It is with great sadness that we have received the news of the death of President Martti Ahtisaari. He passed away at the age of 86, after a long illness.
Martti Ahtisaari was a citizen of the world, a great Finn. A teacher, diplomat and head of state. A peace negotiator and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
A Finn with a big heart. Martti Ahtisaari believed in humanity, civilisation and goodness. He worked tirelessly to secure peace and life. Even for those who lived far away and in very different circumstances. For him, human dignity was indivisible.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter whom Ahtisaari greatly respected: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Martti Ahtisaari was a Karelian evacuee. An eternal refugee, as he often said. His childhood experience of the evacuation journey in the cold and dark towards an unknown destination influenced his world view and actions. It did not make him bitter, but gave him an understanding of human fate and a sense of the value of peace.
He was a peacemaker whose career included an exceptionally long list of internationally significant achievements. The late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was very right when he said that Ahtisaari was the only person he knew who had made peace on three continents. The appreciation and gratitude for Ahtisaari’s work lives on. I had the opportunity to witness this recently in my discussions in South Africa and Namibia in the spring.
Ahtisaari’s lifetime achievement as a peacemaker was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. The prize was awarded for his personal merits, but the moment was memorable for all Finns. The recognition touched the whole nation.
In his Nobel speech, Ahtisaari said that all conflicts can be resolved: “Wars and conflicts are not inevitable. They are caused by human beings. There are always interests that are furthered by war. Therefore those who have power and influence can also stop them.”
This is a strong message of hope and learning, which resonates also in our time.
The work of the peace negotiator is ongoing and visible. The Crisis Management Initiative, a peace mediation organisation founded by Mr Ahtisaari after his time as President, continues his work and valuable legacy of promoting peace.
Martti Ahtisaari was the first President of the Republic of Finland elected by a direct vote. As President, he found himself in a new situation, not only as the President of the people, but also as President at a time when Finland was increasingly open to the West and the European Union.
In addition to joining the EU, Finland took an active international role. President Ahtisaari acted consistently, opening doors and promoting international reconciliation and dialogue between leaders, including those of the United States and Russia. He wanted Finland to be an active player in the international community, because that was also in Finland’s interest.
Here in Finland, we remember Ahtisaari’s work to promote entrepreneurship and Finnish exports, his efforts to reduce high unemployment and his cooperation with the Government to make Finland’s EU membership a reality. This all reflects a great sense of responsibility for the fatherland.
Although Ahtisaari lived abroad for much of his life, he said he was extremely happy to be born in a Nordic country. He greatly valued the Nordic welfare society and the way in which Finland has been built. He wanted to promote the Nordic model of gender equality to the world, reminding us that nothing will change in this world unless we have girls and women educated and involved in decision-making.
For Ahtisaari, trust was an essential part of being Finnish. It was also important for him to build trust in international negotiations. He did not impose ready-made models, but knew that sustainable structures can only be built on trust. By example and understanding, results can be achieved.
The death of President Martti Ahtisaari is a great loss for his family and the people of Finland. Eeva and Marko, you have walked a long way alongside Martti. On several occasions, he emphasised the invaluable importance of your support.
At a time of grief and loss, we also feel a deep sense of gratitude for Martti Ahtisaari’s long and impressive lifetime of service for Finland and the world.