I couldn't resist. Here's a quick deconstruction of British conservative journalist John Laughland's piece in The Brussels Journal, "The De-Russification of the Baltics Serves a Geopolitical Purpose."
While I will not reprint the whole article here, I believe it contains some interesting and all-too-familiar anti-Baltic memes. Taken one by one, each can be unfolded and discussed. But put them all together, and you have one mesmerizing anti-Baltic ideological stew.
Laughland, Point One: Take the case of the Baltic States. These territories formed part of the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1991, when they became independent a few months before the Soviet Union itself was dissolved completely. They had enjoyed a brief period of independence between the wars, as a result of the humiliating peace forced on a defeated Russia, weakened by revolution, by Germany and Austria at Brest-Litovsk in 1918.
Here are two memes in one paragraph: Baltic independence was brief and the result of a humiliating peace treaty forced on a defeated Russia. I take issue with both. First, the interwar period of independence was not brief. 22 years is not brief. 22 years is a whole generation. Within 22 years, a person is born, raised, and may even get married and sire offspring. Georgia's period of independence from May 1918 to February 1921 was brief. Second, when countries lose wars, they are forced to sign treaties, weakened by revolution or otherwise. I am sure it was "humiliating" when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, too. Nobody feels empowered after losing a war and signing away real estate.
Laughland, Point Two. During independence, the Baltic states became dictatorships (Lithuania in 1926, Latvia and Estonia in 1934). Prior to 1918, Latvia and Estonia had never existed as states: they had been part of the Russian empire from the 1720s onwards, i.e. since shortly after Scotland and England united to form the United Kingdom, and before that they had belonged to Sweden and earlier to the Teutonic Knights. (The history of Lithuania is different.)
Meme three and four: the Baltics were under dictatorships in the '20s and '30s and there is a lack of historical precedent for statehood. But, wait a minute, a lot of countries were ruled by dictators in the 1920s and 1930s. Poland, Germany, Italy, not to mention the USSR. So, the point here is? Second, plenty of states devolved from empires without having experienced recent periods of independence, especially in the 20th century. At least half of current EU countries were not independent in 1914. Good to see though that, in regards to this point, Lithuania doesn't count as a Baltic state.
Laughland, Point Three: Their incorporation into the USSR in 1944 was therefore not, as many claim today, an act of naked Russian aggression but instead the restoration of a status quo ante which had existed for centuries and which in any case was supported by a significant section of the Baltic political class, many of whose members were ardent Communists.
Meme five and six: a) That whole blockade Tallinn harbor, shoot down commercial aircraft, and threaten to invade with our vastly superior military unless you do everything we say thing wasn't "naked Russian aggression" at all. That was just, like, you know, the "restoration of a status quo ante which had existed for centuries." So if the British took back Ireland in 1940, shot de Valera, and deported the Irish ruling class to Tasmanian slave labor camps, it wouldn't have been "naked British aggression," just a restoration of the way things had been before. I'm telling you, there is a Monty Python sketch in here somewhere. "I didn't kill you, mate, I just restored the status quo ante." b) Baltic political class? Ardent Communists? Really, in whose political interest was it to get a) executed or b) deported by the Soviets? The "Communists" they found to play the roles of statesmen in their orchestrated coups weren't even politicians (or communists for that matter). The prime minister of the Soviet-picked government in Estonia was a poet and doctor, his assistant PM a historian, and his foreign minister was a school master. These men were neither ardent communists nor members of the political class.
Laughland, Point Four: As a result of their long existence as part of Russia (and, later, the Soviet Union) these territories, especially Latvia and Estonia, have large Russian minorities.
That's true, though not in the way he means it. Estonia's largest minority before the Second World War was the Russian minority, about 8 percent of the population.
Laughland, Point Five: When they achieved independence in 1991, the Baltic States decided to adopt as their founding constitutional principle a piece of political fiction known as the theory of occupation. They claimed that they had been “occupied” by the USSR, rather than incorporated into it, and that their independence was merely the restoration of an interrupted statehood.
Meme seven: the occupation never happened. The problem is that, be it political fiction or not, most countries in the world believed it because they had never recognized the original occupation and annexation. They rightly returned Baltic assets kept for 50 years to said countries. Call it a return to the status quo ante. Or maybe just a nefarious Western conspiracy.
Laughland, Point Six: This theory of occupation is, quite simply, a lie. Occupation is a specific situation in international relations when one country dominates another by installing troops on its territory.
So, according to this definition, the ultimatum to create the bases pact in 1939 and uninvited entry of Soviet troops in June 1940 would count as an occupation. Good to know. From this point on, Laughland careens into the stratosphere. He's bouncing off satellites, diving through black holes. Here's an example: The most important of these measures has been, in Latvia and Estonia, the dogged introduction, over two decades now, of laws on citizenship whose goal is to erode the national identity of Russians by closing their schools and by preventing them from voting.
Say wha? 2+2=5? I keep reading that sentence over and over again, and I get the feeling like he wrote this late at night from a jumble of talking points provided by the Russian foreign ministry.
I think the Russian argument, transmitted via Laughland, is that if all the people in Estonia were allowed to vote for parliament (since they already can vote in municipal elections), regardless of where they were born or what passport they held, then Edgar Savisaar's Centre Party would be running the show and eating out of the Kremlin's hand. But that's not really true. When Savisaar raised the issue of reforming citizenship laws during his address to the Centre Party congress last week, the Social Democrats (SDE) and the Estonian People's Union (ERL), the two parties that would most likely form a government with the Centrists should they win in 2011, quickly said they would not back such reforms. It's just not going to happen the way you want it to happen, Moscow. It just isn't. Sorry.
Supposedly the Russians are gearing up for another exhausting propaganda campaign to waste more time trying to slime Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, with the desperate hope that if they repeat the same lies over and over again, they will suddenly become true. I find these campaigns dull and so tiresome I regret even writing this blog post. I also regret actually reading Laughland's article.