Reflections on things past.

By Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson

Your national movement to reclaim your independence was certainly a national reawakening: A singing revolution. But it was also a grassroots’ movement to reclaim democracy: A human chain. Your singing revolution and the human chain, almost two million people holding hands – from Tallinn in the north to Vilnius in the south – became an internationally famous token for your fight for freedom.

The first advocate for the Baltic road to freedom to visit Iceland – to seek support from within NATO – was Endel Lippmaa – a renowned scientist. Edgar Savisaar, your first prime minister and Lennart Meri, your first foreign minister and later president, followed up. Basically they raised only one question: Could they rely upon the support of the leaders of Western democracy and their collective defence alliance – NATO?


It turned out that the leaders of Western democracy had a different agenda. The freedom fighters were received as unwelcome intruders and “spoilers of the peace”. They were in fact told to keep quiet and seek negotiations with their colonial masters – without preconditions. Why? Because your exit from the “evil empire” – to quote Reagan – would endanger peace. It could be the beginning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev – our partner in ending the Cold war – would then be swept from power. The hardliners would re-emerge. It would mean a new Cold war and even outbreak of war in Eastern Europe.

The leaders of the democratic West were right on one thing. There was a lot at stake. The liberation of the nations of Central and Eastern Europe from under the hegemony of the Soviet Union; the peaceful unification of Germany and united Germany’s continued membership of NATO; disarmament agreements – both concerning conventional and nuclear weapons; removal of occupational forces and reduction of armed forces. Those are serious issues of war and peace.

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Bréf á ensku til forseta Eystrasaltslandanna

I write this letter to prevent any possibly harmful misunderstanding caused by your hosts´ public statement, trying to explain my absence from events during your official visit to Iceland.

Your hosts publicly claimed that I did not accept their invitation. This is wrong and cannot be allowed to stand. Because this implies that I am – for whatever reason – displeased by you visit, or even that I was protesting against it.

I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. Like all my compatriots I welcome your visit and applaude our friendly relation.

The explanation for my absence during your visit is a simple one. I did not know of your visit beforehand andwas not invited to attend. Nowhere in the program was my presence required. Not even at Höfdi-House, where we – 31 years ago – reasserted our recognition of your reclaimed independence and established diplomatic, relations in the presence of your foreign ministers at the time: Meri, Jurkans and Saudargas.

As for attending our president´s lecture at the University Auditorium, the invitation to attend simply came too late, since I was abroad.

I hope that that I have- by this letter – prevented any  potencial harmful misunderstanding between us.

Sincerely yours,

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson


Eftirfarandi viðtal við Jón Baldvin birtist í helgarblaði (Sestdiena) í Riga (september, 10-16, 2021), í tilefni af því, að 30 ár eru liðin frá því að Lettar endurheimtu sjálfstæði sitt frá Sovétríkjunum.

Q To what extent were you familiar with the internal situation of the Soviet Union and behind the iron curtain?

A. I stem from a very political clan in Iceland. My grand cousin was the founder and leader of the Trade Union movement and the Socialdemocratic Party for more than 20 years (1916-38). My father was leader of the Trade Union Movement for 20 years (1954-74), and briefly leader of the Socialdemocratic Party. My uncle studied in Paris, Berlin and Rome after WW1 and worked for the League of Nations. My oldest brother was the first person from Western Europe after WW-ll to graduate from Moscow University and did postgraduate work in Poland (1954-61).



From Reykjavík to Riga – Greetings and congratulations on the occasion of Latvia´s independence celebration.

Let us ask ourselves a simple question: Have the expectations of  the pioneers  of the independence movement been realized? Observed from afar, the answer to these questions seems in the main to be a positive one.

You have certainly consolidated your democratic institutions.

You have integrated your economy with the internal market of the EU- the largest free trade area in the world – and with the international commercial system.  And, last but not least, you have taken out an insurance policy against potential future agression by joining both NATO and  The European Union. Those are no mean achievements.

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Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, the former Foreign Minister of Iceland, in an interview with Taavi Minnik on the failure of Western leadership to establish a sustainable global order.

  1. When did you hear the news of the Coup d´état in Moscow in August 1991? How did you react?
  2. In the news, like everybody else. Two days later I was on my way to a NATO foreign ministers´meeting in Brussels. At that time, noone knew yet who was in charge in the Kremlin.  NATO-secretary general, Manfred Woerner, was asked to contact Yeltsin directly through his secret channels. An hour later, Woerner reported back to us.
  3. Yeltsin had assured him that the coup had failed.  The democratic forces within Russia were now in charge. He, Boris Yeltsin, was now the leader of the democratic forces. He appealed to the NATO foreign ministers assembled in Brussels to give all the support they could muster for the democratic forces.
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Anda Catlaka Foreign Policy Advisor to the Speaker Saeima of the Republic of Latvia

Dear Mr Hannibalsson,

Yesterday in Riga we had very warm celebrations of the restored independence of my country. Thank you for being with us on this very special day.

In the afternoon your greetings were transmitted in a special edition of the main public TV channel – LTV. Please find: (begins at 0:29.40).

When introducing a journalist praised your country for being the first to recognise our restored independence in 1991 and the fact that you as a Minister of Foreign Affairs dared to visit the Baltic capitals during the days of barricades in January 1991.

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„Western policy makers acknowledged that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a unique opportunity to help freedom take root in Russia and Eurasia. At the same time, there were also enormous risks involved“.

Stephane Kieninger in „Money for Moscow: The West and the Question of Financial Assistance for Michael Gorbachev(in „Exiting the Cold War –Entering a New World“, eds.Hamilton and Spohr, Johns Hopkins University).

THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL in 1989 was a momentous event. It happened almost by accident. A misunderstanding between a low level East German official and his superiors made it possible. This started a chain of events which changed history. This was neither foreseen, preplanned nor ordered by higher authorities.

This was „peoplepower“ in action. One event led to another. Two years later, the once mighty Soviet Union no longer existed. It simply dissolved peacefully – not with a bang, but a whimper. Noone could have foreseen this, although the ailing symptoms of the lethargic empire had long been evident. The man who wanted to heal the patient – reform the system – Mikhael Gorbachev, was instead engulfed by the chain of events and dissappeared with it.

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Interview with Draugas

Interview with Draugas; the Lithuanian World Wide News, published in Chicago for the Lithuanian diaspora. Draugas is read not only in the United States, but also in Canada, South America, Australia, Europe and Lithuania.

Q: Why Iceland?

A: The first contacts were made in early 1989. I assumed the post of Minister for foreign affairs and external trade in September 1988 – a position I held until mid-year 1995. The Estonians came first. Endel Lippmaa, a distinguished biophysicist was the first one. Next two representatives from Sajudis, Emanuelis Zingeris, a long time chairman of the Seima‘s foreign affairs committee and Ramunas Bogdanas, special foreign affairs advisor to Landsbergis, came to Iceland, having first solicited support in Norway. They were well received. 

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The promised land

The debates in the primaries of the democratic presidential candidates so far have led to one startling conclusion: The Nordic socio-economic model has become the utopia – the promised land – for what was once a land of opportunity – America.

by Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson

Listening to the leading candidates – Bernie Sanders certainly and to some extend Elizabeth Warren – the proposed solutions to the malaise of Americans in the era of neo-liberalism, is to emulate the Nordic model. Denmark has become the favorite example. Norway deserves no less of an attention, especially when it comes to utilitation of natural resources. And both Sweden and Finland have been highly successful, during the era of globalisation in their chosen fields of specialisation. In his paranoia, caused by China‘s competitive edge in 5G, President Trump has proposed that Americans gain control of Ericson and Nokia, Scandinavia‘s high-tec companies. Not to forget his proposal to buy Greenland to preempt China‘s advance in the high-north in the age of climate change.

Why is it that pretenders to the American presidency are looking to Scandinavia for solutions to their social problems? It is because of their generally acclaimed success. One witness, the Economist, in a special survey on the Nordic model, came to the conclusion that the Nordic model is „the most successful socio-economic model on the planet, during the era of globalisation. It combines both efficiency and equality. It is both the most competitive and egalitarian society on earth.“

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