification this year emphasized that it is for a lifelong work for peace that Ahtisaari now finally receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

2: Upbringing and background

According to APARENTINGBLOG.COM, Martti Ahtisaari has said in many interviews that his life’s work is the result of coincidences , but that he was early on curious about trying new things. In April 1960, he had worked for almost a year as a teacher for a fifth grade at Oulunsuu primary school in the northern Finnish city of Oulu (Oulu).

Via a friend, he received a tip that the Swedish YMCA was looking for a person who could consider working as a manager at a sports institute for which the organization was responsible in Pakistan. Martti Ahtisaari had himself been active in the Finnish YMCA and decided to apply. The salary was modest, but this choice was to be the start of an international professional career which was eventually crowned with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Martti Ahtisaari has a background that is both typical and non-typical Finnish. He was born in 1937 in the Karelian capital Viborg, what is today the Russian city of Vyborg . World War II forced Viborg to cede to the Soviet Union, and Martti Ahtisaari, along with more than 400,000 other Finns, became a refugee in his own country . But parts of his own family had moved to Finland themselves, and this happened as late as the 1870s.

Because then Adolf Olaus Jakobsen decided to leave Tistedalen in Østfold to work on the wood processing company of another Eastfolding, Hans Gutzeit, at the outlet of Kymijoki. His son Marenius, who in line with old Norwegian naming customs took the surname Adolfsen, also joined the load, and together with several other Norwegian families they formed a separate colony in what was then the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland.

Marenius Adolfsen became the father of Frank Immanuel Adolfsen, who in 1907 had a son Oiva Alvar Adolfsen. The Finnish first name says that the Norwegian immigrants were quickly assimilated into society, but until the end of the 1920s, Oiva Adolfsen was a Norwegian citizen. That this did not happen before may be due to the fact that Finland did not become an independent country until 1917 and that the Adolfsen family may have thought that it was safe and sensible not to completely break with its roots in Norway.

In 1937, the same year that Martti Ahtisaari was born, Oiva Adolfsen changed his surname to the more Finnish Ahtisaari. Other branches of the family had then chosen to call themselves Ahtovuo, while three of Oiva Adolfsen’s brothers kept their Norwegian-sounding surname.

Oiva Ahtisaari had been employed in the military as a mechanic in the 1930s, and the family lived in Kuopio for several years after World War II, before finally ending up in Oulu (Oulu), the city that Martti Ahtisaari still considers his hometown.

3: International career

It was from Oulo Ahtisaari embarked on his international career, which first gave him three years in Pakistan and Karachi. Back in Finland and Helsinki, he continued his studies, this time at the Business School. But he was quickly drawn into volunteer student work, including as head of the local branch of the Student International Aid Organization. It was through this work that in 1965 he got a job in what would eventually become a department for development aid in the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At that time, Finnish development aid, as here in Norway, was in its infancy. But Martti Ahtisaari quickly established himself as a skilled and often untraditional bureaucrat. This was in the heyday of former President Urho Kekkonen. Finnish foreign policy was about interpreting signals from its great neighbor to the east, the Soviet Union, and balancing Finnish neutrality in a way that secured the country’s place as a neutral but independent Nordic state.

Martti Ahtisaari was seen by many in this environment as a foreign bird , and it aroused attention and envy that he already as a 36-year-old in 1973 got the job as ambassador to Tanzania. But Ahtisaari was one of the few who at the time had built up expertise in Africa, and it would turn out that this would be the starting point for a career also within the UN.

This was nevertheless the start of a long career as a UN diplomat in New York, which would eventually bring the Finns almost to the top of the organization. For suddenly things began to happen in southern Africa. In 1980, Ian Smith relinquished power in the former British colony of Rhodesia, and the new Zimbabwe was also hoped for by the oppressed in South Africa and Namibia.

4: Namibia

Martti Ahtisaari himself stated to NRK after the Nobel Prize announcement on October 10 that the work he considers his most significant is what he did to bring about peace and a transition from white apartheid rule in Namibia. The situation when Ahtisaari had to take over responsibility for the UN operation in Namibia in 1989 at short notice was very tense and dangerous.

But with his ability to talk directly to the parties, he managed to avoid the situation getting completely out of control. He managed to maintain a dialogue both with the most militant in the liberation movement SWAPO and with hardline racists from the white minority government.

His decision to allow South African forces to intervene against SWAPO troops crossing the border from neighboring Angola was controversial. But Martti Ahtisaari still managed to achieve the goal: a free and democratic election and independence for Namibia. After the first free election in the autumn of 1989, he was made an honorary citizen of the country, and many young Namibians were named after the Finnish diplomat. Even then, he was known for a quality he himself today highlights as one of his best as a diplomat: patience .

In 1983, Martti Ahtisaari returned to Finland for a job as Undersecretary of State for Development Aid at the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He later rose through the ranks and in the 1990s was formally the highest official in the ministry. But for long periods only on paper, because eventually there were again big tasks internationally that called for him. For two years he led the work of getting used to the often unmanageable UN bureaucracy in New York, before, as mentioned before, he was given the responsibility of carrying out the process towards independence for Namibia.

Martti Ahtisaari 1