Interwar Statehood: Symbol and Reality

  • Nicholas Hope

Abstract

Some twenty years — between 1920 and 1940 — which mark the lifespan of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as independent republics, are not long for a fair assessment. There is a touch of the unreal in the egalitarian colour of democracy which appeared overnight after centuries of feudal servitude, and in constitutional provision of a very generous kind for national minorities and religious denominations. Our view of independent statehood is also influenced by interwar crisis. This caused apparently in these three republics, swift popular rejection of liberal democracy and market economics, and brought to power authoritarian governments of a corporatist stamp, which lasted in substance until formal annexation by the Soviet Union in August 1940. This sudden beginning, mid-term crisis, and abrupt end, can nevertheless mask continuities discussed in the previous chapter, which help to explain why ethnic self-expression and egalitarian democracy have survived all systematic attempts at suppression by Great Powers so far. Without wishing to repeat or change the argument of the previous chapter, or to deny the element of pure chance involved in the new constitutional and social order which emerged between 1918 and 1920 in what was both a war for national independence and a civil war, a slightly different perspective is adopted in this chapter. It might be considered a mild heresy in view of Russian and German rule before 1918, and the continuing influence exerted by these powers before 1940.

Keywords

Clay Depression Europe Shipping Rubber 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Söderblom wrote, for instance, in a letter of July 1922, of the ‘Lutheran ring established around the Baltic, mare Lutheranum’, quoted in, B. Sundkler, Nathan Söderblom. His Life and Work (London, 1968), p. 277. See note 11.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    S.A. Nilsson, K.G. Hildebrand, B. Öhngren (eds.) Kriser och krispolitik i Norden under mellankrigstiden, Nordiska Historikermötet i Uppsala 1974 (Uppsala, 1974)Google Scholar
  3. S.U. Larsen and I. Montgomery (eds) Kirken, Krisen og Krigen (Bergen, 1982).Google Scholar
  4. One of the few assessments which treats the interwar Baltic region as a whole is the ‘Braudelian’: Louis Tissot, La Baltique, situation des pays riverains de la Baltique. Importance économique et stratégique de la “Méditerranée” du Nord (Paris, 1940).Google Scholar
  5. This should be supplemented by: G. Smith, ‘Soziale und geographische Veränderungen in der Bevölkerungsstruktur von Estland, Lettland und Litauen 1918–1940’, in, Acta Baltica 19 /20 (1981), pp. 118–81.Google Scholar
  6. Independent statehood is discussed in: G. von Rauch, The Baltic States. The Years of Independence, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania 1917–1940 (London, 1974)Google Scholar
  7. V.S. Vardys and R.J. Misiunas (eds) The Baltic States in Peace and War 1917–1945 (Pennsylvania and London, 1978)Google Scholar
  8. B. Meissner (ed.) Die Baltischen Nationen: Estland, Lettland, Litauen (Cologne, 1990), which includes a survey of current research in western Europe.Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    Notably ‘Luterma’plywood chair-seats; plywood boxes for the British empire’s carrying trade in Indian and African tea, rubber and tobacco; ‘Kave’ boxes for chocolates and sweets, etc., manufactured by the wood and timber import—export business of A.M. Luther Ltd (1897), established in Tallinn in 1841. Estonian cardboard boxes were particularly popular in London’s Bond Street and Brompton Road: ‘Ah, yes, Estonia… what a funny thing. That’s where my wife’s hat-boxes come from’, quoted in, Owen Rutter, The New Baltic States and their Future. An Account of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (London, 1925), p. 224.Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    Ronald Seth, Baltic Corner. Travel in Estonia (London, 1939), p. 157.Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    L. Arbusow, ‘Baltisches Gebiet’ in, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 2nd edn (Tübingen, 1927), vol. 1, col. 747.Google Scholar
  12. Arbusow’s article, cols. 744–50, leaves out rather typically Roman Catholic Lithuania. There is a more up-to-date account, ‘Baltikum II’ by P. Hauptmann in, Theologisches Realenzyklopädie (Berlin and New York, 1980), vol. 5, pp. 154–7.Google Scholar
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    See R. Beerman’s stimulating: ‘Max Weber, Friedrich Engels and the Soviet Baltic Republics’, Co-existence 12, no. 2 (1975), pp. 158–74.Google Scholar
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  15. 13.
    T. Parming, ‘The Collapse of Liberal Democracy and the Rise of Authoritarianism in Estonia’, Sage Professional Papers in Contemporary Political Sociology, series/number 06/010 (1975), p. 24.Google Scholar
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    A. Bilmanis, A History of Latvia (Princeton, 1951)„ p. 335.Google Scholar
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    A. Spekke, History of Latvia. An Outline (Stockholm, 1951), p. 364; A. Silde, ‘Die Entwicklung der Republik Lettland’, in Meissner (ed.), Die Baltischen Nationen, p. 66.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Populists and Socialists held 29 and 14 seats respectively in the constituent assembly 1920–2, and 19 and 11 in the first Seimas 1922–3; the bloc of Christian Democrats, Farmers’ Union, and Federation of Labour, 59 and 38 seats in these two parliaments. After coming to power in May 1926, Populists and Socialists held 37 seats; the Christian Democrat bloc 30 seats. Appendix A in, L. Sabaliunas, Lithuania in Crisis. Nationalism to Communism 1939–1940 (Bloomington and London, 1972).Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    A.R. Cederberg, S. Csekey, J.G. Granö (eds) Eesti (Handbook) 2nd rev. edn (Tallinn, 1930), p. 52 passim.Google Scholar
  20. The importance of Estonian self-education at village level after c.1860 is discussed by O. Loorits, ‘The Renascence of the Estonian Nation’, The Slavonic and East European Review 33 (1954–5), 25–43.Google Scholar
  21. 43.
    R. Taagepera, ‘Civic Culture and Authoritarianism in the Baltic States 1918–1940’, East European Quarterly 7, no. 4 (1973), pp. 407–12.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

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  • Nicholas Hope

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