War, Revolution and Terror in the Baltic States and Finland after the Great War

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1 Journal of Baltic Studies ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage: War, Revolution and Terror in the Baltic States and Finland after the Great War Tomas Balkelis To cite this article: Tomas Balkelis (2015) War, Revolution and Terror in the Baltic States and Finland after the Great War, Journal of Baltic Studies, 46:1, 1-9, DOI: / To link to this article: Published online: 25 Feb Submit your article to this journal Article views: 627 View related articles View Crossmark data Citing articles: 1 View citing articles Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Download by: [ ] Date: 25 November 2017, At: 10:49

2 Journal of Baltic Studies Vol. 46, No. 1, March 2015, pp. 1 9 INTRODUCTION WAR, REVOLUTION AND TERROR IN THE BALTIC STATES AND FINLAND AFTER THE GREAT WAR Tomas Balkelis Keywords: political violence; terror; nation-building; revolution; Baltic states After the Great War, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland, like many other East European countries, were swept by a new wave of military violence that continued from 1918 to the early 1920s. The Soviets, Whites, Germans, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Finns, and Poles fought each other with a ferocity that often matched the belligerency of These postwar conflicts took place on a smaller scale than the Great War; they were irregular, volatile, and strongly motivated by ideology and ethnicity. These conflicts also involved a greater variety of combatants, including conventional armies made up of war veterans and fresh draftees, as well as civilian selfdefense bands, partisan units, and paramilitary formations of volunteers. Competing nationalist and counter-revolutionary visions clashed with each other and with the Bolshevik revolutionary project, each claiming parts of the region for their new orders. One of the unique features of this region today is that, unlike in Western Europe, the memory of the Great War was completely overwhelmed by the memories of these post-war conflicts. The Great War clearly did not have the constitutive impact on the formation of nation-states and local identities in the Baltic states and Finland as did the wars of Today, the latter are variously described and commemorated as freedom fights, independence wars, liberation struggles, or civil wars. The memory of these conflicts was constructed and popularized during the interwar period, and it continues to function as one of the major nationalist mythologies even today (Liulevicius 2008, 230 4). Correspondence to: Tomas Balkelis, Senior Researcher, Faculty of History, Vilnius University, Vilnius 01513, Lithuania. ISSN (print)/issn (online) 2015 Journal of Baltic Studies

3 2 JOURNAL OF BALTIC STUDIES Indeed, these wars and the violence they produced have been studied to this day mostly in the context of national historiographies. What is lacking, and what this special issue hopes to provide, is a comparative perspective on these postwar conflicts. Some historians have already argued that the Baltic and Finnish wars of were part of a longer cycle of violence in Russia and Eastern Europe that lasted from 1914 to the early 1920s (Holquist 2003; Gerwath and Horne 2012; Prusin 2010). All four cases share a number of similar features. First, all four societies went through imperial disintegration that led to an almost complete breakdown of state power. By the end of the Great War, there was no certainty that the independent Baltic states and Finland would survive. Yet by 1920, they had all established themselves as recognized international players with their own armies and efficient governments. Secondly, in the Baltic states and Finland, the ensuing wars of liberation were part of an intense nation-making process, which sought to transform civilians into citizen-soldiers. The wars produced integrative policies that not only called for more troops, but also strived to reshape popular politics and local identities. Military nationalism was shared by all four nation-states as a defensive struggle for the land, the latter understood both as a symbolic homeland a contested political space and an economic resource. The wars were also perceived as a defense of the spiritual cultural essence of these nations against foreign invaders (such as Russians, Germans, or Poles). Yet the Baltic states and Finland were not shaped only by war and nation-making. Revolution was an equally important transformative force. After the Great War, tens of thousands of Finns, Estonians, Lithuanians, and Latvians threw their lot in with the Bolshevik Revolution and the advance (or support) of the Red Army. The clash between local and imported Bolshevik visions and the nation-building endeavors of nationalists, the colonial ambitions of the Germans, and the restorationist zeal of White Russians gave these wars a clear undertone of civil conflict. Yet the civil strife was quickly drawn into full-scale warfare, as revolutionary state-building projects were overcome by nationalist ones. This special issue focuses on just one aspect of these postwar conflicts that was shared by Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and to a lesser degree by Lithuania: political terror. We understand political terror as violent acts, which for a variety of political, ideological, or ethnic reasons were intended to create fear (terror) and deliberately targeted noncombatant civilians. One of the key arguments proposed here is that political terror itself offered new directions for state and nation-building in the region. First, terror generated new waves of violence that had their self-sustaining logic. Second, violence was partly responsible for (as well as produced by) the emergence of a culture of paramilitarism in the region. The new societies that emerged from the cauldron of war acquired strong militaries, antirevolutionary elites, and radicalized political cultures, but also massive paramilitary formations each of which had an enormous influence on politics during the interwar period. In the Baltics and Finland between the wars, paramilitary organizations such as Šauliai in Lithuania, Aizsargi in Latvia, Kaitseliit in Estonia, and Suojeluskunta in Finland expanded into massive, statesupported movements that even took on certain functions of civic society (Balkelis 2012; Ruutsoo 2003). Along with the radical redistribution of land, which became

4 WAR, REVOLUTION AND TERROR IN THE BALTIC STATES 3 possible after the wars, these developments would shape the histories of the Baltic states and Finland for decades. Our focus on political terror (or its relative absence) also serves to situate the Baltic states and Finland on the wider map of the postwar paramilitary violence that engulfed Europe in the vast, post-imperial shatterzone stretching from the Elbe River to the Black Sea. 1 We also engage the Baltic and Finnish cases with the historiographical debate on the so-called brutalization thesis, proposed by George L. Mosse, among others (Mosse 1990). The core of the thesis is that the totalization process at work during the Great War brutalized society and the conduct of war itself, by establishing new and unprecedented levels of violence that were surpassed only by the horrors of WWII. This argument was originally applied to the political culture of Weimar Germany, and was tested subsequently in other states (Ziemann 2007; Stephenson 2009; Sanborn 2003). In the last decade, it was sharply attacked by those who perceived an apparent lack of brutalization in the victorious powers of the Great War, and those who pointed out that since the early 1920s even the most violent zones of conflict (including Finland, the Baltic states, Russia, Poland, and Ukraine) came to peace and relative stability (Prost 2000; Winter 1995; Lawrence 2003; Horne 2012). We do not want to suggest here that there was a direct link between the violence of the Great War and the post-1918 conflicts in the Baltic states and Finland. Societies may be or may not be brutalized for a variety of reasons. After all, Finland saw no military action during , though its civil war displayed one of the highest degrees of terror. One should also not forget that from the mid-1920s the Baltic states and Finland enjoyed a period of relative stability, modernization, and impressive economic growth. Finally, the Great War and the post-1918 conflicts had totally different causes. If the Great War was brought to the Baltic area as a result of the imperial ambitions of Russia and Germany, the post-war conflicts were a consequence of the complete breakdown of state power in the vast post-imperial space. The result of this breakdown was the ensuing competition between two transformative statebuilding projects: nationalist and Bolshevik. In the Baltic states, Russian counterrevolutionaries and German revanchists, who fought the Bolsheviks but occasionally Baltic nationalists, joined this ideological and existential clash. 2 Yet we believe that it is worth exploring those linkages between and that contributed to the continuous cycle of violence in the region. There are still many questions that have not been researched properly: What was the relationship between terror and paramilitarism in the period? What were the longterm legacies of paramilitarism? How did demobilization and the remobilization of the Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian Great War veterans contribute to postwar conflicts? What were the roles of native and foreign volunteers, and professional mercenaries within them? What was the nature of the homecoming for thousands of Baltic WWI refugees? Are there any connections between population displacement and violence in the period? How did violence contribute to the subsequent radicalization of local political cultures? One of our major concerns was to set up a comparative framework for the study of political terror by trying to focus on its scale, geography, the perpetrators and victims, and by explaining at least some of the key processes that generated it. With

5 4 JOURNAL OF BALTIC STUDIES the exception of the article by Vytautas Petronis, which is more concerned with the legacy of war, all others deal with these difficult issues. We were also interested in the dynamics of terror: not only why it started, but how it developed and ended. Some of the case studies (especially on Finland and Estonia) also tried to look at the long-term effects of terror: how it was internalized by local societies, and at what cost? We make no pretension to have tackled all of these questions consistently and exhaustively. There is much more research to be done on political terror in the region. But we hope that our approach presents a more systemic and coherent way of looking at these issues than what has been offered before. These issues are difficult for at least two major reasons. Until now, there were very few reliable studies by historians on the subject with the exception of the Finnish case, which has been studied more extensively (Paavolainen 1966; Herlin 1997; Haapala 1995; Roselius 2006; Siltala 2009; Haapala and Tikka 2012). Local specialists based in the Baltic states and Finland produced the most valuable of these studies (Minnik 2011; Mihkelson 1992; Vihalem 1961; Stranga 2010; Šilinš 2009; Treijs 2004). However, they are largely unknown to Anglophone academia due to their limited circulation and linguistic barriers (most are published in local languages). The second and more serious difficulty is that the topic of terror is still politically charged. For many specialists, it is quite clear that all of the warring sides (including victorious nationalist forces) used terror. Yet, official memory politics in these countries are still constructed around the heroic rhetoric of victorious nationalist armies that fought wars of liberation. However, as historians, we have to understand all sides of terror, and not only some. We hope that by revealing the structural similarities and differences among these four cases we will help to desensitize the issue of political terror as conducted by various political actors. In total, the terror campaigns that swept the Baltic states and Finland, as a result of postwar conflicts, killed about 17,000 people. 3 The majority (about 9600) perished during the brutal civil war in Finland over a relatively short period of six months. Of those, roughly 1600 were killed by the Reds, and 8100 by the Whites. This is a very high number when compared with the total death toll of 36,000 people killed in the civil war. The Latvian civil war was the second bloodiest conflict in the region: it had about terror victims ( of Red terror, of White terror), though these estimates are very fragmentary, as there is still little data from some regions such as Latgale. In Estonia, the terror campaign started much earlier than in the rest of Baltics (in February 1918), at approximately the same time as in Finland, and produced about 2000 victims. Of those about 700 were Red terror victims and 1300 were killed by the White terror. In Lithuania, for a variety of reasons (explored in the article of Ceslovas Laurinavicius), there was no organized and systemic terror: most of the 100 people killed were victims of random reprisals carried out by local anti-bolshevik forces. Yet we must recognize that there has not been serious research so far on the terror in Lithuania. One similarity that is striking in all four cases is the imbalance in the ratio of the victims of Red and White terror: the White campaigns killed about 13,200 people, while the Red ones killed about This body count may point to little more than the fact that the victors simply had more time than the losers to carry out their excesses. Yet the scale of violence may raise further questions related to the causes of killings.

6 WAR, REVOLUTION AND TERROR IN THE BALTIC STATES 5 Among them, perhaps the most prominent is the ideological motivation to annihilate class enemies or to purge and purify the national body from corrupt elements. The fear and hatred of the Bolshevik revolution was a second key motive that inspired the White terror, but not the only one. The collapse of state order, security concerns behind the front lines, mutual distrust, social tensions, radical transformations in land ownership, a desire to strike fear and revenge for earlier acts of violence, and the inability to combat enemy s propaganda by other means these were all factors that motivated the killings. Finally, there were also some cases of random terror that occurred due to personal animosities, including vengeance or simply looting. Overall, it is quite obvious that these terror campaigns were not motivated by a single reason. All these motives formed various combinations in specific contexts at particular times, and terror was by no means inevitable, as the case of Lithuania clearly shows. Its perpetrators were largely members of local paramilitary formations and various militias such as commissions for combating counter revolution, but they also included units of regular armies such as flying squads assigned a specific task of cleansing rear areas of the enemy. The victims were drawn from the whole social spectrum of Baltic and Finnish societies: from Baltic German landlords, clergymen, and various middle-class groups such as government clerks or teachers, to smallholders, urban and rural workers, union and party members, women, and even criminals. In his article, Juha Siltala takes a long-term approach to explain the terror that lasted from January to June 1918 during the Finnish Civil War. Finland avoided participation in the Great War, but fell into a short civil war during a few months that culminated in a cycle of vicious terror. The focus of his article is to explain the high incidence of terror in comparison with other civil wars that took place in the Baltic region. He suggests that a violent disposition in the Finnish mentality is hard to prove, whereas a more viable approach is offered by the concept of Manichean political culture. The violent polarization of Finnish society was triggered as reform expectations skyrocketed at the moment when the country s institutions were in chaos and its economy in a free fall. Mutual distrust, armed mobilizations, and a sense that time was running out in a mutual arms race were key factors that drove both parties to violent conflict. The author concludes with a discussion of the reintegration of the dissolved state. He frames the conflict within various psychological and group behavior theories in the context of economic possibilities and expectations. The article is based on his own empirical research and on the studies of other scholars on the history of the Finnish Civil War. In his case study of the political terror in Estonia, Taavi Minnik argues that Estonia saw three major paroxysms of violence in , which, although relatively limited in scale (there were about 2000 victims), serve as examples of the brutalization brought by the Great War, revolution, and the subsequent conflict. He shows a clear connection between the first wave of terror that occurred under German occupation in February and March 1918 and the second wave of terror brought on by the onslaught of the Red Army, starting in November The Red terror in Estonia died out only with the signing of the Peace Treaty with Soviet Russia in May Yet this did not stop the violence: the liberation of Estonia from the Bolsheviks brought a new campaign of White terror that started in January He argues that in Estonia the cycle of violence was unleashed by the radical transformation of land ownership at the end of The temporary return of the Bolsheviks at the beginning

7 6 JOURNAL OF BALTIC STUDIES of the war of independence was often seen as a pretext to avenge the injustices suffered under German occupation. Finally, he suggests that the reduction of the potential for violence in Estonia came only with a vigorous attempt to solve the agrarian problem. In his study on Latvia, Aldis Minins takes a different approach. He argues that the bidirectional nature of terror campaigns in Latvia can be best explained by adopting the perspective of a civil war rather than freedom fight or independence war, the current, dominant paradigms in describing the series of military conflicts that swept Latvia in His primary objective is to provide more evidence to the argument that these post-world War I conflicts may be considered a civil war. By focusing on the Red and White terror campaigns, he suggests that it is one of the most poorly researched aspects of the conflict: even the body count of terror victims is far from complete. He provides an overview of Latvian historiography on the issue by calling for a more all-encompassing approach to the study of war violence in Latvia. He suggests that one of the key factors that forced the population of Latvia to support the Ulmanis government was its response to the massive disorder and terror that accompanied the conflict: revolutionary tribunals of the Soviet regime, arrests, concentration camps, hostage taking, draconic agrarian and minority policy, and complete disrespect to private property and family institutions. One of the most prominent specialists of modern Lithuanian history, Ceslovas Laurinavicius tackles the Lithuanian case by pointing out that Lithuania was a considerable exception to the pattern of terror displayed in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, and Soviet Russia. There was nothing that could be described as a sustained terror campaign in Lithuania during its wars of independence. There were only about 100 terror victims in Lithuania, mostly of White terror. The majority (about 60) were killed by the local Lithuanian partisans of Povilas Plechavicius in the north western region in the first six months of Laurinavicius asks the question, why was there no Red terror in Lithuania? He suggests there was a certain balance between the relatively liberal-minded policy of the Bolshevik regime and the political loyalty demonstrated by at least part of Lithuanian society, which helped to avoid political terror in Lithuania under Bolshevik control. This policy was shaped by personal links between the Šleževicius and Kapsukas governments, the substantial support that many Lithuanian intellectuals gave to the Soviets, and the belated development of the political identity of the Lithuanian national movement. At least initially, the Kaunas government was inclined to treat the Soviet invasion as something unsuited to local conditions and, therefore, temporary, rather than an existential threat to Lithuania s survival. Moreover, the Soviets decision not to carry out a redistribution of land in Lithuania avoided the exacerbation of social tensions as happened in Estonia. Documents on terror committed by the Lithuanian military show that anti- Communist terror was inspired mainly by an inability to combat Bolshevik propaganda effectively by other means. Those military figures that confronted Bolshevism with such desperate means (Plechavicius, Glovackis, and Putvinskis) came up against opposition not only from the Reds, but also from Lithuanian civilian authorities. The article of Vytautas Petronis stands somewhat aside from the other authors because it is not directly concerned with postwar violence, but rather with its longterm impact on the political culture of early interwar Lithuania. Nevertheless, we decided to include his contribution in the special issue precisely because, in our view,

8 WAR, REVOLUTION AND TERROR IN THE BALTIC STATES 7 it charts a new direction in research on those circles of society that became radicalized by their war experience, and were directly involved in the creation of this culture. Basing his article on untapped archival materials, Petronis traces the origins and development of the interwar Lithuanian radical right-wing movement before the coup d état of December The first sporadic outbreaks of Lithuanian radical patriotism occurred during the second half of They were carried out primarily by veterans of the independence wars and students both representatives of the tautininkai (patriotic) stream. Their activities were closely related to the calls to Lithuanize the state in the wake of a looming economic crisis, while their rhetoric was openly anti-semitic. In parallel, during the period , another two separate groups started operating as right-wing political parties: the pro-fascist movement, coordinated by the Christian Democrats, and the Secret Officers Union allied with the Lithuanian Nationalist Union (Tautininkai). These three groups and their interrelations comprised the core of the early Lithuanian radical right that later greatly contributed to the emergence of an authoritarian regime in By focusing on the destabilizing role of war veterans, Petronis is explicit about the connection between the war and the radicalization of politics in interwar Lithuania. Acknowledgments In this issue, we have combined contributions from established figures in the field (Siltala and Laurinavicius) and young historians who are just starting their careers (Minins, Minnik, and Petronis). Most of the papers were presented at the conference War, Revolution, Civil War: Eastern Europe that took place at University College Dublin in March The conference was part of an international European Research Council-funded project, The Limits of Demobilization: Paramilitary Violence in Europe and the Wider World, hosted by the University College Dublin and Trinity College. We are greatly indebted to the leaders of the ERC project, Robert Gerwarth and John Horn, for their intellectual inspiration. As an editor, I would also like to express my gratitude to all speakers at the conference for their contributions to this special issue. Notes 1 For the most recent attempts to provide a comparative overview of the violence in Europe, see Gerwath and Horne (2012) and Prusin (2010). 2 One of the best overviews of the conflict in the Baltics still is Rauch (1974). For more recent accounts, see Prusin (2010) and Kasekamp (2010). 3 In this paragraph, all estimates are based on the case studies of this issue. References Balkelis, T Turning Citizens into Soldiers: Baltic Paramilitary Movements after the Great War. In War in Peace: Paramilitary Violence in Europe after the Great War, edited by R. Gerwarth and J. Horne. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

9 8 JOURNAL OF BALTIC STUDIES Gerwath, R., and J. Horne, eds War in Peace: Paramilitary Violence in Europe after the Great War. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Haapala, P Kun Yhteiskunta Hajosi. Suomi Helsinki: VAPK. Haapala, P., and M. Tikka Civil War in Finland in In War in Peace: Paramilitary Violence in Europe after the Great War, edited by R. Gerwarth and J. Horne. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Herlin, I Valkoista Ja Punaista Hulluutta: Historiantutkijan Muotokuva. Helsinki: SHS. Holquist, P Violent Russia, Deadly Marxism? Russia in the Epoch of Violence, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 4 (3): doi: /kri Horne, J., ed A Companion to World War One. London: Blackwell. Kasekamp, A A History of the Baltic States. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Lawrence, J Forging a Peaceable Kingdom: War, Violence and Fear of Brutalization in Post-First World War Britain. The Journal of Modern History 75: doi: / Liulevicius, V Building Nationalism: Monuments, Museums, and the Politics of War Memory in Inter-War Lithuania. Nord-Ost Archiv 27: Mihkelson, M Punane Terror Ja Kirik Eestis Looming 12: Minnik, T Der Teufelskreis Der Gewalt: Terror Und Repressionen in Estland Forschungen Zur Baltischen Geschichte 6: Mosse, G. L Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Paavolainen, J Poliittiset Väkivaltaisuudet Suomessa 1918 I: Punainen Terrori. Helsinki: Tammi. Prost, A Les Limites De La Brutalisation. Tuer Sur Le Front Occidental Vingtième Siècle 81: Prusin, A The Lands Between: Conflict in the East European Borderlands, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rauch, V. G The Baltic States: The Years of Independence, Berkeley: University of California Press. Roselius, A Amatöörien Sota. Rintamataisteluiden Henkilötappiot Suomen Sisällissodassa Helsinki: VNK. Ruutsoo, R European Traditions and the Development of Civic Society in the Baltic States: In Baltic States: Looking at Small Societies on Europe s Margin, edited by C. Giordano. Fribourg: Fribourg University Press. Sanborn, J Drafting the Russian Nation. Military Conscription, Total War and Mass Politics, DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. Šilinš, J Rīgas Cietumi Un Lielinieku Terors, 1919 Gada Janvaris Maijs. Latvijas Vestures Instituta Žurnals 3: Siltala, J Sisällissodan Psykohistoria. Helsinki: Otava. Stephenson, S The Final Battle: Soldiers of the Western Front and the German Revolution of Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stranga, A Komunistu Diktatura Latvija: Gada Decembris Gada Janvaris. In Latvijas Valstiskumam 90. Latvijas Valsts Neatkarība: Ideja Un Realizacija. Starptautiska Konference 2008, Novembris, edited by J. Berzinš. Rīga: Latvijas Vestures instituta apgads.

10 WAR, REVOLUTION AND TERROR IN THE BALTIC STATES 9 Treijs, R Baltais Terrors. Latvijas Avīze, May 21. Vihalem, P Valge Terror Eestis Aastail Tartu: Tartu Riiklik Ülikool. Winter, J Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ziemann, B War Experiences in Rural Germany, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tomas Balkelis was an ERC postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for War Studies, University College Dublin, Ireland, and currently is a senior researcher at the Faculty of History, Vilnius University, Lithuania. He is the author of The Making of Modern Lithuania (Routledge, 2009). His articles have been published in the journals Past and Present, Journal of Contemporary History and Contemporary European History

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