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Baltic states
Balti riigid
Baltijas valstis
Baltijos valstybės
Capitals Tallinn; Riga; Vilnius
Official languages Estonian; Latvian; Lithuanian
Membership  Estonia
 -  Total 175,015 km2 (91st)
67,523 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 2.23% (3,909 km²)
 -  2010 estimate 6,827,351 (100th)
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $108.136 billion[1] (63rd)
 -  Per capita $15,665 (56th)
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $74.502 billion[1] (68th)
 -  Per capita $10,792 (67th)

The Baltic states (Estonian: Balti riigid, Latvian: Baltijas valstis, Lithuanian: Baltijos valstybės, Russian: Прибалтика (Pribaltika) lit."At the Baltic Sea), Baltic Nations or Baltic countries are three countries in Northern Europe, all members of the European Union: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Between 1918 and 1920 in the aftermath of World War I, following centuries of foreign domination, the Baltic countries were reestablished as independent nations. Initially after 1918, Finland was considered to be one of the Baltic States since it too emerged with the other three countries under similar circumstances. Today however, Finland is more often grouped within the Nordic countries.

Estonians and the nearly linguistically extinct Livonian people in Latvia are descended from the Baltic Finns, sharing closely related languages and a common cultural ancestry. The Latvians and Lithuanians, linguistically and culturally related to each other, are descended from the Balts, an Indo-European people and culture. The peoples comprising the Baltic states have together inhabited the eastern Baltic coast for millennia, although not always peacefully in ancient times, over which period their populations: Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, have remained remarkably stable within the approximate territorial boundaries of the current Baltic states. While separate peoples with their own customs and traditions, historical factors have introduced cultural commonalities across and differences within them.

The term "Baltic republics" can sometimes refer in historic context to the Baltic republics of the Soviet Union. At the same time the three countries were considered under Soviet occupation by the United States,[2] the United Kingdom[3] and some other Western nations. The Baltic States' struggle for independence is believed to have contributed greatly to the collapse of the Soviet Union as they were the first to secede, setting a precedent for the other republics within the Union. The sovereignty of each of those countries were restored in 1991 and the last Russian troops withdrew from the Baltic States in August 1994.[4]

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been members of the European Union and NATO since 2004. Today the three countries are liberal democracies and their market economies have in recent years undergone rapid expansion in early 2000s. However, the economies were hard-hit by the financial crisis of 2007–2010. According to IMF projections, the GDP based on purchasing-power-parity will contract 13–17% from 2008 to 2009.[5]


Etymology and usage of the term

The term "Baltic" stems from the name of the Baltic Sea. Usage of "Baltic" and similar terms to denote the region east of the sea started only in the 19th century. At first it was used to refer to the Baltic governorates of Courland, Livonia and Estonia known also as Balticum as these lands were under German hegemony; Lithuania was usually excluded from this division. The Russian term Прибалтика (Pribaltika "Near Baltic") was used to refer to all of the lands bordering the Baltic Sea's eastern shore, a more narrow term Прибалтийские страны (Pribaltijskie strany "Near Baltic states") used to refer to the governorates that appeared around 1859. The Latvian and Lithuanian term Baltija most likely originates from Russian and was first used in Latvia around 1868.[6] In the 1920s, the newly-established countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were referred to as the Baltic states, and during that period Finland too was sometimes considered to be a Baltic state though it sought[citation needed] more co-operation with the Scandinavian countries than the former countries.[7][8][9][10] While annexed by the USSR during and after World War II, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were known as the Baltic Soviet Republics until all three countries regained their independence when the Soviet Union collapsed.[11] The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names defines a Baltic Division.[12]

Cultures and languages

The peoples of the Baltic countries belong to different Christian denominations. Estonia and Latvia have Lutheran cultural backgrounds, while Lithuania is a Catholic country. At the same time, Russian minorities in these countries belong to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The languages of Baltic nations 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 and the near-extinct Livonian language, on the other hand, are not Indo-European languages and instead belong to the Baltic-Finnic subgroup of the Finno-Ugric languages, sharing close ethnic and historical ties with the Finnish language and people. Due to a long period of Germanic domination, starting in the Middle Ages, the German language also has an important role in Latvia and Estonia. Its role diminished greatly after World War II when the Baltic states were forcibly absorbed into the Soviet Union, but it remains one of three main foreign languages taught in schools (the other two being English and Russian). 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. The Soviet Union conducted a policy of Russification by encouraging Russians and other Russian-speaking ethnic groups of USSR to settle in the Baltic Republics. According to Soviet law, the three local languages (Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian) had the status of official languages in the three respective Republics and were used in schools and local administrative apparatus[citation needed] in parallel with Russian. However, as the Russian-speaking settlers from USSR formed an ever larger part of the population and typically were neither encouraged nor motivated to learn the local language, almost everybody had to learn Russian to some extent and use it whenever communicating with Russian-speakers in daily life. Today ethnic Russian immigrants from former USSR and their descendants make up a sizable minority in the Baltic states, particularly in Latvia (about one-third of the population) and Estonia (one-quarter of the population). 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. So, the Baltic states have historically been in the: Swedish (or, in Lithuania's case, Polish), German (historically: Holy Roman Empire, Saxony), Danish, and Russian spheres of influence.

During Soviet era the fact that the three Baltic states had been acquired by Soviet Union later than other territories (hence, e.g., the higher living standard), strong feeling of national identity (often labeled "bourgeois nationalism" by Soviets) and popular resentment towards the imposed Soviet rule in the three countries, in combination with Soviet cultural policy, which employed superficial multiculturalism (in order for the Soviet Union to appear as a multinational union based on free will of peoples) in limits allowed by the Communist "internationalist" (but in effect pro-Russification) ideology and under tight control of the Communist Party (those of the Baltic nationals who crossed the line were called "bourgeois nationalists" and repressed), let Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians preserve a high degree of Europe-oriented national identity.[13] In Soviet times this made them appear as the "West" of the Soviet Union in the cultural and political sense, thus as close to emigration a Russian could get without leaving the USSR.

Currently, the Baltic states have considerable Slavic populations, and knowledge of Slavic languages (particularly Russian). Latvia is 40.8% Slavic (including 28.4% Russian, 3.7% Belarusian, 2.5% Ukrainian, and 2.4% Polish), and 1,822,327 (76.7% of the population of Latvia) can fluently speak Russian. 28.9% of Estonia is Slavic (mostly Russian), and 14.3% of Lithuania is Slavic (mostly Polish).


The Baltic states had the highest growth rates in Europe between 2000 and 2006, and this has continued in 2007. In 2006 the economy in Estonia grew by 11.2% in gross domestic product, while the Latvian economy grew by 11.9% and Lithuania by 7.5%. All three countries have seen their rates of unemployment falling below the EU average by February 2006. Additionally, Estonia is among the ten most liberal economies in the world and in 2006 switched from being classified as an upper-middle income economy to a high-income economy by the World Bank. All three countries are slated to adopt the Euro around 2012.

However, due to the global economic crisis, the Baltic economies in 2008 were fragile and the previous fast growth had switched to recession[citation needed] in Estonia and Latvia by the end of 2008, followed by Lithuania in 2009.


Europe in the 9th century

The first people arrived to the territory of the modern Baltic states in the 10th millennium BC after the last glacial period had ended. The earliest traces of human settlement are connected with Kunda culture. Around the beginning of the 4th millennium BC Comb Ceramic Culture arrived to the territories. The beginning of the Late Neolithic Period about 2200 BC is characterized by the appearance of the Corded Ware culture, pottery with corded decoration and well-polished boat-shape stone axes. During the Bronze Age the development of the borders between the Finnic peoples and the Balts was under way.

In the 1st century, AD the people living in the area were first denoted by Tacitus as a form of Aestii.

In the 13th century, Christianity and feudalism were effectively forced upon modern Estonia and Latvia by the invasion of the crusaders from the west (German Sword Brethren, Denmark) and the conversion of Lithuania's rulers from Paganism to Christianity. While in Latvia and most of Estonia Livonian Confederation was established, Lithuania established its own state as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania some time before 1252. It later was a major political power of the region.

Outline of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1618, superimposed on present-day national borders. At the time, the Commonwealth incorporated most of the territory of the modern Baltic states.
     The Crown      Duchy of Prussia, Polish fief      Grand Duchy of Lithuania      Duchy of Courland, Lithuanian fief      Duchy of Livonia      Swedish and Danish Estonia

After the Livonian War in the 16th century, the Confederation ceased to exist, and its lands were incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1621 most of the Duchy of Livonia was incorporated into the Swedish empire. During the Great Northern War the Dominions of Sweden of Swedish Estonia and Swedish Livonia were conquered by Russia and then ceded by Sweden in the Treaty of Nystad in 1721.

The Russian Empire gained control of most of the present-day Baltic states in the 18th century when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned in three stages by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Habsburg Monarchy, while western parts of Lithuania were incorporated into Prussia.

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.

"Poland & The New Baltic States" map from 1920, showing still-undefined borders in the aftermath of World War I before the Peace of Riga

Following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact 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" the 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, Latvian national partisans, and Lithuanian partisans (1944–1953), waged unsuccessful guerrilla warfare against the Soviet occupation for the next eight years in a bid to regain their nations' independence.

In the late 1980s massive demonstrations against the Soviet regime, known as the Singing revolution began. One of the most noted protests took place 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 in 1990 and 1991, and their independence was recognized by the Soviet Union on September 6, 1991.


Presidents of the Baltic states with George Bush in 2005

All three countries are parliamentary democracies, which have unicameral parliaments that are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms - Riigikogu of Estonia, Saeima of Latvia and Seimas of Lithuania. In Latvia and Estonia, President is elected by parliament while Lithuania has a semi-presidential system and the President is elected by popular vote.

Each of the three countries has declared itself to be the restoration of the sovereign nations which existed already in 1918–1940, emphasizing their contention that Soviet domination over the Baltic nations during the Cold War period had been an illegal occupation and annexation.

The same legal interpretation is shared by the United States, the United Kingdom and other Western democracies, who always considered the forcible incorporation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union illegal. At least formally, the western democracies never considered the three Baltic states to be constituent parts of the Soviet Union. Australia was a brief exception to this support of Baltic freedom: in 1974, the Labor government did recognize Soviet dominion, but this decision was later reversed.[14]

After the Baltic states had restored independence, integration with Western Europe was chosen as the main strategic goal. 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.

Currently governments of Baltic states cooperate in multiple ways. There is active cooperation among Presidents, parliament speakers, heads of government, and foreign ministers. On 8 November 1991 the Baltic Assembly was established for co-operation among parliaments. 15-20 MPs from each parliament represent their countries in the Assembly. For co-operation among governments Baltic Council of Ministers was established on 13 June 1994. Since 2003 Baltic Assembly is co-ordinated with the Baltic Council of Ministers.[15]


General statistics
(all three are Parliamentary republics and joined EU on May 1, 2004 and share EET time zone and EEST schedules)
Flag Estonia Latvia Lithuania
Country Estonia Latvia Lithuania
Capital Tallinn Riga Vilnius
Independence -Until 13th century
-24 February 1918
-20 August 1991
-Until 13th century
-18 November 1918
-21 August 1991
-Until 18th century
-16 February 1918
-11 March 1990
Current leaders Toomas Hendrik Ilves Valdis Zatlers Dalia Grybauskaite
Population (2007) 1,340,602 (01/2007) 2,270,700 (12/2007) 3,369,600
Population (2000) 1,376,743 2,375,000 3,490,800
Density 29/km² = 75/sq mi 36/km² = 93/sq mi 52/km² = 134/sq mi
Area 45,227 km² = 17,413 sq mi 64,589 km² = 24,937 sq mi 65,200 km² = 25,173 sq mi
Water area % 4.56% 1.5% 1.35%
GPD (PPP) total $26.85 billion (2007) $41.108 billion (2007) $66 billion (2008)
GPD (PPP) per capita $21,800 $18,103 $19,730
GPD (nominal) total $16.410 billion $20.101 billion $48.132 billion
GPD (nominal) per capita $15,310 $8,852 $14,273
Gini Index 34 37.7 36
HDI 0.883 0.866 0.870
Internet TLD .ee .lv .lt
Calling code +372 +371 +370
The largest cities by population
  1. Latvia Riga (709,241)
  2. Lithuania Vilnius (555,613)
  3. Estonia Tallinn (406,643)
  4. Lithuania Kaunas (361,274)
  5. Lithuania Klaipėda (188,954)
  6. Lithuania Šiauliai (125,883)
  7. Lithuania Panevėžys (116,749)
  8. Latvia Daugavpils (104,857)
  9. Estonia Tartu (102,817)
  10. Latvia Liepāja (84,747)
The largest cities by population of ethnic Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians
  1. Lithuania Kaunas (335,624)
  2. Lithuania Vilnius (312,708)
  3. Latvia Riga (296,137)
  4. Estonia Tallinn (217,416)
  5. Lithuania Klaipėda (135,557)
  6. Lithuania Šiauliai (120,263)
  7. Lithuania Panevėžys (113,585)
  8. Estonia Tartu (83,814)
  9. Lithuania Alytus (66,390)
  10. Lithuania Marijampolė (44,555)

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ U.S.-Baltic Relations: Celebrating 85 Years of Friendship at
  3. ^ Country Profiles: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania at UK Foreign Office
  4. ^ Baltic Military District
  5. ^ World Economic Outlook Database, October 2009
  6. ^ Dini, Pierto Umberto (2000) [1997] (in Latvian). Baltu valodas. Translated from Italian by Dace Meiere. Riga: Jānis Roze. ISBN 9984-623-96-3. 
  7. ^ Finland as a Member of the European Union and as a Baltic State By Jaakko Iloniemi
  8. ^ Finland, which must be viewed historically as another Baltic state The Baltic Revolution By Anatol Lieven - Page 49 ISBN 0300060785
  9. ^ Finland, it should be pointed out, was also the only Baltic state that had...Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850 By Christopher John Murray - Page 48 ISBN 1579584233
  10. ^ Finland, New Human Interest Library, Midland Press, Chicago. 1922
  11. ^ (in Latvian) Latvijas Enciklopēdija. Riga: SIA "Valērija Belokoņa izdevniecība". 2002. ISBN 9984-9482-1-8. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Baltic states - Soviet Republics. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 5, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
  14. ^ 'The Latvians in Sydney' (2008)
  15. ^ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia: Co-operation among the Baltic States

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
  • The Baltic Course, International Internet Magazine. Analysis and background information on Baltic markets
  • Baltic Reports, English-language daily news website that covers all three Baltic states
  • The Baltic Times, independent weekly newspaper that covers latest political, economic, business, and cultural events in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Baltic states article)

From Wikitravel

Europe : Baltic states

The Baltic states are three countries of Europe, with a long history and diverse culture between regions. All three countries are currently members of European Union and NATO.

The Baltic states
The Baltic states


North to South:



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 a non-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 Eastern part of Latvia, which is Catholic). Lithuania is principally Catholic.


Each of the three Baltic countries has the language of their respective titular nationality as an official language. Russian is spoken by the majority of the population in all three countries, and English is increasingly spoken as well, especially by the younger generations. Any attempt to speak the native language will be greatly appreciated. German is also spoken by some in all three countries; Finnish is understood in Estonia due to the similarity of Finnish and Estonian, and some Polish is also spoken in Lithuania.

Note on Russian: as the status of the Russian language has been a contentious issue since the collapse of the USSR, and due to heated anti-Russian sentiment, it is advised that if you speak Russian, you attempt to first communicate in the native language, at least to issue greetings and ask if the person speaks Russian. The greatest hostility towards Russian tends to be found in Estonia and Latvia, while Lithuania seems to have the least anti-Russian language sentiment. In the cities, especially Riga, many people may be native speakers of Russian, but in rural areas Russian will be spoken much less.

Get around

By bicycle

The international bicycle project, BaltiCCycle [1] may provide you with a lot of information and help.

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Simple English

The Baltic States are three countries in northern Europe surrounding the Baltic Sea:

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