Martti Ahtisaari (born June 23, 1937) was a UN diplomat and a President of Finland (1994 - 2000).
Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari was born in Viipuri. His father was of Norwegian descent. During the Continuation War his family moved to Kuopio, where he spent most of his childhood until they moved to Oulu in 1952. In Oulu, he joined the local YMCA. In 1959, he graduated as a teacher through a distance-learning course.
In 1960, he moved to Karachi, Pakistan, to lead the YMCA's physical education training establishment, where he was accustomed to more international environment. He returned in 1963 and went to Helsinki Polytechnic but also was active in the organizations responsible to aid to developing countries. In 1965, he joined the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in its Bureau for Technical Cooperation.
In 1973, President Urho Kekkonen accredited him as Finnish ambassador for Tanzania, Zambia, Somalia and Mozambique. During his term (1973-1977) he formed contacts with SWAPO in Dar Es Salaam. At the end of the term he became a United Nations commissioner for Namibia with African support.
In 1978, Ahtisaari and his family moved to New York when he was appointed Under Secretary-General of the United Nations for Administration and Management - first with Kurt Waldheim and then with Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. He remained the special representative of the secretary-general for Namibia, studied possibilities for the eventual independence for Namibia and maintained contact between the UN, SWAPO and the OAU.
In March 1989, Ahtisaari was sent to Namibia to lead 8,000 UN peacekeepers and civilian aides of UN's Transition Assistance Group. When SWAPO troops barged in, Ahtisaari had to deputize South African troops to stabilize the situation in the name of UN. He still managed to direct the country towards its first free elections in November. He remains an honorary Namibian citizen.
Ahtisaari returned to the UN but in 1991 he was selected for the position of secretary of state in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. He also directed the UN approach to Iraq in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War but his moderate stance is believed to have cost him US support in the election for UN secretary-general.
Ahtisaari's presidential campaign began when he was still in the council about the war in Bosnia. Recession in Finland had caused established political figures to lose public support and the presidential elections were now direct, instead of handled through the elector process. In 1993, Ahtisaari accepted the candidacy of the Social Democratic Party. His politically untarnished image was a major factor in the election.
Ahtisaari began his term with a schism with the Centre Party-led government because prime minister Esko Aho did not approve of his wish to attend to foreign political affairs. During his term Finland joined the European Union and Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton met in Helsinki. He traveled extensively over the country. He also negotiated alongside Viktor Chernomyrdin with Slobodan Milosevic to end the fighting in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo in 1999.
Ahtisaari did not seek re-election in 2000. He has accepted positions in various international organizations. In 2000, the British government appointed him to the team overseeing the inspections of IRA weapons decomissioning in Northern Ireland.