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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Baltic states
Estonia-latvia-lithuania-in-northern-europe.png
Countries Estonia
 Latvia
 Lithuania
Time zonesGMT+2

The Baltic states, also known as the Baltic countries, Baltic republics, Baltic nations or simply the Baltics (Estonian: Balti riigid, Baltimaad, Latvian: Baltijas valstis, Lithuanian: Baltijos valstybės), is a geopolitical term used for grouping the three sovereign states in Northern Europe on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The term is not used in the context of cultural areas, national identity, or language. The three countries cooperate on a regional level in several intergovernmental organizations.[1]

All three countries are members of the European Union, NATO and the eurozone. They are classified as high-income economies by the World Bank and maintain high Human Development Index. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are also members of the OECD.[2]

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Transcription

Before the First World War, what are today Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were part of the Russian Empire. As that empire fought and fell, so too fought the soldiers of the Baltic States, first during the war, and then in their struggles for eventual independence. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War Special Episode about the Baltic States during World War One. The region was important for international trade and Riga, in Latvia, with a population of over 500,000, had become an important industrial center. Now, going back to the mid 19th century, Russia had been pursuing a policy of “Russification” in the Baltics that encouraged Russian speakers to settle there and made Russian the primary language of education. Estonia and Latvia did have a certain degree of autonomy from the empire at this time, but participation in this limited self-government was restricted to the Russian elite and a minority of Baltic Germans, who made up around 5% of the population. They had ruled the area as traders, artisans, and landowners since the 12th century and traditionally treated the indigenous people as serfs. They also tried to convince more German speakers to settle the region. Lithuania, on the other hand, had strong historic ties with Poland, and the Poles had been the dominant of the two, so many Lithuanians were hesitant of dealing with Poland, while many Poles couldn’t imagine a new Polish nation without including Lithuania. During the 1905 Revolution, Baltic socialist and social democratic organizations struck in all major cities, and several hundred manor houses belonging to Baltic Germans were burned down. When the Tsar promised to introduce a Duma, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian nationalists joined the congresses, which clearly expressed a desire for cultural self-determination, but in December that year, St. Petersburg took action against supposed revolutionary excesses in the Baltic. Martial law was proclaimed and the Russian army captured or even outright murdered those who had participated in the revolution. Those army units worked together with hastily assembled Baltic German militias, who sometimes used their position to settle old scores. Many revolutionaries went into hiding, including Karlis Ulmanis and Konstantin Päts, who would become prominent leaders of Latvia and Estonia after the war. When the Great War broke out, the Latvian, Estonian, and Lithuanian press, and the Baltic delegates to the Duma declared their solidarity with the Empire. This might seem unlikely, but there was a lot of anti-German sentiment there, there was the initial war euphoria we saw everywhere in Europe, and some thought that by showing themselves as patriots, they would earn some self-government. But the resentment of the Russian government remained quite strong, and the Baltic Germans also announced solidarity with the Empire. Just to throw some numbers out, 60,000 Latvians, 120,000 Lithuanians, and 100,000 Estonians were drafted during the war. Although Russia had some initial successes in the north, the disasters at Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes set the stage for the German occupation, by summer 1915, of all of Lithuania and half of Latvia. The occupied territories became a military state under the leaderships of Oberbefehlshaber Ost - Ober Ost. This state was concerned with supporting the German war effort, and force-requisitioned livestock and grain, used forced labor, and kept tight control of the local people. In 1916, Germany announced that it would annex a big chunk of Lithuania and Latvia as part of any peace agreement. There were plans for a Kulturpolitik that would Germanize the region through resettlement of Germans to the Baltics. Germany never fully committed to this vision so it remained a fantasy; wartime realities prevented the funding of any such programs. As for the unoccupied Baltic territories, things weren’t a whole lot better for them. For fear of losing it to invasion, all industrial equipment had been transported eastward in 1915, so that part of life slowed to a crawl. Also, 700,000 refugees fled the German occupied territories and border regions, and many of them fled to the unoccupied regions, crowding them. One thing, though, many Latvian refugees went to Petrograd where there soon were over 260 support organizations for them, with a newspaper and a refugee school system. This flight gave the Latvians a sense of unity and gave them established organizations outside the Russian administration. Another factor that contributed to the sense of unity was the Latvian Rifles. The Russian government was skeptical of “national” units, but nevertheless, in August 1915, after the Latvian militia had proved itself in combat, the government gave in to Latvians who argued that men defending their homes would fight better than those who may not know what they were fighting for. Soon, 8,000 volunteers were trained for service in two Latvian Rifle battalions, to be part of the Russian 12th Army. These displayed excellent morale and their communications weren’t hurt by the common language and the near 100% literacy rate, rare for the Russian army then. The Latvian press did present them as heroes defending “our homeland”, and intimating an independence from the Russian army that didn’t actually exist. They followed orders from Russian officers. The Latvian Rifles soon expanded. By 1916, there were 40,000 of them in eight battalions. They fought in the Christmas battles on the Riga Front, taking German positions in temperatures of -40 and then losing them in January. They took nearly 9,000 casualties and became increasingly hostile to Tsarist officers whom they thought incompetent, and more and more, the Latvian Rifles would become a nucleus for socialist opposition to the Tsarist regime. Estonia didn’t establish a “national” unit because activists were not united on the issue, and anyhow, Estonia was already defended. In Lithuania, where activists had become radicalized and united under German occupation, they established the Taryba, a national council, and publicly declared their desire for self-government in spring 1916. The Germans actually tolerated this, and that council would be vital in later establishing an independent Lithuania. Such institutions could only be established in Estonia and Latvia after the February Revolution and the abdication of the Tsar in 1917. An Estonian national assembly, Maapäev, was elected in June with the Mayor of Tallinn at its head despite Bolshevik efforts to postpone the election, and it managed to retain influence, primarily in the country. A Latvian provincial council was elected in March but immediately challenged by a rival socialist council. The socialists would soon become the dominant power there, and would establish the Executive Committee of Soviet of the Workers, Soldiers, and the Landless in Latvia in August, but the struggle in both nations between the conservative and socialist factions prevented progress on the question of whether they should be independent nations, autonomous regions within Russia, or part of a Soviet state. They were unable to provide stable political structures. And then things got heavy. In the face of war, uncertainty, and all the shortages of everything, there was a general shift to the left. The Bolsheviks, who had not been affiliated with any of the governments responsible for the state of affairs, became increasingly popular, especially among sailors of the Baltic Fleet and in the army. When the Bolsheviks staged their coup in Petrograd that fall, they got a lot of support from the Latvian Bolsheviks and the Latvian Rifles, and a Bolshevik government was established as the sole authority in Latvia. I should point out that though non-Bolshevik newspapers were shut down and non-Bolshevik parties banned, violence there was rare. This government would have to flee from the invading Germans, though, who had taken Riga and would take all of Latvia early in 1918. Those Latvian Bolsheviks who fled to Russia played a big part in constructing the Russian Soviet Government, the Red Army, and the Cheka - the secret police. Historian Andrew Ezergailis went so far as to say, “If any sector of the Russian Empire’s population can be designated as a vanguard of Bolshevism, I think the Latvians would qualify. I am persuaded that the Latvians, and here I mean mainly the Latvian Riflemen, were the main support for Lenin, especially in the first year of Soviet power.” A Soviet government took power in Estonia as well. Here, though, the Bolsheviks managed to alienate a big chunk of the population fairly quickly. In contrast to Latvia, they had no base in the countryside, and the Maapäev had, as 1917 rolled on, begun to see itself not as a provincial assembly, but as a sovereign entity representing all Estonians. The Bolsheviks refused even to discuss the question of independence, which further hurt their position. The Maapäev too, though, had to withdraw from the advancing Germans. The peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed on March 3, 1918 between Soviet Russia and the German Empire, laid out the German plans for the conquered territories. They were to be Baltic States, but closely affiliated with Germany and governed by an aristocratic elite of Baltic Germans. In Latvia and Estonia, a new Landesrat, composed of 35 Germans, 13 Estonians, and 10 Latvians, met in April and petitioned the Kaiser to put the Baltic States under his protection. The immediate concern, though, was supporting the German war effort and so conditions similar to those of Ober Ost were established. German forces in Latvia and Estonia were tasked with suppressing nationalism and socialism. This was all pretty unrealistic, though, and it’s unlikely that the German vision for the region would have been realized even had they won the war. This was now an age of nationalism and political movements, and the Baltic German population was small, unorganized, and played no part in the events of 1917. Keeping the enormous socialist and nationalist movements in check would have been really costly, if even possible. In Lithuania, German civil administration had recognized a declaration of independence by the Taryba on condition that it would seek a firm and permanent alliance with Germany. A proclamation in February 1918 stated that Lithuania was to become a constitutional monarchy - a continuation of the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The German Wilhelm von Urach was elected as King Mindaugas II. His election, though, deepened the divide between the Catholic right and socialist left, even though Urach - who accepted the invitation - never set foot on Lithuanian soil. The German occupying army also prevented the Taryba from establishing a police force and other state institutions, because the military, unlike the civil admin, did not favor a semi-independent Lithuania and favored complete annexation. It was only when it became clear that Germany could not win the war that a new approach was possible. In October, German Chancellor Max von Baden promised to allow Lithuanians to take over the administration. The invitation for Urach to be king was suspended November 2nd, and a constitution that was not monarchic was adopted that day. All future propositions of Lithuania as an independent state would be democratic. And here we stand in November 1918. Although there is optimism, confusion and uncertainty are still the orders of the day. All three of the Baltic States still faced enormous obstacles on the road to independence, and you can bet your boots I’ll cover that in another special, because I personally think it’s some of the most fascinating history of the whole era, and if you though the wartime situation in Greece was confusing and complicated, wait till you hear this. But wait you will have to do, for today was just a brief look at the Baltic states during the war itself, invaded or oppressed, but still possessing the indomitable courage that would one day lead to independence. Thank you Maximilian Rose, for the research on this episode. If you want to learn more about the CzechLegions in World War One,you can click right here for our episode about them. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram for all sorts of cool stuff that Flo puts up there all the time. Don't forget to subscribe. See you next time

Contents

Etymology

The term "Baltic" stems from the name of the Baltic Sea – a hydronym dating back to the 11th century (Adam of Bremen mentioned Latin: Mare Balticum) and earlier. Although there are several theories about its origin, most ultimately trace it to Indo-European root *bhel[3] meaning white, fair. This meaning is retained in modern Baltic languages, where baltas (in Lithuanian) and balts (in Latvian) mean "white".[4] However the modern names of the region and the sea, that originate from this root, were not used in either of the two languages prior to the 19th century.[5]

Beginning in the Middle Ages and through the present day, the Baltic Sea appears on the maps described in Germanic languages as German: Ostsee, Danish: Østersøen, Dutch: Oostzee, Swedish: Östersjön, etc. In English "Ost" is "East", and in fact, the Baltic Sea mostly lies to the east of Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The term was historically also used to refer to Baltic Dominions of The Swedish Empire (Swedish: Östersjöprovinserna) and, after, the Baltic governorates of Russian Empire (Russian: Остзейские губернии, translit. Ostzejskie gubernii).[5] The terms related to modern name "Baltic" appear in ancient texts, but had fallen in disuse until reappearing as adjective "Baltisch" in German from which it was adopted in other languages.[6] During 19th century "Baltic" started to surpass "Ostsee" as the name for the region. Officially its Russian equivalent "Прибалтийский" was first used in 1859.[5] This process was a result of the Baltic German elite adopting terms derived from stem "Baltic" to refer to themselves.[6][7]

The term "Baltic states" was, until the early 20th century, used in the context of countries neighbouring the Baltic Sea – Namely Sweden and Denmark, sometimes also Germany and the Russian Empire. With the advent of Foreningen Norden, the term was no longer used for Sweden and Denmark.[8][9] After World War I the new sovereign states that emerged on the east coast of the Baltic sea – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and during the Interwar period, Finland – became known as "The Baltic states".[6]

History

Northern Crusades

In the 13th century pagan and Eastern Orthodox Baltic and Finnic peoples in the region became a target of the Northern Crusades.[10][11] In the aftermath of the Livonian crusade, a crusader state officially named Terra Mariana, but also known as Livonia, was established in the territory of modern Latvia and Southern Estonia. It was divided into four autonomous bishoprics and lands of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. After the Brothers of the Sword suffered defeat at the Battle of Saule, the remaining Brothers were integrated into the Teutonic Order as the autonomous Livonian Order. Northern Estonia initially became a Danish dominion, but it was purchased by the Teutonic Order in the mid-14th century. The majority of the crusaders and clergy were German and remained influential in Estonia and most of Latvia until the first half of the 20th century – Baltic Germans formed the backbone of the local gentry, and German served both as a lingua franca and for record-keeping.[6]

The Lithuanians were also targeted by the crusaders; however, they were able to resist and established the Kingdom of Lithuania in 1251 which later became Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It expanded to the east conquering former principalities of Kiev up to the Black sea. After the Union of Krewo in 1385, Grand Duchy of Lithuania created a dynastic union with Kingdom of Poland, they became ever more closely integrated and finally merged into the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. After victory in the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, the Polish–Lithuanian union became a major political and military power in the region.

Baltic dominions of Swedish Empire

The Duchies of Estland and Livland within the Swedish Empire
The Duchies of Estland and Livland within the Swedish Empire

In 1558 Livonia was attacked by the Tsardom of Russia and the Livonian war broke out, lasting until 1583. The rulers of different regions within Livonia sought to ally with foreign powers, which resulted in Polish–Lithuanian, Swedish and Danish involvement. As a result, by 1561 the Livonian confederation had ceased to exist and its lands in modern Latvia and Southern Estonia became the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia and the Duchy of Livonia, which were vassals to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Osel island came under Danish rule and Northern Estonia became the Swedish Duchy of Estonia. In the aftermath of later conflicts of the 17th century, much of the Duchy of Livonia and Osel also came under Swedish control as Swedish Livonia. These newly acquired Swedish territories, as well as Ingria and Kexholm (now the western part of the Leningrad Oblast of Russia), became known as the Baltic Dominions. Parts of the Duchy of Livonia that remained in the Commonwealth became Inflanty Voivodeship, which contributed to the modern Latgale region of Eastern Latvia becoming culturally distinct from the rest of Latvia as the German nobility lost its influence and the region remained Catholic just like Poland-Lithuania, while the rest of Latvia (and also Estonia) became Lutheran.

Baltic governates of Russian Empire

Territorial changes in 1709–1721. Note that Livonia and Estonia were lost by Sweden and annexed by Russia in this period.
Territorial changes in 1709–1721. Note that Livonia and Estonia were lost by Sweden and annexed by Russia in this period.

At the beginning of the 18th century the Swedish Empire was attacked by a coalition of several European powers in the Great Northern War. Among these powers was Russia, seeking to restore its access to the Baltic Sea. During the course of the war it conquered all of the Swedish provinces on the Eastern Baltic coast. This acquisition was legalized by the Treaty of Nystad in which the Baltic Dominions were ceded to Russia.[12] The treaty also granted the Baltic-German nobility within Estonia and Livonia the rights to self-government, maintaining their financial system, existing customs border, Lutheran religion, and the German language; this special position in the Russian Empire was reconfirmed by all Russian Tsars from Peter the Great to Alexander II.[13] Initially these were two governorates named after the largest cities: Riga and Reval (now Tallinn). After the Partitions of Poland which took place in the last quarter of the 18th century, the third Ostsee governorate was created, as the Courland Governorate (presently a part of Latvia). This toponym stems from the Curonians, one of the Baltic[14] indigenous tribes. Following the annexation of Courland the two other governates were renamed to the Governorate of Livland and the Governorate of Estland.

In the late 19th century, nationalist sentiment grew in Estonia and in Latvia morphing into an aspiration to national statehood after the 1905 Russian Revolution.

Newly independent countries East of the Baltic Sea

After the First World War the term "Baltic states" came to refer to countries by the Baltic Sea that had gained independence from Russia in its aftermath. As such it included not only former Baltic governorates, but also Latgale, Lithuania and Finland.[15] As World War I came to a close, Lithuania declared independence and Latvia formed a provisional government. Estonia had already obtained autonomy from tsarist Russia in 1917, but was subsequently occupied by the German Empire; they fought an independence war against Soviet Russia and Baltic nobility before gaining true independence from 1920 to 1939. Latvia and Lithuanians followed a similar process, until the Latvian War of Independence and Lithuanian Wars of Independence were extinguished in 1920.

During the Interwar period these countries were sometimes referred to as limitrophe states between the two World Wars, from the French, indicating their collectively forming a rim along Bolshevik Russia's, later the Soviet Union's, western border. They were also part of what Clemenceau considered a strategic cordon sanitaire, the entire territory from Finland in the north to Romania in the south, standing between Western Europe and potential Bolshevik territorial ambitions.[16][17]

Prior to World War II Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania each experienced an authoritarian head of state who had come to power after a bloodless coup: Antanas Smetona in Lithuania (December 1926), Konstantin Päts in Estonia (March 1934), and Kārlis Ulmanis in Latvia (May 1934). Some note that the events in Lithuania differed from its two more northerly neighbors, with Smetona having different motivations as well as securing power 8 years before any such events in Latvia or Estonia took place. Despite considerable political turmoil in Finland no such events took place there. Finland did however get embroiled in a bloody civil war, something that did not happen in the Baltics.[18] Some controversy surrounds the Baltic authoritarian régimes – due to the general stability and rapid economic growth of the period (even if brief), some commenters avoid the label "authoritarian"; others, however, condemn such an "apologetic" attitude, for example in later assessments of Kārlis Ulmanis.

Soviet and German occupations

Map of present-day Baltic states
Map of present-day Baltic states

In accordance with a secret protocol within the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 that divided Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, the Soviet Army entered eastern Poland in September 1939, and then coerced Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into mutual assistance treaties which granted them the right to establish military bases in these countries. In June 1940, the Red Army occupied all of the territory of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and the Red Army installed new, pro-Soviet governments in all three countries. Following rigged elections, in which only pro-communist candidates were allowed to run, the newly "elected" parliaments of the three countries formally applied to "join" the Soviet Union in August 1940 and were incorporated into it as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Repressions, executions and mass deportations followed after that in the Baltics.[19][20] Deportations were used as a part of the Soviet Union's attempts, along with instituting the Russian Language as the only working language and other such tactics, at Sovietization of its occupied territories. More than 200,000 people were deported by the Soviet government from the Baltic in 1940–1953 to remote, inhospitable locations in the Soviet Union. In addition, at least 75,000 were sent to Gulag. Approximately 10% of the entire adult Baltic population was deported or sent to labor camps.[21][22] (See June deportation, Soviet deportations from Estonia, Sovietization of the Baltic states)

The Soviet control of the Baltic states was interrupted by Nazi German invasion of this region in 1941. Initially, many Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians considered the Germans as liberators from the Soviet Union. The Baltic countries hoped for the restoration of independence, but instead the Germans established civil administration, known as the Reichskommissariat Ostland. During the occupation the Germans carried out discrimination, mass deportations and mass killings generating Baltic resistance movements (see German occupation of the Baltic states during World War II).[23] Over 190,000 Lithuanian Jews, nearly 95% of Lithuania's pre-war Jewish community, and 66,000 Latvian Jews had been killed. The German occupation lasted until late 1944 (in Courland, until early 1945), when the countries were reoccupied by the Red Army and Soviet rule was re-established, with the passive agreement of the United States and Britain (see Yalta Conference and Potsdam Agreement).

The forced collectivisation of agriculture began in 1947, and was completed after the mass deportation in March 1949 (see Operation Priboi). Private farms were confiscated, and farmers were made to join the collective farms. In all three countries, Baltic partisans, known colloquially as the Forest Brothers, Latvian national partisans, and Lithuanian partisans, waged unsuccessful guerrilla warfare against the Soviet occupation for the next eight years in a bid to regain their nations' independence. Although the armed resistance was defeated, the population remained anti-Soviet.

The Baltic Way was a mass anti-Soviet demonstration where approx. 25% of the population of the Baltic states participated
The Baltic Way was a mass anti-Soviet demonstration where approx. 25% of the population of the Baltic states participated

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were considered to be under Soviet occupation by the United States, the United Kingdom,[24] Canada, NATO, and many other countries and international organizations.[25] During the Cold War period Lithuania and Latvia maintained legations in Washington, DC, while Estonia had a mission in New York. Each was staffed, initially by diplomats from the last governments before USSR occupation.[26]

In the late 1980s a massive campaign of civil resistance against Soviet rule, known as the Singing revolution, began. On 23 August 1989, the Baltic Way, a two-million-strong human chain, stretched for 600 km from Tallinn to Vilnius. In the wake of this campaign Gorbachev's government had privately concluded that the departure of the Baltic republics had become "inevitable".[27] This process contributed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union setting a precedent for the other Soviet republics to secede from the USSR. Soviet Union recognized the independence of three Baltic states on 6 September 1991. There was a subsequent withdrawal of troops from the region (starting from Lithuania) in August 1993. The last Russian troops were withdrawn from there in August 1994.[28] Skrunda-1, the last Russian military radar in the Baltics, officially suspended operations in August 1998.[29]

Politics

The Baltic countries are located in Northern Europe, and because each has access to the sea, it is able to interact with many European countries. All three countries are parliamentary democracies, which have unicameral parliaments that are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms – Riigikogu in Estonia, Saeima in Latvia and Seimas in Lithuania. In Latvia and Estonia, the president is elected by parliament while Lithuania has a semi-presidential system where the president is elected by popular vote. All are parts of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Each of the three countries has declared itself to be the restoration of the sovereign nation that had existed from 1918 to 1940, emphasizing their contention that Soviet domination over the Baltic nations during the Cold War period had been an illegal occupation and annexation.

The same legal interpretation is shared by the United States, the United Kingdom, and most other Western democracies,[citation needed] who held the forcible incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union to be illegal. At least formally, most Western democracies never considered the three Baltic states to be constituent parts of the Soviet Union. Australia was a brief exception to this support of Baltic independence – in 1974, the Labor government of Australia did recognize Soviet dominion, but this decision was reversed by the next Australian Parliament.[30] Other exceptions included Sweden, which was the first Western country, and one of the very few to ever do so, to recognize the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union as lawful.[31]

After the Baltic states had restored their independence, integration with Western Europe became a major strategic goal. In 2002, the Baltic nations applied for membership in NATO and the EU. All three became NATO members on 29 March 2004, and accessed to the EU on 1 May 2004. The Baltic states are currently the only former-Soviet states that have joined either organization.

Regional cooperation

During the Baltic struggle for independence 1989–1992, a personal friendship developed between the (at that time unrecognized) Baltic ministers of foreign affairs and the Nordic ministers of foreign affairs. This friendship led to the creation of the Council of the Baltic Sea States in 1992, and the EuroFaculty in 1993.[32]

Between 1994 and 2004, the BAFTA free trade agreement was established to help prepare the countries for their accession to the EU, rather than out of the Baltic states' desire to trade among themselves. The Baltic countries were more interested in gaining access to the rest of the European market.

Currently, the governments of the Baltic states cooperate in multiple ways, including cooperation among presidents, parliament speakers, heads of government, and foreign ministers. On 8 November 1991, the Baltic Assembly, which includes 15 to 20 MPs from each parliament, was established to facilitate inter-parliamentary cooperation.The Baltic Council of Ministers was established on 13 June 1994 to facilitate intergovernmental cooperation. Since 2003, there is coordination between the two organizations.[33]

Compared with other regional groupings in Europe, such as Nordic council or Visegrad Four, Baltic cooperation is rather limited. Possible explanations include the short history of restored sovereignty and fear of losing it again, along with an orientation toward Nordic countries and Baltic-Nordic cooperation in The Nordic-Baltic Eight. Estonia especially has attempted to construct a Nordic identity for itself and denounced Baltic identity, despite still seeking to preserve close relationship with other countries in the region.[34][35]

Current leaders

Economies

State budget revenues per capita for 2016 in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
State budget revenues per capita for 2016 in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Tallink is the largest passenger shipping company in the Baltic sea region in Northern Europe.
Tallink is the largest passenger shipping company in the Baltic sea region in Northern Europe.

All three countries are members of the European Union, and the Eurozone. They are classified as high-income economies by the World Bank and maintain high Human Development Index. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are also members of the OECD.[2]

Estonia adopted the euro in January 2011, Latvia in January 2014, and Lithuania in January 2015.

Culture

Ethnic groups

Language branches in Northern Europe   North Germanic (Iceland and Scandinavia)   Finnic (Finland, Estonia)   Baltic (Latvia, Lithuania)
Language branches in Northern Europe
  North Germanic (Iceland and Scandinavia)
  Finnic (Finland, Estonia)
  Baltic (Latvia, Lithuania)

Estonians are Finnic people, together with the neighboring Finns. The Latvians and Lithuanians, linguistically and culturally related to each other, are Baltic and Indo-European people. The peoples comprising the Baltic states have together inhabited the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea for millennia, although not always peacefully in ancient times, over which period their populations, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian have remained remarkably stable within the approximate territorial boundaries of the current Baltic states. While separate peoples with their own customs and traditions, historical factors have introduced cultural commonalities across and differences within them.

The population of the Baltic countries belong to different Christian denominations, a reflection of historical circumstances. Both Western and Eastern Christianity had been introduced by the end of the first millennium. The current divide between Lutheranism to the north and Catholicism to the south is the remnant of Swedish and Polish hegemony, respectively, with Orthodox Christianity remaining the dominant faith among Russian and other East Slavic minorities.

The Baltic states have historically been in many different spheres of influence, from Danish over Swedish and Polish–Lithuanian, to German (Hansa and Holy Roman Empire), and before independence in the Russian sphere of influence.

The Baltic states have a considerable Slavic minority: in Latvia: 33.0% (including 25.4% Russian, 3.3% Belarusian, 2.2% Ukrainian, and 2.1% Polish),[36] in Estonia: 27.6%[37] and in Lithuania: 12.2% (including 5.6% Polish and 4.5% Russian).[38]

The Soviet Union conducted a policy of Russification by encouraging Russians and other Russian-speaking ethnic groups of the Soviet Union to settle in the Baltic Republics. Today, ethnic Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their descendants make up a sizable minority in the Baltic states, particularly in Latvia (about one-quarter of the total population and close to one-half in the capital Riga) and Estonia (one-quarter of the population).

Because the three Baltic states had been occupied by Soviet Union later than other territories (hence, e.g., the higher living standard), there was a strong feeling of national identity (often labeled "bourgeois nationalism" by Soviets) and popular resentment towards the imposed Soviet rule in the three countries, in combination with Soviet cultural policy, which employed superficial multiculturalism (in order for the Soviet Union to appear as a multinational union based on free will of peoples) in limits allowed by the Communist "internationalist" (but in effect pro-Russification) ideology and under tight control of the Communist Party (those of the Baltic nationals who crossed the line were called "bourgeois nationalists" and repressed). This let Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians preserve a high degree of Europe-oriented national identity.[39] In Soviet times this made them appear as the "West" of the Soviet Union in the cultural and political sense, thus as close to emigration a Russian could get without leaving the Soviet Union.

Languages

The languages of Baltic nations belong to two distinct language families. The Latvian and Lithuanian languages belong to the Indo-European language family and are the only extant members of the Baltic language group (or more specifically, Eastern Baltic subgroup of Baltic).

The Estonian language is a Finnic language, together with the neighboring Finland.

Catholic Church of All Saints, Vilnius, Lithuania
Catholic Church of All Saints, Vilnius, Lithuania

Apart from the indigenous languages, German was the dominant language in Estonia and Latvia in academics, professional life, and upper society from the 13th century until World War I. Polish served a similar function in Lithuania. Numerous Swedish loanwords have made it into the Estonian language; it was under the Swedish rule that schools were established and education propagated in the 17th century. Swedish remains spoken in Estonia, particularly the Estonian Swedish dialect of the Estonian Swedes of northern Estonia and the islands (though many fled to Sweden as the Soviet Union invaded and re-occupied Estonia in 1944). There is also significant proficiency in Finnish in Estonia owing to its closeness to the native Estonian and also the widespread practice of listening to Finnish broadcasts during the Soviet era. Russian also achieved significant usage particularly in commerce.

Russian was the most commonly studied foreign language at all levels of schooling during the Soviet era. Despite schooling available and administration conducted in local languages, Russian settlers were neither encouraged nor motivated to learn the official local languages, so knowledge of Russian became a practical necessity in daily life. Even to this day, the majority of the population of the Baltic states profess to be proficient in Russian, especially those who lived during Soviet rule. Meanwhile, the minority of Russian origin generally do not speak the national language. The question of their assimilation is a major factor in social and diplomatic affairs.[40]

Sports

Basketball is a notable sport across the Baltic states. Teams from the three countries compete in the respective national championships and the Baltic Basketball League. The Lithuanian teams have been the strongest, with the BC Žalgiris winning the 1999 FIBA Euroleague.

The Lithuania men's national basketball team has won the EuroBasket on three occasions and has claimed third place at the 2010 World Cup and three Olympic tournaments. Meanwhile, the Latvia men's national basketball team won the 1935 Eurobasket and finished second in 1939, but has performed poorly since the 1990s. Lithuania hosted the Eurobasket in 1939 and 2011, whereas Latvia was one of the hosts in 2015. The historic Lithuanian basketball team Kauno Žalgiris won the Euroleague in 1999. However, the Latvia women's national basketball team finished fourth at the 2007 Eurobasket.

Ice hockey is also popular in Latvia. Dinamo Riga is the country's strongest hockey club, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. The 2006 Men's World Ice Hockey Championships were held in Latvia.

Association football is popular in the Baltic states, but the only appearance of a Baltic team in a major international competition was Latvia's qualification for Euro 2004. The national teams of the three states have played in the Baltic Cup since 1928.

Estonian and Soviet chess grandmaster Paul Keres was among the world's top players from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. He narrowly missed a chance at a World Chess Championship match on five occasions. Estonian Markko Märtin was successful in the World Rally Championship in the early 2000s, where he got five wins and 18 podiums, as well as a third place in the 2004 drivers' championship.

Latvian tennis player Jeļena Ostapenko won the 2017 French Open, another Latvian tennis player Ernests Gulbis was a semifinalist at the 2010 Rome Masters and 2014 French Open.

Geography

Nature

Statistics

General statistics

All three are Unitary republics, joined the European Union on 1 May 2004, share EET/EEST time zone schedules and euro currency.

Estonia Latvia Lithuania Total
Coat of arms Estonia Latvia Lithuania N/A
Flag Estonia Latvia Lithuania N/A
Capital Tallinn Riga Vilnius N/A
Independence -until 13th century
-24 February 1918
-restored 20 August 1991
-Until 13th century
-18 November 1918
-restored 21 August 1991
-Until 18th century
-16 February 1918
-restored 11 March 1990
N/A
Political system Parliamentary republic Parliamentary republic Semi-presidential republic N/A
Parliament Riigikogu Saeima Seimas N/A
Current President Kersti Kaljulaid Raimonds Vējonis Dalia Grybauskaitė N/A
Population (2018) Increase1,319,133[41] Decrease1,934,379[42] Decrease2,795,674[43] Decrease6,049,186
Area 45,339 km2 = 17,505 sq mi 64,589 km2 = 24,938 sq mi 65,300 km2 = 25,212 sq mi 175,228 km2 = 67,656 sq mi
Density 29/km2 = 75/sq mi 31/km2 = 79/sq mi 44/km2 = 115/sq mi 35/km2 = 92/sq mi
Water area % 4.56% 1.5% 1.35% 2.23%
GDP (nominal) total (2018)[44] $30.821 billion $35.915 billion $54.352 billion $121.088 billion
GDP (nominal) per capita (2018)[44] $23,610 $18,472 $19,534 $20,000
GDP (PPP) total (2018)[44] $44.177 billion $57.336 billion $96.261 billion $197.774 billion
GDP (PPP) per capita (2018)[44] $33,842 $29,489 $34,596 $32,667
Military budget (2018) €533 million(€523mil.+additional €10mil.)[45] €576 million[46] €891 million(€873mil.+additional €18mil.)[47] €2.000 billion
Gini Index (2015)[48] 32.7 34.2 37.4 N/A
HDI (2018)[49] 0.871 (Very High) 0.847 (Very High) 0.858 (Very High) N/A
Internet TLD .ee .lv .lt N/A
Calling code +372 +371 +370 N/A

Cities

See also

References

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Further reading

International peer-reviewed journals, media and book series dedicated to the Baltic region include:

External links

Official statistics of the Baltic states:

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