From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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 NATO 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. In the Cold War context, the three countries were considered a part of Eastern Europe, but culturally and historically, it is more appropriate to view the "Lutheran Protestant" Finnic-speaking Estonia and, to a lesser degree, northern parts of Latvia as belonging to Northern Europe, and "Catholic" Lithuania and other parts of Latvia as belonging to Central Europe, where the historical impact of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire, and the German Empire have been of crucial importance. For Estonia and northern parts of Latvia, historical connections to the Teutonic Order, Hanseatic League, Sweden and Denmark have been important.
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 states" was used by some English speakers to hint that the three countries were under Soviet influence or occupation.
 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 the Grand Duchy of Lithuania some time before 1252. It later was a major political power of the region.
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. For example, in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, Finland was acknowledged by Nazi Germany as a Baltic state designated into the Soviet "sphere of interest".
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 concept of the "Baltic states" can be said to have been physically realized on August 23, 1989, when approximately two million people joined their hands to form a 600-kilometer human chain across the three countries in the event known as the Baltic Way.
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, each of the three declared itself to be the restoration of the sovereign nations which existed already in 1918-1940, 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 Organization (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.
 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. 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 ethnic and historical ties with the Finnish language and people.
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 in Latvia and Estonia. 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). 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).
 References and Notes
- ^ 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.
- ^ 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.
 Related statistics
The largest cities in the Baltic states, by population, are:
- Riga (725,578)
- Vilnius (540,318)
- Tallinn (399,108)
- Kaunas (361,274)
- Klaipėda (188,954)
- Šiauliai (125,883)
- Panevėžys (116,749)
- Daugavpils (110,265)
- Tartu (100,482)
- Liepāja (85,448)
- Kaunas (335,624)
- Riga (312,858)
- Vilnius (312,303)
- Tallinn (218,711)
- Klaipėda (135,557)
- Šiauliai (120,263)
- Panevėžys (113,585)
- Tartu (80,397)
- Alytus (66,390)
- Marijampolė (44,555)
 Journals and Book Series
International peer-reviewed journals 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
 See also
- Balts, Baltic Germans and Baltic Russians
- Baltic Way
- Baltic Tiger
- Soviet occupation of Baltic countries
- United Baltic Duchy
- Baltic Republics
- Baltic region
 External links
- Vietas.lv - Guide of Latvia with huge Collection of Places for Tourism with interactive Map
- Open directory
- Could the Baltic States have resisted to the Soviet Union?
- The Holocaust in the Baltics
- The Baltic Sea Information Centre
- The Virtual Library on Baltic Cultural Studies
- GDP in the Baltic States and international comparison chart.
- Department of Slavic and Baltic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois in Chicago