The Baltics*


After 7 centuries of German, Danish, Swedish, Polish and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. It was annexed into the USSR in 1940, but re- gained independence in 1991 through its Singing Revolution, a non-violent revolution that overthrew an initially violent occupation. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia moved to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. Estonia is now one of the more- prosperous former Communist states, enjoying a high-tech environment, an open and liberal economy and a transparent government system. On the other hand, it is faced with a fairly low (but growing) GDP per capita (in an EU context), as well as a very low birth rate and its young moving abroad to work, which is creating a population decline. Since accession to the EU, Estonia is becoming one of the most popular destinations in North-Eastern Europe with (EU highest) 30% growth in the number of visitors in 2004, according to Eurostat.


Lithuania, first formed in the middle of the 13th century, was a huge feudal country stretching from the Baltic to the Black sea. In 1569 it entered a union with Poland to form a commonwealth. It was part of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth until the Polish Partitions in the 18th century when it became part of the Russian Empire. Lithuania gained its independence from Russia in 1918 following World War I and the dissolution of the Czarist monarchy. However, in 1940 Lithuania was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. On 11 March 1990, Lithuania became the first of the Soviet republics to declare its independence, but this proclamation was not generally recognized until September 1991, following the abortive coup in Moscow. The Soviet Union recognized Lithuania's independence on 6 September 1991 and a constitution was adopted on 25 October 1992. The last Russian troops withdrew in 1993.


Latvia is an ancient trading post. The route from the Vikings to the Greeks stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory along the river Daugava to the Kievan Rus and Byzantine Empire. Latvia’s coast was known as a place for obtaining amber. In the Middle Ages amber was more valuable than gold in many places. In the 12th century, German traders arrived, bringing with them missionaries who attempted to convert the pagan Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes to the Christian faith. The Germans founded Rīga in 1201, establishing it as the largest and most powerful city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Latvia gained independence from Russia in 1918. In 1940 it was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. The concentration of heavy industry was huge but contacts with the West were regulated. The Baltic region had the reputation of being the most urbanized and having the highest literacy rate in the Soviet Union. Latvia gained independence on September 6, 1991.

The Baltic Way

August 23, 1989:  the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact witnessed the powerful yearning for freedom in the form of The Baltic Way as the three Baltic States formed a human chain from the foot of Pikk Hermann tower in Tallinn, through Latvia’s capital Riga, to the Gediminas tower in Vilnius, Lithuania. The aim of this unique, peaceful demonstration was to direct the world’s attention to the continued Soviet occupation of the Baltic States and the results of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with its secret protocols. It was evident that the Soviet Union did not want to acknowledge the existence of the Pact and its secret protocols, and even less their condemnation.

The Baltic Capitals

The three Baltic sea capitals – Vilnius in Lithuania, Riga in Latvia and Tallinn in Estonia are all extremely well-preserved old towns, rich in heritage and character. Vilnius is one of the oldest European baroque cities,  Riga, the largest of three Baltic Capitals is an interesting mix of architectural styles,  and Tallinn, the most visited is famous for its authentic medieval heritage. In addition to the interesting, exceptional architecture, the food was varied, sometimes unusual, yet always of excellent quality and well presented.