An Amazing and Beautiful World!

20 maj 2005

It’s a truly amazing time we are living in!

I’m sitting high up in the sky passing one of the most beutiful sights this world of ours has to offer – the Southern tip of Greenland.

It’s a cloudy day over the North Atlantic, but around the tip of Greenland the clouds have broken up and you can just enjoy the beauty of the barren cliffs, the frozen heights and the deep penetrating fjords.

It’s a scenery with few rivals.

Add to all of this that modern technology has now brought the Internet to long-distance flying. Down there is nothing in terms of modernity. Up here there seems to be just about everything.

The display says that we have three hours and twenty-eight minutes to go until touch-down at Newark airport by New York.

It was down here that the Viking sailor Leif Eriksson on a windy day somewhat more than a thousand years missed Greenland and ended up at an even more far-away and unknown coastline.

Eventually, they followed it down to what they then called Vinland. Columbus was nowhere to be seen.


Chaos in the Kremlin?

20 maj 2005

It’s increasingly strange news coming out of Russia these days. Signs are multiplying that a state of chaos might be emerging in the Kremlin.

After having been delayed until after the May 9 celebration, the sentencing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky was scheduled for Monday of this week.

But still – and it’s Friday today – we haven’t seen more than Judge Irina Kolasnikova mumbling through limited sections of the verdict in short daily doses. It’s a parody of the worst sort. On present trends, this parody might well go on all of next week until she starts to approach the final and crucial parts of the lengthy text.

It is very hard to interpret this in any other way than as a reflection of a genuine political uncertainity on how to handle the case. It might well be that she doesn’t know what will be on the final pages of the document she’s mumbling through. Instructions have yet to arrive.

That there is nervousness was obvious from the hasty announcement Tuesday on the abandonment of the plan to merge state oil company Rosneft with the gas giant Gazprom.

This plan had previously had the explicit endorsement of President Putin, but was challenged by a security-associated part of his staff that wanted primarily to get their hands on the assets of Rosneft.

It become a confict in the higher reaches of the Kremlin – between Chief of Staff Medvedev as Chairman of Gazprom and Deputy Chief of Staff Sechin as Chairman of Rosneft – which paralyzed the entire issue.

The pattern of the last year is that when there is some profoundly bad news in Russia, the Kremlin suddenly sees the need to do something to reassure the international markets and investors.

Following this pattern, and with intense global attention on the mumbling lady in the courtroom, a decision was hastily taken to resolve the conflict over Rosneft and Gasprom.

So it was announced that there will be no merger, that the Russian state will buy a share of Gazprom for USD 7 billion, and that there will thereafter be a complete liberalisation of the shares in what will then be a clearly state-controlled company. And Rosneft will be a separate company that will eventually be open for minority private ownership as well.

In itself, this was good news, and the markets reacted accordingly.

But it was obviously a decision taken in haste, details might yet change, motives why it was taken now much too obvious – and it demonstrated that President Putin isn’t necessarily the one that carries the day on vital issues in the Kremlin.

Slightly chaotic, the entire thing.


Betraying a Revolution?

18 maj 2005

Betraying a Revolution

News coming out of Kiev is not too encouraging these days, particularly in terms of the economic policies pursued by the Timoshenko government.

Part of the outburst of populist policies can be explained by the up-coming elections to the Rada in March of next year. It’s simply necessary for the Orange revolution coalition to secure a majority there – otherwise everything is lost.

But part can probably be explained by an inability of the European-minded part of that coalition to set the proper strategic direction for the policies to be pursued.

It seems as if revenge against the old has been given prominence over reform for the new in the policies of the governnent.

With Yulia Timoshenko increasingly being the most popular player on the scene, there are also increasing question marks concerning where she wants to go. She’s a very determined lady – I had lunch with her a month or so ago – but her horizons are somewhat limited due to her lack of international experience and contacts.

In today’s Washington Post, Anders Åslund has a gloomy piece on what’s going on.

That’s good.

Bad publicity in Washington might focus the minds in Kiev. And that might cause them to start to discuss the radical corrections of course that will be imperate at the very latest after the 2006 elections.


Estonian and European Borders

18 maj 2005

CARL BILDT: Eesti-Vene piirilepe on Euroopale oluline – Eesti P�evaleht Online

The signing of the border agreement between Estonia and Russia – which I have commented upon earlier – continues to generate debate, and I was asked to contribute with my views in the leading Estonian daily Eesti Päevalehti:

These days it is 100 years since the peaceful dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden, and the modern emergence of Norway as an independent nation.

The union had been an extremely loose one, with very few common institutions or policies. But the dissolution was nevertheless dramatic. Soldiers were mobilized on both sides.

One of the keys to the peaceful dissolution of the union and the peaceful coming together of the new neighbours in the decades that followed was that border issues were sorted out very quickly.

In theory, they could have been tricky. In medieval times, the present Swedish provinces of Jämtland and Härjedalen had been more Norwegian than Swedish. And there were some outstanding border issues in the sea.

But it was quickly decided that the present and future is more important than the past. The border was quickly ratified as it was at the time – and we have lived happily since then.

Few things can poison political relations like open border issues. They can be used by irresponsible forces in both domestic and foreign affairs in ways that are truly destabilizing.

Our new Europe is a Europe without border disputes. History- old disputes between France and Germany have been settled. Possible open issues in Central Europe have been solved. Finland’s border with Russia – immensely painful as the loss of Vyborg was – is disputed by no one. Denmark’s border with Germany – fought over during centuries – is now seen as natural.

It’s only in the Balkans there are some still open issues. But everyone is determined to settle them as soon as possible. Otherwise European integration will not work.

I salute Estonia as its long-standing work to get the border treaty with Russia signed will now be crowned with success.

For too long it was de facto Russia that wanted to keep the issue open in order to be able to accuse Estonia and play politics against the Baltic states at different international meetings. Every government in Tallinn that I can remember has made it clear that they were ready to sign, while Moscow was not.

Although this issue has been settled in reality for a long time, it is still an important contribution to European stability that it will now be formally signed.

Lithuania already has its treaty, and I can see no reason why not Latvia should be ready to follow Estonia, thus finalizing the search for stability anchored in internationally recognized borders in our part of Europe.

Then we must move on with all the truly important issues on our common agenda – how to promote peace, prosperity and freedom for all in our Europe. A lot has been achieved – but a lot remains to be done. Let’s not be distracted and bogged down by the issues of the past.


No Requiem for the Dead

17 maj 2005

Institute for War and Peace Reporting

Gradually, we are getting a clearer picture of the massacre as Uzbek security forces retook the city of Andijan.

The linked report gives a rather horrible picture of the immediate aftermath of the massacre.

We know from his own official bulletin that Uzbek President Kamirov had flown to the city, and that it was he who gave the orders to the security forces after attempts at talks with those that have taken posession of government buildings had broken down. He returned to Tasjkent when the mission was finished.

He will never be able to free himself of direct responsibility for what happened.

He should be treated by the international community accordingly.


A Day of Reckoning Will Come

16 maj 2005

A Day of Reckoning Will Come

Today we will know what sentence the disciplined court in Moscow has decided to give Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

It was a political trial from the very first minute, and it will undoubtedly be a political verdict.

I vividly remember the day he was arrested. Black commandos stormed an aircraft he was using in the early morning hours at the airport in Novosibirsk. He was on his way to Moscow and a meeting that I was attending as well.

There was profound shock among the other Russian business leaders there. Some feared an outright return to Soviet days. Several started to speak about what their parents had told them about the 1930’s. No one doubted the hand of the Kremlin behind the arrest.

Since then we have seen the carefully staged trial. And it was certainly no coincidence that the verdict was delayed until after world leaders had left Mocow after the May 9 celebrations.

My own bet is that the Kremlin will do whatever it can to keep Khodorkovsky in prison as long as Putin is in power.

To free him would simply be too politically dangerous. He might emerge from prison not as a defeated, but as a strengthened, personality.

But we’ll see.

In the meantime, the editorial in todays Moscow Times that I have linked to is certainly worth reading.


Ferment in Ferghana

15 maj 2005

Ferghana.Ru Information Agency

It’s difficult to know how many were killed when Uzbek security forces retook the city of Andijan in the Ferghana valley on Friday. New reports are mentioning numbers up to 500 killed and several thousand wounded in thre fighting.

It is highly likely to have been a very brutal operation.

President Kamirov is among the most brutal and authoritarian of leaders of Central Asia, and he is likely to authorize whatever violence he believes it takes to prevent a repetition in Uzbekistan of what happened recently in Kyrgyzstan.

Indeed, the sequence of events that lead to the fall of the regime there started in the city of Osh, which just happens to be very nearby Andijan in the Ferghana valley.

The Ferghana valley has always been important. Once upon a time, it was a key part of the Silk Road between China and Europe. Later, the fertility of its soil drew invaders and empire-builders of all sorts.

It was conquered by Russia in the 1870’s, and then forcibly incorporated in the Soviet Union. Stalin dedided to split the valley between three republics, and with the demise of the Soviet Union they become independent states. Most of the valley, however, is in Uzbekistan.

Its mix of nationalities and traditions has made it vulnerable to ethnic strife, and there have been outbursts of national violence during also the past decades. The Soviet Union had a crack airborne division stationed there – just in case.

The last decade has seen the economic situation in the valley deterioating. There are reports of unemployment well over 50 %. At the same time the population is increasing very fast.

Add to that an amount of Islamist agitation linked to groups that also acquired prominence during the wars in nearby Afghanistan. And note that some of the drug networks from that country is passing through the valley.

It doesn’t require much to get a mix like that to start being explosive in an ethnically mixed place like the Ferghana valley.

We are now likely to see a phase of extreme repression setting in throughout Uzbekistan – as if things weren’t bad before. Moscow is likely to approve and support, and Washington might well have difficulties deciding which leg to stand on.

Hard repression might work – for a while.

Or it might not – in which case the valley and the region has better fasten the seat bealts…


A Successful Palestinian State

14 maj 2005

RAND | News Release | RAND Studies Make Recommendations for a Successful Palestinian State

The RAND Corporation has just published the result of a very major study of the possibilities of building a succesful Palestinian state.

There have been different studies on different aspects of this issue before, but nothing as comprehensive as the RAND study. A follow-on volume to those already published will deal more in detail with the different security issues.

The broad conclusion of the study is that it could be done, that it’s critical that such a state gets a contigous territory, that it will require substantial investments from the international territory and that it will indeed contribute to the stability of the region, including Israel.

The demographic problem is one of the major challenges. Even if one excludes Gaza, a Palestinian state will move towards a population density higher than Bangladesh. It will require major efforts to create jobs and hope for the future for all of them.

Failure will fuel resentment and rage – with all its consequences.

The study has been presented extensively in Washington and Brussels as well as Jerusalem and Ramallah, and will be the subject of follow-on discussions in the months to come.

At the moment, the challenges of state-building in Iraq are dominating the news headlines from the region, with the security situation deterioating at the same time as the new government starts working and discussions on the new constitution start in earnest.

But the challenges of state-building in Palestine should not be neglected. Proper policies need to be prepared.

We must succeed with the state-building efforts in both parts of the ancient Fertile Crescent.


Peaceful Rise In China?

14 maj 2005

RAND_CT240.pdf (application/pdf Object)

For all the talk about the peaceful rise of China, it is important to focus also on the peaceful rise in China.

Over the years there has been a constant increase in what the authorities refer to as ”mass incidents” of different sorts.

The Ministry of Public Security – a powerful body – has released statistics that talk about a annual rise in such incidents of the order of 10%. From 8 700 in 1993, they recorded 58 000 cases in 2003.

A closer examination of what’s happening and its significance can be founded in the presentation by researchers from the RAND Corporation that I have linked to.

I don’t think there is any reason to expect anything too dramatic to happen immediately – but I do think there is reason to be aware of the tensions in the system in particular if we were to see economic growth starting to falter, inflation coming back or something of this nature.


Narva and Peipus

13 maj 2005

top.rbc.ru
It’s a good piece of news that Estonia and Russia will sign the agreement on their state border as well as the demarcation of the sea in the Narva Bay in the Gulf of Finland.

It’s taken a long time to get to here. Most of the blame for that falls on the Russian side, but that’s now history. There seems to have been a belief that by holding up agreement on the border one could slow down the process of Estonia entering NATO and the European Union.

But that was a mistake. And now Moscow seems intend to sort out the issue.

In the beginning – years ago – there were those on the Estonian side who were less pleased as well. The border as defined in the 1920 Dorpat peace treaty included in Estonia some minor bits of territory that now belong to Russia.

But these areas have been solidly Russian inhabited for a long time, with their citizens having no wish whatsoever to change that. The issue was dropped already by the first Mart Laar government in the early 1990’s.

With the Estonian-Russian border issue being sorted out, and the one with Lithuania years ago, it’s only the Latvian one remaining. I find it difficult to see that it will not be possible to sort it out fairly soon following the model and the principles applied in the Estonian case. The issues involved are the same.

The border between the East and the West of Europe will now follow the Narva river. There, the Teutonic castle in Narva looks across the border towards the East, and the Russian fortress of Ivangorod on the opposite shore looks towards the West.

Between them, traffic across the bridge is intensifying. It’s the peaceful trade and interaction that is the wave of the future.


An Emerging Chinese Threat?

12 maj 2005

The Atlantic Online | June 2005 | How We Would Fight China | Robert D. Kaplan

Across the Baltic from where I’m sitting in Stockholm, the shipyards in St Petersburg are busy building advanced submarines not for the Russian but for the Chinese navy.

And for the Indian and Iranian navies, by the way.

There is no doubt that China has started to invest heavily in the modernization of its obsolescent armed forces, and that this involves the adding of capabilities – among them advanced submarines – that they never had before.

But that this mean that there is a threatening Chinese military giant appearing on the horizon?

Increasingly, that seems to be the mood in the United States. The different debates there on China borders on an obsession. If it’s not the trade deficit, it’s the military dimension, the Taiwan issue, the currency regime or the Chinese role versus North Korea.

There is no doubt that there are genuine challenges ahead. China’s peaceful rise, to use that official phrase, is still a rise that affects all the power relationships in an increasingly important part of the world. And one in which the United States remains the prime strategic stabilizer.

In the latest issue of always-worth-reading Atlantic Montly, Robert Kaplan lays out the case for a coming military rivalry with China.

In his view, the US military contest with China in the Pacific will define the 21st century, and China will be a more formidable adversary to the United States than the Soviet Union ever was.

Robert Kaplan is a prolific, well-informed and influential writer who has covered most issues of relevance when it comes to peace and war in our times. He’s worth reading.

Another issue is whether these fears aren’t somewhat overblown. I tend to believe that we are overlooking significant internal weaknesses in the Chinese development. We might not see the undisturbed and smooth rise to power and pre-eminance that Kaplan and others are forecasting.

But whatever will happen in the future, the debate now is undoubtedly a most important one.

Meanwhile, the shipyards in St Petersburg are kept busy.


Diplomatic Nuclear Meltdowns Ahead?

10 maj 2005

RIA Novosti – World – RUSSIAN MP: NORTH KOREA IS NOT BLUFFING SAYING IT HAS NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Will North Korea explode some sort of nuclear device? Will Iran resume the pursuit of the enrichment of highly enriched uranium?

Well, judging by the reports one reads it sounds as if both of these developments might be imminent. If that turns out to be the case, we are facing a serious double crisis for the efforts to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons.

The North Korean issue is, in some ways, the most straightforward. It has been reported for years that North Korea has a rudimentary nuclear capability. There is talk of enough weapons-grade plutonium for perhaps up to six devices.

But a device is not necessarily a weapon. To get it to a target requires either to get it down in terms of size and weight or to develop very large weapons carriers of different sorts. It does not seem likely that North Korea has succeeded in either of these respects.

It is likely that they have the capability to explode a device. To do so would be a powerful political statement with powerful political effects. Strictly militarily, it wouldn’t change that much.

Washington is highly frustrated with the failure to bring North Korea back to the six-party talks, and not the least with the somewhat mediating role that Beijing is playing.

Talks the last few days between President Bush and the leadership in Beijing are likely to have been an attempt to get the later to be far more active in stopping Pyongyang from a nuclear test and getting them back to the negotiating table.

So far there are no signs of progress. It is not inconceivable that Pyongyang actually intends to raise the stakes though a test. But it’s equally conceivable that they are just raising the stakes in the diplomatic game.

They want a bilateral deal with Washington. Nothing more and nothing less.

Iran is somewhat but not entirely different. They are facing presidential elections in June, and there are certain to be different views in Teheran on how to go forward. No one really wants to be seen as weak prior to these elections.

News reporting is somewhat superficial, and the technical issues involved fairly complicated, but it does not look to me as the Iranians have announced that they will start a full uranium enrichment program.

They are taking a step – bad enough! – but they are deliberately not going the whole way. They want to pressure the Europeans and the Americans, but they are keeping all doors open.

Some in Teheran – not all – are most probably waiting for the offer of a grand bargain in which they get political recognition of their security needs, opening to the world through the WTO and access to technology, also nuclear, in exchange for a comprehensive and intrusive international monitoring of their entire nuclear program in order to gurantee its peaceful nature.

That would not be a bad deal, although some would clearly have difficulties with it.

It will be extremely important to keep heads cool in the diplomatic brinkmanship we might now be entering in both of these areas. Everything isn’t lost yet – in fact, there might be new opportunities for genuine deals opening up.

Farsighted statesmanship is called for. Everywhere.


Proud in English

10 maj 2005

www.bundespraesident.de: Der Bundespr�sident / Home

Well, now there is a version of German President Horst Köhlers address to the special session of the Bundestag this Sunday available in English as well.

Worth reading – in English as well as in German.


A Funeral in Niksic

09 maj 2005

One of the world’s most closely watched private funerals took place this Saturday in the small town of Niksic in northwestern Montenegro.

It was the final farwell to Jovanka Karadzic. She died in Niksic earlier last week after having been sick for some time. She was 83 years old, and her funeral was attended by high-level Orthodox officials as well as different former politicians.

This, of course, had far less to do with her than with her eldest son Radovan. But he, hardly surprising, was nowhere to be seen.

Radovan Karadzic has succesfully evaded the more or less serious efforts of the international forces in Bosnia to catch him since late 1997.

Prior to that – I know, since I was there – he made no such efforts because he knew that there were no attempts to get him. As a matter of fact, he lived most of the time in his own house in Pale, not far from Sarajevo. It wasn’t too difficult to see when he was there and when he wasn’t.

Since 1997 his life has been somewhat more difficult, but he in spite of the difficulties he has managed to avoid capture. He has been helped by people obviously professional on these sorts of things, but also by the rather miserable international efforts, with one arm sometimes not aware of what another was doing.

Strangely enough, he seems to remain in the area in which most people have always suspected that he is. The Karadzic family has a legendary name – well before Radovan – in the parts of Montenegro bordering to Bosnia, and the southeast of Bosnia is a difficult area in many different respects.

The mountains of Herzegovina and Montenegro has a tradition of hiding fugitives on the run from far-away authorities. Radovan was not at the funeral in Niksic, but I bet he wasn’t too far away either.

Rumour has it that the Croat ex-general Ante Gotovina is also moving around in the mountaneous borderlands of Herzegovina. If Radovan is the eastern Herzegovina area and adjoining countries, Ante might well be spending his days roving western Herzegovina and the countries covering that area.

This summer, it is ten years since the deeds for which they have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in the Hage. The same applies to fugitive ex-general Ratko Mladic.

It’s high time they are all given a somewhat more permanent address than they are having at the moment.


Proud of Germany

08 maj 2005

www.bundespraesident.de: Der Bundespr�sident / Home

These are the days of the speeches reflecting on the past and looking towards the future as the 60th year anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe is commemorated.

Today, the President of Germant Horst Köhler addressed a special session of the German Parliament in Berlin. It’s a wideranging speech well worth reading, although there is still no English version available on the net.

Obviously, much of the speech deals with what he calls the ”moral ruin” of Germany between 1933 and 1945 and the sufferings those years brought to the peoples of Europe, the German one certainly not excluded.

But he ends by looking forward and says that the present generation has reasons to be proud of Germany in the view of its achievement of building a stable democracy and a land governed by the rule of the law as well as achieving reconciliation with its neighbours.


Freedom Words from Riga

08 maj 2005

President Discusses Freedom and Democracy in Latvia

President Bush’s speech in Riga on Saturday was undoubtedly a major one, laying down a policy line concerning both the past and the future of Europe that is unlikely to earn him much applause within the walls of the Kremlin of today.

That he proceeds from Moscow to Tbilisi in Georgia, where he is scheduled to have a major speech at Freedom Square, is unlikely to improve things from the Kremlin perspective.


It’s Now The Real Story Starts.

06 maj 2005

I was sitting in the rather pleasant surrounding of Venice following the counting of the votes in the general election in the United Kingdiom.

It seems the result is one that leaves everyone slightly dissatisfied and no one really happy.

The Labour party had to accept a rather sizeable reduction in its parliamentary majority. If you look at absolute figures, only 22% of the electorate decided to go and cast their vote for Labour, which is the weakest support for any government in the UK in living memory.

But, in spite of all this, Labour did secure a third term in command of a majority in the House of Commons.

One might note, however, that during the Conservative ”era” between 1979 and 1997, support for the government held up rather well until the collapse in the 1997 elections.

In the case of Labour, the elections since then has seen a gradual reduction in its support.

This has however not translated into support for the Conservatives. They do claim that they made gains, but in essence they failed. They seem to have mobilized their core supporters, but failed to attract very much else.

When I speak to UK business leaders – a number of them happen to be at the same event in Venice as I am – I find them uniformly taken aback by the raw tone in the Conservative campaign. These natural Conservative supporters have a very hard time seeing the Conservative party as their political home.

In one way, this is a good sign. The much too obvious effort to play at anti-immigrant sentiment simply did not work. Some of it was due to pre-emption by Labour, but a substantial part was due to people simply not wanting to associate themselves with these kinds of policies. Good.

Another good sign was the miserable showing of the fervently anti-European UK Independence Party. In essence, thet got nowhere. Good.

The the Labour party, we are now seeing the beginning of the end of the Blair era. If there is a Yes to the EU Constitutional Treaty in France on May 29th, and in the Netherlands on June 1st, everything will be geared to whether Blair can win the referendum in the UK likely a year from now.

But therafter – at the latest – it is likely to be another Labour part under another leader.

For the Conservatives, the next few months will be crucial. They just might decide to enter the modern world inhabited by modern, open-minded and outward-looking people. It will be a break with their recent past – but a necessary one if they are going to avoid the road to oblivion in the years to come.

The shape of the Labour party after Blair and whether the Conservatives get their act together and enter the modern world – these are the real stories out of the UK that will count in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, the sun sets over Venice…


To Riga with Love

04 maj 2005

Welcome to LETA

On Friday, President Bush touches down on Riga airport in Latvia and thus begins his new tour of different European countries.

The centrepiece of this trip is his participation in the celebrations in Moscow on Monday of the 60th year anniversary of the defeat of Hitler’s Germany.

It was on May 9th 1945 that a full and final capitulation of German armed forces in all theatres of war was signed at the Soviet military headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst. The war had finally ended.

A capitulation had in fact already been signed on May 7th at General Eisenhowers forward headquarters in Reims. Sitting at an old naval base by Flensburg just by the Danish border, the German leader after the suicide of Hitler, Admiral Dönitz, had been desperate to sign a capitulation first with the Western Countries.

But Stalin didn’t like this Reims capitulation too much, and the entire thing had to be repeated in Berlin under Soviet auspicies.

The peoples of the then Soviet Union suffered beyond belief during this war. It’s estimated that 27 million people lost their lives. This is many times more than all the Western allies taken together. A country like the Belarus of today lost nearly a third of its total population.

These sacrifices and this suffering is worth to be honoured and remembered. That’s why it’s correct for also Western leaders to go to Moscow.

But the problem is the way what happened is often presented by President Putin. For half of Europe it wasn’t liberation – just the transition from one nightmare to another. This needs to be respected as well.

In this letter to Latvian President Vike-Freiberga prior to his arrival to Riga, President Bush states clearly that he shares this view, and talks about the Soviet occupation that followed immediately after liberation from the Nazi horrors.

It will be most interesting to see to which extent other Western leaders are prepared to express themselves on the same issue.

After being in Moscow on Monday, President Bush proceeds to Tbilisi in Georgia to give support to the new democratic reformers there. Neither the Riga nor the Tbilisi trip are likely to have been met with applause in the Kremlin.

That’s probably also why a quick trip to the Netherlands was added. President Bush goes to the Hague from Riga, and from there to Moscow. It’s the Queen’s jubilee, but I guess the real reason is that by going directly from Riga to Moscow some Russians would simply have been too irritated.

It’s worth noting that the trip to Riga is President Bush second visit to the Baltic countries – two years ago he was in Vilnius in Lithuania.

For a country like Sweden it’s worth noting where the centre of political gravity in the Baltic region is these days.


To Where Goes Norway?

03 maj 2005

This year it is 100 years since the peaceful dissolution of the very loose union between Sweden and Norway that had existed since the end of the Napoleonic wars nearly a century earlier.

Up until then, Norway had been ruled from Copenhagen as a part of Denmark for centuries. But Denmark ended up on the wrong side of the cataclysm of Europe of those days, while Sweden ended up on the other side. As Russia managed to secure the sovereignity of Finland, which up until then had been part of Sweden, Norway was then given to Sweden as some sort of compensation.

But Norway was never ruled from Stockholm in the way it had been ruled from Copenhagen. The two countries had the same king and the same foreign policy, but that was it. Democracy came to Norway well before it come to Sweden, the country decided all its domestic affairs on its own, and even built up its own defence forces, including fortifications along the border with Sweden.

Nevertheless, the union was unsustainable, and was peacefully dissolved in 1905, thus giving Norway its modern independence.

To celebrate this, a number of seminars are being arranged. I have already spoken to one in Copenhagen, and today I have spent the day in Oslo on another one. They are useful fora for reflections not only on a common past in the Nordic area, but also on common challenges in the future.

But I was struck by how Norway fels lost in the new Europe. Always a staunch member of NATO, it now feels that NATO matters less, and that Norway matters less within this NATO. Parliamentarians at the seminar spoke about their feeling of Norway being marginalized in foreign and security affairs in Europe.

Increasingly, they are starting to look towards the European Union again.

They have tried twice before. But by thin margins, referenda in both 1972 and 1994 have failed to produce sufficient support for membership. There was always the feeling that one could do at the least as well outside.

There was the fish, the oil and… NATO.

But now all of this is starting to change. The fish needs to be exported, and the rest of Europe is the key market, although access to that market is proving increasingly challenging. And NATO isn’t what it used to be in providing an important fora in foreign and security affairs for Norway.

We’ll see where this takes our Norwegian neighbours during the years to come. The elections in September for the Storting will either reaffirm the existing centre-right government or pave the way for a new one of the centre-left, with opinion polls at the moment indicating that the later alternative is the more probable.

But on these bigger question it’s unlikely to make much of a difference. The centre-left is as split on the European issue as is the centre-right. And it’s this split that leads to the progressive further marginalization of Norway in Europe.

Sooner or later this will change. The union with Sweden did not work, but to be part of a union with all of Europe is clearly the road for the future. I’ll put my money on Norway submitting an application for memberwship of the European Union within the next five years.


Towards Thursday

03 maj 2005

Economist.com | Our British election endorsement

The election campaign in Britan is entering its final and decisive days. On Thursday the choice will be made.

It has been a lacklustre campaign. Turn out on polling day might well be lower than what one is used to. Neither of the parties have managed to generate the enthusiasm necesssary to create a real bandwagon effect.

So far, one should add. Elections are always decided on polling day. Never before.

In general terms is seems as if the country has lost faith in Tony Blair, not the least because of the way he handled the run up to the war in Iraq, but that it is not ready to put its faith in the Conservative leader Michael Howard.

The one has lost the thrust of the nation – the other has failed to gain it.

Two of the internationally most prestigous publications – The Economist and Financial Times – have now both reluctantly endorsed the Labour Party and Tony Blair. It’s reluctant endorsements.

The European policies of the Conservatives contributes to the scepticism against them. Financial Times describes them today as ”impossible and infeasible”, and says that they ”could plunge a Conservative government into Britain’s most severe isolation from the rest of Europe in more than 30 years.”

It seems as if the really interesting time in the politics of Britain will start after the election.

There will be the beginning of the change in the Labour party to the post-Blair era. And there will have to be the beginning of a change in the Conservative party towards policies that are both possible to win on and to govern with.


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