Martti Ahtisaari remembered

Martti Ahitsaari
© 2014 Matteo Mencarelli, All Rights Reserved

It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Martti Ahtisaari, co-chair emeritus of ECFR. The European Council on Foreign Relations was blessed to have Martti Ahtisaari as its co- chair from the very beginning in 2007 (alongside Joschka Fisher and Mabel van Oranje).

By lending his stature to an upstart organisation, he helped give birth to a different kind of institution and had a big impact on our objectives, the values we live by, and our way of working.

It was a role that he took very seriously, diligently attending meetings, participating in debates on high politics as well as organisational problems, and always available for advice.

Martti was always immensely calm, practical, and pragmatic on the means to be adopted – but also very clear on the morality of our ends. As ECFR’s former CEO Dick Oosting said, “Martti was the embodiment of the true Elder: humane, gentle, slightly mischievous, but above all wise and understanding. All of which does not obscure his strength of conviction and clarity of purpose – there is something unmistakably steely underneath that should never be underestimated”.

A highlight remembered by all the ECFR council members who were there was the masterclass he gave to an early ECFR council meeting on “How to win the Nobel peace prize”. This was a prize he earned many times over, whether it was working on a plan for the independence of Namibia, helping to devise a peaceful settlement of the war in Kosovo, or mediating in places within the EU such as Northern Ireland and even Austria.

When Martti stepped down from ECFR’s board, Javier Solana made a beautiful tribute to him:

“Aceh was your masterpiece. Taking such an intelligent advantage to a natural catastrophe, to convince the conflicting groups that working together, making peace, was the intelligent way to overcome the brutality of nature. And you invested all of yourself and enlisted your friends to achieve what seemed almost impossible. How clearly you saw that a presence on the ground would be necessary for a time, to maintain calm until the negotiations were finished. And the EU responded to the appeal of a great Europe and peace was achieved and is still maintained today. You brought the EU to Indonesia and all of ASEAN will never forget it.”

But it was striking that Martti was just as willing to spend time talking to the most junior staff members as to presidents and prime ministers. Many remember him coming from his formal consultations with the government to a spare hour on a Friday afternoon with the staff in the London office to chat about the world, his experiences, and life in general. Colleagues still talk about how special that felt.

Martti’s death leaves a big gap behind because he was so mindful about how he used his life to help others. As Mabel van Oranje said in her tribute to him when he stepped down from the board: “you chose to do whatever would allow you to make the biggest possible difference”.   And we hope that ECFR can be a fitting part of his legacy. 

Joschka Fischer, Mabel van Oranje, and Mark Leonard

16 October 2023

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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