Only Forward from Here: The Baltic States and Their Path to Freedom: NATO and the EU Are the Only Such Organizations of Their Kind That Will Guarantee the Baltic Republics' Independence from Russia to the Extent That They Will

By Maly, Ivan | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Only Forward from Here: The Baltic States and Their Path to Freedom: NATO and the EU Are the Only Such Organizations of Their Kind That Will Guarantee the Baltic Republics' Independence from Russia to the Extent That They Will


Maly, Ivan, The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


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In 2004, the Baltic States--Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia--entered the modern structures of the Euro-Atlantic civilization: NATO and the EU. There are, perhaps, no other member countries within these organizations that has gone through a period of comparable turmoil in their recent history, i.e, during the twentieth century. With these historical experiences in hand, these states have new dimensions and content to contribute to these age-old organizations of western civilization. While to some the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU may seem like platitudes or even relics, for the Baltic states they are, on the contrary, an unwavering testament of their independence, political sovereignty, and a validation of their relevance to Western European culture. NATO and the EU are the only such organizations of their kind that will guarantee the Baltic republics' independence from Russia to the extent that they will. Their membership in NATO and the EU signals that they have successfully completed the transformative period that began in 1991.

HISTORICAL EXPERIENCE

The fall of three great European empires during the First World War--the Austrian-Hungarian, the Ottoman, and the German Empire--led the delegates at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 to create a host of new European states. But aside from giving birth to Czechoslovakia and returning Poland to the map of Europe, the statesmen cartographers set to task penciling in new states to the northwest of tsarist Russia--Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. From 1918 until the Soviet's military occupation in the summer of 1940, the Baltic region saw unbridled and, until then, unseen development in culture, education, industry, and in the economy. From 1940 to 1941, however, thousands of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian citizens were killed or forced into exile in Siberia. Pre-war society was markedly torn apart.

Following the end of the war, the Red Army reoccupied the Baltic states in 1944 and 1945 as the East/West division of Europe became a reality. Soviet power ruled the region for approximately the next fifty years. The Soviets wasted no time in forcefully incorporating the Baltic states into the Soviet empire and enacting extraordinary and cruel terror against their civilian populations: executions and mass deportations riddled the countries. Nonetheless, home partisan divisions put up a strenuous fight (through 1945-1959, the Red Army lost 25,000 people in its fight with the partisan resistance fighters from the region).

Stalin's plans for the Baltic states involved reinstating and expanding the region's heavy industry, which had been disrupted due to the war. Heavy industrial development was at the heart of Stalin's ideology; in order to extract the necessary raw materials for his five-year heavy industry plans, he needed to create an economic link between all the areas of the Soviet Union. The northern area of Estonia, which supplied electrical energy to Latvia and neighboring areas of Russia including Leningrad, even became a key area for decades.

THE EFFECTS OF SOVIET RULE

When the Soviet economy began to hiccup around the 1980s, the effects were felt in the Baltic republics as well. Even so, the Baltics were regarded as the most developed and most affluent region of the Soviet Union. The casualties of war-time antagonisms--the mass waves of emigration, the deportations to Siberia, the victims of terror, and the partisan war--had eventually been off set by a program which brought Russian-speaking citizens to the Baltics. As a result, the native populations decreased in proportion to non-natives: Latvians from 77 to 62 percent, Estonians from 89 to 75 percent and Lithuanians from 84 to 79 percent. Most of the arrivals viewed the native languages as ethnic curiosities or as dying languages. These Russian speakers exemplified the typical "homo sovietica"--to them, Russian was unquestionably the language of communication and advancement within the Soviet Union. …

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Only Forward from Here: The Baltic States and Their Path to Freedom: NATO and the EU Are the Only Such Organizations of Their Kind That Will Guarantee the Baltic Republics' Independence from Russia to the Extent That They Will
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