The Baltic States: a bit more diverse than you (probably) imagined

Article published on Nov. 22, 2010
community published
Article published on Nov. 22, 2010
Author: Tomas Marcinkevicius

I am from Lithuania. So, when I travel or accept guests from foreign countries, the first information package usually consists of many “no‘s”. Such as…

Hey there, we are here, in the North-East, just a bit upper from Poland. No, don‘t look down on the map, that‘s Balkans, not Baltics. Baltics by the Baltic sea and Balkans in the peninsula in the South, ok? No, Russian is not an official language and we don‘t necessarily speak it, though we would like to. No, languages here are not Slavic. No, natives (except for Russian and Polish minorities) don‘t consider themselves to be Slavs: Lithuanians and Latvians think of themselves as Baltic and Estonians are close to Finns. No, people here don‘t prefer the former-communist identity to their national one. No, it‘s not the same country and we don‘t understand each other by default…

Mostly, I want to talk about the last “No”. Yes, there for sure are some similarities among people from the Baltics, but they mainly come from having a similar history and life experience. There is a Russian saying from the times of Soviet Union: jest takaja strana: Pribaltika (“There is such a country: Baltics”), which is coming from seeing Baltics as the Western and the most developed part of the Empire.

Crossroads of history and insecure tomorrow left some harshness in the Baltic character, which also connects people living by that cold sea. Once in Macedonia, where I was volunteering, me and one Latvian girl even invented a new concept of “Baltic sarcasm”, which was apparently not so understandable to young people from other countries.

Anyway, thinking all three countries are the same would be as mistaken as putting Spain and Portugal, Macedonia and Croatia or Austria and Switzerland into one basket. So, let‘s talk about a few differences that make Baltic states worth visiting one by one and make the time spent in each of them worth it.

The capitals are probably what you are going to see first here. Try to remember the names before you arrive. People in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn are pretty much fed up by foreigners confusing them: it was fun the first 267 times, now it just got annoyingly old. To help you do that, let‘s play with some colours.

Tallinn, characterized by blue and grey, is the smallest and the coldest of these three, being the furthest in the North. It has the best access to the sea (100 meters from the Old Town) and St. Olav‘s church, which in the XVI century was the tallest building in the world. It is a cute sea port with lots of Scandinavian and German influences, in the recent years replaced by drunken Finnish coming here to get even more drunk on the cheap.

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