Top: Petro Poroshenko. To the left: Rasa Jukneviciene. Small photos from the top: Temuri Yakobashvili and Alexander Vershbow

The discussions in these annual conferences are always informal, and should not be cited elsewhere. In that way, an open and constructive channel for debate is created. This is most appreciated by the participants:

“It’s not just the sessions, but also the discussions during the breaks and dinners” explains Dag Hartelius, Swedish Ambassador in Warsaw. Joining the seminar for the fifth time, Hartelius was one of the close to 50 participants participating in the seminar.

Several participants were enthusiastic about the network which has been built up during previous conferences. The appointment of Andrius Kubilius and Rasa Jukneviciene, both frequent visitors to previous conferences, as the Lithuanian Prime Minister and Minister for Defense, was seen by many as a positive sign.

The list of participants this year includes several ambassadors, party chairmen and ministers from Austria, Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, the US and Sweden. The delegation from Georgia, which included the minister of reintegration, Temuri Yakobashvili, found its home country to be the topic of debate at several occasions during the conference. During an intermission, he asked for increased political pressure on Russia to live up to signed treaties regarding the occupied areas in Georgia. Without foreign pressure, he claimed, this will never come true.

The visa issue is also of major importance to Mr. Yakobashvili, and a priority shared by most countries neighbouring the EU. Gerald Knaus, the Austrian chairman of the European Stability Initiative, explained that the Balkan countries, which have fought for an increased freedom of visas to the union, will be able to travel freely into the EU member states within a year. For some of the countries, this might come true already at the start of the new year.

“Previously, the Interior Ministers in the EU countries used to block visa reform, referring to security measures, while the Ministers for Foreign Affairs used to argue in favour of it. However, two years ago, the EU decided to state certain criteria for countries aiming for visa freedom. This has been a success. Today, three out of six Balkan countries have already implemented the EU-criteria – Macedonia has fulfilled all the criteria whereas Serbia and Montenegro have managed to realize most of them, according to Knaus.

In his view, countries like Georgia and Turkey should try to get permission to start the same process, which he considers “strict but fair”.

Within the frame work of historical events falls the visit of the Ukrainian Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Visby seminar. Petro Poroshenko had been Minister for a mere seven days when arriving in Visby. Due to the unstable situation and the conflicts between President Viktor Yushenko and Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, the seat as Minister for Foreign Affairs had been vacant for eight months.

“I have been appointed by the President and confirmed by the Prime Minister” Petro Poroshenko explains during a coffee break in Visby.

He views his appointment as a sign of good luck for the future political climate – and for the Presidential election in the beginning of next year. It is his ambition to be able to present his country with one voice in the important EU-Ukraine conference, held in Kiev on December 4, 2009.

Energy policy was one of the topics discussed during the Visby conference. In this area, Petro Poroshenko has a straight forward position: Ukraine should be added to the EU energy policy “based on a memorandum dating March 23 2009”. This reflects on an energy agreement between the European Parliament and the EU members striving for more efficient energy markets.

Such an increased efficiency is of utmost importance for Ukraine. The idea is to modernize, thereby significantly decreasing the need for energy, Petro Poroshenko explains. In essence, this could imply complete energy independence for Ukraine. The most important aspect is not, says Mr Poroshenko, independence from Russian gas but “an increased efficiency in the Ukrainian industry”.

The neighbouring countries’ relations to Russia were of great concern for the participants. “Where is Russia heading?” being the primary question, a question with multi dimensional answers.

For Rasa Jukneviciene, Lithuanian Defence Minister, the issue of Kaliningrad, is of national interest. While being formally part of Russia, the Kaliningrad region is geographically severed from Russia and is situated by the Baltic Sea, bordering Poland and Lithuania. According to Jukneviciene, the smuggling of tobacco and oil products from the region into Lithuania is a problem. In addition, the Russian military personnel and equipment stationed in Kaliningrad is being upgraded. For the neighbourhood, the common military Belarus-Russia exercises, which are being held in Kaliningrad and Belarus, are also of major concern. Putin’s ascent to power has also altered the situation.

“Previously, Kaliningrad enjoyed some independence, and people could travel more,” Rasa Jukneviciene explains.

Nowadays, decisions are to a larger extent taken in Moscow. A concern is also the anti- European views which are spreading in Russia. “As a result of propaganda, many Russians find Lithuania, Georgia and other neighbouring countries to be main threats to Russia”.

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, Deputy Defence Minister, responsible for international security, joined the conference from Washington DC. He assured the participants that the Obama administration has Europe in mind – the whole of Europe. “However”, he added on the topic of Russia’s neighbours, “I understand how worried they are”. Vershbow argued that “the interest of minor states should not be negotiated away”, while dealing with Russia. Moral support is important, he claims. As is the possibility for common Russians to visit western countries.

”It is important to provide visa and financial support so that i.e. Russian doctors and local politicians may visit the US to see the available alternatives to politics in their home country.

Foreign minister Carl Bildt participates in the conference for top politicians arranged by JHS 16-18 October, 2009.

 

 

Gunilla Carlsson, Minister for International Development Cooperation was the main speaker at a Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation-seminar on the developments in Zimbabwe.  A report about Zimbabwe was alsopresented. Author of the report was by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, who during the summer of 2009 worked as a trainee to the Minister of Education in Zimbabwe.

Read the morning daily Gotlands Allehandas reflections on the seminar (in Swedish)

During two intense September days, eight Belarusian opposition leaders visited Sweden, invited by the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation. At the very same day of their visit to the Swedish Parliament, oppositional activists were arrested in connection to a demonstration in the Belarusian capital Minsk. They had gathered to mark the ten year anniversary of the disappearance of two people critical of the government. Speaking as the chairman the European Union, the Swedish government filed a complaint regarding the development in Minsk.

In the photo from left Alaksandr Kazulin, Zhana Litvina and Anatoly Lebedko.

In a public seminar, arranged by the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation on Thursday 17th of September, the Belarusians further witness of the risky life of political activists. For example, people belonging to an “un-registered” organization may be put into prison for two years. “Most of us are members of such organizations” Alaksey Yanukyevich, chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front, explained. While the Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko has recently taken some steps to meet recent EU demands for a release of political prisoners as a condition for further cooperation between Belarus and the EU, the opposition leaders remained skeptics.“He would never agree to anything which might challenge his authority” argued Anatoly Lebedko, chairman of the United Civil Party. “For an entire two months, there were no political prisons”, Tatsiana Reviaka from the human rights organization Viasna added cynically. (more…)

An anthology with introduction by Foreign Minister Carl Bildt

Writers:

  • Cecilia Stegö Chilò
  • Richard Swartz
  • Walburga Habsburg Douglas
  • Claes Arvidsson
  • Elisabeth Precht
  • Gunnar Hökmark

Read the book

 

 

Author of this book is Andres Küng(1945-2002), a journalist and writer, born in Sweden by Estonian refugee parents. He published more than 50 books, mostly about the Baltic States. The preface is written by Gunnar Hökmark, former chairman of the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation and one of the initiators of the “Monday Movements” in support of the independence of the Baltic States.

Read the book

Five Latin American politicians and political analysts have been interviewed about the developments in their home countries. The interviews have been conducted by Linda Bergman. The picture of Latin America, presented in the book, is full of nuances. Though the five agree that the politics of Hugo Chavez are a threat to the region.

Read the article in Swedish

In 2008, the AK Party – the Turkish cooperation partner of the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation and Moderaterna – had an eventful year. Last summer the Turkish constitutional court threatened to shut down the party. Subsequently, fights flared up when the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK) moved from its bases in Northern Iraq and attacked both military and civilian targets in Turkey.

 In addition, the AK party was forced to deal with allegations of corruption, a particularly sensitive subject to a party whose unique selling point is to try to move away from Turkey’s corrupt past. Furthermore, there was the so called Ergenekon affair, a conspiracy by the “deep state” – people with a background in the military or the elite bureaucracy – against the democratically elected government. (more…)

After almost two decades of isolation, it is great news that citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia are able to travel without a visa to the Schengen zone, starting December 19, 2009, writes Gerald Knaus, founder and chairman of the European Stability Initiative (ESI).

 
A Serbian airline promptly offered promotional flights to Schengen countries under the slogan “Europe for all of us”, told Knaus and added “This is a much needed success for friends of Europe across the region”. In the 1990s, Europe underwent a fundamental transformation: in the East democracy and market economy replaced communist dictatorships and the continent began to grow together once again.

The political reunification culminated in the abolition of border controls: the Schengen Area now includes most of Central Europe. During this period, the citizens of the Western Balkans had a very different experience. Yugoslavia fell apart. War, displacement and economic hardship became a daily routine. Sanctions busting and the smuggling of arms, drugs and people all flourished. The people of Albania fared only slightly better, their country descending into chaos in 1997. For outsiders, the Balkans became synonymous with refugees and crime. To close borders and to restrict travel through visa requirements was a natural response for the EU. The citizens of former Yugoslavia, accustomed to free travel, suddenly found themselves confined. (more…)

The economies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for quite some time resembled an express train, on its way from Soviet communism to modern Europe. For those who have not visited any of the Baltic countries in the last fifteen, ten or even five years, it is impossible to fully understand the changes in the three countries, according to Peeter Luksep. He adds that it will be interesting for foundations such as the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation “to follow the discussion on the weak link in the political life of Latvia, brought forward by the [financial] crisis”.

Riga, gray from the melting snow, provides obvious inspiration for writing about economic difficulties. But, bearing in mind the Riga of the Soviet era, the city of today is a fairy tale in every aspect, from the newly built sky scrapers and malls, down to the simplest kiosk or even litterbin.
It’s not surprising that the most common answer to questions about the economy is “if this is a crisis, what was it before?” Evidently, just as in the rest of the world, there is a widespread concern. However, these fears are beyond those emphasised in ignorant or even prejudiced comments in the western media. The Baltic countries have not experienced any Lehman crashes or car industry downturns. Here, the Swedish banks continue, as far as anyone can see, to make money and few foreign companies have left the country. (more…)

Christian Holm, Member of Parliament and of the board of the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation, writes in the local daily Nya Wermlandstidningen that “it is as important today as 20 years ago to fight for your ideals and values.”

Read the article on the fall of communism in Swedish