The hearse of the former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, arrived at the Hietaniemi Cemetery in Helsinki on November 10, 2023. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY
Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president, the peacemaker—Nobel Peace Prize laureate—received a state funeral on the grey, rainy Friday in Helsinki.
Ahtisaari died on October 16 at the age of 86.
More than 800 dignitaries and guests, including Namibian President Hage Geingob, the former Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete, Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani and the former leaders of Indonesia and its Free Aceh rebel movement, attended the ceremony at the Helsinki Cathedral. King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf and the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, were also among the guests.
“He has always been respected around the world, but only after Ahtisaari died did the real respect begin to show. And it was great to see,” said Eero Heinäluoma, a former chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and a speaker of the Parliament, outside the church. Ahtisaari was a member of SDP.
Inside, President Sauli Niinistö said in his eulogy that the former president “lived a long and impressive life.” “He was a great Finn,” he said and continued, “He put his own stamp on both the Finnish history and the international history.”
“As a Karelian evacuee, Ahtisaari described himself as an eternal refugee. Later, this childhood experience of how vulnerable one’s everyday life can be, helped him put himself in the place of people in distress in conflict areas,” President Niinistö said. “The work President Ahtisaari did in Indonesia, Kosovo and Namibia and many other places has left its mark on the lives of numerous people. Many of those who met him on his travels around the world have now come here from long distances to pay their last respects.”
Ahtisaari mediated peace deals for the independence of Namibia in the 1980s, for the Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo in the late 1990s and for the self-rule of the Indonesian province of Aceh in 2005. He also worked on the Northern Ireland peace process in the late 1990s, helping to oversee the disarmament process of the IRA.
The former prime minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, was in the Finnish media spotlight with her umbrella and the loss of her shoe on the way out of the church. Photograph: SEPPO SIRKKA/EASTPRESS
Ahtisaari’s blessing ceremony began with the anthem “An Ending” by Brian Eno. Then the boys’ choir Cantores Minores of the Helsinki Cathedral performed Jean Sibelius’ “The Song of My Heart.”
Widow Eeva Ahtisaari and son Marko Ahtisaari lay a wreath next to Martti Ahtisaari’s coffin. The wreath was made of white roses.
“Amazing Grace” was heard as a Finnish duo interpreted the black spiritual with guitar and saxophone. Passages of the Bible were read in Ndonga, a Bantu dialect spoken in Namibia.
After President Niinistö’s speech, the Finlandia Hymn followed. After all the music and prayers, the Narva March, a popular funeral march in Finland and Estonia, finished the ceremony.
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. Photograph: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY
Moments later, the funeral procession left for the Hietaniemi cemetery through the city center where thousands of people had gathered to observe.
In Hietaniemi, the church bells rang, and the ceremony began with a moment of silence. The Narva March followed, and former aids of President Ahtisaari carried the coffin to the grave next to other former Finnish presidents.
The coffin of the former president is lowered into the grave, by the son and the former aides. The Björneborgarnas marsch is played.
Widow Eeva Ahtisaari and son Marko Ahtisaari laid their roses on Martti Ahtisaari’s grave.