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Recap: Ethnic Relations in the Baltics Reconsidered. International conference held September 16 and 17, 2022

October 14, 2022

The MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies hosted on September 16 and 17 an international conference “Ethnic Relations in the Baltics Reconsidered.” Co-organizers of the conference were Bradley Woodworth, Yale Baltic Studies Program Manager and Associate Professor of History at the University of New Haven, and Professor Darius Staliūnas of the Lithuanian Institute of History in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The conference brought together leading scholars on relations from between ethnic groups in the lands that comprise contemporary Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia from the eighteenth century to the present. The organizers’ overarching aim for the conference was to avoid interpretations forced into overly strict interpretative schemes dictated by politics, whether that be the Soviet ideology of “friendship of nations,” the domestic politics of the nation state, or the influence of international politics.

The conference began with a keynote address by Toivo Raun of Indiana University who spoke on “Ethnic Relations in the Baltic Region: Complexity and Coexistence.”

The first conference panel was on the drawing of ethnic boundaries under the tsarist state. It featured talks by Jörg Hackmann (University of Szczecin), “Voluntary Associations as Accelerator or Inhibitor of Inter-Ethnic relations in the Baltic Region?” Irina Paert (University of Tartu) “‘Neither Jew, Nor Gentile?’ The Russian Orthodox Clergy in the Baltic Provinces in the Service of the Empire,” and Bradley Woodworth (University of New Haven/Yale University) “The Origins of the State: Tartu University Legal Historian Gustav von Ewers and Russian Historiography.”

A panel on memory included papers by Epp Annus (The Ohio State University) “Spring Flowers and Border Guards: Estonian Narratives of Soviet Military and Border Troops,” and Violeta Davoliūtė (Lithuanian Institute of History) “The Habitus of Holocaust Remembrance during the Thaw in Soviet Lithuania.”

Ethnic conflicts per se were address in the final panel on September 16 with papers by Tomas Balkelis (Lithuanian Institute of History) “Dividing Society: The Impact of Border Making between Lithuania and Poland, 1920-1940,” Darius Staliūnas (Lithuanian Institute of History) “Anti-Jewish Violence in the Interwar Lithuania: Preconditions of the Holocaust?” and Stanislovas Stasiulis (Lithuanian Institute of History) “The Image of the ‘New Lithuania’ in Propaganda of the Lithuanian Activist Front.”

Issues involving minorities within the Baltic lands were the topic of the first panel on September 17, with papers by Klaus Richter (University of Birmingham) “Ways Out of the Interwar Slump: Imagined Historical Trajectories and State-Minority Relations in the Baltics,” Andres Kasekamp (University of Toronto) “Konstantin Päts and Ethnic Minorities: The Political Trajectory of an Estonian Nationalist Authoritarian Leader,” and Karsten Brüggemann (University of Tallinn) “On the Interplay of Soviet Internationalism and Estonian Nationalism in the ESSR.”

Intra-ethnic relations in the Baltic countries today was the focus of the concluding panel of papers: Ammon Cheskin (University of Glasgow) “New Categories of Analysis and Avenues, ”Mārtiņš Kaprāns (University of Latvia) “Crossing Symbolic Boundaries: Can Precarity Bring Latvians and Russophones Closer Together?” and Vello Pettai (European Centre for Minority Issues) “Minorities and E-Governance”

The conference was rounded out with a lively set of concluding remarks on the papers overall and on the conference’s themes held by Ronald Suny of the University of Michigan and Kevin Platt of the University of Pennsylvania.

The conference organizers expect that an edited volume of conference papers will be published.