Post-Cold War Identity Politics: Northern and Baltic Experiences

By Marko Lehti; David J.Smith | Go to book overview

6

Looking for Neighbours: Origins and Development of Latvian Rhetoric on Nordic 'Closeness'

VALTERS ŠČERBINSKIS

Although Latvia as a country has naturally always had neighbours in a geographical sense, the search for neighbours in broader, philosophical terms has exercised the minds of politicians and the active section of Latvian society since the late nineteenth century. In addition to those states with which Latvia has or has had a natural land border (Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belarus plus Poland during the inter-war years), Latvian intellectuals have tried to attach the 'neighbour' label to states that could not be regarded as such from the traditional, geographical perspective. This category includes, in the first place, Sweden and Finland, and, more recently, the whole of Scandinavia and the Nordic countries. The idea that these countries were 'near' and 'right next door' originated in a natural desire to gain as neighbours peoples that, from the Latvian point of view, were in every sense exemplary, and with which there was no mutual ill-feeling or contention.

Since the birth of ideas, their transformation into political schemes and the origin of various myths usually occur on a purely theoretical level, the 'search for neighbours' can be regarded as rhetoric, one meaning of which suggests the use of beautiful but empty words, commonly without any practical application. In spite of this negative connotation, however, the neighbours rhetoric does shed light on the efforts and desire of the Latvian élite-intellectuals and political leaders-to create a spatial image, a wished-for or dream location, and a region to which they want to belong and with which they want to associate themselves.

A topical question for the historiography of Latvia and, more widely, for that of other post-Soviet countries of Eastern Europe, concerns the possibility of parallels between pre-Second World War events and those after 1991. Thus, in our case, is it possible to identify similarities between the 1920s and 1930s rhetoric on the Nordic countries and that of the post-1991 years? Another hitherto unanswered question relates to the

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