Experts who have studied the intricacies of Baltic diplomacy during the Cold War agree that it was “one of the most imaginative anomalies in the history of diplomacy”. It seemed to lack practicality but was sustained by an imagination based on an “idealist” approach to international relations and a genuine desire to restore democratic sovereignty to the peoples of the region.
Exile Estonian activists prior to August 1991 used the continued recognition de jure of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and its diplomatic missions by most of the West as adding credibility and legitimacy to their lobbying efforts. The existence of the missions in certain countries was tangible evidence of the non-recognition policy of most western nations. While the principle of de jure and de facto recognition of the status of certain states would be considered arcane to the general public, the relevancy of the notion was central in submissions to western governments and international forums promoting the independence of the Baltic states.
For example, during the 70s and 80s exile groups of all central and east European countries had regular opportunities to discuss with diplomats and politicians attending the follow-up conferences of the Helsinki Final Act, the compliance of signatory countries to the historic accord. (Canada and the USA were signatories to the Act and treated the lengthy follow-up sessions as viable opportunities to engage and erode the hard-line totalitarian stance and resistance to liberalization of the Warsaw Pact countries. While success has been described by the cynical as minimal, most countries eventually accepted the idea that human rights violations were no longer to be considered as strictly internal domestic matters.) Armed with the Western non-recognition policy and the fact that actual diplomats represented the Baltic states’ pre-war status, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian activists pushed not only for the honouring of human rights principles as set out in the Helsinki Accords, but also for the agreement’s basket VIII promise of self-determination for peoples. The honouring of the non-recognition policy and Baltic diplomatic missions gave the lobbying effort for the latter goal better ‘credentials’.
Only the naïve would have expected Moscow to allow even the slightest opportunity for self-determination to have been substantively discussed. In spite of this it still was a way of persuading Western governments not to waver from their position of not recognizing de jure the Soviet occupation and annexation of the Baltic states.
Was the policy important otherwise? The statement of Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeld two weeks ago is an apt example. Referring to the fact that Sweden was one of the first countries to recognize de jure the Soviet occupation of the three Baltic states and that in official pronouncements Sweden did not acknowledge the pre-annexation sovereignty of the countries, Reinfeld said that Sweden owes a debt of honour to the states.
In a meeting with the government heads of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to mark the 20 anniversary of the restoration of independence of the countries, Reinfeld talked about a “dark stain” on Swedish history. Sweden handed 170 Baltic soldiers who had deserted the Red Army over to the USSR in 1945. “For many years Sweden ignored the suffering of the three nations. I have a Swedish history text which makes no reference to the fate of the Baltic states during the war or after. To be honest it’s difficult to find in the text any indication that the Baltic countries even existed. That was the reality when I attended school.”
There was no uniform inter-state policy in interpreting and implementing the non-recognition policy. For instance Finland and Sweden both complied with the Soviet demand that embassy properties of the Baltic states were to be handed over to the USSR. But Finland never formally granted de jure recognition of the annexation of the countries. When Moscow likewise demanded the closure of Estonia’s embassy in London, Great Britain disagreed and the embassy continued as a diplomatic mission until the death of its pre-war appointed ambassador August Torma in 1971.
Laas Leivat (To be cont’d.)
Estonian diplomacy before 1991, a boost for restoration of independence (II)