Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending conflicts around the globe, has died.
The former United Nations diplomat passed away at the age of 86 after battling Alzheimer’s disease, Finland’s presidential office said on Monday.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto paid tribute to Ahtisaari, describing the former leader as a “president in times of change”, “a citizen of the world” and a “great Finn”.
Ahtisaari will receive a state funeral, with the date to be announced later, the Crisis Management Initiative he founded said, Reuters stated.
Ahtisaari played a key role in negotiating peace on multiple continents, including agreements related to Namibia’s independence in the 1980s, Serbia’s withdrawal from Kosovo in the late 1990s, and autonomy for Aceh province in Indonesia in 2005.
When the Norwegian Nobel Committee recognised Ahtisaari in October 2008, it lauded “his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts”.
“Peace is a question of will,” Ahtisaari said while accepting the award. “All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal.”
Born on June 23, 1937, in Viipuri, which is now part of Russia, Ahtisaari began his career as a primary school teacher before joining Finland’s foreign ministry in 1965.
As a diplomat, Ahtisaari served as ambassador to Tanzania, Zambia, Somalia and the United Nations in New York.
After being named Namibia’s special representative by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in 1978, Ahtisaari helped secure the African country’s independence, for which he was granted honorary citizenship.
In 1994, Ahtisaari was elected as the 10th president of Finland as the country transitioned from an electoral college system to direct elections.
His international prominence peaked in 1999 when he negotiated the end of the conflict in Kosovo alongside Russia’s Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin.
During his time in office, he was a fervent advocate for Finland’s membership of the European Union and NATO, both of which the country eventually joined.
After he declined a second presidential term in 2000 to dedicate his time to Finland’s rotating EU presidency, Ahtisaari founded the CMI to promote dialogue and mediation in conflicts.
He is survived by his wife, Eeva, and their son.