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The Baltic Revolution, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence.

It is a long time indeed since England's trade with the Baltic made it worthwhile to set up the Baltic Exchange. The author, a member of an ancient noble family that served Grand Dukes and Tsars, has made an impressive effort to re-introduce the Baltic people, their history and present problems. He deals with their past history and goes into great detail about the complex political in-fighting that led to the present, insecure, independence of the three countries. The details do not matter so much for a reader, but they bring out the curious fact that the Kremlin under Gorbachev proved its ineptitude in dealing with the three Baltic countries that the West never recognized as being legally parts of the now defunct Soviet Union.

They are small countries settled with people descending from ancient tribes with their own languages hardly known in Europe. These tribes formed into nations, but always under the shadow and pressure of powerful and aggressive neighbours, Germans, Swedes and, above all, Russians. Some, like the author's own Livonians, and the original Prussians, disappeared, amalgamated with the Latvians on the one hand and 'absorbed' by the conquering German Knights on the other.

The most numerous, the Lithuanians, just 3.67 million, once shared an 'Empire' with the Poles, although they dropped Paganism only 600 years ago. They have never forgotten it. They are Roman Catholic and secure because their Russian minority is under ten per cent. The once famous Jewish minority was wiped out during the last year. The Latvians, their neighbours in the north, are quite different, being Protestant -- due to German rule -- and 42 per cent of their 2.68 million are Russian and Belorus. Again, their Jewish population is less than one per cent. The smallest country, Estonia, with a population of 1.57 million, has 35.2 per cent Russian and other Slavs.

The Estonians, also Protestants are related to the Finns. They are extremely conscious of the fact that Russians form 50 per cent of the population of their capital, Tallinn (once called Reval), and the next two biggest towns have Russian majorities. The Estonians are defending laws that are aimed at forcing the Russians to leave by making it very difficult for them to get Estonian citizenship. Moscow is threatening sanctions -- and possibly more. This is why the author has gone into rather boring detail about the manoeuvring of politicians, many of them veteran communists, that has gradually given power to extreme nationalists. The Latvians are in a similar situation with over 60 per cent Russian speakers in their well-known capital of Riga.

The author dwells amusingly on the fact that the three nations really do not like or trust each other, despite having been dominated together by the Russians. There are, of course, real differences. The Estonians and Latvians feel that they are closer to the West, especially Scandinavia, than the Lithuanians. Their educational standard is higher, as the author explains. Their industrial work force is also much stronger and better trained. The Lithuanians, for their part, feel safer from Russian pressure. The Baltics regard the Russians in their midst as the result of Soviet occupation between 1944 and today. Statistics show that in Estonia, for instance, the Russian population increased from 8.2 per cent in 1934 to 30.3 per cent in 1989. One of the most tense cities is Narva, close to the Russian border with 94 per cent of its population Russian.

The author thinks the possibility of Russian military intervention is real and will be 'justified' by having to protect the Russian minorities. He also stresses the fact that Estonia and Latvia have only been truly independent nations between 1918 and 1941 and their languages had to be developed in that period. Lithuania, which its involvement through Poland in European history, is slightly different but also indulges in the feeling of insecurity. This feeling has led to growing forces taking an anti-Western attitude because they feel entitled to anti-Russian Western aid that has not been forthcoming.

The 'ethnic cleansing' in former Yugoslavia is bound to encourage groups in the Baltic countries to think of the same if there is real trouble in the Russian Federation. The author helps us to bear that in mind.
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Author:Muray, Leo
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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