"Läänemeri" meets "Ostsee"

Perspectives beyond single dimension – Läänemeri meets Ostsee – A Report

The Baltic Sea region, for centuries united by the sea and the mobility of goods, persons and ideas, has been in the focus of discussion at the workshop “Läänemeri meets Ostsee”, which took place at Tartu University on 29 November 2014. International renowned scholars from Great Britain, Finland, Estonia and Germany presented different perspectives on trade, cultural constructions and mobilities within the Baltic Sea region and beyond.

ENN KÜNG (TARTU) asked why Narva merchants in the second half of the 17th century started to finance and run their own shipping business. Most interestingly, Narva merchants served as stooge for western, for example Dutch or British merchants, who financed Narva’s shipping. The western merchants hereby used the Swedish neutrality of the merchants in Narva to keep up trade in times of conflict. The importance of trade as basis of the regional construction of the Baltic Sea region has also been emphasized in the presentation of JARI OJALA (JYVÄSKYLÄ). His approach of re-evaluating the Danish Sound toll register data aims to show the importance of Baltic trade in global perspective. First results of an ongoing project document that the British Baltic Sea trade, particularly with Finland, was much more important than trade with Spain, the Netherlands and within the North Sea.
The Baltic Sea region can be observed as an economic success story but is only one facet of multi-mobilities. While the decline of tar industry in Finland in the 19th century could be compensated with jobs in the timber industry in the North, the industrialization of the forests in the 1950s and 1960s fostered a rather trans-border migration, particularly into the centers of industrialization of Sweden. Researching this labor migration from an ethnological perspective, HANNA SNELLMAN (HELSINKI) discovered in female everyday experience a certain degree of inequality and discrimination in an otherwise propagated equal society of Sweden in the 1970s. Her example shows how borders even in a seemingly united society and region matter. Culturally difference was also in the focus of ANTI SELART (TARTU) who analyzed medieval naming between Christianization and Paganism. Hereby, Selart shows that Christianization can be acknowledged as influential in the change of first names to a lesser degree, rather than cultural adaption processes, stimulating social or cultural assimilation by local and foreign encounters in Livonia.
RIHO ALTNURME (TARTU) added the perspective of a Lutheran conservative east in the Baltic against a more liberal west of the region, particularly in Sweden and Northern Germany. Altnurme shows that the development of Lutheranism in the area of today’s Baltic States not only relies on a more traditional theology but also follows closer communication with conservative orthodox in contrast to the more distanced relations with Northern German and Swedish liberal Lutheran churches. Interestingly, these differences in theological thinking do not result in a divide but in discussion and thus in overlaps of different ideas in organizing society.
Overlaps were also occurring in the next example of cultural constructions in the Baltic States area. Presenting a case study on the development of writing art history in Estonia, KRISTA KODRES (TALLINN) described a change of scientific paradigms. Her point of departure was the traditional Baltic German art history of Georg Dehio and his followers and the changing nature of art history in the region after introducing the Swedish perception of art in a Nordic Arte Dominium by Sten Karling. As Kodres continues, this Swedish perception was rather short lived and replaced by a geographic-nationalistic perspective of an Estonian art history. This perception seem to be supported by political development and national containment rather than a real separation of Estonian art from Baltic Sea region development.
Relocating Estonia in reconstructing connections was also the topic of HEIKO PÄÄBO (TARTU) who analysed political memory in textbooks of the 1990s. Removing Estonia from the Russian dominated connections of the country after 1990, the facts in the textbooks show a growing importance of Estonia’s connections in the Baltic Sea region, emphasizing trends of the new global history rather than the former history of ideological and political division. MARTIN HOUSDEN (BRADFORD), studying the life of the Baltic German politician Ewald Ammende, also accentuates a rather overarching perspective on the Baltic History and the whole Europe. Concentrating on the analyses of Ammendes minority politics and his concept of cultural autonomy, Housden shows how Ewald Ammende became a leading figure in propagating European transnational minority policies beyond nationalistic perspective and confrontations. As general secretary of the European Congress of Nations, he supported the idea of balance between national minorities and state, thus softening the boundaries between ethnic and stately division. However, Europe in the 1930s took an opposite direction of conflict and strict cultural borders.
This national and ideological division of Europe continued after the Second World War and kept particularly the east of Europe in a political and cultural container. Observers often denied this container to have offered any freedom or liberties to its inhabitants. MATI LAUR (TARTU) contrasts this perspective with his example of student construction forces in Estonia in the 1970s and 80s. Within these units, young people experienced a great deal of liberties, which included the freedom of expression. The “Islands of Freedom” offered not only a different, more critical perspective on the experience of communism to Estonians but also enhanced the experience of different opinion. It is therefore not a surprise that some of the current political leaders of the Baltic States started their political thinking in these groups.
The workshop closed with a discussion of the different perspectives on the Baltic Sea region, as one might observe, an overlap of various concepts of the Baltic Sea region, depending on the reference point, as MICHAEL NORTH (GREIFSWALD) mentions in his recent publications on this topic. For future research therefore, connections and comparisons with other seas and oceans should take the center stage.