The Baltic states followed a unique trajectory following the October Revolution, breaking free from Bolshevik power and enjoying two decades of independence. When Sovietization finally arrived, the region’s peoples responded by leading double lives. It was a tactic that ultimately played an important role in hastening the Soviet Union’s demise.
During the late-Soviet era, in the 1970s and 80s, festive celebrations of the October Revolution would occur across the Baltics every November, as elsewhere in the Soviet Union. In schools, pupils like myself studied the life of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin in great detail, and dutifully learned to sing catchy tunes celebrating the Red Army’s exploits during the Civil War.
Such outward expressions of loyalty to the Soviet system helped mask deeply held attachments to indigenous languages and culture, as well as an understanding of how a democratic society should function. In the relative privacy of their own homes, the peoples of the Baltics kept the memory of the inter-war republics of the 1920s and 30s alive. They cherished and idealized the concept of independence like a lost paradise.
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Lauri Mälksoo is Professor of International Law at the University of Tartu, Estonia, and director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, a think tank based in Tallinn. During the academic year 2017-2018, he is fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. He is the author of “Russian Approaches to International Law” (Oxford University Press, 2015), “Illegal Annexation and State Continuity: the Case of the Incorporation of the Baltic States by the USSR” (Brill, 2003) and co-author of “Russia and the European Court of Human Rights: the Strasbourg Effect” (Cambridge University Press, 2017).