Russia and the Baltic: The Modern Version of No Permanent Alliances Only Permanent Interests : The Baltic Must Move Forward, Not Backward

Via CaryGEE, thank you.
In the New York Times
Adam B. Ellick has an interesting November 11, 2007 piece
on Russia and the Baltic States
aptly titled As It Rises, Russia Stirs Baltic Fears.

To pick a paragraph from Ellick:

“In the Baltics, history is a ghost that still walks the streets in a very active way,” said Daina Eglitis of George Washington University. “It’s not just past, it’s present. But people have different readings on it.”

Of interest beyond the Baltic is that the relation of the Baltic nations to Russia is a pretty good barometer of Russian relations to the Western world generally.

We ourselves are political pragmatists and are seldom surprised by political developments in this region. We are reminded of the phrase that there are no permanent alliances, only permanent interests, and these are traceable back in human history over millennia. Brendan Miniter writes in the online Wall Street Journal at The Cows Come Home:

In his 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington noted that there are no permanent alliances, only permanent interests. The speech has often been used to justify an isolationist foreign policy. But in fact, Washington advised the nation to get involved in foreign affairs only when it is in this nation’s interests to do so, while expecting the same from other nations. The original George W. didn’t have a U.N. to proclaim irrelevant, so he simply said, “The period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance . . . when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.”” [emphasis added by LawPundit]

In his Farewell Address, Washington wrote further:

Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectably defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all Nations, are recommended by policy, humanity and interest. But even our Commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand: neither seeking nor granting exclusive favours or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and deversifying by gentle means the streams of Commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing with Powers so disposed; in order to give to trade a stable course, to define the rights of our Merchants, and to enable the Government to support them; conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view, that ’tis folly in one Nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its Independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favours and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect, or calculate upon real favours from Nation to Nation. ‘Tis an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard. [emphasis added by LawPundit]

In offering to you, my Countrymen these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression, I could wish; that they will controul the usual current of the passions, or prevent our Nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the Destiny of Nations: But if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign Intriegue, to guard against the Impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompence for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 18, Document 29
The University of Chicago Press

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick. 39 vols. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931–44.

Russia follows what it regards to be its permanent interests, the Baltic States follow what they regard to be their permanent interests.

In the case of Russia and the Baltic, these diverse and often conflicting permanent interests have survived all of the wars fought in this region and the alliances formed to fight them. Many have died – and achieved nothing. A modern Realpolitik (pragmatic politics) in this region, in our opinion, therefore would be better advised to apply the lessons of history rather than to continue to repeat repetitively occurring tragedies, leading nowhere.

Our own ancestors stem from the Baltic, but we are in a minority in our political views on that region since we find it pointless to continously drudge around in the past. We would counsel modern Balts to stop complaining about undeniable historical injustices, for which the Balts are themselves in part to blame through their historically recalcitrant and antiquated politics. He who constantly focuses on past losses appears to the world as a “loser”. Spending all of one’s time lamenting past history brings nothing. Rather, one should start to don the garbs (Latvian gerbes = clothes) of winners – which means to look forward to the future with a realistic assessment of the position of the Baltic countries within the larger European and Eurasian pantheon and to act accordingly. Cooperation and not confrontation will lead to better results in the modern international world.

“Clothes” make the man. Dress your spirit like a winner. Act like a winner. Be a winner. Forget the past, no one can change it. Look to tomorrow and do it better than the generations that preceded you.

Let’s take a look at one example.

In terms of Baltic development, the Baltic states are – and always have been – a buffer zone between Eastern and Western Europe. It was thus both the German and Russian aristocracy who built their opulent vacation homes at – and spent their glorious summers at Jurmala (pronounced Your-ma-la). Jurmala Beach Resort and the surrounding villages with their over 30 kilometers of beautiful white sandy beaches form the Gulf of Riga‘s Baltic Riviera, a part of which was a candidate as a World Heritage Site. (See the graphic at the beginning of this post, linked from the official Jurmala city site).

Why not emphasize such through-and-through positive aspects of history and capitalize upon them? Countries with much smaller and far less inviting beach areas have learned to make a fortune from them and to boost their regional economies immensely.

But look for example at the presentation of the Baltic Riviera on the Internet in general. One has to look very hard to find anything which makes this vacation area internationally desirable for potential visitors, who have increased by only a mere 10% in 2007 – and yet, there are millions of tourists who would potentially come to Jurmala (including of course the many scenic villages there) and help bring wealth to Latvia, if the people in Latvia were to turn more to such projects and to turn away from the endless jabber about past eras and past wrongs.

Instead of complaining about Russian money coming into the Baltic, welcome it. Better to see that money invested in banks in Riga than elsewhere. There is nothing like capital to get capitalism going. Money drives the world, that’s just the way it is.

Take the example of Vancouver, today ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and one of the most desirable to live in. A mere 10 years ago there was talk in Canada about a dreaded “Hongcouver”, a Chinese Vancouver, because of “the Hong Kong Chinese, who sought out Vancouver as a safe haven after the British colony returned to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.” Today, 10 years later, Vancouver is the “Switzerland of the Pacific“.

MOVE FORWARD – otherwise, the past will overtake you, and you will be back where you were – in that unwanted past.