This article was published in Morgunblaðið, Reykjavík,on the occasion of the 85 years anniversary of the independence of those two countries (01.12.2003).
At the end of the First World War – the war to end all wars – several new states emerged on the European scene. Among them were Finland and Iceland and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on the Baltic shore. Their high hopes for their newly won independence were to be severely tested during the course of the 20ieth century – the most violent century in the history of mankind, so far.
Iceland achieved its independence from Denmark by a treaty that entered into force December 1st, 1918. That day has since been celebrated in Iceland as the “Day of Sovereignty”, although the remaining ties to the Danish king were not severed until 1944, when Iceland was finally declared a republic. That was done at Thingvellir – where the oldest Parliament in the world was founded – in the year 930. Today Icelanders therefore celebrate the 85th anniversary of their national sovereignty in the modern world.
The 6th of December is the most solemnly celebrated day in the Finnish calender as Finland´s Independence Day. Both nations have a lot to celebrate on those historic dates. Finland and Iceland have since then been the outposts, one in the east, the other in the west, of the Nordic world. The Nordic countries are bound together by common history reaching back for at least two millennia. With home rule for Greenland in the west and the ever growing co-operation between the Nordic countries and their closest neighbors to the east, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we are a part of the fastest growing region in a newly integrated Europe. This is a vast region by land and sea, larger in area than continental Western Europe. More importantly, this is a region endowed with great potential for the future. This is a region that can lead a troubled world – not by force – but by example.
For someone who has been here – a few days after „Bloody Sunday“,January 13th, 1991 – returning to Vilnius is still today an emotionally charged experience. The questions that were uppermost in our minds at that time were those: Would Stalin´s inheritors in the Kremlin make another attempt at turning back the clock of history? Or had they lost their nerve to use force to impose their will?
At that moment we did not know.
What we did know was this: Had they summoned up their courage – or let their desperation gain the upper hand – to use military force against a nation unarmed, we would have experienced a bloodbath on a horrendous scale.
Þann 5.júní, 1990 (á Dannebrogsdaginn) var Uffe Ellemann Jensen, utanríkisráðherra Danmerkur, gestgjafi mikillar ráðstefnu utanríkisráðherra allra ríkja Evrópu og Norður-Ameríku. Ráðstefnan var haldin á vegum Öryggis- og samvinnustofnunar Evrópu (CSCE). Umræðuefnið var mannréttindi sem hornsteinn þjóðfélagsskipunar í Evrópu. Ráðstefnan var liður í röð funda um bætt samskipti austurs og vesturs við lok kalda stríðsins.
Þegar hér var komið sögu, var Berlínarmúrinn fallinn, Austur-Evrópa frjáls, og Eystrasaltsþjóðirnar þrjár, Eistar, Lettar og Litháar, höfðu myndað þingkjörnar ríkisstjórnir að loknum þingkosningum. Nýskipaðir utanríkisráðherrar þeirra, þeir Lennart Meri (Eistlandi), Janis Jurkans (Lettlandi) og Algirdas Saudargas (Litháen) mættu til fundarins og báðu um að fá að ávarpa rástefnuna. Þá hótuðu Sovétmenn að yfirgefa fundinn. Uffe lúffaði, og þeim þremenningum var vísað á braut. Þegar þau tíðindi spurðust, henti ég frá mér fyrirframsömdum ræðutexta og talaði eins og andinn innblés mér, eingöngu um sjálfstæðiskröfur Eystrasaltsþjóða.
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June 5, 1990, a major CSCE-conference on the human dimension was held in Copenhagen, at the invitation of the Foreign Minister of Denmark, Mr. Uffe Ellemann Jensen. In attendance were the foreign ministers of all European states, plus USA and Canada. This conference was a part of a series of meetings, laying the groundwork for new relations between European states in the wake of the cold war. The Berlin Wall had been torn down, Eastern Europe had been set free, and democratically constituted governments had been formed in the Baltic states.
The newly appointed foreign ministers of the Baltic states, Meri, Jurkans and Saudargas, were knocking on the door, asking to be allowed to plead their case for independence. The Soviets presented the host with an ultimatum:if they are let in – we leave. The hosts caved in and the Balts were shown the door. When I heard the news, I threw away my prepared text and spoke exclusively on the Baltic issue, since their voices had been silenced.
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.