Choices Before the Baltic States

Ints Kalnins / Reuters

WHEN the representatives of the small nationalities on the western border of Russia made their plea for independence in 1918 and 1919 several reasons were brought forward why it should be granted. One was the principle of national self-determination, just proclaimed by President Wilson. Another, dear to the heart of British politicians of the old school, was the desire to weaken Russia. A third, uppermost in Clemenceau's mind, was the idea of surrounding the "Red area" with a "sanitary cordon" which would preserve the rest of Europe from being contaminated by Communism. A fourth reason, advocated by French military strategists, was the desirability of setting up a group of states under Allied influence between two potential military allies -- Russia and Germany. Thus anyone could choose his particular reason for favoring the independence for the border nations. In the final analysis, the real reason they gained independence was Soviet Russia's extreme political weakness in those years; but they accomplished their aims amidst the blessings of Europe and America. And the chief reason European leaders approved was because they desired to isolate Russia from the rest of Europe, and in particular to separate her from Germany.

On the whole, the border states fulfilled what was expected of them. They proved intensive hothouses of modern nationalism, with its various advantages and defects. Because the popular mind was so busy creating new national systems, and -- perhaps -- because of the familiarity of the local population with some extremely unattractive features of early Communism, they remained immune to communistic doctrine. How far they contributed to the weakening of Russia must remain unsettled; but if all the Baltic territories had remained Russian, and if Moscow had been able to cope successfully with the various national problems involved, undoubtedly Soviet Russia would have been a tremendously stronger entity. As for their function in separating Germany and Russia, two possible allies, this indeed was a major service of the border states from 1920 to 1933. During that time only one link

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