Inspired by the information-heavy efforts of fellow blogger Pēteris Cedriņš of Marginalia, I decided to browse the Time Archives to discover how those two loaded terms, Baltic and Nordic, were used in the 1920s and 1930s.
The key to these discussions has been understanding Finland because Finland is not a Scandinavian country, but is purportedly not a Baltic country either. It belongs to the ‘Nordic community’ which was basically a pre-European Union experiment in open markets and migration in northern Europe following the Second World War. Today Finland is considered “Nordic” while Estonia is considered “Baltic”. But the reality is that is a condition of world ideas on geopolitical identity since the Second World War, rather than since the settlements of 1918-1920.
There has been some, but little, discussion of Finland’s pre-war identity as a Baltic state or Baltic country, but if you peruse the Time Magazine archives you will see that in the begining, Finland as identified as 1) former Tsarist Russian and 2) a Baltic country. Another oddity is that, more often than not, Swedish names are used to identify Finnish cities. Turku is Abo. Helsinki is Helsingfors. Only sometimes is Helsinki used first. This is obviously not the case today.
Here’s an excerpt from 1926 story:
Geographers noted that what was once the Empire of the Romanovs and what is now the U. S. S. R. are indeed two quite different areas. In the West the Baltic countries from Poland to Finland have split off; in the Near East the Transcaucasian Federation of Soviet Republics (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) have been created and linked with the other Socialist Soviet Republics which signed the treaty of union at Moscow on Dec. 30, 1922.
Here’s a great description of Finland from Sept. 8, 1930:
Finland, a country some 30,000 sq. mi. larger than Italy, stretches north from Leningrad to the Arctic Ocean, a sort of buffer between Soviet Russia and the Scandinavian Peninsula. It is chiefly known to the U. S. as one of the only three governments in the world* which maintain absolute Prohibition of liquor, and as the country whence come great endurance runners (Paavo Nurmi, Willie Ritola et al.) and house servants who are either very fine and faithful or extremely stupid. Correspondents have described it as a country riddled with lakes, bootleggers and Bolshevik propagandists. Official Finland, puny before the armed might of Soviet Russia, regards the Soviet agents with a sort of affable apathy. Not so Vihtori Kosola and his fellow villagers of Lapua. They hate the sight of a Communist.
Here’s another nugget from May 28, 1934, entitled Das Baltikum.
Beyond the Polish Corridor and East Prussia, the Eastern shore of the Baltic is edged with little countries born of the War. Going north, they are Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and vast lake-riddled Finland. All of them were Russian provinces before 1917 and in all of them still goes on a constant struggle of German v. Russian influence. Latvia is mostly an agricultural country. The Letts are an amiable, broad-faced people. Russian for more than 100 years, the country was dominated for 700 years before that by German barons, holding the Lettish peasants as serfs. Today the upper classes and “best people” are still mostly of German descent.
Here’s one that gets to the heart of identity issues from June 14, 1937.
Because the Scandinavian nations speak nearly the same language, share the same royal family and were most ardently bound to neutrality during the War, they formed instinctively a tight little group that talked and voted alike during the early years of the League of Nations. Instinctively Baltic Finland joined them and also the Low Countries, Belgium, The Netherlands, minuscule Luxembourg.
The first time the term “Nordic” as applied to Finland is on October 30, 1939 in Time Magazine. In fact, it’s the first time that “Nordic” is used in its current meaning. Before Stalin’s invasion of Finland and the occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, it is clear that there were Scandinavian states and Baltic states, but not Nordic states. On Oct. 30, 1939, the “Nordic states” is first used.
It doesn’t end there. From March 25, 1940:
On the one side, tearful Finns quoted an old Nordic saying: “Sorrows are our reins, bad days our bridle.” On the other, the Russians laughed, drank beer, slapped each other’s backs, praised their Red Army “defenders.” But among the friends and foes of each side there was a bitter search for reasons, a hunt for scapegoats, a vindictive beating back & forth of the shuttlecock of blame.
From May 6, 1940, describing Sibelius’ music:
These miscellaneous pieces, ranging from Op. 9 to Op. 109a, are nearly all bleak, bardic, Nordic, at times sound as relevant to contemporary Finland as an air-raid alarm.
After that, the terms “Nordic” and “Finland” regularly appear as they do today. It seems that with the captivity of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, somebody began feeding journalists the ‘N’ word during the Winter War to distinguish Finland from its less fortunate Baltic brethren. So that by the 1960s myths of Nordic cooperation, which coincided with a series of pan-northern European initiatives, began freely mixing terms like Scandinavia and Nordic.
With Estonia you find similarities with Finland in the pre-war period. Estonian cities are also referred to with their Germanic names, and Estonia is similarly “former Tsarist Russia.” From June 1933:
Next day, pale with fury, the President summoned his Cabinet at Reval on the Baltic. Declaring Estonian democracy “menaced,” the Cabinet put Dorpat under martial law, dismissed half the town’s police force as tainted with Front Soldier ideology.
The US helped along the concept of the Baltic states by dispatching a minister to “Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania” in 1933. In 1934 you find a definition of these Baltic states — war born, small, next to Russia:
Those three War-born little states on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea— Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—would hardly seem a menace to anybody. But they are close to the heart of Soviet Russia.
In March 1935, you find the first explicit mention of Estonia as a Baltic state.
Sole exception is the dignified little Baltic State of Estonia. Until a thwarted Nazi putsch so alarmed President Konstantin Pats last year that he declared a state of martial law, Estonia had ignored the death penalty entirely.
And you’ll see that the term became extra handy in 1939 to describe the situation affecting Estonia:
When Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler began signing agreements, diplomats guessed that there was more to the partnership than at first met the eye. They suspected the existence of secret clauses, annexes, even verbal understandings that were not made public. They were right. As events began to unravel, and perhaps as Dictator Stalin got unexpectedly grabby, he got a big slice of Poland. Not long thereafter the Eastern Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and perhaps Finland) became an uncontested sphere of Red imperialism. All told, Herr Hitler had won Russian “friendship,” but it looked as though, so far, Tovarish Stalin had won the war.
The article was called “Balts’ Return”, it explicity defined who exactly “Balts” were:
Further south, in Latvia, 60,000 Balts—as the Germans are known in the Baltic—simultaneously began a mass migration back to the “spiritual homeland” they have not known for centuries, while in Lithuania, where Russian troops are expected before long, a mass exodus of 40,000 “racial comrades” was to begin shortly.
In fact, the idea of three Baltic states has its real root in the Second World War. After their occupation and annexation, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are referred to in tandem at nearly every mention.
In 1947, the Cold War identity was formed. Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians were now kindred “Baltic peoples.” From April 14, 1947 in a category called ‘The Baltics’:
For centuries, Baltic peasants have labored for their feudal lords—Swedes, Russians, Poles, Germans. Today, the Baltic peasant serves an old master under a new form of serfdom. He serves Communist Russia. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were forced, at the point of Red Army guns, to join the Soviet Union in 1940. Ever since then, Russia’s westward window on the Baltic Sea has been tightly shuttered.
You should read the whole article for its great description of life in Estonia after World War II. So much for historical revisionism here:
The Russians encourage migrations of their nationals to the Baltics, and the Russians like to come, because they find life there more agreeable than back home. “Russification” proceeds apace. In Tallinn, for example, birth announcements reveal half as many newborn Russians as Estonians. Many schools and churches are closed; Russian (as in Czarist days) has become the official language, and Communism the official religion.
And so they remained. Captive for 50 years. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the West never really did recognize the occupation of Estonia. And when the ‘Baltic Republics’ pressed for independence in the 1980s, or joined the EU and NATO in 2004, they remained a convenient trio.
They still remain that way. However, different memes are associated with the different countries. Current Estonian stories focus on “tech-savvy E-stonia” that has reoriented towards Scandinavia. Unfortunately, not much is written about Latvia and Lithuania in Time outside of their membership in NATO and, in Lithuania’s case, it’s relationship between Belarus, Poland, and Russia as a sort of cross-roads of Europe. If anybody can find something, please post it.