Expert in applied politics
Is there a future?
Date: 30.08.2009

Is there a future?

“The Future of the Baltic Sea Region in Europe” – that was the title of international conference held in late August 2009 in Hamina. Hamina is a Finnish and Russian name of a city which, owing to Fredrikshamn peace treaty concluded between Sweden and Russia in 1809, has taken its place in European history [1] .

Two hundred years after the history-making agreement, future of the whole Baltic region is defined by representatives of 13 countries [2] . As 200 years ago, most of the conference participants – are delegates from administrative and public sector, both of old and new “guard” [3] . Along with political figures are non-profit organizations, educational establishments, and private sector. An unusual number of the military participants can be explained by two factors: Cadet School displaced in Hamina [4] , and “Safety” being introduced as one of the key subjects of discussions. Other spheres affecting future of the Baltic region, in the eyes of the conference organizers, are economical, environmental, and social security issues. Separately announced is a special theme which actually coincides with the topic of the whole conference – Role of the Baltic Sea Region (BSR) in Europe.

Defining the BSR’s place within the European area has shown great number of different views. A Polish expert as well as a Russian speaker [6] abandoned considering BSR as an independent area and included it in the system of EU or NATO relations. A Latvian politician suggested replacing the term of BSR by a narrower notion of integration of Nordic and Baltic countries. A German professor disclaimed the possibility of detecting a single identity within BSR, though emphasizing ideological principles, common to all BSR countries: transparency, readiness for dialogue, flexibility. It is exactly BSR where great number of NPOs is concentrated; it is the Baltic region which became an ancestor of round tables as a tool for international disputes and problems solution. A Hungarian economist, representing Belgian think-tank, on the contrary, pointed at large number of differences in economic and demographic trends of development of the BSR countries.

Another question which is of defining Russia’s place in the future of BSR also caused a heated discussion. The Latvian politician, as mentioned above, in the tideway of traditional rhetoric of Baltic countries, proposed to separate Russia from BSR (Russia is not included in neither Baltic nor Nordic counties system). A Danish professor, vice versa, laid stress on the Russia’s determinative role in formation of foreign policy of all the BSR countries. The necessity of including Russia to the framework of close cooperation within BSR was pointed out by the Finnish specialists too: Markus Aarnio, representative of the Commander of the Navy in the Defence Command Planning Division of the Finnish Defence Force, and Paula Tiihonen, member of “Committee for The Future” of the Finnish Parliament.

Either at a conference hall or during talks in the corridors, the idea of the Baltic region being too small for Russian Federation has been repeatedly discussed; Russia’s actual contribution to cooperation within BSR is too far from the country’s possibilities. This contradiction could be coped by means of a greater integration of federal subjects of Northwestern Federal District (NWFD) to existing and elaborating projects of cooperation within BSR. The key problem of implementation of contractual obligations, as it has been continually mentioned at the conference, is a lack of political will (and this is being admitted even at a time of economic crisis). With the emphasis placed on Northwestern region the problem will be solved automatically: there was, is and will be a political will of NWFD to widen cooperation with BSR. It naturally results from geographical, historical, ethnic, economical and cultural development of the region, and it will be so in future.

Vision of the future – this is the very matter lost in Hamina’s conference. There were plenty of past issues: an exhibition devoted to history of Finland’s development; fancy-dress oratorio, dedicated to events of the year of 1809 [7] ; books about historical events of 1809-1819. The participants often appealed to famous events of the modern stage of BSR countries’ development: the Russian-Georgian war in last August, economic crisis, the seizure of the Arctic Sea vessel [8] . And none of the participants took the liberty of depicting contours of the future.

An almost undivided opinion advanced was that the Baltic region strategy proposed by the European Union is too narrow; and only a few made an outrun from simple announcement. The reason is a high heterogeneity among the countries comprising BSR. As a result, some experts are searching for the “Baltic” identity; the others are calling for the differences between BRS countries being used for their own sake; the third are sceptical about BSR countries’ general future referring to mentality differences.

Apparently, an answer to the question “Do the BSR countries have a common future?” should be found not so much at political or economical levels as in psychology and national perception of the BSR countries by each other. To what extent are Finns afraid of economical or any other absorption by Russia or Sweden? Has the contradiction between Denmark and Germany been finally forgotten by the people of both countries? Is the aversion of the Russian language and Russia in general peculiar to political elite of the Baltic countries only or has it already penetrated the whole society ideology? Does Poland have uniform political and social will to consider Baltic Sea Region only within the North Atlantic Alliance or the European Union? Do the Swedish people consider the project of Nord Stream pipeline construction close to the country’s territory as an espionage attempt from the side of Russia? These and other questions regarding national perception by the BSR countries of each other will lead to the main one: What kind of future do the Baltic Sea Region countries have?

[1] Fredrikshamn – is a Swedish naming of the Finnish city, the Finns left the second part only (hamn → Hamina).

[2] Still, almost all speakers in their reports pointed out that they expressed their own points of view which may dismatch the official position of their countries.

[3] Certain participants could be included in both groups: Artis Pabriks, for example, is either an ex-minister for foreign affairs or an active depute and an opposition movement leader of Latvia.

[4] The school building is placed in 300 m from the conference hall

[5] Dmitry Trenin – Moscow Carnegie Center director

[6] However, regarding EU-Russia safety system, another RF representative – professor of International Relations faculty of St. Petersburg State University Natalia Zaslavskaya – expressed herself in a quite negative form, referring to generally low level of safety structures existing within the EU.

[7] Oratorio was composed exclusively for 200th anniversary of Finland becoming a part of Russia

[8] The Arctic Sea vessel story has broken all popularity records among questions asked to the speakers

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