Social democracy and state building in Latvia and Estonia

One hundred years ago Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were founded. What role did the social-democratic parties play in the founding of the republics and the establishment of parliamentary democracies in the three Baltic States?

The year 1918 is a pivotal year in the history of the Baltic States. Estonia and Latvia gained their independence for the first time and Lithuania regained it after centuries of disruption. The proclamation and founding of the three republics took place at the end of the First World War when the map of Europe re-formed and a phase of democratization began. The large multi-ethnic states such as the Habsburg monarchy, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire disintegrated and numerous states of Northern, Central and Eastern Europe found or regained their own national statehood. The supporting forces of this comprehensive Europe-wide democratization of states and societies as well as the state building itself were in particular the social-democratic parties. This especially applies to the Baltic States.

Although, in the case of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the newly acquired statehood lasted only until the early 1940s, when the map of Europe was redrawn again by the Hitler-Stalin Pact and World War II, the founding of the state in 1918 was a major event the historical as well as today's identity. In addition, this year has been an important reference point in the creation of the new European state order after the end of the Cold War. Accordingly, this year the founding of the state in all three Baltic countries is commemorated with extensive centenary festivities.

The FES, which was the first German political foundation to open offices in the Baltic States immediately following the regaining of independence in the early 1990s, is contributing to this special anniversary with studies on the role of social democracy in the formation process of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Which social democratic values and ideas have found their way into the constitutional orders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania? How successful was the social democracy in elections and possibly also in government responsibility? What exchanges took place with social democratic parties of other states? And finally, what is left of that time today?

These questions are not only expounded in the brochure, but have also been discussed at the publication events of the respective country studies in Tallinn and Riga. Apart from two of the authors of the studies, Ivars Ījabs and Tõnu Ints, representatives of social democratic parties and national trade unions also participated. In addition, many interested citizens took the opportunity to look back on 100 years of statehood and to discuss the historical and future role of social democracy in the Baltic States with the podium guests.

In order to classify in a wider international, historical and geographic context, FES commissioned additional country studies from states that were also established at that time. The countries studied extend from Iceland to Georgia and include not only the Baltic States but also Finland, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Austria and Belarus. The studies in their entirety show a panorama of the manifold paths, detours and some aberrations in the state founding processes 100 years ago as well as the contribution of social democracy. The studies are meant to help to bring back some forgotten developments and events to historical memory. Furthermore, a more comprehensive evaluation of that time can help to understand also its significance for the present.


See lifestream from the Event (in estonian):

Sociāldemokrātija un valsts dibināšana. Latvija (in latvian)

Sotsiaaldemokraatia ja omariikluse teke. Eesti (in estonian)

Baltic States

Latvia Office
Dzirnavu iela 37-64 
LV 1010 Riga

Estonia Office
Pärnu mnt. 27-13
10141 Tallinn

Lithuania Office
A. Jakšto g. 6a/8-34
LT-01105 Vilnius

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