The sovereign debt crisis has already been discussed in Europe for quite some time, at least since 2009. Radically restricting government spending—austerity—is seen as the only solution for regaining the trust of the markets. Such a method (or “cure”) is a windfall for the ideological circles in Europe and North America that have been talking since the 1970s about the inevitability of restricting state expenditure and cutting back on “welfare state” policies (which has been difficult to do in democratic conditions).
In his new book Black Earth, Timothy Snyder, the Yale history professor familiar to the Estonian reader thanks to his books Bloodlands and The Red Prince, turns his attention to the Holocaust—a subject that is still hot in Estonia and elsewhere, and which some have been trying to erase from history.
According to the romanticised approach popular in Estonia, Finland fought their Eastern neighbour in 1939 and did not allow their state to be subjugated. This then decided the country’s destiny. Finlandisation followed later but this was a trifling matter compared to what happened in Estonia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Even so, some Finnish historians consider finlandisation to have been a surrender.1 We in Estonia never tire of analysing our surrender either, but while we focus on the actions of the state that surrendered, it may slip our minds that there was also a subjugator that started it all. As the subjugator disappeared from the scene of history, both subjugated states were freed; one of them may be compared to an inmate in a maximum security prison, the other to one in an open prison. The difference between the two was great, but neither of them was free. A quarter of a century later, the subjugator is back—the Finnish president deemed it necessary to mention in his new year speech that Finland is part of the West, while we in Estonia sometimes find it difficult to understand our Northern neighbour. This context ensures that this book by the Finnish historian Seikko Eskola is unexpectedly topical today, since the methods used to make Finland surrender 75 years ago have also made a comeback.
When describing Russia, people tend to quote the Russians themselves—“You will not grasp her with your mind, or cover with a common label”. This might indeed be the case for those who do not know Russia, Russian history or culture too well. It is especially true for Western researchers and observers, who Lauri Mälksoo says understand Russian society a lot less than Russians understand Western society. Lauri Mälksoo is a scholar of Russian language, society, legal history and people, and as such he has undertaken an in-depth historical analysis which concludes in a quite convincing generalisation explaining why Russia is the way it is and acts the way it does.
Mihail Meltyuhov’s latest book is a thorough piece of research that aims to demonstrate how the Baltic States are merely territories that a world power needs to ensure its security. This angle is hidden in the title: not countries, but a battlefield, a stretch of land where constant fighting should take place in the name of a powerful country. When you read the book more thoroughly, at times this first impression is confirmed, then it becomes doubtful again, and sometimes it even disappears. Meltyuhov is a serious historian. But history is often written by the victors and, for Russia, the end of World War II in Europe is the greatest, not to say the only, victory in its history.
I was involved in one of the events in the history of this collection. The book was published in Tartu because the compilers could not find a willing publisher in Russia in 2014. The Estonian Literary Museum came to the rescue; and we were sitting at a bar in Tartu one November night, waiting for a phone call. In fact, the compilers drove to Tartu, hid a number of copies of the book between children’s things in their car and then smuggled them into Russia. Once they had crossed the border, they called us. I began to draw parallels between this and the stories I had read as a child about heroic Bolsheviks who similarly smuggled forbidden literature into Russia.
Discussion of a new world order has intensified on essentially four occasions during the last 100 years: under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson after World War I, when the League of Nations was born; after World War II, when similar discussions led to the creation of the UN, EEC, NATO and the Bretton Woods institutions; and after the Cold War, when the term was also frequently used. In 2014, discussing a new world order is once again topical in international media and literature. This is because of developments and crises due to which the existing balance has increasingly shifted: the rise of China and India, and many small conflicts in Asia; the decreasing influence of the U.S. resulting from the dynamics of several recent conflicts; the shrinking influence of the EU, caused by internal institutional tensions; the Arab Spring and the subsequent turbulence in a number of Middle East and North African countries; ISIL, Iraq and Afghanistan; Russia’s responses to the “colour” revolutions, the Russo–Georgian War in 2008, and the Ukraine conflict in 2014; an increase in poverty and hunger caused by the economic crisis of 2008, in which developing countries blamed the developed; climate change; cross-border terrorism; and so on.
This summer, 100 years will have passed since the outbreak of the First World War, so it is not surprising that historians and others are trying or will try to explore the causes and effects of that great tragedy yet again.