The Baltic Course

Council of former leaders

By Olga Pavuk

Among a host of international organizations and top end clubs, there is one unique council that gathers former prime ministers and presidents of countries from around the world. The Baltic states are represented in this prestigious gathering by Mr. Valdis Birkavs - the first Prime Minister of Latvia after the restoration of the pre-war constitution, one of the long-standing ministers of foreign affairs, Dr. Jur., vice president of the Liberal International etc., etc.

Freedom and responsibility

Every person, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, social status, political opinion, language, age, nationality, or religion, has a responsibility to treat all people in a humane way.

Every person has a responsibility to respect life. No one has the right to injure, to torture or to kill another human person. This does not exclude the right of justified self-defense of individuals or communities.

Every person has a responsibility to speak and act truthfully. No one, however high or mighty, should speak lies. The right to privacy and to personal and professional confidentiality is to be respected. No one is obliged to tell all the truth to everyone all the time.

From the Universal Declaration
of Human Responsibilities,
Proposed by the InterAction Council 1998.

The InterAction Council is the name of the club for former leaders and was founded in 1983. Leaders of the council choose members among a row of guests. According to an unwritten law, there are 35 people in the council (sometimes more, sometimes less), it is a lifetime membership, and the number of members increases, as a rule, only when one of the members passes away.

The council meets once a year. The board of experts (also comprised of 35 people), consisting of the most prominent scientists and politicians from the whole world does the preliminary works. The experts meet twice a year, and they are invited according to an agenda. And so, Robert McNamara - former US Minister of Defense, former president of the World Bank, the man, who knows more than others about the Vietnam War and the Caribbean crisis - came to Helsinki in 2000.

As a rule, three questions are raised for discussion at the council. The first question is always the same: analysis of the macroeconomic situation in the world. Usually, the leader of the host country delivers his opinion. The second question always concerns the region where the Council gathers. So, in Helsinki the problem concerning relationships with Russia was discussed, in Japan (2001) the development of Asia was discussed, but in Berlin, June 2002, the future of the EU will be negotiated. The third question - quite a delicate one - concerns the sphere of political ethics and morality. At the meeting in Berlin, for example, human rights, humanitarian crisis and war intervention will be discussed.

Mr. Birkavs, what is the main objective of the InterAction Council?

The main objective is to use the great experience of world class leaders who are no longer acting in their positions. What is fascinating here is the fact that none of the members today are connected with a government position. All of the guests talk to the essence of the topic. For example, in Helsinki 2000, Helmut Schmidt [former Chancellor of West Germany] proposed a theme connected with Clinton and Putin (then Putin had just become the president). Schmidt addressed Clinton as president, but upon mentioning Putin, omitted his position. I proposed that the speaker use 'president' as the form to address both of them. Nevertheless, Schmidt answered to this by saying: let us call them Clinton and Putin, as Clinton is not the president anymore, and Putin - not yet.

How did you enter this respectable club?

Back in Helsinki, I was participating in the Council meeting as a special guest. By the way, Kazimera Prunskiene [former Prime Minister of Lithuania] has acted in this quality for several times also. By the end of the meeting the Secretary General of the Council, Kiichi Miyazawa [former PM of Japan], whispered to me "congratulations". So I became a member of the organization. Thus, only three people represent Central and Eastern Europe in the Council: Mikhail Gorbachev from Russia, Hanna Suhotska from Poland and your humble servant - from the Baltics.

To what extent do acting politicians listen to the Council's decisions?

It is important that our recommendations are sent to all international organizations and to all governments in the world. Whether they take our wishes into account or not - this is another question.

Do any deviations from the agenda occur?

Not deviations, but additional measures. In Berlin, there will be a celebration in honor of two great world leaders: Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Lord Gallaghan of Cardiff. I have imposed one more innovation as well: I propose to negotiate the Council's recommendations and preparatory documents at the Latvian Prime Ministers' club (comprised of seven former prime ministers and one former president). I intend to expand the council of Latvian Prime Ministers to the club of the Baltics, including Scandinavian members. But our neighbors and other countries do not have such clubs.

What issue seems most vital to you for both us and for the entire world?

Let us take the common culture of Europe and the substance of civilization as an example. Now, the question arises: are Russia and Turkey a part of Europe or not? And what should be done in order to avoid a clash with Islam? Or the question about sustainable strategies of the USA concerning Russia, China, the Middle East and the Sub-Continent.

What do these meetings give you personally?

I enjoy them a lot. Live history of the late 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century unfolds before me. Like communicating with such people as Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, the President of Indonesia, former scientist, who put his country on the way to democracy. Then, meeting the President of Costa Rica, Oscar Aries Sanchez, who is a writer and a Nobel Prize winner. Or another: the Prime Minister of Jordan, Abdul Salam Majali, a former university rector, who founded the Global Academy of Leaders, where 500 people are studying from around the world.

Can you remember anything that may have thrown you into confusion?

Well, it was Sanchez, who confused me by asking a tricky question: why does Latvia need an army? (Costa Rica in the Eighties dismissed its army and pronounced this day a national holiday. This gave such moral advantages to the country that nobody even thinks about attacking it). Of course, I replied that we are situated in a slightly different historical and geopolitical territory. In principle, this question does not require an answer, but it makes one think it over seriously.

And how are you getting on today in Latvia?

Life is intense, nevertheless relatively peaceful - I am watching the petty political intrigues. There is much of what I do not like.

What, for example?

The essence of political development in Central and Eastern Europe is in the fact that with gaining independence, thousands of the newcomers got involved in politics, for whom the main question was: what can I do for the country. This period ended in 1995 - 96. Today, the main question is what can I do for my party or, even worse - what will I gain for myself. Politics has become very professional and very immoral. It would be better the other way round - moral and less professional.

Democracy and terrorism - how can one combine such concepts?

The fight against terrorism decreases the level of democracy. In connection to this it will be necessary to overlook migration issues and rights to asylum. The free flow of people is a good thing that democracy can offer. But after the 11th of September, to my mind, a tendency of isolation will appear. Competition in the world will be among regions, not among countries.

To your mind, what are the prospects like for the Baltic states?

This is a very advantageous time for us. Perhaps the gap between us and EU countries will be filled faster than we expected. Their rate of development is decreasing, but ours - growing. As for Russia, its future is connected with Europe, but we have no problems with Europe. If Russia says no to the Baltics entering NATO - this is bad, but if this is hidden camouflage, then it's a normal thing. The Baltic states after the events of September 11th must not waver in issues concerning Russia.

The InterAction Council of former leaders

Name, Surname

Position / on duty


Takeo Fakuda
(1905 - 1995), founder

Prime Minister, 1974 - 1976


Helmut Schmidt,
honorable chairman

Chancellor, 1974 - 1982


Malcolm Fraser, chairman

Prime Minister, 1975 - 1983


Oscar Arias Sanchez

President, 1986 - 1990

Costa Rica

Valdis Birkavs

Prime Minister, 1993 - 1994


James Brandon Bolger

Prime Minister, 1990 - 1997

New Zealand

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

Prime Minister, 1976 - 1979

Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Ingvar Carlsson

Prime Minister,
1986 - 1991, 1994 - 1996


Jimmy Carter

President, 1977 - 1981


Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado

President, 1982 - 1989


Vigdis Finnbogadottir

President, 1980 - 1996


Kurt Furgler

President, 1977, 1981, 1985


Valery Giscard d'Estaing

President, 1974 - 1981


Felipe Gonzales Marques

Prime Minister, 1982 - 1996


Mikhail Gorbachev

Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, 1988 - 1990,
President, 1990 - 1991


Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie

President, 1998 - 1999


Selim El Hoss

Prime Minister, 1976 - 1980, 1987 - 1990


Kenneth David Kaunda

President, 1964 - 1991


Mostafa Khalil

Prime Minister


Lee Kuan Yew

Prime Minister, 1959 - 1990


Abdul Salam Majali

Prime Minister, 1993 - 1995, 1997 - 1998


John Major

Prime Minister, 1990 - 1997

Great Britain

Nelson Mandela

President, 1994 - 1999

South Africa

Ketumile Masire

President, 1980 - 1998


Shimon Peres

Prime Minister, 1984 - 1986, 1995 - 1996


Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo

Prime Minister, 1979 - 1980


Jerry John Rawlings

Head of the State, 1979 - 2000


Julio Maria Sanguinetti

President, 1995 - 1998


Jose Sarney

President, 1985 - 1990


Shin Hyon Hwak

Prime Minister, 1979 - 1980


Kalevi Sorsa

Prime Minister, 1972 - 1975, 1977 - 1979, 1982 - 1983, 1983 - 1987


Hanna Suchotcka

Prime Minister, 1992 - 1993


Gaston Egmont Thorn

Prime Minister, 1974 - 1979


Pierre Elliot Trudeau

Prime Minister, 1968 - 1979, 1980 - 1984


Andries van Agt

Prime Minister, 1977 - 1982

The Netherlands

George Vassiliou

President, 1988 - 1993


Frantz Vranitzky

Head of the State


Isamu Miyazaki

Minister of the Economic Planning Agency, 1995 - 1996


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