"The Baltics: Nationalities and Other Problems"


The Baltics area is fraught with cross ethnic mergings, conquerings by
different groups, and control by both small groups like the Teutonic and
Livonian knights and by larger entities like the nations of Sweden, Poland,
and Russia during the roughly eight centuries of Baltic history. There is
no ideal way to depict these very diverse groups of people and areas, so
this is an attempt to first look at the area as a whole as it developed, in
the briefest kind of way, then shoot forward in time to examine each of the
three Baltic countries separately prior to World War II and after, and then
an examination of the situation as it is today and in the recent past of
the past two decades.

"Until the twelfth century the marshes and forest-lands along the
eastern coast of the Baltic Sea were left in the more or less undisturbed
possession of a number of pagan tribes. The Esths and Livs in the northern
regions belonged to the Finnish branch of the Ural-Altaic family, while
another group farther to the south, subdivided into Letts, Borussians and
Lithuanians, ... was of Indo-European stock. The Borussians, who moved
southward to what is now East Prussia, were early subdued and assimilated
by the Germans, while the Letts tended to push northward into Livonia."(1)

The area we now call the Baltics remained sparsely populated and
predominantly non-Christian until about the middle of the 13th century,
when the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Knights began the first
incursions into the region. "The first invaders of these regions were the
Danes, who conquered the northern half of Estonia in the twelfth and early
thirteenth centuries. German merchants and missionaries had meanwhile
penetrated into Livonia, where a bishopric was established at Riga in 1201.
From then onwards the greater part of areas now occupied by the states of
Latvia and Estonia gradually fell under the dominion first of the Knights
of the Sword, and then of the Order of Teutonic Knights, to whom, in 1346,
the Danes sold their share of Estonia. These Orders colonized the
territory, converted the inhabitants to Christianity, and made them their
serfs." (2)

"In Lithuania, on the other hand, the Teutonic Knights were never able
to make much headway except in the Memel (Klaipeda) territory, of which the
frontier was permenantly fixed after the defeat of the Order by Vytautas -
one of a sucession of Lithuanian Grand Dukes who, in the course of the
thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, built up a united and
powerful state..." (3)

The changes and grouping in the Baltic region began "during the Bronze
Age and Early Iron Age, and continued to the first centuries after Christ.
However, the weaker tribes were gradually absorbed by the stronger and
crystallized into larger national units." (4) "Also in answering the
ethnic question, one is aided by fragmentary historical sources, which
mention the individual Baltic nations and tribes which lived in certain
areas, as for example the Aistians(100 AD), Galindians and Sudovians
(second centuty, AD), Semigallians (870 AD), Prussians (ninth century AD),
Curonians (875 AD), Yatvingians (983 AD), Lithuanians (1009 AD), Galindians
(1058 AD), Sambians (1075 AD), Selians (1208 AD), Skalvians (1240 AD),
Nadrovians (1250 AD) and others." (5)

"Basically, although there is relationship between the Lithuanians and
Latvians, there is none whatever between either of these peoples and the
Estonians, whose language and culture approximate to those of Finland. As
regards religion, the Lithuanians are almost entirely Roman Catholic; the
Latvians and Estonians are mainly Protestant. Estonia and Latvia look to
the Baltic, and have maritime and fishing interests; Lithuania is almost
entirely an inland and agricultural country - her only port (Klaipeda, or
Memel) has a preponderant German population." (6)

"After the death of Vytautas in 1430, Lithuania rapidly fell into a
position of dependence on Poland, with which country she had already been
nominally connected under a personal union since 1386." (7) That had been
accomplished by the Poles co-opting a Lithuanian Prince, Jogaila, to avoid
their kingdom being swallowed by the Teutonic Knights. "Following secret
negotiations, Jogaila issued a declaration which is accepted as the Kreva
Union Act (August 14, 1385) whereby Jogaila agreed to baptism and to
marriage witrh Hedwig (the heir to the Polish throne). Furthermore, he
agreed to the baptism of his family and the nobility of Lithuania, in
addition to paying 200,000 florins to Prince Wilhelm (of Austria) for
breaking the betrothal to Hedwig; also he agreed to the return of all
Polish lands taken by the enemies, the release of all Polish prisoners, and
the pledge to keep the Lithuanian