pühapäev, juuni 24, 2007

Identities in Time

Inspired by the information-heavy efforts of fellow blogger Pēteris Cedriņš of Marginalia, I decided to browse the Time Archives to discover how those two loaded terms, Baltic and Nordic, were used in the 1920s and 1930s.

The key to these discussions has been understanding Finland because Finland is not a Scandinavian country, but is purportedly not a Baltic country either. It belongs to the 'Nordic community' which was basically a pre-European Union experiment in open markets and migration in northern Europe following the Second World War. Today Finland is considered "Nordic" while Estonia is considered "Baltic". But the reality is that is a condition of world ideas on geopolitical identity since the Second World War, rather than since the settlements of 1918-1920.

There has been some, but little, discussion of Finland's pre-war identity as a Baltic state or Baltic country, but if you peruse the Time Magazine archives you will see that in the begining, Finland as identified as 1) former Tsarist Russian and 2) a Baltic country. Another oddity is that, more often than not, Swedish names are used to identify Finnish cities. Turku is Abo. Helsinki is Helsingfors. Only sometimes is Helsinki used first. This is obviously not the case today.

Here's an excerpt from 1926 story:

Geographers noted that what was once the Empire of the Romanovs and what is now the U. S. S. R. are indeed two quite different areas. In the West the Baltic countries from Poland to Finland have split off; in the Near East the Transcaucasian Federation of Soviet Republics (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) have been created and linked with the other Socialist Soviet Republics which signed the treaty of union at Moscow on Dec. 30, 1922.

Here's a great description of Finland from Sept. 8, 1930:

Finland, a country some 30,000 sq. mi. larger than Italy, stretches north from Leningrad to the Arctic Ocean, a sort of buffer between Soviet Russia and the Scandinavian Peninsula. It is chiefly known to the U. S. as one of the only three governments in the world* which maintain absolute Prohibition of liquor, and as the country whence come great endurance runners (Paavo Nurmi, Willie Ritola et al.) and house servants who are either very fine and faithful or extremely stupid. Correspondents have described it as a country riddled with lakes, bootleggers and Bolshevik propagandists. Official Finland, puny before the armed might of Soviet Russia, regards the Soviet agents with a sort of affable apathy. Not so Vihtori Kosola and his fellow villagers of Lapua. They hate the sight of a Communist.
Here's another nugget from May 28, 1934, entitled Das Baltikum.

Beyond the Polish Corridor and East Prussia, the Eastern shore of the Baltic is edged with little countries born of the War. Going north, they are Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and vast lake-riddled Finland. All of them were Russian provinces before 1917 and in all of them still goes on a constant struggle of German v. Russian influence. Latvia is mostly an agricultural country. The Letts are an amiable, broad-faced people. Russian for more than 100 years, the country was dominated for 700 years before that by German barons, holding the Lettish peasants as serfs. Today the upper classes and "best people" are still mostly of German descent.
Here's one that gets to the heart of identity issues from June 14, 1937.

Because the Scandinavian nations speak nearly the same language, share the same royal family and were most ardently bound to neutrality during the War, they formed instinctively a tight little group that talked and voted alike during the early years of the League of Nations. Instinctively Baltic Finland joined them and also the Low Countries, Belgium, The Netherlands, minuscule Luxembourg.
The first time the term "Nordic" as applied to Finland is on October 30, 1939 in Time Magazine. In fact, it's the first time that "Nordic" is used in its current meaning. Before Stalin's invasion of Finland and the occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, it is clear that there were Scandinavian states and Baltic states, but not Nordic states. On Oct. 30, 1939, the "Nordic states" is first used.

It doesn't end there. From March 25, 1940:

On the one side, tearful Finns quoted an old Nordic saying: "Sorrows are our reins, bad days our bridle." On the other, the Russians laughed, drank beer, slapped each other's backs, praised their Red Army "defenders." But among the friends and foes of each side there was a bitter search for reasons, a hunt for scapegoats, a vindictive beating back & forth of the shuttlecock of blame.
From May 6, 1940, describing Sibelius' music:
These miscellaneous pieces, ranging from Op. 9 to Op. 109a, are nearly all bleak, bardic, Nordic, at times sound as relevant to contemporary Finland as an air-raid alarm.
After that, the terms "Nordic" and "Finland" regularly appear as they do today. It seems that with the captivity of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, somebody began feeding journalists the 'N' word during the Winter War to distinguish Finland from its less fortunate Baltic brethren. So that by the 1960s myths of Nordic cooperation, which coincided with a series of pan-northern European initiatives, began freely mixing terms like Scandinavia and Nordic.

With Estonia you find similarities with Finland in the pre-war period. Estonian cities are also referred to with their Germanic names, and Estonia is similarly "former Tsarist Russia." From June 1933:

Next day, pale with fury, the President summoned his Cabinet at Reval on the Baltic. Declaring Estonian democracy "menaced," the Cabinet put Dorpat under martial law, dismissed half the town's police force as tainted with Front Soldier ideology.
The US helped along the concept of the Baltic states by dispatching a minister to "Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania" in 1933. In 1934 you find a definition of these Baltic states -- war born, small, next to Russia:

Those three War-born little states on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea— Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—would hardly seem a menace to anybody. But they are close to the heart of Soviet Russia.
In March 1935, you find the first explicit mention of Estonia as a Baltic state.

Sole exception is the dignified little Baltic State of Estonia. Until a thwarted Nazi putsch so alarmed President Konstantin Pats last year that he declared a state of martial law, Estonia had ignored the death penalty entirely.
And you'll see that the term became extra handy in 1939 to describe the situation affecting Estonia:

When Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler began signing agreements, diplomats guessed that there was more to the partnership than at first met the eye. They suspected the existence of secret clauses, annexes, even verbal understandings that were not made public. They were right. As events began to unravel, and perhaps as Dictator Stalin got unexpectedly grabby, he got a big slice of Poland. Not long thereafter the Eastern Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and perhaps Finland) became an uncontested sphere of Red imperialism. All told, Herr Hitler had won Russian "friendship," but it looked as though, so far, Tovarish Stalin had won the war.
The article was called "Balts' Return", it explicity defined who exactly "Balts" were:

Further south, in Latvia, 60,000 Balts—as the Germans are known in the Baltic—simultaneously began a mass migration back to the "spiritual homeland" they have not known for centuries, while in Lithuania, where Russian troops are expected before long, a mass exodus of 40,000 "racial comrades" was to begin shortly.
In fact, the idea of three Baltic states has its real root in the Second World War. After their occupation and annexation, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are referred to in tandem at nearly every mention.

In 1947, the Cold War identity was formed. Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians were now kindred "Baltic peoples." From April 14, 1947 in a category called 'The Baltics':

For centuries, Baltic peasants have labored for their feudal lords—Swedes, Russians, Poles, Germans. Today, the Baltic peasant serves an old master under a new form of serfdom. He serves Communist Russia. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were forced, at the point of Red Army guns, to join the Soviet Union in 1940. Ever since then, Russia's westward window on the Baltic Sea has been tightly shuttered.
You should read the whole article for its great description of life in Estonia after World War II. So much for historical revisionism here:

The Russians encourage migrations of their nationals to the Baltics, and the Russians like to come, because they find life there more agreeable than back home. "Russification" proceeds apace. In Tallinn, for example, birth announcements reveal half as many newborn Russians as Estonians. Many schools and churches are closed; Russian (as in Czarist days) has become the official language, and Communism the official religion.
And so they remained. Captive for 50 years. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the West never really did recognize the occupation of Estonia. And when the 'Baltic Republics' pressed for independence in the 1980s, or joined the EU and NATO in 2004, they remained a convenient trio.

They still remain that way. However, different memes are associated with the different countries. Current Estonian stories focus on "tech-savvy E-stonia" that has reoriented towards Scandinavia. Unfortunately, not much is written about Latvia and Lithuania in Time outside of their membership in NATO and, in Lithuania's case, it's relationship between Belarus, Poland, and Russia as a sort of cross-roads of Europe. If anybody can find something, please post it.

22 kommentaari:

McMad ütles ...

Great article mr.Giustino.
Ahh yes, the period propaganda that shows to the masses where something or somebody belongs, only to change with the new directive. Probably necessary, otherways the world seems too incoherent and people might get confused.
As for the "tech-savvy E-stonia", even Wired magazine managed to write about it with their usual boundless enthusiasm :D
As a matter of fact i'll be in E-stonia for the next 3 weeks. Saku beer, leivatort, grillviiner and so forth, here i come :P The best food in the world, no doubt about that, not good for my waistline though..

news ütles ...

It would be even more interesting to go back to pre 1914, as in those days the "Baltic Provinces", or "die Baltikum" of the Tsarist Emrpie comprises the guberniyas of Estland, Livland/Livonia and Courland/Couronia, that is without, what became Lithuania (then labouring under the name northwest territories and Kovno and Vilna guberniyas)and without the Grand Duchy of Finland.

The term "Baltic" has meant a number fo things throughout history. I travel along Baltic Street in Edinburgh, Scotland every day to work. Old trade links from British east coast ports to everywhere from Copenhagen to Narva to Danzig to Hamburg (Elbe St is close by).

Giustino ütles ...

That Vihtori Kosola gentleman reminds me of our own Tiit Madisson. Lapua = Lihula ;)

Per Aldaris ad astra ütles ...

Excellent point, Richard. During the interwar years the term 'Baltic State' was not as stable as it is now. It described several groupings of countries: (1) the broad definition included all the new states formed after the collapse of Czarist Russia (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland) (2) the slightly more narrow and more common definition left Poland out of the grouping (3) the traditional grouping was still as it is today: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (4) the narrowest definition included only Estonia and Latvia since these two countries, as noted, were formed from the Czarist gubernias known as The Baltic Provinces. Notice that Estonia and Latvia are included in every definition.

An intersting newspaper article from the 1920s that I recently came across nicely ties this post together with the discussion in the 'Latvianization' thread.

From Chicago Tribune Sept 26, 1928

Sweden Enrolls Latvia, Esthonia In Politcal Deal

By Donald Day
(Chicago Tribune Press Service)


Under the sponsorhip of Stockholm, Latvia and Esthonia have been proposed as candidates for the northern cultural alliance. Denmark, Norway and Finland are reported to have approved and hereafter the Letts and Esthonians will be invited to attend future Scandinavian conferences.

The visit of Esthonian president Jan Toenisson, to King Gustaf of Sweden this summer followed by the announcement that the king will visit Reval next year and also the first visit of the Latvian fleet to Stockholm are indications that Sweden is interested in the eastern shore of the Baltic which it once ruled for more than 100 years.

Swedish capital is already penetrating these countries.

Finland, whose culture is largely Swedish, was included in the Scandinavian league by Sweden shortly after it won independence from Russia and because of this the Finns have held aloof from alliances with Esthonia and Latvia, who have a defensive military agreement. The Finns are also anxious for Esthonia and Latvia to be included in the northern union, since these three states fear a future war with bolshevik Russia.


Obviously nothing came of the 'northern union' that was proposed to include Estonia and Latvia but it was widely discussed in the late '20s and early '30s.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Not to deny that much conscious effort went into this post-war "re-branding" project, but maybe one should also remember that as a concequence of our 700 years of history as an integral part of the Swedish Kingdom Finland got its religion, landowning structures (free - though of course heavily exploited - peasantry participating in Riksdag), local and national government, law, the second official language, a large minority population, countless of other commercial and social ties with Sweden etc. etc. - which we then had for natural building blocks of this Nordic identity. If we only look for deep material structures of society we can see Finland as a carbon copy of Sweden. In many ways closer actually to her than Denmark with her markedly more feudal and Central European structures. So, even though it was a conscious political project, it did not build on thin air.

Giustino ütles ...

So, even though it was a conscious political project, it did not build on thin air.

I agree. But one can also say the same thing about Lithuania, which was once part of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth tha extended to the Black Sea.

Within Estonia there are similar divisions between north (more Scandinavian influenced) and south (Livonia).

I am remarking on the use of the terminology. I had the idea that "Nordic" had been in use for time immemorial. But as far as English readers go, it looks like we are talking about 60-70 years in the present understanding.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Absolutely - I don't really disagree with your point at all, I just think that it's not perhaps quite the whole point.

I guess "Nordic" has come in much wider use in the past few decades at the cost of "Scandinavian". I believe - not being an expert - that in its present meaning it comes from the word Norden (Pohjola) that came into wider use with the post-WW2 formal co-operative inter-Nordic institutions. At that time Scandinavia was thought problematic as a term with Finland included. Of course, neither Denmark nor Iceland are situated in the Scandinavian peninsular though they speak a Scandinavian language and are obviously genetically related (though in Sweden you can see a more mixed population partly no doubt due to centuries of Finnish immigration).

These days it is not a very heated subject anyway, Finns of course tend to prefer "Nordic" but often Scandinavian is used in Denmark, Norway and Sweden - with their mutually understandable (though I still think that Swedes just pretend to understand spoken Danish) languages, there is an added "family feeling" no doubt. But we have been very nicely welcomed and are not seen as artificial intruders which is nice, of course.

Giustino ütles ...

I guess "Nordic" has come in much wider use in the past few decades at the cost of "Scandinavian".

Well, they decided to call it the "Nordic Stock Exchange" and the "Nordic Battle Group" -- so I guess it still has some currency in 2007.

"Scandinavian" reminds me of sweaters.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Yep, it looks like "Nordic" will gradually take over as a political cum cultural description leaving "Scandinavian" just for geography and linguistics. It's actually a very fascinating example of how identities evolve and are forged. They are not static nor self-evident things.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Giustino, you might want to stay away from gray as a font color, it shows poorly in some web browsers.

Giustino ütles ...

Here's another example:


Ari ütles ...

To add more data points, Google Books allows limiting searches based on release year. The main conclusions I reached while playing with it were that a) "Nordic" wasn't really used as a geographical or geopolitical term in 1917-1938, and b) it was easy to find examples of both books that count Finland as a Baltic country and books that don't.

In any case, doesn't this data call into question Ilves's theory that Finland became a Nordic country through its own public relations efforts? It seems that the reference group didn't change until the geopolitical situation changed and that any previous PR campaigns that may have existed had been mostly ineffectual.

Giustino ütles ...

In any case, doesn't this data call into question Ilves's theory that Finland became a Nordic country through its own public relations efforts? It seems that the reference group didn't change until the geopolitical situation changed and that any previous PR campaigns that may have existed had been mostly ineffectual.

We are unaware of when or how that effort began. What we do know is that Svinhufvud and Mannerheim were both of well-to-do, Sweded-connected families and they played obviously huge roles in the 1930s and 1940s.

My reading of the situation is that the Baltics -- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania -- were less institutionally "grown up", and Finland decided to go play with the big boys. I mean Konstantin Päts was a friggin' dictator. Finland remained a democracy. There's a big difference right there.

But today you might see the same thing from Estonia versus the other Baltics. Paet has said that there are many Nordic organizations that Estonia would like to join for its own benefit. Estonia is not developed enough or wealthy enough to be a Nordic Council member and support all those activities. But I think that the Nordics are understanding that the Estonians are willing to work, and they are willing to cooperate too. I am not sure to what degree the Lithuanians are interested.

Estonian expertise meshes well with a lot of Nordic cooperative endeavors -- IT, biotech, even the timber industry, for example.

Paet has said that Estonia wants to join the Nordic Investment Bank, the Nordic Gene Bank, the Nordic Joint Committee for Agricultural Research, the Nordic Centre for Spatial Development and the Nordic Innovation Centre.

So it's part of a longterm strategy of regional integration.

The problem with Baltic cooperation has always been, I think accurately pointed out, that it works with regards to Russian policies, but that European provincialism gets in the way of anything else, which is very sad.

I mean Estonians and Latvians live right next to each other, but how many Estonians know Latvian? That's quite odd, don't you think? When we were in Riga, we used Russian to get by (actually my wife used Russian, I tried English ... and failed). How pathetic. You think we could have bought a Latvian phrasebook and stammered through a few sentences.

Estonians, on the other hand, do know Finnish. Rein Lang, our justice minister, is fluent, as, I believe are many other people in the bureaucracy.

Cultural barriers still make it difficult to achieve true synergy. Because of the Finnish connection and cultural similarities, I think that Swedes and Finns treat Estonia as an extension of their country -- Estonia is not exactly a foreign market.

But think about the schism when dealing with Vilnius? There are all these currents there -- Polish connections, Belarussian connections, that lead you to feel a much closer connection to Central Europe. Where Estonians might know Finnish, Lithuanians might know Polish.

And have you noticed that there appear to be no Lithuanians posting on this blog? Are there even any Lithuanian blogs? What issues do they write about? See. There's a gulf that exists.

That's why I think Estonians seek to "brand" themselves in the cultural sphere this way. Baltic is a misnomer in this sense. I mean if the Lithuanians are Baltic, and the Estonians are Baltic, then what exactly does this mean, other than being a political football located next to Russia?

Anyway, there's a lot of issue to be discussed here, but I think the reality is that semantics matter, especially in the international context.

klx ütles ...

it only appears convenient on paper to those who don't really know much about the cultures and histories involved.

unless a something "baltic" was organized, like a "Benelux" style relationship, then there isn't such thing as an identity -- regardless of how often the baltic times throws the phrase around.

Ari ütles ...

We are unaware of when or how that effort began.

According to Ilves, the idea of four Baltic states "changed regarding Finland at the end of the 20s and the beginning of the thirties. Finland on the one coast, and Sweden on the other, adopted a policy of nordicization. Finland abandoned her earlier attempts to create a Baltic Union and decided to push to become a Nordic country." If we accept that Finland didn't become a Nordic country in the eyes of the world until the war years, that suggests any previous push failed as a branding exercise.

What we do know is that Svinhufvud and Mannerheim were both of well-to-do, Sweded-connected families and they played obviously huge roles in the 1930s and 1940s.

This is a minor point, but that description fits Mannerheim much better than Svinhufvud. Svinhufvud came from an old noble family, but it wasn't very wealthy. His father worked as a sea captain and died when he was young. In politics he was a leading Fennoman from way back and as such was never particularly connected with Sweden. Also, he didn't really play a huge role after the end of his term as president in 1937.

Tomi Ahti ütles ...

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, 1939:

"In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and U.S.S.R."

Everybody must have known that Finland by then had decided to try to get back to its Scandinavian surroundings which are, after all, more or less natural to its geopolitical situation and history.

But it was convenient for the USSR not to accept this aspiration. Stalin saw on Finland rather as a Russian "province" that had been temporarily lost. (According to president Koivisto in "Venäjän idea" - "The Idea of Russia" - this is one of the big themes in the Russian imperialistic history: once Russian, forever Russian.)

This was not the view of the Nazis but they decided to play along for the time being.

Sweden at least pretended to welcome Finland "back", but it's far from sure that they really were prepared to "transfer their border" next to the USSR. But they definitely did not accept the idea of Finland being "just one of the Baltic states".

Surely there must have been a few Americans who understood something about all this and who picked the name and context (Baltic, Scandinavian, Nordic) they used accordingly. But a large majority, I suppose, just went along with any practice they first happened to stumble on. So, I'm not sure if studying Time's archives can give any deep insights about the matter.

Anyway, Estonia's status, as stated in the M-R pact, got never challenged. To put it bluntly: Estonia remained a Baltic state because the Allies won the war. Then again, had Germany won ... well, perhaps Estonia would have become one of the "ancient German-Baltic provinces". Estonia's cards were even worse then those of Finland.

(As for Helsinki being Helsingfors, Turku Åbo and so on in Time's articles, well, Suomi is still Finland, isn't it? I suppose there are two reasons. Swedish was, after all, the only official language until the latter part of the 19th century and English is a Germanic language and a close relative to Swedish - so the Swedish names are almost English, so to speak.)

Giustino ütles ...

Anyway, Estonia's status, as stated in the M-R pact, got never challenged. To put it bluntly: Estonia remained a Baltic state because the Allies won the war.

So you are basically saying that the "Baltic Republic/State" idea was really cemented by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Veeerrry interesting.

I am interested where Estonia is going now. It makes sense for them to adopt "Nordic" as a marketing term because it describes them well -- their temperament (famously cold), their culture (saunas and skiing), their economy, etc.

People want to portray them as wannabes, but I don't think it's that simple. Estonia is building its country from a sort of repressed nation state into a 21st century European country, like the one directly across the water (which has its own problems by the way).

It makes sense that it would draw on these ancient fibers in constructing that kind of country. And because it has been a mostly successful process, it lends credit to the concept in the first place.

If the Swedes are willing to work with the Estonians on defense as semi-equal partners (with Norge and Suomi) then they must sense some commonality. My impression is that the Sweden-connected Lennart Meri may have brainwashed the current generation of Swedish foreign policy thinkers back in the early 1990s. It pays to be an old politician sometimes ;)

Maybe in about ten years I will write a book about it, given the process continues, because it certainly is interesting.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, I would absolutely welcome Estonia to the Nordic community - but for a Finn to advice such a path will very easily seem like patronizing. It is not easy to see from outside what is the best thing for another country to do. Perhaps a more Central European or Baltic direction would be more beneficial. Who can say. But of course it would be great to have Estonia (back) in the Nordic sphere, and have another non-Scandinavian family member. Because of Estonia's past I would think that it can quite legitimitely self choose which direction to take, certainly there are enough genuine historical foundations for a Nordic course. But first there should be an internal Estonian consensus on the issue - I'm not sure if one exists at the moment.

Giustino ütles ...

But first there should be an internal Estonian consensus on the issue - I'm not sure if one exists at the moment.

As far as interior decorating is concerned, I think they are well on their way.

klx ütles ...

I'm not sure if one exists at the moment.

i'm not sure consensus really matters on this issue -- after all, what is the alternative? IS there an alternative?

Ain Kendra ütles ...

Well, I think we should look also towards Königsberg to build somethiong better around Baltic Sea

Anonüümne ütles ...

It’s a very nice blog for...
I have been visiting blog for several months...
I would request you to write about Eco-friendly, green sustainable architectural designs...
architects in bangalore , architects in bangalore , interior designers in Bangalore , interior designers in Bangalore , architects in bangalore , architects in bangalore , interior designers in bangalore