5: In the former Yugoslavia
In 1991, wars broke out in the former Yugoslavia. Ahtisaari was then given the difficult job of leading the UN-appointed working group that was to try to prevent the conflict from developing further. This work failed in several areas, which can hardly be blamed on Ahtisaari personally.
The great powers, not least the EU and the US, never managed to agree on how to intervene to prevent the conflict from spreading to the ethnic patchwork of Bosnia, and we all know the result today. Between 1992 and 1995, tens of thousands of people were killed in Bosnia and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes.
But Martti Ahtisaari, who during this period also worked closely with his old acquaintance Thorvald Stoltenberg, became an international celebrity during this period , which was also noticed in his native Finland. Could this be the man who could lead Finland towards the turn of the millennium, in a Europe that after the collapse of the Soviet Union had become quite different?
6: President Ahtisaari
According to CALCULATORINC.COM, Martti Ahtisaari as a possible presidential candidate had already appeared after the Namibian success in 1989, but in 1992 speculation about his name really took off. Ever since the country became independent in 1917, Finland had elected president through a so-called electoral system, ie not direct elections such as in France. But under President Mauno Koivisto, the constitution was changed, and thus the stage was set for a new and more open political landscape in Finland ahead of the 1994 election.
Throughout his adult life, Martti Ahtisaari had had a Christian-Socialist basic view and was a member of the Social Democratic Party. But he had not participated in the often bone-chilling and, in some people’s opinion, dirty political game. He was therefore seen as a candidate who could enter the presidency with clean hands.
Among the established Social Democrats, it was read and decided in the early 1990s that the longtime Minister of State and Foreign Affairs, Kalevi Sorsa, should end his career as President of Finland.
But Sorsa also had many opponents within his own party who believed he belonged to a hopelessly outdated political culture. It was these who, from the winter of 1993, seriously launched a campaign to get Martti Ahtisaari to run as a candidate for the Social Democrats.
And the Social Democrats’ primary election in the spring of 1993 showed that Ahtisaari had broad popular appeal, and in the presidential election itself he won a clear victory over the rival candidate Elisabeth Rehn. On March 1, 1994, he began his six-year presidency. Many were excited about how a man who had spent a large part of his life abroad would be able to solve that task.
Martti Ahtisaari went to work as Finland’s leader with great zeal and announced that he would once a month travel to different parts of Finland to get acquainted with ordinary people’s everyday lives and problems. He was also actively involved in reducing the high unemployment rate that plagued Finland at this time. Through his powerful commitment, he came on a collision course with the Center Party-led government, which believed it was he who should have control over Finnish domestic policy.
Martti Ahtisaari’s strong international affiliation also made him a strong supporter of Finnish EU membership, and the president’s involvement was undoubtedly a contributing factor to the Finns saying yes to membership in the union through a referendum in the autumn of 1994.
Another highlight of Ahtisaari’s career was when in 1997 he hosted another summit between the Russian and US presidents.
7: Crisis Management Initiative (CMI)
Martti Ahtisaari had not been unfamiliar with the idea of a new six-year term as Finnish president after 2000, but it became clear long before the election that he could not count on unconditional support for this from his own party, the Social Democrats. They wanted Martti Ahtisaari to announce in good time if he wanted to be their candidate, but he refused.
And perhaps it was with a certain relief that he thereby renounced the opportunity to continue as president. He also did not ask for the return of the Social Democratic party book he had given away as the newly elected president in 1994.
Many might have thought that it was a slightly tired 63-year-old Martti Ahtisaari who on March 1, 2000 walked out of the modest presidential palace at Market Square in Helsinki, and that he now wanted to use his spacious retirement pension for a comfortable life with Eeva.
But it seemed as if he had, in a sense, thrown off a burden, and he joined almost immediately with a group of young enthusiastic employees to form what is today known as the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) . The center’s position is entirely based on the prestige that Ahtisaari enjoys internationally, but he himself says that one of his most important tasks now is to involve young people, not just from Finland, in active conflict prevention work around the world.