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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LESSONS FROM ICELAND

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 WHY DON´T YOU FIX IT?

“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?

1.

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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WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE NORDIC MODEL?

“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.

1.

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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HOW TO SAVE CAPITALISM FROM THE CAPITALISTS – AND DEMOCRACY FROM THE PLUTOCRATS?

„The market is a useful servant, but an intolerable master“
(Tage Erlander, prime minister of Sweden 1946-69)

„The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless
image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of financial markets,
which are faceless and lacking any humane goal. – Money has to
serve, not to rule“. (His holiness, Pope Francis, NYT, May 2013)

Q: How do you define the main characteristics of the neo-liberal creed?

A: The first thing to be said about it is that despite its name, neo-liberalism is neither new nor liberal. It is in fact the reincarnation of the 19th century laisser-faire economic theory. The essence of this creed is a naïve belief in the infallibility of markets and their innate ability to correct themselves. Both propositions have been proven false. After the systemic failure of laisser-faire capitalism and the subsequent Great Depression during the thirties of the last century, this ideology was thoroughly discredited.

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

The Baltic road to freedom signaled not only a national reawakening, but a democratic uprising as well. Those three small nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – wanted to restore their independent states. They had suffered more than most during and after the Second World War, having been the victims of invasion, military occupation and annexation into the USSR, as well as repeated deportations en masse to the Gulag.

The leaders of the independence movements had therefore every reason to expect, that they would be welcomed with open arms back into the familiy of European democracies.

But they were in for a rude awakening. They were, as a matter of fact, admonished for irresponsibility and even labeled as „spoilers of the peace“, treated as unwelcome intruders into the amiable company of the major powers. They were told to behave responsibly for the greater good of all and advised to settle for a compromise with their Kremlin masters, without any preconditions. Wouldn´t some form of home-rule within the USSR be good enough?

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