The Baltic States: from USSR to UE in 15 years
by Jacopo Barbati

The “Baltic States”
The term “Baltic States” is generally meant to refer to, gathering them, the States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, even if they are not the only Countries to border the Baltic Sea and they are not pooled by a cultural, historical, ethnic homogeneity: indeed, Estonia and Latvia shared common his­torical paths that led them to be part of the Empires of Sweden and Russia from modern times up to the contemporary ones, while Lithuania was more linked to Poland, Prussia, Ukraine. Moreover, while Latvian and Lithuanian are Baltic languages, Estonian, Livonian, Võro are Finnic languages.
So, why are these three States gathered so often? According to Ralph Tuchtenhagen, professor of History of North-Eastern Europe and author of the book “Geschichte der baltischen Länder” (Ger­man for “History of the Baltic States”), that’s because they fought together for their independence, both after the WWI and during the latest period of the Soviet Union; they tried (unsuccessfully) to cooperate between WWI and WWII; they lived the same destiny under the USSR.

The collapse of the Soviet Union
From 1985 on, Mikhail Gorbachyov, at the time Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, promoted the processes of glasnost (Russian for “publicity”) and perestroika (“re­structuring”), with the aim of modernize Soviet politics in order to make it closer to the citizens and to the World’s social and economical assets of the period.
This policies finally led to the weakening the Communist Party and, in 1989, there were many demonstration about the near breakup of the Soviet system, both within the USSR and within its so called “satellite-States”: the Berlin Wall was demolished, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was executed, Hungary opened its borders.
In that same year, on August, the 23rd, across the Baltic States took place one of the biggest pacific protest of the history: about 2 million people held their hands forming a human chain that con­nected Tallinn to Vilnius, passing through Latvia and spanning 675 km: the “Baltic Chain” (in Estonian: “Balti kett“, in Latvian: “Baltijas ceļš”, in Lithuanian: “Baltijos kelia“), asking for free­dom and independence. Independence that came lately, in 1990 for Lithuania and in 1991 for Estonia and Latvia. The newly re-established republics were soon recognized by the majority of the other Countries, including USSR.

The aftermath: looking westwards and northwards
After gaining independence from USSR, the Baltic States immediately tried to separate themselves as far as possible from the Soviet Union, looking for an international integration: already in the month of September of 1991 they entered the United Nations Organization (UNO); in 1992 they founded, alongside Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS); in 1993, they entered the Council of Europe as full members, starting the process of affiliation to the European Union.
The first step took place in 1994, when trade agreements were signed, followed in 1995 by the As­sociation Agreement. In 1998 the negotiations were officially opened and the entrance into the Eu­ropean Union was set on May, the 1st, 2004. In that same year, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania entered the NATO. In just 15 years, the Baltic States were able to pass from the USSR to the “western” in­ternational organizations.
All this shows the will, by the Baltic States, to overcome the Soviet period by moving their eco­nomical hub from East to West, and especially to North-West: the neighbors and Baltic Sea fellows, the Scandinavian Countries, represented an attractive model. Therefore, Estonia, Latvia and Lithua­nia entered, as observers, the Nordic Council already in 1991 and, under the economic point of view, they worked on the liberalization of the market, on the education and on IT (especially Estonia, which was nicknamed E-stonia for its attitude towards IT – let’s remind that there it’s possible to cast a vote for political elections through the internet). These features, alongside the relative low wages, attracted investments from abroad, boosting the economy resulting in a tremendous growth of GDP on yearly basis in the period 2000-2007 (among the best in Europe), as shown by the following table:

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

Estonia

9,7%

7,7%

7,8%

7,1%

7,5%

9,2%

10,4%

6,3%

-3,6%

-14,5%

2,3%

8,3%

3,2%

1,3%

Latvia

6,9%

8,0%

6,5%

7,2%

8,7%

10,6%

12,2%

10,0%

-4,6%

-18%

-0,3%

5,5%

5,6%

4,0%

Lithuania

4,2%

6,7%

6,9%

10,2%

7,4%

7,8%

7,8%

8,9%

3,0%

-14,8%

1,4%

5,9%

3,7%

3,1%

Source: Eurostat (2013 data values are estimates)

The table also shows that the international economic crisis hit heavily the Baltic States in the years 2008 and 2009. Anyway, the good economic system that was set in the first decade of 2000s (and that made those States known, in the economics world, as “Baltic Tiger”) allowed them to recover quickly and better than other EU member States already from 2010, and to join the Eurozone – thus adopting the Euro – in 2011 (Estonia), 2014 (Latvia), 2015 (Lithuania). More or less 25 years later the “Baltic Chain”, the Baltic States are fully integrated with the Western part of Europe.
These stunning results were also the outcome of policies of cooperation between the three Baltic Countries, not only in the economic field, but also thanks to the decision of sharing some policies and authorities at the international level, especially in the field of defense: indeed, there is a com­mon air police (based in Lithuania), a common military academy (in Tartu), a common unit of navy force (in Tallinn, the “Baltic Naval Squadron”, BALTON), a common peacekeeping unit (BALT­BAT). They indeed realized that “unity is strength”, especially in case of small Countries.

Next challenges: a more united EU, starting from the Baltic
The Ukrainian-Russian crisis showed that Russia came back being bold in the international geopo­litical framework, even with territorial wishes. In such a situation, the Baltic States represent not only a part of the EU which is geographically close to Russia, but also one of the possible aims of the same Russia, having a great number of ethnic Russians (or even Russian citizens) within their borders. In 2014, the Ministers of Internal Affairs of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (Dailis Alfonsas Barakauskas, Rihards Kozlovskis and Hanno Pevkur respectively) promoted a protocol regarding a common defense plan in order to possibly oppose any Russian offense.
Anyway, the need for common and shared foreign and defense policies is not only a Baltic need, but a European one, on the path towards a federal Europe that would help to solve many problems, not only in the international affairs framework but also in the economic and social ones. And it wouldn’t be impossible that such a path could start from the Baltic States, only 25 years ago in the USSR but nowadays at the core of Europe.

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