Kalervo Hovi, The uneasy relationship and disputed border between Estonians and Latvians.
Estonia and Latvia are two small countries amidst super-powers. They would seem to need
each otherís support. However, the national antipathy that exists between many neighbouring
countries affects them as well. There are already reports of constants conflicts in the Lettish
Chronicle of Heinrich written in the early 13th century. Expressions of national antipathy can
also be found from the period of the Latvian War of Independence and the present age.
This polarity was especially intense during the War of Independence. The Estonians had
succeeded in freeing their country from the Red Army in early 1919 and had pushed the front
to Latvia and other surrounding countries. The provisional government of Latvia, however, was
not as successful. A large part of their country was under the control of either the Red Army or
various other German and Baltic German troops. In this emergency situation, they called on the
Estonians for assistance. The Estonians were indeed willing to help, but demanded control of
disputed territories, especially the border town of Valga. The first treaty of alliance was signed
on 18 February 1919. The Estonians succeeded in defeating the German troops that attacked
from the south in early June and assisted in setting up the Latvian provisional government in the
capital city of Riga.
A new treaty of alliance was signed by the two countries on 21 July 1919. The Latvians
expressed their gratitude for the assistance, but wanted to assume greater responsibility for
holding the front against the Red Army as the Latvian army increased in strength. The Latvian
government also demanded a separate commission to decide the fate of the town of Valga. The
lack of confidence had been awakened, and the national antipathy took the form of skirmishes
among the soldiers of the two countries.
However, the Latvians had to ask the Estonians for assistance one more time. In early
October, a new army composed of Baltic Germans and Russians besieged Riga from the south.
The Estonian commander-in-chief General Laidoner sent two armoured trains to assist in the
defence of Riga. At the same time, Laidoner demanded the Latvians sign a convention on the
concession of the town of Valga to Estonia. When the Latvians refused, the Estonians recalled
their armoured trains.
Now the crisis reached its peak. The Estonian government decided to annex Valga to the
Estonian customs frontier, and at the beginning of the following year expelled all Latvian
officials from the town. This action was justified as being necessary for the war effort, but the
Latvians protested vigorously. In March 1920, the conflict escalated to war-like proportions.
Both sides issued belligerent statements, and the Latvians tore up railroad tracks to prevent the
feared Estonian armoured trains from attacking Riga.
The threat of open war shocked both sides. On 22 March 1920, they decided to leave the
fate of the town of Valga in the hands of the British Commissioner, Colonel Tallents. In the
summer of 1920, he decided to partition the town. This decision remained in force, but this did
not immediately calm the situation.