Where East Meets West?
BSSB.BE src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp 24/12/2018
Baltic Ex-USSR Europe
* The predominant discourses on Estonian national identity have drawn firm boundaries between the Western us and the Eastern other.
East and West have been antipodes for self-construction of the Baltic peoples, reflecting the dichotomy of Europeanisation and Russification, goodies versus baddies.
The Baltic States have obtained both the image of the post-communist reform tigers or arrogant deserters from the Soviet past with their burdensome legacies. Some pundits like to remind policymakers that the long-term security of the Baltic States is closely linked with the resolution of the Russian question, a position which former Estonian foreign minister has termed between the devil and the deep blue see (Luik 1994).
- Paradoxically enough, notions such as grey area between a predatory East and an indifferent West or crossroad of trade and conquests indicate regional uncertainties caused by the turbulent change and simultaneous persistence of geographical determinants.
- So far, various national community projections in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have more often tried to emphasize what we are not or where do we not belong than simply giving a clear-cut answer about being and belonging.
- For instance, the options of the Estonian people had been as simple as a mathematical equation, just like President Meri said in 1999: On one side is Europe, on the other side, Russia. We are on the border and therefore o EIKI BERG – 50 – rise into the other.
Five years later some sort of healthy Baltic scepticism, which was addressed towards the EU became equally valid with inferior feelings of becoming marginalised without membership.
If one does not want to be in or stay out, it can always be in-between. The same is true with the new imposed divisions occasioned by the Iraq crises. The New Europe was characterised by its unconditional support for the war on terror, while the Old Europe demonstrated its inability to grasp the fundamental turning point in world affairs occasioned by the events of 11 September 2001 (Smith 2004).
But the Baltic leaders have questioned the new division as far as their relations with existing EU members are concerned. Indeed, during the Iraq crises, the Baltic States have supported the US but this does not automatically mean that they are opposed to European initiatives to create regional security arrangements in the future.
As the Baltic States become more integrated into the Euro-Atlantic security structures and into the world economy, they have to go through constant (re-)definitions of self-belonging.
My argument is that in the beginning on the 1990s, all the Baltic States found themselves located on the frontline of democratic and free-market thinking prevalent amongst our closest neighbours, with whom we share the coastline (Luik 1994). In the second half of the 1990s, three Baltic States chose three different tracks to follow:
- Estonians claimed to be similar to the Nordic countries, Lithuanians argued for the Central European cultural traditions and glorified the Polish-Lithuanian Union in the past.
- Only Latvians were convinced that their identity lies within the Baltic Sea region. A new emerging trend intends to identify the role of the Baltic States in European politics, which is seen as a proactive stance and Western value exportation towards their Eastern neighbours.
- Do the Baltic States have a reasonable chance to become good advocates, honest brokers or reliable supervisors where East meets the West? I have chosen three examples to demonstrate the way in which the Baltic States attempt to relocate themselves as the cultural meeting points, economic gateways and political mediators between East and West: countries that identify themselves with Europe, but know (and remember) also their eastern neighbours.
- Therefore the Baltic States could easily become interpreters between the two rather different worlds, mediate between risk and opportunity perceptions, bring them mentally closer to each other and balance the internal quarrels in the western camp with realistic assessments about political developments in their eastern corner.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp