Dear Mrs Eeva Ahtisaari, Mr Marko Ahtisaari,
Your Excellencies, friends and colleagues of Martti Ahtisaari,
A great life’s work has been completed. Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari, the tenth President of the Republic of Finland, has passed into eternity.
Martti Ahtisaari lived a long and impressive life. He was a great Finn, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He put his own stamp on both the Finnish history and the international history.
In all his actions, he placed people at the heart of everything. He saw everyone as a fellow human being. And even in the most hardened individuals, he saw something good worth reaching out to. Something upon which to build a connection and peace. On which to work tirelessly for a better future.
Martti Ahtisaari was very little a politician and very much a diplomat. In the presidential election of 1994, he made an intervention – an outsider in politics was elected to a leading role on the political scene.
He did not seek to adapt to the political customs, for which he was also criticised. But before long, the political mores started to shift more in his direction. As has been aptly described, Ahtisaari was a “man of low hierarchies”.
In the same manner as in successful diplomacy, in successful leadership you cannot hide behind statements, points of law or protocol. That is something you practice with your whole personality. And this is exactly what Ahtisaari did.
Those who worked with him have described him as a calm, patient and warm person. A man who took time to stop and listen. But, if necessary, he turned into a tough and determined negotiator.
Many people have certainly shared the experience of how Martti was a master in easing the nervousness or timidness people felt when coming to meet him. Often it sufficed that he started the encounter by warmly saying: “Hi, what’s on your mind today?”
As a Karelian evacuee, Ahtisaari described himself as an eternal refugee. Later, this childhood experience of how vulnerable one’s everyday life can be, helped him put himself in the place of people in distress in conflict areas.
It would be easy to think that being torn away from one’s own roots in childhood was the thing that drove Ahtisaari out into the world. It is unlikely that he himself would have agreed with this. It was a young man’s curiosity and his endlessly active personality that took him to foreign countries, but his roots remained deep in the Finnish soil.
Martti knew his country. His place of residence had changed many times, and this taught him about the diversity of Finnish identities. And he remembered them all with appreciation and great respect. Ordinary citizens all around Finland also got to experience this on the many visits he made to Finnish provinces. And there were quite a few of those. “Of course I will come” was an often heard reply to the invitations to visit different parts of the country.
Ahtisaari’s term of office as President in 1994 began under grim economic circumstances. First of all, the President took a prominent role in the debate and actions to reverse the effects of the recession and get the economy back on track. The aim was to promote the matter of the fatherland, to help Finland succeed in foreign relations and the economy.
In his inauguration speech, Martti Ahtisaari required that all future decisions be made with a sense of justice: “Human dignity must be the basis for a new policy of consensus. We must make sure that those of our fellow citizens who are in a less fortunate position do not lose faith in the future.”
Martti Ahtisaari enjoyed wide international acclaim. The most visible recognition of this was the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to him for his significant efforts for peace. As indicated by the many greetings and condolence messages from around the world, President Ahtisaari has also left a permanent mark on people.
The respect was also visible, for example, at the dinner arranged in connection with the European Council in Florence in 1996 that I attended as a novice. While enjoying their dinner, the heads of state were speaking freely of the matters that had not been discussed during the day. There came a moment when all forks were put aside. Martti Ahtisaari had the floor, and the atmosphere around the table intensified. Everyone wanted to hear clearly what he had to say.
For him, peace was a verb, a matter of will. It meant full commitment to one’s work but also challenging those who had the power to influence things. The message to them was: “There are always interests that are furthered by war. Therefore, those who have power and influence can also stop them.”
In peace mediation, Ahtisaari undoubtedly started the sessions by easing the tension in his calm style. He listened more than he spoke, steering the conversation towards the core of the conflict. Little by little, he disarmed the parties engaged in the discussion.
This approach derived from his belief that what people have broken, people can also mend. When acting as a peace negotiator, it was important that everyone touched by the war had a chance to get their voice heard. Securing the position of women and girls was particularly important.
The work President Ahtisaari did in Indonesia, Kosovo and Namibia and many other places has left its mark on the lives of numerous people. Many of those who met him on his travels around the world have now come here from long distances to pay their last respects. His work has also inspired, and continues to inspire, new generations of Finnish diplomats. His example showed how hard work and strong convictions bear fruit. It showed that, in the world of diplomacy, even a small nation can have great achievements.
But ultimately, and first and foremost, Martti Ahtisaari was a husband and a father. For him, this was not a one-way street either. Eeva and Marko, you have traversed a long way alongside Martti. On several occasions, he emphasised the invaluable importance of your support. The way you cared for him after he got ill has been touching.
Eeva’s role included much more than her tasks as a diplomat’s wife. You did a tremendous job together. During my state visit to Namibia last spring, I repeatedly heard memories about Eeva and Martti, about what they did and achieved together.
Today, the whole of Finland and President Martti Ahtisaari’s friends and colleagues around the world remember him and his life’s work with deep respect and gratitude and with the greatest of sympathy for his loved ones and friends.