Our professor of political science, Andres Kasekamp, published “A History of The Baltic States” with Palgrave Macmillan last year, and is on tour to promote his latest book. During his visit to our partner university in Vilnius, Prof. Kasekamp presented his views on cooperation between the Baltic states (see the videos below).
The term “Baltic states” originates from as late as the 20th century. “Today we can see that we’re sometimes together in one boat, and sometimes not,” stated Kasekamp. He then continued a brief walk-through of the history of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from the 13th century up until WWII.
Historically, Lithuania stood apart from Latvia and Estonia. While the Lithuanians were politically united in the 13th century under King Mindaugas and managed to resist Germanic crusaders, the Estonians and Latvians were conquered and ended up with a non-native ruling elite. A few centuries later the Reformation was successful in Estonia and Latvia, whereas counter-reformation boomed in Lithuania.
In the 1920–30s the perception of an external enemy in the region diverged: Latvia and Estonia’s common enemy, Soviet Russia, appeared to be Lithuania’s only friend.
Baltic cooperation reached its peak during the common struggle for independence in 1987–1991. Kasekamp illustrated this period using a vivid metaphor of the team cycling race (borrowed from Rein Taagepera), in which Latvia kicked off the race, Estonia took over the lead, and Lithuania “made the final brave push towards independence.”
In the late 1990s, Baltic cooperation was led by external expectations. One common attitude was: “if you want to join the EU, NATO and other European institutions, you have to cooperate amongst yourselves in the first place.” This concept served as a strong incentive at the time.
On the other hand, the Baltics were oftentimes annoyingly confused with the Balkans in the 1990s, which didn’t add much positive substance to the Baltic identity. Estonia started to position itself more as a Nordic country, while Lithuania was rediscovering its Central European roots.
At present, enthusiasm for Baltic cooperation has somewhat faded. The best examples of cooperation can be found in the military field, e.g. the Baltic Defence College. In other areas the three countries generally compete for the same markets and investments. There is a “lack of Baltic emotion,” professor Kasekamp admitted.
What will the future bring? There are several different scenarios. Pessimists say that the introduction of the euro in Estonia will bring even more divergence between the three countries. As an optimist, Kasekamp believes that Estonia’s success will provide a stimulus and motivation for its southern neighbors and will positively effect the reputation of the whole Baltic region.
Here is the presentation that Andres Kasekamp gave at Vilnius University a few months ago:
See also the book review by Šarūnas Liekis, professor at Vytautas Magnus University.