The Baltic statesâ"also known as the Baltics, Baltic nations or Baltic countries (Estonian: Balti riigid, Baltimaad, Latvian: Baltijas valstis, Lithuanian: Baltijos valstybÄs)â"are the three countries in northern Europe on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Baltic states cooperate on a regional level in several intergovernmental organizations.
While the indigenous populations of Latvia and Lithuania are known as Baltic peoples, those of Estonia are Finnic peoples. Another Baltic identity, Baltic German, began to develop during the Middle Ages after the Livonian Crusade.
Linguistic and historical considerations intersect in defining the concept of "Baltic states": for example, while Latvian is phylogenetically related to Lithuanian (both belonging to the Baltic group of the Indo-European language family) Estonian belongs to a completely different family â" the Uralic languages. At the same time, despite considerable linguistic proximity, politically Latvia and Lithuania have gone different ways for most of their history, Lithuania at one point forming a commonwealth with Poland, giving rise to one of the largest countries in Europe at the time; while Latvia has shared most of its history with Estonia, both being governed by a Baltic German Ã©lite for more than 700 years. The Livonians (a nearly extinct ethnic group closely related to Estonians) have also participated in the ethnogenesis of Latvians: according to most accounts, the assimilation of (Uralic) Livonians by ancient (Indo-European) Baltic tribes formed the basis of what are today known as the Latvian language and Latvians.
Etymology and history
The term "Baltic" stems from the name of the Baltic SeaÂ â" a hydronym dating back to the 11th century (Adam of Bremen mentioned Latin: Mare Balticum) and earlier. It likely originates from the Indo-European root *bhel meaning white, fair. This meaning is retained in modern Baltic languages, where baltas (in Lithuanian) and balts (in Latvian) means "white". 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 19th century.
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: ÃstersÃ¸en, Dutch: Oostzee, Swedish: ÃstersjÃ¶n, etc. In English "Ost" is "East", and in fact, the Baltic Sea mostly lies to the east for Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
In 13th century pagan Baltic and Finnic peoples in the region became target of Northern Crusades. In the aftermath of Livonian crusade a crusader state officially named Terra Mariana, but also known as Livonia, was established in territory of modern Latvia and Southern Estonia. It was divided in four autonomous bishoprics and lands of Livonian Brothers of the Sword. After Brothers of the Sword suffered defeat in Battle of Saule its remains became integrated in Teutonic Order as autonomous Livonian Order. Northern Estonia initially became Danish dominion, but was purchased by Teutonic Order in mid-14th century. The majority of the crusaders and clergy were German and remained influential in Estonia and most of Latvia until first half of 20th century - Baltic Germans formed the backbone of the local gentry, and German served both as a lingua franca and for record keeping.
Lithuanians were also targeted by crusaders, however were able to resist and formed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania some time before 1252. It allied with Kingdom of Poland. After Union of Krewo in 1385 created dynastic union between the two countries they became ever closer integrated and finally merged into Polishâ"Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. After the victory in Polishâ"Lithuanianâ"Teutonic War the Polishâ"Lithuanian union became a major political power in the region.
In the 1st century, AD the people living in the area were first denoted by Tacitus as a form of Aestii. In 1558 Livonia was attacked by Tsardom of Russia and the Livonian war, which lasted until 1583, broke out. The rulers of different regions within Livonia sought to ally with foreign powers, which resulted in Polishâ"Lithuanian, Swedish and Danish involvement. As a result by the 1561 Livonian confederation had ceased to exist and its lands in modern Latvia and Southern Estonia became Duchy of Courland and Semigallia and Duchy of Livonia, which were vassals to Polishâ"Lithuanian Commonwealth, Osel island came under Danish rule and Northern Estonia became Swedish Duchy of Estonia. In aftermath of later conflicts in 17th century much of 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 Baltic Dominions (Swedish: ÃstersjÃ¶provinserna). Parts of Duchy of Livonia that remained in the Commonwealth became Inflanty Voivodeship, which contributed to modern Latgale region in Eastern Latvia becoming culturally distinct from rest of Latvia as German nobility lost its influence and the region remained Catholic just like Poland-Lithuania, while rest of Latvia (and also Estonia) became Lutheran.
At the beginning of the 18th century the Swedish Empire was attacked by 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 war it conquered all of the Sweden's provinces on Eastern Baltic coast. This acquisition was legalized by the Treaty of Nystad in which Baltic Dominions were ceded to Russia. 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. Under Russian rule these territories came to be known as Ostsee Governorates (Russian: ÐÑÑÐ·ÐµÐ¹ÑÐºÐ¸Ðµ Ð³ÑÐ±ÐµÑÐ½Ð¸Ð¸). 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 set, the one of Courland (presently a part of Latvia). This toponym stems from Curonians, one of Finnic or Baltic indigenous tribes. Following the annexation of Courland the two other governates were renamed to the Governorate of Livland and the Governorate of Estland.
As a result of Partitions of Poland from 1772 to 1795 Polishâ"Lithuanian Commonwealth ceased to exist and its territories were incorporated in Russian empire, Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Empire
Endre BojtÃ¡r (1999) argues that it was around the 1840s when the German gentry of the Governorate of Livonia devised the term "Balts" to mean themselves, the German upper classes of Livonia, excluding the Latvian and Estonian lower classes. They spoke an exclusive dialect, baltisch-deutsch, legally spoken by them alone. However the German philologist Georg Nesselmann in the middle of the 19th century substantiated the concept that Latvian, Lithuanian and Prussian belong to same branch of the Indo-European languages, which he suggested to name Baltic languages It was at this time when "Baltic" also started to surpass "Ostsee" as the name for the region. Officially its Russian equivalent "ÐÑÐ¸Ð±Ð°Ð»ÑÐ¸Ð¹ÑÐºÐ¸Ð¹" was first used in 1859.
During 19th century the Russian Empire a policy of Russification was adopted. It was especially harsh in former lands of Polishâ"Lithuanian Commonwealth. (perhaps due to Baltic German Ã©lite being seen as generally loyal to the tsar.) Poland and Lithuania, however, experienced not only a requirement to switch to Cyrillic but even a ban on print publications in the local languages and corporal punishment if students were caught speaking the local languages at school (see: Lithuanian book smugglers.) Latgale (former Inflanty Voivodeship) at the time part of Vitebsk Governorate (with parts of modern day Belarus) shared this experience with the rest of Poland and Lithuania.
After the First World war the term "Baltic States" was used 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. During 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.
Prior to the Second World war Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania each experienced an authoritarian head of state that had come to power after a bloodless coup: Konstantin PÃ¤ts in Estonia (1934), KÄrlis Ulmanis in Latvia (1934), and Antanas Smetona in Lithuania (1926). 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. Some controversy surrounds the Baltic authoritarian rÃ©gimes â" due to the general stability and rapid economic growth of the period (even if brief) some avoid the label "authoritarian"; others, however, condemn such "apologetic" attitude (see, for example: Later assessments in KÄrlis Ulmanis.)
In accordance with a secret protocol within the Molotovâ"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 the Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into mutual assistance treaties which granted them right to form military bases in these. 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. After the incorporation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into the Soviet Union as Soviet republics, they were informally grouped as "Baltic republics" (Ð¿ÑÐ¸Ð±Ð°Ð»ÑÐ¸Ð¹ÑÐºÐ¸Ðµ ÑÐµÑÐ¿ÑÐ±Ð»Ð¸ÐºÐ¸).
Repressions, executions and mass deportations followed after that in the Baltics. 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 areas of the Soviet Union. In addition, at least 75,000 were sent to Gulag. 10% of the entire adult Baltic population was deported or sent to labor camps. (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 Balts 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. 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.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were considered to be under Soviet occupation by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, NATO, and many other countries and international organizations.
In the late 1980s a massive campaign of civil resistance against Soviet rule, known as the Singing Revolution, began. Baltic Way was one of the most spectacular events when a two-million-strong human chain stretched for 600Â km from Tallinn to Vilnius on 23 August 1989. In the wake of this campaign Gorbachev's government had privately concluded that the departure of the Baltic republics had become "inevitable". 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. Skrunda-1, the last Russian military radar in the Baltics, officially suspended operations in August 1998.
Baltic countries are located in Northern Europe and have a seaside; thanks to that they are 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 termsÂ â" Riigikogu of Estonia, Saeima of Latvia and Seimas of Lithuania. In Latvia and Estonia, the president is elected by parliament while Lithuania has a semi-presidential system and the president is elected by popular vote. All are parts of the EU and the NATO.
Each of the three countries has declared itself to be the restoration of the sovereign nations 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 all other Western democracies, who always considered the forcible incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union to be illegal. At least formally, the 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 freedom: in 1974, the Labor government of Australia did recognize Soviet dominion, but this decision was reversed by the next Australian Parliament.
After the Baltic states had restored independence, integration with Western Europe was chosen as the main strategic goal. In 2002 the Baltic nations applied to become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Membership of NATO was duly achieved on 29 March 2004, and accession to the EU took place on 1 May 2004. The Baltic States have been the only former-Soviet states to join either NATO or the EU at that time.
During the Baltic fight for independence 1989â"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.
Between 1994 and 2004 existed BAFTA free trade agreement, which was established to help prepare the countries for their accession to the EU. It was created more as an initiative of the EU than out of a desire Baltic states to trade between themselves: they were more interested in gaining access to the rest of the European markets.
Currently governments of Baltic states cooperate in multiple ways. There is active cooperation among Presidents, parliament speakers, heads of government, and foreign ministers. On 8 November 1991, the Baltic Assembly was established for cooperation among parliaments. 15 to 20 MPs from each parliament represent their countries in the Assembly. For cooperation among governments Baltic Council of Ministers was established on 13 June 1994. Since 2003 Baltic Assembly is coordinated with the Baltic Council of Ministers.
In comparison with other regional organisations, such as Nordic council or Visegrad Four, Baltic cooperation is rather limited. One possible explanation for lack of cooperation between Baltic states could be short history of their sovereignty and fear of losing it again. A second explanation is orientation toward Nordic countries and a Baltic-Nordic cooperation in NB8.
As paradoxical as it might seem, the Baltic States have always been perceived as a united entity, or as a region, more by the outside world than by the Balts themselves. They are like âthree sistersâ whom you do not choose and whom you are destined to live with, whether you like it or not.
Regional cooperation is also somewhat hindered by Estonia and Lithuania forging closer contacts with regional, pro-Western strategic neighbors, respectively Finland and Poland. Both countries have denounced Baltic identity with Estonia claiming common Nordic identity with Finland and Lithuania similarly claiming to be Central European just like Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. This has resulted in Latvia being the strongest proponent of Baltic unity and at times being considered the only country interested in closer relationship between Baltics. Remaining without close pro-Western partners has also left Latvia in a vulnerable position, flirting with the idea of being a "bridge" between Russia and the West.
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been members of both the EU and NATO since 2004. Today the three countries are liberal democracies and their market economies in recent years have undergone rapid expansion in the early 2000s. However, the economies were hard-hit by the financial crisis of 2007â"2010. According to projections by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the GDP based on purchasing power parity decreased by 13% to 17% from 2008 to 2009.
The Baltic states had the highest growth rates in Europe between 2000 and 2006, and this continued in 2007. In 2006 the economy in Estonia grew by 11.2% in GDP, while the Latvian economy grew by 11.9% and Lithuania by 7.5%. All three countries saw their rates of unemployment fall below the EU average by February 2006. Currently, all three Baltic States are classified as "high income" economies by the World Bank. Estonia adopted the euro in January 2011, Latvia in January 2014, and Lithuania in January 2015.
However, due to the global economic crisis, the Baltic economies in 2008 were fragile and the previous fast growth had switched to recession in Estonia and Latvia by the end of 2008, followed by Lithuania in 2009. In 2009, unemployment rate rose to 13.7% in Lithuania, 17.3% in Latvia and 13.8% in Estonia, as compared to a "Advanced Europe" level of 8.8% (the 2009 unemployment rate in so called "Emerging Europe" countries was higher but still below that found in the Baltic states). Over the course of 2011, the unemployment rates were expected to rise even further, despite an expected recovery in output. In 2009, real aggregate GDP fell by 14.8% in Lithuania, by 18% in Latvia and 13.9% in Estonia, compared to an overall fall of 3.7% among all countries in the "Emerging Europe" group. Output was expected to recover somewhat in Lithuania and Estonia, with projected growth rates of 1.3% and 1.8% respectively, while in Latvia GDP was expected to fall by further 1%. Although Estonia had so far succeeded on keeping its debt levels one of the lowest in the European Union, the southern Baltic states were in a more difficult situation. Rather defaulting on debt in the lead-up to the sub-prime mortgage crash, the Latvian government had responded to EU and IMF pressure by taking on private debt. Latvia accepted a 7.5Â billion euro EUâ"IMF loan.
Cultures and languages
Estonians and the small-numbered Livonian people in Latvia are descended from the Baltic Finns, sharing closely related languages and a common cultural ancestry. The Latvians and Lithuanians, linguistically and culturally related to each other, are descended from the Balts, an Indo-European people and culture. 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 Slavic minorities.
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 and Livonian language, on the other hand, are not Indo-European languages and instead they belong to the Balto-Finnic branch of the Uralic languages, being closely related to the Finnish language. Livonian language however has had an important role in the development of Latvian. For example, the fixed first syllable stress in Latvian owes its existence to Livonian influence. Lithuanian, in turn, has retained the archaic mobile stress system, among other examples.)
The Baltic states have historically been in the Swedish (or, in Lithuania's case, Polish), German (historically: The Holy Roman Empire and Saxony), Danish, and Russian spheres of influence.
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. 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. As they were neither encouraged nor motivated to learn the official local languages, knowledge of Russian became a practical necessity in daily life despite schooling available and administration conducted in local languages. Even to this day, a majority of all Baltic inhabitants (regardless of ethnicity) profess to be proficient in Russian, especially among those who lived during Soviet rule. 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).
Currently, the Baltic states have considerable Slavic populations: Latvia is 34.5% Slavic (including 26.7% Russian, 3.3% Belarusian, 2.2% Ukrainian, and 2.2% Polish), 28.8% of Estonia is Slavic (mostly Russian), and 13.8% of Lithuania is Slavic (including 6.5% Polish and 5.3% Russian).
During Soviet era the fact that the three Baltic states had been occupied by Soviet Union later than other territories (hence, e.g., the higher living standard), 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), let Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians preserve a high degree of Europe-oriented national identity. 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.
All three are Parliamentary republics and joined the EU on 1 May 2004 and share EET time zone and EEST schedules.
References and notes
International peer-reviewed journals, media and book series dedicated to the Baltic region include:
- On the Boundary of Two Worlds: Identity, Freedom, and Moral Imagination in the Baltics (book series)
- Journal of Baltic Studies, journal of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (AABS)
- Lituanus, journal dedicated to Lithuanian and Baltic art, history, language, literature and related cultural topics
- The Baltic Course, International Internet Magazine. Analysis and background information on Baltic markets
- Baltic Reports, English-language daily news website that covers all three Baltic states
- The Baltic Review, the independent newspaper from the Baltics
- The Baltic Times, independent weekly newspaper that covers latest political, economic, business, and cultural events in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
- The Baltics Today, news about The Baltics
- The Baltic Sea Information Centre
- vifanordÂ â" a digital library that provides scientific information on the Nordic and Baltic countries
Official statistics of the Baltic states:
- Statistics Estonia
- Statistics Latvia
- Statistics Lithuania