International relations in the Age of Pandemic

Peter Östman,
Member of the Parliament of Finland (Christian Democrats)

Ukraine Friendship Group in the Parliament of Finland

Co-operation and trade between nations is based on mutual trust. Trust is built with open communication. There is no going around this. The covid pandemic has seriously affected communication and relations at all levels including relations between nations and international actors. We have all been obliged to restrict and minimize contacts and activities at local level as well as to limit travel abroad. Meetings in person across borders have become all but impossible. Communication has been restricted to on-line communications tools.

The first parliamentary friendship groups in the Finnish Parliament were established a long time ago. Today, there are nearly sixty friendship and cooperation groups initiated by Finnish parliamentarians. The aim of these unofficial friendship groups is to keep contact with members in parliaments in other countries, and to learn more about their cultures and societies at large. These groups are particularly important where regular official contacts do not exist with a country for one reason or another.

The Finnish-Ukrainian Friendship group in the Parliament of Finland was founded in 1995. I am pleased to note that we have a counterpart in the Verkhovna Rada. Today, due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic, the Friendship Group is using the new electronic means of communication at hand, virtual meetings, email and so forth. Obviously, these new means of communication include some limitations that need to be considered. First, we all know that these systems of communication are not very secure and sometimes internet connections and software can fail. Moreover, often the number of participants in on-line meetings is smaller compared to live meetings. And, maybe most importantly, when we are communicating in a language that is not our own, the non-verbal part of the communication becomes even more important. This is something that we cannot experience in virtual meetings. Therefore, it is obvious that virtual meetings can never replace live meetings. This also applies to contacts between parliamentarians.

However, I am pleased to note that the Finnish-Ukrainian Parliamentary Group organized last autumn a video conference with members of the Finnish Friendship Group in the Verkhovna Rada. During the meeting we could discuss topical questions and the possibility of future joint projects.

Despite the present difficulties, it is possible to see something positive in the situation, too. Namely, that the new tools of communication are today available for everyone at an accessible cost. Affordable internet connections have become available all over the world.

Therefore, now is the time for the civil society – individual citizens, civil organizations, universities and so forth – to pick up the phone, to connect and maintain existing relations as well as to create new ones. The tools are available for everyone. Cheap internet has democratized communications, it is for us all to use it.

A strong, independent civil society is a prerequisite for a strong state and democracy. An open, democratic state is a prerequisite for the civil society to thrive. These two go hand in hand, as the well-known economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson show in their massive study Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty.

While in some regards, parliament-level co-operation has become more difficult, now is the time to build networks and friendship at grassroot level. You never know what kind of fruit it will bear.


Expert article 2908

> Back to Baltic Rim Economies 2/2021

To receive the Baltic Rim Economies review free of charge, you may register to the mailing list.
The review is published 4-6 times a year.