This region is named for the Baltic Sea which borders these three countries to the west. Although these three peoples are separate and distinct, they have some cultural similarities. Latvians and Lithuanians are closely related, both descending from the Balts, and Indo-European people. The Estonians are more closely related to the Finnish language and people.
During the middle ages, Latvia and Estonia were under a strong Germanic domination, having been invaded by German warrior monks called the German Sword Brethren. Even today, German remains one of the three main foreign languages taught in schools. Lithuania, became a political power of its own, forming the Grand Duchy of Lithuania around 1252. During the 16th Century, Lithuania became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and stayed under Polish control until the Russian empire took control in the 18th Century.
The Baltic countries gained independence after the First World War, until June of 1940 when the Red army invaded and set up pro-Soviet governments in all three of these countries. By August, following “rigged” elections, all three countries applied to officially “join” the USSR. Despite several attempts to regain independence, these three countries remained a part of the Soviet Union until September 6, 1991 when they were again recognized as independent countries.
The Baltic countries retained a higher degree of national identity and as well as a higher standard of living than other Soviet Republics partially because they were acquired by the Soviet Union later than other countries and were resentful of Soviet control, and partly because Soviets allowed a measure of multiculturalism, superficial though it was. For example, while The Soviet Union strongly encouraged Russification in these countries, Soviet Law allowed all three of these countries to keep their national language as an official language alongside Russian.
For more information on the Baltics visit:
- I want more information on Latvia (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/lg.html
- I want more information on Lithuania (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/lh.html
- I want more information on Estonia (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/en.html