Nordic Contacts 1991-1998

By Brian Hodges


Scandinavian-Baltic Cooperation: a Historical Perspective (Introduction)

The role of the Nordic countries in the Baltic states' path to independence and security can not be underestimated. Rein Taagepera, in his book Estonia: Return to Independence, ends with the observation that much of Estonia's ability to survive as an independent state will rest on Scandinavia: "Will the Nordic countries recognize Estonia and Latvia as natural parts of the culturally Lutheran realm? Will they be willing to play a role faintly similar to that of West Germany toward East Germany, establishing a special relationship? Or will they shrug their shoulders as Estonia is drawn back into an eastern economic orbit?" (210) The importance of establishing a stable relationship between the Nordic countries and the Baltic states is central to the Baltics being able to enter Western Europe. Historically, however, the individual Nordic countries have had very different relationships with the Baltic states. The Soviet annexation of 1940, for example, was never officially recognized by Norway, while Sweden was one of the first nations to recognize it.

The present Scandinavian-Baltic relationship is a not as deeply rooted a shared historical past as it is purported to have been. The Scandinavian kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden have played different roles in the Baltic throughout history. Denmark established the trade center of Tallinn in the 13th century, Sweden ruled much of what would become modern day Estonia and Latvia during the 18th century and Norway cooperated with the Courland colonial expansion of the 17th century. The modern concept of Baltic cooperation is more the product of the past century than of their lengthy histories. In order to illustrate this one need only look at the Scandinavian-Baltic relations during the first period of independence and during the period of Soviet rule.

The first period of Baltic independence coincided with Finland's independence. Finland, like the Baltic states, was under the rule of Imperial Russia and won its independence from Russia as a result of the Communist revolution and the ensuing civil war. Almost immediately upon gaining independence, Finland was faced with the crisis of how to align itself in the new map of Europe. Indecision as to whether or not to belong to a Baltic bloc or a Scandinavian bloc continued for the first decade of independence, but, after 1926, Finland decided to terminate the close relations with the Baltic and Polish governments due to perceived weaknesses in their defense abilities and trade conflicts with the Baltic states. Instead, Finland chose to work on a closer relationship with a Nordic bloc and to foster a closer relationship with Germany. (Edgars Andersons, Latvijas V sture 1920-1940: &127; rpol tika, appendix)

Similar to Finland, the Scandinavian states sought political and military cooperation outside the Baltic states. For the Nordic countries entering the Scandinavian-Baltic bloc alliance, suggested by the British government following World War I, was too risky, due to the continuing threats of war in the east. (Anderson, English summary) While cultural and economic contacts did begin during the period of independence, the depth of investment was minimal. Official recognition of the independent Baltic states by Scandinavia was not quick in coming: Denmark, Norway and Sweden did not officially recognize the Baltic states' independence until February 4, 1921, nearly three years after their declarations of independence. (Helmut Piirim e, "Historical Heritage: The Relations Between Estonia and her Nordic Neighbors" in Lauristin and Vihalemn eds. Return to the Western World: Cultural and Political Perspectives on the Estonian Post-Communist Transition. Tartu University Press: 1997, pp. 64-66.) Political cooperation between Scandinavia and the Baltic states was not only hindered by defense questions, but also by the Land Reform Law of 1919 in Estonia, which adversely affected many Swedish land owners in the Baltic states. (Piirim e, 66)

Despite the lack of political cooperation during this period, economic investment in the Baltic states was on the rise. Investments were made mostly in farming infrastructure and in the extraction of natural resources from the Baltic states. Associated with the economic investment in the Baltic region was a coinciding cultural investment; many Swedes settled (or resettled) in Estonia and Latvia. Swedish and Finnish scholars were particularly active in establishing the University of Tartu as a center of European scholarship. This growing climate of economic and cultural contacts came to an immediate end with the occupation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union in 1940.

Sweden was the second European nation to recognize Soviet authority over the Baltic states, turning over the Baltic embassies and bank assets that had been transferred to Sweden for safe keeping. Finland was engaged in a war with the Soviet Union and became an ally of Germany in the fight against the Soviet army. During the course of World War II, over 30,000 Baltic refugees made it to Sweden, where they were met with shelter, food, medical assistance and financial aid in order to resettle. This outpouring of humanitarianism towards their Baltic neighbors was, however, contradicted by the deportation of Baltic legionaries who had been conscripted into the German army in 1946. (Piirim e, 69)

During the period of Soviet rule over the Baltic states, only Norway persisted in not recognizing the Soviet authority in the region. Baltic ministers, who had escaped from the Baltic states during World War II, held governmental meetings in Oslo. Baltic communities, made up of the war refugees, formed in Sweden, where they were able to maintain their national cultures and keep the idea of independent Baltic states alive. The period of Soviet rule may have halted all political and economic cooperation in the region, but the presence of the Baltic cultures, especially since the 1980s, in Scandinavia has led to deeper cultural contacts.

Since the end of the Soviet period in the Baltic states, the Nordic countries have been acting as a bloc in supporting the development of the Baltic states and as an entr to the European Community. Among the first nations to officially recognize Baltic independence were Iceland, Denmark and Norway; Sweden and Finland lagged in official recognition due to security issues, Sweden being a neutral nation and Finland not wanting to provoke Russia. The Nordic States have, since the emergence of Baltic independence in 1991, officially supported the development of the Baltic States in four main areas: the promotion of common security in the area, the deepening of the culture of democracy, socially sustainable economic transition and environmentally sustainable development.


Common Security in the Baltic

The Baltic independence movement affected the entire Baltic Sea region. This region had a fragile security community, while Denmark, Norway and Germany belonged to NATO, Poland, the Baltic States and Finland were all bound by treaty to the Soviet sphere and Sweden was a neutral nation. This balance was upset by the Baltic declarations of independence. The NATO nations were able to immediately recognize Baltic independence, due to their security positions, but Sweden, being a neutral nation, did not have the support to stand up against a deteriorating Soviet Union, and Finland was in the process of unraveling the 1948 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Friendship, which had bound them to militarily support the Soviet Union. Reasserting a security balance was the first international goal concerning the region and of utmost importance to the Nordic States.

Security issues surrounding the Baltic States are still a concern to all neighboring states. The Baltic States' desire to join NATO has been met by strong resistance from Russia, who perceives the expansion of NATO into the Baltic as a threatening move and seeks to find some solution which will not leave the Russian ports on the Gulf of Finland and Kaliningrad exposed. This strong protest from Russia towards the Baltic's joining NATO has resulted in Norway's withdrawing its sponsorship of the Baltic states as new NATO members. (Gjeseth and Huitfeldt, Nordisk og baltisk sikkerhet pp. 3-5)

In the absence of a larger military and security alliance, the Baltic States, in 1994, formed a defense-related cooperative, the Baltbat project. Baltbat is a collaboration between England, Nordic states and the Baltic countries to establish a joint peacekeeping battalion, in which the Nordic countries have had a major presence in both training and supplying medical equipment, computers and arms. Baltbat is made up of 800 men and includes a rifle company from each of the Baltic states. These rifle companies are working closely with one of the Scandinavian militaries; the Latvian rifle company is to accompany the Swedish battalion to Bosnia, the Lithuanian to Bosnia under Danish command and the Estonian company will be deployed under Norwegian command in Lebanon. Similar to Baltbat, the Baltic Sea states are also participating in naval and air military cooperation in their respective programs, Baltron and Baltnet. (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sweden and the Baltic Counties: Cooperation for Security, Democracy and Development. Stockholm: 1996, pp. 13-20 and Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs Norway and the Baltic Countries: Looking Towards the Future. Oslo: 1998, pp. 22-23)

Other risks to the stability of the region include crime, terrorism, smuggling and environmental hazards. In order to combat crime and smuggling, the Scandinavian states have been aiding the Baltic police forces in both training and supplying modern equipment (weighbridges with x-ray equipment, radio and communications devices, computers, etc.). A further deepening of police cooperation is going on between the Nordic and the Baltic states in order to fight the larger, organized crime network, which, if not addressed, keeps investors out of the region. (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 18-19)


Stable Culture of Democracy

The first issue that Scandinavia addressed in relation to the emergence of the Baltic states was the support and development of cultures of democracy in the region. A stable democratic environment promotes the security of the region, while also creating a sound foundation for the development of the economy, human rights and the environment. Democracy building efforts come from more than the Nordic governments and also involve the intense participation of non-governmental organization (NGOs), labor unions, political parties and industry.

Support for political parties is essential in the building of democracy. The histories of the Baltic states in regards to democratic representation, both during the period of independence and under Soviet rule, caused some concern in the Nordic states regarding the role of opposition parties in the political process, due to both the Baltic authoritarian leadership during the decade prior to World War II and half century of Soviet political institutions. Scandinavian political parties have adopted a sister-city program between Scandinavia and the Baltic, where they send party members to the Baltic in order to develop the party system in these states. Lithuanians were able to study the election process in Sweden, including the electoral campaign, the work of party organizations and how political compromise can be a road to concrete solutions to social problems.

One area of democratization in which the Baltic states have been criticized concerns the role of linguistic minorities, especially in regards to the Russian speaking minority. The European Community (EC) views the Baltic states' linguistic policy as being discriminatory against Russian speakers. While funds and institutions to teach linguistic minorities the official languages are not well established by the Baltic governments, the Nordic states have been assisting linguistic minorities in both official language education and in providing native language media. The Swedish Institute is supporting a Russian language radio station in Narva, Estonia, where the Russian speaking population is 96%; under Estonian law these people are not to be provided with state supported radio, newspaper or any printed materials. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 25)


Economic and Social Development

Perhaps the largest area of Nordic-Baltic cooperation is in the area of economic and social development. In this area governmental, non-governmental, private and industrial bodies are all working to develop the Baltic states. Creating a stable economic foundation will secure the democratic stability of the region and promote security. One of the most immediate needs of the Baltic states is a transformation of the Soviet infrastructure; the telecommunications, road, railway and port networks are all in poor repair and need modernization. Without these basic infrastructures trade with Europe would be hindered.

Foreign direct investment in the Baltic states is still risky due to the unpredictable state of their national economies, the Nordic states are trying to shore up the foundation of a market oriented system that will allow for greater investment in the future. While the Baltic states are attractive for large firms as a future place for mass production and other factory oriented projects, the existing infrastructure is very poor for modern manufacturing. This has not halted all investment in the region, however. Volvo has established a manufacturing plant in Estonia, aiding the Estonians with new infrastructure and transferring technology to the region, while taking advantage of the lower wages on the eastern shores of the Baltic for the Swedish company's benefit. A sign of confidence in the Estonian economy from Scandinavia can be seen in the opening of a Stockmann's department store in Estonia. The forestry industry throughout the Baltic has also been an area of Swedish investment, from the planning and development of the sustainable harvesting of a natural resource in Latvia and Lithuania to the import of Estonian finished timber and furniture products.

While it is both possible and feasible for large industries to invest in the Baltic region and create the infrastructure and training necessary to do business there, for the small and medium sized enterprises, which are becoming more and more common on the European market, investing in the region is extremely risky. In order to balance the risk, the Swedish government has developed a program called "Start st", which provides loans on favorable terms to small and medium sized enterprises to cover the cost of training Baltic personnel. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 32) Another risk to smaller investors in this region is the Latvian bank collapses of 1995; in order to promote stability and investment in the region, Sweden has contributed 300 million SEK, mostly in the form of equity capital, to selected banks. In addition to this, Sweden is paying for economic advisers to take part in the supervision of the allocation of the World Bank loans and business projects. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 32-33)


The Environment and Sustainable Development

Both the environment and sustainable development are foreign concepts to Soviet planning and developmentalism. The Baltic states are emerging from four plus decades of environmental devastation and exploitation of natural resources. The level of environmental degradation is unheard of in Western Europe, but is a crisis associated with nearly all the emerging Eastern European nations. As early as 1974, the Nordic states began to enter a dialogues with the then Soviet Baltic satellites concerning the environment of the Baltic Sea region, considered today to be among the most polluted inland seas in the world. Cleaning the Baltic Sea is estimated to cost 150 billion SEK and take until the year 2012 to complete. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 35-40 and the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 14)

One of the highest priorities in the environmental clean up process is the Gulf of Riga. Thirty-five percent of Riga's 900,000 residents are not connected to the sewage treatment works. Instead, the untreated sewage goes directly into the Gulf. The sewage treatment plant, on the Daugava river, is out of date and requires updating and repair. This plant only purifies 40% of the treated waste, while the European average is between 95-98% purification. This sewage treatment plant has drawn attention from the Nordic states and the EU (through the regional body the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development EBRD) and both are investing in repairing it. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 35-38)

Perhaps the most pressing environmental concern in the Baltic states is the nuclear power station at Ignalina in north-eastern Lithuania. This Soviet built station is the same type as the Chernobyl power station, which caused devastating environmental affects in Scandinavia. Sweden, in association with the Nuclear Safety Account of the EBRD, has played a leading role in dealing with this risk area. Sweden has been assisting in making technical improvements and enhancing organization and routines at the plant. While the technicians are well trained, the safety culture which grew out of the Soviet Union is not up to European standards. Sweden is trying to change the safety awareness of the plant by implementing changes in access, management and staffing the plant. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 40 and the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 14)


Cultural Cooperation

Cultural contact between the Baltic states and the Scandinavian states are, perhaps, the broadest area of cooperation. While this particular area of cooperation does not draw the most official funding, it does draw on a vast number of people and institutions. Cultural contacts have existed in one form or another for centuries. Only during the Soviet period did the Baltic Sea become a border; prior to which, the sea, like all waterways in Northern Europe, was more of a highway, connecting the cultures and trade of the region. During the Soviet period, Baltic presence in the Scandinavian states was felt. Many evacuees set up residence in Sweden, while a government-in-exile held meetings in Norway.

Scandinavian interest in the Baltic region began to grow during the 1980s after the ESTO world exhibitions of 1980 and 1983, held in Stockholm and G teborg, respectively. These exhibitions portrayed to Scandinavia, and the world, the existence of a Baltic culture. The rising interest in Baltic culture led to the formation of ARS BALTICA in 1993. ARS BALTICA is an organization which supports cultural events and exhibitions in the Baltic Sea states. (Firggebo, "Cultural Co-operation Revitalised Through 'ARS BALTICA" in the Nordic Council's Cultural Exchanges Between the Nordic Countries and the Baltic States - Status and Future Perspectives. Stockholm: 1994, Pp. 18-19) Also from this interest in Baltic culture, both Baltic literature in Scandinavian translation and art began to appear in Scandinavia.

The educational exchanges established between Nordic and Baltic Universities and educational institutions are another way of increasing the cultural cooperation of the Baltic Sea region. These programs not only introduce students to a different culture, but also aid in the transference of institutions and ideas to the Baltic countries. In order to promote cross-cultural research, the Nordic Academy for Advanced Study (NorFa) was established in 1990. This institution was founded in order to stimulate the research being done in the Nordic states through greater mobility and exchanges, counteracting the perceived downfalls of Nordic research of provincialism and isolationism. In 1994 NorFa granted 800,000 NOK for exchanges between the Nordic counties and the Baltic states and north-western Russia. (S lj , "Co-operation in Research and Education with the Baltic States Today and Tomorrow." In the Nordic Council's Cultural Exchanges Between the Nordic Countries and the Baltic States - Status and Future Perspectives. Op.cit. pp.28-29)

In addition to providing grants for cross-cultural research exchanges, the Nordic countries are also providing support for the reforms of the Universities and educational institutions in the Baltic states. Norway has established a school of business management in Kaunas, Lithuania in order to teach market economics. This school began as an exchange program, sending students, faculty and textbooks to Lithuania in 1992, but since has turned into a school. Lillehammar College has aided in the establishment of a new college in the district of Vidzeme, Latvia, which has established a European curriculum. (Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 16-17) All of these investments in higher education in the Baltic states can be seen as investments in not only the cultural life of the Baltic, but also as investments in infrastructure, democracy, security and economy. As all of these factors are supported through these types of cultural exchanges.

Nordic interest in the Baltic states can best be summed up by looking at the examples of cooperative efforts undertaken since the Baltics' declarations of independence. The Nordic Council of Ministers, a cooperative body of Nordic representatives, helped to establish the Baltic Council of Ministers. Together, these two councils meet as "5+3" ("5+3" refers to the five Nordic countries and the three Baltic states) to discuss issues concerning the Baltic and Baltic-Nordic concerns. In 1992 the Council of the Baltic Sea States was founded by Scandinavian initiative in order to draw all of the Baltic Sea states into tighter cohesion and cooperation. When the Baltic states' application for participation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was refused in 1991, Denmark, Norway and Sweden invited the Baltic states' delegations to join theirs and championed their membership in the OSCE in the future. These examples of high profile assistance exemplify the efforts being undertaken to aid the Baltic states in their transformation from Soviet republics to European states.




Anderson, Edgars. Latvijas Vsture 1920-1940: &127;rpoltika. Daugava: 1982.

Firggebo, Birgit. "Cultural Co-operation Revitalised Through 'ARS BALTICA" in The Nordic Council's Cultural Exchanges Between the Nordic Countries and the Baltic States - Status and Future Perspectives. Stockholm: 1994. pp. 18-19.

Gjeseth, Gullow and Huitfeldt, Tnne. Nordisk og baltisk sikkerhet Den Norske Atlanterhavskomite. Oslo: 1996.

Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Sweden and the Baltic Counties: Cooperation for Security, Democracy and Development. Stockholm: 1996

Piirime, Helmut. "Historical Heritage: The Relations Between Estonia and her Nordic Neighbors" in Marju Lauristin and Peeter Vihalemn eds. Return to the Western World: Cultural and Political Perspectives on the Estonian Post-Communist Transition. Tartu: Tartu University Press, 1997.

Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs Norway and the Baltic Countries: Looking Towards the Future. Oslo: 1998

Slj, Roger. "Co-operation in Research and Education with the Baltic States Today and Tomorrow." In the Nordic Council's Cultural Exchanges Between the Nordic Countries and the Baltic States - Status and Future Perspectives. Stockholm:1994. pp. 28-29.

Taagepera, Rein. Estonia: Return to Independence. Boulder: Westview Press, 1993.


WWW Resources

Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sweden:

The Nordic Council:



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