Peace talks on the Islands of Peace
In anxious times and against a background of deepening crisis in Ukraine, in late March 2014 a number of eminent politicians gathered for talks on the theme of “the Nordic region from a peace perspective”. The talks were held under the auspices of the Åland Islands Peace Institute. It was quite appropriate for peace talks to be held in Åland, of course – the area has been demilitarised since 1921 and the whole Ålandic social system can be said to be the result of peaceful conflict resolution. Kastelholm Castle, where the event was held, was first built in the 1300s as a defence stronghold and has since then been in Swedish, Danish, Russian and Finnish ownership. A suitable place for Nordic talks, in other words – despite its not entirely peaceful history.
The panel for the Kastelholm talks included the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Erkki Tuomioja, Secretary General of the Nordic Council Britt Bohlin, Aud Lise Norheim, Director General of Department for UN, Peace and Humanitarian Affairs in Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Hans Wallmark, Swedish Member of Parliament and Vice President of the Nordic Council. President Tarja Halonen was the patron of the event and Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark, director of the Åland Islands Peace Institute, was the moderator.
The Nordic region’s status as a peaceful area for 200 years was an obvious item on the agenda. President Halonen emphasised that the Åland solution had been the most important lasting legacy of the League of Nations. Britt Bohlin described the Nordic region as “the symbol of a region of peace” and the panel agreed that peace in the Nordic region had been maintained owing to our powerful institutions, a tradition of co-operation and dialogue, respect for human rights and deeply rooted principles of the state governed by law.
A little self-criticism does not come amiss, though. Hans Wallmark warned of the risk of becoming self-righteous in the role of peaceful model region. The rest of the panel agreed and emphasised the importance of dialogue grounded in humility as a methodology, rather than making people change their minds. A critical review of the Nordic region’s own historical mistakes was needed as well, for example the oppression of the Sami people.
The current crisis in Ukraine and on the Crimean peninsula was discussed with concern, but with differing rhetoric. Hans Wallmark explained that the Swedish line recommended an embargo and tougher sanctions. Erkki Tuomioja, on the other hand, preferred not to see the conflict as a simple black-and-white issue and suggested that the rest of the world needed to be self-critical – could the matter have been tackled in a different way so as to prevent the situation arising in the first place? Åland has been the subject of discussion in the media during the crisis in Ukraine, namely as an example of conflict resolution and as a possible model in the negotiations on the future of Crimea.
The Kastelholm talks are intended to be a recurring discussion event on the theme of peace and involving eminent politicians, diplomats, civil servants and researchers on the panel. President Tarja Halonen would very much like to continue as the patron of the talks and – in an interview on Åland radio – expressed the wish that the next discussion panel should include participants from places that are not as peaceful as the Nordic region.
Photo: Ålands fredsinstitut/Alexandra Zhukova
President Tarja Halonen
Erkki Tuomioja – Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs
Britt Bohlin – Secretary General of the Nordic Council
Aud Lise Norheim – Director General of Department for UN, Peace and Humanitarian Affairs in Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Hans Wallmark – Swedish Member of Parliament and Vice President of the Nordic Council