Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014



Barack Obama's Air Force One jet touched down in Tallinn today. Thus, he becomes the first US President ever to visit one of the three Baltic Nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Why bestow such an honor on such a tiny region? Barack wants to reward them for joining NATO ten years ago. At the time, many questioned the logic of the move. Surely it wasn't smart to anger Russia, their powerful and petroleum-rich Eastern neighbor? But after Putin's bold invasion of the Ukraine...suddenly joining a rival military alliance is a brilliant plan!

To help our readers better understand these three small and often forgotten countries, here are Ten Fun Facts about the Baltics:

BALTIC STATES LOVE THE USA. Prior to World War II, Hitler and Stalin secretly met. It was agreed that the USSR could take Finland and the Baltic States if Germany was allowed to take Poland and Czechoslovakia. After the war, Russia never gave the Baltics back. While Western Europe ignored their pleas, the US steadfastly never recognized Soviet occupation and was the first nation to establish relations after (re) independence in 1990. Hence, most in the region see the US as their top ally.

PLENTY OF RUSSIANS STILL LIVE THERE. During the fifty years of Soviet occupation, many Russians moved to the Baltic States for their superior climate. After independence, they stayed. Today 26% of Latvians and 23% of Estonians list Russian as their first language. However, in Lithuania only 5% of their population is of Russian origin. These nations are historical enemies and simply do not get along.

NONE OF THE BALTIC STATES ARE ORTHODOX. While most nations in the region are Eastern Orthodox, the Baltic States are different.  Influenced by Scandinavia, Estonia and Latvia are solidly Lutheran. To the South, Lithuania is Roman Catholic.

NONE OF THE BALTIC STATES USE THE CYRILLIC ALPHABET. Linguistically, the three nations are also linked to the West. The Baltic Branch of the Indo-European language family is small. It contains Latvian, Lithuanian and now extinct Old Prussian. Estonian is in the Finno-Ugric group and is completely incomprehensible to the rest of the world.

LITHUANIA WAS ONCE A MAJOR POWER. In the year 1392, the Great Grand Duke Vytautus expanded his kingdom's borders. From the capital Riga, Lithuania stretched as far as the Black Sea. The legendary Battle of Grunwald in 1410 saw the defeat of the Teutonic Knights. Historians see this as the consummate medieval battle. It is reenacted every year on July 15th.

LATVIA'S FLAG HAS A GRUESOME PAST. Way back in the year 1279, Latvians in the city of Cesis were under siege. When an arrow struck and killed the chief, angry soldiers took their white shirts and dipped them in the dead leader's blood. They waved them in the air as they rose to victory. Since then, various uses of a red stripes on a white background have been used. NOTE: Latvians claim to have the oldest flag on earth.

ESTONIA IS A POP MUSIC PARADISE. Although Estonia's population is only 1.3 million, they have created their own unique brand of Popular Music, complete with a Pop Chart and numerous radio stations. The peak came in 2001, when Tanel Padar won the Eurovision Song Contest.

LITHUANIA IS A BASKETBALL PARADISE. With a population of only 3 million, there are more people in a large US city than in Lithuania. Nonetheless, this nation puts together one helluva Olympic Basketball Team. They won the bronze medal three times (Sydney, Atlanta & Barcelona). Currently, there are four Lithuanians playing in the NBA.

ESTONIA OWNS A THOUSAND ISLANDS. The Baltic is home to as many islands as the Mediterranean Sea, and 1,521 of them are in Estonian territory. Heavily forested and mostly uninhabited, the largest island is Saarema. It is a favorite for tourists as it offers unspoiled beauty and peaceful resorts.

LITHUANIA WAS THE FIRST SOVIET STATE TO SECEDE. Of the fourteen nations to break free from Soviet rule, little Lithuania was the first. March 11, 1990 was truly the beginning of the end for the mighty USSR.

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