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The Nordic countries

Denmark

1) Denmark's is a culture of merchants and diplomats. As such they are highly pragmatic and flexible.

2) It is difficult for outsiders to see where Danish wealth comes from. After all, they have no oil or major industrial production. Instead the country is home to many service companies (ISS, Maersk) and they export large quantities of meat and food products, especially pork, to other EU countries.

3) Together with Britain, Denmark is the chief country standing in the way of EU unity in the Iraq question, and siding with the USA (see e.g. Fouskas 2003: 10). The British motives are easier to understand: they have real economic interests at stake. The advantage for Rasmussen is clear too, he got the top job at NATO; but for Denmark?

Norway

1) Norway is an oil state, and thus more at home in OPEC than in the EU.

2) Oil is easy money. It exempts you from the need to be competitive. It is a feather bed.

3) Most of the country's sophisticated technology is imported (Siemens, Alcatel, and ABB have shared much of the market between them). The Norwegian State expropriated Siemens after the Second World War, but sold it back to the Germans later. The Norwegian leadership never understood the importance of building their own technological capacities, of developing strong industries. Their chemical and oil industries were both developed with the help of Swedish investors.

4) Oil contracts are handed out to local producers without much competition, in return for promises of jobs. The owners of many of these companies show their country little gratitude, and shift their money abroad.

5) Oslo, the Norwegian capital, contains no middle class with a sense of responsibility, such as you will find in most capitals of the Western world. This is because Oslo has no real experience of being a capital: it was created in a hurry by people who came from all over the place. Its original inhabitants were subordinates under Danish rule, who helped to keep their own people down.

The only town which qualifies as a capital is Bergen. It has all the virtues of a German Hansa city. Above all, it has the right mind set to govern, as Prime Minister Michelsen showed in dealing with King Oscar II of Sweden.

7) Norwegians do not think of themselves as living in an oil state. Part of the reason is that their statistical yearbook does not give an accurate account of the proportion of the economy deriving from oil revenues. In reality, pretty well everyone is supplying the offshore industry. But Norway, like Dubai, has indulged itself in the illusion of having become a Knowledge Economy. (In Dubai the largest building in the world was built as a turnkey project by the South Korean company Samsung Heavy Industries).

8) The deteriorating relationship between the USA and Iran and Iraq could open up new business opportunities for a neutral country like Norway.156But the Norwegian population insists on high standards of business ethics, at least in public. In reality, the oil business cannot cope with the light of day.

9) The main difference between Norway and other OPEC member states is the country's exceptionally fair system of economic redistribution - a product of the social democratic model, invented by the Germans under the Weimar Republic and very much developed by the Swedes. While the Fadh family of Saudi Arabia visit their palace in Marbella each year with a couple of hundred guests and squandera hundred million dollars in a week, the Norwegian State makes sure that everyone gets something, even if it is for doing nothing.

10) As petroleum is replaced with new sources of energy, natural gas will give Norway another fifty to a hundred years of easy money.

11) The Norwegian character is formed by close contact with nature. City life still feels a bit odd to a Norwegian. If he dumps into you on the street you will hear no apologies. Instead he may look a bit puzzled. "Mountain people", George Brandes says a propos Rousseau (a Swiss), look down on politeness as something of minor importance in daily life. "Mountain apes" is what one sometimes overhears Danes calling their former colony and neighbours.

12) Norwegian unity is founded less on internal similarities than on external threats. The spectacular National Day parade on 17 May originated as a protest march against Danish and Swedish rule. In 1905, when Norway became independent, the protest march turned into a celebration. The enthusiasm lasted a long time, but today seems to have become largely an empty ritual, a celebration more of prosperity than historical battles.

13) Norway comprises at least three different cultures each with their own written language:

a) people on the west coast and in the rural areas, who write Nynorsk

b) people in and around the capital and in Eastern Norway, who speak Bokmal

c) the Laplanders or Sami people in the north, a non-Germanic nomadic tribe which emigrated from northern Russia and speak a Finno-Ugric language.

14) Norway was under de facto American control during the Cold War. The Barents Sea was to be the main theatre of the Third World War. Since the Soviet Union had only one secure ice-free harbour, at Murmansk, northern Norway would have been one of the first important battlefields. Occupying Norway would have been even more important than it was for the Germans in the Second World War, when they had to beat the British to it.

15) The Swedes find it surprising that their Norwegian neighbours will not buy their planes, which are cheaper than American alternatives. But aeroplanes are only one part of a broader system of defence, in which the real question is "Will you come and help us if we are invaded?"

Sweden

1) In Sweden everything goes through in silence; they operate by consensus, not confrontation. Debates do not penetrate below surface issues. These are the Japanese of Europe: modest, hard-working, and united.

2) The Swedes will follow a leader quietly, even if they think he is wrong. Only when all hope is gone will they protest, and chop off his head if necessary. This is a scary pattern, and it is assumed to have been fate of several Swedish kings and heads of State: possibly Charles XII, certainly Gustav III, perhaps Olof Palme too.

3) The Swedes are very different from their Norwegian neighbours, who will speak their minds whenever they can, often at risk of damaging a relationship.158 In Sweden you hold your tongue; you do nothing to disrupt the social balance.

4) Sweden's policy of neutrality is based on geography not history (cf. Tunander 1990: 13). It is on the periphery of Northern Europe, and any power wanting to conquer Sweden would have to tie up numerous troops. Its territory is no use for holding other parts of Europe.

5) There is a long tradition of consensus among politicians and businessmen in Sweden. The leading capitalists and industrialists are not ones for showing off their wealth. The ruling family, the Wallenbergs, have as their motto essere non videri (to be, not to seem), borrowed from the Medici. They control about half the capitalization of the Stockholm Stock Exchange.

6) Swedish companies quickly established themselves in the ex-Soviet Baltic countries, where wages were a tenth of Sweden's. They have more than half the banking market in all three countries -as much as seventy-five per cent in Estonia. But the window of opportunity was short-lived and it is a small market. Now, the banks are paying for their carelessness. Luckily for them the European Central Bank and the IMF got involved and took on large shares of the risk.

7) The Swedes are fond of their Norwegian neighbours, but do not take them seriously. They have an ambivalent stepfather relationship with their ex-colony Finland, the loss of which some two hundred years ago still brings out strong emotions; they despise their Danish neighbours, for their unintelligible speech, disorder, and perceived social excesses ... which they secretly long for themselves.

8) Modesty is a sign of all great cultures. Many Asian countries, but also Sweden possess this quality.

9) Swedish culture is a collectivist culture, united in possessing a military spirit that is easily mobilized to resist outside dangers (Catholicism, the Danes, the Russians). It is encapsulated in the Swedish word for keeping quiet, tyst. It has only to be uttered for everyone to fall into line.

10) This is a country which has proved that it can fight for principles and ideals: the defense of Lutheranism, the defense of their colonies in the East (Finland, the Baltics). It is the only Nordic country to have built a truly robust industrial economy (Finland is over-reliant on a single company).

11) Swedish culture elevates hard work above criticism. For that reason, there are no real critical newspapers or media in Sweden, nor any great social thinkers. Their greatest author, Strindberg, is in this sense not a typical Swede.

Finland

1) Finland has the best school system in the world! It is basically just the old Swedish school system, but with pedagogical techniques not modernized.

2) To understand Finland's politics you must understand its stormy relationship with Russia. This is a small country with a former superpower as its sole neighbour.

3) This is a State which gained most of its democratic rights at a single time, and relatively late, in 1917. It is a country which knows how to survive, how to mobilize its resources under pressure. Nokia is the best example in modern times, having begun as a manufacturer of tyres and rubber boots. Finnish vitality has created the strongest meritocratic society in northern Europe.

4) Foreign and security affairs are handled, not by the government or the political parties, but by the president (see e.g. Tunander 1990: 3). This system gets things done.

5) Cold weather and hardship have shaped Finnish character. The Finns have never learned to make small talk; they either say nothing, or too much.

Iceland

1) The country has received too much unfair criticism. If the country went bankrupt in 2008 it was mainly due to its small size (about 300.000 inhabitants). Other countries would have been able to buy out three major banks. If the country is to be blamed for something it was that they left a handful of bankers sell out to modern financial theories and leave their common sense and notion of business ethics.

The Baltic States

1) The Balts adhere to Western culture. The Estonians and Latvians are Lutherans, Lithuanians are Catholic. The Estonian language is Finno-Ugric, a member of the same family as Finnish. Their mentality is Nordic.

Intermarriage with Russians is far less common than in Latvia. The Estonians were only in the Russian sphere from August 1939.160

2) Estonia is the best student in the Baltic class, and quickly re-established its natural ties with Finland. Latvia has the greatest problems. Swedish banks including Swedbank and SEB went into Latvia and made over-generous loans, without a proper understanding of the country's prospects. Now they are paying the price. Lithuania has many of the same problems as Latvia, but has a much stronger and more stable cultural identity. One of the oldest and most homogeneous cultures in Europe, Lithuania will always find a way to survive.

3) When the Russians regained influence over the Baltic region after the Second World War, the Baltic elites were divided into three groups: some were shot right away, some were sent to the gulags, and the rest were deported to Siberia.

4) The small size of these countries, both in territory and in population,161 and the lack of any natural borders to the east, makes Russia a constant threat. Russians represent about half of the population of Latvia, and all large towns in Latvia are heavily populated by Russians; in Riga they account for fifty-two per cent of inhabitants. Ethnic Latvians can only keep power in their own hands through a policy of apartheid called non-citizenship. 34.6% of ethnic Russians are non-citizens, which gives them a passport, but no right to vote.

5) Being largely excluded from political life, and finding their Cyrillic script rejected, the Russian part of the population has been forced to turn to commerce and day labour (Jacob 2004: 188-9). If they do not return to Russia that is because things are even worse there.

6) To retain their independence, the Baltic States know they need to show strong interest in and keen engagement with the West. They have been granted membership in the EU and in NATO, and restored their historical ties with countries in their region, notably with Sweden. For now this will be enough.

7) The eastern shores of the Baltic have always been a turbulent area. Control of these coasts has passed back and forth in history, from Swedes, to Danes, to Germans, and to Russians. Now these waters are under NATO control, and need to remain so until the EU can match Russia in military strength.

8) The area around Novgorod was dominated by Scandinavian traders until the split between Orthodox and Catholic churches in 1054. Swedes sent crusaders to conquer Finland and Karelia. In 1142 they conducted their first campaign. This provoked retaliation in 1187 on the western side of the Baltic. The Danes concentrated their efforts in Estonia. Its inhabitants retaliated by raiding Blekinge (now Sweden, then part of Denmark) in1203. Novgorod was later controlled by the princes in Moscow. The German Order took Estonia over from the Danes, but did not succeed in holding it.

9) Just as Moscow was starting to get things in hand, it was conquered by the Mongols under Genghis Khan's son Batu. The Russians suffered a serious defeat in battles by the Mongols, and were only able to return to this area in the late nineteenth century.

10) Kaliningrad is the last piece of the Baltic jigsaw (Worthington and Sedakat 2005: 123). Politically it is part of Russia, but isolated and surrounded by EU territory. The Germans are already planning a motorway between Kaliningrad and Berlin (an old project of Hitler's), and would gladly buy the territory back. This will be a deal for a rainy day.

 
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