NB8 - cooperation of the Baltic and Nordic countries

This happened in Estonia in the mid-eighties. A teacher asked her pupils to retrace a map of the Baltic countries how they remembered it. The results were surprising – children situated the 1000 km away Moscow almost next to Tallinn while Helsinki which is only 80 km from Tallinn was far away across a huge sea. Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen were even further at the peripheries.
Now we are talking about the intense cooperation of the Baltic and Nordic countries and this region as the fastest developing area in Europe. The Baltic countries have made quick progress, also because it is quite easy to accelerate when one is starting from a standstill. But a lot has been done. Economy has been rearranged, living standards have gone up, everything has gained a cleaner overall appearance and all this thanks to a substantial support from the Nordic countries – around 60% of trade in the Baltic’s is made with the Nordic countries.

Never-the-less Leninist propaganda had made people quite suspicious and distrustful towards the West. When Mærsk bought a small Estonian shipyard in Loksa its workers asked if the state had sold them into slavery to the western capitalists. They calmed down only after the leaders of the trade union of Loksa shipyard had visited the Mærsk factory in Denmark and told them about the working conditions and attitudes towards employees in Denmark. And still there were nationally idealistic people that would have preferred the factory to be closed down rather than being sold to foreigners. During the following years Scandinavian enterprises invested a lot in Estonian banking, media and electronics. At first many Estonians saw this as “an economic conquer” but as it turned out that life was getting better in the whole country the protests also slowly faded out.

Grassroots level

Besides economy the Nordic countries played a big role in the restructuring of adult education in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. A keyword that many adult educators in the Baltics gratefully remember is NFA – Nordic Folk Academy. Almost all the significant adult educators in the Baltic countries have been to NFA. Many of them have admitted that only in NFA have they begun to understand the meaning of democratic lifelong learning and how it should be structured. And they have also put their knowledge in practice and replaced the totalitarian Soviet adult education structures with those of a civil society.

I would like to mention my own studies in Denmark, more concretely in 1993 at the Esbjerg High School of Media. With the support of the Danish Foundation for Democracy I was able to attend a two-months course on contemporary media. The course was given by people who were themselves involved and active in media and I got a rather good overview of how media functions in the free world.

During the course I also got an idea of the nature of civil society in Denmark. I remember being very surprised by the fleets of red flags on the streets of Esbjerg on May 1st. I had after all come here to see a democratic society and not red flags! Even more surprising was for me to learn from Danish TV that the young fascists are setting up their candidate for the local municipal elections. Two radical movements side by side was for me as a Baltic person quite shocking. It seemed to me that when in the Soviet Union people always opposed themselves to the government then in the free Nordic countries it should be the opposite. I exaggerate slightly to give a simple metaphor but at that time our idea of democracy was something like of a “good communism”.

Grundtvig hasn't hit the Baltics yet

This syndrome has not completely disappeared until this day. Rein Ruutsoo, professor of politology at the Tallinn University said at a history conference held in January this year that even some professional historians yearn for a society functioning after a single idea. Communist ideology is now replaced with national ideology or something similar. The pluralistic society in the Nordic countries looks for quite some people in the Baltic’s like “everything’s allowed”, “moral decadence” or “a dissipation of society”.

The Nordic counties came to help. But so far only a few people in Baltic’s have had the opportunity to study in Scandinavia and the first birds won’t bring spring yet. At the 10th anniversary of the Baltic Education Associations in Riga (May 11, 2003) the Chairperson of the Latvian Education Association Anita Jakobsone said that Nordic-Baltic co-operation could be much further-reaching but there are several factors which make this expansion difficult. For example the fact that many people in Baltic countries cannot speak foreign languages. Exchanging smiles cannot bring us much further. Anita Jakobsone’s second concern was the still small number of citizen associations in the Baltic’s, the ideas of Grundtvig still being unacceptable for people in the Baltic countries. “Sounds like a paradox but summing-up the 10 year Nordic Baltic co-operation experience in non-formal adult education, we can say that  adult education cannot change the course of history” Jakobsone said. (

Bro i Riga, foto: Karin Beate Nøsterud /

This kind of paradox can only be seen by a person that is intending to achieve much more than has been done so far. And it is exactly the wish for further achievements that is the motor force for turning the Nordic-Baltic region into one of the fastest developing areas in Europe. But patience is also necessary. The effects of NFA, as well as other Nordic – Baltic projects (such as Learning 4 Sharing, JAVaL (Joint Actions in Validation of Learning), 4 Learning Seasons that includes people from Northwest Russia) will appear only in a longer time period. If the so called grassroots co-operation continues then one day we might be able to say that it “did change the course of history”.
What could be paid attention to when moving on? In Estonia people say that in order to be successful one must make a shift:
- from curiosity driven to result oriented
- from individual to team
- from fragments to programmes
- from national to international

Governments’ level

After joining NATO and EU – which was strongly supported by the Nordic countries! - the Baltic countries have made contacts with many European countries and the Nordic countries are no longer the only co-operation partners in the field of adult education nor elsewhere. But relations between the Nordic and Baltic countries have not decreased due to this because now the governments have developed a co-operation. In August, 2000 Middelfart, Denmark the former notion for Baltic and Nordic co-operation 5 + 3 was changed (at the initiative of the Estonian minister of foreign affairs Mr. Ilves) to NB8 – a more accurate symbol for the togetherness of Nordic and Baltic countries. The togetherness has been proven also in actions. Since January 2005 the Baltic countries are members of the Nordic Investment Bank NIB. The NB8 is jointly maintaining control over crime, terror, drug dealing etc. A project still in progress is a communal MA programme for design art as well as a joint education and science database of the Nordic and Baltic countries. Besides that the NB8 is co-operating for economy, transport, energetics, fishery, agriculture. And surely for the maintaining of the cleanliness of the Baltic sea.

Defence is a very important issue of co-operation. The Nordic countries cannot of course guarantee security for the Baltic’s but it is possible to extend the current co-operation in this area, too.

by Raivo Juurak

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Grassroots level

Grundtvig hasn't hit the Baltics yet

Governments’ level

Ungdomar i Litauen, foto: Tomas Lopata /