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Nobel winner Ahtisaari surprised with secret birthday 600k donation

Peace organisation Crisis Management Initiative, founded by President Martti Ahtisaari, received an historic donation of 631,877 euros on Thursday. The sum was part of a campaign to surprise Ahtisaari a week before his 80th birthday.

Martti Ahtisaari
A gleeful Ahtisaari was surprised on Thursday with a donation to the initiative he founded in 2000. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

Mission accomplished. A covert operation to give President and Nobel laureate Martti Ahtisaari the birthday surprise of a lifetime was finally revealed to the Peace Prize winner in a celebration in his honour Thursday night.

President Ahtisaari, who turns 80 on June 23, was visibly moved when it was announced the peace broker organisation Ahtisaari founded, Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), has secretly campaigned to give Ahtisaari a present worth his standing: "lots and lots of peace", as CMI communications chief Elina Lehtinen put it.

A total of 9,300 private donors gathered 631,877 euros to be used in CMI's peacekeeping and crisis mediation operations around the world. CMI says that the sum can purchase more than 15 rounds of peace talks in a crisis zones around the world. The average donation was some 18.70 euros.

Secret campaign

The two-month "Don't tell Martti" (Älä kerro Martille) collection drive had its own website, social media hashtag and outdoor marketing campaign. The unsuspecting President and CMI founder was ushered around the billboards on purpose by his security team to avoid spoiling the treat – while the online push went by quite unnoticed by the arbitrator, who rarely uses the internet.

"You aren't exactly the most active social media user, Martti," CMI's Communications Chief Elina Lehtinen joked at Ahtisaari's special birthday dinner at Helsinki's Hotel Kalastajatorppa.

Ahtisaari won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his work as an international crisis mediator and has helped defuse conflicts in places such as Namibia, Kosovo, Indonesia and Iraq.

A video presentation shown at the party revealed the main conspirators, all veteran politicians who have worked for peace. The principal actors were former Minister of Defense Elisabeth Rehn, Greens presidential candidate Pekka Haavisto and Ahtisaari's wife Eeva and son Marko in addition to his security detail.

The fundraising campaign began in late April, and collected one of the largest sums of money ever donated to a single Finnish organisation.

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