Baltic Independence

Having been forcefully occupied and integrated by the Soviet Union as per the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were not incredibly loyal to the Soviet Union. From 1940 onward, Moscow underwent Sovietization policies similar to old Tsarist Russification policies. They suppressed Baltic languages and culture as well as migrating ethnic Russians into the region to quicken the pace of homogenization. This was obviously not popular among natives of the Baltic and these policies combined with Soviet disregard for the environment and private property prevented any reconciliation between the natives and the Soviet government. The 1980’s saw a massive rise in pro-independence protests and movements in the Baltic region. These protests were primarily sparked by Gorbachev’s reforms, specifically Glasnost, which allowed criticism of the government. With criticism of the government now allowed, the authority of the communist parties in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia crumbled. 

From 1987 to 1991 a period of civil protest and resistance against Soviet authority known affectionately now as the “Singing Revolution” saw millions of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians peacefully fight for their Independence and civil autonomy. The greatest demonstration of these protests came on August, 23rd 1989 during a protest called “The Baltic Way”. “The Baltic Way” saw a human chain of over 2 million people stretching 600 km or about 372 miles from Tallinn, Estonia to Vilnius, Lithuania. Eventually after almost four years of protests and peaceful resistance the Gorbachev regime recognized privately that they were going to lose the Baltic States. The Baltic revolutions were a major part of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

On September, 6th 1991 the Soviet Union recognized the Independence of all three Baltic States and three months later, the rest of the Soviet Union would separate. The reaction in the West was positive with Iceland being the first nation to recognize the newly freed Baltic. Since their occupation in June 1940 by the Soviets, the US, UK, Canada, and NATO had maintained representatives for the Baltic States and always maintained that those countries were rightfully independent from the start. The Singing Revolution was a major step towards the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. It was, ironically, Soviet imperialism that saw the demise of the Union. If Stalin had left the Baltic alone, they may have not later inspired other Soviet Republics to leave.


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39 Responses to Baltic Independence

    natalieg99 says:

    Andrew, I enjoyed your post about the Singing Revolution as one aspect of the breakup of the Soviet Union! Having other nations acknowledge the sovereignty of the Baltic States probably set an example to other Soviet territories that they could leave and dissolve the Soviet Union.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Natalie! I think they definitely did set an example. When the other SSRs saw that Gorbachev was not going to invade the rebellious Baltic States to restore order, I’m sure they saw their opportunity and the writing on the wall for the USSR.

    Lauren Hurt says:

    Andrew, this was an interesting post! I had never heard of the Baltic Way before, and your post did a very good job of explaining it. I think that it’s incredible that people from the Baltic states would come together, literally by forming a human chain, and that they would stick with it for four years. I also think your last paragraph is very insightful, how ironic it is that the very thing that created the nation is the thing that destroyed it. Nice job!

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Lauren! This was the first I had heard of it too. I think it is a very underrated moment that deserves to be mentioned just as much as the fall of the Berlin wall. It’s a shame that American public schools don’t teach us more about Modern European history.

    Tom Patton says:

    Andrew, great work documenting this interesting time in the history of Russia. It is important to also look at the changes in Russian-speaking communities in these 3 countries. Stalin in 1945 sent many ethnic Russian into the Baltic countries in process called Russiafication. By the time of Baltic independence 2004, a number of ethnic Russians, with EU passports, began leaving the Baltic countries to EU countries, primarily the UK and Ireland. In 2012, some remaining ethnic Russians returned to the Russian Federation which had the intended effect of decreased the population % of ethnic Russians and creating independent cultural countries.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Tom. I didn’t know about the ethnic Russians migrating but that’s very interesting. I feel like considering the history of Russians in the Baltic nations, that was probably a welcome trend.

    Josh Roach says:

    Andrew, great post! I found it very fascinating, and it was something I didn’t know before reading this, that the countries in NATO still maintained representatives for the Baltic States and I am curious to see how that all worked out during the Cold War. Obviously these states still had influence from the west and it was interesting to see all of that be shown once Glasnost was put in place.

      andrewp18 says:

      I appreciate it Josh! I think it is really cool that the West still recognized the Baltic nations as independent despite the fact that they were technically part of the Soviet Union. I just goes to show how much the West wanted to snub the Soviet.

  1. Thanks for writing about such an important topic, and especially for enlightening the class about the Baltic Way, which was truly a spectacular moment in the collapse of the Soviet Union. We should keep in mind that the formation of the three Baltic states dates only to the end of WWI and the collapse of the German and Russian Empires. Historically, these regions had been under Russian control for a much longer period of time.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thank you Professor Nelson! I know that the Baltic states were occupied by the Russian Empire but similar to Poland they always tried to maintain their ethnic and cultural identities. I think that is my favorite part about this topic. The idea that a people, unified by culture and language, are still willing to stand together even under foreign domination and not give up on their independence even though it is very new.

    kellan nedwick says:

    Great read! I always loved the irony that the Soviet Union was just as imperialist as any other country. Anyway originally this wasn’t suppose to be the case. Communism after all is suppose to be anti -imperialist. I also loved reading about the “Baltic way” definitely was another pre curser to the end of the Union.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Kellan! I think it is definitely ironic that for all their crowing about US imperialism, they were just as guilty. The truth is, they wanted to expand their influence and so did the US and there is really only one way to do that concretely.

    Joy Danielle Villanueva says:

    Hi Andrew! I really liked your post because I find revolutions like these super interesting, especially because it seems like all the odds are against the Baltic nations considering how small they are. I think that it is somewhat admirable that all the nations in the Soviet bloc eventually claimed independence. I wonder if Gorbachev realized that his open critiques on the USSR and encouragement for others to do the same thing led to the decline of his own power.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Joy! I’m also a big fan of revolutions and ive never read about one that was so universally peaceful. I think Gorbachev was aware of the massive effects of his policies, but as far as i am aware he was trying to massively reorganize the USSR into a Socialist state with a regulated economy similar to that of modern China. I don’t think he expected mass dissent of this kind however and so he kind of shot his own plans in the foot by being “too liberal”.

    Matt Manilli says:

    Hey Andrew, I really enjoyed reading your post especially the information on the peaceful protests and resistance given to the Soviet Union. I thought the Baltic Way was an insane protest and to have a human chain of two million people is an incredible think to pull off!

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Matt! I think the peaceful nature of Baltic Independence is the coolest part. There was no bloodshed and all things considered they got to make a massive human chain which is a feat of organization by itself.

    Michael Erickson says:

    Andrew, this is a really well-written post! I’m glad that you focused on the Baltic states, as American schools don’t really spend any time on them when talking about the breakup of the Soviet Union. It’s really cool that a series of reasonably peaceful protests were the first domino to fall.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Michael! I think the fact that we dont focus on Europe in the Cold War is a travesty as well. I think as Americans we need to become more aware of these fantastic displays of human unity and take them to heart.

    michaelboeh says:

    Andrew, I really liked your post and think that this is a topic that is often ignored when people talk about the Soviet Union. While it may seem obvious, I don’t think these protests would ever have truly taken off if Stalin or Lenin was in charge. Great post!

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Michael! I definitely think that if Stalin or Lenin was in charge during the 80s and 90s that the Soviet Union would probably be here today. They did not play around.

    chris cesternino says:

    Good post, Andrew. The Baltic states had it rough for several generations. If they weren’t under Russian rule they were under Nazi rule, then Soviet rule. It’s no wonder they rioted for independence. I think it’s interesting how they eventually got their independence. I’m surprised Gorbechev listened to the people.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Chris! I agree, simply because of the incredible amount of hardship they endured they deserved their independence. I think Gorbachev knew that a war in the Baltic was unpopular and that considering the precarious state the USSR was in, i don’t think he had much of a choice.

    Jacob Jones says:

    Really great post! I think it is really cool to see the ways the people came to see in protest. Reading about that human chain was awesome. Its nice to see states standing up for themselves and coming together to enact change.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Jacob! Human beings are definitely resourceful when it comes to voicing their complaints. I think the Baltic way was a unique way to protest the violation of their land and I think it is very underappreciated here in the US.

    Eric Ottman says:

    Andrew, I found your post to be very interesting. The Baltic states seem to always be at odds with their neighbor to the east. It always amazes me how such small states openly resisted the monster that was the Soviet Union. Great post!

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Eric! They resisted all right, but it didn’t really work until the Singing revolution. On the one hand though we could only hope to be so brave in a similar situation.

  2. The Baltic states have always been in some sort of contest between the Soviet Union and themselves. Their story is very interesting and reminds me of Ukraine in some ways. At least at the end of the Cold War these countries have seen their own independence from current day Russia.

  3. Very nice page formatting, first off. I don’t think I’ve read one of your blogs before and this site looks a lot different than most I’ve usually gone too, so bonus points for you! Great post Andrew, interesting the relationship the Baltics had with the SU. Is there still a relationship/(hatred) with Russia today or are things more estranged?

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Landry, I appreciate it! As far as I am aware, there is still some resentment against Russia, just as there is in most Eastern Bloc countries. The Baltic nations also saw fit to join NATO to protect their independence and still face Russian military pressure routinely so based on this i’d imagine they are still very wary of Russia.

    Isaiah Still says:

    I thought that your post was very interesting in how it portrayed the Baltic nations independence movement, especially with the Baltic Way. You also make a very interesting point about how if the Soviets had not taken the Baltic states, then it may not have influenced the other independence movements. Do you think that if the Soviet Union did not take the Baltic it may have had an adverse affect on them? Great post Andrew I really enjoyed it.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Isaiah! I do think that the Soviets probably needed to take the Baltic states from a strategic point of view as otherwise they definitely would have allied with the Germans in WWII like Finland did. Estonia in particular is very close to Leningrad/St. Petersburg as well so it was somewhat of a strategic necessity. If they hadn’t aligned with the Germans they still would have been used by the West in the Cold War as a staging point for any sort of invasion so they probably had no choice. Then again, if they didn’t have such a hostile relationship with the West it wouldn’t have been an issue anyway.

  4. I enjoyed you post, I felt like it was very informative. Something that I have always found contradictory and interesting about Baltic independence and the wider independence movements that caused the collapse of the Union, is that they were supported by the local Communist in the area. I have always wondered why the Local Communist did not stay loyal to the Party and decided to assist their native republics.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks De’Vonte! I didn’t really pick up on that but that is indeed very interesting. I guess the local Communists probably didn’t realize how unpopular they were to the rest of their countries, or perhaps they felt dissatisfied with Soviet Communism like everyone else.

  5. Andrew Grant – I remember learning in my imperial Russia class, when Dr. Ewing talked about the Estonian music festivals. Many Baltic states attempted to maintain their traditions and values in the face of Soviet suppression of their native cultures. The music festivals was a big event, a tradition in Estonia, they would sing native Estonian music, often patriotic songs or other songs celebrating their national heroes. To this day the Estonians still have the music festivals.

      andrewp18 says:

      I think that’s probably where the moniker “Singing Revolution” came from. The Estonians I know for a fact sang songs at their protests, perhaps their music was what held their culture together through all of those centuries of Russian control.

  6. REPOST COMMENT DIDN’T APPEAR: Andrew Grant – I remember learning in my imperial Russia class, when Dr. Ewing talked about the Estonian music festivals. Many Baltic states attempted to maintain their traditions and values in the face of Soviet suppression of their native cultures. The music festivals was a big event, a tradition in Estonia, they would sing native Estonian music, often patriotic songs or other songs celebrating their national heroes. To this day the Estonians still have the music festivals.

    Chase Gosney says:

    I will say this was a great post and to see how the little nation help inspire others to break free as they had would obviously show that the USSR would finally crumble because when three nations leave it would certainly instill confidence.

      andrewp18 says:

      Thanks Chase! It is definitely amazing. It just goes to show that only a small ember can ignite a greater flame.

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