Author: John Hiden
2004, C Hurst & Co (Publishers) Ltd, London, pp 314, ISBN 1-85065-751-3
John Hiden, formerly Professor of European History at the University of Bradford and founder of the Baltic Research Unit at Bradford, is currently a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow. His previous publications include Germany and Europe (1977, 1993), The Baltic States and Weimar Ostpolitik (1987, 2002) and Republican and Fascist Germany: Themes and Variations in the History of Weimar and the Third Reich (1996), besides numerous fine pioneering works on Finland.
As Professor Patrick Salmon has observed, the new work on Paul Schiemann is
... a work of remarkable scholarship. Professor
Hiden wears his learning lightly, but his mastery of widely scattered archives,
not to mention decades of journalism, much of it in obscure publications, is
formidable. The book deals with issues that were important at the time and remain
relevant to this day. This applies in particular to the question of minorities
in inter-war Europe, but also to that of relations between European states.
... [he] writes engagingly and manages to render complex issues and ideas intelligible
... gives a real sense of Schiemann as a person, while conveying the importance
of his work and achievements.
Professor Patrick Salmon,
University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne/Foreign and Commonwealth Office
John Hiden's pioneering biography of a courageous man who battled against the rising tide of both Baltic and German nationalism opens up a little-explored chapter of European history in the first half of the twentieth century, in a region today seen once more as the litmus test of the new Europe. Paul Schiemann was a politician and journalist who became a passionate advocate of independence for the indigenous Baltic peoples before and during the First World War. This cause brought him hostility from the then powerful Baltic German elites to which he belonged, but eventually gave him an important voice in Berlin in the evolution of a new Ostpolitik after 1918. This was to be based on friendship between Germany and the new Baltic nations. Schiemann unflinchingly resisted all forms of political extremism and wrote one of the earliest extended critical analyses of National Socialism. He vigorously opposed Nazi infiltration of the German minorities' movement and through this the European Nationalities Congress. Eventually forced to quit working in his native Latvia and for the now Nazi-'coordinated' Nationalities congress, he continued from Vienna between 1933 and 1938 to subject both Hitlerism and communism to relentless attack in the few German-language newspapers prepared to print his articles. He finally returned to Riga to escape imprisonment when German forces entered Austria in 1938.
Inevitably he refused to have anything to do with Hitler's mass resettlement of Baltic Germans in 1939-40 on land seized from Poland. He endured and commented bitingly on his experience of life under communist rule in the Baltic states until the summer of 1941. Ill-health eventually confined him to his house in Riga, where he was allowed to remain when the German armies returned in 1941 on condition that ht ceased all political activity and journalism. Although the Gestapo monitored his movements, he and his wife managed to help the persecuted. Schiemann also resisted by secretly collecting data on Jews killed in Latvia. His memoirs, which he began to dictate to a young Jewish girl he was hiding, testify to his ideas on minority rights, extremism and Europe's future, all of which remain relevant today.
The experience of the Baltic Germans was in a strictly philosophical sense unique, but elements of their predicament existed elsewhere. Schiemann tried to explain that the Baltic Germans were
not colonists, not foreigners on foreign soil but citizens who look for support from non-Germans too. And all citizens of Latvia, to whom the well-being of home is dearer than the narrow desires of cliques, should support us.
This message of the years in plaintive variants has been ignored in Helsinki, Dublin, and Vienna, where those looking to find some way to resurrect Hungary or create a new Irish or Finish national identity were not determined to undermine the Austrian state, any more than the Protestant Anglo-Irish, or the Swedish-speaking Finns. Hiden shows how Schiemann had a grasp of geopolitics at the most basic level, his comment that 'the independence of the Baltic States and the maintenance of their democratic development is a precondition for any productive work in solving the Russian problem' is particularly apt today. Indeed many of Schiemann's dreams are still pertinent. Schiemann believed that close ties with the Scandinavian States offered the only way to create a power factor which every state interested in north eastern Europe would have to reckon with