What Latvia Wishes From This War?Dr. Alfreds Bīlmanis, 1944
This subject will be treated from the point of view of a representative of a Baltic State, Latvia, already belonging to the European family of nations since the XIII century, when Latvia, as the independent Bishopric of Terra Mariana, was incorporated in 1207 by Emperor Philip into the Holy Roman Empire and became an adept of the occidental culture being introduced into it by the Roman-Catholic Church. Latvia still considers itself as belonging to the occidental world, and even geographically is situated in Northern, not Eastern Europe.
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The first striking fact of the political-geographical constellation of modern Northern Europe is that naval control of the Baltic Sea has become less important than the military and air domination of its shores. The Baltic Sea can no longer be considered a natural strategic barrier for the Scandinavian countries. The short distance from the shores of the Baltic States to Sweden and the Danish Straits is no longer an obstacle for modern aircraft.
The great power which controls or dominates the Baltic States, or even one of them, is able, should it so desire, to dominate also Scandinavia, Finland and Poland. In that case the Danish Straits would no longer be internationally free, and the Baltic Sea would become an inland lake under the unrestricted control of the respective great power. The countries around the Baltic Sea, dependent on the Danish Straits as their sole outlet to the North Sea, would become territories subject to the colonization policy of the great power dominating the Baltic States.
At the same time the two great powers which are the potential aspirants to the mastery of the Baltic—Germany and the U.S.S.R.—have their own uncontrolled outlets from the Baltic Sea. Germany has the Kiel Canal, which leads from the Baltic Sea directly into the North Sea, and the ports of Bremen and Hamburg, also on the North Sea. The U.S.S.R. has the Baltic-White Sea Canal—an eastern outlet from the Russian Baltic port of Leningrad on the Finnish Gulf. Besides, the U.S.S.R. has the port of Murmansk on the Arctic Ocean, ice-free all the year around, and Archangel, on the White Sea, which can be kept free of ice by means of icebreakers.
Thus the states situated between Germany and the U.S.S.R. are with respect to their economic welfare decisively interested in free access to the Atlantic Ocean through the free Baltic seaports and free Danish Straits, and absolutely uninterested in supporting an eventual monopoly of a great power over the Baltic Sea.
The States immediately affected are: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Poland. This group of States presents, according to the available data of the League of Nations Economic Intelligence, a rather big interest also to the foreign trade of the United Kingdom and the United States.* The volume of the foreign trade of the Baltic countries, Finland and Poland (without Sweden and Denmark) in 1938 was 1,059 millions dollars, while the value of the foreign trade of the U.S.S.R. was only 525 million dollars. The Baltic countries, Poland and Finland together imported from the U.S.A. different goods for 34 million dollars (Latvia alone imported cotton for more than a million dollars) while the U.S.S.R. imported goods only for 24 million dollars. The exports of the U.S.S.R. to the U.S.A. were 70 million dollars, while the exports of the Baltic States together with Poland and Finland were 41 million dollars. It is evident that the U.S.A. had a better trade balance with the Baltic States, Finland and Poland than with Russia.
Last but not least, also Russia and Germany themselves should be normally interested in the freedom of the Baltic Sea and the creation of such conditions as would permit its free use for their trade. Such conditions existed during the period after the first World War, when power politics were excluded from the Baltic region, which was then an equilibrating link in the system of Northern Europe and served as a bridge between Western and Eastern Europe. The ports of the Baltic States, as sufficiently proved, were free for transit, including that of the U.S.S.R. between Western Europe and Eastern Europe.
The three Baltic Republics, with a combined territory of 67,000 sq. mi. and a population of 6 millions, were not a menace either to Germany or the U.S.S.R., the latter with a territory of 8 million sq. mi. and a population of 170 millions! Besides, the Baltic States are devoid of the sinews of modern warfare, and the heavy industries of the U.S.S.R., which are situated behind the Ural mountains, are out of bombing range of air-fields of the Baltic States.
Neither does the territory of the Baltic States present for the U.S.S.R. important strategic defense positions; also that was proved beyond doubt by the first World War, when Russia had military bases on the shores of the Baltic States, but had to withdraw from Kurland already in May 1915. The same happened during this war, when the Red Army withdrew in about eight days from Lithuania and Latvia.
Just as in the first World War, also this time the best Soviet defense positions are behind the eastern borders of the Baltic States and Poland. They still lie in the region of Leningrad and the swampy forest marshes,
On the other hand, for centuries Muscovy and later the Russian Empire tried to conquer the Baltic shores in order to dominate the Baltic Sea. The U.S.S.R. is following this policy of the Czars, just as the German Empire and now Nazi Germany follow the policy of the Hanseatic League. Germany made great efforts to become master of the Baltic Sea in the first World War but failed. Also the U.S.S.R. retreated from the Baltic, and both pretendants—Germany and the U.S.S.R.—voluntarily recognized in 1920 the independence of the Baltic States.
Indeed, neither Germany nor the U.S.S.R. have a right to the Baltic countries, inhabited by indigenous Baltic populations of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians for thousands of years. These Baltic peoples are neither Teuton nor Slav. They speak languages of their own; the Latvo-Lithuanian derived directly from Sanskrit, and the Estonian being a Finno-Ugric language. Historically the Baltic countries have never been parts of integral Russia, but were only under Russian occupation for a little over 100 years. Also in the sphere of economics there has been no binding interdependence, as the Baltic States proved by rebuilding their own economic life, which was completely shattered by the first World War, and by achieving a flourishing prosperity with no unemployment, with balanced budgets and increasing social benefits. These Baltic agrarian-seafaring countries during their 22 years of independence became also economically self-supporting and even prosperous, owing to the economic democracies created on a basis of cooperation between labor and capital. All this they achieved without outside help, and certainly without that of Soviet Russia. The latter was one of the smallest buyers of the export goods of the Baltic States and figured in Latvia's exports and imports for about 3%, while only 8% was Soviet Russia's share in railway transportation, and this—in the best of Soviet Russia's export years. Nevertheless, Latvia and the other two Baltic States were always eager to put at the disposal of the U.S.S.R. all railroad, harbor, free port, etc., facilities available. But the U.S.S.R. had little use for that. There are absolutely no grounds for labeling the Baltic States "buffer states" or "barrier states." In that case also Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark—in fact, any state lying between two other big states—are also "buffer" or "barrier" states. There is no logic in such utterances; besides they are lanced simultaneously by Nazi and Bolshevik protagonists.
|The Net-Work of World Trade, Economic Intelligence Service, League of Nations, Geneva, 1942, p. 10.|
- INTRODUCTION TO THE WORK
- LATVIA WISHES: . . . (illustration)
- BALTIC STATES GEOGRAPHICAL RELATION TO OTHER EUROPEAN COUNTRIES (illustration)
- Neither buffer nor possession
- Next Prologue to war of independence
- Treaties and principles of independence
- A cui bono?!
- Actual and current circumstances
- Soviet intents vs. Baltic rights and future role
- Future security of Europe
- OTHER PUBLICATIONS
"What Latvia Wants From This War?" was published by the Latvian Legation, Washington, D.C. in 1944.
We believe this publication to be a work of the Latvian government and accordingly in the public domain.