We live in hard times. As people and media seem to be able to swallow only one crisis at the same time, Syria, the Palestine-Israel conflict and murder in parts of Africa have been superseded by Mr. Putin´s actions and turmoil in Ukraine. Considering the participants in this seminar, I probably do not need to convince any of you about the importance of liberal values, especially in these days, when there is an ongoing conflict between liberal, western openness and some very different ideas about how a society should look like.
It might be, to quote a book by V.S. Naipaul, that I am among the believers. In that case I need not repeat views about the advantages and disadvantages of the Union. In this country, like in many others, there is a big number of opinions about its shortcomings. If we are convinced about the value of liberal ideas, this fight has to be fought on many fronts, within the Union, in the East as well as in the West. Many people in the United States claim that liberalism is another word for socialism. Living in hard times means facing a situation that in my view strongly resembles 1961 and the building of the Berlin Wall. John Kennedy famously said Ich bin ein Berliner, whereby he meant that NATO and his country would guarantee that the Soviets could advance to a point, but not farther without bloodshed. It took almost 30 years for the cold war to abate. Agreement on Germany was achieved in 1990 between Gorbachev and Kohl.
Many countries in Europe chose freedom.
One of the consequences of Mr. Putin´s recent activities has been an increased interest for joining the NATO in Sweden and Finland. As you remember, Putin claims that there was an agreement of not enlarging NATO to the former Warsaw pact countries. No such agreement exists. Lacking membership in the NATO both Finland and Sweden have shown interest in different EU military projects. Let me say that EU is a military paper tiger, and that the whole problem would be easily disbursed of if Finland and Sweden would be joining the alliance.
There are many obstacles to this.
Politicians in different parties especially in Finland wish to continue a long tradition, actually since the end of WW2, to keep us non-aligned, despite the wellknown fact that during the cold war we were protected by NATO:s nuclear umbrella.
Sweden has remained formally neutral since 1812, keeping a fragile tactical balance even under WW2, delivering iron ore to the Nazis, doing trade with the west at the same time. Today, many decades later, Sweden has lots of military hardware but very few soldiers on the ground. Sweden has 897 colonels, but only 8 battalions to be commanded by those 897.
You may ask why I am dwelling on these matters today. Especially in Finland there has been much interest and discussion about the economic problems facing the Union and the homegrown problems here. Quoting John Donne you have to remind people that “no man is an island”, and that the developments in Ukraine and Russia will influence us for a long period of time.
And here I might return to the question of liberalism. Russia has never enjoyed any sort of liberal society, except maybe for a brief turbulent period under Jeltsin. There is, as we know, a growing middle class, but on the other hand a surge of nationalist hype, organized by Putin and his henchmen.
Russia is lost as a liberal prospect for a long time.