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Baltic Dialogue Initiative

Peace and Security Forum in Latvia on the Baltics and Russia

Riga, Latvia - UPF held a Peace and Security Forum in Riga, Latvia, on Sept. 28, 2013, on the theme: “The Baltics and Russia: Toward a Common European Future.” The event was held within the framework of the Baltic Dialogue Initiative sponsored by UPF-Eurasia’s Office of Peace and Security.

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The Baltic Dialogue is a Peace Initiative of UPF-Eurasia intended to create opportunities for reconciliation and mutual understanding among communities within Baltic nations, between the Baltic nations and Russia, and beyond, between Russia and Europe. The programs include academic forums, cultural exchanges, and a variety of youth programs ranging from humanitarian projects to “sports for peace” events.

The Forum’s first session was entitled “The Baltics and Russia within the framework of the European institutions.”

In his opening remarks Mr. Jacques Marion, Coordinator of UPF-Eurasia Peace Initiatives, spoke about the increasing role of civil society in peacebuilding and how this was illustrated by the European Union’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. The Franco-German reconciliation had been the foundation for the modern European Union. What was remarkable was that the two nations’ peoples and particularly their youth - not their politicians - had been the driving force of that reconciliation: Franco-German high schools and a Franco-German Youth Office were created; young French and Germans were encouraged to learn each other’s languages; many French and German towns established twinning agreements, leading to numerous exchanges, etc. On that foundation, France and Germany became the initial “engines” of the European Union.

Then spoke Dr. Karlis Kreslins, Professor at the National Defense Academy of Latvia and Member of the Latvian Parliament. He summed up the development of the Latvian Armed Forces since independence, his contribution as a high-ranking officer who became Chief of Staff in 2000-2004. He then spoke on a new paradigm of defense for Latvia and NATO-affiliated nations in Europe. European nations are not likely to be subjected to traditional military aggression, he explained, but have to deal with multiple levels of risk prevention: from economic crises to immigration issues, ethnic or religious struggles or climate disasters. He emphasized the need, especially for small nations, for defense to be integrated on the regional level.

Representing Russia, Dr. Vladimir Petrovsky, Chief Researcher at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Project Manager at the Russian International Affairs Council, gave point-by-point comments on Dr. Kreslins’s talk and elaborated on the relationship between the Baltic nations and his country. To learn proper lessons from the common totalitarian past, he said, the peoples of Russia and the Baltics have to better understand each other, so they can move towards a common European future. He suggested that Baltic people share with Russians the best practices of European integration, and that a closer connection with Russia would help them fulfill their obligations and commitments within the EU and NATO.

The second session on “the peoples of the Baltics and Russia: humanitarian, cultural, and people-to-people dialogue” was opened by Dr. Sergey Kuchinsky, Member of the Presidium of the Assembly of Peoples of Russia. He shared about the experience of intercultural, interethnic dialogue among the numerous ethnic groups in Russia: the various levels of dialogue on the local and regional level, and the lessons acquired. He suggested that cultural exchange between Russian and Baltic nations be developed, notably through the channel of the Baltic Dialogue.

He was followed by Dr. Algirdas Kanauka, a US citizen of Lithuanian origin, visiting professor at the Military Academy of Lithuania, who spoke on the need for compassion in the Baltics-Russia relationship. Bringing up examples from the history of war, whose essential causes, he said, were “fear, honor and self-interest,” he spoke on the role of religions that brought new wisdom, and of the current need of “another renaissance.” As a Lithuanian refugee from the war, who eventually emigrated to the West, he spoke passionately of the need and potential for bonding among Baltic peoples, together with Russia.

Members of the audience, which comprised around 50 participants, including retired military officers, university professors, trade union leaders, school directors, artists, etc., had the chance to participate in the dialogue. The deep feelings raised by the forum theme came up through active questions and answers with speakers. A retired military officer summed up the passionate dimension of the Baltic-Russia relationship: “Many of us,” he exclaimed, “are married to Russians!”

There was a consensus that the Baltic Dialogue should continue. Dr. Petrovsky underlined some of the directions it can take: making contacts between Baltic and Russian experts to share on security issues of common concern; helping create a more objective image of Russia in the Baltic media, and vice versa; addressing issues of education, and language in our further forums.

A few final words of respect were dedicated to UPF-Latvia President Leons Bojars, who helped prepare this forum but unexpectedly passed away in July.

For the speech by Dr. Algirdas Kanauka, click here.

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