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A Baltic triumph

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MessaggioTitolo: A Baltic triumph   Lun Ago 22, 2011 9:29 am

In August 1991, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia declared their independence from a collapsing USSR. Despite a few hiccups along the way, twenty years on they have definitively turned the page on Communism and come back to their roots in Europe.

Over the past two decades, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have turned out the big winners in a success story. Despite the realities that followed the crisis -- structural challenges such as corruption, pressures from interest groups and a lack of competitiveness at all levels -- the Baltic states have managed to catapult themselves out of the Soviet space. They are no longer the ‘post-Communist states’, but underdeveloped Western states sharing values, stereotypes, issues, standards and even eating habits that are becoming more and more like those of Westerners.

The entire economies of these countries had to be reorganised. The legal basis underpinning both the politics and the lives of states and societies had to be created. They also had to take the first steps in foreign policy towards anchoring their new independence in the international arena and integrate into Western institutions. These changes were completely novel. Only the will to make them was there; no one had any experience of such reforms.

Unlike her neighbours to the north, Lithuania emerged from the Soviet era more homogeneous ‘ethnically’. By granting citizenship to all those who lived in or near the country, it avoided becoming a divided society -- a fact Russians across the border attempted to exploit under the pretext of "defending the rights of Russian-speakers", in order to belittle the victories of democrats in Estonia and Latvia and to meddle in their internal affairs.

Despite the rapid changes of colour in government, the Baltic States have pushed through a particularly liberal and capitalist socio-economic policy, characterized by a frenetic pace of privatisation that has often caused controversy. Even the left-wing governments claimed, as if to justify themselves, that it was necessary to get a well-oiled market economy, backed by international institutions, up and running. At the same time they were committed to protecting the post-communist legacy.

Because of their impressive economic achievements Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been called the tigers of the Baltic. Even after the last economic crisis, the region recovered quickly. On the other hand, the crisis has put the brakes on economic growth, unemployment is on the rise, and significant emigration and corruption leave the economic future looking less rosy.

The transition to democracy and the economic transformation took place in tandem. With the return of independence, new political and economic realities had to be faced. Political messiahs have come and gone like meteorites, fading over the horizon once the glow faded from the faces of their voters -- who have grown as disenchanted with them as they have with political parties in general.

Several reasons led the Baltic states to want to link up with the West. First, the desire to restore historical justice, and to wipe away the consequences of Soviet occupation and annexation, was in the air. The Baltic region’s separation from Europe in 1940 lasted for 50 years. Today Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia feel that they have come back to a cultural cradle where they always belonged. Moreover, joining up with organisations that stand for the same values ​​has bolstered the sense of security in the face of Russian influence. Finally, the EU was seen as a new Eldorado, useful both economically and socially.

The three countries joined the EU and NATO in 2004, but their integration did not stop there. They now see entry into the Schengen area and (as with Estonia) the adoption of the euro, as a reconciliation with the heart of the continent which will save them from being left on the sidelines of a two-speed Europe.

Today, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia remain states on the periphery of western Europe, small and without influence. Their foreign policy is oriented primarily towards strengthening transatlantic ties, the EU’s Eastern Partnership, the search for energy security and the re-connection with the Nordic countries.

The last 20 years can be considered successful ones for the Baltic states. Freedom and independence have been rediscovered, democracy has been re-established, and the well-being and the security of the people have increased. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have certainly not become the Singapores of the Baltic. But they have succeeded in making a tiger's leap from a Soviet system to a dynamic and Western environment. It's unlikely that that will prove to be enough for them.
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