Dutch honour for Kosovo mediator Ahtisaari
Finnish politician Martti Ahtisaari (70) is known as a seasoned mediator. For the past 30 years, the United Nations has been sending him to all kinds of conflict areas around the globe to reconcile the warring parties in question. By Klaas den Tek
Finnish politician Martti Ahtisaari (70) is known as a seasoned mediator. For the past 30 years, the United Nations has been sending him to all kinds of conflict areas around the globe to reconcile the warring parties in question.
As a UN envoy, Mr Ahtisaari played a crucial role in the Kosovo crisis, which eventually resulted in Kosovar independence being declared in February. His commitment to solving conflicts has now been honoured with a Geuzenpenning, or Beggars’ medal, which is awarded to people who have distinguished themselves in the fight for democracy and against dictatorship, racism and discrimination. The word geuzen was adopted as an honorary nickname by 16th century Dutch noblemen whose possessions where confiscated by the Spanish king when they joined Prince William of Orange in his fight for independence.
Mr Ahtisaari laid the foundation for his work as mediator in the 1970s, when he was appointed ambassador to Tanzania, and established contact with the Namibian independence movement SWAPO. From 1977 until 1990 the Finnish diplomat serves as the UN secretary’s general special envoy to Namibia. From 1989 he led a UN peacekeeping force in Namibia. At the end of that year, free elections were held in Namibia for the first time ever. Despite the fact that this was his first major success as mediator, it is still seen as his most difficult assignment. “Namibia was very difficult because it claimed more than 13 years of my life. There were phases when nothing happened. We had to wait around a lot. Political processes that kept stalling. It was exhausting, because you wanted to see quick results”.
The Kosovo crisis
Martti Ahtisaari was involved in the Kosovo crisis from 1999. As Finnish president he acted on behalf of the European Union to end the armed conflict in what was at the time still an autonomous Serbian province. Mr Ahtisaari says that back then it was not yet clear what was to be done about Kosovo. Clarity only came after NATO intervened and Kosovo was placed under international supervision. In 2007, Mr Ahtisaari as special UN envoy presented a plan for the future of Kosovo. He presents a strong case for Kosovar independence: “The plan was aimed at creating conditions for a multi-ethnic society, which included protection for minorities; primarily the Kosovar Serbs. The plans included provisions to this end. I still meet people who feel I should have continued the negotiations. It would not have resulted in a different outcome. The majority wanted independence”.
Independence for Kosovo finally comes in February 2008. The declaration of independence says that Kosovo was created on the basis of Mr Ahtisaari’s plan. The declaration led to rioting in Belgrade. It is feared a new Balkan conflict may break out, but after a few days things calm down again. The past has learned that sometimes only a rumour will suffice to rekindle ethnic conflict. And yet, Mr Ahtisaari is positive about the region’s future. “You see that most countries want to join the European Union. But they will have to reconcile. They can only join when they are well and truly ready and meet all criteria. Maybe we have acted too fast in some cases. If you look at the legal systems in some of the new member states, they sometimes leave much to be desired”.
It is not just in Kosovo and Namibia that Mr Ahtisaari has proven himself an able mediator. In 2000, he monitored the disarmament of the IRA in Northern Ireland as an inspector. In 2005, he mediates in the Aceh crisis, where rebels of the Free Aceh Movement have been fighting for independence from Indonesia for decades. His mediation brings an end to the 30-year war. The Finnish mediator says that all these posts have one important basic idea in common: “The need to do good. I want to be part of processes that show the world that the international community can do good. Not to make compromises that undermine our values. Which, by the way, is not always possible. So far, I have been really fortunate. I have worked together with very professional, critical people. No yes-men who always agreed with me, because they are useless. I would never have been able to accomplish this on my own.”
Since 1987, the Beggars’ medal (Geuzenpenning) has been awarded every year to people or institutions which have distinguished themselves in the fight for democracy and against dictatorship, racism and discrimination. The word geuzen was first adopted as an honorary nickname by 16th century Dutch noblemen whose possessions where confiscated by the Spanish king when they joined Prince William of Orange in his fight for independence. The Beggars’ medal is an initiative of a group called Stichting Geuzenverzet 1940-1945 which was created to keep alive the ideals of the World War II resistance fighters who named themselves after the historical Geuzen who fought in the Eighty Year War (1568-1648) against Spain.
Earlier winners include Human Rights Watch, former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and the Anne Frank Foundation. The Beggars’ medal will be awarded to Martti Ahtisaari by Education Minister Ronald Plasterk in the main church in the town of Vlaardingen.
*RNW translation (gsh)
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]