That the three Baltic states appeared together after the first world war, disappeared simultaneously into the Soviet Union in 1940, and reappeared with the collapse of Soviet power in 1991, was more the product of external factors than the result of internal similarities. Estonian is a member of the Finno-Ugric linguistic group rather than the Indo-European to which Latvian and Lithuanian belong. Latvia has a more divided recent past than the other two states, since its component parts, southern Livonia, Courland, and Letgale, had separate administrative lives under the tsars. Lithuania differs in that Catholicism is the creed of the majority whereas in Latvia and Estonia Lutheranism predominates. In Lithuania the pre-revolutionary landholders had been Polish or Russian, whilst in Estonia and Latvia they had been predominantly German; and in Lithuania the emancipation of the serfs did not take place until 1861 whereas in the other areas it had been enacted shortly after the Napoleonic wars.
The nationalists within the Baltic states had been encouraged by the revolution of 1905 and the reforms which followed it but it was not until after the fall of tsardom that they could take any serious steps towards self-government. Subsequently the rise of bolshevism presented a new threat, which led to the German occupation of the entire area and which, after November 1918, the allies were willing to contain by any means, including the sending of the British fleet to the Baltic and the keeping of White Russian and even German forces in the area. By 1920 these means had secured the defeat of the bolsheviks, but Lenin was prepared to acknowledge this only when the war with Poland forced him to look for security on his army’s northern flank.
In sum, the bolsheviks, who wished to end Baltic independence, were too weak to do so; the White Russians, with similar ambitions, were too disorganised; the allied powers, whose actions had encouraged the idea of independence, preferred not to think too deeply about it.
It was therefore imperative for the Baltic peoples themselves to seize the initiative. 1