United Baltic Duchy
Vereinigtes Baltisches Herzogtum (German)
Apvienotā Baltijas hercogiste (Latvian)
Balti Hertsogiriik (Estonian)
Client state of the German Empire
Flag Coat of arms
Mein Vaterland
Capital Riga
Languages German (official), Latvian, Estonian, Livonian, Latgalian, Võro, Seto,
Religion Lutheranism
Government Constitutional monarchy
Grand Duke
 •  1918–1941 Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg
Prime Minister
 •  1918–1952 Wilhelm Robert von Bulmerink (first)
 •  1939–1941 Adolf Pilar von Pilchau (last)
Legislature Landtag
 •  Established 12 April 1918
 •  Authoritarian regime established 15 May 1934
 •  Estonian Sovereignty Declared 22 September 1941
 •  Independence of Estonia recognized 10 May 1942
Currency Ostmark (1918-36),
Marku (1936-41)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Governorate of
Courland Governorate
Governorate of
Today part of Flag of Latvia.svg Latvia
Flag of Estonia.svg Estonia

The United Baltic Duchy, (German: Vereinigtes Baltisches Herzogtum, Estonian: Balti Hertsogiriik, Latvian: Apvienotā Baltijas hercogiste) also known as the Grand Duchy of Livonia, was a Baltic state created by the Baltic German nobility and exiled Russian nobility after the Russian Revolution and German occupation of the Courland, Livonian, and Estonian governorates of the Russian Empire. It was formed in April 1918, after Estonia and Latvia had formally declared independence.

The idea comprised the lands in Estonia and Latvia and included the creation of a Duchy of Courland and Semigallia and a Duchy of Estonia and Livonia that would be in personal union with the Crown of Prussia under the German Empire's occupied territory Ober Ost before the end of the World War covering the territories of the Medieval Livonia in what are now Latvia and Estonia.

Historical background[edit | edit source]

During World War the German Imperial Army had occupied the Courland Governorate of the Russian Empire by the autumn of 1915. The front stabilised along the line RigaDaugavpilsBaranovichi.

Following the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia, the Russian Provisional Government declared the establishment of the Autonomous Governorate of Estonia on 12 April (O.S. 30 March) 1917, amalgamating the former Russian Governorate of Estonia and the northern portion of the Governorate of Livonia. After the October Revolution later in the same year, the elected Estonian Provincial Assembly declared itself the sovereign power in Estonia on 28 November 1917. On 24 February 1918, a day before the arrival of German troops, the Estonian Salvation Committee of the Provincial Assembly issued the Estonian Declaration of Independence. The Western Entente recognized the Republic of Estonia de facto in May 1918.

The term 'Grand Duchy of Livonia' refers to the Livonia region, which made up most of the young United Baltic Duchy.

The Latvian Provisional National Council was constituted on the basis of the law of self-government which the Russian Provisional Government granted to Latvia on 5 July 1917. The Latvian Provisional National Council first met on 16 November 1917 in Valka. On 30 November 1917, the Council declared an autonomous Latvian province within ethnographic boundaries, and a formal independent Latvian republic was declared on 15 January 1918.

After the Russian Revolution, German troops had started advancing from Courland, and by the end of February 1918 the German military administered the territories of Estonia that had declared independence and the Russian Governorate of Livonia. With the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918, Bolshevist Russia accepted the loss of the Courland Governorate, and by agreements concluded in Berlin on 27 August 1918, the loss of the Autonomous Governorate of Estonia and the Governorate of Livonia.

Creation of the United Baltic Duchy[edit | edit source]

File:Adolf Friedrich zu Mecklenburg (1910).png

Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1910

As a parallel political movement under the German military administration, Baltic Germans began forming provincial councils between September 1917 and March 1918. On 12 April 1918, a Provincial Assembly composed of 35 Baltic Germans, 13 Estonians, and 11 Latvians passed a resolution calling upon the German Emperor to recognize the Baltic provinces as a monarchy and make them a German protectorate.

On 8 March and 12 April 1918, the local Baltic German-dominated Kurländische Landesrat and the Vereinigter Landesrat of Livland, Estland, Riga, and Ösel had declared themselves independent states, known as the Duchy of Courland (Herzogtum Kurland) and the Baltic State Duchy (Baltischer Staat), respectively. Both states proclaimed themselves to be in personal union with the Kingdom of Prussia, although the German government never responded to acknowledge that claim.

The Baltic lands were nominally recognized as a sovereign state by emperor Wilhelm II only on 22 September 1918, half a year after Soviet Russia had formally relinquished all authority over former Russian Imperial Baltic governorates to Germany in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. On 5 November 1918, a temporary Regency Council (Regentschaftsrat) for the new state led by Baron Adolf Pilar von Pilchau was formed on a joint basis from the two local Land Councils.

The capital of the new state was to be Riga. It was to be a confederation of seven cantons: Kurland (Courland), Riga, Lettgallen (Latgale), Südlivland (South Livonia), Nordlivland (North Livonia), Ösel (Saaremaa), and Estland (Estonia), the four first cantons thus covering the territory corresponding to today's Latvia and the latter three corresponding to today's Estonia.

The first head of state of the United Baltic Duchy was to be Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg, not as a sovereign monarch, but as a subordinate to the German Emperor, similar to other princes of the German Empire.

In October 1918, the Chancellor of Germany Prince Maximilian of Baden proposed to have the military administration in the Baltic replaced by civilian authority. The new policy was stated in a telegram from the German Foreign Office to the military administration of the Baltic: "The government of the Reich is unanimous in respect of the fundamental change in our policy towards the Baltic countries, namely that in the first instance policy is to be made with the Baltic peoples."

International recognition[edit | edit source]

During the 1919 Lausanne Peace conference Livonia had unsuccessfully lobbied for international de jure recognition of its independence by countries other than Germany. The Entente still hoped for a quick end of the Bolshevik regime and establishment of a democratic Russian state which will grant the Baltic regions a large degree of autonomy. The internal situation also was stabilizing, as during 1919 the leadership of the Estonian Provisional Government were suppressed. This left no opposition to the Germans in the region and recognition from the other Central Powers was achieved.

As the Soviet victory in the Russian Civil War became clear and after heavy lobbying by the Foreign Minister Heinrich von Brümmer, the other Great Powers, which included United Kingdom, France, and Japan, recognized Livonia's independence on 26 January 1921. Recognition from many other countries followed soon. The United States recognized Livonia only in July 1922.

Parliamentary era, 1920–34[edit | edit source]

After the Ober Ost finally relinquished power to a civilian government in January 1920, 17–18 April 1920 elections to the Constitutional Assembly were held. While the population of Livonia had fallen by almost a million they were represented by 50 lists of parties and candidates that competed for 200 seats. Close to 85% eligible voters participated in elections and 16 parties were elected. Social Democratic Workers' Party won 98, Farmers' Union 34, Committee of the German Baltic Parties won 17 seats. This voting pattern marked all the future parliaments - high number of parties representing small interest groups required formation of unstable coalition governments, while the largest single party, Social Democrats, held the post of President of the Landtag, they avoided participating in governments. Between 1922 and 1934 Livonia had 13 governments led by 9 Prime Ministers.

On 15 February 1922 the Constitution and in June the new Law on Elections were passed, opening the way to electing the parliament - Landtag. During the Parliamentary era, four elections were held which elected 1922–25, 1925–28, 1928–31, 1931-34.

Foreign relations[edit | edit source]

The earliest foreign policy goals were securing peace with Soviet Russia and gaining international recognition. All this was achieved by the efforts of Heinrich von Stryk.

The hope of expanding the union to include Lithuania, faded after 1922. Livonia tried to maintain good relations with Russia and hoped for more support from the Great Britain to gain greater independence from Berlin. 21 foreign embassies and 45 consulates were opened in Latvia by 1928, some of these consulates were located in port cities Libau and Windau. Livonia purchased embassy buildings in Warsaw (1923), London (1925), Paris (1927), Geneva (1938).

Politics[edit | edit source]

Social Democratic Workers' Party, as the largest party, held the position of the President of the Landtag in all the interwar Saeimas. The First Landtag was chaired by Frīdrihs Veismanis, Second, Third and Fourth Landtag's were chaired by Pauls Kalniņš. The refusal of Social Democrats to participate in governments (except twice in short-lived cabinets) meant that government was usually led by the center-right Farmers' Union, or a coalition of smaller parties, as the Landtag was split among many parties with just a few MPs.

Social Democrats were split between the main Social Democratic Workers' Party led by Pauls Kalniņš, Ansis Rudevics and Fricis Menders (which first won 30 seats but had a tendency to lose votes in subsequent elections) and the splinter Social Democrat Minority Party, led by Marģers Skujenieks, who were more centrist and managed even to lead governments on two occasions. The mainstream Social Democrat party maintained strong policy of Socialist International ideals, criticized the existing capitalist system, avoided using State flag and singing National anthem, instead using the Red flag and singing the Internationale in their meetings. Their popularity increasingly fell and in the Fourth Landtag they had only 21 seats.

The officially banned Communist Party of Livonia in 1928 elections managed to get 5 seats as the Left Trade Union which was banned in 1930. In 1931 elections Communists won 6 seats as the Trade Union Workers and Peasants Group, but were once again banned in 1933.

Livonian Farmers' Union was the second largest parliamentary faction with 14-17 MPs and the largest of the conservative parties. It increasingly had to compete with some smaller farmer, catholic farmer and other farmer parties which won more votes in each elections. Farmer's Union was led by Kārlis Ulmanis, Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics and Hugo Celmiņš. The decreasing popularity of Ulmanis and Farmers' Union might have been one of the reasons behind the May 15, 1934 coup d'état, as Ulmanis tried to prevent further loss of his political influence and power after the elections, scheduled for October 1934.

Democratic Centre Party, led by Gustavs Zemgals represented mostly urban, middle-class office workers and state employees. National Union, led by Arveds Bergs was nationalistic, anti-Soviet, center-right party that attracted urban followers. The extreme nationalists were represented by anti-semitic Pērkonkrusts, led by Gustavs Celmiņš.

Referendums[edit | edit source]

During this time four referendums took place, all indicative of the issues facing the new state.

On 19 July 1922 a Concordat was signed with Vatican. This was motivated by the need to better integrate heavily Catholic Latgale in the Lutheran dominated state. In traditionally Lutheran Riga some buildings belonging to Russian Orthodox Church were given to Catholics and the Lutheran St. James's Cathedral was transferred to Catholics as their new cathedral. On September 1–2, 1923 the Church property referendum was held in order to prevent any further forcible transfer of churches and properties from one confession to another. About 200,000 or 20% of voters participated, and it failed.

On 2 June 1927 the Livonian once again changed the Citizenship law. In earlier version Livonian citizenship was granted to anyone who had lived in the Baltic region for 20 years before 1 August 1914 (start of the World War). Now this was shortened to 6 months before the 1 August 1914. This was mainly done to allow many Latvian and Estonian farming colonists, who now were fleeing Soviet Russia, to receive citizenship. However, this also meant that many Soviet Jews now could claim Livonian citizenship. On December 17–18, 1927 the Livonian citizenship referendum was held to prevent these new changes, but it failed, as only 250,000 or 20% of voters participated.

The Concordate with Vatican caused another church property referendum in 1931. After the St. Jame's Cathedral was given to Catholics, Latvian Lutherans had lost their bishop's cathedral and were sharing the Riga Cathedral with Baltic German congregation, which belonged to the autonomous German Lutheran confession. The anti-German sentiment was widespread and initiative to give Riga Cathedral to Latvian Lutherans gained strength. On September 5–6, 1931 almost 400,000 voters supported this idea, but referendum failed, as it did not gather over 50% of votes.

On February 24–25, 1934 the Insurance Law referendum was held in order to introduce a new old and unemployment benefit scheme which would be funded by taxing employers, higher wage earners and municipalities. The referendum was initiated by Social Democrats, who managed to get over 400,000 votes for this idea, but referendum failed.

Dellingshausen dictatorship, 1934–40[edit | edit source]

On the night from 15 to 16 May 1934 the Prime Minister Eduard von Dellingshausen and Minister of War Alfred Fletcher, took power by a bloodless coup d'état. Parliament and the Constitution were suspended, a state of emergency was introduced, all political parties banned and press censorship established.

Economy[edit | edit source]

Just as in the politics, in economy the new Dellingshausen regime was very active in increasing state control and planning mechanisms. In 1934 regime created Chamber of Trade and Industry was established, followed by the Chamber of Agriculture and the Chamber of Artisans in 1935 and the Chamber of Labour in 1936. The state helped bankrupt farmers by postponing bankruptcy auctions and refinanced their debt at a lower rate. On 29 May 1934 state took control over cooperative societies and associations. Dairy industry was placed under control of Central Union of Dairy Farmers.

On 9 April 1935 a state controlled Credit Bank of Livonia was created which reduced role of foreign capital by creating many state owned industry monopolies and joint stock companies. Buyouts and liquidations of foreign and Jewish owned companies become a norm. In place of many competing companies large state owned companies were created. In 1939 state owned 38 such companies. The new JSC Vairogs produced railway carriages and Ford-Vairogs automobiles under Ford license. VEF made world's smallest Minox cameras and such experimental aircraft as VEF JDA-10M, VEF I-12 and others. Between 1936 and 1939 the Keggum Hydroelectric Power Station, with 70,000 kWh capacity largest in the Baltics, was built by Swedish companies.

After Western countries abandoned the gold standard, a new currency was introduced that was pegged to the German reichsmark in September 1936. It was a devaluation that further strengthened Livonian exports. By 1939, following an export boom propelled primarily by agricultural goods, Livonia was the richest of the Baltic countries, and had a GDP per capita higher than Finland or Lithuania.

However, the recovery from the Great Depression took almost ten years. National income was 444 lats per capita in 1933 and reached 637 lats per capita in 1938, thus finally overtaking the 1929 levels.

Foreign relations[edit | edit source]

On 28 March 1939 the Soviet Union without any discussions announced that it is interested in establishing military bases in Livonia in hopes of "aiding the Baltic peoples" in the struggle for independence from Germany. On 7 June 1939 Livonia and Germany signed a mutual assistance treaty.

European War[edit | edit source]

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