The Baltic states (Estonian: Balti riigid, Baltimaad; Latvian: Baltijas valstis; Lithuanian: Baltijos valstybės), also known as the Baltic countries, Baltic republics, or simply the Baltics, is a geopolitical term, typically used to group the three sovereign states on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The term is not used in the context of cultural areas, national identity, or language, because while the majority of people in Latvia and Lithuania are Baltic people, the majority in Estonia are Finnic. The three governments engage in intergovernmental and parliamentary cooperation. There is frequent cooperation in foreign and security policy, defence, energy, and transportation.
All three countries are members of NATO, the European Union, the eurozone, and the OECD. Estonia is currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. All three are classified as high-income economies by the World Bank and maintain a very high Human Development Index.
The term Baltic stems from the name of the Baltic Sea – a hydronym dating back to the 3rd century B.C. (Erastothenes mentioned Baltia in Ancient Greek) and earlier. Although there are several theories about its origin, most ultimately trace it to the Indo-European root *bhel meaning 'white, fair'. This meaning is retained in modern Baltic languages, where baltas in Lithuanian and balts in Latvian mean 'white'. However, the modern names of the region and the sea that originate from this root, were not used in either of the two languages prior to the 19th century.[needs update]
Since the Middle Ages, the Baltic Sea has appeared on maps in Germanic languages as the equivalent of 'East Sea': German: Ostsee, Danish: Østersøen, Dutch: Oostzee, Swedish: Östersjön, etc. Indeed, the Baltic Sea lies mostly to the east of Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The term was also used historically to refer to Baltic Dominions of the Swedish Empire (Swedish: Östersjöprovinserna) and, subsequently, the Baltic governorates of the Russian Empire (Russian: Остзейские губернии, romanized: Ostzejskie gubernii). Terms related to modern name Baltic appear in ancient texts, but had fallen into disuse until reappearing as the adjective Baltisch in German, from which it was adopted in other languages. During the 19th century, Baltic started to supersede Ostsee as the name for the region. Officially, its Russian equivalent Прибалтийский (Pribaltiyskiy) was first used in 1859. This change was a result of the Baltic German elite adopting terms derived from Baltisch to refer to themselves.
The term Baltic states was, until the early 20th century, used in the context of countries neighbouring the Baltic Sea: Sweden and Denmark, sometimes also Germany and the Russian Empire. With the advent of Foreningen Norden (the Nordic Associations), the term was no longer used for Sweden and Denmark. After World War I, the new sovereign states that emerged on the east coast of the Baltic Sea – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland – became known as the Baltic states.
After the First World War the term "Baltic states" came to refer to countries by the Baltic Sea that had gained independence from the Russian Empire. The term includes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and originally also included Finland, which later became grouped among the Nordic countries.
The areas of the Baltic states have seen different regional and imperial affiliations during their existence. They were first included under the same political entity when the Russian Empire expanded in the 18th century. The territories of Estonia and Latvia were joined into the Russian Empire at the end of the Great Northern War in 1721, while the territory of Lithuania came under the Russian rule after the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. The territories of the Baltic states were ruled by the Russian Empire until the end of the World War I when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania gained their sovereignty. They remained independent until the occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union and briefly, Nazi Germany during World War II before the Soviets regained control of the Baltic states. Soviet rule ended when the three countries declared the occupation illegal and culminated with the restoration of independence to their pre-war status in 1990–1991 when the communist rule collapsed in Eastern Europe.
Wars of Independence
As World War I came to a close, Lithuania declared independence and Latvia formed a provisional government. Estonia had already obtained autonomy from tsarist Russia in 1917, but was subsequently occupied by the German Empire; they fought an independence war against Soviet Russia and Baltic nobility before gaining true independence from 1920 to 1939. Latvia and Lithuanians followed a similar process, until the Latvian War of Independence and Lithuanian Wars of Independence were extinguished in 1920.
The first period of independence, 1918–1939
During the interwar period these countries were sometimes referred to as limitrophe states between the two World Wars, from the French, indicating their collectively forming a rim along Bolshevik Russia's, later the Soviet Union's, western border. They were also part of what Clemenceau considered a strategic cordon sanitaire, the entire territory from Finland in the north to Romania in the south, standing between Western Europe and potential Bolshevik territorial ambitions.
Prior to World War II Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania each experienced an authoritarian head of state who had come to power after a bloodless coup: Antanas Smetona in Lithuania (December 1926), Konstantin Päts in Estonia (March 1934), and Kārlis Ulmanis in Latvia (May 1934). Some note that the events in Lithuania differed from its two more northerly neighbors, with Smetona having different motivations as well as securing power 8 years before any such events in Latvia or Estonia took place. Despite considerable political turmoil in Finland no such events took place there. Finland did however get embroiled in a bloody civil war, something that did not happen in the Baltics. Some controversy surrounds the Baltic authoritarian régimes – due to the general stability and rapid economic growth of the period (even if brief), some commenters avoid the label "authoritarian"; others, however, condemn such an "apologetic" attitude, for example in later assessments of Kārlis Ulmanis.
Soviet and German occupations
In accordance with a secret protocol within the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 that divided Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, the Soviet Army entered eastern Poland in September 1939, and then coerced Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into mutual assistance treaties which granted them the right to establish military bases in these countries. In June 1940, the Red Army occupied all of the territory of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and installed new, pro-Soviet governments in all three countries. Following elections (in which only pro-communist candidates were allowed to run), the newly elected parliaments of the three countries formally applied to join the Soviet Union in August 1940 and were incorporated into it as the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republics.
Repressions, executions and mass deportations followed after that in the Baltics. The Soviet Union attempted to Sovietize its occupied territories, by means such as deportations and instituting the Russian language as the only working language. Between 1940 and 1953, the Soviet government deported more than 200,000 people from the Baltic to remote locations in the Soviet Union. In addition, at least 75,000 were sent to Gulags. About 10% of the adult Baltic population were deported or sent to labor camps. (See June deportation, Soviet deportations from Estonia, Sovietization of the Baltic states)
The Soviet control of the Baltic states was interrupted by Nazi German invasion of this region in 1941. Initially, many Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians considered the Germans as liberators. The Baltic countries hoped for the restoration of independence, but instead the Germans established a civil administration, known as the Reichskommissariat Ostland. During the occupation the Germans carried out ghettoisations and mass killings of the countries' Jewish populations. Over 190,000 Lithuanian Jews, nearly 95% of Lithuania's pre-war Jewish community, and 66,000 Latvian Jews were murdered. The German occupation lasted until late 1944 (in Courland, until early 1945), when the countries were reoccupied by the Red Army and Soviet rule was re-established, with the passive agreement of the United States and Britain (see Yalta Conference and Potsdam Agreement).
The forced collectivisation of agriculture began in 1947, and was completed after the mass deportation in March 1949 (see Operation Priboi). Private farms were confiscated, and farmers were made to join the collective farms. In all three countries, Baltic partisans, known colloquially as the Forest Brothers, Latvian national partisans, and Lithuanian partisans, waged unsuccessful guerrilla warfare against the Soviet occupation for the next eight years in a bid to regain their nations' independence. The armed resistance of the anti-Soviet partisans lasted up to 1953. Although the armed resistance was defeated, the population remained anti-Soviet.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were considered to be under Soviet occupation by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, NATO, and many other countries and international organizations. During the Cold War, Lithuania and Latvia maintained legations in Washington DC, while Estonia had a mission in New York. Each was staffed initially by diplomats from the last governments before USSR occupation.
Restoration of independence
In the late 1980s, a massive campaign of civil resistance against Soviet rule, known as the Singing revolution, began. On 23 August 1989, the Baltic Way, a two-million-strong human chain, stretched for 600 km from Tallinn to Vilnius. In the wake of this campaign, Gorbachev's government had privately concluded that the departure of the Baltic republics had become "inevitable". This process contributed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, setting a precedent for the other Soviet republics to secede from the USSR. Soviet Union recognized the independence of three Baltic states on 6 September 1991. Troops were withdrawn from the region (starting from Lithuania) from August 1993. The last Russian troops were withdrawn from there in August 1994. Skrunda-1, the last Russian military radar in the Baltics, officially suspended operations in August 1998.
All three are today parliamentary democracies, with unicameral parliaments elected by popular vote for four-year terms: Riigikogu in Estonia, Saeima in Latvia and Seimas in Lithuania. In Latvia and Estonia, the president is elected by parliament, while Lithuania has a semi-presidential system whereby the president is elected by popular vote. All are part of the European Union (EU) and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), being the only post-soviet states to be so.
Each of the three countries has declared itself to be the restoration of the sovereign nation that had existed from 1918 to 1940, emphasizing their contention that Soviet domination over the Baltic states 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 most other Western democracies, who held the forcible incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union to be illegal. At least formally, most 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 independence: in 1974, the Labor government of Australia did recognize Soviet dominion, but this decision was reversed by the next Australian Parliament. Other exceptions included Sweden, which was the first Western country, and one of the very few to ever do so, to recognize the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union as lawful.
After the Baltic states had restored their independence, integration with Western Europe became a major strategic goal. In 2002, the Baltic governments applied to join the European Union and become members of NATO. All three became NATO members on 29 March 2004, and joined the EU on 1 May 2004. The Baltic states are currently the only former Soviet states to have joined either the Union or the military alliance.
During the Baltic struggle for independence 1989–1992, a personal friendship developed between the (at that time unrecognized) Baltic ministers of foreign affairs and the Nordic ministers of foreign affairs. This friendship led to the creation of the Council of the Baltic Sea States in 1992, and the EuroFaculty in 1993.
Between 1994 and 2004, the BAFTA free trade agreement was established to help prepare the countries for their accession to the EU, rather than out of the Baltic states' desire to trade among themselves. The Baltic countries were more interested in gaining access to the rest of the European market.
Currently, the governments of the Baltic states cooperate in multiple ways, including cooperation among presidents, parliament speakers, heads of government, and foreign ministers. On 8 November 1991, the Baltic Assembly, which includes 15 to 20 MPs from each parliament, was established to facilitate inter-parliamentary cooperation. The Baltic Council of Ministers was established on 13 June 1994 to facilitate intergovernmental cooperation. Since 2003, there is coordination between the two organizations.
Compared with other regional groupings in Europe, such as Nordic council or Visegrad Four, Baltic cooperation is rather limited. Possible explanations include the short history of restored sovereignty and fear of losing it again, along with an orientation toward Nordic countries and Baltic-Nordic cooperation in The Nordic-Baltic Eight. Estonia especially has attempted to construct a Nordic identity for itself and denounced Baltic identity, despite still seeking to preserve close relationship with other countries in the region.
All three countries are members of the New Hanseatic League, an informal group of northern EU states formed to advocate a common fiscal position.
Energy security of Baltic states
Usually the concept of energy security is related to the uninterruptible supply, sufficient energy storage, advanced technological development of energy sector and environmental regulations. Other studies add other indicators to this list: diversification of energy suppliers, energy import dependence and vulnerability of political system.
Even now being a part of the European Union, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are still considered as the most vulnerable EU member states in the energy sphere. Due to their Soviet past, Baltic states have several gas pipelines on their territories coming from Russia. Moreover, several routes of oil delivery also have been sustained from Soviet times: These are ports in Ventspils, Butinge and Tallinn. Therefore, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania play a significant role not only in consuming, but also in distribution of Russian energy fuels extracting transaction fees. So, the overall EU dependence on the Russia's energy supplies from the one hand and the need of Baltic states to import energy fuels from their closer hydrocarbon-rich neighbor creates a tension that could jeopardize the energy security of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
As a part of the EU from 2004, Baltic states must comply with the EU's regulations in energy, environmental and security spheres. One of the most important documents that the EU applied to improve the energy security stance of the Baltic states are European Union climate and energy package, including the Climate and Energy Strategy 2020, that aims to reduce the greenhouse emissions to 20%, increase the energy production from renewables for 20% in overall share and 20% energy efficiency development.
The calculations take into account not only economic, but also technological and energy-related factors: Energy and carbon intensity of transport and households, trade balance of total energy, energy import dependency, diversification of energy mix, etc. It was stated that from 2008, Baltic states experiences a positive change in their energy security score. They diversified their oil import suppliers due to shutdown of Druzhba gas pipeline in 2006 and increased the share of renewable sources in total energy production with the help of the EU policies.
Estonia usually was the best performing country in terms of energy security, but new assessment shows that even though Estonia has the highest share of renewables in the energy production, its energy economy has been still characterized by high rates of carbon intensity. Lithuania, in contrast, achieved the best results on carbon intensity of economy but its energy dependence level is still very high. Latvia performed the best according to all indicators. Especially, the high share of renewables were introduced to the energy production of Latvia, that can be explained by the state's geographical location and favorable natural conditions.
Possible threats to energy security
Firstly, there is a major risk of energy supply disruption. Even if there are several electricity interconnectors that connect the area with electricity-rich states (Estonia-Finland interconnector, Lithuania-Poland interconnector, Lithuania-Sweden interconnector), the pipeline supply of natural gas and tanker supply of oil are unreliable without modernization of energy infrastructure.
Secondly, the dependence on single supplier – Russia – is not healthy both for economics and politics. As it was in 2009 during the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute, when states of Eastern Europe were deprived from access to the natural gas deliveries, the reoccurrence of the situation may again lead to economic, political and social crisis. Therefore, the diversification of suppliers is needed.
Finally, the low technological enhancement results in slow adaptation of new technologies, such as construction and use of renewable sources of energy. This also poses a threat to energy security of the Baltic states, because slows down the renewable energy consumption and lead to low rates of energy efficiency.
Economically, parallel with the political changes, and the democratic transition, – as a rule of law states – the previous command economies were transformed via the legislation into market economies, and set up or renewed the major macroeconomic factors: budgetary rules, national audit, national currency and central bank. Generally, they shortly encountered the following problems: high inflation, high unemployment, low economic growth and high government debt. The inflation rate, in the examined area, relatively quickly dropped to below 5% by 2000. Meanwhile, these economies were stabilised, and in 2004 all of them joined the European Union. New macroeconomic requirements have arisen for them; the Maastricht criteria became obligatory and later the Stability and Growth Pact set stricter rules through national legislation by implementing the regulations and directives of the Sixpack, because the financial crisis was a shocking milestone.
All three countries are member states of the European Union, and the Eurozone. They are classified as high-income economies by the World Bank and maintain high Human Development Index. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are also members of the OECD.
Estonia adopted the euro currency in January 2011, Latvia in January 2014, and Lithuania in January 2015.
Estonians are Finnic people, together with the nearby Finns. The Latvians and Lithuanians, linguistically and culturally related to each other, are Baltic and Indo-European people. In Latvia exists a small community of Finnic people related to the Estonians, composed by only 250 people, known as Livonians, and they live in the so-called Livonian Coast. The peoples in the Baltic states have together inhabited the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea for millennia, although not always peacefully in ancient times, over which period their populations, Estonian, Latvian, and 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 populations of each Baltic country belong to several Christian denominations, a reflection of historical circumstances. Both Western and Eastern Christianity had been introduced by the end of the first millennium. The current divide between Lutheranism to the north and Catholicism to the south is the remnant of Swedish and Polish hegemony, respectively, with Orthodox Christianity remaining the dominant faith among Russian and other East Slavic minorities.
The Baltic states have historically been in many different spheres of influence, from Danish over Swedish and Polish–Lithuanian, to German (Hansa and Holy Roman Empire), and before independence in the Russian sphere of influence.
The Baltic states have a considerable Slavic minority: in Latvia: 33.0% (including 25.4% Russian, 3.3% Belarusian, 2.2% Ukrainian, and 2.1% Polish), in Estonia: 27.6% and in Lithuania: 12.2% (including 5.6% Polish and 4.5% Russian).
The Soviet Union conducted a policy of Russification by encouraging Russians and other Russian-speaking ethnic groups of the Soviet Union to settle in the Baltic Republics. Today, ethnic Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their descendants make up a sizable minority in the Baltic states, particularly in Latvia (about one-quarter of the total population and close to one-half in the capital Riga) and Estonia (one-quarter of the population).
Because the three Baltic states were independent states prior to their occupation by the Soviet Union, there was a strong feeling of national identity (often labeled "bourgeois nationalism" by the Communist Party) 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 the free will of its 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). This let Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians to preserve a high degree of Europe-oriented national identity. 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.
The languages of the three Baltic peoples belong to two distinct language families. The Latvian and Lithuanian languages belong to the Indo-European language family and are the only extant (widely-recognized) members of the Baltic language group (or more specifically, Eastern Baltic subgroup of Baltic). Latgalian and Samogitian are considered either separate languages or dialects of Latvian and Lithuanian, respectively.
The Estonian language (including its divergent Võro and Seto dialects) is a Finnic language, together with neighboring Finland's Finnish language. It is also related to the now-extinct Livonian language spoken as a second language by a handful of people in Latvia.
Apart from the indigenous languages, German was the dominant language in Estonia and Latvia in academics, professional life, and upper society from the 13th century until World War I. Polish served a similar function in Lithuania. Numerous Swedish loanwords have made it into the Estonian language; it was under the Swedish rule that schools were established and education propagated in the 17th century. Swedish remains spoken in Estonia, particularly the Estonian Swedish dialect of the Estonian Swedes of northern Estonia and the islands (though many fled to Sweden as the USSR invaded and re-occupied Estonia in 1944). There is also significant proficiency in Finnish in Estonia owing to its closeness to the native Estonian and also the widespread practice of listening to Finnish broadcasts during the Soviet era. Russian also achieved significant usage, particularly in commerce.
Russian was the most commonly studied foreign language at all levels of schooling during the Soviet era. Despite schooling available and administration conducted in local languages, Russian settlers were neither encouraged nor motivated to learn the official local languages, so knowledge of Russian became a practical necessity in daily life. Even to this day, the majority of the population of the Baltic states profess to be proficient in Russian, especially those who lived during Soviet rule. Meanwhile, the minority of Russian origin generally do not speak the national language. The question of their assimilation is a major factor in social and diplomatic affairs.
Since the decline of Russian influence and integration into the European Union economy, English has become the most popular second language in the Baltic states. Although Russian is more widely spoken among older people the vast majority of young people are learning English instead with as many as 80 percent of young Lithuanians professing English proficiency, and similar trends in the other Baltic states.  
Basketball is a notable sport across the Baltic states. Teams from the three countries compete in the respective national championships and the Baltic Basketball League. The Lithuanian teams have been the strongest, with the BC Žalgiris winning the 1999 FIBA Euroleague.
The Lithuania men's national basketball team has won the EuroBasket on three occasions and has claimed third place at the 2010 World Cup and three Olympic tournaments. Meanwhile, the Latvia men's national basketball team won the 1935 Eurobasket and finished second in 1939, but has performed poorly since the 1990s. Lithuania hosted the Eurobasket in 1939 and 2011, whereas Latvia was one of the hosts in 2015. However, the Latvia women's national basketball team finished fourth at the 2007 Eurobasket.
Association football is popular in the Baltic states, but the only appearance of a Baltic team in a major international competition was Latvia's qualification for Euro 2004. The national teams of the three states have played in the Baltic Cup since 1928.
Estonian and Soviet chess grandmaster Paul Keres was among the world's top players from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. He narrowly missed a chance at a World Chess Championship match on five occasions.
Devonian sandstone cliffs in Gauja National Park, Latvia's largest and oldest national park
|Coat of arms||N/A|
|Political system||Parliamentary republic||Parliamentary republic||Semi-presidential republic||N/A|
|Current President||Kersti Kaljulaid||Egils Levits||Gitanas Nausėda||N/A|
|Area||45,339 km2 = 17,505 sq mi||64,589 km2 = 24,938 sq mi||65,300 km2 = 25,212 sq mi||175,228 km2 = 67,656 sq mi|
|Density||29/km2 = 76/sq mi||30/km2 = 76/sq mi||43/km2 = 111/sq mi||34/km2 = 89/sq mi|
|Water area %||4.56%||1.5%||1.35%||2.23%|
|GDP (nominal) total (2021)||€29.065 billion||€31.351 billion||€46.544 billion||€106.960 billion|
|GDP (nominal) per capita (2021)||€21,924||€16,477||€18,911||€17,781|
|GDP (PPP) total (2021)||€41.262 billion||€52.812 billion||€88.935 billion||€183.009 billion|
|GDP (PPP) per capita (2021)||€32,865||€27,754||€34,316||€30,424|
|Military budget (2020)||€615 million||€664 million||€1.017 billion||€2.296 billion|
|Gini Index (2019)||30.5||35.2||35.4||N/A|
|HDI (2019)||0.882 (Very High)||0.854 (Very High)||0.869 (Very High)||N/A|
- Baltic Entente
- Baltic Free Trade Area
- Baltic provinces
- Baltic region
- Baltic Tiger
- Baltic Way
- Balts, Baltic Finns, Baltic Germans and Baltic Russians
- Eastern Europe
- June deportation
- List of cities in the Baltic states by population
- Nordic countries
- Nordic Estonia
- Nordic-Baltic Eight
- Northern Europe
- Occupation of the Baltic states
- Operation Priboi
- Soviet deportations from Estonia
- United Baltic Duchy
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- Bojtár, Endre (1999). Forward to the Past – A Cultural History of the Baltic People. Budapest: Central European University Press. ISBN 978-963-9116-42-9.
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International peer-reviewed media
- 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, a 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 Archived 5 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine, English-language daily news website that covers all three Baltic states
- The Baltic Review, the independent newspaper from the Baltics
- The Baltic Times, an independent weekly newspaper that covers the latest political, economic, business, and cultural events in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
- The Baltics Today, news about The Baltics
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Baltic states.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Baltic states.|
- The Baltic Sea Information Centre
- vifanord – a digital library that provides scientific information on the Nordic and Baltic countries
- Baltic states – The article about Baltic states on Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Richter, Klaus: Baltic States and Finland, in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.