“Who owns the soil should also sow”—Building the Racial State: Eugenics, Sterilization and Race in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania under Authoritarian Rule, 1934-1940

Björn Felder (University of Göttingen, Germany)

The authoritarian statehoods in the Baltics put in place by Päts, Ulmanis and Smetona not only contributed to the trend in Western and Central Europe towards fascism, they also provided an important aspect of totalitarianism: bio-politics.

Baltic authoritarianism aimed not only to construct a monolithic and mono-ethic state, but it also sought to form the nation biologically: to create a racial state.  Besides creating racial identities through the rhetoric of “blood and soil,” race and racial hygiene, the national bio-political programs were expected to overcome the alleged demographic crisis, strengthen the “national vitality” for a Darwinian struggle among nations, and “enhance” the genetic value of the nation.  The aim of biological homogenization was also due to the current discourse of racial anthropology; with their racial identity as “Nordic” nations belonging to the “Nordic” race, bio-engineers were to create a racially homogeneous nation.  Even if these states had no official xenophobic or racist agenda, national bio-politics necessarily included a racial utopia.

National eugenics contributed the largest part of authoritarian bio-politics.  Both Estonia and Latvia established national eugenic projects (in 1936 and 1937, respectively), including eugenic legislation that included eugenic abortion and sterilization, the goals of which were to reduce the number of “inferiors” and “improve” the nation genetically.  Even Catholic Lithuania had a hidden eugenic agenda.

This paper seeks to illustrate the building of the racial state in the Baltic region, the implementation there of practical eugenics, and the racial agendas of Baltic authoritarianism, putting these in the context both of contemporary concepts of race and eugenics and of bio-politics.

Keyword: Bjorn

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