Aug 232018
 

Today is the anniversary (1989) of the Baltic Way or Baltic Chain (also Chain of Freedom; Estonian: Balti kett, Latvian: Baltijas ceļš, Lithuanian: Baltijos kelias, Russian: Балтийский путь), a peaceful political demonstration protesting Soviet rule in the Baltic States and part of the Singing Revolution. Approximately two million people joined their hands to form a human chain spanning over 600 kilometres (370 mi) across the three Baltic states – Estonian SSR, Latvian SSR, and Lithuanian SSR — linking the capital cities of the three states. Organizers used banned radio broadcasts to co-ordinate timing. Singing banned songs and joining hands (and not guns) ended Soviet oppression.

The demonstration originated in “Black Ribbon Day” protests held in the western cities in the 1980s. It marked the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The pact and its secret protocols divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence and led to the occupation of the Baltic states in 1940 by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union denied the existence of the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, even though they were widely published by western scholars after surfacing during the Nuremberg Trials. Soviet propaganda also maintained that there was no occupation and that all three Baltic states voluntarily joined the Union – supposedly the People’s Parliaments expressed the people’s will when they petitioned the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union to be admitted into the Union. The Baltic states claimed that they were forcefully and illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union. Popular opinion was that the secret protocols proved that the occupation was illegal. Such an interpretation of the Pact had major implications in Baltic public policy. If Baltic diplomats could link the Pact and the occupation, they could claim that the Soviet rule in the republics had no legal basis and therefore all Soviet laws were null and void since 1940. Such a position would automatically terminate the debate over reforming Baltic sovereignty or establishing autonomy within the Soviet Union – the states never de jure belonged to the union in the first place. This would open the possibility of restoring legal continuity of the independent states that existed in the interwar period. Claiming all Soviet laws had no legal power in the Baltics would also cancel the need to follow the Constitution of the Soviet Union and other formal secession procedures.

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In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, tensions were rising between the Baltics and Moscow. Lithuanian Romualdas Ozolas initiated a collection of 2 million signatures demanding withdrawal of the Red Army from Lithuania. The Communist Party of Lithuania was deliberating the possibility of splitting off from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. On 8th August 1989, Estonians attempted to amend election laws to limit voting rights of new immigrants (mostly Russian workers). This provoked mass strikes and protests of Russian workers. Moscow gained an opportunity to present the events as an “inter-ethnic conflict” – it could then position itself as “peacemaker” restoring order in a troubled republic. The rising tensions in anticipation of the protest spurred hopes that Moscow would react by announcing constructive reforms to address the demands of the Baltic people. At the same time fears grew of violent clampdown. Erich Honecker from East Germany and Nicolae Ceauşescu from Romania offered the Soviet Union military assistance in case it decided to use force and break up the demonstration.

On 15th August, official daily Pravda, in response to worker strikes in Estonia, published sharp criticism of “hysteria” driven by “extremist elements” pursuing selfish “narrow nationalist positions” against the greater benefit of the entire Soviet Union. On 17th August, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union published a project of new policy regarding the union republics in Pravda. However, this project offered few new ideas: it preserved Moscow’s leadership not only in foreign policy and defense, but also in economy, science, and culture. The project made few cautious concessions: it proposed the republics the right to challenge national laws in a court (at the time all three Baltic states had amended their constitutions giving their Supreme Soviets the right to veto national laws) and the right to promote their national languages to the level of the official state language (at the same time the project emphasized the leading role of the Russian language). The project also included law banning “nationalist and chauvinist organizations,” which could be used to persecute pro-independence groups in the Baltics, and a proposal to replace the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR of 1922 with a new unifying agreement, which would be part of the Soviet constitution.

On 18th August, Pravda published an extensive interview with Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, chairman of a 26-member commission set up by the Congress of People’s Deputies to investigate the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols. During the interview, Yakovlev admitted that the secret protocols were genuine. He condemned the protocols, but maintained that they had no impact on the incorporation of the Baltic states. Thus Moscow reversed its long-standing position that the secret protocols did not exist or were forgeries, but did not concede that events of 1940 constituted an occupation. It was clearly not enough to satisfy the Baltics and on 22nd August, a commission of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR announced that the occupation in 1940 was a direct result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and therefore illegal. It was the first time that an official Soviet body challenged the legitimacy of the Soviet rule.

In the light of glasnost and perestroika, street demonstrations had been increasingly growing in popularity and support. On 23rd August, 1986, Black Ribbon Day demonstrations were held in 21 western cities including New York, Ottawa, London, Stockholm, Seattle, Los Angeles, Perth, and Washington, DC to bring worldwide attention to human rights violations by the Soviet Union. In 1987, Black Ribbon Day protests were held in 36 cities including Vilnius, Lithuania. Protests against the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact were also held in Tallinn and Riga in 1987. In 1988, for the first time, such protests were sanctioned by the Soviet authorities and did not end in arrests. The activists planned an especially large protest for the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1989. It is unclear when and by whom the idea of a human chain was advanced. It appears that the idea was proposed during a trilateral meeting in Pärnu on 15th July. An official agreement between the Baltic activists was signed in Cēsis on 12th August. Local Communist Party authorities approved the protest. At the same time several different petitions, denouncing Soviet occupation, were gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures.

The organizers mapped out the chain, designating specific locations to specific cities, towns, and villages to make sure that the chain would be uninterrupted. Free bus rides were provided for those who did not have other transportation.[28] Preparations spread across the country, energizing the previously uninvolved rural population. Some employers did not allow workers to take the day off from work (23rd August fell on a Wednesday), while others sponsored the bus rides. On the day of the event, special radio broadcasts helped to coordinate the effort. Estonia declared a public holiday.

The Baltic pro-independence movements issued a joint declaration to the world and European community in the name of the protest. The declaration condemned the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, calling it a criminal act, and urged declaration that the pact was “null and void from the moment of signing.” The declaration said that the question of the Baltics was a “problem of inalienable human rights” and accused the European community of “double standards” and turning a blind eye to the “last colonies of Hitler–Stalin era.” On the day of the protest, Pravda published an editorial titled “Only the Facts.” It was a collection of quotes from pro-independence activists intended to show the unacceptable anti-Soviet nature of their work.

The chain connected the three Baltic capitals – Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn. It ran from Vilnius along the A2 highway through Širvintos and Ukmergė to Panevėžys, then along the Via Baltica through Pasvalys to Bauska in Latvia and through Iecava and Ķekava to Riga (Bauska highway, Ziepniekkalna street, Mūkusalas street, Stone bridge, Kaļķu street, Brīvības’s street) and then along road A2, through Vangaži, Sigulda, Līgatne, Mūrnieki and Drabeši, to Cēsis, from there, through Lode, to Valmiera and then through Jēči, Lizdēni, Rencēni (et), Oleri, Rūjiena and Ķoņi to Estonian town Karksi-Nuia and from there through Viljandi, Türi and Rapla to Tallinn. The demonstrators peacefully linked hands for 15 minutes at 19:00 local time (16:00 GMT). Later, a number of local gatherings and protests took place. In Vilnius, about 5,000 people gathered in the Cathedral Square, holding candles and singing national songs, including Tautiška giesmė. Elsewhere, priests held masses or rang church bells. Leaders of the Estonian and Latvian Popular Fronts gathered on the border between their two republics for a symbolic funeral ceremony, in which a giant black cross was set alight. The protesters held candles and pre-war national flags decorated with black ribbons in memory of the victims of the Soviet terror: Forest Brothers, deportees to Siberia, political prisoners, and other “enemies of the people.”

In Moscow’s Pushkin Square, ranks of special riot police were employed when a few hundred people tried to stage a sympathy demonstration. TASS said 75 were detained for breaches of the peace, petty vandalism, and other offenses. About 13,000 demonstrated in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic which was also affected by the secret protocol. A demonstration was held by the Baltic émigré and German sympathizers in front of the Soviet embassy in Bonn, then West Germany.

Most estimates of the number of participants vary between one and two million. Reuters News reported the following day that about 700,000 Estonians and 1,000,000 Lithuanians joined the protests. The Latvian Popular Front estimated an attendance of 400,000. Prior to the event, the organisers expected an attendance of 1,500,000 out of the about 8,000,000 inhabitants of the three states. Such expectations predicted 25–30% turnout among the native population. According to the official Soviet numbers, provided by TASS, there were 300,000 participants in Estonia and nearly 500,000 in Lithuania. To make the chain physically possible, an attendance of approximately 200,000 people was required in each state. Video footage taken from airplanes and helicopters showed an almost continuous line of people across the countryside.

There was an immediate push back from Soviet authorities, of course, both within the Baltic States and from Moscow. You can read the details elsewhere for yourself. The upshot is that by December 1989, the Congress of People’s Deputies accepted and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the report by Yakovlev’s commission condemning the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. In February 1990, the first free democratic elections to the Supreme Soviets took place in all three Baltic states and pro-independence candidates won majorities. On 11th March 1990, within seven months of the Baltic Way, Lithuania became the first Soviet state to declare independence. The independence of all three Baltic states was recognized by most western countries by the end of 1991.

The earliest mention of the food and agriculture of the Baltic people (Aestii) and related customs comes from Tacitus circa 98 CE: “they cultivate grain and other crops with a perseverance unusual among the indolent Germans.” Faint praise, to be sure. My experience of Baltic cuisine has run to dumplings, potatoes, sour cream, and tons of dill. The region has had many influences from Slavic and German to French, each being given their own twist from area to area. I’ve given a number of recipes here from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, so you can do a search for something that appeals. Here is a video on how to make kugelis, a Lithuanian potato pie that is the national dish:

Aug 202016
 

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Estonia has had to fight for its independence again and again throughout the 20th century. Today marks the latest (and one hopes, final) declaration of independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Estonia gained independence in the aftermath of World War I and the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920). In 1940 as a consequence of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact and its Secret Additional Protocol of August 1939 Estonia was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union. The majority of Western nations refused to recognize the incorporation of Estonia, de jure, by the Soviet Union and only recognized the government of the Estonian SSR de facto or not at all. Instead, such countries recognized Estonian/Latvian/Lithuanian diplomats and consuls who functioned for their former governments, but in name only, and these aging diplomats persisted in this anomalous situation until the ultimate restoration of Baltic independence.

In the 1980s new policies of Perestroika and Glasnost were introduced in the Soviet Union, and political repression softened. From 1987, a cycle of mass demonstrations featuring spontaneous singing eventually collected 300,000 Estonians in Tallinn to sing national songs and hymns that were strictly forbidden during the years of the Soviet occupation, as Estonian rock musicians played. On 14 May 1988, the first expression of national feeling occurred during the Tartu Pop Music Festival. Five patriotic songs were first performed during this festival. People linked their hands together and a tradition had begun.

In June 1988 the Old Town Festival was held in Tallinn, and after the official part of the festival, the participants moved to the Song Festival Grounds and similarly started to sing patriotic songs together spontaneously. On 26–28 August 1988, the Rock Summer Festival was held, and patriotic songs, composed by Alo Mattiisen, were played.

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On 11 September 1988, a massive song festival, called “Song of Estonia”, was held at the Tallinn Song Festival Arena. This time nearly 300,000 people came together, more than a quarter of all Estonians. On that day citizens and political leaders expressed, through the voice of Trivimi Velliste (Chairman of the Estonian Heritage Society at the time), of their ambition to regain independence.

On 16 November 1988, the legislative body of Estonia issued the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration. In 1990 Estonia was the first Soviet republic to defy the Soviet army by offering alternative service to Estonian residents scheduled to be drafted. Most Estonians, however, simply began avoiding the draft.

The Singing Revolution lasted over four years, with various protests and acts of defiance. In 1991, as Soviet tanks attempted to stop the progress towards independence, the Estonian Supreme Soviet together with the Congress of Estonia proclaimed the restoration of the independent state of Estonia and repudiated Soviet legislation. People acted as human shields to protect radio and TV stations from the Soviet tanks. Through these actions Estonia regained its independence without any bloodshed.

Independence was declared on the late evening of August 20, 1991, after an agreement between different political parties was reached. The next morning Soviet troops, according to Estonian TV, attempted to storm Tallinn TV Tower but were unsuccessful. The Communist hardliners’ coup attempt failed amidst mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow led by Boris Yeltsin.

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On 22 August 1991, Iceland became the first nation to recognize the newly restored independence of Estonia. Today, a plaque commemorating this event is situated on the outside wall of the Foreign Ministry, situated in Islandi väljak 1, (Iceland Square 1). The plaque reads; “The Republic of Iceland was the first to recognize, on 22 August 1991, the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia”, in Estonian, Icelandic and English. On September 6, 1991, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of Estonia and the country was admitted to the UN on September 17.

I’ve given a couple of Estonian recipes before and you can search for them if you are interested. Today is also World Mosquito Day http://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-mosquito-day/ where I mentioned recipes using blood. In an ironic way, blood is also a suitable ingredient today, in that the coup was bloodless. Estonians actually use blood a lot in their cooking and blood sausages with lingonberries are a favorite.

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Blood pancakes (veripannkoogid) are probably a novelty for some, so I’ll give a recipe for completeness even though you’ll probably have a hard job finding either blood or barley flour. Blood (pig’s blood) is usually sold frozen and needs to be thawed before using. It should contain an anti-coagulant to stop it clotting. Some recipes call for a mix of half barley flour and half rye flour. Some also add an egg to the wet ingredients.

Veripannkoogid

Ingredients

2 cups/5 dl culinary blood, thawed
½cup/1.5 dl stock
1lb/500 g barley flour
1 tbsp marjoram
salt and black pepper
1 egg, beaten (optional)
butter

Instructions

Place the flour, marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste in a mixing bowl. Mix the stock with the blood and egg (if using), and add to the flour to form a batter. It does not have to be beaten to death, just combined well. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Heat a small amount of butter in a medium sauté pan. Add in a ladleful of the batter, swirl it around to evenly coat the bottom, and let cook for a few minutes over medium-low heat. At this point you can eith flip the pancake to cook on the other side, or slide it under the broiler. I tend to do the latter because these pancakes can easily break, especially if you omit the egg.

When cooked, slide on to a plate and serve with butter melted on top, sour cream, or lingonberry preserves. It is also customary to serve these pancakes with an apple salad.

Aug 212013
 

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On this date in 1991, Latvia asserted its independence from the Soviet Union. The Republic of Latvia was founded on November 18, 1918, after centuries of imperial rule. However, its independent status was interrupted at the outset of World War II when in 1940 the country was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, then re-occupied by the Soviets in 1944 to form the Latvian SSR for the next fifty years. The peaceful Singing Revolution, starting in 1987, called for Baltic emancipation from Soviet rule. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence on August 21, 1991.

The Latvians are a Baltic people, culturally related to the Lithuanians, but not Estonians. Together with the Finnic Livs (or Livonians), the Latvians are the indigenous people of Latvia. Latvian is an Indo-European language and, along with Lithuanian, the only surviving members of the Baltic branch. Indigenous minority languages are Latgalian and the nearly extinct Finnic Livonian language. Despite subjection to foreign rule from the 13th to the 20th centuries, the Latvian nation has maintained its identity throughout the generations, most notably the language, culture, and rich traditions of storytelling and music.

To my mind the Singing Revolution that led to the freedom of the Baltic states is one of the most extraordinary independence movements in history.  The Singing Revolution is a commonly used name for events between 1987 and 1991 that led to the restoration of the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The term was coined by an Estonian activist and artist, Heinz Valk, in an article published a week after the June 10–11, 1988, spontaneous mass night-singing demonstrations of banned patriotic songs at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds.  Subsequently huge crowds throughout the Baltic states gathered to sing banned songs, at one point exceeding 300,000 people.  There were also other peaceful actions, such as mass crowds forming human barriers to prevent the movement of Soviet tanks, and, a personal favorite, the Baltic Way, a 600 km (373 mi) long human chain of people holding hands from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius on August 23, 1989, expressing Baltic unity and opposition to Soviet rule. The Singing Revolution led to the bloodless separation of all three nations from Soviet Russia.

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Latvia has a few curious claims to fame. For example, all Stolichnaya vodka that is sold for export, and prominently labeled RUSSIAN VODKA, is distilled and bottled in Latvia. Sergei Eisenstein, the great Soviet film maker was born in Latvia (although his parents were not Latvian, and he spent little of his boyhood there). Leor Dimant (Leors Dimants) better known as DJ Lethal, turn table master and producer for the Rap Metal band Limp Bizkit for fifteen years, was born in Latvia.

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But arguably the most widespread influence of any Latvian was that of Jacob Davis (Jacob Youphes) who teamed up with Levi Strauss (Löb Strauß) to produce rivet pocket jeans.  Strauss ran a dry goods store in San Francisco where Davis ran a tailoring business producing tents, wagon covers, and blankets.  Davis bought fabric from Strauss for his business.  In 1870 Davis expanded his line to produce denim work clothes, also using cloth from Strauss.  He had been using rivets on horse blankets, and conceived the idea of using them on work clothes to reinforce the pockets because customers were frequently coming to buy extra materials to mend torn pockets. In 1872 Davis suggested that he and Strauss collaborate, and so on August 8th they jointly filed a patent (granted in 1873), with Davis providing the ideas and Strauss funding the application. Subsequently Davis became plant manager at the first Levi Strauss clothing factory. Blue jeans, hallmark of U.S. culture for decades, were the brainchild of a Latvian immigrant and his Bavarian partner.

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Latvian cooking is rather basic, with little in the way of seasonings.  Piragi, bacon and onion stuffed egg bread buns, are a popular dish. To make them you make an egg bread dough, let it rise once, knock it down and roll it into a sheet. Then cut out circles of the dough, place a tablespoon of chopped bacon and onion that has been gently fried into the center of the circle, fold over into a semi-circle and shape into a crescent.  Let the buns rise, glaze with beaten egg, and bake in a hot oven (400°F/ 200°C) for 15 minutes, or until golden.  A tasty snack that you can find throughout Latvia.

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Silke Kažoka is also typical, but more formal.  It is a complex dish made of layers of salt herrings and grated vegetables interlaced with horseradish flavored mayonnaise and garnished with boiled eggs. Quantities are deliberately approximate to suit your own tastes. Tinned herrings in oil will work in this dish.

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Silke Kažoka

Ingredients:

400 gm salt herring filets in oil
4 small potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 large carrot, boiled and peeled
2 boiled eggs
2 medium beetroots, boiled and peeled
1 cooking apple, peeled and cored
400 ml mayonnaise
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
chopped green onion for garnish

Instructions:

Coarsely grate the potatoes, carrot, beetroot, and apple, and reserve on separate plates.

Mix together the mayonnaise and horseradish.

On an oval platter make a layer of grated potato. Spread over the potato a thin layer of mayonnaise

Next add a layer of the chopped herring slightly smaller than the layer of potatoes.  As the layering process continues the idea is to create a shallow hill.  Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the herring.

Continue the layering with the carrots and apple, with mayonnaise on top of each.

The beetroot layer comes next and should cover the top and sides of the “hill.” Spread mayonnaise over the beetroot and work it into the layer a little with a fork so that the mayonnaise takes on the color of the beetroot.

Separate the whites and yolks of the boiled eggs.  Chop the yolks and cut the whites into short ribbons. Decorate the sides of the “hill” with the whites, and spread the yolks on the top.

Refrigerate for at least two hours.  Garnish with green onions and serve.