On 4th of February this year WiseEuropa organized a debate: Emergence of new states in Eastern Europe after the First World War and the Entente powers: Lessons for Europe, which took place in European Parliament in Brussels. The aim of the debate was to answer two main questions. First what kind of role did Entente powers play in the emergence of new states in Eastern Europe after the First World War and second what lessons Europeans can draw from the legacy of their engagement today. The end of First World War remains to this day a milestone in collective memory for the countries of Central Europe, and further to the East, in the Caucasian countries. Not only did the conflict gave rise to new countries, but it also accelerated the renaming of the region itself.
The event was opened by Liudas Mažylis, Member of European Parliament from Lithuania. Afterwards, Etienne Peyrat – Associate Professor in History at Sciences Po Lillie as a keynote speaker conducted a lecture about the situation of the region in Central and Eastern Europe after the First World War and the emergence of new and reborn countries and the collapse of the Russian Empire. He objectively assessed the role of France and Great Britain in the emergence or rebirth of the new states, not always attributing them idealistic motivations in supporting these movements. During the war, French and British policy towards Central Europe resulted more from their attitude towards Germany and Russia than from genuine interest in the situation of these countries. He drew attention to the various moods that accompanied the emergence of these countries. Entente countries did not always had an adequate knowledge about the situation in those countries and relations with other states in the region. In the early 1920s, the Baltic countries were seen in France with great distrust as backward and protectionist countries. At the same time, the countries of Central Europe expressed also dissatisfaction with the attitude of Western Europe, which showed a fascination with Russia and a lack of knowledge about the real situation in the region and individual countries of Central Europe. Etienne drew also attention to the essence of maintaining political, cultural and intellectual pluralism as an organizational principle. He pointed out that this could be the most important lesson of the end of the First World War, that one should pay attention to the need for different solutions for local challenges. Different parts of the continent should not follow the same standard patterns. There should be recognition of diversity, even for political, social and cultural values. And just like in the early 1920s, striving to create artificial unity in Europe in the long run can cause more serious and dangerous splits.
After the main lecture the voice was taken by Ivars Ijabs, Member of the European Parliament from Latvia. He underlined the importance of the project and the debate for the current situation and moods in Europe.
After the speech of the host of the whole event, the main debate was conducted, during which individual panelists were asked to answer the question what kind of role Entente powers played in the emergence of new states in Eastern Europe after the First World War. Vesa Vares from University of Turku in Finland disputed the role of the Scandinavian countries – Sweden and Denmark in regaining independence of Finland, Adam Reichard from New Eastern Europe discussed the role of United States in the region, Ēriks Jēkabsons from University of Latvia debated the role of Great Britain, Tomasz Błaszczak from Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania reviewed the role of Red and White Russia, Vlad Vernygóra from Tallin University of Technology in Estonia discussed Scandinavian countries (especially Finland) and its support for Estonia’s fight for independence and the role of League of Nations. The whole debate was moderated and summed up by Adam Balcer, Tense Project Manager and Foreign Policy Project Manager at WiseEuropa.
Vesa Vares particularly emphasized the importance of Finland’s independence for Sweden, but also showed that the Swedes did not want to provoke the Russian government, actively encouraging independence movements in Finland and the Baltic States. There were also restrictions due to traditional Swedish neutrality. Adam Reichard presented the USA attitude towards First World War, which was neutral towards the Great War until 1917. However, as warfare developed and Germany became increasingly aggressive, the attitude in the United States changed. Therefore, on April 2, 1917, Wilson asked the US Congress for permission to join the war. Reichard underlined as a lesson from the First World War that isolationism is dangerous and can lead to indifference and have tragic consequences and the biggest lesson we can take today from the end of the First World War is the dangers of this isolationism. Ēriks Jēkabsons presented a very difficult situation that took place after the First World War in Latvia. From 1918 to 1920, 14 different armies fought in Latvia, which means that there were 14 different powers and influences. Ēriks Jēkabsons described that British policy in the region in 1918–1920 was cautious. Fears about the situation in Germany and Russia, which were affected by difficult relations with other allies, as well as issues of British domestic policy dominated. However, the British government recognized Latvian independence even before its creation, i.e. on November 11, 1918. Tomasz Błaszczak described the role of Red and White Russia in the emergence of new states in Eastern Europe after the First World War. Russia in the end of the First World War was divided between two main political powers “Whites” – the supporters of ancient regime or at least democratic Russia, and the “Reds”. Vlad Vernygora presented the scale of involvment of the Denmark, Sweden and Finland on Estonia side. About 4000 Finns fought for Estonia. Whereas, both Denmark and Sweden were rather restrained in helping Estonia. Despite many declarations, Denmark and Sweden only sent 184 and 300 soldiers to help Estonia. Their internal policies and legal issues stopped them from being more involved. He also noted that the fears of Central and Eastern Europe have international visibility, but on the other hand the topic of the emergence of new states in Eastern Europe after First World War is almost neglected in Western Europe. Vlad emphasized that this should prompt the EU to develop a convincing strategy for itself.
The Emergence of New States in Eastern Europe – Lesson for the Entire Europe (TENSE) is a project about to finish and the debate was the final event of the project. The project in general focused on the nation-building processes after 1918 in Eastern Europe. The aim of the project was to increase the knowledge in the region about common features of the processes presenting them as a system of communicating vessels but also showing differences between them and placing them in a wider European context. This project showed how important is a knowledge about the course of events in 1918 in Eastern Europe because it impacts on all European citizens, especially from Western Europe.
The leader of the project is a think-tank WiseEuropa, however, there were different partner institutions that were in charge to accomplish the activities which are: Latvijas Arpolitikas Instituts in Riga (Latvia), Porin Kaupunki in Pori (Finland), Tallinna Tehnikaulikool in Tallinn (Estonia), Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas (Lithuania) and also Jan Nowak-Jezioranski College of Eastern Europe
The project is financed with the support of the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Union. The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.