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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

1.1.1989

DIVERSITY IN (DIS)UNITY: GETTING TO KNOW AMERICANS – FIRST HAND

In 1973 I had never been to the United States before. The closest I had come to it was on board an Icelandic deep-sea trawler, fishing off the coast of New Foundland. That´s how I financed my university education in Scotland and Sweden. I was then imbued with the feeling that my ancestors, the Viking explorers, of the 10th and 11th centuries, had been here a thousand years earlier – 500 years ahead of Columbus. Why hadn´t they remained as settlers and conquerors? That remains one of he greatest mysteries of history, unsolved by my nostalgic return.

Why did Ambassador Erving pick me for the international program? A youthful opponent of the Icelandic US defense relationship? A conspicious organizer against any retreat from our fullest claims in extending our exclusive economic zone to 200 miles. A prominent left-wing ideologue, but with no secure power base or a visible political future.

A shrewd fellow, by hindsight, Ambassador Erving. I stem from a highly political family, who had strong ties to the Nordic and European left, but none to the United States. Conspicuously, I was to be studying community colleges. As a matter of fact, I don´t remember any. This was the summer of Water Gate, the impeachement of president Richard Nixon live on TV. I learned more about the politics of mass media during those few weeks than any time before or since.

We made trips through Washington D.C.; Los Angeles and San Fransisco, California; the Scandinavian Mid-West and New York. Everywhere we were met by interesting and typically generous people. Some of them were unexpectedly and delightfully eccentric, such as the Icelandic desk officer in Washington, who was born and bred in Japan and knew a lot about Southeast Asia. But had never been to Europe. Or the cadillac-driving millionaire-lady who took us for a picnic and symphony at the Hollywood Bowl; and told us matter-of-factly on the way how the Soviet Union would disintegrate and Europe would be reunited before the turn of the century. Or the Midwest politician, who confided in us the the undoing of America would be the proliferation of „indoors people“ – lawyers in particular.

Well, what did we learn from all of this? Did we return home as ardent admirers of everything American? As a matter of fact, no. If that was the aim of the game, it failed. But we certainly got rid of many preconceived prejudices. Never shall we underestimate the potential of this creative „melting pot“ of nationalities. We were sufficiently interested to start a learning process. We wanted to know more.

Three years later, I enrolled at Harvard for a sabbatical year. From Harvard I graduated into the national politics of my country: Member of Althing (the oldest national parliament in the world), Social-Democratic party leader, Minister of Finance and Foreign Secretary. In those jobs I have had many contacts with leading Americans. The visitors program started a learning process that led to an understanding and attitude of good will. Perhaps that was the purpose. Then it didn´t fail after all.

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, participant in the international visitors program to the USA in 1973 On leaving politics the author became Iceland´s Ambassador to the United States, 1998-2002.

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