Queen praises ‘spirit’ of Baltics

The royal tour of the Baltic countries ends on Friday

The Queen has praised the “indomitable spirit” of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia after visiting the three Baltic countries for the first time.

At at a state banquet in the Estonian capital Tallinn, she said their spirit kept alive the “flame of independence, despite all attempts to extinguish it”. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will visit Estonian soldiers on Friday on the final day of their tour. Servicemen from the country are due to join British forces in Afghanistan. “I know that it is a major undertaking for you, and will be your biggest mission abroad, for which we are most grateful,” the Queen said. She paid tribute to the country’s peacekeepers who had “served with distinction” in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Despite tragic losses and injuries, your resolve has never wavered,” she said. ‘Dark pages’ She said the spirit of the three countries had “driven forward rapid political, economic and social change”. “Change which is not something to be measured simply by statistics, but in the freedom, peace and prosperity which all your peoples now enjoy.”

The Queen, who was hosted by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, commented that Estonia had shared “so many of the dark pages of 20th Century” with its two neighbouring countries. The countries suffered at the hands of the Nazis, who executed more than 70,000 Jews in Latvia alone.

The Soviets then took control of the region and forced thousands of people into exile in distant Siberia. While in Latvia, the Queen met survivors of both the Nazi and Soviet regimes and was shown a recreation of a gulag – the Soviet prison camps. The three countries regained their independence in 1991 and all three became members of the EU and Nato in 2004.