October 10th, 2008

dancing cyberman

Nobel Peace Prize

I am totally delighted to hear that Martti Ahtisaari has been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize, "for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts". It's quite possible that a lot of readers haven't heard of him; he is probably best known for having been President of Finland between 1994 and 2000, but he has done numerous other important things as well - in particular, he was the UN Special Representative who shepherded Namibia to independence in 1989-90, and as such is perhaps the only person now alive who has been in charge of two different countries in two different continents. He also more recently brokered the peace settlement in the long-running conflict in Aceh, Indonesia.

I've known Ahtisaari since 2000, when he took on the chairmanship of my then future employers, the International Crisis Group, and so we saw each other a fair bit at Balkan events in Brussels. We also chatted then about his role in the Northern Ireland peace process. I joined ICG as director of their Balkans programme in 2002, and at our first internal meeting I quoted Shaw's line from John Bull's Other Island about one's duty to Ireland, Finland and Macedonia; Ahtisaari laughed much louder than one expects from a Finn. He left the ICG board in 2004, but we stayed in contact as he was put in charge of the UN process of finding a final status for Kosovo; I remember one visit to his office in Vienna where our conversation was delayed by his trying to get his latest Nokia gadget to work (his son at the time was Nokia's director of design strategy). Ahtisaari is fascinated by the role technology can play in helping to resolve conflict, and as well as other continuing behind-the-scenes work, he is these days most involved with his Crisis Management Initiative, which will carry on his vision into the future (he is 71).

The Nobel Peace Prize often goes to interesting people, and I've met several others who have won it, but this is the first time it has gone to someone I know at all well; and he richly deserves it.

Elders visit Cyprus

Rather nice footage from earlier this week, when Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Lakhdar Brahimi visited Cyprus to boost the peace process as part of their activity with the Elders. They start off with President Christofias in the South, then go north at the recently opened Ledra Street crossing, meet with President Talat at his residence, and then give a joint press conference at the Ledra Palace Hotel (where I have certain memories).

It's nice to see a peace process going the right way. (The keen-eyed will spot Mabel van Oranje in the background.) (Follow-up video here, of the Elders meeting with young Cypriots.)