Those who dare…

When Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in 1985, his reform policy sparked an independence movement in the Baltic states. But as their cries for help were answered with silence from the international community, two small nations answered the call – Iceland and Denmark – motivated by the personal connections of their foreign ministers.

THOSE WHO DARE outlines the Baltic nations’ (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania’s) struggle for the restoration of their independence, from 1986-1991, Gorbachev’s perestroika paving the way. It recaptures the dramatic course of events in the Baltic capitals of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn in January 1991 when the Soviet military attempted to brutally suppress the independence movements. At that moment, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, the minister of foreign affairs of Iceland, was the only western foreign minister to travel to the Baltic capitals to show his support, thus inscribing Iceland in golden letters in the minds of the Baltic people.

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Why is a majority of Icelanders, according to opinion polls, opposed to Iceland´s membership of the European Union?

Meistaraprófsnemi við Collége d´Europe í Belgíu, Tim Gemers, valdi sér sem rannsóknarverkefni spurninguna: Hvers vegna er meirihluti Íslendinga andvígur aðild Íslands að Evrópusambandinu? Hann bað mig að svara spurningum varðandi þetta mál og hefur sjálfsagt beint sínum spurningum til fleiri aðila. Það sem hér fer á eftir eru svör mín við spurningum.

A Dutch student, Mr. Tim Gemers, in the Collége d´Europe in Belgium has selected as his research theme for his Msc. thesis the question: Why is a majority of Icelanders, according to opinion polls, opposed to Iceland´s membership of the European Union? He sent me a questionnaire concerning the topic. What follows are my answers to Mr. Gemers´questions.


l. Fish – is Iceland better off inside or outside the CFP?

INTRODUCTION: Keep in mind that everything to do with fishing is central to public discourse in Iceland. The fishing industry was the mainstay of Iceland´s industrialization. Exports of seafood provided until fairly recently up to 80-90% of Iceland´s foreign currency earnings. Although reduced in national significance through diversification (energy-aluminium, tourism, pharmaceuticals and hig-tech services), the fishing industry remains the mainstay of our rural economy. The Cod-Wars against Great Britain (1954-75) are remembered as a continuation of our independence struggle against Denmark. The Icelandic fisheries policy, based on a strictly regulated quota system since 1984, is considered to be fairly successfull in terms of preservation of fish stocks and profitability. In comparison the CFP of the EU is generally considered to be unsustainable, inefficient and wasteful (still heavily subsidized despite recents attempts at reform).

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Sir –
America´s Founding Fathers, with their phobia against strong central government, would have been well advised to look at the Old Icelandic Republic (930-1262 A.D.) for inspiration, rather than this „revered piece of sheepskin“ (The „Magna Carta at 800“, Dec. 20ieth, 2014).

The principal institution of the Republic was Alþingi (national parliament, founded 930 A.D.). Alþingi was both a legislative assembly and a court of law, intended for the peaceful settlements of disputes.

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A VIEW FROM THE HIGH NORTH. An interview with Mr. Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, former minister for foreign affairs of Iceland by Kourosh Ziabari

1. Baltic liberation and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Why did I take it upon myself to promote the cause of the Baltic nations´ restored independence in the early nineties? Because the leaders of the West at the time were not, de facto, following up on their rethoric on democracy and national self-determination. Why not? Because they had, unwisely, placed all their bets for ending the Cold War on the political fate of president Gorbachev. Nothing should be said or done which undermined his position. If he were to be deposed, the hardliners would come back. And there was a lot at stake. We might return to the Cold War. That would mean the end of the peace process. Negotiations on both conventional and nuclear disarmament would be off the agenda. The peaceful reunification of Germany would no longer be possible. And the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe might be put down by force.

All of this, they said, was dependent upon Mr. Gorbachev remaining in power. When Mr. Gorbachev´s proposed domestic reforms turned out to be a failure, his only remaining mission was to keep the Soviet Union together under a new constitution – at all cost. So, the leaders of the West ended up supporting Gorbachev´s policy of keeping the Soviet Union together ( and the Yugoslav Federation as well) – in the name of stability. That´s why president Bush made his notorious „chicken speech“ in Kiev in February 1990, appealing to the Ukrainians „not to succumb to extreme nationalism“, but to remain loyal to the Soviet Union in the name of peace and stability. This speech by an American president would be music to the ears of Mr. Putin, who has long mourned the demise of the Soviet Union as „the greatest geo-strategic disaster of the 20ieth century“.

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Bréfaskriftir á milli JB og R. Taagepera

Á vormisseri 2014 kenndi ég nokkur námskeið við Háskólann í Tartu í Eistlandi. Ég hafði vinnuaðstöðu í skrifstofu í háskólabyggingunni, sem var merkt Prófessor Dr. Rein Taagepera. Nafnið rifjaði upp fyrir mér skondna sögu, en sannleiksgildi hennar er staðfest í bréfaskrifum okkar, sem fer hér á eftir.

Sagan snýst um forsetakosningar í Eistlandi 1992 og pólitíska framtíð Lennarts Meri, míns gamla vinar. Meri var fyrsti utanríkisráðherra hins nýfrjálsa Eistlands. Pólitíkin í árdaga eistneska lýðveldisins var sviptivindasöm. Þegar árið 1992 hafði Meri hrökklast út úr pólitíkinni og var gerður að sendiherra Eistlands í Finnlandi. Þar bar fundum okkar enn saman á mikilli ráðstefnu á vegum OSCE um öryggismál. Sendiherrann var hálf vængbrotinn. Hið unga lýðveldi var staurblankt og átti ekki fyrir rafmagnsreikningnum. Forsetakosningar voru framundan eftir nokkra mánuði. Meri taldi sig ekki eiga sjans. Við sátum uppi við kertaljós í fátæklega búnum sendiherrabústaðnum. Það var þessa nótt, sem ég gerðist kosningastjóri Lennarts Meri, eins og bréfaskiptin leiða í ljós.

Dr. Rein Taagepera is a wellknown scholar (political science) and an Estonian in exile (Californa, USA). He became a candidate for president of Estonia in the elections 1992. Our correspondence, which follows, is about those presidential elections and my accidental role as a sort of political spin doctor for my friend, Meri. I have told the story in greater detail in an interview with Askur Alas in the Estonian magazine, Keskus.

Dear Dr. Taagepera.

You may be surprised to receive this letter from out of the blue – or rather from your office (room 312) at The Institute of Governmental Politics of the University of Tartu. Well, here comes the explanation:

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During spring semester 2014 I taught a few courses for master-level students in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Tartu in Estonia. I was alotted an office with a sign on the door: Professor Dr. Rein Taagepera. The name refreshed my memory of my accidental involvement in Estonia´s presidential elections anno 1992. The truthfulness of the story is confirmed by my correspondence with Dr. Taagepera, which follows.

The story is about the presidential elections in Estonia in 1992 and the political future of Lennart Meri, my old friend. Meri became the first foreign minister of Estonia after restored independence. In the early days of the republic Estonian politics were in a flux. By the year 1992 Meri had actually dropped out of politics and had been made ambassador to Finland in Helsinki. That´s where we met once again at a major OSCE- conference on European security policies.

The ambassador was a bit down and out, it seemed to me. The young republic was almost broke; they couldn´t afford to pay the electricity bill. That´s why we sat there in the almost empty amassador´s residence by candlelight late into the night. The presidential elections were a few months ahead. Meri felt he didn´t have a chance. It was during this night that I became Lennart´s spin doctor which is confirmed in the following correspondence.

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Tartu University: Vision 2032

April 11th Tartu University convened a seminar on the future of university education during the next two decades, under the above heading: Vision 2032.

This seminar was a culmination of a research project which has lasted about a year, involving all faculties and departments of the university. Under the leadership of a co-ordinating committee, a number of inter-disciplinarian workshops have contributed their inputs. The purpose of all this is to revise the strategic concept of the University of Tartu, as well as its workplan for this period. This seminar brought in politicians, academicians, scientists and philosophers to review this work.

Originally, Siim Kallas, former PM of Estonia and currently vice-president of EU-commission, was to be among the three key-note speakers. When Mr. Kallas dropped out at short notice, Rector Volli Kalm asked me to replace him. I have been for the past weeks a research fellow at the university´s Institute of Government and Politics and a guest-lecturer.

What follows is the text of my speech at this seminar. JBH


Foreign ministers are sometimes duty-bound to follow heads of state on official visits abroad. One such visit to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in the early 90s of the last century, turned out to be memorable. As a matter of fact I find it quite relevant for the topic of discussion alotted to me here today: How should small nations design their educational policies for an uncertain future?

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JÓN BALDVIN hefur undanfarna máuði starfað sem gistiprófessor við Háskólann í TARTU í Eistlandi. Jafnframt hefur hann flutt fyrirlestra og tekið þátt í málþingum um fjármálakreppuna, orsakir hennar, afleiðingar og ólík viðbrögð stjórnvalda, einkum á Íslandi, annars staðar á Norðurlöndum og í Eystrasaltslöndum. Þann 11. apríl, s.l. flutti hann stefnuræðu á fjölþjóðlegri ráðstefnu um framtíð háskólamenntunar, séð af sjónarhóli smáþjóða. Ráðstefnan var endapunktur á stefnumótun Háskólans í TARTU til ársins 2032, þegar skólinn verður 400 ára.

ASKUR ALAS er eistnenskur blaðamaður, málvísindamaður og þýðandi íslenskra bókmennta á eistnesku. Á sumrum er hann leiðsögumaður eistneskra ferðamanna til Íslands. Hann tók eftirfarandi viðtal við Jón Baldvin, sem birtist í aprílhefti mánaðarritsins KESKUS í TALLINN, en tímaritið helgar sig listum, menningu og stjórnmálum, gjarnan út frá óhefðbundnum sjónarmiðum.

Q: What would you have done differently, if you had been in power before/after crisis?

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An interview with Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson.

Introduction: Late November last year there was a multinational conference in Tallinn, where the major questions to be tackled were the following: Can small nations offer state services to their citizens at the same level of quantity and quality as bigger nations? Or will the relative cost (as a percentage of GDP) be too high – or even prohibitive? Do small nation face tough choices as to what services they are going to give priority? Although the central government in Tallinn accounts for a relatively small percentage of GDP, there is a growing debate in Estonia about increasing cost pressures concerning government expenditures.Is there such a thing as an optimal size of the public sector conducive to economic growth?

I was invited to speak at the conference and to participate in panel discussions. Eventually, for the sake of cost cutting, we settled for an interview which was posted on the conference web page in Estonian. What follows is the English text.

Q: How do you envisage the abilities of small nations to maintain sustainable living standards and take care of their national interest in the international arena?

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