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Letter to IGU from Nordic and Baltic representatives

2022-03-03
To the President of the International Geographic Union (IGU) Michael Meadows and the IGU Executives
As representatives of the Nordic and Baltic members of the International Geographical Union (IGU), we welcome the IGU declaration from 27 February 2022 on the Russian aggression in Ukraine. While we consider the statement appropriate, it does not address the formal roles of Russia or Belarus in the IGU.
As geographers we have a moral responsibility for the integrity of the discipline of geography, and we see the apparent use of geography and geographies as a means to legitimize the Russian war on its sovereign neighbour Ukraine, an open violation of international law. Likewise, the regime in Belarus has directly contributed to the onslaught in Ukraine. Therefore, we request that the IGU Executive Committee expel the Russian and Belarusian member organizations from the Union.

The Russian National Committee represents Russia, which is seriously and with deepening force violating the sovereignty of Ukraine. Furthermore, the Russian National Committee has integral public relations and symbolic links to the Russian Geographical Society (RGS), which is chaired by Minister of Defence Sergei K. Shoigu, while Vladimir V. Putin is chairman of its Board of Trustees. This connection is highly problematic and disconcerting for the IGU and, thus, for all of us. While the IGU cannot expel the RGS, the institutional isolation of Russia from the IGU would lay indirect sanctions towards the RGS and its leaders. While this may have a minor impact in the short term, it contains a crucial message to  the international geographical community and beyond.

At the same time, we strongly acknowledge the statement from many Russian geographers taking a clear stand against the Russian aggression. The list of RUS academics against the war is long (https://trv-science.ru/2022/02/we-are-against-war/?fbclid=IwAR0oPBDG51Fka32CC7a1fP-K3eLJe7_7_4ttJ3iKaJor9d4J5zMh1gwWQTk), and we would like to see that the IGU would maintain an open door policy for individual Russian and Belarusian geographers to participate in its activities and various commissions, while cancelling the Russian membership and the Belarusian observer membership in the IGU. This would serve the international community of geographers, while still delivering the message that the international geographical community does not support the Russian aggression or turn a blind eye to the responsibility of Russia and Belarus in Ukraine.

We believe that we are now in a situation that calls for new and extreme measures that may have not been used before in the IGU. However, we strongly feel that we cannot be friends with everyone. Hence, we request that the IGU exclude or cancel the Russian and Belarusian membership in the IGU for as long as these countries continue their aggression towards Ukraine.

Representatives of the Nordic and Baltic geographers:

Peter Andersen – Norway
Guðrún Gísladóttir – Iceland
Genovaitė Kynė – Lithuania
Thomas Theis Nielsen – Denmark
Hannes Palang – Estonia
Veijo Pohjola – Sweden
Jarkko Saarinen – Finland
Letter to IGU from Nordic and Baltic representatives (PDF)
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