Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Story of True Success

The late 1980's and early 1990's was a truly remarkable period in European history.

The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up both the past and the future of the continent in a dramatic way. We were shaping a new future while dealing with the horrible legacies of the past.

In my view, there were two outstanding successes and one outstanding failure.

The two successes were the peaceful reunification of Germany and the re-establishment of the independence of the three Baltic states. The one outstanding failure was the descent of Yugoslavia into conflict and war.

I happened to be closely involved in one of the successes and in the one failure.

But among the true success sories of those years was un doubtedly the way in which the three Baltic countries that had been occupied by Stalin in 1940 and then annexed to the Soviet Union were able to regain their independence, secure the peaceful withdrawal of massive ex-Soviet military forces and installations and safeguard the rights also of their non-Baltic residents.

This was a time of very active Swedish diplomacy on these issues.

Much of what happened was not really available to the public at the time, but in two highly interesting and welldocumented books the diplomat Lars Fredén has now documented and analyzed this highly important part of the shaping of post-Soviet Europe.

Lars Fredén was also a most active participant in these events. The books are a true eye-witness accounts of crucial diplomacy at a critical time in European history.

The second volume, which is just out, deals primarily with the efforts to secure the withdrawal of ex-Soviet military forces and installations from the three Baltic States. In some cases, this came about not the least to a high-level diplomatic interaction that involved not the least Stockholm and Washington.

The picture above shows the demolition of the huge strategic early warning radar installation that the Soviet Union had built at Skrunda in Latvia. Negotiations on the Skrunda issue was among the most complicated at the time, but ended with an agreement that allowed Russia to keep part of the installation until 1998.

And that agreement was honoured by Russia down to the very last detail of the complete withdrawal in that year.

But there were also a number of other critical issues during that period.

We went through what could have developed into a serious crisis over the Russian-dominated northeastern part of Estonia centred on the old town of Narva. And there were numerous difficulties associated with the many Russians that had been brought to these countries as a part of thre occupation regime.

And all had to be done against the background of a Moscow where the forces of reform and the forces of reaction where fighting for power. Remember how there were tanks in the street of Moscow.

Today, we see only the success that was achieved. Today, the three Baltic countries are full members of both the European Union and NATO. It's wasn't that long ago that they were totally integrated republics of the Soviet Union.

It's a fascinating story - also for me to read more than a decade later.

The books are unfortunately in Swedish, as is the major review of it in Dagenws Nyheter by its chief commentator today.

But at some point in time I'm convined it will be available also in other languages.

It's truly a part of modern European history.