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Martti Ahtisaari: Close, but no cigar Martti Ahtisaari: Close, but no cigar
by Thanos Kalamidas
2006-10-15 10:05:03
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The first time I saw him he was walking just in front of me in a small road near the seaside in Töölo, Helsinki. I have to admit I didn’t recognize him at first, even though I had read so much about him and I had often seen pictures of him. He was an old man, a bit overweight and walking with the help of a cane.

When I first saw his name was during the Yugoslavian civil war and I have to admit that he was the second name that I knew from Finland, since Nokia was the first and I’m not much into car sports, so I had no idea about F1 drivers.

I was speechless after reading one of his articles for the first time, even more so after I read a bit more about him. It was one of his early articles for a Finnish newspaper and it was translated into Greek to present the man who was taking over negotiations in the then divided Yugoslavia. The name was Martti Ahtisaari and the article was against Finland’s candidacy to join the EU. He was an EU skeptic, like me, and I was surprised to find an article that echoed all my thoughts so well, especially from somebody coming from the other side of the continent.

While thinking of a country with serious agriculture problems and the need of investment in industry with underestimated production, I found somebody coming from a country, just a few hundred kilometers from the Arctic Circle, expressing exactly the same worries, even though his country was a candidate a long time after my country became a member. The biggest surprise came from the fact that the man who had expressed these opinions was the president of Finland during the period Finland joined EU as a full member. The very same man was at every step of the negotiations making sure that Finland would not lose but earn from this partnership.

Even though Martti Ahtisaari doesn’t fulfill the stereotype the Finns have for themselves - sportive and constantly serious with very few words, something that has often brought controversy between the Finns - he has managed to gain the appreciation from the rest of the world, especially the ones familiar with the actions of the UN.

Martti Ahtisaari, according to most Finns, was an invisible president. Actually, he was just different to what they were used to. He was definitely not the outspoken Urho Kekkonen, with his regular long travels and walks in Lapland, and definitely was not Mauno Koivisto. Ahtisaari looks more like a very intelligent director and his whole style helps that. There is a popular anecdote that his advisers suggested to him that he start playing golf due to his lack of any kind of exercise; the poor man followed the advice.

Despite never being sure of what his golf score was, Ahtisaari definitely knew the score with the Indonesian separatist’s group leading them to talks with the Indonesian government and, by the end of 2005 in an agreement signed in Aceh, he had brokered an agreement that has brought an end to a civil war that cost 15,000 lives in three years.

Martti Ahtisaari, after Indonesia and his first involvement with Kosovo during 1999 while he was in the final year of his presidency, has built the reputation of a diplomat able to handle missions impossible, even in mid-2001 he served as an independent arms inspector in Northern Ireland.

Losing the Nobel Peace Prize was obviously pure politics. Kosovo is too early to show if it will be a success or not and a negotiation demands the two sides to be willing to negotiate, so it is unfair to blame it on Martti Ahtisaari. Still, let’s hope that he will be able to take it next year or get it in the hearts of the people he gave peace to as a present, which would be even better.

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Asa2006-10-14 15:30:16
Hang in there, Martti! There are many more years to come.

Thanos2006-10-15 15:33:58
I think this was the second time his name was in the list!

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