After 20 Years

By Audronius Azubalis, Girts Valdis Kristovskis and Urmas Paet (September 15, 2011)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the international recognition of the restored independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The support and sympathy of the international community demonstrated towards our countries during the critical years when we broke away from the Soviet Union was a source of inspiration for our peoples to regain freedom and master our own destiny.

The Baltic states took their chances and, despite some setbacks and enormous challenges, achieved exemplary results. The years 1990-91 were not the beginning of our history, but rather its continuation after an abnormal period of absence from the international stage. Once the period of division due to occupations, both Nazi and Soviet, was over, our countries’ aspirations to join the EU, NATO and other international organizations have been natural.

Region of Solidarity and Courage

The occupation and subsequent annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the Soviet Union in 1940 was never recognized or accepted by major Western countries. This sustained the belief and hopes that eventually the independence of the Baltic countries would be restored. Decades of armed resistance, dissident movements and silent inward opposition reached a culmination in the late 1980s, when our peoples expressed their will to be free by overwhelming peaceful demonstrations and non-violent resistance to Soviet occupation. It is not an overstatement to suggest that the events in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were a prelude to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

It has been said that revolutions are revelations. It is our firm belief that this is the case with our regaining of independence 20 years ago too. We have always known that we belong in Europe, in the West, due to our history and our cultural roots. For many others it was a revelation. A significant dimension of our nations’ foreign policy during the past 20 years has been the advertising of this revelation. Asking the world to recognize the fact that we are fully independent, sovereign and unique European nations is part of this narrative of revelation.

Seen from the perspective of past centuries, all three Baltic nations have always belonged to the wider area of European traditions and culture. Today, we are active participants in the international political process: we co-operate in developing and implementing the European neighborhood policy. As NATO members we assist together with other allies in rebuilding stability and good governance in Afghanistan. Each has held, or holds, presidencies of various international organizations.

Small but Large

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are collectively mid-sized nations, but in terms of history and experience relatively large. Located literally at the geographic center of Europe, the three countries’ history and geography are linked with the trading and cultural centers of Poland, the Nordic and Scandinavian countries, Russia, Germany and beyond them the Low Countries and Britain.

Our very location means that we are an international crossroads and center for the coming together of diverse cultures, economic and political systems and religious traditions.

It took considerable time and effort, trial and error, to restructure an administration, establish open political structures and to lay the foundations for a market economy to replace the previously existing top-down command structures. It gave us more dynamism and ability to innovate, to keep up with the pace of change. Economically we have experienced both boom and bust, but now we are delighted with the renewal of our economic growth.

Co-operation and Determination

Today, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all active members of the European Union and NATO, but the idea of regional co-operation has not lost its value. A core objective of our countries is to become integral, successful, politically and economically co-ordinated players of the Nordic-Baltic region. The Nordic Baltic 8 (NB8) format could serve this end. Large-scale joint projects are envisioned to bring the region closer. These include, for instance, a common information space, well connected defense planning and co-ordinated education efforts, shared values and the joint presentation of the region as a strong entity.

Twenty years ago, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were re-establishing diplomatic relations with other countries, the main task was to entrench our independence and sovereignty. A decade ago rapid integration into Euro-Atlantic and European structures was our goal. Today, being a full-fledged and reliable part of the Western community, the Baltic states have started the implementation of the next stage of their national policies – to ensure energy security, and assure political and economic stability in and around the three countries. We recognize that the formal independence of a country itself does not guarantee the vitality of the state and the nation. We believe that deeper economic and political integration into the Euro-Atlantic space – the main direction of our foreign policy – must be the fundamental underlying assumption on which our future Baltic vitality and welfare can be built.

Audronius AZubalis, Girts Valdis Kristovskis and Urmas Paet are the ministers of foreign affairs of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia