When we think of the Versailles Peace Conference, we tend to think of President Wilson and the other big players, but among them were many smaller players as well, looking for independent nation status for former Russian provinces such as Poland, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Ukraine, Belarus, the Don and Kuban Cossacks as well as the Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Some would get what they wanted, but most would not.
The White Russians insisted that the old Czarist Russia be recreated and all these upstart nations remain a part of the reformed empire. The great powers might have been happy with this solution except it seemed the Whites might not win, and thus it would be better to a cordon sanitaire around the Bolsheviks. As for the Germans, they wanted client states in the places where they had actually beaten the Russians in the East.
Such a complicated place! But there’s a new book, part of series, Makers of the Modern World, examining the intricacies of Versailles 1919 – 1923, called, lugubriously, Antonius Piip, Zigfrids Meierovics and Augustinas Voldemaras, The Baltic States. Obviously, this text focuses on the Baltics and the three men at the conference who championed their cause for independence and succeeded where others did not.
The book is interesting as part of a trend of new histories about Eastern Europe, a place whose story, according to historian Timothy Snyder, was previously fractured into a mosaic of national histories. Now we are getting overviews in English.
Characteristic of this part of the world are the very high stakes involved in the game. The Baltic states had differing histories, but none had been independent for centuries, so what were the odds that they could get what they wanted while negotiating among large power interests?
Yet their unlikely project succeeded.
This small text give thumbnail sketches of the players, many of whom were distinctive, fractious, or eccentric. The Lithuanian Voldemaras, somewhat long-winded and professorial, thought Lithuania had the best chance because it had been a country in the middle ages in a way that the other two had not, but the allies thought the opposite, believing the historical German influence in Estonia an Latvia made them more reliable.
Meierovics died in a car accident in 1925, and the other two died in the gulag after Soviet occupation came in the forties, but their work was restored with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Since my new novel will be set in the espionage circles of 1921 – 1923, this text gives me excellent background material.
Activity at Humber where I run a summer writing workshop now heats up, and soon after that I will go to Lithuania for a few weeks to do more research on the next text, so this may be my last entry for the summer. When I return, I’ll describe a diary of a diplomat in Lithuania in the twenties, a man who did not much care for the place: Lithuania in the 1920s: A Diplomat’s Diary, by Robert W. Heingartner.