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Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström: How can we make our region more stable and secure?
Speech at the university in Archangelsk, 18 October 2017.
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Like a bride-to-be, I receive
A letter at each day's end,
And late at night I conceive
An answer for my friend
Brighter, a star is shining
Between that pair of trees,
That what I dream will be.
(ryska: kak nevésta polutjájo)
Anna Achmátova. Standing before a group of young people like you, I get a sense of nostalgia by lines like that, because it makes me remember that time in life when you lived in dreams about the future.
I hope that you live in dreams about the future, and I hope that some of you would be willing to share your thoughts about the future later.
It is a pleasure to be in Archangelsk and to talk to you today. To those of you who study Swedish, I would like to say:
Vad roligt att ni är intresserade av Sverige. Jag hoppas att ni vill komma och besöka vårt land någon dag.
Although I would not mind spending all my time talking about poetry and dreams, this speech has a slightly different headline, which is "How can we make our region more stable and secure?"
I will give you five answers to this question, and I would actually like to begin in the future.
1) Number one: common efforts to meet common challenges
I think that in fifty years from now, we will be judged by how we acted in one particular issue.
There is no question which is as fateful to us – and by us I mean all of us, all humans – as climate change.
It is becoming more and more impossible to look away from it. We can already now see clear effects: shrinking glaciers, shifting plant and animal ranges, growing deserts, increased draughts, and more extreme weather conditions. In your country the Perm frost is starting to melt, and ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier.
This development will lead to devastating consequences for humanity in the future. Just to mention one example – there is a prediction that up to 250 million people in the world may be displaced by climate change by 2050.
I am sorry to say, but previous generations, including my own, have left a mess on this planet which you, and your children will have to clean up.
Steps have been taken. The Paris Climate Accord was a paradigm shift, as well as Agenda 2030. But we shall not live under the illusion that they on their own will bring things back to normal.
Climate change hits all of our countries together. And because of that, we need to tackle it together.
2) The second answer concerns security politics and confidence building measures
It is no secret that there are tensions in our region today which were not there a few years' ago.
And it is no secret that our countries have different views on certain international affairs.
However, the Swedish people and the Russian people have one very strong interest in common: that of living together in peace.
There is a lot we can do to minimise the risk of conflict and misunderstandings in our region. I would like to mention the notion of confidence building measures. Those of you who study international politics might know of it.
To put it in simple terms, it is about ways to take away question marks and possible confusion about the behaviour of other countries.
A concrete example of this is when we invite observers to military exercises. The fact that we meet with our Russian colleagues is also a way of increasing confidence.
And also here, I come back to the word "cooperation".
My country's security policy is built on the conviction that threats against peace and stability are best handled in cooperation with other countries.
In the Barents region, constructive regional cooperation has played an important role for stability. The Barents Rescue Area is a concrete example of the added value of practical confidence building in our region.
3) Three: gender equality
I began this speech by quoting a female poet, and I also began by talking about dreams. Your country has a history of strong women. I hope the girls in this room feel inspired by them.
Gender equality is, to put in short, the idea that the dreams of the girls in this room should be as possible to fulfil, as the dreams of the boys.
To me, it is hard to see how this can be controversial to some.
Gender equality is actually an answer to how we can make our region more stable. Why? Because, we can see from research that there is a positive relation between women's opportunities and stability. Gender equality has positive effects on health and education, and it reduces extremism in societies.
An important thing here is that it is also good for men, if women get better lives.
In our government, for every decision that is taken, we ask the question "how does this affect women?".
And if we see that a proposal – for instance a new law – has unintentional effects on women, we try to change it so that it makes life better for both men and women.
4) Four: People-to-people contacts
Everything I have said so far about cooperation to meet different challenges, will be so much easier to do, if we already know each other.
What I mean by that is simple: it is good for us and for the future, if young Russians meet with young Swedes.
That is why it makes me happy to see that so many of you are studying Swedish. I have heard that there will be Sweden days in Archangelsk later this year, and I hope that many of you will participate in them!
By meeting and making friends with people from other countries, we understand that they are just like us: that they have the same dreams and that they want the same things in life as we do. With such understanding, the risk for conflict gets smaller.
And I believe that the Barents cooperation is an area where this works well. From what I understand, there are Barents Summer schools and networks of young entrepreneurs. Archangelsk and Kiruna are twin towns, and we will organise Sweden days here.
5) Let me, lastly say something about the Barents cooperation, which is why I am here
Tomorrow we will have a meeting with the Barents Council, where Sweden will take over the Chairmanship from Russia.
In this cooperation, our countries, together with Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland meet, as well as with regional and local governments and indigenous peoples. We discuss common challenges and how we can meet them together.
In fact, many of the issues I have mentioned are our priorities for this work. We want to work with the environment and with economic and social development. And within those areas we want to focus on gender equality and youth exchange.
When it comes to facing the climate and other big challenges, we have developed a Barents Action Plan on climate change.
We will focus our work in the Barents cooperation on sustainable development, youth cooperation and gender equality.
So, to come back to the first question about how we can make our region more stable and secure, there are ways forward.
But perhaps I could have made this speech much shorter if I had, straight away, given the real answer to the question. It is: you.
You, the young people of Russia, as well as of Sweden and of the other countries in our region. It is you, who will have to deal with the unfinished business of our time. The climate. Our common security. Gender equality. Economic and social equality.
And I can only hope that you will manage it better than my generation has done.
Please add these things to the dreams about your future. And let us all hope, as Achmatova wrote, that what you dream will be.
I am now ready to take questions from you.