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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 5.4 (2004) 791-796



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El´mira Petrovna Fedosova, Rossiia i Pribaltika: Kul´turnyi dialog. Vtoraia polovina XIX-nachalo XX veka [Russia and the Baltic Region: A Cultural Dialogue, Second Half of the 19th and Early 20th Centuries]. 211 pp. Moscow: Institut rossiiskoi istorii RAN, 1999. ISBN 5805500019.

In referenda held 14 and 20 September 2003, the citizens of Estonia and Latvia, respectively, voted overwhelmingly for their countries to join the European Union (EU) in the spring of 2004. Lithuanians similarly approved EU membership on 10-11 June. The 66.7 percent of voters in Estonia, 67.0 percent in Latvia, and 91.0 percent in Lithuania who saw their future as irrevocably shared with that of their Western neighbors easily outnumbered those who voted against joining the EU—whose views were motivated, for the most part, by a fear of EU economic policy and a loss of sovereignty within the EU or by a hesitation to turn their backs on Russia.

These results will likely be another bitter pill to those, like El´mira Fedosova, who still cling to the Soviet-era orthodox position that tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union were the major, if not the sole, source of political and cultural advancement for the Baltic peoples and the Balts should be duly grateful. The book under review was written out of the conviction that the Balts are turning in the wrong direction; it is less a historical investigation and analysis than it is a political tract.

The author of an earlier book on ties between revolutionary activists in Russia proper and the Baltic region in the second half of the 19th century,1 Fedosova makes clear her aims with this new book in her introduction. The study of ties between peoples of the Russian state in the "pre-October period of history," she writes, is particularly important now that "in a few former republics of the USSR, the existence of traditional and multifaceted relationships among peoples is being ignored, [as well as] their experience of cooperation built up over centuries within the framework of a unified state, [while] the good and benevolent things that Russia and the Russian people did for other peoples of the empire are suppressed and [instead] the negative that the tsarist administration brought with it to these territories is emphasized" (7-8).

Essentially, Fedosova has produced here a catalogue of Russian cultural influences in the tsarist Baltic provinces of Estland, Livland, and Kurland in [End Page 791] the second half of the 19th and the early 20th centuries. There is only an implied argument in the book: economic modernization and an imperative to elaborate national identities demanded a closer relationship between Russia and the homeland of the Latvians and Estonians as the Baltic German "barons" with their feudal mindset sought to hold the Balts back. While there is some truth to this, Fedosova approaches the relationship between Russia and the Baltic provinces not as a "dialogue" of historical experience, as her book's subtitle suggests, but instead as an imperial monologue. Her emphasis on the mere presence of artifacts of Russian high culture in the Baltic region and on an awareness by Latvians and Estonians of Russian literature and other arts prevents her from contributing with this book to the historiography of the period.

In her introductory overview of the history of the Baltic provinces within the empire, Fedosova focuses primarily on education. Here we are told that the Baltic German influence in schools in the pre-Russification era prevented the study of Russian, which "needed to be studied as the state language and was necessary for every citizen living in Russia" (22). Introduction of Russian as the language of instruction in schools, Fedosova writes, "was a natural process, one dictated by the very practicalities of life" (22). The tsarist regime was guilty of "great-power chauvinism and nationalism," harmful to the advancement of the Latvian and Estonian nations (29), while "in the fight against the German...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 791-796
Launched on MUSE
2004-10-13
Open Access
No
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