Monthly Archives: March 2016

Latvia and the Belarusian Peoples Republic

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People's Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People’s Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

On March 25 1918 national and democratic forces representing the Belarusian nation proclaimed Belarusian Peoples Republic (Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Respublika BNR)  It was done in the spirit of other nations proclaiming independence from the collapsed Russian Empire. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were example for Belarusians and Ukrainians who strived for their own unified state. However, during the crucial years of 1918-1920 the BNR did not survive the tides of war and ceased to exist. At the time of its short existence it had established relations with new Republic of Latvia and for a period of time BNR government was stationed in Riga. BNR had military and diplomatic mission working in Riga and its leaders placed hope on Latvian support. Latvia itself was caught in the tough battle for survival in war against Soviet Russia and pro-German forces and had complex relations with Poland so its relations with BNR at start were generally positive, but as BNR went into oblivion Latvia abandoned its support. Latvian main goals was to establish peace with Soviet Russia and settle issues with Poland so in the end BNR was more a obstacle for Latvian foreign policy and its diplomatic mission left Riga forever. This article marks the anniversary of Belarusian Peoples Republic and tells the story of short and forgotten Latvian and Belarusian relations between 1918 and 1921.

Belarusian nation has deep roots from medieval times when its territory was part of Lithuanian Grand Duchy. According to many historians mostly Belarusian ones, the leading elite of the Duchy was not Lithuanians but Belarusian ancestors. Later when Lithuania united with Poland Belarusian lands were influenced by Polish culture. Only after Polish partitions in 1772, 1793 and 1795 Belarus was integrated in spiral of Moscow. During these long years a distinct Belarusian language and culture evolved but it had to survive under heavy Russification policies and also Polonization. On 1918 Russian Empire had collapsed and was forced to cede Belarusian lands to Germany according to Brest-Litovsk peace agreement. An agreement that allowed nations within German occupied lands to decide their own fate. Similar to Baltic nations, there were people among Belarusians who saw chance to establish a national democratic state.

On December 5 – 17 1917 in Minsk (Mensk in Belarusian language) in All-Belarus congress a Central Belarusian Rada was formed however the Russian Soviet of Peoples Commissars in Petrograd rejected the rights of Belarusian autonomy. On January 1918 the All Russia 3th Congress declared the Rada an illegitimate. No repressions followed as on February 1918 Germans stared major offensive and took control over all Belarusian lands.  On February 20 a Belarusian Peoples Secretariat was formed with J. Varonka in the lead. On March 9 Belarusian Rada issued the creation of democratic Belarusian Peoples Republic. On March 25 the BNR proclaimed independence.

Germany did not recognize BNR as it regarded it as a Russian territory. Rada nevertheless created a War Affairs Committee with Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau, in charge. In April Germans banned the Peoples Secretariat. Meanwhile Belarusian Rada fragmented in many leftist parties and with some difficulties created coalition government. Right wingers also joined pleasing the Germans and trade, industry and social welfare was transferred to Peoples Secretariat. BNR was recognized only by Ukrainian Peoples Republic so action was taken to get more diplomatic recognition from its neighbors. On October BNR made white-red-white flag as its official symbol and knight Pahonia the symbol of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was made as coat of arms.

Situation became crucial after Germany stepped out of war and BNR had real chances for independence. However, the Bolsheviks were boosting up offensive to retake lost lands. BNR made agreement with Lithuania. Many members of Rada joined Lithuanian Council (Tariba) and Belarusian Affairs Ministry was made within Lithuanian government with J. Varonka as minister. On December 3 1918 BNR moved to Vilnius while Bolsheviks were approaching Mensk. Soon Bolsheviks headed for Vilnius and BNR moved to Hrodno (Grodno). BNR was in conflict with Poland who had territorial claims on Belarus and after deepening tensions its government moved to Berlin.

On May 1919 Polish forces captured Mensk and BNR leadership moved there. Polish leader Pilsudsky urged Belarusians to join in common union with Poland and make Rada an autonomous body with jurisdiction only in education and culture. BNR rejected and asked for full independence. BNR Rada was weakened by breakup into BNR Supreme Rada and BNR Peoples Rada. Both Rada’s were lead by rivaling leftist parties and Polish government suppressed Peoples Rada.  After major issues BNR government moved to Riga. Poland did not recognized BNR while all three Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and Turkey had formally recognized.

BNR territorial claims were issue on its own as its included territories claimed by Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. BNR would include Smolensk (Smolinsk), some small portions of Latvian Latgale and Sēlija regions and parts claimed by Lithuania and Poland. There were some maps that included whole Latgale as BNR territory. The BNR borders were drawn according to Belarusian ethnic borders that conflicted with all neighboring states. Ethnically diverse Latgale was also under dispute by Poland and Lithuania, while Vilnius was major hotspot between Poland and Lithuania. The western Belarus main centers Hrodna and Brest had large Polish populations that wished to be under Warsaw. While neither Bolsheviks nor White forces of Russia did recognize any national independence at all. This created a problematic situation for Belarusian independence.

On autumn 1920 Polish and Soviet peace agreement talks were underway in Riga. BNR government observed that Poles and Soviets are taking part in partition of the Belarusian lands and were not successful in breaking up these actions. This finally made BNR conflicting sides the socialist revolutionaries and socialist federalists  agreed to form unified government. A government led by V Lastovskau became official representative of BNR and BNR Peoples Rada was renamed the BNR Rada. BNR left Riga on November 11 and made agreement on common military union against Poland and started work in Kaunas. On 1923 BNR government and Rada left Kaunas and moved to Prague where it remains until this day still coordinating opposition efforts against Alexander Lukashenko (Lukashenka) authoritarian government in Republic of Belarus.

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR had high interests in Latvia. First contacts were made on summer of 1919 when BNR Minister of Interior Affairs K Tereshchenko arrived in Riga to establish relations with Latvia. He was interview by local Russian newspaper Rizhkoe Slovo where he issued his plans of creating unified front with Latvians and Lithuanians against the Bolsheviks. BNR had a small armed force incapable defeating Bolsheviks alone. On July 24 he met Kārlis Ulmanis the Prime Minister of Latvian Provisional Government who granted his plea to open BNR consulate in Riga. On August the consulate begun its work with B Shmikovich in charge later replaced by R Kazyachi. Consulate was located in Old Riga at Pils street. BNR flag was raised and consulate begun looking for potential BNR citizens issuing calls in press for Belarusian nationals to apply. BNR tried to level down its territorial claims on Daugavpils district until arrival of military – diplomatic mission to resolve the issue.

 The mission arrived on October 1 1919 with Kastus Jezavitau in charge. He was born in Daugavpils on 1893. On October 3 his delegation met the Latvian Foreign Minister Zigfrīds Anna Meirerovics, to whom he assured BNR support for Latvian independence and wished to join the planned Baltic Union. During the siege of Riga on October-November 1919 by pro-German Army of Bermondt BNR consulate remained in Riga. After Estonia made peace agreement with Soviet Russia BNR wanted to move the armed units led by general S Bulak-Balahovich or so called Belarusian corps to Latvia and use as BNR attack force. BNR stared talks with Latvian side to mobilize men within Latvia for BNR army however the talks failed. Only way to enlist people in Latvia into BNR forces was to make them BNR citizens.

During Battle of Riga and afterwards there was a brief positive period of relations between Latvia and BNR because of BNR representatives supported Latvians in many ways. However, soon many became aware of BNR claims on Latvian border areas most prominently the Ilūkste district (it was also disputed by Poland and Lithuania) and started to question the relations with BNR. As most part of Belarus was under Polish or Soviet rule with active combat actions these good relations were declarative that could change if BNR would gain control over Belarus. BNR could not convince Latvians to station Bulak-Balahovich forces in Latvia or include them into Latvian armed forces; Latvians only agreed them to transit to their homeland. A conflict emerged between BNR consulate and Latvian Army command. BNR consulate was on drive to recruit as much BNR citizens as possible without looking much into their motivation and ethnicity. In result some Latvians and Jews applied for BNR citizenship simply to avoid enlisting in Latvian Armed Forces.

On early 1920 Bulak-Balahovich forces of 800 men entered Latvia and stationed near Alūksne at Estonian border. Jezavitau tried to convince Latvians to include them in to offensive against Bolsheviks in Latgale but talks again failed. On January his unit was included in BNR but soon general broke ties with BNR and moved to Poland to join their army. When Latvian and Polish forces liberated Latgale from the Bolsheviks BNR wished to establish consulates in Daugavpils and Rēzekne. However, the talks with Latvian authorities failed. The Latvian military was skeptical about BNR citizenship registers for they served as tools to avoid army and as BNR only existed on paper there was great doubts. At this time much of Belarus was overrun by Bolsheviks and Polish armies on the Western side.

Latvian side became more reserved to BNR claims and requests. To sort out the Latvian and BNR border issues Latvian foreign ministry offered to create a Latvian-Belarusian commission.   Jezavitau requested secretary J Charpulka and consul B Shimkovich to work in commission, meanwhile Latvians did not rush to name their delegates and the commission never begun work. BNR most success in Latvia was laying foundations for national Belarusian minority by creating Belarusian culture and education society “Batjkovschina” (Fatherland) in Riga. Also a journal in Belarusian “Na Chuzije” (In foreign land) was issued, but only made single issue that contained information about Belarusians in Riga and BNR goals.

Latvian authorities started to feel colder towards BNR and Latvian police started to check BNR citizens to see how valid their citizenship is and even made arrests. BNR authorities protested and checks were stopped. Even some official BNR officials were arrested for instance secretary of BNR Rada J Mamonka was arrested at the Latvian border and 14 600 Russian Imperial Rubles he brought to Riga was confiscated. Border guards disregarded his BNR passport and also his diplomatic papers and only after protests he was released and money returned. BNR was not allowed to take part in Baltic States conference in Bulduri, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania voted against, while Latvia abstained. Only Poland this time because of partial loss of the Belarusian territory had nothing against the BNR participation. On August 11 1920 Latvia made Peace agreement with Soviet Union and relations with BNR was now seen as disadvantageous. The Polish – Soviet peace talks also took place in Riga and both sides were splitting Belarus in half. On October 20 after much Latvian pressure BNR started to gather its bags to leave Latvia. On October 27 BNR leader V Lastovsky pledged Baltic States to support BNR both politically and financially and wished that request for BNR war bases in Baltic States would be considered sometime in future.

On November 11 after making successful talks with Lithuania, BNR moved to Kaunas. Last BNR armed units stationed in Latvia left it after Polish takeover of Vilnius. Most of the Belarusian active community left Riga excluding   Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau who became leader of the Latvian Belarusian minority. Belarusian minority received autonomy in education, had their own societies however on 1924 because of false accusation in separatism many of the Belarusian leaders including Jezavitau were placed on trial greatly straining Latvian-Belarusian relations.

The situation in Belarus between 1918 and 1920 was greatly disadvantageous to Belarusian national independence. It was against the interest of both Bolsheviks and Poland who regarded Belarus as their territory. Latvian relations with BNR were based on realpolitics placing Latvian relations with Soviet Union and Poland above BNR interests. BNR certainly had high hopes in Latvian support, but their powers to defend their homeland were too short and in the end BNR became a state on paper. We can only speculate what would happen if Poland would support independent Belarus and ally with it against Soviets. In the result a fourth Baltic State was lost. The Republic of Belarus that was formed after dissolution of the Soviet Union at first tried to relive the legacy of BNR by using its flag as its national symbol. A few years later Alexander Lukashenko dropped all references to BNR and switched back to Soviet symbolism and turned Belarus into authoritarian nation with Russian tanks marching on the streets on Belarusian independence day. But, BNR is not dead. Its Rada still works in Prague. The BNR flag and its coat of arms has become a symbol of the democratic opposition and praised by the Belarusian democratic youth. If democratic Belarus has any future then ideas of BNR will be its guideline for Belarus to become a full fourth Baltic State and member of Europe.

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Selected sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (1996) Latvijas un Baltkrievijas Tautas Republikas attiecības. (1919-1920) Latvijas Arhīvi. 1-2. 

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Paul Schiemann 1876-1944

schieman

There are people whose legacy has outlived their lives and whose actions and deeds were praised many decades after their deaths. During their lifetimes however, they were viewed with controversy, they had many critics and enemies and so as they friends and allies. However, only many decades later their legacy has been fully understood and they are again placed into spotlights. One of them is Paul Schiemann – jurist, journalist and political leader of the Baltic Germans. During his lifetime his liberal policies, support for independence for the Baltic States and campaigning for national minority rights were supported by some and opposed by many. He never scored mutual support among all Baltic Germans. He was a man of principle, a man with high sense of justice that caused him to lose the support of his fellow nationals and was forced to go into obscurity. At the end of his life he did the most humane act of his life – rescued a Jewish woman from the Nazis and was recognized as the Righteous among Nations. Because of memoirs left by his rescued Valentīna Freimane and historical research done by British historian John Hidden (1940-2012) the legacy of Paul Schieman one of the strongest voices for liberalism and minority rights protection has again been remembered and has scored his place in Latvian history.

Paul Schiemann was born in Jelgava (Mittau) on March 17 1876 in Baltic German family. His father Julius Schiemann was a jurist, known for his liberal views and who was against the majority of nobility in courts and state authorities. He was citizen of Russian Empire, but still considered himself a German patriot. However, the Russian government from 1870 started multiple reforms to weaken the Baltic German autonomy within the Baltic States. The new Russian emperor Alexander III started Russification policy and imposed Russian language as the primary language in high schools. The new laws also prevented the Baltic Knighthoods to nominate and dismiss court and police employees. Russian policy was to weaken the German power in Baltic province and impose more direct rule from St. Petersburg. Germans held their autonomy in education very dearly and were shaken by the flash of Russian nationalistic reforms directed against them. These reforms also affected the Latvian education.

Paul Schiemann because of these reforms took “underground” private lessons in Schiemann house in German only opposing Russifacation. In the end Schiemann and his elder brother Oskar went to Germany to get proper education. Here Schiemann finished school and choose further studies in jurisdiction. On 1896 he was drafted by the Russian army and sent to Caucasus. On 1898 in Lithuania he became the reserve officer of Russian army. On 1902 he graduated doctor’s studies in Greifswald. During his studies he enjoyed literature, philosophy and became passionate in theater. In Germany he was supported by his Uncle Theodor Schiemann a conservative historian who emigrated from Russia and worked in German Foreign Ministry.

Schiemann was bohemian who could smoke and drink to early morning hours and then show up for work as usual. He became involved in theater and even had affair with famous actress Hertta Weeren. Despite all this he graduated the doctor’s studies with highest excellence and applied for German citizenship. He was turned down for being Russian reserve officer. As foreigner he could not become a lawyer in Germany and therefore started carrier in journalism. Schiemann considered that journalism is the same fight for justice as in jurisdiction. His uncle Theodor considered his liberal views as illness wanted him to become an official German news editor in Japan. Because of this Schiemann took freelance job in newspaper in Norddeutsche Allegmeine Zeitung and took English lessons. But, he was turned down as the Russian relations with Japan were heading towards war. Schiemann’s Russian reserve officer was doing more harm than good.

After this failure Schiemann returned to Baltics and moved to Dorpat (Tartu) and discovered that according to Russian laws he needs more years in courses to gain lawyers rights. Instead he took job in journal Baltiche Monatsschrift and became a theater critic in Nordlivandiche Zeitung. After breakup with his lover Hertta he moved to work in Reval (Tallinn). There at local German newspaper he became the theater critic. On 1905 the revolution started in St. Petersburg and spread to Baltic provinces. Schiemann stood against the enemies of the Baltic Germans the social democrats that encouraged country side people to attack the mansions of the Baltic German nobles. He criticized the Russian government that their 17th October manifesto that proposed new parliament (Duma) as it did not weaken the violence and influence of the far right. In last months of 1905 the riots moved to country side. German noble mansions were burned, cities taken by armed mob. In response a punishment expeditions were sent by Russia and ended the revolution in bloodshed.  Despite that Schiemann called to use new rights to form parties and joined the Estonian Constitutional Party as secretary. It was sister party to Baltic Constitutional Party. Party was moderately liberal and tried to appease all social classes. 180 000 Baltic Germans lived in Reval so party needed also support from ethnic Estonians who considered the party as reactionary German movement and none of the Baltic Germans were elected into Russia Duma. On 1906 Schiemann started working in the Provincial Council that was made of representatives of nobility, farmers and city dwellers. However, the council had no effect on decisions within Baltic provinces and on 1907 the Russian Prime Minister Stolypin dismissed the second Russian Duma.

The Baltic Constitutional Party official newspaper was Rigache Rundschau based in Riga. The publisher Richard Ruetz asked Schiemann to join the editor team and Schiemann came to Riga. A cosmopolitan city filled with Latvians, Germans, Russians, and Jews and was politically diverse. Schiemann observed the growing national tensions between Germans and Latvians and he considered that only thing that can unite the both sides is equality in political and social rights. He was also started to oppose the conservative German forces that called for protection of the rights of nobility and was against the Latvian national movement. Soon he gained enemies from Baltic German reactionaries, was dismayed on their press as “red”. Opposition led to his worry of his publishers and his publications were reviewed. However, it was his strong worded articles that made the run of the Rigache Rundschau from 6 000 to 20 000 from the time period of 1907 to 1914. On 1907 he became the chief editor.

On February 2 1914 he married Charlotte Shuler and was well known in Riga and beyond, had many critics among the conservatives and he tried to gain some Latvian friends in his plight to unite both nations in the name of democracy. All this was interrupted when Russia entered war with Germany on 1914. Schiemann was Russian reserve officer and as it hard it was for him to fight against his German brothers his principle that “war can be opposed only in the time of peace”. He joined the Russian army, while his brother Oskar served the German. He was wounded during fighting while his newspaper was taken over by state authorities following anti-German campaign. On 1915 Lithuania and Courland and Semigallia was occupied by Germans and many of the local Germans and within Germany called for annexation of the Baltics. Schiemann although saddened by the anti-German campaign was still loyal to Tzar. Following the February revolution Schiemann joined the new Baltic German Democratic party. On December 3 1917 the German army marched in Riga and the party was banned. Schieman moved away from Riga and again joined the Russian army. After the bolshevik coup in St. Petersburg Schiemann felt grave danger and left Russia on March 1918 and made to his wife in Riga. The experiences of war made Schiemann strongly against both radical nationalism and bolshevism.

The Brest-Litovsk peace agreement on March 1918 included call for all German occupied Baltic territories to decide their future on the will of the people. However, German authorities suppressed the Lithuanian and Estonian governments who had declared independence. Meanwhile conservative Baltic German landtag sent letter to Berlin on April 12 1918 with plea to German Kaiser to unite Baltic province under single Baltic State that would serve as German protectorate in union with Prussian crown. The plea gained widespread opposition within German Reichstag who wanted to weaken the Kaisers power and feared such move would endanger peace with Soviet Russia. Schiemann who arrived in Riga on March was against the Baltic State was arrested by occupation authorities as a pro-Latvian spy. He was placed in house arrest until in August he moved to Germany.

Gaining financial support from his friends in Germany and his new book “The Fiasco of the Russian Democracy” he came to Berlin and started to acquire a net of supporters for liberal ideas. Schiemann supported the Baltic independence from Russia and insisted that fate of these countries lays on the will of the local majority. Meanwhile he warned about the rise of the Latvian Social Democratic workers party that would only lead to bolshevism. The enemies of Schiemann were alarmed by his influence in Germany, his uncle Theodore was also against his ideas. However, on November 11 1918 war came to an end with revolution in Berlin and ceasefire on the Western Front. The Baltic German conservatives could no longer hope for their Baltic State instead on November 18 1918 Latvia declared its independence. As the new Republic promised equal rights for all nations in Latvia Schiemann was in full support of the new state.

Schiemann moved to Latvia and joined the democratic German forces and worked together with the new Provisional Government led by Kārlis Ulmanis. Soviet Russia had declared war on Germany again and was preparing to invade Baltic States. Latvians were forced to accept that German army and Landeswehr the Baltic German land guard stays in Latvia and fights with them against the Bolsheviks. The new Baltic German National Committee hoped to gain privileges for Germans from the new Latvian state and opposed the Bolsheviks.  Their demands for national parity with Latvians were declined by the Latvian Provisional government. That led to conspiracy by German reactionaries and General Rüdiger von der Goltz against the Latvian government. On April 16 the baron Hans von Manteuffel and Goltz Iron Brigade made a coup against the Ulmanis government, but failed to arrest it. The new pro-German government led by Pastor Andrievs Niedra was not supported by French and British who helped Ulmanis government to escape on ship Saratov. Most Latvians were against Niedra and Goltz. On May 22 Germans chased the Bolsheviks away from Riga who had occupied since January 1919. On June 22-23 the tides of war moved against German reactionaries as Estonian and Latvian forces defeated the Iron Division and Landeswhehr and forced to sign ceasefire and give up the Niedra government.

Schiemann returned to Latvian politics formed union with moderate conservative baron Wilhelm von Firkss who became the leader of the National Committee. With his efforts and allied pressure Ulmanis government included two Baltic German ministers in his government Edwin Magnus as Justice and Robert Erhart as minister of Finance. Firkss founded his own conservative Baltic German Peoples Party. Baffled by many liberals he chooses to co-operate with conservatives while still trying to achieve common ground with Latvians. Schieman wanted Baltic Germans to be united to gain as much as they can from the new Latvian state, but by democratic means. He again became the chief editor of the restored newspaper Rigache Rundschau that became the main Baltic German newspaper in Latvia and his newspaper was read also by Latvians and his voice was heard and his views were always known. He became leader of the re-founded Baltic German Democratic Party.

One of his first achievements was influencing the new State Education Law. Karl Keller was appointed as deputy for Minister of Education and he and his team influenced by Schiemann made important proposals to gain school autonomy for national minorities. The new law was accepted on December 8 1919 and created autonomous school authority within Ministry of Education for German, Russian, Jewish, Polish and Belarusian schools. Germans were assured now that Latvians will not harm their education as it was done by Russians in the past. That eased the German relations with Latvian state.

Latvia survived the attack from the West Russian Voluntary Army that was made from German Freikorps and White Russian forces looking to destroy independent Latvia once and for all. Frikss managed to persuade Landeswehr from joining the war against Latvia while Schiemann campaigned for Baltic German support for Latvia during the critical days of war.  When the war was over the new elections were called for Constitutional Assembly. The election law allowed only political parties to enter elections and the Baltic German National Committee was abolished. Three new Baltic German parties emerged: moderately centrist right wing Baltic German reform party, conservative Baltic German party lead by Frikss and Liepāja City Unity party.  Schiemann undertook efforts to unite all parties under common Baltic German list for better results in the elections.

His efforts were successful creating the German Party Committee and in every election until 1931 the Baltic Germans gained more seats than they share of national population could allow. No other national minority except Poles could achieve such unity. Russians making 10% of the population had division between Old Believers, Conservatives and the Liberals. Large percent of Russian rural population living in Eastern regions were illiterate and therefore politically inactive. Jews making 4% of the Latvian citizens had division between Zionists and Orthodox Jews, while Zionists had their own left and right wing division. They also spoke different languages, Russian, German and Yiddish and often could not find common ground. Poles 2% of the population had one central party and support from the Poland, but during the 1931 conflict with Latvian government their split up in two rival factions. Germans were 3% of the population and their common goal was to preserve their national rights and keep their presence within Latvian politics and economy.

However, it proved to be tough and often un-successful battle. Schiemann was first elected into Riga Town Council and then moved to Constitutional Assembly. The main tasks of the Assembly were to write new constitution (Satversme) and realize Agrarian reform. The reform involved in confiscating large plots of land from German noble families. For centuries the majority of the rural land was owned by German nobles. Latvians at first were subjected to them, when serfdom was abolished they had to either rent or buy small plots of land from them. The new reform wanted to expropriate their land without compensation. For many of the noble families such reform would be disaster. Frikss and Schiemann proposed to nobles to give their land voluntary in return for compensation. Their proposal was turned down and all they gained was that land owners could at least keep 50 hectares of land and delay the question of compensations. Latvian Social Democrats left the parliament room in protest, but the Baltic German fraction voted for Agrarian reform. Many of the German conservatives felt betrayed by Schiemann. He himself understood the needs for reform, but saw it as weapon for aggressive chauvinism.

Kārlis Ulmanis compromise with national minorities led to his government downfall and new one by Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics that based on more nationalistic premises was not supported by minority parties. Schiemann also went on tour to Germany to convince Baltic German émigrés that resistance against internationally recognized Latvia is pointless and combated the propaganda spread by exiled reactionaries. In his tour to Germany and Austria he joined discussions for common national minority rights amongst the League of Nations. He made proposals for the new constitution and two of them to guarantee free usage of the minority languages and guarantee to create autonomous associations for cultural proposes were accepted in the constitution. However, the legislators failed to vote for second part of the constitution that was focused on civil rights and determined equal rights for man and woman, freedom of press and political rights and also defined national autonomy. Therefore national minorities were cut short of promises to ensure their protection of rights and  state refused to define their rights in detail as they had promised when it joined the League of Nations. Schiemann was disappointed and called the constitution half-baked. His efforts from now on were only not to defend the rights of Germans but all national minorities of Latvia and beyond.

On 1922 the new Latvian parliament Saeima was elected. Schiemann along with Frikss, Karl Keller, Egon Knopp, John Karl Hahn and Manfred von Vegezack were first elected Germans. The parliament was in deep division between right wing parties, left wingers, regionals and minority parties. Schiemann was elected in all following elections in 1925, 1928 and 1931. He took active part in parliamentary work and legislation. He a lot of time protecting the minority schools as many parties of the Latvian right wanted to limit school autonomy. He did not manage to win battle against the Latvian parties for the main churches in Riga. The Catholic St Jacobs cathedral was the first to be overtaken by the Latvian Catholic clergy, and tough campaigns for Lutheran Dome Cathedral and St. Peters church followed resulting in referendums. On 1924 Social Democrats finally achieved that no compensations should go to nobles with confiscated lands.

The nationalistic Latvian forces saw Schiemann as one of their main adversaries, while conservative Germans were opposed to Schiemann’s liberal policies that they called appeasing Latvian chauvinists. He was forced to be in regular power balance struggle to keep his ruling position within German Party Committee and his editor seat of the Rigache Rundschau. The Latvian governments were unstable and Schiemann had to choose which new coalition to support or not. On 1927 he was even asked to form the government but as he understood he would not receive enough support he refused the offer.

Latvian cartoon about Paul Schiemann and his German Party list. From Svari 1928.

Latvian cartoon about Paul Schiemann and his German Party list. From Svari 1928.

One of the main failures faced by all minority parties was failure to create laws for national autonomy. In Lithuania and Estonia such laws were made. While in Latvia one of the main reasons for failure was that each minority made their own autonomy proposals. The national autonomy proposals not only included cultural autonomy, but also permitted own national councils and use of minority language in state affairs. None of the proposals from all sides ever came to voting floor. In defense of Latvian parties one must state that some of these proposals were too radical and would mean “state in state” situation that was undesirable. On 1925 Schiemann joined the First Congress of Organised Ethnical Minorities (Nationalities) in European Countries in Geneva as and served as its Vice President from 1929 to 1936. Congress goal was to form a link between the ethnical minorities of Europe. And to afford their responsible heads an opportunity of regularly exchanging views and constantly co-operating for the purpose of throwing light upon, and solving the problem of, nationalities in order to eradicate the principal cause of European wars. Schiemann’s views became more internationally known. During his time in the congress he developed many new theories about the defense of the national minorities and liberal democracy. Many of his ideas came to realization many decades later. For a brief period when Germany was influenced by powerful liberal politician Gustav Streseman the Foreign minister with his special  focus on Eastern European countries and policy towards national minority as similar to Schiemann, there was hope for democratic and liberal Europe. Streseman met Schieman many times and supported his ideas for national cultural autonomy in Europe. Streseman died on 1929 on early age and since then the situation begun to deteriorate for Schieman and national minorities.

The 1929 financial crisis took one of the strongest hits on Germany and created a outburst of protest and resentment towards moderate and liberal policy creating opportunities for National Socialists. The rise of nationalism was eminent in Latvia too and was present in both Latvians and Baltic Germans. In this crucial time Schieman fell ill with tuberculosis. His constant smoking habits made him to move to rehab in Davos, Switzerland. There in 1930 he learned of first major Adolf Hitler party victory in the German elections. During this time the famous French politician Aristide Briand who came forward with his plans for European economic and political union. Schiemann was against any union that would exclude Baltic States and was skeptical of such union if it would be based on old 1914 principles.

Meanwhile the Baltic German parties in Latvia became more conservative and influenced by events in Germany. This was also a reaction to rise of Latvian nationalists who called for “latvianization” of economy and education. On 1931 first Baltic German Nazi organization Ostgruppe started activity in Latvia. While Schieman was in Davos many of his colleagues became found of the Nazi ideas, read their newspapers and made contacts with them. Schieman from his rehab reacted by sending strong worded statements to his newspaper  Rigache Rundschau increasing conflict with Nazi sympathizers.

Meanwhile the economic crisis deepened in Latvia and Latvian nationalistic parties started campaign to expropriate Dome cathedral from German Lutherans. Ailing Schieman was forced to gives his MP seat to V Sadowsky who next behind him in his party list because he could not take part in the vote for the church. The campaign created a wave of anti-German sentiment and alienated German fraction from the Latvian government. In the end on 1931 despite failed referendums the Dome Cathedral was removed from German Lutheran parish and they could only rent the church.

On 1931 last parliamentary elections took place in Latvia. Schieman returned to Riga, and Germans scored six seats as usual. However, the new nationalistic coalition led by ex moderate social democrat Marģers Skujenieks created more doubt and was not supported by Schieman. On 1927-1928 Marģers Skujenieks was Prime Minister of left wing coalition that was in good relations with Schiemann and achieved trade agreement with Soviet Union.  Now one of the new Skujenieks government ministers of education Atis Ķeniņš started an offensive against minority schools. Atis Ķenins wanted to make Latvian language as official state language as until now the status of Latvian language as official was more de facto than de iuire. He also wanted to increase the use of Latvian within minority schools and called Latvia a “Eldorado” for minorities. After the collapse of Skujenieks government many of his ideas were not realized, but growing tension only increased Baltic German support for Nazi ideas. Instead of using liberal ideas against nationalism and chauvinism as Schiemann did many turned to use same weapons against their adversaries. Also many Baltic Germans scared by the rise of Latvian nationalism believed that strong and unified Nazi Germany would come and protect them. Sciemann was strongly for creation of un-national state – the state with no dominating nation that focuses on cultural and national equality in all matters of the society. For years he fought his efforts, but as of 1933 it seemed his hopes of such states would never be realized.

On 1933 Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. Rigache Rundschau was also co-financed by Germany and question was raised should this newspaper be led by openly anti-Nazi editor? As pressure grew the Sciemann’s health begun to weaken again and he was forced to go to rehabilitation to Austria. The Baltic German parties became penetrated by local Baltic German Erhard Kroeger and his Movement (Die Bewegung) that was supported and financed by Berlin. On 1933 Wilhelm von Frikss one of the main leaders of the Baltic Germans died and Schiemann lost a valuable ally. Schiemann left the editors post of his beloved newspaper and also left the German fraction in the parliament and lost his leading role in Baltic German politics. The 1933 was endgame for Schieman. On May 15 1934 Kārlis Ulmanis and his supporters took power by coup and created a personal dictatorship. All parties were banned and that meant even greater Nazi influence on Baltic Germans as now National Socialism was seen as resistance against Ulmanis dictatorship.

Paul Schieman could no longer live in Latvia and immigrated to Austria that was still democratic but also influenced by Nazis. Schieman was alarmed by persecution of Jews in Germany and was saddened by the breakup of the Congress of Organised Ethnical Minorities. In Austria he continued journalism and followed events in Europe and Latvia with deep concerns. On March 1938 Austria was invaded annexed by Nazi Germany. Paul Schieman was on the Nazi dossier as potentially dangerous liberal activist and Schieman had to return to Latvia where lived in political isolation. He was isolated both by the state and his Baltic Germans who were convinced that Hitler would come to liberate them.

On August 23 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact shocked them all. Hitler in exchange for one front war on Poland made agreement with Stalin. Latvia was assigned to Soviet Union as its sphere of interest. On September 25 1939 in Soppot SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler informed the leader of the Baltic German Nazis Erhard Kroeger about the secret protocols and shocked Kroeger begged not to leave Baltic Germans behind in case of Soviet invasion. Himmler was surprised by such concern and promised to speak to Hitler about it.  On October 6 1939 Hitler decided that he needs Baltic Germans for colonization of the recently conquered Polish lands and also wanted to keep them away from Soviet repressions. The repatriation came as surprise to everyone including Schieman who resisted this. Schiemann’s protests were heard by Swiss and Swedish press he was against that Germans leave their country behind making great economical problems caused by their departure and move to country with imposed ideology alien to our religion and sense of morality. Meanwhile majority called “that that who stays it’s not real German!” Schiemann called repatriation a death sentence to Baltic German culture. But, only few listened to him. Latvian government endorsed the repatriation and official press celebrated the event. In just few months the most historic national minority in Latvia with strong cultural roots became extinct. Majority of the Baltic Germans were sent to occupied Poland. Schieman could not he stayed in Latvia doomed for soviet occupation.

Schiemann was opposed to Communism as much to Nazism. Latvia was occupied by Soviet forces on June 17 1940. Kārlis Ulmanis decided not to resist and was removed from his presidential seat and replaced by Soviet agent Dr. Augusts Kirhenšteins. New “elections” were issued and Schiemann even wrote a letter to Kirhenšteins to inquire his intentions and future of Latvia. He was recommended to join democratic list by led Atis Ķeniņš, but he refused to add a German candidate. And better off as soon the democratic list was declared illegal and all the candidates arrested. A single list was elected with 96% results issued by Moscow before votes were finished counting. As Soviet Union was still in good relations with Nazi Germany Schiemann was spared for a while. First who were repressed were Latvian politicians and intellectuals. Schiemann unable to work as journalist stayed at home and made notes where he criticized dumb and deeply flawed Bolshevik regime. He was horrified by the mass deportations of June 14 1941 where 35 000 people were sent to Siberia. But, it was just beginning of the storm.

On June 22 1941 Nazi Germany began war with Soviet Union. On July 1 1941 German army moved in Riga. Schieman now had to face Nazi terror in face. The new occupiers included Latvia into Ostland reichcommissariat administered by Alfred Rosemberg. Latvian general district was administered by Otto Heinrich-Drehsler. Germans created self ruling bodies filled with Latvian collaborators and Baltic Germans who came back to Latvia. One of them Hugo Vitrock was appointed as mayor of Riga and was one of the strongest Schiemann’s opponents before the war. However, because Schiemann’s illness they did not considered him dangerous and instead just prevented him from journalism and kept him in the house arrest. Schiemann was under observation however, he did one last thing to oppose the Nazis – he provided shelter for young Jewish girl Valentīna Friemane. Freimane was born in February 18 1922 in Riga was a German speaking Latvian Jew. She spent her childhood in Berlin and Paris. On 1941 she married and when war came she took shelter with her husband. After he was arrested she hided in many other places until she ended up at Schiemann’s house.

Schiemann was sick with tuberculosis and diabetes and was under care by Jewish doctor Idelson who was rescued from Ghetto, but during German evacuation from Riga caught and shot. Valentīna Freimane spent with him his last days. He dictated her memoirs and she managed to gather up his memoirs up to 1919. Schiemann treated her with dignity and respect. On 1943 the Germans started to form Latvian Waffen SS Legion, Schiemann was visited by guests who described the Legion as heroic patriots. After the left he came over to Freimane’s shelter and complained over fools that wish to combat one evil with other. It 1944 and Soviets came even closer to Riga. Before his death he was visited by representatives of the Latvian Central Council who opposed the Nazi regime. They offered him to sign manifest for restoration of independence in hope that after the war such would be possible. Schiemann rejected signing for “another castles in the sky”. Schiemann was afraid that Soviets when they come back would arrest him and his wife, but he could not leave as he was too sick. On June 23 1944 at the age of 68 Schiemann passed away. Valentīna Freimane moved to another family the Melnikovs and spent last months of the war. His wife gave her his photo and few his books, they never met again.

Valentīna Freimane with her husband

Paul Schiemann funeral took place June 26 1944. A small funeral was taken place under observation by Gestapo. Month later his wife Charlotte was ordered to evict her house and moved to Germany. Remaining Schiemann’s archives were taken by his wife and later moved to the Baltic Central Library in Lineburg. Paul Schiemann was viewed with controversy by surviving Baltic Germans. Many had resentment for him not joining repartition and there was still a sense of conservative even post Nazi views among the Baltic German exiles.

Valentīna Friemane became doctor in arts and now lives in Berlin. She helped to spread the story of Schiemann as Jewish rescuer and on 2000 the Israeli Yad Vashem awarded Schiemann with title Righteous Among the Nations. On 2010 she published her memoirs “My Atlantis” where she described her refuge and last days of Paul Schiemann. 140 years later after his birth many of his ideas of un-nation state, minority rights and cultural autonomy has been realized. Many of these ideas are under danger from new wave of nationalism and humanitarian crisis. Paul Schiemann called “the defender of minorities” is one of the symbols of interwar Latvia. Only now we can fully review his legacy and place him in the spotlight of the Latvian history.

Selected Sources:

Hidden, John. (2004) Defender of Minorities. Paul Schiemann. 1876-1944. London. Hutrst&Co.

Šīmanis, Pauls. (1999) Eiropas Problēma. Rīga. Vaga.

Freimane, Valentīna (2010) Ardievu Atlantīda. Rīga. Atēna.

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