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Articles in English

2.11.2016
JBH interview Scotland

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14.9.2016
WHAT´S WRONG WITH EUROPE – AND WHY DON´T YOU FIX IT?

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9.9.2016
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE NORDIC MODEL?

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31.3.2016
HOW TO SAVE CAPITALISM FROM THE CAPITALISTS - AND DEMOCRACY FROM THE PLUTOCRATS?

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15.2.2016
The Transition from totalitarianism to democracy: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE BALTIC ROAD TO FREEDOM AND POST-INDEPENDENCE EXPERIENCE?

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All articles in English

2.1.2008

A LETTER TO MR. KAZICKAS

Mr.Kazickas is an American of Lithuanian descent. He published his memoirs with an account of his involvement in the struggle for the restoration of Lithuania´s independence. According to Mr. Kazickas's story, Iceland´s role in support of the Baltic countries´ independence was explained as having been iniciated and orchestrated by the US through their ambassador in Reykjavik, Mr. Cobb.

Several high ranking leaders of the Baltic independence movement have told me that this was an official US attempt at historical revision, trying to justify that the Bush senior administration was very late in recognizing the hard won independence of the Baltic States.
I wrote this letter to Mr. Kazickas to put the record straight.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear Mr. Kazickas

I hope this letter will find you and your family in good health and optimistic mood at the dawn of a new year. I am belatedly responding to your letter of September 27th last year. Believe it or not, your letter reached me here in Andalucia the day before Christmas. Your letter was addressed to my home address in Iceland, but since I was away (also briefly in our beloved Vilnius, lecturing and promoting Icelandic investments) it was forwarded to my Spanish address. The Spanish postal service (correos) never managed to deliver but returned the letter to Iceland just before Christmas. Since our family was gathering here in this small Andalucian village for Christmas and New Year, my daughter Kolfinna simply brought your letter with her, as well as a copy of your book.

I read your book with deep interest. You are obviously a man of some considerable achievements. To me the most interesting part of your book is the story of your family background, relating how your family’s fortunes are intertwined with the fate of your nation. And the heroic part is of course the sheer resilience and endurance to survive against all odds. So many of my Baltic friends share a similiar background. It is an experience which either makes you or breaks you. If you survive it fortifies your character, your willpower and your sense of purpose. This applies to both individuals and small nations in danger of extinction. That is why I was instinctively attracted by the strenght of character of many of the leaders of the Baltic independence movement, some of whom became my close friends through our cooperation.

Getting to know this story at close quarters gradually strengthened my conviction that small nations have a lot to contribute to the rest of the world. That is what motivated me in my support for your nation’s struggle for the restoration of independence. That is why I would never refer to Lithuania as “tiny”, as you do with reference to my country (“tiny Iceland”, pp. 314). There is nothing “tiny” about my people’s survival in a harsh and merciless natural environment. We have preserved the ancient language of the Vikings intact throughout the ages. By doing so, we have preserved the common cultural heritage of the Nordic nations, which else would have been lost forever. At the level of material progress we have turned adversity into success. It is in fact a story of great achievement. This is what we have in common with you Lithuanians and many other small nations. We are the guardians of a precious linguistic and cultural heritage, which inspires loyalty and pride – which is the motivation for success. Without us, this world would be a much poorer place.

Why is it then that I am less than pleased with the way you describe my country’s efforts in support of Lithuania’s restoration of independence? It is not so much that you may know little or even nothing about my country’s history and therefore about my motivation for actively supporting your independence struggle. I am used to that. It is not your demeaning reference to Iceland as “tiny”. After all when you are describing President Mitterrand’s belittling conduct towards Prime Minister Prunskiene – see pp. 315 – you get the point: “In the eyes of the French government, the Prime Minister of an unrecognised Lithuania was a lady of low importance.” The “Florentine sfinx” – as President Mitterrand was dubbed in the French media – was notorious for his gallic arrogance. It is not that while you give a lot of credit (“outstanding” and “vital” are the words you use) to the American Ambassador to Iceland, for what Iceland did, the name of the Icelandic Foreign Minister is not worth being mentioned. To tell the truth it is because you seem incapable of believing that a small country like Iceland could act on its own as a sovereign nation. You presume that Iceland could not “take its decisive steps until it had received a behind-the-scenes blessings from the United States and, most likely, Great Britain.” Where are your sources for these statements? Ambassador Cobb? The State Department? Leaders of the Baltic independence movement? Or is this sheer super-power arrogance on behalf of a man who has become more of an American than a Lithuanian? Please tell me truthfully what your sources are.

I served as Foreign Minister of Iceland 1988-1995. My first contacts with leaders of the Baltic independence movement were established already in 1988-89. Why did I get involved? The main reason was the apparent failure of the leaders of the major democracies (Bush sr., Kohl, Thatcher and Mitterrand) to respond to the Baltic leaders’ appeal for support. The US was already planning the invasion of Iraq (operation Desert storm). To the Pentagon it was more important to secure Gorbachev’s tolerance, if not active support, for the Iraq war than to challenge the Soviet Union by supporting the democratic rights of captive nations. As a matter of fact the Bush sr. administration wanted to keep the Soviet Union (and later Yugoslavia) together in the name of stability (see documents attached). They were hostile to Boris Yeltsin because they had unwisely tied US interests to the fate of a single individual, Michael Gorbachev. To Kohl and Gencher there was only a single overriding issue: The peaceful reunification of Germany. The Baltic nations’ claim to indpendence was considered to endanger their relationship with Gorbachev. When the democratic leaders of the Baltic nations knocked on Germany’s doors, they were considered to be disturbing the peace. This meant that when the Baltic nations had carried through a democratic transformation with democratically elected Parliaments and democratically accountable governments, they were shocked to learn that they were given the cold shoulder or even admonished as troublemakers by the socalled leaders of the democratic world. This was to my mind a failure of political leadership and a reflection of a moral deficiency. In such a situation the solidarity of small nations is called for. That is why I lent my voice to theirs which had been silenced.

You wrote a lengthy report on the conversations that Prunskiene had at the highest level with western leaders. It is a pity that this documentation is lost. But in my experience (and I was for seven years member of the NATO ministerial council) it is one thing what top leaders say on record, which might be reported to the public, and another thing what they say in closed meetings. I was appalled both by the level of ignorance about the Baltic countries and by the apparent lack of interest among top leaders in the West. “Haven’t these people always belonged to Russia anyhow?” was the comment of one leading Foreign Minister at the time. Also, it is an integral part of the mindset of political leaders in the UK, France, Spain, Italy to oppose secession of ethnic minorities from federal control. Western leaders’ support for the restoration of the Baltic countries’ independence can be described as having been on the scale from being non-existent, lip-service, lukewarm to non-committal. That is why we had to force their hand and ultimately seize the narrow window of opportunity that was created by the attempted coup d’état in August ‘91 in Moscow.

To reduce this story of persistent and committed support for your nation’s inalienable right to self-determination - which ultimately became successful – down to pressure by an American Ambassador or to the remote control of the US and the UK, is frankly, to my mind, deeply offensive. Nontheless, such is the record as you have presented it in your book to the Lithuanian public. It is up to you and your conscience if you want to stick to your story or correct it, having considered the evidence presented.

As for what I called the “defamation campaign” against my country by the present Bush administration, my sources were: President Lennart Meri of Estonia, former Estonian Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar, former Foreign Minister of Latvia Janis Jurkans, as well as President Landsbergis himself. Those outstanding personalities of the independence struggle, among others, drew my attention to repeated and consistent statements by Bush administration officials (Ambassadors, other emissaries and members of Congress) to the effect that Iceland had acted in those years under US guidance and as a US proxy. This was meant to explain the lack of US support at the time due to other and overriding global interests. Those abovementioned friends of mine simply asked me if this was true and how they should respond to it. I have no reason not to believe what they have said. I have never accused you of being the instigator of those historical distortions. But I must admit that your account of Iceland’s role in the Baltic independence struggle in those years (1989-91) in your book seems to be picked out of that PR copy book.

I am attaching two documents to this letter which will put the record straight as far as I am concerned. The first is the text of my presentation on the topic of Western response to the Baltic independence struggle at an international conference held in Riga on the “Baltic road to freedom” in 2005. It was there that President Landsbergis asked for my comment on statements by authoritative US emissaries that Iceland had acted as a US proxy in the crucial days in 1990-91. The other text I wrote as a response to an interview with the former Danish Foreign Minister Mr. Uffe-Elleman Jensen, published on the website of the New York Council of Foreign Affairs in 2005. I sincerely hope that when you have read those documents you will gain a deeper understanding of the real motivation of the Icelandic Foreign Minister for his support of your nation’s legitimate but arduous struggle for the restored independence of Lithuania.

I would not have written this long letter to you if your book would not have convinced me that you are a genuine patriot who, selflessly, did everything in your power to help your captive nation to cast off the yoke of tyranny. For that you have earned my respect, despite our present disagreements. I agree with Ambassador Cobb that it is a pity that we never had the opportunity to meet eye to eye. I can not help noticing that there are several parallels in our lives. We are both economists. You studied at Vilnius, Tubingen and Yale. I studied at Edinburgh, Stockholm and Harvard. Your doctoral thesis at Yale was on comparative economic systems. My thesis (although not a doctoral one) at Harvard was on the same subject, but with an emphasis on the Soviet Union. We are both happily married to our school sweethearts. I understand that Alexandra and you will be celebrating your 67th wedding anniversary in August this year. Bryndis and I are one year short of our golden wedding anniversary in September this year. To both of us our families are the ultimate citedels of our appreciation of life in good times and bad. And both our families’ fortunes are intertwined with our nations’ fate, despite a small difference in age. It is quite a lot we share beyond borders and nationalities.

I am sure you would have enjoyed being with me in Copenhagen in June 1990. At that time you were anyway, already, hyperactive supporting the cause of your nation. My Danish colleague Mr. Jensen was hosting a conference on human rights. It was a part of a series of meetings to follow up on the European Charter agreed upon in Paris in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin wall. The Foreign Ministers of all three Baltic nations, Meri, Jurkans and Saudargas, arrived on the scene and asked to be allowed to address the conference. When Gorbachev said: “If these people are allowed in I am out”, my Danish colleague capitulated. So those three representatives of those three democratic nations were deprived of their human rights to speak at a conference on human rights. When it was my turn to speak I threw away my prepared speech and spoke impromtú on the Baltic issue for a bit more than my allotted time. When I headed down from the rostrum a man jumped in my way and said: “What a privilege to be a representative of a small nation and be allowed to speak the truth.” This was Mr. Kampelmann, the chief assistant to the US disarmament negotiator, Mr. Nitze, in Vienna. I had only taken a few steps when a burly heavyweight shook his fist at me and shouted: “Shame on you, shame on you – there was hardly a true word in what you said about the Soviet Union.” This was the Soviet “expert on human rights” at the UN in Geneva and later Ambassador to Iceland Mr. Rhesetov. With one of the super powers’ numb and the other in a fit of pique, I knew I was on the right path.

With friendly greetings and respect and my best wishes for Alexandra, Jurate and the boys,

Jón Baldvin

Attached:
The Baltic Road to Freedom – Riga 2005
The Moment of Truth: On the Western Response to the Baltic Independence Struggle, 2005

Cc:
President V. Landsbergis
Former Prime Minister E. Savisaar
Former Foreign Minister J. Jurkans
Ambassador C. Cobb
Former Prime Minister D. Oddsson

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson (The author was leader of The Icelandic Social-democratic Party 1984-96. He was Minister of Finance and Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade in three successive governments in 1987-95. He led Iceland´s negotiations with the EU on the European Economic Area 1989-93 and was the first foreign minister to formally recognize the restored independence of the Baltic States. He is an honorary citizen of Vilnius, Lithuania. His political biography, Tilhugalíf (Honeymoon) became a best-seller in Iceland in 2002)

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