SOLIDARITY OF SMALL NATIONS
Erindi flutt á hátíđarsamkomu Háskólans í Vilníus, í tilefni ţess ađ í dag eru liđin 20 ár frá ţví ađ Seimas, ţing Litháa, lýsti yfir endurreistu sjálfstćđi sínu.
Lagđar voru fjórar spurningar fyrir höfund. Svörin far hér á eftir.
The attached lecture was given today at a seminar at the University of Vilnius on the occasion of the 20 year anniversary of the Seimas declaration of the restored independence of Lithuania.
The lecture covers the four questions asked by the organizers.
1.Why did Iceland get so deeply involved in the Baltic nations´struggle for their restoration of independence in 1989-91?
Well, apart from the purely personal factor, which I shall refer to later, there are a few rational explanations that may help us to understand this, when things are put into a proper context.
Don´t forget that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact also had wide ranging effect for the fate of the Nordic countries – as well as for the rest of the world.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the signal that set off the Second World War. It sealed the division of Central and Eastern Europe into spheres of influence between the dictators, Hitler and Stalin. Not only was Polland wiped off the map once again, but the three Baltic States were, each and everyone, invaded, occupied and annexed into the Soviet Empire.
And this had wider still repercussions. The Red Army invaded Finland – one of the five Nordic countries – Iceland being one of them. After heroic resistance, left alone to their fate and overwhelmingly outnumbered, the Finns were forced to surrender a part of their country to the Soviets, and to pay heavy war reparations to Moscow.
This was, incidentally, a remarkable case of international justice: If you resist your attacker, it is deemed appropriate that you pay him indemnities. And while you will be celebrating the twenty year anniversary of the Seimas declaration of the restoration of Lithuania´s independence on March 11, the Finns will commemorate the day after, that seventy one years have passed since the end of the Winter War for Finland´s independence.
The point I am trying to make is this one: The vaunted neutrality of the five Nordic countries turned out to be just useless posturing in the face of military dictatorships, that didn´t give a damn about sovereign rights of states or principles of internatinal law. Securing their access to Swedish iron ore, essential for the German war machine, the Wehrmacht invaded and occupied Denmark and Norway and planned to do the same to Iceland.
It turned out to be crucial for the coming battle of the Atlantic against German submarines, that the British – and later the Americans – secured naval- and air-bases in Iceland. In the words of Joseph Luns, later Secretary General of NATO, Iceland is a floating air-carrier, from the decks of which a military power can keep control of the vast North-Atlantic and hence, the transportation lanes between Europe and America. This preemptive action turned out to be crucial for the safety of US convoys, bringing men and materiel from the arsenal of democracy, first to the Russians on the Eastern front and later for the invasion of Normandy, to establish the Western front.
So, let us not forget that during the initial phase of the Second World War, we, the Nordics and the Baltic nations, shared a common fate. We were all small nations, hoping to be left alone behind futile declarations of neutrality; while we were in fact helplessly at the mercy of militarized dictatorships, hell-bent on world domination by military force.
The difference is that after the war we, the Nordics, got a second chance, whereas you on the Baltic rim, by an accident of geographical location, did not. Denmark, Norway and Iceland learnt their lessons from the war and became founding members of NATO in 1949. But you had to wait almost half a century for the consequences of the Second World War to be disentangled and renegotiated. You had to learn your lessons on the imperative of collective security for small nations, the hard way. After restoring independence in 1991, you have left noone in doubt, that those lessons are not forgotten.
All of those lessons have lingered on in our collective memory. They came to the surface once again, when the Soviet Empire started to show visible signs of internal decay and outward decline.
2.Was it a difficult decision for Iceland to step forward, actively to support your struggle in 1989 - ‘ 91, while others remained aloof – reluctant to incur the wrath of the Russian bear?
In answering this question, I want to make two comments:
First this one. If the leaders of the democratic west had embraced the representatives of the peaceful, democratic, Baltic way to freedom – and welcomed them into the ranks of the democratic forces – there would have been no need for Iceland, or any other small nation, to do anything in particular. We would just have done what small nations are expected to do: Follow your leader.
But this is not at all what happened. Why? The secretary general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikael Sergeivich Gorbachev, had become a popular cult figure in the west. In the name of Glasnost and Perestroika – his political trademark – he was presented as the leader of a democratic reform movement within the USSR. “He is a man we can do business with”, in the words of Maggie Thatcher. Nothing should be said or done to undermine Mr Gorbachev’s position, lest the hardliners would take over and turn the clock back to the bad old days. Moreover, Mr Bush sr. wanted the Russians as allies in his planned invasion of Iraq in January 1990, or at least he wanted them not to stand in the way.
Chancellor Kohl and foreign minister Genscher had only one overriding aim in life – to the exclusion of all others: The peaceful reunification of Germany. Anything that might put this overriding aim at risk, was by definition bad. They felt that in achieving German reunification, they were wholly dependent upon Gorbachev’s goodwill. Were he to be replaced by the hardliners, the whole process of ending the cold war, unifying Germany, ending Red Army occupation in Central and Eastern Europe and bringing disarmament negotiations to a successful conclusion – all of this would be endangered. The cold war might even, in the worst case scenario, turn into a hot war again.
In this context the emerging independence movements in the Baltic states were received by the West as if they were awkward intruders into this amiable fraternity of superpowers. They were told in hushed voices not to disturb the peace and urged to settle for a compromise with their colonial masters. They were even denied access to conferences, where the leaders of East and West were belatedly trying to deal with the consequences of the Second World War in Eastern Europe. At a conference in Copenhagen in June 1990 on human rights, within the CSCE process, the Baltic foreign ministers were turned away. In Paris a few months later, at a conference on the new European Charter, they were not let in, because the Soviets threatened to storm out and wreck the whole process, if the Baltic leaders were shown any token of approval.
When political expediency, or the mutual self-interests of the high and mighty of this world prevails in such a way over fundamental priciples of international law and justice, it is time for small nations to try to give meaning and relevance to the concept of “solidarity of small nations”. That is why Iceland did what it did. I simply decided to lend my voice to yours, which had been silenced.
My second observation is more of a personal nature. I stem from a very political clan in my country. For three generations we have served in a variety of leading positions within the labour movement and the Social democratic Party. I was for twelve years (1984-‘96) the leader of the Icelandic SDP and a member of the government for 8 years (1987-‘95), first as minister of finance and then as minister for foreign affairs and external trade.
In domestic politics my party has been the pioneer and guardian of the Nordic welfare state. But in terms of foreign policy we have been quite hawkish. We always remembered the Soviet invasion in Finland in 1939. After the war we were staunch advocates of Iceland’s membership in NATO and the defence agreement with the US. We were fiercely anti-communist. And when it came to issues of European integration, ours was the only party that consistently has advocated Iceland’s membership in the European Union. In the years 1989-’94 I personally led our negoations with the European Union on the formation of the European Economic Area (EEA), which I considered to be the first step towards ultimate membership.
It so happens that two of my brothers studied in Eastern Europe. My eldest brother was, as far as I know, the first person from outside the Soviet Block to graduate from Moscow University in 1959. He later did postgraduate work in Poland. Another brother studied at the Charles University in Prague. I myself spent a year (1976-’77) as a Fulbright scholar at Harvard, where my research theme was comparative economic systems. Already then I had come to the conclusion that a Soviet-type command economy was hopelessly none-competitive; it could neither deliver the goods nor generate technological innovation. It was mired in stagnation – condemned to defeat in an era of rapid technological and economic change.
Through my brothers’ networks we had close contacts with dissidents inside the Soviet Union, in the Baltic countries, in Poland, Checkoslovakia and even in Eastern Germany (DDR). We had a totally different take on what was happening inside the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe from what was the conventional wisdom in the West. We were convinced that an entrenched totalitarian system of the Soviet type, could not be reformed from within. It had to be abolished to start anew. Amalrik’s question: “Will the Soviet Union still exist in 1984?”, was very much on our mind. In other words, we thought that Mr Gorbachev could not succeed. We saw the peaceful and democratic Baltic revolution not only as an expression of a nationalist uprising, but as the beginning of the end of the Soviet system itself. This weltanschauung influenced my thinking at the time in a fundamental way.
3.Did we seek consultations with other governments in formulating and implementing this policy?
With whom should we have sought consultations? The US and Germany? I have already spelled out that they thought that their basic national interest coincided with Mr Gorbachev’s political survival. The Brits? When have small nations ever sought solace or support under the aegis of the “perfedious albion”. The French, the Spanish? - Give me a break. And by the way: I learned during this time that political leaders in our democracies seem to have very short memory. As the Baltic states had been wiped off the map for half a ceuntury, there were actually leading politicans, who hardly knew that they had ever been independent and sovereign states. “Haven´t these people always belonged to Russia anyway?”, was the comment given to me by the foreign minister of a South-European country, when I was urging him to take a stand in support of the Baltic independence struggle.
I have been made aware of the endeavour in recent years by representatives of the Bush jr. administration to take credit for what Iceland did in support of the Baltic nations, by saying that Iceland acted as a stooge or as a proxy for the US State Department. In light of the historical evidence of the prolonged procrastination of the administration of Bush sr. on the Baltic issue, I can well understand their need for some historical revision and beautification – after the event. After all, the Bush sr. administration barely managed to be ahead of the Soviet Union itself in formally recognising the restored independence of the Baltic countries. Is there any truth in this belated historical revision by US officialdom? My answer is short and simple: None whatsoever.
I wish in this context to pay tribute to my Danish colleague, Mr Uffe Ellemann Jensen, who joined me early on in the effort to organise support for the Balts. He proved to be an effective champion for our cause, not least within the European Union, where I had no access. In every forum, where we had a platform and an audience, we insisted on reminding those who wished to forget of their moral and political obligations: at the UN, within NATO, in the European Council, at CSCE-conferences and in Nordic councils, everywhere we kept the argument running. There is an old saying that drops of water ultimately penetrate the stone. And slowly but surely, little by little, the drops began seeping into the stone, until cracks in the surface became visible to all.
First there was polite silence. Then there were words of caution. Finally there was reluctant acceptance that the issue could not be wished a way by gloomy silence. I have no wish to exaggerate our influence. It was certainly not within our power to turn around the ship of NATO or to change its course single-handedly. We were merely foreign ministers of small nations. But we could let our voice be heard and we had our vote. We were listened to respectfully. Thus, slowly but surely, we prepared the ground for the reaping of the harvest later, in the fullness of time – when the hardliners finally attempted a comeback, but failed in the hot streets of Moscow in August 1991. That was the window of opportunity we had been waiting for. After that, the universal recognition of the restored independence of the Baltic states by the international community had become irreversible.
4.Did the USSR put pressure on Iceland before/after making the decision?
Some people, also in Nordic circles, have said that it was easy for little Iceland to tease the mighty Soviet Union on the Baltic issue, since Iceland was far away and had nothing to lose in its dealings with the USSR. As a matter of fact, my Swedish colleague, a few days before Iceland took the initiative of granting full recognition to the restored independence of the Baltic states, categorised my behaviour in a newspaper interview as “irresponsible adventurism”. A few days later, Sweden followed Iceland’s example.
Well, we generally don´t expect foreign observers to be familiar with our history or the details of our foreign relations. But as a matter of fact, Iceland had, for specific reasons, developed close contacts and significant trade relations with the Soviet Union, during the Cold War era.
Why? Already in 1948, Iceland adopted a really avant garde legislation on the sustainable use of our marine resources. This of course reflected our basic national interest as a coastal state and a major fishing nation. Consequently, Iceland joined hands with many other small nations, mostly developing countries, in formulating a new law of the seas that took into account the interests of coastal states, rather than the traditional advocacy on the freedom of the high seas, persued for military reasons by the major naval powers. Step by step, those small countries extended their fisheries limits or economic zones from the three miles, originally defined by the reach of British cannon used in the gun-boat diplomacy of the British Empire around the globe. Thus, Iceland extended its economic zone to 4 miles in 1954; to 12 miles in 1958; to 50 miles in 1972 and ultimately to 200 miles in 1976, which ultimately was given legitimacy in international law by the adoption of the law of the sea by the UN assembly in 1982.
This fight for the preservation and responsible harvesting of marine resources, brought Iceland into conflict with the United Kingdom and her majesty’s government. Those were the so called cod-wars, in which the British send in the Royal Navy to prevent Iceland from extending its sovereignity and jurisdiction over our coastal waters. This was a classical David vs Goliath conflict, Icelanders applying a sort of guerilla tactics, with small and swift gun-boats, cutting the gear from behind British trawlers, that were supposed to be under the protection of naval frigates. Those behemoths turned out to be difficult to maneuver under those circumstances. In the end, Iceland came victorious out of those cod-wars. The British eventually had themselves to adopt the 200-mile limit, although it signaled the end of their deep sea fishing business.
But who were our allies? Apart from many other small and developing countries in Latin-America and Asia – the Soviet Union. When the British placed an embargo on Icelandic exports to the British market – traditionally our major market – the Soviets intervened and offered to buy all our products. This was the beginning of trade relations, that lasted for decades. In return for Icelandic seafood, exported to the Soviet Union, the Soviets supplied Iceland with all our oil and fuel, as well as trucks, heavy machinery, etc.
The Soviet share of our exports was second only to Finland, among the countries in Western-Europe. And along with this trade relationship followed close contacts in other fields such as cultural relations, student exchanges etc.
When Iceland started actively to support the Baltic independence movement (1988-’91), the Soviet authorities, to begin with, protested that Iceland was interfering into the domestic affairs of the Soviet Union. More than once they rather angrily threatened to cancel our trade agreements. This, actually, caused serious worry to the shipowners’ association, traditionally close to the dominant conservative Independence party in Iceland. When Althingi (Iceland’s old national parliament est. 930 AD) adopted a resolution of congratulations on the occasion of the Seimas declaration of restored independence, on March 11th 1990, the Soviet Union angrily responded by recalling their Ambassador from Reykjavik. That, traditionally, is next door to breaking off political relations.
We responded calmly by maintaining that we were not at all intervening into the domestic affairs of the Soviet Union, since the invasion, occupation and annexation of the Baltic states during the Second World war had been illegal in the first place. We followed this up by forwarding to the Soviet government a detailed legal analysis which maintained that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was itself in breach of international law. We also cited Soviet obligations under the Helsinki-protocols to respect democratically elected parliaments and governments in the Baltic states and to uphold accepted principles of human rights.
Realistically, we did not worry deeply about the Soviet threat of cancelling the trade relationship. High-quality Icelandic seafood had easy access to more renumerative foreign markets in Europe, Asia and America. Secretely, we made sure that Iceland would have secure supplies of oil and fuel from other sources. In this way we felt free to speak our mind. Behind it all lay the reasoned assessment that the Soviet Union was entering its final phase of internal decay. Perhaps the peaceful and democratic Baltic revolution could give it the final putsch?. That turned out to be a correct assessment.
Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson The author was the leader of the Icelandic SDP in 1984-96 and Minister of Finance, Foreign Affairs and External Trade in three Governments 1987-95
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12.3.2010 22:07:39Guđgeir Kristmundsson
Ţakka ţér fyrir ţennan skemmtilega lestur.
Sem mikill áhugamađur um sögu fannst mér fróđlegt ađ fá innsýn ţína varđandi málefni Baltnesku ríkjanna ţriggja. Ég veit ađ ţau málefni eru ţér hugfangin.
Sem draumóramađur hef ég haft ţann draum í langa tíđ ađ innan Evrópusambandsins myndu Norđurlöndin ásamt Baltnesku ríkjunum mynda sterka einingu og hafa áhrif á gang mála svipađ og ţau stćrstu hafa.
Fyrst ég hef nú tćkifćri..... langar mig ađ spyrja ţig hvort ţú teljir ađ ţađ geti raunverulega orđiđ ađ veruleika ?