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Diplomatic relations between Iceland and the Baltic states

Address by the Prime Minister of Iceland, Mr. Davíð Oddsson,
at a ceremony in Höfði, August 25 2001 commemorating the ten year
anniversary of diplomatic relations between Iceland and the Baltic states

Icelandic version

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I wish you all a warm welcome to this ceremony and I especially welcome our distinguished guests from the three Baltic countries who are visiting Iceland for this milestone occasion.

The Baltic countries recaptured their freedom and independence just over ten years ago. Decades of subjugation and incredible oppression had not managed to smother the spark of freedom that lay deep in their souls, shielded by their unfailing patriotism and national identity. The West had "de facto" written off these countries as part of the Soviet balance sheet. For this reason most people in the West were astonished at the fighting spirit and the courage these nations showed when they seized the opportunity that arose, when they saw a breach appear in the system of oppression and drove their wedges into it so that it would not close again, then began opening it wider with the unstoppable power that the yearning for liberty alone could drive.

Those of us who were in the Icelandic government at that time looked on with interest and expectation, and are grateful for having been able to make our modest contribution to that unique struggle for freedom. I remember those moments as some of the most enjoyable that I have ever experienced in Icelandic politics. I also recall the signals and words of warning from various friends of ours, directly and indirectly, not to do anything that could weaken the position of those in Moscow in whom the Western leaders had vested their faith. All this was well conceived and well meant, yet so wrong. In particular I also remember the performance of Iceland's Foreign Minister at that time, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, who inspired my admiration with the steadfastness, clarity of vision and courage for which his name will deservedly long be remembered.

In 1986 this building was the venue for the Summit meeting between the two superpower leaders, Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev. Initially that meeting was not expected to play a major role and when it came to and end the media clearly considered it a total failure. That assessment would certainly change later. Now, most historians regard the Reykjavík Summit as a milestone event which paved the way for the developments that followed. For this reason, the then Foreign Minister and myself decided that no other place could serve as the stage for the historic signature ceremony where he and his colleagues from the newly democratic states established formal diplomatic relations between our countries.

All these events, and in particular the occasion here at Höfði, were of such historical proportions that it is only natural to remember them now, ten years later, with gratitude and warmth. Our countries' Foreign Ministers were present then, like today; one of them, Algirdas Saudargas, links the past with the present and we extend a special welcome to him. We Icelanders are proud and extremely grateful to have been able to make one move on the chessboard where the people and leaders of the Baltic countries fought ten years ago for the ultimate stakes. Admittedly the ten years that have passed since then have not all been a bed of roses, but have still been a time of triumphs and proof that all paths towards progress are open to nations which enjoy freedom, while those who are oppressed have no such opportunity. Enormous progress has been made. But the crucial point is that all nations, both those close to the scene of those events and others farther away, now know that henceforth there will be no turning back. The Baltic countries have returned to the family of nations based on democracy, freedom and independence. They will never again be snatched away from that family. Their membership of NATO is closer now than ever before. Their suffering and sacrifices were not in vain. We Icelanders consider it a great honour that these nations want to be our friends.

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