Intriigid, provokatsioonid ja iseseisvuse sünd: Eesti välisdelegatsioon ja Aleksander Kesküla

Mart Kuldkepp

Abstract


Intrigue, provocation, and the birth of independence: the Estonian foreign delegation and Aleksander Kesküla

This article is an account of the relations between two groups working in Scandinavia in 1918 in order to attain foreign recognition of Estonian independence. The first of these was the official Estonian foreign delegation, headed by Jaan Tõnisson, which began its work in February 1918. The other group consisted for the most part of a single person: the emigré adventurer and self-styled politician Aleksander Kesküla who had been involved in quasi-diplomatic activities as a representative of Estonians since the beginning of the war. Due to the nature of the available sources, I am focusing on the delegation’s viewpoint on the events described.
I have tried to frame the basic difference between the delegation and Kesküla with the help of the notions of proto-diplomacy and para-diplomacy, as they have been used by Ivo D. Duchacek and others. The identity of the delegation, a proto-diplomatic body, was that of a foreign representation of Estonian Maapäev (the first ever representative body of the Estonian people). The delegation members’ mandates, however, were vague and of doubtful authority since Maapäev had been dissolved and Estonia had been occupied by German forces. This situation made it almost impossible to get up-to-date instructions from the nearly dysfunctional provisional government in Estonia. The members of the delegation, all inexperienced in diplomacy, were correspondingly prone to passivity and – if not – to missteps.
Kesküla as a para-diplomat was on the outside unconcerned with legalities and thought that his experience alone made him superior to his amateur colleagues, lack of mandate notwithstanding. Unlike the official delegation, he was well-connected and highly competent in the political affairs of Stockholm, which he could and would use against the delegation.
The conflict between the delegation and Kesküla grew out of personal animosities, as well as the basic incompatibility between their viewpoints: one proto- and the other para-diplomatic. It began with the total failure of negotiations between Kesküla and Tõnisson, and was cemented by the delegation’s public declaration that Kesküla had no right to act as a representative of Estonians.
Kesküla’s revenge was to spread rumors that some of the delegation members – particularly Jaan Tõnisson and Mihkel Martna, who also happened to be his personal enemies – were German-friendly, if not outright German agents. This could be “proved” in several ways: certainly by referring to their contacts with German ministers in Stockholm and Copenhagen, but also by raising suspicions of past contacts with German authorities. The intrigue was mostly arranged through the Embassy of France in Stockholm where Kesküla had good, long-term contacts with the minister Thiébaut and the “press attaché” André Waltz, and where he presented himself as the leader of an alternative, left-wing anti-German movement in Estonia. The first provisional de facto French recognition of the Estonian constitutive assembly, although sent to Tõnisson, had also been achieved at least partially thanks to Kesküla.
Kesküla’s schemes had the effect of exacerbating already-existing personal and political animosities inside the delegation. The naturally domineering personality of Tõnisson was one source of tension, another one was the orientation controversy between German-friendly and Ententefriendly members of the delegation. The main rift appeared between the members situated in Copenhagen (Tõnisson, Martna, Karl Menning, and occasionally Eduard Virgo) and those in Stockholm (Ferdinand Kull and Gustav Suits). Kull in particular was apt to demand more decisive action against Germany and began to consider himself something of a counterbalance to the delegation’s German-friendliness, which provoked him to act increasingly on his own volition and eventually caused his expulsion.
Any long-term effect of Kesküla’s activities on the obtainment of Estonian independence and the development of Estonian statehood was probably negligible. All the same, the story illustrates well the problems facing the first Estonian diplomats, and their inherent vulnerability to intrigue and provocation. On a more positive note, the need to resist Kesküla’s attacks also had the result of making the delegation tackle more decisively the delicate questions of its inner hierarchy, orientation vis à vis the belligerents and the overall course of action.

Keywords: History of Estonia, First World War, Aleksander Kesküla, protodiplomacy.

Mart Kuldkepp (b. 1983), Ph.D. student, Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Scandinavian Studies, University of Tartu.
Correspondence: Mart Kuldkepp, Department of Scandinavian Studies, University of Tartu. Ülikooli 17, 51014, Tartu, Estonia. E-mail: Mart.Kuldkepp@ut.ee

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.12697/AA.2013.3.03




ISSN 1406-3859 (print)
ISSN 2228-3897 (online)
Journal DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/issn1406-3859