Lithuania´s Bar Association

A speech given at a Gala dinner of the Lithuanian Bar Association, December 7th, 2018, in Vilnius on the occation of the 100th Anniversary of the Association.

Let me be a bit personal in what I am going to say to you here tonight.

I was born and raised in a small fishing village in North-Western Iceland, hinging on the Arctic cirle. The winters are dark. The summers are bright – and we have learnt to adapt our way of life to the rythm of the seasons. Most men are out at sea, most of the time. Every young boy´s dream is to become a captain on his own boat. I never made it – apart from summerjobs on trawlers – to finance my university education. The women take care of most things on land, from bringing up the children to running the daily business. To survive in those surroundings you have to be self-reliant and – stubborn.

My father had studied in Denmark at a Teachers´Training College. When he returned back home – at the outbreak of the Great Depression – he started an elementary school for poor children. In times of high unemployment most families could not afford to send their kids to school.

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An interview with Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, former minister for foreign affairs of Iceland, by Linas Jegelevicius.

Eftirfarandi viðtal birtist í sumarútgáfu Baltic Times 28. júní, 2018.
Baltic Times er gefið út á ensku í Riga og nær til 10 þúsund lesenda í Eystrasaltslöndunum þremur.

Q. On the cover of your new book „The Baltic Road to Freedom – Iceland´s Role“ the publishers say that you „took the lead in soliciting support for the Baltic Nations´ restoration of independence“. Isn´t this an exaggeration,forgive my bluntness?

A. To answer this question I prefer to let the facts speak for themselves. Western reaction to the restoration of independence of the Baltic states was first officially put to the test at a CSCE-conference in Copenhagen in June 1990. In attendance were all the foreign ministers of Europe and North-America. This was one of a series of high-level meetings on disarmament and inter-state relations after ending the Cold War. The foreign ministers of all three Baltic states (Meri, Jurkans and Saudargas) had been invited to plead their case. When they arrived the Soviets said: „Get them out – or we are out“. The Danish hosts capitulated. The only foreign minister of the 37 present to protest and take up the Baltic case was the Icelandic one. My spontanious speech is in the book. This was the first time I lent my voice officially to theirs, which had been silenced. I continued to do so in international fora, not the least within the UN, NATO and CSCE – till the very end. In January 1991, when Moscow had decided on a crack-down by force, Landsbergis issued an appeal to NATO foreign ministers to arrive in Vilnius to demonstrate support. I was the only one who responded and arrived on the scene. In August 1991, after the attempted coup d´état in Moscow had failed, there was a power vacuum in the Kremlin and confusion in the West. I used this window of opportunity to invite Meri, Jurkans and Saudargas to Reykjavík, where we formalised Iceland´s recognition of the Baltic States´ independence. If Iceland didn´t lead, other states certainly followed. The US managed to do it a day ahead of the Soviet Union.

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The state of the Nordic-Baltic region: A CORE OF STRENGTH AMIDST AVERSE INFLUENCE OF EXTERNAL FORCES – A view from the High North

The prospects for the Nordic-Baltic (8+3) region are radically different from what they looked like in the late 80s and 90s of the last century. It is mostly due to external forces, which are in a flux, rather than due to any outstanding internal failures. Let´s have a look.

When I became personally involved, trying to garner support for the restoration of independence of the Baltic States – in the late 80s and early 90s – most of us retained a healthy dose of optimism for the future.(1) The grounds for our optimism have turned out to be illusive.

Revanchist Russia

I presumed that post-Soviet Russia would somehow manage to become a democracy of a sort. Despite the traumatic transition from a centralized, étatiste economy to a market driven economy, we hoped that some sort of a democratic governance would gradually gain hold. This would include an independent judiciary, free media – the rule of law. As a consequence we hoped that Russia could become a „normal“ country – meaning a country that could cooperate with her neighbours, rather than being a threat to their sovereignty.

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JBH interview Scotland

Mánaðamótin okt/nov, 2016 var haldin ráðstefna í Edinborg um, hvað sjálfstætt Skotland gæti lært af reynslu Norðurlandaþjóða í samskiptum við Evrópusambandið.
Jón Baldvin var meðal framsögumanna. Ræða hans kallaðist: Lesson from Iceland. Erindin voru seinna (feb. 2017) gefin út á bók undir heitinu: McSmörgaarsbord.
Ræða JbH er kafli í þessari bók.

Ráðstefnustjórinn, Lesley Riddoch, formaður samtakanna “Nordic Horizons” í Skotlandi skrifar eftir farandi inngang til kynningar á ræðumanni:

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson is an Icelandic politician and diplomat who led the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and was responsible for Iceland’s entry to the EEA in the 1990s.
That’s an accurate but wholly inadequate description of the seventy-something who bounded into Scotland to speak at Nordic Horizons’ Brexit conference, wowed the audience, met Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell along with Faroese MP Bjort Samuelsen and then bounced onto STV’s Scotland Tonight the same evening before flying back to Iceland with his wife Bryndís Schram, an actress, linguist, writer and TV personality.
His short but pithy TV contribution was still doing the rounds on YouTube as Jón Baldvin touched down at Keflavik.

Provocative, funny and thoughtful – the North Atlantic pairing of Jón Baldvin and Bjørt Samuelsen seem to prompt a subtle change of policy direction from the Scottish Government. Days later it announced the option of joining the EEA in any post-independence scenario would be added to their policy option list. Not bad for a long weekend in Edinburgh. But then Jón Baldvin is used to making an impact.

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Mánaðamótin okt/nov, 2016 var haldin ráðstefna í Edinborg um, hvað sjálfstætt Skotland gæti lært af reynslu Norðurlandaþjóða í samskiptum við Evrópusambandið.
Jón Baldvin var meðal framsögumanna. Ræða hans kallaðist: Lesson from Iceland. Erindin voru seinna (feb. 2017) gefin út á bók undir heitinu: McSmörgaarsbord.
Ræða JbH er kafli í þessari bók.

Lesley Riddoch, formaður samtakanna “Nordic Horizons” í Skotlandi skrifaði eftir farandi inngang til kynningar á ræðumanni.

1. From Rags to Riches

Icelanders began the twentieth century as the poorest of the poor in Europe. During the course of the century, we went from rags to riches. Around the end of the century, Icelanders had become the third richest country in Europe – in terms of income per capita – only surpassed by Luxemburg and Norway. Three small countries, by the way. Perhaps already a lesson to be learned.

Three major factors explain this success story: (1) home rule, (2) access to foreign capital, (3) tarif-free access to foreign markets. We could add a high level of education, speeding up technological transfer. Icelanders were never so poor, that they were illiterate.

Iceland´s independence struggle from Denmark underwent three major phases: home rule in 1904; a fully sovereign state 1918 (but in royal union with Denmark); severing the royal union with Denmark in 1944 by establishing the Republic of Iceland.

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“What´s Wrong with Europe – and by the Way – Why don´t You Fix it?” er ræða, sem var flutt 14. sept.á ráðstefnu í Vilníus um framtíð Evrópu. Ráðstefnan var haldin í boði utanríkisráðherra Litáens í tilefni af því, að aldarfjórðugur er liðinn frá því að alþjóðasamfélagið viðurkenndi endurreist sjálfstæði Litáens.

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, ex Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iceland, gave this speech at a conference in Vilnius, September 14-15, 2016, sponsored by the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, Mr. Linas Linkevicius.

In 2012 – a few years after the American financial crisis had spread around the globe and morphed into the Euro-crisis – I was invited to give a keynote-speech at the Baltic Assembly here in Vilnius. On the future of Europe – what else! The title of my talk then was „What is wrong with Europe – and, by the way, why don´t you fix it?“ At the beginning of my speech I followed the academic example by enumerating a few key-concepts, to start my audience thinking. Here they are again:

Toxic loans. Insolvent banks. Unsustainable debt. Bailouts of banks. Junk ratings. Sovereign defaults. Recession. Tax havens. Market manipulation. Insider trading. Creative accounting. Moral hazard. Social contract. Inequality: 1% vs. 99%. Austerity. Plutocracy vs. democracy.

This should suffice to start you thinking. Each and every concept speaks volumes about what´s wrong with Europe. Has anything changed during the past four years? Or are we simply stuck in this mess, for which European leaders seem to have no effective solutions?


There is now a growing volume of literature on the Euro crisis – which simply won´t go away – and the austerity recipe which was supposed to cure it, but to no avail. One of the latest is: „The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe“, by a Nobel price winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz. Listen to what he has to say:

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“Hvað getum við lært af norræna módelinu?” er ræða, sem var flutt á málþingi sósialdemókrataflokks Litáens í tilefni af 120 ára afmælinu.

This speech was given at the celebratory „120 year Anniversary of the Lithuanian Social-Demcorati Party in Vilnius, Sept. 9th, 2016. Mr Hannibalsson is the ex-leader of Iceland´s SDP.


The neo-liberal era started in the eighties as a revolt against the welfare state. It was a reassertion of the fundamentalist belief in market infallibility. It turned out to be a repeat version of history: Essentially it leads to casino-capitalism, in the thrall of high-finance, which ended in a stock exchange crash in 1929. Austerity-like policies to deal with the consequences deepened the crisis, then as now, and ended in a decade long Great Depression.

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