Editorial A Baltic state occasion

The Times Editorial October 17, 2006

The Queen pays tribute to three dynamic countries The transformation of life in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania over the past 20 years has been more dramatic than in any other part of the European Union.

Until the collapse of communism, the three Baltic republics were not only far behind the Iron Curtain but were part of the Soviet Union – annexed by Stalin after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

They broke free in 1991, set up heir own currencies, reforged broken links with Scandinavia and Central Europe and then, in rapid succession, joined Nato and the European Union.

Their social, political and economic structures have been transformed. Once demoralised, depressed communist societies, they have become dynamic, market-orientated economies where living standards are rising as rapidly as expectations.

The Queen’s state visit to the Baltic states, which begins in Lithuania today, is a fitting tribute to the resilience and achievement of three new partners whose destinies have become much more closely linked to this country. Though geographically far away, Britain has played a key role in the Baltic states at certain times: Estonia, for example, annually remembers the sacrifice of British troops and warships in the defence of its independence against the Red Army soon after the 1917 Russian Revolution.

And Britain today is again involved in all three nations. British troops have been engaged alongside those from the Baltic states in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Britain often finds itself making common cause with their governments in EU debates. And, importantly, Britain was one of the few EU members to open its doors to workers from all three nations immediately on their accession. This final point is of enormous significance. A very large number of young people have come to Britain to seek work – indeed, Lithuanians, after Poles, are the biggest group from Eastern Europe. Not only do they form enduring personal relationships with many Britons, but also they take home examples and attitudes learnt in this country that have a strong influence in moulding post-communist practices in their own. This gives Britain a visibility and reach much larger than, say, Germany or France, which have strict quotas on workers. The Queen will spend about a day and a half in each capital, where she willpay tribute to the war dead and see monuments to some of the darker episodes in recent history: a reconstruction of Gulag barracks and a display commemorating the Soviet deportations.

There is lingering bitterness and division over the past, but Britain wants the Baltic republics to treat their Russian minorities more equally and adopt a less emotional attitude to their giant neighbour. History still exercises a malign influence.

On the whole, the three states have shown remarkable courage in overcoming their past, tackling the problems of transition such as corruption and organised crime, and setting their goals in a framework of democracy, liberty and human rights. Each country is very different from the other; but together they deserve the admiration that the Queen will express during her visit.