Baltic States

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The three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania

The Baltic states refer to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were controlled by the Soviet Union during 1940-1941 and 1944(1945)-1991, and have been members of the European Union and the NATO alliance since 2004. Today the three countries are liberal democracies, parliamentary republics, and very quickly growing market economies.

It is often indicated that Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have little else in common other than their geographic proximity, similar small size, and to lesser degree, a shared recent history. Estonia aspires in direction of their Finnic brethren and the Nordic countries, while Lithuania focuses on its connection to Poland and Central Europe, and Latvia concentrates on the transit between Russia and the Western countries. Some political scientists consider Lithuania as part of Central Europe, due to its historical focus on the European mainland.

In the Cold War context, the three Baltic States were considered a part of Eastern Europe, but culturally and historically, it is more appropriate to view Estonia and parts of Latvia as part of Northern Europe, Lithuania and parts of Latvia as part of Central Europe, where the historical impact of the Hanseatic League, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire, and the German Empire have been of crucial importance. For Latvia and Estonia, historical connections to Denmark and Sweden have also been important.

It should be noted that although politically the present-day Baltic countries are republics, the term "Baltic republics" often refers to something different: the Soviet republics of Baltic countries.

The term "state" is used as a synonym of "sovereign country", which is distinct from non-sovereign states (the kind to be found in federations and confederations). Before the fall of the Soviet Union, the term "Baltic state" was used by some English speakers to hint that the three countries were under Soviet influence or occupation.

The Baltic states are the only three former Soviet Republics that are not affiliated in any way with the Commonwealth of Independent States.

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[edit] History of the Baltic states

See also: Baltic Republics

The histories of today's Baltic countries took a first "common turn" in the 13th century when Christianity and feudalism were effectively introduced to the region by the invasion of the crusaders from the west (German Sword Brethren, Denmark) and the conversion of Lithuania's rulers from Paganism to Christianity. Over the subsequent centuries, these lands became a battlefield between the Teutonic Order, the Hanseatic League, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Muscovy, and other Russian principalities. However, Lithuania became the only of the current three to establish its own state as Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1252, which later evolved into a political superpower of the region (in personal union with Poland).

By about 1582, almost the whole territory of the Baltic states (other than northern Estonia) was under the overlordship of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Baltic provinces (Curonia, Livonia, Estonia and Ingria) and Lithuania in the 19th century, albeit with names and borders different from the present-day countries, were part of the Russian Empire.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became sovereign nations in the aftermath of World War I. They declared independence in 1918, fought independence wars against German freikorps and Bolshevist Russia, and were recognized as independent countries in 1920.

Prior to World War II, Finland may have occasionally been considered a fourth Baltic state. In the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, Finland was aknowledged by Nazi Germany as part of the Soviet "sphere of interest" on the Baltic sea. Since 1917, after the country's independence, Finland and Scandinavia simply re-established their former connections and a community of similar states known in the English language as the Nordic countries emerged.

Following the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, the Soviet Army entered eastern Poland as well as military bases in the Baltic states which were granted after USSR had threatened the three countries with military invasion. In June 1940, the Red Army occupied the whole territory of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and 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" USSR in August 1940 and were annexed into it as the Estonian SSR, the Latvian SSR, and the Lithuanian SSR.

The Soviet control of the Baltic states was interrupted by Nazi German invasion of the region in 1941. The German occupation lasted until late 1944 (in Courland, until early 1945), when the countries were re-occupied by the Red Army. In all three countries, Baltic partisans, known colloquially as the Forest Brothers, waged unsuccessful guerilla warfare against the Soviet occupation for the next eight years in a bid to regain their nations' independence.

The three Baltic nations re-declared their independence between 1990 and 1991, and their independence was recognized by the Soviet Union on September 6, 1991. An integration with the Western world and with Western Europe was chosen as the main strategic goal.

Rather than new states, they declared themselves to be restorations of the pre-war republics, thus further emphasizing their contention (adhered to worldwide, but contested by some Russian governments) that Soviet domination over the Baltic nations during the Cold War period had been an illegal occupation and annexation.

In 2002 the Baltic nations applied to become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Membership of NATO was duly achieved on March 29, 2004, and accession to the EU took place on May 1, 2004.

[edit] Language and Culture in the Baltic states

Despite the three nations' similarities in culture and history, their languages belong to two distinct language families. The Latvian and Lithuanian languages make up the group of Baltic languages which belongs to the Indo-European language family.<ref>Along with the defunct Old Prussian language, Latvian and Lithuanian can be linked to the Balto-Slavic group of the Indo-European languages. The student of both Slavic and Latvian or Lithuanian languages will find numerous common roots.</ref> The Estonian language, on the other hand, is not an Indo-European language and instead belongs to the Baltic-Finnic subgroup of the Finno-Ugric languages, sharing close cultural and historical ties with the Finnish language and culture.

The peoples of the Baltic countries also belong to different Christian denominations. Believers in Latvia and Estonia are mostly Lutheran (except for Russian minorities in these countries, which are predominantly Orthodox), while Lithuania is principally Catholic.

Due to a long period of Germanic domination, starting in the middle ages, German language also has an important role. Its role diminished greatly after World War II when the Baltic states were forcefully absorbed into the Soviet Union, but it remains one of three main foreign languages taught in schools (the other two being English and Russian).<ref>During the period of Soviet control, Russian became the most commonly studied foreign language at all levels of schooling, but knowledge of German remained fairly common among the older generations. After the Baltic states achieved independence in 1991, while German made a comeback as a language of study it was English that became the most commonly studied foreign language, and the role of Russian language in education fell sharply.</ref> The Baltic states have historically also been in the Swedish and Russian spheres of influence. Following the period of Soviet domination, ethnic Russian immigrants from former USSR and their descendants today make up a sizable minority in the Baltic states, particularly in Latvia (about one-third of the population) and Estonia (one-fourth of the population).

[edit] Tourism of the Baltic states

The Baltic states are in fact very different, despite being frequently grouped together. They are considered to be sparsely-populated countries, known for unspoilt nature, amber and medieval cities, mostly former members of the Hanseatic League. Today, the Baltic states are dynamic countries with a young population and cities offering great cultural opportunities, and cozy pubs and restaurants. The Baltic countries are known to offer affordable vacations.

A favourite place to visit in Estonia is the capital city Tallinn (Reval), an old, walled medieval town with several cathedrals and churches, romantic little streets, and a harbour with ferry lines to Sweden and Finland. The tourist area of the city can be awash with foreign visitors. In Southern Estonia, there is the famous old university town of Tartu (Dorpat). Estonia offers beautiful islands such as Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, and lakes such as Lake Peipus. Estonia is ideal for recreation in free nature and in the woods. Long distance buses provide frequent and affordable links within Estonia.

The Latvian capital, Riga, is the largest city of the Baltics, with about 800,000 inhabitants. Riga is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture, broad boulevards, and cosmopolitan flair. The Latvian countryside is similar to that found in Scandinavia, but is much more affordable. Latvia offers a long Baltic Sea coastline with harbour towns like Liepāja and Ventspils, and seaside resorts like Jūrmala. The countryside offers picturesque little towns, often with medieval centres.

Most visits to Lithuania start with the capital, Vilnius (Polish/Yiddish: Wilno/Wilna), which is also known as "the Jerusalem of the North"; from the 14th century until the German occupation in World War II, it housed numerous synagogues and the most famous rabbinical schools of the Ashkenazi world. At every turn, the visitor sees the creations of all the cultures - Lithuanian, Polish, Jewish, Russian, French, German, and American - that are part of its history. Its old town is one of the largest in Central Europe and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Close to Vilnius is historic Trakai with its lake-island castle, as well as the country's historic capitol Kernavė, a prominent archeological site, often called the "Baltic Troy". Kernavė is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The Geographical Centre of Europe, as determined by the French Geographical Institute, lies a few miles from Vilnius; it is celebrated by a 136-acre sculpture park, Europos Parkas, filled with the work of sculptors from around the world. On the way from the capital to the sea is Lithuania's interwar capital, Kaunas. The city boasts a Hanseatic old town, while the modern area contains probably the densest concentration of pre-war Functionalist architecture in Europe. On the Baltic coast, the seaside resort of Palanga draws many thousands of tourists to its beaches, art galleries, restaurants, and nightlife. In the north, near the city of Šiauliai, lies the unique Hill of Crosses - an impressive site of Catholic pilgrimage and faith. South of Vilnius, near the city and spa of Druskininkai, is "Stalin's World" (Grutas Park), which is filled with the monuments to Lenin and other Soviet leaders that were erected all over Lithuania by the Soviets and joyfully toppled after they left.

Lithuania offers its visitors the opportunity to explore unspoiled nature - it contains vast forests, meadows, lakes, and miles of sandy coastline. The stunning Curonian Spit sand peninsula on the Baltic Sea is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

[edit] References and Notes

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[edit] Related statistics

The largest cities in the Baltic states, by population, are:

The largest cities in the Baltic states, by population of indigenous peoples (Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians), are:

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Baltic States

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