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Incorporation: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

  • David Kirby

Abstract

One of the most difficult problems encountered by the small new states of Europe during the interwar years was how to acquire a decent mantle of security without unduly compromising their political independence. In this regard, the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were particularly ill-favoured. The great powers were by and large indifferent to their survival as independent countries, and they possessed no vital resource which might have persuaded one or more of those powers to extend a protective arm. In spite of efforts to coordinate foreign and defence policies, the three conspicuously failed to pull together in the manner of the Scandinavian countries.1 Lithuania was wholly absorbed in its quarrel with Poland over the Vilna question, and its occupation of the Memel region in 1923 also brought it into potential conflict with Germany. These were compelling reasons enough for Latvia and Estonia to be wary of entanglement in the affairs of their southern neighbour, whose religious, cultural and historical traditions were in any case very different. The Estonians and Latvians did share a degree of common history in that both had suffered for centuries under the yoke of serfdom imposed by German colonists, but their main desire on escaping from that bondage was to stress their own national uniqueness; in consequence, they tended to pay little attention to each other, separated as they were by mutually incomprehensible languages.

Keywords

Foreign Minister Baltic State Baltic Country Indirect Aggression Soviet Troop 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    On the failed efforts to create the semblance of unity, see the chapter by Edgar Anderson, ‘The Baltic Entente: Phantom or Reality?’ in V. Vardys and R. Misiunas, eds, The Baltic States in Peace and War 1917–1945 (Pennsylvania, 1978), pp. 126–35. It might also be remembered that the creation of a Scandinavian bloc in the 1930s did not spare any of the northern European countries from the rigours of war: even Sweden was forced seriously to compromise her neutrality before German pressure.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    McNeal R, ed., 1967 I. V Stalin. Sochineniya vol. 1(14), Stanford, p. 344.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Litvinov to Estonian minister, 28 March 1939, in: Documents of British Foreign Policy 1919–1939 [DBFP]. Third Series vol. 5 (London, 1952), pp. 350–1, and H. Arumäe, ed., Molotovi-Ribbentropi paktist baaside lepinguni. Dokumente ja materjale (Tallinn, 1989), pp. 16–17.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    This episode is dealt with in detail by J. Suomi, Talvisodan tausta. Neuvostoliitto Suomen ulkopolitiikassa 1937–1939. Holstista Erkkoon (Helsinki, 1973) p. 204ff.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See also D. Kirby, Finland in the Twentieth Century (London, 1979), pp. 117–19.Google Scholar
  6. 23.
    Myllyniemi 1977, pp. 72–5. B. Kaslas, ed., The USSR-German Aggression against Lithuania (New York, 1973), pp. 146–7, contains the account of the Moscow negotiations on 7–8 October by the Lithuanian foreign minister.Google Scholar
  7. 31.
    L. Sabaliunas Lithuania in Crisis: Nationalism to Communism 1939–1940 (Bloomington, Ind., 1972), pp. 177–88. Third Interim Report, pp. 243–50, 290–7, 321–38. See also the documents detailing troop movements in Estonia in the early hours of 17 June in: 1940 god v Estonii. Dokumentyi i materialyi (Tallinn, 1989), pp. 103–6.Google Scholar
  8. 32.
    For details, see my chapter on ‘The Baltic States 1940–1950’ in: M. McCauley, ed., Communist Power in Europ. 1944–1950 (London, 1977), p. 27.Google Scholar
  9. 36.
    god v Estonii, pp. 121–32 for memoirs of participants. A. Isberg, Med demokratin som insats. Politiskt-konstitutionellt maktspel i 1930-talets Estland Studia Baltica Stockholmensia 4 (Stockholm 1988), pp. 122–30 gives a detailed account of events and an assessment of Päts’s actions. According to the Finnish minister to Tallinn, leading Estonians were still optimistic about the situation, and even Pats thought things could have been worse. Myllyniemi 1977, p. 149.Google Scholar
  10. 41.
    There is a detailed account of Jewish involvement in the elections in Lithuania and Latvia in: D. Levin, The Jews and the Election Campaigns in Lithuania, 1940–1, Soviet Jewish Studies 10, 1980, pp. 39–51Google Scholar
  11. and D. Levin, ‘The Jews and the Sovietisation of Latvia, 1940–1’, Soviet Jewish Affairs 5, 1975, pp. 42–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. For the role of the Latvian social democrats, see B. Kalniņš De baltiska staternas frihetskamp (Stockholm, 1950), pp. 227–9. As Dr Kalnirlg pointed out in a private communication (25 December 1974), the social democratic party was also crushed by the Ulmanis regime, but was not allowed to reorganise after 17 June: the small left socialist party joined forces with the communists.Google Scholar
  13. 42.
    Levin 1975, p. 49. See also D. Levin, ‘The Jews in the Soviet Lithuanian Establishment, 1940–41’ Soviet Jewish Affairs 10, 1980, pp. 21–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 46.
    See my chapter, ‘Morality or Expediency? The Baltic Question in British-Soviet Relations 1941–1942’, in Vardys and Misiunas 1978, pp. 159–72, and A. Kochavi, ‘Britain, the Soviet Union and the Question of the Baltic States in 1943’ Journal of Baltic Studies 22, 1991, pp. 173–82.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Kirby

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