Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Fate of the Baltic Nations

Russian Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, (Autumn, 1943), pp. 34-44


IN THE recent stormy years and perhaps even more so in recent months, the future of the three Baltic Republics, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, has been causing deep concern to those dealing with and responsible for the establishment of international peace, lasting friendly relations, and collaboration at the end of this war between the great western democracies, on one side, and the great Soviet totalitarian State, on the other. A serious difference of both a political and ideological nature exists between the English speaking democracies and the Soviet Union on this vexed question, as America and Great Britain have refused to recognize the annexation of the three Baltic republics by Soviet Russia. The three Baltic peoples, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, and the Estonians had been completely forgotten by the outside world, and were only brought to the attention of the present generation through the upheaval of 1914-1918. They took their place on the new map of Europe as fully recognized independent national entities in 1918- 1920. While the Allied and Associated Powers were slow in deciding, after 1918, whether or not to recognize the three new republics, Soviet Russia acted immediately and put into operation Lenin's doc- trine of self-determination of peoples, establishing full reciprocal diplomatic, consular, and commercial relations with them. Full de jure recognition by the Allies came later. Before Soviet Russia was forced into this war by Hitler's unprovoked attack, she had come to an understanding with Germany by which Germany recognized Soviet Russia's annexation of the Baltic States and the eastern part of Poland, while Soviet Russia recognized Germany's incorporation of Memel into the Reich and the annexation of the remaining part of Poland. *This and the following article are discussing the fate of the Baltic States and their relations with Russia from two different points of view. We believe that this discussion will permit our readers to reach a better understanding of this controversial problem of the Baltic Nations Thus we have witnessed a fourth partition of Poland by which Lithuania and the other two Baltic States were caught in the under- tow and submerged out of existence. It looked as if in twenty-three months (August 23, 1939-June 22, 1941) Russia and Germany had crowded into their relationship as much mutual understanding in regard to the division of territories that separated them, as it had taken them twenty-three years to accomplish a century and a half earlier (1772-1795). It will be remembered that in the year 1795, the Germans and the Russians were the principal parties in the third partition of Poland, by which Lithuania, an independent state in union with Poland, had also fallen under the crown of the Tsars. The territories of Estonia and Latvia (Livonia), which had been under Swedish sovereignty until 1721, were already a part of Russia at that time; and eastern Latvia, or Latgale, had come under Russian rule at the first partition of Poland in 1772. The old Russian government had been committing the folly of trying to wipe out by force the national spirit of the compact peoples inhabiting the lands separating Russia from Germany, the largest of which was the Polish people. Poland was renamed Privislinsky Krai (Vistula District), Lithuania was renamed Severo-Zapadny Krai (North-Western District), Estonia and Latvia were called Pribaltiisky Krai (Baltic District). The Russian authorities made them- selves believe that by obliterating the names of these peoples and by introducing discrimination against the native peoples, by favoring Russian settlers and the Greek Orthodox Church, and by using other sharp methods, they would stamp out the nationalist, separatist tendencies of these peoples. The results were quite the opposite. There is hardly a people in Europe with a more determined nationalistic spirit than the Poles. The Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians, because of their smaller numbers and their less turbulent history, for centuries lived a secluded, compact, distinct national life-engaging in their agricultural pursuits and passing on from generation to generation national characteristics of their own: a rich folklore in song, dance, and word, in their own distinct tongues, abounding in esthetic and philological wealth. The movements of great alien armies through their lands in the middle ages, whether Slav, Tartar, or Teuton, hardly disturbed the basic pattern of their distinct ethnic features. The Lithuanian people belong to the Indo-Germanic race. The Lithuanian language is one of the oldest European tongues which has preserved its ancient Sanscrit forms, bearing many resemblances to both Latin and Greek. The Latvians are both racially and linguistically related to the Lithuanians. The Estonians belong to the western branch of the Finno-Ugrian family, with a language akin to Finnish and distantly related to Magyar. From the earliest times, the Estonians inhabited the northern shores of the Baltic sea with the Latvians and the Lithuanians, their neighbors to the south, dwelling among the great forests and plains between the Dvina and Vistula rivers. Lithuanian history has been different and more eventful in development through the ages than that of its Latvian and Estonian neighbors. The Lithuanians had formed a state in more or less the present meaning of the term by the middle of the thirteenth century. While a succession of Lithuanian Grand Dukes were fighting continually the aggressive Teutonic Orders between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, they also became involved in warfare with the Russian Principalities; and the Lithuanians expanded into the territories of Smolensk, Kiev, and Podolia. The Lithuanian State, however, was not strong enough to hold that great territorial expanse. Prolonged warfare with the Germans, on one side, and the Russians, on the other, reduced Lithuania's power. She entered into closer relations with Poland in order to strengthen herself against the more formidable common enemy, the Germans. An alliance was entered into between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland, which was consummated in the good old-fashioned way of a marriage between the Polish Queen Hedwiga and the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila in 1386. The relationship between the two nations gradually developed into a still closer tie, which led to the pact known as the Union of Lublin concluded in 1569, by which Poland and Lithuania were linked into a dual monarchy in the same manner as Austria and Hungary were united up to the war of 1914-1918, with the Poles predominating over the Lithuanians, as the Austrians did over the Hungarians. It was through this Union that the Lithuanian people embraced the Roman Catholic faith, which remains the leading religion of Lithuania to this day. Polish ambitions to dominate Lithuania completely led to trouble between the two united parties, and many unsuccessful attempts were made by Lithuania before and after the Pact of Lublin to break her ties with Poland. While Poland was spreading her influence over Lithuania, the Latvians and Estonians were subjected to influence from across the Baltic Sea from the then all powerful Swedish Kingdom. In the sixteenth century, the age of Swedish rebirth under Gustavus Vasa, the Swedish fight for Reformation against Roman Catholicism be- came particularly pronounced. Sweden's territorial expansion was coupled with her opposition to Poland's spread of Catholicism; and after the year 1561 Sweden put down roots deep in the soil of Latvia and Estonia, as well as Finland. Riga, the largest city in the land of the Latvians, became the second important city of Sweden and a center of Protestantism. The leading religion of both the Estonians and Latvians remains Protestant to this day. Sweden ruled in Estonia for about one hundred and fifty years and in Latvia (Livonia) for about one hundred years. With the ascendancy of Peter the Great in Russia and after the historic battle of Poltava in 1709, when the Swedes were hopelessly defeated by the Russian army, Sweden lost her foothold in the Baltic provinces of Estonia and Livonia, which finally fell to Russia in 1721. The nationalist spirit of these races, subjugated by the Tsars, had hardly been heard of in the western world. Only when Russia went through troublesome days, did the outcry of the subjugated peoples reach the ears of the world. The Poles, especially, let themselves be heard through a number of important exiles: Kosciuszko at the end of the eighteenth century, Chopin in the middle of the nineteenth, and in later years-Paderewski. In 1812, the Poles and Lithuanians tried in vain to exploit Napoleon's invasion of Russia to regain their freedom. After the Crimean War of 1854-1856, trouble started again to ferment in the western borderland, culminating in the open revolt of Poles and Lithuanians in the year 1863 which was ruthlessly suppressed by the Tsarist regime. Again, after the unsuccessful Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, when the Russian people made an attempt to rid themselves of Tsarism-the Poles, the Finns, the Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians were all in open revolt for national freedom, which, however, was only won after the collapse of the Russian imperial regime in 1917. The years 1918-1919 formed a stormy period in the life of the three new Baltic Republics. The Lithuanian National Council declared the independence of Lithuania at Vilna on February 16, 1918, while still under German occupation. The occupational authorities confiscated the issue of a Lithuanian newspaper in Vilna which printed the Proclamation of Independence the following day. The first Lithuanian government was actually formed on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Estonian independence was declared eight days after the original Lithuanian attempt, on February 24, 1918, with the formation of a provisional government which was immediately dispersed by the German occupational authorities. The Latvian National Council, benefiting by the experience of her neighbors north and south with the German occupational authorities, declared the independence of Latvia in secret session on July 8, 1918, and the first Latvian government was formed on November 18, 1918. A handful of Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian communists, resident in Russia and partisans of the Bolshevik Revolution, were eager to enlist the help of the newly formed Red Army in putting up communist Soviet governments in the capitals-Vilna, Riga, and Tallinn. They did not find much difficulty in obtaining the de- sired aid from the Soviet government. In November, 1918, the Red Army began the invasion of the three Baltic countries; and on December 8, 1918, Lenin appointed a government of Soviet Estonia, and on December 23, gave recognition to the communist Soviet governments of Lithuania and Latvia. These steps were taken with the purpose of frustrating the newly formed national governmental bodies in these countries. The German troops, according to the armistice conditions laid down by the Allied Powers, were ordered to remain in the Baltic territories to help the newly forming national armies of the Baltic States to stem the Bolshevist invasion. The relationship between the German troops and the newly formed Baltic armies was hostile. Their officers hardly exchanged salutes. Trouble was brewing between them. In March, 1919, the Germans attacked and shot a Lithuanian military guard at the hotel in Kaunas in which an American military mission was lodged. In April, 1919, the Germans under the command of General von der Goltz arrested members of the Latvian national government and army and attempted to put into power the "Baltische Landeswehr," composed of Baltic Germans with pastor Needra as figurehead. Order, however, was restored shortly thereafter through the intervention of the Allied Military Mission stationed in Libau, Latvia. In spite of the defeat of the German armies by the Allies in 1918, the German military authorities in Berlin, a year later, still made attempts to keep a foothold in the Baltic territories. Von der Goltz's failure with the Landeswehr in April-June, 1919, did not fully discourage them. In the late autumn of 1919 a new venture was staged.

Baltic Nations German troops with a few Russians among them, dressed in Russian uniforms, under the leadership of a White Russian officer, Bermondt- Avaloff, receiving his instructions from the German military authorities in Berlin, took possession of the Lithuanian railroad running from Tilsit, Prussia, across Lithuania to the Latvian frontier and beyond to Riga. This scheme was performed under the guise of fighting Bolshevism, which had already practically been cleared from both countries. The Lithuanian and Latvian armies, with the Estonian army pressing the German remnants from the north, were strong enough by that time to liquidate this campaign with the backing of a British warship anchored outside Riga. The year 1920 brought a new era of stability to the Baltic States. The Lenin government, proclaiming since inception the principle of self-determination of peoples and its opposition to imperialism, having satisfied itself that the few Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian communists in Russia had no following in their home countries and that the Red Army had failed to establish itself in those countries, decided upon a new course of friendly relations with them. Negotiations were opened with the three governments. The first treaty was signed with Estonia on February 2, 1920; and Maxim Litvinov was sent as first Soviet Minister to Tallinn. A treaty with Lithuania followed on July 12, 1920; and on August 11, 1920, a treaty with Latvia was concluded. By these treaties Soviet Russia renounced forever all sovereign rights over these countries. Permanent and definite frontiers were fixed between them and Russia. All three countries began to seethe with creative activities in the administrative, educational, and economic fields. The most important venture initiated by the first Lithuanian Parliament was a bold agrarian reform by which feudal landlord- ship was abolished. The land poor and landless peasants were allotted adequate parcels of land with an agrarian bank providing long-term credits for agricultural development. Latvia and Estonia did likewise. A great outcry rose against this sweeping reform from the big landowners, who in Lithuania were mostly Poles and in Latvia and Estonia-German Barons. The three new national governments remained firm in the execution of the program, which in years to come proved to be a farsighted and beneficial step in the remark- able growth of the agricultural importance of the three Baltic States. The economic independence and stability of the well distributed and privately owned small farm holdings became the staunchest bulwark against any internal development of communism. Without force from the outside, with the succeeding years it became less and less possible for communism to make any headway whatsoever in the three Baltic Republics. While Latvia and Estonia were undisturbed in their work of re- construction, Lithuania was burdened with two territorial disputes: one over Vilna-with Poland; the other over Memel-with the Al- lied Powers, who by the Treaty of Versailles acquired the sovereign rights over Memel for the purpose of transferring these rights to Lithuania. The Allies, however, were procrastinating in this transfer; and only after a coup de force by Lithuanian insurgents in Memel against the French garrison there, did the Allied Powers cede Memel to Lithuania on February 16, 1923. A convention was entered into between the Allied Powers and Lithuania, by which autonomy was granted to the Memel Territory under Lithuanian sovereignty. Lithuania's dispute with Poland over Vilna proved to be a problem much more difficult to settle. An armed clash took place between Poland and Lithuania on October 9, 1920, when Polish troops under General Zeligowski marched on Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, and forced the government to retire to Kaunas. On November 23, 1920, both Poland and Lithuania acceded to the demand of the League of Nations to stop hostilities. The League undertook to arbitrate the dispute but failed in its task. No diplomatic relations existed between the two countries until they were forced upon Lithuania eighteen years later by an ultimatum from Poland in 1938. Outside of these two disturbances, the three Baltic Republics have enjoyed for over two decades prosperity and continuous, peaceful, and cultural development of independent statehood, participating in all phases of international collaboration among nations. Through an early introduction of compulsory education in these new republics, illiteracy became unknown among the rising generation. The printing of books on all subjects of human endeavor was remarkable in extent. Universities, technical schools, academies of art and music had capacity attendance in all three countries. The interrelations between the three small republics were marked throughout their period of independence by constant cordiality and were consistently growing closer and closer. Lithuania's disturbed relationship with Poland, however, on one hand, and Latvia's and Estonia's excellent relations with Poland, on the other, were the only impediments to a complete union between them. Generally speaking, the entire twenty years of independence of the three Baltic Republics were marked by distinct good relations of the Baltic Nations with Soviet Russia. During the first six years after their liberation from the Red Army invasion, there was a natural aftermath of suspicion that communism from the outside might again stifle the national development. These suspicions were alleviated by the trend of Moscow's friendliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of the three states. On September 28, 1926, a Soviet-Lithuanian Pact of Non- Aggression was signed. Later similar pacts were concluded with Latvia and Estonia. In 1933, the Baltic States adhered to the Soviet Convention for the Definition of Aggression. The official visit to Moscow of the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Lozoraitis in 1934, his conversations with Premier Molotov and other leading Soviet statesmen strengthened the ties of friendship and understanding between the two countries. The tendency of Lithuania to side with Russia, rather than with her western neighbor, Germany, in case of a military conflict was apparent during the years prior to the present war. The first note of suspicion that Soviet Russia had other than strategic intentions in the Baltic States was aroused in the summer of 1939, during the Anglo-Soviet negotiations in Moscow. The Soviet government demanded of the British government consent to certain measures to be taken by Russia in the Baltic States, which appeared to the British as interference in internal affairs of independent peoples; and Great Britain refused to be a party to it. On December 5, 1939, the British Foreign Secretary made the following statement in the House of Lords: We have tried to improve our relations with Russia, but in doing so we have always maintained the position that rights of third parties must remain intact and be un- affected by our negotiations. Events have shown that the judgment and the instincts of His Majesty's Government in refusing agreement with the Soviet Government on the terms of formulae covering the cases of indirect aggression on the Baltic States were right. For it is now plain that these formulae might have been the cloak of ulterior designs. As it is known, Herr von Ribbentrop, the Nazi Foreign Secretary, was less hesitant and scrupulous than Lord Halifax; and as a result of the Soviet-German Treaty of August 23, 1939, Soviet Russia was given by Germany a free hand to do as she pleased with the Baltic States. Upon Soviet occupation of the Vilna territory in September, 1939, after the complete collapse of Poland, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Urbsys was invited on October 3, 1939, by Premier Molotov of Soviet Russia. Eight peaceful months had passed with the Soviet garrisons comfortably established in Lithuania and the other Baltic States. The Soviet troops behaved well; and the authorities, as well as the population as a whole, were little aware of their presence. As late as May 25, 1940, the Soviet Minister in Lithuania, Pozdniakov, together with the commander of the Soviet garrisons in Lithuania, affirmed to Foreign Minister Urbsys that there were no complaints to make, that everything was working out most satisfactorily with the execution of the treaty of October 10, 1939. One week later, in the beginning of June, 1940, after Germany's staggering success with her offensive in Western Europe, on the eve of the collapse of France, the Lithuanian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister were summoned to Moscow, and at midnight of June 14, after a few days of deliberation, were handed an ultimatum expiring nine hours later on the morning of June 15, demanding the 42 resignation of the Lithuanian government, the formation of a government acceptable to the Soviets, and the stationing of an un- limited number of Soviet troops in Lithuania. The same procedure was followed with Latvia and Estonia. In a few days the occupation of the three Baltic States by half a million of Soviet mechanized troops was completed. Thousands of persons were arrested all over the country. All newspapers were closed down and replaced by centrally controlled uniform communist papers. A general election was announced to take place on July 14, 1940. One and only one list of candidates containing a large majority of communists, hitherto unknown to the people, was offered on the ballot. The population was called upon by special proclamation to appear on July 14 at the electoral districts with their proper identity papers. It was announced in the proclamation that any adult citizen who failed'to get his identity paper stamped to the effect that he voted for the list presented, would be proclaimed and treated as an enemy of the people. After the election, it was announced that over 99 percent of the population voted for the new legislative body. On July 22, the newly elected Assembly proclaimed Lithuania's decision to ask the U.S.S.R. for inclusion into the Union. The Soviet Union granted this request. The same method was applied to Latvia and Estonia. On July 23, 1940, Acting Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, on behalf of the United States Government, issued the following statement which was published in the State Department Bulletin of July 27, 1940: During these past few days the devious processes where under the political independence and territorial integrity of the three small Baltic Republics-Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania-were to be deliberately annihilated by one of their more powerful neighbors, have been rapidly drawing to their conclusion. From the day when the peoples of these Republics first gained their independence and democratic form of government the people of the United States have watched their admirable progress in self-government with deep and sympathetic interest. The policy of this Government is universally known. The people of the United States are opposed to predatory activities no matter whether they are carried on by the use of force or by the threat of force. They are likewise opposed to any form of intervention on the part of one State, however powerful, in the domestic concerns of any other sovereign State, however weak. These principles constitute the very foundations upon which the existing relationship between the 21 sovereign Republics of the New World rests. The United States will continue to stand by these principles, because of the conviction of the American people that unless the doctrine in which these principles are inherent once again governs the relations between nations, the rule of reason, of justice, and of law-in other words, the basis of modern civilization itself- cannot be preserved. When the present world-wide bloody conflict comes to its end and the United Nations will be confronted with the task of establishing a more lasting peace than we have known in the first half of this century, no doubt proper account will also be taken of the rights of the small peoples in northeastern Europe. Judging by the sweeping changes taking place now in the Soviet Union, a striking example of which is the return of freedom to the Greek Orthodox Church, a step which would have been considered an utter impossibility only a few years ago, it is reasonable to expect that Stalin, dictated by wisdom, will cooperate with Roosevelt and Churchill in putting into force the Atlantic Charter and will permit the small Baltic peoples bordering on Russia to enjoy in complete independence their natural right of national self-expression for which they have been struggling for centuries and which for more than twenty years they have shown their ability and justified their right to claim.

1 comment:

BRF said...

Interesting reading, but as a Swede with roots both in Finland and Estonia I must comment on this quote 'as well as Finland'. Actually Finland was core Sweden, Sweden was cut in half after being in war the rest of northern Europe, including Russia. Estonia. Latvia et cetera was a part of the Kingdom, but not core Sweden compared to the territory now called Finland. Actually the name Finland comes from an area south of Åbo/Turku called Varsinais Suomi,( the real Finland). Finland today could have been even larger, could have included a big part of Lapland (swedish side) and Norrbotten.