(Regensburger Hefte ...; 10) ISSN 1613-5601

Between "Abwehr" and "Aufbau". Baltic German Politics in Estonia from 1918 to 1939.


The political climate for the integration of the Baltic German minority in the Republic of Estonia was not favourable at all when the Estonian state was founded in 1918. Leading representatives of the German Balts did not support the Estonians' striving for independence. On the contrary, they tried to establish a Baltic German state consisting of Estonia and Latvia, and sent for German troops to assist them. After some Baltic Germans left the region with the German occupation forces at the end of 1918, those German Balts who stayed in Estonia fought against the Soviet invasion along with the Estonians. Anti-Bolshevism welded them together. However, the constituent assembly and especially the discussions on the radical land reform showed that many German Balts were not prepared to be integrated in the Estonian state as mere members of an ethnic minority. In this environment, the liberal minority rights guaranteed by the Estonian Constitution of 1920 and particularly, the Cultural Self-Government of ethnic minorities instituted in 1925, are all the more remarkable. The minority rights granted by both the Constitution and Cultural Self-Government have been internationally praised as being exceptionally liberal until today. The establishment of a German Baltic Cultural Self-Government led to a period characterised by general consolidation, the 15 years when German Balts were permitted to live in independent Estonia until they were resettled (Umsiedlung) in occupied Poland in 1939. The resettling of German Balts through the Hitler-Stalin Pact came as a shock to most of the German Balts as well as to the majority of Estonians. In Estonia, at least, the fact that German Balts eagerly followed the demand to leave Estonia for Poland should not be seen as the result of their poor integration as an ethnic minority, rather it can be explained by their justified fear of Soviet invasion which they shared with most of their Estonian fellow citizens.