07 March 2008

Baltic (Dis?) Unity


All three Baltic states become nonagenarians this year -- of course, actual independence did not immediately follow the formal births of our republics in 1918; wars of independence did... and more than half a century of our young countries' lives was spent under occupation. We fly each others' flags on our independence days, and Latvia's and Estonia's Presidents were joined by Poland's President in Vilnius on 16 February, another sign of how different Central/Northern, formerly "Eastern" Europe is today, considering how terrible Polish-Lithuanian relations were between the wars. December saw the borders between us effectively disappear. Ruslanas at Lituanica and Giustino at Itching for Eestimaa have radically different takes on Baltic unity or the lack thereof. I was recently interviewed by Lithuanian National Radio and Bernardinai.lt on the subject; my view is closer to Ruslanas'. An excerpt from the English version of the interview with Milda Bagdonaitė:
As President Zatlers said at the ceremonies in Vilnius, we feel very close to Lithuanians – almost as if your successes and difficulties were our own. Emotionally, I think we are very positive towards each other. We call you brāļu tauta, our brother people. We joke about each other, of course – but we do so as brothers and sisters, I hope!

This is especially true with regard to Lithuanians – Estonians are not “Balts” in terms of language or culture, of course, though there is considerable overlap in Latvia. Linguists joke that Latvian is bad Lithuanian spoken with an Estonian accent. Just as there is considerable Finno-Ugric influence in Latvia, and many points in common in our histories (e.g., the centuries of German domination – but the Latvian Association in Rīga, which was the cradle of Latvian nationalism, was actually founded as a committee to help Estonians suffering from famine, and the Estonians’ Võidupüha – their Victory Day – is our Heroes’ Remembrance Day, marking the defeat of the Germans by both Estonians and Latvians at Cēsis in 1919).

Baltic Unity Day for Lithuanians and Latvians, in the narrower sense of “the Balts” and excluding our northern cousins, marks a far earlier date – the victory at the Battle of Saule – Saulės mūšis – on 22 September 1236. Being between (and we are between in oh so many ways!), Latvians can and should celebrate both of these anniversaries. I do.

Rainis, Latvia's greatest writer and a leader of the Social Democrats, was among those who backed a joint Lithuanian-Latvian Republic. Felikss Cielēns, another Social Democratic leader, argued against it on the basis that the Lithuanian level of literacy and education was comparatively low at the time. Rainis responded on 8 October 1916 (my translation):
He ["T." -- Traubergs?] ought to know that the Latvian nation is a democratic nation; that the nationalities question is a question for the nation and so a question for social democracy. If we want -- or, more precisely, if I want (since I'm the only person wanting, so far) to join with the Lithuanians to work together for national autonomy together, then I want this as a social democrat, standing on the foundation of social democracy, i.e. the foundation of the nation; not as a cosmopolitan fantasist but as an international realist. T. and you don't want Latvians to be mixed with the dark Lithuanians to arrive at an average literacy rate of 52%. Neither do I. But both our nations are one, by blood. Even a poor and foolish brother is still a brother. And a joint Latvian-Lithuanian nation would truly be incomparably stronger than us alone. Do you also want to push away half a million Latgalians,because they're uneducated? If we only count the educated, how many will there be? A couple of thousand. We'll educate the Lithuanians! I want a great politics, a whole nation, not a handful of intellectuals whose works evaporate in speeches. Here I must compliment your beloved wife: her instinct in favor of the Lithuanians has determined a better course than that mind of yours that I hold in such high regard. Our comrades the social democrats have forgotten how to think with their hearts, but where the heart doesn't help thinking, the mind alone becomes minuscule, and all its thoughts and determinations are merely trivial. So our official party has descended to bureaucracy and betrayal -- but we want a great politics: to make the Latvian nation greater, to gather our brothers; we want to liberate both branches of our nation, and then to join in the great struggle for the freedom of all nations.
Rainis was a brilliant poet but a dismal politician (an
d the situation has changed dramatically, of course -- it was Lithuania that led the Baltic independence movement) -- and yet I think that the sort of idealism expressed by Ruslanas is one of our major deficits today. The photograph above (filched from the Jēkabpils Municipal Library) is of the Baltic Way, when two million people joined hands to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that led to the occupation.

Asked what areas we can cooperate in, I responded:
The main thing I would emphasize in answer to this is that we must insist upon looking history in the face, and often we can do that together. Russia has not faced its history. If there is a vital reason for Baltic unity, that’s it – all three of our countries are still treated as the “near abroad,” and even NATO and EU membership did not change that. All three of us are still subjected to a campaign of disinformation and a propaganda war sponsored by the Kremlin and receiving a ready ear in certain circles in “the West.”

Patriotism is never a substitute for history. If we insist that others look history in the face, wrinkles included – then we have to look at our wrinkles also. Balts are not angels, and Russians are not demonic. We should be frank about our authoritarian regimes between the wars, and we should look closely at the complexities in our histories, including collaboration, xenophobia, and the darker corners of our nationalism.

Disunity -- such as Latvia's Parliament's dragging its feet when it came to supporting Estonia against Russian pressure last year -- is partly a failure to realize that idealism and practicality need to go together. People turned out to support Estonia in Vilnius and Rīga (as in the photo below, taken in Liv Square in Latvia's capital -- it's from Kojinshugi, who wrote what I still consider one of the best summaries of what happened last spring).

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17 Comments:

Blogger Kristopher said...

Giustino does emphasize Estonia's Nordicness, but he also recently noted, quite bluntly, that Finland isn't Scandinavian at all.

I wonder if it could be taken a step further and if Finland, which is after all the fourth nonagenarian, could be thrown into the "Baltic" mix.

Historically, even in some geographic aspects similar to the other Baltics...a Finnish-Estonian union was once considered...

There would be more balance and symmetry.
Instead of two southern Baltic states on one hand, and economically precocious (but now lagging) Estonia with its Nordic pretensions on the other, you would have two viable and close duos.

The population would also be better balanced, instead of Estonia being outnumbered by Latvia-Lithuania by something approaching 5-1.

12 March, 2008 00:28  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

I doubt very much that Finns would want to join the club! In my experience, many look upon Estonians as "poor cousins."

After Ilves made his notorious comments, a survey in Estonia showed that more Estonians consider the country Baltic rather than Nordic (I haven't been able to find a copy of the reports on this -- perhaps someone who knows Estonian can). It's both, of course, just as Lithuania (and part of Latvia, or Latvia in part?) is also Central European.

The main difference in the group identity, of course, is that Finland fought and wasn't occupied for half a century. But today (partly as a result) there's another difference -- we're in NATO, and Finland is not. We place no trust in neutrality.

Russia's attitudes towards us are quite different, too.

12 March, 2008 08:36  
Blogger Jens-Olaf said...

And Estonia plays or could play an important role within the Finno-Ugric part of Eurasia. And this group is certainly different. Which European language family (romanic, slavic, germanic) has this diversity? The language/cultural relation is stronger than the ethnical aspect. Very fascinating, when you see your first blond blue eyed with asian look.

12 March, 2008 12:25  
Blogger Elizabete said...

"/..../ just as Lithuania (and part of Latvia, or Latvia in part?) is also Central European. "

Pēteri, do please explain/expound on Latvia and/or part of Latvia being Central European (CE). I'm personally curious about how well this Central European part interacts with the LV part that isn't CE. Sirsnīgs paldies!

12 March, 2008 13:39  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Sveika, Elizabete!

In a run-on off-the-cuff: I mean that mainly in terms of culture, history and language -- Latgola. Unlike the rest of Latvia, it is historically Catholic and was part of the Pale of Settlement. To someone like Anna Rancāne (poet, former editor of Latgales Laiks, Latgallian correspondent for Diena), there's more distance from here to Rīga as there is from here to Vilnius. There are almost as many ethnic Poles in Daugavpils as there are ethnic Latvians. The "Polijas braucēji" were the first entrepreneurs here. The Polish government invests a lot in schools and exchanges (it's interesting, for instance, that hundreds of people in Poland study Latvian at a university level). This region is also heavily russified, of course -- but regional cooperation flourishes in different directions. Belarus (Eastern, not Central -- but how long will that last?) also plays a very strong role here. One of the things the EU (and also globalization in many of its forms) makes possible is the development of regions that transcend national borders. Preiļi works with Zarasai. How that will play out in the long run -- let's see. Lithuania once tried to lay claim to Latgola. Latgallians have rarely been comfortable in Latvia. The between of between, I said in the interview at bernardinai.lt. Recent events, like the media-amplified abuse of the Latgallian schoolgirl in Rīga, will only strengthen a sense of the separate.

12 March, 2008 14:12  
Blogger Kristopher said...

Well, I never said ask Finland's permission. :)

I looked for the survey, but so far I have come up empty.

13 March, 2008 13:21  
Blogger Giustino said...

Giustino does emphasize Estonia's Nordicness, but he also recently noted, quite bluntly, that Finland isn't Scandinavian at all.

I remember once Kalev introduced a line of Viking-themed chocolates. There were four 'vikings' to collect: Olaf, Erik, Sven ... and Vello.

Now, all of these are Estonian names, but everyone holding the 'Vello' viking knew that the idea of Finnic peoples as Scandinavian vikings with horns and axes -- the people who settled the Danelaw in Great Britain, the people who cultivated Normandy, named Iceland and Greenland and made it to Vinland the Good -- was utter bullshit.

Being blonde and wearing cute sweaters and living on unemployment benefits for the rest of your life does not make you one of the sons of the sagas. That's why they had to make up the term 'nordic' in the first place. Without it, guys named Vello who play in Finnish tango groups would not be part of the 'Nordic Council.'

The main difference in the group identity, of course, is that Finland fought and wasn't occupied for half a century. But today (partly as a result) there's another difference -- we're in NATO, and Finland is not. We place no trust in neutrality.

Finland can join NATO whenever it wants to. It already cooperates to a degree that it is a stealth member. I don't blame them for looking negatively at being drawn into an alliance with the US. So from their perspective they can operate from a position of strength with regards to both NATO countries and Russia. Everyone has to be nice to them.

For Russian strategic thinkers, having Finland in NATO would be a plus. Like it makes a difference to them if they join or not -- Norway is already in NATO, as is Estonia. By having another country in the alliance that is cautious about expansion and intervention, NATO would be bogged down in more internal arguments, which would suit Russia just fine.

14 March, 2008 16:44  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Finland can join NATO whenever it wants to.

Sure it can, but it does not -- because it doesn't want to. In theory at least, NATO is quite a concrete alliance. Finland is not in it. The world changes in wild ways all of the time. No one expected the Spanish Inquisition I mean 9/11, or even the Iron Curtain coming down as it did. Prognosticating about Russia is something I would never do -- I would rather be a weatherman in outer space, talking about rain at a particular address in a peculiar microclimate. But to play what-if -- personally, I think ancient Soviet tanks rumbling into Tallinn this very night would provoke the Finnish reaction of "it's okay, just leave us alone please." That was the Finnish line for almost half a century. Balts protesting in Helsinki were handily arrested at the behest of the Kremlin. Of course, I would not be overly surprised if the reaction to such an event was the same in Rīga, were it to happen tonight. But we're in this alliance, which isn't cheap, for a reason. Sweden and Finland are not -- for a reason. If things again descend into hell, as things are wont to do, Finland and Sweden will sit them out. Sweden specializes in that. Finland has no commitments. Russia has no designs upon Finland. Collective security is what NATO is about, at root and heart. It's NATO that protected the so-called "free world" from the Soviet menace, not the EU. The EU has all the power of the League of Nations.

14 March, 2008 21:31  
Blogger Giustino said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

15 March, 2008 19:04  
Blogger Giustino said...

But to play what-if -- personally, I think ancient Soviet tanks rumbling into Tallinn this very night would provoke the Finnish reaction of "it's okay, just leave us alone please."

Last April was very interesting because of the role Finland did play. Finland's response was "we have faith in the Estonian government to handle its problems by itself." It made it clear that no foreign intervention was necessary/acceptable.

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) said on Sunday that dealing with the confusing situation in Estonia is Estonia's own affair, and that outsiders should not interfere in the matter.

Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva (Nat. Coalition Party) took up the same matter on Sunday in a message to Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister of European Union Presidency-holder Germany. Kanerva called solidarity with Estonia, and a common policy line from the European Union.


If things again descend into hell, as things are wont to do, Finland and Sweden will sit them out. Sweden specializes in that. Finland has no commitments.

What precedent are you basing this on? During the Second World War, Denmark and Norway were occupied by the Germans. The British and Americans set up bases in Iceland. Sweden was de facto under German influence. Finland fought two wars against the Soviet Union.

This myth that they sat idly by while Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were occupied is garbage. It was the Baltic trio who patted themselves on the back in '39 while the Soviet Union delivered Vilnius to Lithuania and planes took off from Red Army military bases in Estonia to bomb Helsinki.

Russia has no designs upon Finland.

Tell that to the Finns. They are also paranoid, just less loud about it. I just read a Finnish newspaper where they are worried about Russians settling on the Finnish side of the border.

The real estate agents are getting hate mail from right-leaning Finns to the effect of "do you remember how many of our boys were killed in the Winter War?"

And I don't think Russia has any real 'designs' on Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania. They use the minority issue to weaken the governments, but with Kalvitis it became muted because -- guess what -- they really don't care about the Russian minority.

They just want local kings in place that can give them what they want when they want it. They want to own these countries, but they don't care if they send teams to the Winter Olympics or if they are in the EU. It's Finlandization, this time, not Soviet anschluss.

Collective security is what NATO is about, at root and heart.

And that's the debate in Finland because they know that they couldn't defend themselves if attacked from the east. Their defense strategy now rests on trusting in the sanity of whomever rules the Kremlin.

The dilemma is that the people are against it, yet it makes most sense for their defense strategy. They have to work that one out.

15 March, 2008 19:09  
Blogger jams o donnell said...

As ever a fascinating post Peteris

15 March, 2008 23:01  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Lithuania's conflict with Poland was the main reason an alliance did not develop between the wars -- but Finland wasn't interested in Baltic unity either. A military and political alliance between Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Finland (excluding Lithuania) was concluded in 1922 -- but the Finnish Parliament did not ratify it. Latvia and Estonia continued to pursue cooperation with Finland, which continually pursued an increasingly neutral/Nordic course. Latvia's Foreign Ministry reported in 1928 that "Finland remains inflexible in its indifference towards any closer ties with the Baltic states." In 1934, Latvia abandoned its "outstretched hand" policy (characterized as "constant attempts to offer friendship to Finland, receiving nothing in return"). That same year, the Entente between the Baltic states (minus Finland) was included. It was a failure, of course. We went on to pursue the imago of "absolute neutrality" ourselves.

I agree that Finland is sort of entering NATO on the sly -- but it ain't in it yet. Tomas Ries has an here -- it's a bit dated, but the "hair-thin difference" he talks about still exists... and in a crisis scenario, that thin hair could matter a lot. You're right to point out that Finland acted swiftly and properly in response to the Bronze Night. The fact that the vast majority of the population sided with Estonia is important, too.

I don't expect Anschluss, Justin -- money, the information war and pipelines, not tanks, are the current worry. But I started out by saying that the world changes in wild ways all of the time, and Russia can change more wildly than most countries. Sparks can fly unexpectedly -- consider the Russian seizure of Priština airport (General Jackson to General Clark: "I'm not going to start World War Three for you"), for example.

It was the Russian reaction to the monument dispute that was worrisome. Dmitry Rogozin did suggest making war on Estonia, and he is not a marginal figure -- he's now the Russian Ambassador to NATO. A couple of weeks ago, in reference to Kosovo, he said: "We, I think, will need to assume that in order to be respected we have to resort to brute military force." Stratfor, 19 February: " If Russian President Vladimir Putin accepts this setback without a significant response, he risks undoing his eight-year consolidation of power and severely weakening Russia’ influence throughout its periphery. Moscow’s options are limited, but a move in the Baltics might stave off the threat."

16 March, 2008 10:00  
Blogger Vidas said...

So does that make Ilves a political liability ? As Rogozin and others ask for a response - where does that leave the Baltic nations ? Rogozin didnt say Estonian - he said Baltic.

Estonia can pick its battles as it chooses. With Finland apparently firmly at its side - I guess it doesnt have anything to worry about ?

17 March, 2008 03:46  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

The final quote is from Stratfor, not Rogozin -- I believe Rogozin did refer only to Estonia when urging invasion after the Bronze Night, not the Baltics. I can't find the direct quote.

17 March, 2008 05:45  
Blogger Doris said...

I guess the strongest part of baltic unity would be the notion that should somehing happen and the world go topsy-turvy again, we can at least stick together and weather it back-to-back side-to side.

I work with a Romanian and a Ukrainian girl and even though culturally we have really very little in common, we do have one common thing: the utter and uncompromising... let's call it "distrust" of Russia and communism.

19 March, 2008 16:59  
Blogger Canterbury said...

As an Englishman I am always a little irked by references to the British as if the whole of the British Isles is a homogenous population. The Scots and Irish get positively angry about this. Latvians, in the same way, do well to preserve the international perspective as a nation and not simply a Baltic State.

I doubt if the damage can be reversed re England but Latvia has time to prevent similar damage to its own identity.

28 March, 2008 16:46  
Blogger Mykolas said...

I simply felt the need to 'pop in'
and express my appreciation for your well written articles found here at 'Marginalia'

I would further offer my admiration for you as a deeply conscerned and contemplative individual. It is obvious to me that you publish your thoughts only after having given each topic
careful consideration.Your thoughts are genuine.

I agree with you in regards for the need to 'face ourselves and our histories' and also as this applies to the Russians. The Russians are not evil yet they do represent what I refer to as the 'Empire of Arrogance'. Denial and Deciet have been and continue to be their favorite tools.

Mykolas
http://bieksia.wordpress.com/

16 June, 2008 06:33  

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