LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 25, No.2 - Summer 1979
Editor of this issue: V. Stanley Vardys
Copyright © 1979 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
V. Stanley Vardys and Romuald J. Misiūnas, edts. The Baltic States in Peace and War, 1917-1945. University Park, London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978. Map. $14.00.
The Baltic States in Peace and War, 1917-1945 consists of essays originally presented at various Baltic studies conferences and revised specifically for this publication. The editors, Professors Vardys and Misiūnas, are active members of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies which cooperated in the publication of this volume. The editors are well known scholars in the field whose published works include books and articles on post-World War II Lithuania and the dissident movements in the Soviet Union.
The selection of essays in Baltic States can, perhaps, be best described as impressionistic. For example, Part I, "The Road to Independence," consists of three essays: one on Estonian self-government in 1917 and two on Germany's expansionist policies in the Baltic area during and immediately after World War I. Thus, it is obvious that this part leaves out many important topics directly associated with the Baltic struggle for freedom, including the development of self-government in Latvia and Lithuania as well as Russia's version of expansionism during the same period. The same impressionistic approach is found in other parts of the book, indicating that its treatment of the historical period in question is selective rather than comprehensive.
I feel that one of the principal contributions of Baltic States to scholarship is in its introduction of a number of essays in specialized areas where the literature in English is either nonexistent or grossly inadequate. I would put in this category Olavi Arens' "The Estonian Maapaev During 1917," Aba Strazhas' "The Land Oberost and its place in Germany's Ostpolitik," Michael Garleff's "Ethnic Minorities in the Estonian and Latvian Parliaments: The Politics of Coalition," Julius Slavenas' "General Hans von Seeckt and the Baltic Question," and David Kirby's "Morality or Expediency? The Baltic Question in British-Soviet Relations, 1941-1942." These essays are valuable to scholars who specialize in contemporary Baltic history and politics and to anyone who is interested in the Baltic experience as a case in Twentieth century European nation building and struggle for the preservation of national independence.
Other essays deal with broader subjects and, therefore, are of greater interest to the general reader. They include Vardys's "The Rise of the Authoritarian Rule in the Baltic States," Alexander Dallin's "The Baltic States Between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia," and Boris Meissner's "The Baltic Question in World Politics." I found Vardys' essay on Baltic authoritarianism especially noteworthy. He handles this frequently misunderstood and highly controversial subject in a lucid and balanced way. Vardys points out the similarities and differences of the authoritarian rule in the three Baltic States and places it in the larger context of European authoritarianism. He attributes the emergence of the authoritarian regimes to a number of internal factors and concludes that Baltic authoritarianism essentially consisted of "largely nonideological arbitrary governments of predominantly rural, conservative character, restrained by the leaders' self-imposed limitations and by the old social pluralism, which the rulers merely contained rather than destroyed."
The last essay is Misiūnas' "Soviet Historiography on World War II and the Baltic States, 1944-1974." Here the author shows how Soviet historiography reflects the vicissitudes of the Kremlin power struggles. Misiūnas also points out that even today little research has been done by the Soviet historians on the Baltic states during the war period. Apparently, the party officialdom still regards this subject as too sensitive for large-scale public airing.
The Baltic States in Peace and War, 1917-1945 is a significant contribution to the growing but still sparse literature on the recent history of the Baltic nations. It will be useful to scholars and informative to the general reader. The editors and the authors are to be commended for their effort in a field where much work still remains to be done.
University of Indiana at Fort Wayne