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The New York Times, May 8, 1921:


Hope, Happiness and Order in New Republic
on the Edge of the Shadow.


Communication With Latvia and Lithuania
Also Hampered by Difference in Language.


Big Communist Neighbor a Source of Anxiety--
Latvia's Premier Educated in America.

By John H. Finley

    Narva, Esthonia, May 2 (Via London, May 6).--Beyond a strip of pine forest stretching at sunset like a black shadow against the eastern sky, half a mile away is Russia. The peasants of the new Republic of Esthonia have ploughed down as near to the edge of the Forest as the swamp permits. They are rebuilding their broken cottages in the narrow neutral zone just this side of the shadow. Scores of women are returning barefooted from the fields this early Spring day, each one bearing some burden, but also a budding branch or twig, as if she were a Demeter... There are memories in the city itself of the war between Peter the Great of Russia and Charles XII of Sweden, and later of that between the Reds and the Whites; but out on this further bank of the river, along both sides of which the city stretches picturesquely, less than a hundred miles from Petgrograd, there is no sign of anything but peace, except the armed guard at the barbed wire "barrier."

    And even through this barrier commerce is beginning to pass. As I approached it a few minutes ago I saw a train of fifty loaded cars entering the land which for most of the rest of the world still has the mystery still has upon it the mystery of the forest. What this train's cargo was I could only surmise, except for three open cars which were loaded with iron pipe and great castings for machinery. In Reval (renamed Tallinn) I had heard on good authority that 7,000,000 pairs of misses shoes had been contracted for by Russia in America, and that shipments were beginning to go through. In London I was told on equally good authority that great quantities of clothing were going from England. At Riga I saw about a hundred mowers on a wharf awaiting cars to take them to Russia. It is doubtless freight of this sort that this train of Russian cars, drawn by one engine and pushed by another, is transporting beyond the shadow. And now, ten minutes later, it is in Russia.

    There are three such trains going in daily, I am told, from this port. There are also through trains between Riga and Russia, but with lighter traffic. Yet through the Baltic ports one-third of Russia's outside commerce passed before the war.

Refugee Trains from Russia.

    But there are trains coming out also. They do not, however, carry out such freight. They bring some gold, perhaps a little flax now and then. For the rest it is freight of human beings with such necessitous articles of use as they are permitted to bring out with them, but nothing new or of great value. One such train I saw earlier in the day, when I first entered the neutral zone. It had arrived the previous day with 168 peasant passengers returning from Russia to their homes in Esthonia. They had come from near Petrograd and had been allowed to bring with them not only a few household belongings, but also their cattle to the number of sixty, and about thiry horses. The animals had been removed from the train. The cattle were to be slaughtered because of fear of their carrying disease from Russia into Esthonia. But the men, women and children huddled in the same cars with their household effects (which included at least one plough such as one sees in America and a Singer sewing machine) were awaiting quarantine. By nightfall they were ready for repatriation in clean bodies and disinfected clothes, or, rather, patriation in the land which since they had left it had become an independent country of universal suffrage, compulsory education and self-government. Such refugees are coming out by another line about 200 miles further south at the rate of a thousand a day, and doubtless they are crossing the border or sifting through at other points.

    But it is not to be assumed that none is passing in the other direction. Besides the prisoners of war, who are returning to Russia from Germany, Poland and elsewhere in greater numbers than they are coming out of Russia (about 10,000 going in and 7,000 coming out in a certain period), there are others going back into Russia--a few, I am told, from America--either because they find themselves strangers outside of Russia or because they have not found favorable conditions elsewhere or because those dearest to them are still inside. They seem to me like the Prisoner of Chillon, who, released from long imprisonment behind the heavy walls which had become his hermitage, "regained his freedom with a sigh."

Three Jealous New Republics.

    ...there is new hope springing up... in the three nascent states through which I have just traveled. All three of them are struggling young republics which have not yet been recognized by the United States--Lithuania, Latvia and Esthonia. Together these three have a population hardly greater than that of New York City, but so jealous are they of their independence that they have made intercourse either impossible or as difficult as possible.

    In the first place, each of these republics has its own language, the language in which all instruction must be given in all elementary schools. Two of these languages, at least, are radically different, and all are mutually unintelligible. As a result, the people of one republic cannot understand the people of the neighboring one except in the most primitive mental exchange without resort to a third language, which may be German or Russian. In the higher schools the children often receive instruction in as many as six languages, not for mental discipline, but for practical use--the native language (Esthonian, Latvian, or Lithuanian), German, Russian, English, and French, besides Latin. As the principal of a great girl's school of a thousand pupils in one of these republics complained, there is time for little else than language. In a very literal sense language for the great mass of people has become a barrier instead of a medium of communication, so far as as intercourse with one another and the outside world is concerned. It is pitiful to see in a university library of half a million new books and pamphlets in one of these new republics the meagre collection of slender books in the language of that republic, the language in which all children are now expected to be taught in order that, to use an American phrase, they may become 100 per cent Esthonian. The literature of the world is a closed book to all save a few of the 2,000,000. And yet without this independence of language and a cultural renaissance political independence would not have been.

The Plague of Customs Barriers.

    Language is an invisible barrier, but there are also visible barriers. In going from East Prussia into Esthonia, a distance of about 500 miles, I had to pass eight of these barriers. At every barrier there is an examination of passports and an inspection of all that one carries. A peasant woman living half a mile from the border must have her basket with chickens or potatoes opened and scrutinized. A workman going to and from a factory must show his pass and the contents of his dinner pail... and a traveler from far away must pause for the same treatment of his luggage. If one travels by train one must detrain at the border, transfer one's self and luggage across it and probably wait hours for a train to carry one to the next border. At a certain border the barrier runs between two stations that are a mile or more apart, and the name of the town is significantly Walk. If the traveler journeys by automobile or a peasant's cart he must await the convenience of the gatekeeper, who sometimes takes two hours off in the middle of the day and closes at dark his barrier, wrapped like a barber pole with the color of his flag...

See also: Latvia News - Russia News - Lithuania News

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