LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 38, No.3 - Fall 1992
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas, University of Rochester
Copyright © 1992 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
THE ORIGINS AND GROWTH OF BALTIC NATIONALISM AS A FORCE FOR INDEPENDENCE
The University of Texas
The Baltic states clearly sustained a more prolonged and well-focused movement for sovereignty than the other former Soviet republics. The Baltic states were the first to test the limits of the Kremlin's patience and power and to lead the challenge against continued Soviet hegemony. Indeed, the persistent Baltic quest for independence was a key factor in raising early conservative concerns about Mikhail Gorbachev's abilities as a leader, and the Baltic independence movements helped usher in the new union treaty which was to have been signed on August 20,1991. The scheduled signing of that new union treaty appears to have triggered the coup d'etat, which served as a pivotal event in the transformation of the Soviet Union. Not only did the Baltic states hold out autonomy and independence as a viable goal when such an ambition was nearly unthinkable, but they figured decisively in the developments leading to the final, failed attempt by conservatives to derail even moderate reform. The steadfast Baltic drive for autonomy and independence is rooted in the intense nationalistic identity of the Baltic people, born of centuries of a unique interplay of factors contributing to this strong sense of nationalism.
The clash between Baltic nationalists and anti-secessionists within the Soviet Union grew out of a struggle between the Baltic region's organic nationalism and the Kremlin's contrived nationalism, crafted for political expediency and traditionally reliant on military backing. Josef Stalin depended on brute force to instill a sense of "Soviet nationalism" in order to unite the USSR against Western interference. With little more success, Mikhail Gorbachev relied more on exhortation than repression to rally nationalism among the Soviet people. Whatever the tactics, this manufactured nationalism, reliant on intimidation, indoctrination, and the integration of Russian people and policy into the non-Russian republics, failed to ever develop into a broad-based, cohesive sense of Soviet national identity.
Baltic nationalism on the other hand, derives primarily from an internally-initiated, organic sense of national identity. It survived, even flourished, under adversity, and it enjoyed extraordinarily popular support. It is this genuine and enduring national identity that sustained the Baltic states in their fight for independence. Even before the failed coup d'etat forced Gorbachev to abandon attempts at holding the rebellious Baltic states in line in order to concentrate on damage control within the Soviet central power structure, support for armed imposition of Soviet "nationalism" throughout the Baltic republics was wavering among the Soviet people and key officials in the Kremlin.
Geography played an important role in the early development of the Baltic region. The area had a degree of natural protection from eastern invaders by an expanse of marshes and lakes separating it from the Russian interior. By contrast, the western border, on the Baltic Sea, attracted commercial development as well as foreign conquest. In ancient times, the Baltic seacoast served as a portal through which Oriental goods flowed to western European markets. This lucrative trade brought impressive early development to Baltic seaports such as Riga, which joined the Hanseatic League in 1282 and quickly became a major cultural and economic center on the Baltic Sea. Baltic Sea commerce also led to the growth of remote trading posts into such major cities as Kiev.1 The Baltic region's strategic location and the fact that historically it has been more economically advanced than most of the Russian empire have helped nurture a proud nationalistic identity, but have caused the Soviet Union to covet it as a decidedly indispensable possession. The enduring economic vitality of the region has reinforced the notion of Baltic superiority and was a major factor in sustaining widespread resentment toward imposed Soviet economic policies.
The fact that nationalistic Baits have made the preservation of native languages a top priority in the face of Soviet efforts to subjugate the Baltic languages underscores the importance of language as another key ingredient of nationalism. Baltic languages and literatures have served as both sources of and vehicles for national pride. Language differences were primarily responsible for the initial subdivision of the Baltic region into areas that would become Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The first major language group was of Finno-Ugric origin. The Baltic tribes who spoke the first language subgroup settled into what is today Estonia, and those of the second subgroup established themselves to the south along the coastline of what is now Latvia. The second major language group belonged to the family of Indo-European languages. These tribes settled into the area that would later become Lithuania and Eastern Prussia.2 As these tribes coalesced into more sedentary "national" units, the preliminary boundaries of the future Baltic states were formed. In Lithuania, King Mindaugas was crowned in 1253.
Religion has also influenced the birth and development of Baltic nationalism. As a result of early and vigorous competition between Rome and Constantinople to spread competing brands of Christianity throughout Europe, Baltic pagans, by the 11th century, found themselves flanked to the southeast by a Christianized Kiev, and to the southwest by the newly Christianized Polish state. At the same time, they faced armed Christian German missionaries who began arriving along the Baltic coastline. Repeated and overlapping efforts to conquer and Christianize the Baltic pagans produced few sincere converts. In fact, for nearly two centuries, the Baltic people were protected in a pagan "bubble" while the outside Christian forces, due to their mutual hostilities, kept each other at bay.3
The German Teutonic Order secured its hold on the area by the 13th century and, following the Reformation, Estonians, and most Latvians, converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism.4 With the marriage of Lithuania's Prince Jogaila and Poland's Queen Jadwiga in 1386, Lithuania was Christianized and is still predominantly Catholic. When Lithuania was under Russian control, especially during the 19th century, the Russians censured religious loyalties other than those to the Russian Orthodox Church. Catholics in particular were persecuted, but the Russians were never able to significantly weaken Lithuanian ties with the Catholic Church.
The Baltic pagans resisted Christianization longer than their neighbors had, and when Christianization did occur, it took Protestant and Catholic forms distinctly contrary to the Russian Orthodox line. Baltic religious attitudes not only evolved in a unique way, but, as importantly, in a way counter to Russian and Soviet designs. Religion has therefore not only been a key factor in the unique unfolding of the Baltic identity, it has traditionally been a haven for the forces of nationalism and a focal point for anti-Soviet sentiment. With the advent of glasnost and perestroika, local priests reemerged as community leaders, and many church buildings became community "bulletin boards" used to post anti-Soviet banners as well as notices of public gatherings and tributes to slain freedom fighters. As such, Baltic churches served an important dual role as both spiritual and political centerpieces of the community.
The earliest legal and political systems in the Baltic region were little more than self-contained tribal hierarchies based on bloodlines and concerned primarily with the immediate affairs of the tribes. However, in the early 13th century, the lower Baltic tribes coordinated their efforts to repel German invaders. Once successful, the Lithuanian princes remained united and expanded Lithuanian territory eastward to Kiev. In so doing, they laid the groundwork for an early, large Lithuanian state which served as a barrier against the Tartars, who had already laid siege to Moscow virtually suspending any trends toward modernization and introducing the legacy of oriental despotism which still haunts Soviet political ideology.5
The union of Poland and Lithuania resulting from the marriage of Jogaila and Jadwiga helped Lithuania gain recognition as part of a more sophisticated legal and political entity by the rest of Europe. Moreover, Jogaila, the former Lithuanian prince, was determined to keep Lithuania intact as an autonomous state within the Polish kingdom. Jogaila's cousin, Vytautas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, adopted the Polish model of using local nobles as officials at the provincial level, thereby empowering them to act upon provincial and local matters without approval from Poland.6 Although the Union of Lublin, signed in 1569, required the Lithuanian Grand Duchy to defer to the Polish king, it also guaranteed Lithuania the right to maintain its own administration and army.7 Until Russia took it in 1795, Lithuania enjoyed an extraordinarily high degree of political autonomy. The result was a Lithuania, well protected from outsiders, with a unique opportunity to make its own decisions, for the most part, and cultivate its sense of nationalism.
Similarly, the northern states of Latvia and Estonia enjoyed a long period of remarkably enlightened rule under Sweden following the decline of the Teutonic Order. Although Sweden did have a noble class, its peasants had never been subjected to serfdom. In fact, they were allowed representation in the Riksdag, or Swedish parliament, and the extraordinary right to sue their own masters in court.8 These legal rights were extended to the Baltic peasants during the course of Swedish rule. By 1632, Gustavas Adolphus, son of Sweden's King Karl, had established the Academia Gustaviana at Tartu with the expressed purpose of making higher education available to Latvians and Estonians of all classes.9
Following the rule of Gustavas, Sweden's King Charles ordered a complete survey of all Baltic land under Swedish rule. He then set up a more equitable and efficient tax system under which the peasants were no longer exploited by the aristocracy, most of whom were the remnants of the Teutonic landed class. Charles directed more funds into schools and public facilities for the peasants, and, in 1681, issued a decree officially freeing Baltic peasants from serfdom. This period of more enlightened Swedish rule nurtured Baltic nationalism and provided the Baltic region stability and security from less enlightened outside forces. It stood in sharp contrast to the period of harsh Russian rule that would soon follow.
Russian domination of Estonia and parts of Latvia began in 1721 when, after years of fighting, Swedish rule was broken with the signing of the Treaty of Nystad. Sweden relinquished control of the Baltic region north of Lithuania to the Russians.10 Tsar Peter the Great had already demonstrated his belief in the strategic importance of the Baltic region when, in 1703, he moved the Russian capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg to reorient the empire toward the Baltic Sea and make Russia a major maritime power. Russian determination to control the Baltic seacoast proved once again that the region's enviable geographic setting could be a liability as well as an asset.
Baltic resistance against Russian occupation was dealt with harshly. Thousands who had supported the Swedish army were put to death, and most of the privileges of self-government and self-administration granted under the Swedish government were immediately revoked. Although Tsar Peter aimed to reap the benefits of Westernizing Russia, he put in place in the Baltic region the same autocratic political system with which he had controlled Russia itself. Peasants were returned to serfdom and Peter gave his newly-appointed imperial governors near-absolute power to subdue Baltic resistance. Peter allowed some previously established Teutonic aristocrats to retain their lands under Russian rule, but he kept them under strict control and exploited their ties with the West to promote his campaign of Westernization.
Frustrated with the insensitivity of the Baltic aristocracy, Latvian and Estonian peasants began, perhaps ironically, to appeal directly to the Russian government for help. Some even abandoned the Baltic Lutheran Church and made overtures to the leaders of the Russian Orthodoxy to gain greater acceptance among Russians. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, groups such as the Young Latvians pressed for and won legislation granting Baltic peasants the right to lease and eventually buy land.
Economic and industrial development in the Baltic region, which greatly surpassed that of Russia itself at that time, drew many displaced peasants into the cities where a rapidly growing middle class was spawning a great cultural awakening and renewed interest in things distinctly Latvian and Estonian. Latvian literature flourished, and newspapers such as the Petersburgas Avizes inspired new efforts to express the Latvian national identity.11 In Estonia, the economic and cultural resurgence gave rise to literary and scholarly societies dedicated to the publication of works in Estonian.
Despite these swelling undercurrents of nationalist expression, Estonia and Latvia were not yet about to become free and sovereign states under the leadership of a dynamic middle class. The landed aristocracy, mostly of Germanic descent, still controlled most of the land. In addition, the increasingly centralized Russian government continued efforts at Russification of Estonia and Latvia through World War I.
Lithuania was occupied by the Russian empire following the three partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian state in 1772, 1793, and 1795. Following the Polish and Lithuanian insurrection of 1863, Russia took complete political control of Lithuania and began a concerted effort to conquer Lithuania culturally by widening the rift between it and the Polish realm. To this end the Tsar granted Lithuanian peasants more generous terms for land purchase than had been available under the Polish and Lithuanian lords, in fact, more generous terms than the Tsar had offered peasants elsewhere within the Russian empire.12
While trying to win Lithuanian loyalty away from Poland with agricultural reforms. Tsar Alexander II paradoxically initiated a massive campaign of Russification aimed at erasing Catholicism and the Lithuanian language throughout the entire country. Catholic churches and monasteries were systematically shut down and clergy and worshipers were harassed and attacked. At the same time, Alexander used government funds extensively to build and furnish new Orthodox churches throughout Lithuania. In addition, he issued a decree prohibiting printed matter in the Lithuanian language, and he barred native Lithuanians from teaching in public schools.13 The Lithuanian Catholic Church was forced underground and the language itself might have been eradicated had it not been for early 19th-century German and Polish scholars who, intrigued by the language's ancient and unique roots, had already taken a large body of Lithuanian literature out of the country to study. These scholars corresponded with nationalist intellectuals in Lithuania.14
Along with the newly-found appreciation of Lithuanian language and literature during the early 19th century, an emerging middle class produced a new generation of intellectuals who, unlike the educated aristocracy before them, did not exchange their Lithuanian identity for that of the culturally dominant Poles. Even after the prohibition of 1864 of Lithuanian printed matter, Lithuanian newspapers such as Auszra, founded by Dr. Jonas Basanavičius, were printed outside of Lithuania and smuggled in, exhorting Lithuanians to cling stubbornly to their sense of national identity.15
Following World War I, the Baltic states gained independence from Russia drained by war and revolution. Despite the language of the Treaty of Versailles proclaiming that the "advanced nations" of the global community had a "sacred" responsibility to nurture the newly-freed nations of the world, idealistic support for Baltic independence took a back seat to Western concerns over the spread of Bolshevism. Western aid, given somewhat reluctantly, was intended not so much to encourage Baltic nationalism as to help establish a barrier against Soviet Bolshevism and block the flow of German arms through the Baltic states to the fledgling Soviet Bolshevik government which the United States and its allies were trying at the time to topple. Allied leaders, meeting in Versailles, decided to impose a naval blockade of the Baltic Sea, hoping this show of force, along with armed Baltic assistance, would stop German arms shipments to the Bolsheviks. On June 13, 1919, Clemenceau proposed publicizing through the press the Allies' threatened blockade. Western leaders hoped that the mere display of Allied military might in the region would preclude any need for military action. Woodrow Wilson's comments reflected the group's reluctance to become any more deeply involved when he said, "What I wish to avoid is a threat which might be carried out." Western aid to the Baltic nations was based on somewhat shortsighted goals and was unable to undo Soviet Bolshevism, but it did help nationalist forces to prevail over Bolshevik elements within the Baltic states by strengthening the independent Baltic militaries and bringing self confidence to the new nationalist governments within each country.16
Perhaps sensing the precarious nature of their new-found independence, Baltic leaders scrambled to consolidate power within their fledgling governments and to project a strong sense of national identity among their fellow countrymen as well as world leaders. Lithuanian leaders garnered popular support by initiating land reform. They also strove to establish an effective army, and began fielding diplomats in an attempt to strengthen ties with the world community.
Lithuania's leader, Antanas Smetona, advocated a well-organized national movement to promote solidarity and an appreciation for Lithuanian tradition. In the rush toward nationalism, these patriotic endeavors sometimes resulted in overzealous government-sponsored programs bordering on totalitarianism, as when nationalistic indoctrination became policy within the Lithuanian public school system.17
Between 1922 and 1925 the three Baltic countries joined Poland and Finland in a Baltic League for protection against outside aggression, particularly from the Soviet Union and Germany. Within a few years, however, the League collapsed due to disagreement over military and political contingency plans, as well as a perception of diminished danger resulting from promises of non-aggression by the Soviet Union.18
Although not always successful in their efforts during this period, the Baltic nations did gain valuable experience as independent states dealing with other major political powers on the world stage. A mere two decades of independence may seem brief in a larger historical context, but it provided for international recognition of the three states as sovereign nations, and it gave a stamp of legitimacy to the culmination of centuries of growing nationalism. In addition, it was time enough to establish internal political and legal systems, and for an entire generation to pass from birth into adulthood as free citizens. The importance of an entire generation's being raised as free citizens of sovereign nations should not be overlooked as a critical factor in the reinforcement of nationalism.
The post-World War I era of triumphant nationalism ended abruptly after August 23, 1939, when the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression treaty gave Germany free access to Poland in exchange for unchallenged Soviet occupation of the Baltic states. Citing the Baltic need for Soviet protection from Germany, Soviet troops took over military bases in all three republics by October 1939. The Kremlin disbanded the Baltic parliaments and drew up a new list of parliamentary candidates. On July 14th and 15th of 1940, the Kremlin's candidates were "voted" into office in elections closely monitored by the Soviet secret police. Shortly thereafter, these new parliaments approved full annexation by the Soviet Union.19 Although the Kremlin certainly showed no intention of allowing the republics autonomy, it could be argued that Soviet recognition of each state as a distinct political subordinate was tacit acknowledgment of the right of each to exist as an individual entity. Such recognition also amounted to an admission that effective subjugation of groups with well-developed national identities, such as the Baltic peoples required granting at least a degree of autonomy.
Armed Baltic resistance to this new round of Soviet occupation was fierce but futile. During the first few years of Soviet occupation, tens of thousands of Baltic citizens who opposed Soviet domination were deported to the U.S.S.R. In Lithuania alone, 36,000 Lithuanian partisans were killed fighting the Soviet army between 1944 and 1954, and as many as 35,000 were deported to the Soviet Union in a single day in the summer of 1940.20
Stalin renewed efforts at Russifying the Baltic states by bringing in heavy industry along with thousands of Russian citizens to operate it. Moscow saw this as a way to legitimately integrate Russian influence into the tightly-knit Baltic communities. Although these "imported" Russians still conspicuously lack true integration into Baltic society, they have formed, over the years, a large enough percentage of the population to sustain a significant pro-Soviet element in the Baltic states providing an inside track for Moscow to exercise direct influence within the republics.
Baltic industry was sluggish under Soviet control, however, and in 1957 Kruschchev allowed the formation of National Economic Councils to give the states much greater administrative control of the industrial sector. With 80 percent of industrial enterprise managed by the republics themselves, as opposed to only 10 percent previously, the long-standing Baltic infrastructure of a skilled labor force and technological expertise led to certain economic boom. By 1968, the per capita income in Estonia alone exceed the Soviet average by 44 percent.21 Sensing the threat that a vital and semi-autonomous Baltic economy might pose to Soviet control, the Kremlin rescinded most of the privileges of self-management. Not until Gorbachev reintroduced increased economic self-management policies in the mid-1980s, did Baltic industry again demonstrate its superiority.
Repression of the Lithuanian Catholic Church was another major Soviet tactic aimed at eroding Baltic nationalism. Just prior to Soviet involvement in World War II, the Kremlin softened its harsh treatment of the Catholic Church in order to encourage Baltic allegiance in light of the impending German threat. While initiating administrative restrictions intended to limit Church growth and influence, the Kremlin made repeated, yet unsuccessful, overtures toward the Vatican hoping to improve the Kremlin's image among Soviet Catholics. After the defeat of Germany, however, Moscow resumed its heavy-handed tactics and by 1947, Stalin had deported or executed all Lithuanian bishops but one.22
The Russian language was imposed upon the Baltic people throughout this period, but Baltic languages survived through literature and family traditions. Western emigre groups maintained contact with Baltic nationalist groups through the old Baltic legations in Washington and New York. The missions were, of course, not recognized by Moscow, so they have depended on private donations and income from properties owned by the old republics. In recent years, the legations have been overwhelmed with requests for unofficial Baltic passports, coveted as symbols of nationalist patriotism back home in the Baltic republics.23 Now (in 1992), they are regular embassies.
Despite these vigorous efforts to reduce or eradicate the various elements that have contributed to Baltic nationalism, the Kremlin entered the 1990s facing a set of Baltic nationalist movements which were stronger and more determined than ever. Lithuania emerged with the most active and cohesive of these independence movements, Sajudis, shortly after Gorbachev rose to power and promised to ensure "the highest possible level of initiative and independence at the local level," and "the right of nations to self-determination."24 Sajudis's original expressed intent was to support Gorbachev's implementation of perestroika, and to help focus the efforts of the Lithuanian masses whose hopes for autonomy had been rekindled. By May of 1989, however, the movement had gained such momentum that the Lithuanian legislature declared its intentions for eventual sovereignty, made plans to mint its own currency, and restored Lithuanian as the official language. At a joint meeting of the Baltic states in Tallinn in May 1989, delegates from the three republics used interpreters in order to communicate in their native languages rather than use Russian. Other symbols of nationalism flourished, including widespread displays of the former national flags and anti-Soviet banners posted outside of Catholic churches.25
Gorbachev, at first, seemed to be encouraging Baltic hopes for autonomy. On July 27, 1989, he defied conservatives by convincing the Soviet parliament to allow the Baltic states to implement their own economic programs beginning January 1, 1990. This plan allowed self-determination of tax policies, internal budgeting, pricing, financial markets, international commerce, and use of natural resources.26 The offer was warmly welcomed by most Baltic independence leaders and it gained further legitimacy when it was endorsed by the widely popular dissident, Andrei Sakharov. Most Baltic citizens saw this as tacit Soviet approval for a continued move toward autonomy. Rather than aiming for Baltic independence through these economic reforms, Gorbachev probably envisioned a dynamic Baltic economy which, harnessed securely to the rest of the Soviet Union, could pull the entire country out of the economic mire.
In August 1989, a Gorbachev-appointed commission publicly acknowledged the existence of the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which had allowed Soviet occupation of the Baltic states. This acknowledgment ignited a firestorm of reawakened nationalist sentiment as an estimated one-fourth of the Baltic states' eight million people took to the streets in protest, forming a 370-mile human chain across the three republics. Despite Kremlin recognition of the collusive nature of the pact. Soviet authorities argued that since the pact did not result directly in the annexation of the republics, its invalidity did not render the annexation itself invalid. The commission had prudently blamed the signing of the pact on Stalin personally, and the Kremlin argued that the republics' parliaments, those parliaments filled in 1940 with Kremlin-selected candidates, had voluntarily joined the Soviet Union.27
Baltic tempers flared and nationalist movements gained strength. In September 1989, the Lithuanian legislature declared that the republic's parliament had acted illegally and against the will of the people in 1940 when it accepted the Soviet Union's annexation of the Baltic region. In December 1989, the Lithuanian Communist Party separated from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and formed a pro-independence party known as the Lithuanian Democratic Party. In February of 1990, Sajudis-sponsored candidates won 72 of the 90 seats up for election in the Lithuanian parliament, giving the movement a slim majority in the 141-member parliament. This signaled a clear popular rejection of the ruling Communist party's status quo.28
Under conservative pressure to quell the increasing displays of nationalistic fervor, Gorbachev visited Lithuania in January 1990 arguing that "no republic can live without the other republics... We're all tied together now."29 Despite his pleas, the sweeping parliamentary victories had convinced the Sajudis-dominated parliament that it represented the will of the people. It declared Lithuanian independence to become effective on March 11,1990, saying that "...the sovereign rights of the Lithuanian state, which were violated by a foreign power in 1940, are restored and—henceforth, Lithuania is again an independent state."30 Gorbachev quickly replied with a congressional decree stating that although each republic did have the right under Article 72 to secede, "pending the establishment by law of the procedure for an consequences of secession from the Soviet Union," the Lithuanian declaration was invalid.31 Furthermore, the Kremlin warned, through Soviet newspapers such as the Selskaya Zhizn, that the Soviet Union pumped billions more in goods into the republics than it took out each year, and that, unless the restive states cooperated, such generous support could not continue.32 In addition, the number of Soviet military exercises in and around Vilnius increased dramatically.
Having threatened economic retaliation, backed up by a reinforced Soviet military presence, Gorbachev urged cooperation by trying to appeal to a sense of union-wide nationalism. He reiterated his view that the republics were interdependent, and stressed his obligation to protect the non-native Lithuanians living within the state. Some of the non-native minority population had formed loyalist movements, such as Unify in Lithuania, but polls taken at the time indicated that many non-natives actually supported independence.33
Lithuanian president Vytautas Landsbergis assured Gorbachev that non-native Lithuanians' rights would be protected and that Lithuania hoped for a peaceful secession, but he repeated the firm stance that Soviet rejection of Lithuanian independence was "without legal foundation." In addition, Lithuanian nationalists began setting up border checkpoints and forming a state militia.34 On April 14, 1990, Gorbachev warned the Lithuanian parliament to reverse its decree of independence, to quit encouraging resistance to military conscription, and to stop attempts at certification of Lithuanian citizenship. He gave the state two days to comply or face an economic embargo. On April 20th, the Kremlin imposed a strict oil and gas embargo on the republic which lasted until June 29th when Lithuanian leaders agreed to a 100-day moratorium on the independence declaration. Petroleum reserves are probably the most conspicuous and critical resource the Baltic states lack, and Gorbachev clearly knew how crippling such an embargo would be. The blockade was certainly not a complete victory for Soviet forces, however. Western political reprobation as well as Soviet economic losses resulting from the embargo helped motivate a resolution to the crisis. Some reports say the blockade was actually costlier for the USSR than for Lithuania in terms of lost production and trade.35
Gorbachev again tried to rally union-wide nationalism by holding a referendum that would give the states increased autonomy but would force them to renounce further independence goals. In reality, most of the republics were already acting more autonomously than Gorbachev's reforms proposed, since many states had been refusing to exchange goods or ship products to Russia to fulfill quotas. The Baltic states, along with others, boycotted Gorbachev's referendum. In fact, on February 9, 1991, Lithuania held its own referendum, in which an overwhelming majority voted in favor of continuing to pursue independence. Four days before that vote, Gorbachev had declared the Lithuanian referendum illegal. At least fourteen Lithuanians were killed in clashes with Soviet soldiers following the voting, as nationalists occupied key public buildings refusing to surrender them to Soviet troops. Gorbachev denied ordering the killings, but he had clearly set the tone for direct military intervention when, in December, he had authorized military force to protect Communist property in the republic.36 These confrontations showed the extent of resolve on both sides.
On March 17, 1991, Gorbachev held a nationwide referendum on the future of the Soviet Union. The question posed was structured to result in a pro-union verdict: "Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics in which the human rights and freedoms of people of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?"37 Although nationalists in six republics, including the Baltic states, boycotted the vote, Gorbachev garnered just enough votes to approve the non-binding proposal. His narrow victory was probably a reflection of public concern over general nationwide political and economic instability rather than a clear vote against Baltic nationalism per se or an indication that a cohesive sense of nationalism was sweeping the Soviet Union.
Despite some setbacks, Baltic nationalist movements, especially Lithuania's retained their vitality. Notwithstanding years of Russian and Soviet measures designed to undermine Baltic nationalism, the three republics kept alive a durable sense of national identity born of those key elements of history, geography, language, religion, economics, and legal and political systems. Determination for complete independence in the republics flourished. In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, those critical factors contributing to a durable and cohesive sense of nationalism have never been organically sustained on a union-wide basis. Therefore, a strong and binding Soviet nationalism never did exist.
Just prior to the coup d'etat, it was difficult to forecast the fate of the Baltic states. Gorbachev was retreating into an increasingly autocratic stance in hopes of retaining his power base. He seemed to be pandering to Communists and hardliners within the military and KGB. In some ways he seemed more interested in reforming the failed Stalinist system than in instituting genuine democracy and a free-market system. Although there had been incidents involving the use of excessive military force under Gorbachev, he had not demonstrated a reliance on the brutality of his predecessors. The landslide election of reformer Boris Yeltsin as president of the huge Russian republic had certainly indicated to Gorbachev that radical reform, and greater state autonomy as advocated by Yeltsin, had broad popular support.
On March 21, 1990, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, citing a need to "clear the air about the Soviet domination of Lithuania," attached a non-binding rider to a clean-air bill in the Senate. Helms's bill, calling for Washington's recognition of Lithuanian independence, was defeated. He revised the bill to say that it merely "urges the president to consider" recognizing Lithuanian independence. This second version passed.38
President Bush himself resisted confronting Gorbachev for fear of jeopardizing the unprecedented close relationship between the White House and Kremlin, particularly during the recent Gulf War in which Bush was determined to construct and maintain a strong international alliance against Iraq. Indeed, the United States was one of the last major western powers to re-establish official diplomatic recognition of the Baltic states waiting until September 2, just days before the Soviet Union recognized formal independence. Bush cited his desire to avoid further agitation of the already delicate situation Gorbachev faced with redefining Kremlin control of the various republics.
Throughout history, the Baltic states evolved as distinct entities, emerging as such from those key ingredients of history, geography, language, religion, economics, and legal and political systems. The sense of nationalism which grew from the unique interplay of these elements has certainly shown itself to be more substantial and enduring than that fabricated by Moscow and sustained with force of arms. As a new configuration emerges from the disintegration of the old Soviet Union, and as new agreements are signed determining the relationship between Moscow and the other republics, perhaps it would be wise for current and future Kremlin leaders to keep in mind the Baltic example of how powerful a force nationalism can be among people whose sense of dignity and identity has been compromised.
1 Alexander R. Alexiev, Dissent and Nationalism in the Soviet Baltic, (Santa Monica, California: Rand Publishing. 1983), p. 2.
2 Clarence A. Manning, The Forgotten Republics, (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1952), p. 3.
3 Ibid., p. 9.
4 Alexiev, Dissent and Nationalism in the Soviet Baltic, p. 2
5 Stanley W. Page, The Formation of the Baltic States, (New York: Howard Fertig. Inc., 1970), p. 1
6 Manning, The Forgotten Republics, p. 52.
7 Page, The Formation of the Baltic Stales, p. 2.
8 Alexiev, Dissent and Nationalism in the Soviet Baltic, p. 2.
9 Manning, The Forgotten Republics, p. 70.
10 Ibid., p. 90.
11 Page, The Formation of the Baltic States, p. 16.
12 Alfred Erich Senn, The Emergence of Modem Lithuania, (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1975), p. 5
13 Page, The Formation of the Baltic States, p. 2.
14 Ibid., p. 4
15 Alfred Erich Senn, Jonas Basanavičius: Patriarch of the Lithuanian National Renaissance, (Newtonville, Massachusetts: Oriental Research Partners, 1980), p. 77
16 Charles I. Bevans, ed.. Treaties and Other Agreements of the United States of America 1776-1949. Vol. 2, Multilateral 1918-1930, (Washington, D.C.: Department of State Publications, 1969), p. 56; Arthur S. Link, ed.. The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Vol. 60, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 500.
17 Leonas Sabaliunas, Lithuania in Crisis, (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1972), p. 29.
18 Manning, The Forgotten Republics, p. 217.
19 Manning, The Forgotten Republics, p. 217.
20 Masha Hamilton, "Thousands Join Hands in Baltic States Protest," Los Angeles Times, 24 August 1989, sec. A, p. 1.
21 Alexiev, Dissent and Nationalism in the Soviet Baltic, p. 13.
22 Dennis J. Dunn, "The Catholic Church and the Soviet Government in the Baltic States, 1940-1941," in The Baltic States in Peace and War, ed. Stanley V. Vardys and Romuald J. Misiunas, (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978), p. 157; Alexiev, Dissent and Nationalism in the Soviet Baltic, p. 24.
23 Paul Lewis, "Three Missions With Nothing But a Cause Fight for Independence from Soviets," New York Times, 6 June 1989, sec. A, p. 15.
24 Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika, (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), pp. 270, 283.
25 Steven L. Burg, "The European Republics of the Soviet Union," Current History. 89 (October 1990):321; Anthony Wilson-Smith, "Restive Republics," Maclean's. 29 May 1989, p. 22.
26 Bill Keller, "More Autonomy for Baltics Stirs Discomfort in Moscow," New York Times, 27 July 1989, sec A, p. 10
27 Esther B. Fein, "Baltic Citizens Link Hands to Demand Independence," New York Times, 24 August 1989, sec. A, p. 1; Terry Michael Winn, "Baltics Reach for Independence," Christian Science Monitor, 25 August 1989, p. 3; Esther B. Fein, "Baltic Citizens Link Hands to Demand Independence," New York Times, 24 August 1989, sec. A, p. 1.
28 Vincent J. Schodolski, "Activists Gird for Long Fight," Dallas Morning News, 28 September 1989, sec. A, p. 41; Steven L. Burg, "The European Republics of the Soviet Union," Current History, 89 (October 1990): 321; Mary Nemeth, "A Massive Challenge," Maclean's 12 March 1990, p. 42.
29 Fred Schuize, ed., "Gorbachev Tries Persuasion on Lithuanians," Current Digest of the Soviet Press Vol. XLII, No. 2,14 February 1990, p. 3, translated from Izvestia, 9 January 1990, pp. 1-2.
30 Fred Schuize, ed., "Lithuania Declares Its Independence," Current Digest of the Soviet Press Vol. XLII, No. 10, 11 April 1990, pp. 7-8, translated from Sovetskaya Litva, 13 March 1990, p. 1.
31 Fred Schuize, ed., "Moscow Reacts to Lithuania's Secessionist Bid," Current Digest of the Soviet Press Vol. XLII, No. 11, 18 April 1990, pp. 14-15, translated from Pravda, 17 March 1990, p. 1.
32 Anthony Wilson-Smith, "Economic Warfare," Maclean's, 30 April 1990, p. 25.
33 Carroll Bogert, "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back," Newsweek, 28 May 1990, p. 28.
34 Fred Schuize, ed., "Lithuania: 'War of Nerves Gets Underway," Current Digest of the Soviet Press Vol. XLII, No. 12, 25 April 1990, pp. 1-5, translated from Pravda, 20 March 1990. p. 4; Fred Schuize, ed., "Moscow Reacts to Lithuania's Secessionist Bid," Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XLII, No. 11, 18 April 1990, pp. 14-15, translated from Pravda, 17 March 1990, p. 1.
35 Fred Schuize, ed. "Lithuania Gets Ultimatum on Goods Cutoff," Current Digest of the Soviet Press Vol. SLII, No. 15,16 May 1990, pp. 12-15, translated from Pravda Current Digest of the Soviet Press Vol. SLII, No. 16, 23 May 1990, pp. 5-6, translated from Pravda, 20 April 1990, p. 1; Peter Keresztes, "Lithuania to U.S.: 'Don't Sell Us Out,'" Wall Street Journal, 11 September 1990, p. A22.
36 Elizabeth Rubinfein, "Gorbachev Appears to Bear Ultimate Blame for Attacks," Wall Street Journal, 16 January 1991, p. A10.
37 Bruce W. Nelan, "Borish Vs. Mikhail," Time. 25 March 1991, p. 30.
38 Phil Kuntz, "A Baltic Balancing Act," Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Vol. 48, 24 March 1990, p. 929.