My Neighbour’s Problem Today – Mine Tomorrow
2,000 years ago, the Roman poet Horace said: “You too are in danger, when your neighbour’s house is on fire” (nam tua res agitur, paries cum proximus ardet). Today, when states seem to prefer to retract into their shells like turtles rather than fight global troubles, this ancient wisdom provides a fitting starting point for the 14th Lennart Meri Conference.
As we meet in Tallinn in the beginning of September 2021, the coronavirus pandemic continues to smoulder like a peat fire, breaking out in unexpected places and times. But we can already draw a number of initial conclusions from its impact. It has clearly reminded us that success in social pacts, relations between states, relations between governments and people, communication and messaging, or practical matters such as vaccine distribution, infrastructure investment or the fourth industrial revolution still begins with people and is based on trust.
With this solid foundation in place, we can build new structures to tackle the challenges and problems we face, both regionally and globally.
In the Nordic-Baltic region, we are naturally most concerned with issues that directly affect us: the pre-election situation in Russia, war-torn Ukraine, the disturbing developments in Belarus, the changing security situation around the Baltic Sea, transatlantic relations and NATO’s strategic choices, and the identity crises of the EU and the UK. At the same time, India, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Arctic, and the Western Balkans have also become our neighbours. Their problems are also our problems.
As are the principal concerns of the free world. Opposition to China and Russia is not simply an economic, military or even a technological clash. It is primarily an ideological one. Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin understood this a long time ago—but we are only now beginning to catch up.
The decisive factor in this ideological conflict will be our conviction that our choices are the right ones. If we do not trust ourselves or our values, we will not convince others. Preservation of the democratic order should depend only on the choices made in democratic societies.
This, then, is a suitable occasion to recall Estonian president Lennart Meri’s statement that our future is in our own hands. His observation was, of course, not new. Like most of humankind’s wisdom, it had been proven over millennia. But perhaps reflecting on it will allow us to have more trust in our own future.