Nordic-Baltic co-operation vital in turbulent times
As the communist Soviet Union was collapsing in the early 1990s, not only our neighbours but the world as a whole found themselves in a period of unprecedented upheaval.
The Baltic countries, which had lived under Soviet oppression for nearly 50 years, saw an opportunity to regain their independence, which they achieved as the USSR fell apart.
Nordic observers followed events closely and with a growing level of involvement.
There was a strong sense of solidarity with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as support for their aspirations for independence and democracy. It was no surprise, then, when the Nordic and Baltic regions began to co-operate on a practical level before independence was a reality.
The Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers were pursuing the idea of establishing information centres in the Baltic countries as early as the autumn of 1990. There was broad consensus on this, and the council of ministers opened offices in Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius in early 1991.
Consequently, this year we are celebrating not only 25 years of Baltic independence, but also 25 years of co-operation between our regions.
Celebrating 25 years of co-operation
Initially, Nordic-Baltic co-operation was characterised by establishing contacts, as well as promoting Nordic culture and social values, democracy, and gender equality in the Baltic region.
After the Baltic countries joined the EU in 2004, it was determined that co-operation should be on equal terms.
Guidelines were adopted that form the basis of today’s Nordic-Baltic co-operation, which includes: cross-border co-operation; gender equality, research, and innovation; co-operation on social affairs and health; and the environment and sustainable development.
Today we can look back on 25 years of very successful co-operation.
Thousands of activities have taken place relating to social welfare, gender equality, trafficking, sustainability, the environment, culture, the media, and other issues.
These many efforts, not least the so-called mobility programmes, have provided – and continue to provide – lasting benefits.
The mobility programmes alone have resulted in a huge exchange of knowledge between the Nordic and Baltic countries. The efforts of the Vilnius office to support the European Humanities University – an exile university for Belarusian students in Vilnius – have attracted a good deal of attention and are worth mentioning.
Integration of Russian-speaking minorities
We also have several Nordic solutions that have served as models for the Baltic countries, such as the Gender Equality Ombudsman and Nordic political summer meetings.
In recent years, the Nordic Council of Ministers has taken an increasingly active approach to supporting independent Russian-language media in the Baltic countries.
Examples include support of the television channel ETV+ in Estonia, training in independent journalism supported by the Latvian office, and the newly opened branch of the Tallinn office in Narva.
These are all steps in the council of ministers’ strategy to contribute to the better inclusion of the Russian-speaking minority in the Baltic countries.
The opening of the Narva branch illustrates the Nordic Council of Ministers’ approach in the region over the years, which has often been characterised by quick responses to new challenges.
Subjected to Russian pressure
The Nordic offices were rapidly established 25 years ago thanks to an ability for quick decision-making in a turbulent geopolitical situation. This ability has endured to this day, and is once again important as the present geopolitical situation is the most unstable it has been for many years.
The need for cohesion between the Nordic and Baltic regions becomes even greater when the Baltic countries are subjected to Russian pressure.
The Nordic Council of Ministers still has the opportunity to make a difference in the Baltic region. Challenges must be faced head on, as before, with measures adapted to the current situation.
This has been possible thanks to the continued bolstering of efforts at the Nordic offices.
Our efforts in the Baltic region have, without doubt, been highly successful and demonstrate the importance of international co-operation. If you believe in co-operation as an instrument for achieving democracy, security, and prosperity – well, then it’s easy to see the continued relevance of Nordic-Baltic co-operation. We are more than ready to consolidate our experiences, and break new common ground.
Even in the 25 years to come, our close and innovative co-operation can help to encourage development in the right direction, as well as to strengthen our common position and role in a wider European and global context.
If we succeed in this, we’re all winners.
Dagfinn Hoeybraaten is Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.