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Biography of CMI founder Martti Ahtisaari reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement

Published on Monday, 9th of May 2016

How did a small-town high school graduate with no formal qualifications become one of the world’s favourite fixers of apparently insoluble problems? asks Alex de Waal in his review on President Martti Ahtisaari’s biography The Mediator published in The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) last week.

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Ahtisaari is a former UN diplomat, a Finnish statesman and a renowned peace mediator in international conflicts. Upon stepping down as President of Finland in 2000, he founded CMI the same year. Eight years later he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leading role in bringing independence to Namibia, in Serbia’s withdrawal from Kosovo, and in the peaceful transition to autonomy for Aceh in Indonesia. The English translation of the biography of this veteran negotiator was reviewed recently in the widely-respected British periodical The Times Literary Supplement (TLS).

The original book in Finnish, Matkalla was written by Suomen Kuvalehti journalists Katri Merikallio and Tapani Ruokanen. The English translation The Mediator, by David Mitchell and Pamela Kaskinen, is published by Hurst and Oxford University Press.  The review, published in the 4 May 2016 edition of the TLS, was written by Alex de Waal, who is executive director of the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. de Waal is considered one of the world’s leading experts on Sudan and the Horn of Africa.

The review is available for subscription only on TLS website

Some excerpts from the review:

“How did a small-town high school graduate with no formal qualifications become one of the world’s favourite fixers of apparently insoluble problems? […] This slightly overweight, often plodding, thoroughly rigorous, detailed and frank book gives answers. Like the [Ahtisaari] himself, it’s pedestrian but it gets there. And this biography also walks, quietly and determinedly, into the fiercest debates on international security.”

“The Mediator allows us to list some of the qualities required. Let us begin with humility: a virtue Ahtisaari possesses amply, in proportion to his personal acuity. At no stage does it appear that Ahtisaari has made a decision out of desire for personal grandeur.”

“A mediator also needs to have a thick skin. Ahtisaari exemplifies the maxim that negotiations should not be conducted through the media, and that the mediator should be ready to take any blame cast on him, fairly or unfairly. A standing joke among mediators is that God blesses the peacemakers, because no one else will.”