Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Diplomatic Relations between Iceland and Estonia

Address by Foreign Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson at Höfði, 25 August 2001, on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Iceland and Estonia

Prime Minister, Ministers, Madame Mayor, other distinguished guests,

Ten years ago in this very same house, the then foreign ministers of our countries signed a joint declaration on the establishment of diplomatic relations.
On that historic occasion here in Höfði-house, Algirdas Saudargas, then foreign minister of Lithuania, who I am pleased to see among us here today said that the signatures expressed the highest level of democracy because they had already been signed in the hearts of the Icelandic and Baltic people. These were true words and the Baltic nations have since held a special place in the hearts and minds of the Icelandic people.

Furthermore, President Lennart Meri, then foreign minister of Estonia, said that the signatures marked the end of the long-lasting consequences of World War II in the Baltic states. Only with these signatures were the notorious signatures of Ribbentrop and Molotov from August 1939 finally erased. And in the words of Janis Jurkans, the Latvian foreign minister, that day marked the beginning of a new Europe.

That solemn occasion ten years ago, which we are celebrating today, was indeed historic. And a new Europe it was that emerged with the tearing down of the iron curtain that had divided our world and held hostage the citizens of the Eastern part of Europe for so long. Despite our loathing of the system, the sudden end of the Cold War took us by surprise. We had grown accustomed to it. It had coloured our way of thinking and our politics for so long, and only when it ended did the true scale of the oppression, the lies and the absurdity become fully clear to us.

Iceland and the Baltic states are relatively small states that gained independence only in the early nineteenth century after being unwillingly ruled by more powerful neighbours. But there the comparison ends. Icelanders were spared the sufferings of the Baltic people, foreign oppression, deportations and what today we would call ethnic cleansing which seemed to take no end. The more remarkable it is then, that in spite of all that, in spite of efforts to destroy the culture and language of the Baltic nations, to exploit and demoralise the Baltic people, the spirit of the people in Estonia, in Latvia and in Lithuania survived. Even we, my generation, numbed by the mental chains of the Cold War, tended to forget the existence of the three small nations with their own identity and cultural heritage. This is no longer the case. The three countries are again recognised as distinct national entities. Young Icelanders today have little or no recollection of the Cold War and find the tyranny of the Soviet power and the suffering of so many almost impossible to believe. These young people now know only a Europe free and whole. They regard the existence of modern societies in the three Baltic States as a given fact. They see their peers, much like themselves, and they see opportunities. This we applaud.

We are here today to commemorate the restoration of independence of the Baltic States a decade ago and the modest role played by Iceland. It is important to remember the past, to learn from it, but it is more important to look to the future. Your task, ministers, is and will be to secure your countries' interests in the future. Let me commend you on the enormous progress achieved so far, in political, economic and social terms. Ten years ago you managed to put your foot in the door. Now you are fully-fledged members of the international community and soon we will be co-operating through the EEA agreement in the European Union and even sooner we will be working together in the North Atlantic Alliance. I need not say that Iceland has always supported the inclusion of the Baltic states into NATO. Baltic membership of NATO will enhance the security and stability in Europe. We remain committed to this position. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have made excellent progress in meeting the general criteria for membership of the Alliance. The joint endeavours of your countries and the solidarity you have demonstrated in the necessity of all three countries becoming members at the same time has made an impact and impressed Allies. Iceland will maintain its support for your membership and rely on your continued commitment towards reforms on your way to it.

Small states have a role to play in the world. It took some time for Iceland to realise this and to acknowledge the rights but not less the responsibilities that come with independence. We enjoyed the luxury of acknowledging this gradually. We all try to take on our fair share of responsibilities in the world. I mention only our collected efforts in the Balkans, where all our countries are present despite modest means.

The road to independence was a difficult one for all your countries and cost many lives. Let me end by congratulating you, once more, on the remarkable steps you have all taken in the last decade towards becoming free market economies and modern European states. You have earned your place in Europe and there you will stay. The past is behind us, let us look jointly to the future and make the most of the opportunities it holds for us.

Thank you.


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