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Success during Years of Danger

Anförande vid konferens i Riga, Lettland, om ''OSCE and Lativa: Past, Present and Future''

We often forget how much things have changed in Europe – and not least this part of Europe – during the past ten years. It has indeed been a remarkable ten years since some of us were involved in the discussions about OSCE Missions first in Estonia and then in Latvia. Your countries had just regained independence after the dark decades of occupation. But the situation here as well as in the “near-abroad” was highly fragile, sometimes even outright dangerous. The attention of most countries of the West was centred on developments in Russia. Reports spoke about widespread hunger and despair as a result of the near-collapse of the old Soviet economy. The political confrontation between new and old was fierce. And this had its consequences here as well. There were still more than 125 000 ex-Soviet soldiers – app 50 000 of those here in Latvia - and major military installations in the three Baltic countries. Things had gone well in August 1991. But there was no guarantee whatsoever that this was going to continue to be the case. In Stockholm at the time, foreign and security issues were higher on the political agenda than they had been for a very long time. We sought a speed start to accession negotiations to the European Union, which was not to be taken for granted. We had to handle, with clear messages and clear action, the still present submarine violations of our territory. And we sought to make as strong a contribution as we could to the stability and security of the fragile, reborn democracies of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. We did it out of intense feeling of solidarity and support with your newborn freedom. But of course we also did it in our own national self-interest. One day I guess the history of those dramatic periods will be written. I remember when I came to Jurmala in July 1992 to coordinate policies with the three Presidents before we flew to the CSCE Summit in Helsinki and secured the formulae on the speedy, orderly and complete withdrawal of all ex-Soviet military forces from your territory. This was a major victory for us all. But the road towards the completion of the last of the agreement on troop withdrawals in the summer of 1994 was going to be a very bumpy one indeed. Although we always refused to see any link of any kind between the issues, I remember how any discussion on this issue with the major powers had to be conducted at the same time as the question of the rights of the Russians in Latvia and Estonia was laid on the table. In early 1992, I remember being in Washington having a somewhat heated discussion with Secretary of State James Baker on the issue of citizen and human rights in Latvia and Estonia, and he giving me a paper on these issues which had a perspective I had to take issue with. I wrote him a long letter and forwarded an extensive analysis of the complexities of the issue. And after a while he wrote back, acknowledging large parts of our analysis, and gradually we started to see eye to eye between Stockholm and Washington on the issues of such crucial importance to you. But the problem was of course more acute in the direction of Russia. In November of the same year, I had a rather acrimonious exchange of letters with President Jeltsin of Russia on the very same issues. I don’t think our arguments and our perspective pleased him, but I know that our frankness did make an impression. For us, the attitude of Russia towards the Baltic countries was the litmus test for Russia’s place in the new Europe we were trying to shape. We wished intensely that democratic Russia would succeed, and take its rightful place among the democracies of Europe. This was and is one of the key issues when it comes to securing a new and better order in Europe. But we knew the hurdles to be overcome. And we had to relearn the lesson that new democracy wasn’t always incompatible with old chauvinism. It was in this climate of fragility and controversy that the idea of the OSCE Missions was born. I believe it originated in Stockholm, with present Ambassador of Sweden here in Latvia Tomas Bertelman one of the authors of the policy. The decision on the mission in Estonia was taken at the very difficult meeting of the CSCE Foreign Ministers in Stockholm in December of 1992. During 1993, Sweden was Chairman-in-Office of the CSCE, and the mission in Estonia started to operate in April, while in Latvia, there was more of scepticism towards the concept, and it took until September 1993 to get an agreement concluded, and until December to get it in place. That was timely indeed. The political situation in Russia had deteriorated. In October, we had seen President Jeltsin using tanks against reactionary and revanchist forces that tried to take over the Duma. But the December 1993 election led to large gains by these very forces. One of the star performers of these elections talked openly about regaining all the territories that had been part of the Russia of the Tsars. There were dark forces as work. The situation was tense. I remember flying more or less directly from Murmansk in Russia, where I had been blatantly interfering into the domestic affairs of Russia by taking part in an election meeting for the Duma candidate Andrej Kozyrev, to Washington in order to discuss with President Clinton the new challenges we had to face. There, concern was primarily, understandably from their point of view, with the situation in Russia. But we sought to impress the urgency of now moving fast forward on the troop withdrawal issues in accordance with international law, and without accepting in any way linking them to the citizenship or related issues in Latvia and Estonia. President Clinton was about to head to Moscow for a summit meeting with President Jeltsin, who was then more or less under siege by reactionary and revanchist forces, in January of 1994. But before then, as we remember, the situation deteriorated even further. Stupid moves by extremists on both sides here in Riga lead to a situation in which the Minister of Defence in Moscow officially increased the readiness level of the airborne division in Pskov, and we could note signs that one of its regiments had in fact units deploying forward towards the Latvian border. As the international dialogue intensified, I believe it was only due to the presence of the missions here that we could secure what should have been self-evident to any student of international law, namely the de-linking of the troop withdrawal issue and the question of the rights and position of Russians in Latvia and Estonia. And this, in turn, was crucial in moving forward towards the agreements later during that year. It has been said earlier at this seminar that the OSCE Mission has not always been popular in this country, and neither was it a profoundly popular institution in Estonia. Many saw them as undue interference in your internal affairs. But we argued that they would help you in mastering some of the difficult challenges ahead, that they would give you guidance in moving towards all the European and Atlantic institutions, and that they, perhaps most important, would give you an independent international voice that could testify what you were doing. All of that was true. But let me just stress, that I am not certain that we would have been able to handle the massive challenges of a massive complicated international situation on all the important Baltic issues during this period – from Washington over London, Bonn and Paris to Moscow – had it not been for the decision to set up0 these missions. Their activities here were of course important. But their very presence was even more important. They created an international instruments for handling of issues that were extremely difficult for you, not very well understood in many capitals of the West and grossly and dangerously misused by reactionary and revanchist forces in Russia. They averted the risk of highly complex and controversial issues being bilateralized between a unstable giant and a fragile midget, with most of the outside world being more interested in the future of the former than of the later. As is often the case with cases of success for instruments of preventive diplomacy, it doesn’t look very heroic in retrospect. But had it all failed, everything would have looked very different indeed. They were, simply put, of enormous importance during these years. When there have been uninformed attacks against your nationality policy, primarily from Russia, they have been there to give the true story. When there have been difficulties also in the West in understanding your special situation, they have been there to give guidance. When you have struggled with the enormous complex task of rapidly implementing very ambitious international human rights standards in a complex national and historical situation, they have been there to give guidance and help. Today, most things are very different. The days of dangerous drama in the democratic transition of Russia are over. They might still have their reactionary and revanchist forces, not unique in Europe, but marginal, and nothing that concerns us overly. We see impressive steps towards further economic reforms, and cooperation between Russia and the West have taken enormous steps forward, not the least in the situation since the attacks against the United States on September 11. . And Latvia – along with Estonia and Lithuania - is a stable and secure democracy, entering the final phase of its negotiations on accession to the European Union, and having high hopes for being given an invitation to become a member of NATO. That doesn’t mean that there are not remaining challenges. And even beyond the issues that are on the table right now, you will find out that the issues that have been dealt with by the OSCE Missions are issues of an enduring importance to most of our societies. But Latvia has a special situation. Its capital has been a multi-national metropolis for centuries. Its population is a more complex mix than you find in practically any other European country. Its strategic position has, in critical phases of European history, been a rather exposed one. Thus, the task is an enduring one. The OSCE Mission is gone. But you would be wise in reminding yourself that you are now entering a particularly important period. If you succeed in your accession negotiations with the European Union, that treaty will have to be ratified by 16 different parliaments in addition to by yourself. And if you are invited to become a member of NATO – which we all very much hope, but which no one can guarantee – you will still have to be approved by the parliaments of no less than 19 countries, and in particular by two thirds of the members of the US Senate. None of these processes should be taken for granted. The international situation is far from stable. These processes will not be completed until some years into the future. And without the OSCE Mission here to help in deflecting some of the heat that is bound to come, you will be in a situation where you have to prove yourself against international standards that – and rightly so – are very high. It will be up to you to find the ways and means to handle these issues. There are no absolute models that can be applied in each and every European country without taking specific national and historic circumstances into account. I know well from my experience also in the Balkans that we sometimes have to seek different solutions in different countries. Our Europe is a Europe of values and integration, not of always-uniform solutions and absolute dictates. Looking back, the story of the OSCE Mission in Latvia is the story of a great contribution to your success during these past years. Here, you have seen one part of the function of the mission. That’s been a crucial one. But if you see it all in the broader context of the currents of thinking, and of the flows of challenges, dangers and opportunities of all the players during these years of turmoil and transition in Europe and the world, you will see that its indirect function in the wider context has been a even greater contribution to your success.

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