The Baltic States should unite!

February 18, 2008 at 10:57 pm 12 comments

February 16 in Vilnius, Presidential Palace (source President.lt)All Lithuania celebrated the 90th Independence Day.  In 1918, February 16 group of 20 Lithuanian intellectuals gathered in Vilnius and declared Lithuania’s Independence.  A week later the Estonians followed suit, the Latvians caught up in November of 1918.

I am not going to remind you importance of this day in the Lithuanian history, and would recommend you to visit the Wikipedia site.  I would like to talk about the present.

Interestingly enough but the Baltic States of Lithuanian, Latvia and Estonia has a great tradition of raising the flags of all three countries in marking each country’s Independence Day.

This was decided when the three Baltic States regained their hard thought Independence in 1990.  However, few years later our states turned into competitors, even in achieving their strategic aims of joining the NATO, and especially the EU.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with a good competition, and after all, perhaps because of that the occupied ex-Soviet provinces managed to catch up and join the EU together with Eastern European States like Czech Republic and Slovenia.

The well-deserved Baltic States acceptance to the Western political and security club almost left those states without a future direction.  There is a feeling of achievement and calmness, and an attitude that since we are in, we are safe, prevails.  Estonia is concentrated in becoming a Golden Province of the EU and completely turned into itself in perusing its goal.

The Estonians are planning to reach the top 5 richest EU nations in 20 years time.  On the other hand the Lithuanians altruistically engaged on a ‘white man’s burden’ mission of spreading democracy to the Ukraine and South Caucasus (there is no much talk about Belarus any more).  This policy according to the politicians should turn Vilnius in same kind of a Regional Centre.  Never mind that there is a plenty of room in improving the Lithuanian democracy, not to mention of exporting it.

Furthermore, Riga is experiencing the ‘eyes opening revelation’ and is conciliating of becoming a Russian advocates in the Brussels.  The influx of the Russian investment into Riga is playing its part in ‘turning’ some politicians into ‘friendly’ mood.  Of course, one has to have in mind a ‘delicate’ size of the national minority, especially in Riga.  If one is running Riga, one could run the all country.

In short the Baltic States are so pleased with themselves to such extend that we begun to forget our history lessons.  We can survive only when we stick together.  Lets remember 1920s and 1930s when we never managed to create a block together and lost our independence, and lets compare it to the 1990s.  The Economist called Latvia a ‘swing state’, which is starting to become manipulated by the Kremlin.  The same author warns that Russia is starting to retrieve the Eastern European states ‘not by tanks but by banks’.  Edward Lucas also notices that the West is loosing its influence in the Eastern Europe and is ‘rolling back’.

In short the Empire is striking back.  The Baltic States should drop an illusion that the ‘West will help us’ and start uniting its act together.  The West will not help anyone unless one is willing to help yourself.  The Baltic States should enhance their cooperation and start thinking about the Baltic region as one entity.  At least the three should begin cooperating closely in the security and information areas.  If the Finnish President voiced an initiative to begin an enhanced cooperation in security amongst the Baltic and Nordic States it should be taken as a wake up call to the region.

The Baltic States are also loosing the information war to Russia.  An average Balt knows much better what is happening in London or in Stockholm rather than in Vilnius, Tallinn or Riga.  Apart from the Baltic Times weekly there is not a Pan Baltic information outlet, which would cover all three Baltic States.  I am not talking about the City Paper that is based in Riga but writes mainly about Estonia that is not a bad think in itself.  A trouble with the Baltic Times is that, at least in Lithuania, we have very few politicians with a decent command of English, even though the young generation has no problem with that.

Despite the advancement of the IT the absolute majority of the Balts receive their main news from the TV.  Hence, what about a Pan Baltic TV channel which would broadcast in all three languages with the local subtitles.  Such a channel could ‘introduce’ all three states to each other, and hence will make us closer.  From what I understand the Lithuanian National translator approached the Latvian colleagues with such an idea.  However, the answer was negative due to lack of funding.

The Romans wisely observed that if a nation doesn’t provide for its own army, sooner of latter it will have to provide for the foreign troops.  The Baltic States already providing to the foreign troops, in the face of the Pan Baltic Kremlin’s financed Russian language First Baltic Channel, which is, by coincidence is registered in Riga. Lets hope that the New Pan Baltic and the Polish Ignalina Nuclear Plant project will be a source of growing unity amongst all four and especially amongst the Balts.  The project might take more than a decade to complete, hence we will be compelled to cooperate and get know each other better.

Lets hope that the news about the building of the plant will reach the general participant countries’ public not only via the First Baltic Channel, Regnum.ru or other Kremlin controlled media outlets but by our own media outlets.  The Kremlin is extremely skilful in manipulating information to its own needs.  Hence, lets unite, lets work together!

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Entry filed under: Baltic States, Economics, Energy, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Northern Europe, Poland, Politics, Russia, Scandinavia, Sweden.

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. giustino  |  February 19, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    I see Finland and Poland also as Baltic countries. The nuclear deal, which includes Poland, is an example to me of good ‘Baltic cooperation.’ The cooperation between Finland and Estonia with regard energy and in other sectors is also important. I don’t see why Lithuania should be closer to Estonia than it is to Poland or why Estonia should be closer to Latvia than it is to Finland.

    It’s also sort of a waste of time to expect the trio to be in synch all the time. And if you think about it, is that what real, organic cooperation is? Having the same policy all the time?

    Reply
  • 2. Ruslanas Iržikevičius  |  February 19, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Hi there,

    Finland was regarded as a Baltic state between WWI and WWII and then it turned to the Nordic State. It managed to defend its Independence in the bloody war and then had to go through humiliating ‘Finliandinisation’ process to become what it is know. However, the other remaining Baltic States’ corrupt (lots or the Russian money there) and authoritarian regimes did not foresee a tragedy and decided to surrender.

    This was a decision, which made as the Pribaltika with all the consequences. However, the Baltic States managed to break out of the Soviet yoke. Lithuanian could not do that with Latvia and Estonia, and like wise.

    I wrote about the whishes circle of history from which we have to learn. Does not matter how much your languages are related and how much of the Finnish capital you have in Tallinn (which I understand is fleeing already). I am convinced that the Fins will not come to your help as the Swedes done in the winter war. Because if (some commentators are saying ‘when’) the Russians will take \their territories’ back they will take your and my land without touching Finland. 90 years of Independence made Finland an integral part of the West. With all due respect to its remarkable achievements, Estonia is still viewed in Kremlin as a lost territory, a misunderstanding of history, in short part of its sphere of influence.

    I appreciate a fact that we are talking about 21 C and that different methods are in use in achieving one’s political aims. The guns had changed from the ‘tanks’ to the ‘banks’ as Lucas puts it. You might argue that the Baltic States, and I include Estonia are well protected by the significant presence of the Scandinavian banks here. Nevertheless, even though they are very strong, Latvia is already named as a ‘swing state’, and placed in the same category as Bulgaria, Serbia, Moldova, the Ukraine and Georgia. Do you really think that the private Nordic banks are in a position to fight with the Russian state controlled money machines?

    Whatever you think about Estonia’s ‘Nordiness’ the States on the Eastern Baltic shore are in the same boat. All of us will sink together. Maybe the Lithuanians should start thinking less about Georgia and the Ukraine and leave it to Poland. On the other hand Estonia should stop thinking just about itself and stop floating in the ‘Scandinavian dreams’. We are here and we should start concentrating on our Pan Baltic business. It sounds that your President begun to grasp the grim reality and begun to pull closer to the Balts.

    We are fighting a battle with the Kremlin already. It is battle of media, and we are loosing it. Hence, I am calling to unite our efforts in that front. Another project, which should unite the Baltic States, is Ignalina power plant.

    It would be absolutely amazing if Estonia would put Finland in the Baltic boat and Lithuania would stir Poland towards the Baltic dimension. However, Finland is too comfortable where it is and Poland is too big, and too Central European for that. Hence, Giustino, let’s unite. If you can take the Finns in, do that, we are trying to pull the Poles in, with some mixed success.

    Best wishes,

    Reply
  • 3. giustino  |  February 20, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    I think the ideal itself of all Baltic countries uniting on every issue is counterproductive. Look at Sweden, Norway, and Finland. All supposed ‘nordic states’. One is in Nato, the other two are not. Two are in the EU, the other one is not. One has the euro, the other two do not.

    The reason Baltic unity failed in the interwar period is for the same exact reasons: that Lithuania wanted Finland, Estonia, and Latvia to back its claims to Vilnius against Poland, and Estonia and Latvia couldn’t agree what language to use in military cooperation. They wasted all this time arguing about things they couldn’t agree on, while instead they should have worked on pragmatic projects they *could* agree on.

    My own experience in life is that cooperation is an organic thing. One cannot just keep fighting to obtain an ideal with partners. Some relationships work, others do not. Baltic cooperation worked in the 1980s because it did organically. Continuously fighting to keep the Latvians on board for policy X is a waste of energy.

    Reply
  • 4. Ruslanas Iržikevičius  |  February 20, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Hi again,

    Precisely, this is a point. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you have to realise that your are ‘in the same boat’. The Nordics don’t agree on everything, but they see a bigger picture and still cooperate, and after all they are known as the Nordic Region.

    I sincerely hope that the Nordic region will expand from five to eight members, but this will happen in the future. Maybe 20-30 years, if we are very luck give or take 10 – 15 years. Three Baltic States have to ‘grow in it’ as the ex-Baltic State Finland did once. We are moving towards that direction us we did it with some mixed success in the twenties and the thirties. However, we were locked up in the prison cell and continuously raped by the bear for 50 years until we broke out from the cell together.

    Hence, if we will not learn from our history and not unite on that front, we are risking to be locked up in the prison cell and get to the arms of that bear again. And that might happen before we reach the end of our journey towards Nord.

    Of course we have disagreements, it is a natural process of cooperation! Lithuania don’t really have disagreements with Belarus, because everything is clear on that front. For God’s sake we still have to ratify our marine boarder with our broliukai Latvians! And we will disagree in the future, and on some issues you will have more in common with Finland and we with Poland etc.

    Nevertheless, lets be practical and realise that we are riding the same boat, and that the bear is eyeing it at the moment. Lets unite at least where we have strategic interest to survive!

    If you have some doubts about this check out a call from the Finnish president on necessity of the Baltic Sea Security Cooperation. She invited the Nords and the Balts to cooperate. She did not invite the Russians.

    Reply
  • 5. andy  |  February 20, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Please do not forget that the name of our common boat is Europe. We can not secure our future without a support from big Western powers. We just cannot isolate ourselves into our region and start to deal with “our own problems”. That’s silly because it does n’t work. We are too small and weak, even together with the Nordics. If we fall into this obsession and start to believe in our might then that’s going to be the beginning of our end. What we need to do is to make our problems European problems. We need to aknowledge European problems and make them our own problems. We need trust and solidarity. It’s going to work only that way. Yes, it’s difficult, probably impossible but otherwise we will have no chance at all. The bear is going to come back.

    Reply
  • 6. Ruslanas Iržikevičius  |  February 20, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Andy,

    I agree that the West should see it like that, but unfortunately it is not the case. Since the actual threat has changed from the ‘tanks to the banks’ the general Western public and the decision makers feel not danger.

    However, I am not convinced that the Russians would go that far, they want their ‘lost territories’ the most. Hence, when the ‘job is done’ in Georgia and the Ukraine the Baltic States will have to withstand the next blow.

    I see a danger that the West will continue playing by the Russian rules and will keep ‘rolling back’ from the Baltic region. I agree that the Nords could only support us morally, and I am convinced that they will not get involved in a dangerous confrontation with the Kremlin.

    Since Moscow is a master of manipulating the naïve Westerners the biggest danger is that Yalta II will be signed in the Brussels. If you want to see the corrupt politicians, well, look what happened to Herr Schröder. Even more disturbing is that the German public did not express outrage about his lucrative career move. It was almost taken as a natural thing, something like ‘ah well, good for him’.

    No one will want to help us if we will not help ourselves. Therefore, we should start from helping ourselves by uniting and ‘enlightening’ the Westerners about the whole situation. The Balts were screaming already that Mr. Putin is not a ‘Mr Democrat’ at the very beginning of Putin’s rule, meanwhile someone was looking at the Putin’s sole and seeing something. The Westerners were laughing at our faces and calling us paranoiacs. Hence, we should scream again, united!

    Reply
  • 7. giustino  |  February 23, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    Just remember that the last time Russia attacked the Baltics, it also carved Poland in half and stole a tenth of Finland’s territory, creating 400,000 Karelian refugees. So if we’re all in the same boat, the boat is pretty big.

    Reply
  • 8. Ruslanas Iržikevičius  |  February 23, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    Agree, nevertheless in order to draw our Northern and Southern colleagues into the boat we must show that three of us are together and ready. Further more, we must prove that we are ready to defend ourselves to ‘convince’ the Finns and the Poles to ‘join the boat’. It would be easier to achieve that if we are united, hence stronger. So, Estonia, work on the Finns, we are already working on the Poles!

    Reply
  • 9. Michael Mursko  |  March 12, 2008 at 7:36 am

    I agree with your asessment of the need for a Pan Baltic Television
    entity. And find that the tendency of young Balts to persue a command of the English language is a positive and progressive
    move towards economic stability and realtions with each other as well as the rest of the Western Nations. I am very optomistic about the future guidance of the Baltic States being in the hands of emerging youth. And that the people of the Baltic States are quite
    capable of restoring vitality. It is not far fetched or unreasonable
    to cosider the prospects of Baltic unity. If their is a will
    and a common consensus among Balts….they will find a way
    to do so while preserving the individual charecter of each
    state.

    Reply
  • 10. The Red Carpet - Ukraine.com Discussion Forum  |  November 19, 2008 at 11:15 am

    […] that the West is loosing its influence in the Eastern Europe and is ‘rolling back’. The Baltic States should unite! Lituanica __________________ One Ukraine One Hetman One bowl of […]

    Reply
  • 11. Allan Alaküla  |  November 28, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    Idea of Baltic own channel is absolute good. But in fight for broken hearts and spoiled minds of our russian-speakers the “outside” media would do better. Just for Your inspiration I will leave here description of wider media platform.
    Rgds from Tallinn

    WHY BSR NEEDS CHANNEL?
    BBC World, al-Jazeera, Russia Today, China´s CCTV9, Spain´s TVE International, France24 and other global reaching tv channels are a challenge to the media-rich Baltic Sea Region (BSR). The countries around the Baltic Sea have strong public service broadcasters and well developed private media with the world´s highest readership of written press and very high Internet usage. There are some pan-Baltic media and pan-Scandinavian media cooperation, but there is none remarkable media outlet which addresses the entire BSR or present the region to the outside world.
    The EU BSR Strategy should set a target of founding a central media channel with remarkable share inside the BSR. The Baltic Channel would serve as a vibrant tool for building an internal identity of the region and for presenting the image of the region to the outside world. The Baltic Channel should be a multimedia outlet built on the latest technique for tv, web and mobile.
    Such a BSR channel could serve as a model for European Union identity-building. Unless there are no effective media targeting the entire Baltic Sea Region, there are very small chances to form an identity of the region as such. The same is true of the EU as long as Euronews or any other pan-European media outlet does not compete with major national channels over the share of viewership.

    MAJOR PRECONDITIONS
    1. The BSR is media-rich. It has probably got the world´s strongest public service broadcasters (PSB) in terms of share in respective nation states. But it has also got a very well developed private media sector with the world´s highest readership of written press and very high Internet usage. This would serve as a perfect environment for an extensive use of media with the aim of forming a common identity for a relatively diverse region of nine countries.
    2. Private media is already highly integrated in the BSR with regard to ownership structure. Norwegian Schibsted and Orkla, Swedish Marieberg, semi- Swedish Viasat (MTG) and German and Finnish multinational media companies already operate in large scale in Scandinavia, in the three Baltic states, in Poland and even in St Petersburg (Dagens Industri´s sisterpaper Delovoi Peterburg). BSR multinational media companies already control the tv and press market of the region.
    3. There are quite a few Pan-Baltic media outlets, with newsrooms regularly sharing content between countries. This applies to the news agency BNS (Baltic News Service belongs to Finnish Kauppalehti group of Alma Media) and the Estonian online media portal Delfi, both of which operates in the three Baltic states. The weekly newspaper The Baltic Times cover politics and business of the same area. In Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark the national news agencies extensively cross-use news content.
    But the region lacks a common channel, The Baltic Channel.

    STEP BY STEP
    In an initial phase in-depth research of potential viewers would be needed and a group of communicators should be formed, who could take the lead in developing the idea of a BSR central media channel.
    The next phase would be extensive exchange of content between Public Service Broadcasters of BSR countries, also inside and between multinational media companies of the BSR. Such an exchange should be subsidized by EU and national governments.
    In this phase efforts should be made also to make existing tv-channels more easily accessible between different countries. This applies especially to the Nordic countries, where language is not a big barrier but where the idea was never realized in spite of lengthy discussions.
    The final phase would see the development of a central international PSB channel/media platform of the Baltic Sea Region: tv, web, mobile. It would be unique in today´s world with an international Public Service Broadcaster which would be based on national states stakes. In order to set up management and program structures thorough research of Euronews failures and advantages would be necessary.

    BUSINESS ORIENTED AND TV-BASED SERVICES
    The PSB channel should have a strong orientation towards business – not only for complimentary funding but getting business streams involved also into forming the channel agenda.
    Not paradoxically, economic crisis serves well for exposing the need for coopration in common marketing of BSR in global scale.
    In this regard there is only joint interest, no rationale for external competition, as in global scale all of us are marginals.

    WHO WILL BENEFIT?
    1. The peoples of the BSR and of the EU.
    2. Businesses, operating on BSR and Global level and needing a BSR brand.
    3. BSR and EU political elite which stands for the idea of forming a BSR identity. That is of course if there is a political consensus not only to move in the direction of BSR identity-building, but an honest will for achieving it.

    THE NAME ISSUE
    The naming of the Channel derives from the naming of the Sea.

    Estonians are the only ones in the world who call it The Western Sea (Läänemeri), our fenno-ugrian mates finns and north-neighbours call it The Eastern Sea (Itämeri), and the same name is used by Scandinavians and Germans. For Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland it is The Baltic Sea. For centuries it is known to the rest of the world as The Baltic (the term Mare Balticum was coined already by the Romans), including the two major languages of the EU, English and French.
    We Estonians could seize the opportunity to recover the name Baltic Sea in our own language, as it was used in the first decade of the Estonian Republic, which celebrates its 90th anniversary 2008. That would encourage also other nations to use the same name under which the Sea is known to the world.

    THE LANGUAGE ISSUE
    The major language of The Baltic Channel would be English. However, all participating countries (up to nine) would be able to have their voice-over option (along with linear channels also via web and mobile) in the national language. For external promotion there could be provision also for language options like Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese etc (German and Russian would be involved already).
    Competition is not only global. It is also with the Mediterranean region inside EU. If Benita Ferrero-Waldner says that `The Mediterranean was the cradle and will be the future of Europe`, the Baltic Sea Region has to take up its Hanseatic legacy, where the language was Niedersaxen only for the elite. Now the elite in BSR businesses (banks, media, shipping) has already largely shifted to English. The same language is also widely spoken in services on the ground level – you can by ice-cream in English in almost every village around The Baltic Sea.
    In the BSR the previous Nordic and Russian region languages are more and more replaced by English. It could be seen as an advantage for regional cooperation – it will be equal for all partners around the Sea (there is no native English-speaking nation) and the language is the most used in the EU and on a Global scale..
    Like former Niedersaxen or Latin, English is just a modern lingua franca, a practical tool with no deep ambitions, and perhaps not even abilities, to abolish the use or hinder the development of national languages.

    THE RUSSIAN ISSUE
    Almost 1,5 million people in the three Baltic states are Russian speakers (plus Kaliningrad enclave with over half million Russian inhabitants). It is vitally important to involve them into the BSR information space, not less because PSB media in the Baltic states have failed to reach them. So far the Baltic Russians have been mostly under a Russian info-space. Originated from Moscow (Ostankino First Channel) but translated and edited from Riga to the three Baltic states PBK (First Baltic Channel) has for example from this summer in Estonia bigger share compared to PSB Estonian Television.

    In these times of heightening tensions between Russia and EU there is an increasing need for building of bridges within the cultural sphere and the information space. A Baltic Channel broadcasting even in Russian would not only reach the Russians in the Baltics, but it would be possible to access even into Russia itself. This could be seen as an asset for the entire region, where the Russian minority in Eastern Baltic could become a bridge, not to say a window, to Russia. Saint Petersburg 300 years ago was built as a Russian window to Europe, and in our time it might be gaining the role of a European window to Russia.
    In Helsinki Radio Sputnik operates in Russian, subsidized by the municipal administration, mostly for promotion of Russian visitors, i.e. tourists. Also Russian newspapers are published in Finland and Germany.
    So the issue is not only of Estonian and Latvian interest in the BSR.

    MOSTLY NON-LINEAR
    May be even more important than language is the technical platform (medium is the message). As linear TV is at its twilight, most content will be duplicated and delivered via Internet, mobile and also exposed on public screens at ports, stations and hotel lobbies and in many kinds of public transport.

    CROSS-BORDER E-SERVICES PLATFORM
    The multimedia channel would make the best use of the world’s highest levels of Internet usage and skills among the peoples of the BSR. The channel would become a platform for developing cross-border e-services, which would have an impact for regional integration that could be compared only to that of a single currency.
    There should be a massive development of TV-based services, starting from what reminds of text-tv and common Internet sites:
    First level information services – where to go, who is who.
    Second level interactive ticketing – all kinds of e-ticketing services brought together, from tickets to be printed out by customer to full e-ticketing (for example like ID-ticket in Estonia).

    ADVERTS
    However a PSB-channel The Baltic Channel should publish adverts. This will add value for banks, media, transport (shipping, aviation) etc operating in the entire region and will strengthen their integrative messages.
    As The Baltic Channel to a large extent will lay on non-linear TV, its advertising methods should be innovative too, mixing web, mobile, public screens and linear platforms.

    CONCLUSIVE REMARKS
    Without media support cant be implemented BSR Strategy basic objectives of environment, prosperity, attractiveness, nor security. Nor internally, neither in Global scale.
    „Thanks to” economy in chrisis the need for joint marketing efforts of BSR externally should be recognised better. Channel would became one of few answers to the question – what can be done for expanding new markets (to make economy floating again).
    Change of extent and modus of influence of US in the BSR will have impact to cooperation inside the region. Mostly in regard of Balts and Polish, but also in Scandinavian side of the Sea.

    Reply
  • […] touched on the idea in 18 Feb post.  Few days ago the post received a very interesting comment from an Estonian Mr Allan Alaküla, […]

    Reply

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