reede, detsember 04, 2009

dead parrot

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.

20 kommentaari:

viimneliivlane ütles ...

Doesn´t it sound like the long arm of the Kremlin propaganda mill is reaching Brussels via England?

The evident question is - what would a conservative British journalist otherwise hope to achieve by badmouthing the three little Baltic countries?

What an unfortunate name is ´Laughland´ - possibly he´s a Russian planted in England?

Unknown ütles ...

Thing is, though, Russia's rewriting everyone's history:


The author goes on to make an extraordinary claim. He cites two speeches made in 1941 by Harry Truman, then a senator, and Winston Churchill, and summarises Western policy in 1941: “All these plans were essentially a continuation of the appeasement policy that the Western powers started in the prewar years.”

Which is a strange version of history. It seems the battle of Britain didn't happen. I wonder why all the building outside my window are post-war?

Julien Frisch ütles ...

Ma olen ka loe seda artikklid, and I also thought about commenting, but it was too obviously one-sided that I thought it wasn't worth the effort.

So thanks for doing it.

Although I don't think there is a final right or wrong and I think the Baltic perspective usually is overly anti-Russian and too nationalistic.

In the end, it is more about the question what the implications of each side of the story are today.

Bea ütles ...

I see how tiresome and annoying it is to repeat already proved and said facts just because some malicious people are ready to repeat their lies tirelessly. Thanks for writing it, though, Justin.
Find the book by A. E. Senn Lithuania 1940: Revolution from Above. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007 about the occupation of Lithuania. He was very careful with his statements, but the book still shows were were the Soviet lies, the Soviet aggression and occupation.

It is true that they made poets and writers to stand as ardent communist politicians in Lithuania as well. It is true that there were not many commies in Lithuania, etc.

Giustino ütles ...

I think the Baltic perspective usually is overly anti-Russian and too nationalistic.

There are several different perspectives, at least in Estonia. The political class is not monolithic. Some views are presented as "the Estonian view," but they are not. Most people agree that what happened in 1940 was not legitimate, but that's not saying much, as most people familiar with the story agree that what happened was illegitimate, period.

Contrast with that Russia, where there is one view, United Russia's view. They are basically picking fights with some of Estonia's more conservative politicians, or trying to marginalize them. Why would they then dispatch their representatives to Edgar Savisaar's party congress to give him their blessing?

antyx ütles ...

and I think the Baltic perspective usually is overly anti-Russian and too nationalistic.

Just because we're paranoid...

Julien Frisch ütles ...

No, it's not paranoia, it's rather an understandable fear (by some) based on past experiences and part of the construction of one's own national identity.

Ma saan aru aga ma ei nõustu sellega. :-)

Troels-Peter ütles ...

I'm always interested in hearing news from the Russian front wherever it may be. So thanks for writing about it.

Адам ütles ...

It's almost as if Laughland needed a last-minute ranting-styled article, opened up a Russian school history textbook and performed a number of copy and pastes.

It'd be interesting to hear his take on the foundation of St. Petersburg - how it was just an 'empty swamp' before the glorious Peter I strode forth, freed it from the Swedes and built his mini-European play city there.

(This is where a good Eddie Izzard reference about American colonialists and the Native Americans comes in to complement the Monty Python: "There's nobody here! .. excuse me .. Yes. A land empty of human existen- who the f### are these guys?")

Unknown ütles ...

Surely this must be a follow-up to a previous article titled "The Russification of the Baltics Served a Geopolitical Purpose"?
Admittedly I am having some trouble finding it in his back catalogue.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Well, making this bigger than it is would be one useful trick, saying that this straight from the Kremlin.
And indeed this might be. The names at the end of the story are famous former politicians turned Kremlin representatives in both official and "non-governmental" capacity, several famous ones - in Russia - on Moscow payroll. Don't know anything about French professor though.

Unknown ütles ...

"what would a conservative British journalist otherwise hope to achieve by badmouthing the three little Baltic countries?"

Since he's a conservative, the standard "useful idiot" soviet sympathizing pinko journo explanation doesn't apply.

One theory (apart from economic motivations) would be a British conservative's proclivity to sympathize with other fallen empires. Russification of these peripheral upstarts was nothing more than Russia carrying the White Man's Burden.

Accepting the idea of indigenous ethnic groups having a right to self-determination on their ancestral lands would just lead to the sort of horrid nationalist thinking that would further erode Britain. If we can have a free Eesti, why not a free Cymru and a free Alba?

Rainer ütles ...

Good point, Unigolyn.

"Russification of these peripheral upstarts was nothing more than Russia carrying the White Man's Burden."

Therein lie an interesting paradox - the peripheral upstarts in question were the carriers of Western culture, two of them even Protestant, which should touch the soul strings of even the most hardened jingoists. White Man's Burden or not, what ever happened to the East is East...?

Tymen Ferron ütles ...

What about native americans? Why shouldn't they have their own state(s)? European man did a much better job in beating them into submission than the Russians or Teutonic knights ever managed to do with the Estonians.

Rainer ütles ...

Indeed, why not, Tymen?
Trying hard not to turn this into a pissing contest I must point out that the difference between the levels of developement where bigger between the American natives and the white men, therefore the native's predicament was also greater.

Kristopher ütles ...

Don't regret writing Dead Parrot. Very necessary and clear analysis. I hope you sent it to Laughalot.

Unknown ütles ...

Tymen - partly because "Native American" is far too much of a catch-all term.

It makes about as much sense as saying "Africa should be given to the Africans". Well, which Africans? What tribe gets what land? It's all the more complicated by the nomadic nature of a lot of tribes.

That kind of pre-metallurgical hunter-gatherer society doesn't have room for it in the modern world, and it's always seemed to me that the Native American "movement" has always been aimed more at the preservation of this way of life than the self-determination and nationhood of any particular ethnic group.

This may also have to do with the fact that Canada and the US are not ethnic states in the sense that Russia and Estonia are.

Anyway, I just don't think one can draw too many parallels between the two. One is literally a clash of civilizations, the other more of a "might makes right" philosophy towards the pecking order of ethnic nation states.

Giustino ütles ...

What about native americans? Why shouldn't they have their own state(s)? European man did a much better job in beating them into submission than the Russians or Teutonic knights ever managed to do with the Estonians.

Many long tedious books could be written in response to that question. Best not to get me started.

Pertti ütles ...

He should continue to explain that to restore historically correct status quo ante Finland should be reunited with Russia ASAP.

Unknown ütles ...

Thanks for this post. We need people like you reading and answering these articles.