EstDocs, the Estonian Documentary Film Festival in Toronto that ran from October 15-20, had the honor of presenting Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland at the gala film screening of "Those Who Dare" at Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs cinema. As part of the EstDocs program, Baldvin also gave a lecture titled “Transitioning from Totalitarianism to Democracy: Learning from the Baltic Experience”.
The film "Those Who Dare" is a historical documentary about how the world reacted to the Baltic states' claim for re-independence from Soviet occupation in the years 1989-1991. The film follows the story of Hannibalsson, who entered the scene unexpectedly through his personal relationships with people in the Baltic states and then championed their cause relentlessly as the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Iceland.
Hannibalsson and Danish foreign minister Uffe Elleman Jensen were the staunchest supporters of the Baltic states at the United Nations, NATO and other institutions. Hannibalsson was also the only Western foreign minister to visit the three capitals in a very tumultuous and dangerous time, while actively showing the support of his country both at the political level, and by mingling with the demonstrating people on the streets.
Iceland was the first country to recognize the independence for the Baltic states following the coup in Moscow in August 1991, where hardliners tried to seize control of the Soviet Union. The rapid unfolding of events led to the collapse of the Soviet Union by December of the same year.
During his talk, Hannibalsson expanded on the topic of Baltic re-independence. He touched on various topics from the Baltic situation in the early 90s to present day Ukraine, and even the Middle East.
Hannibalsson said a Nordic-Baltic union, as a structure of cooperation for eight countries, was something that he started to talk about right from the beginning of re-independence. He believes such a union could be successful in fields such as economics, science, the environment and other fields.
Hannibalsson added that the Baltic countries could utilize such cooperation in many ways and that he is an advocate of more university exchanges, both in research and with students. "Such an alliance would create an economically strong and competitive region in Northern Europe, with some 30 million people – a strong unit to counter all the difficulties happening in Europe as a whole.”
“I think the general opinion among the political elite in the Nordic countries [about a Northern alliance] is positive," he said. "I think that the Baltic leadership has not been seeking it single-mindedly. After all, the Baltic countries are very different from each other. Estonians are oriented towards the Finns; Lithuanians are Catholics and Central Europeans. They are not perhaps all of the opinion that their future lies in this alliance. They will have to take the initiative, if they can be persuaded. It is realistic and it will be positively received by the rest of the Nordic countries."
In response to what could be done about Putinist Russian propaganda in Europe and North America, Hannibalsson replied: "To counter it we need a new organization like we had during the Cold War with Radio Free Europe. An organization that effectively at every turn, on every point, in every case reveals the lies and falsifications. To do this you have to have conviction, you have to have passion."
The film and talk were part of the Estonian Documentary Film Festival & Competition in Toronto (EstDocs), which this year was celebrating its 11th birthday. EstDocs is an audience festival and juried competition featuring films that have connection to Estonia. The festival features top documentary filmmaking talent from Estonia and around the world.
Editor: M. Oll