The Baltic Sea is almost fresh in its northern arms but also very polluted from industries on all sides.

The western side is dominated by the descendants of a group of Germanic peoples who settled there. The languages, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are related and mutually intelligible, making a cultural area. Finland is included though the language is different. There is a Nordic Council for mutual cooperation and at one time it was possible that a Scandinavian Common Market might have been formed. The main division was between those which were members of NATO: Norway, Denmark and Iceland; and those which are neutral: Sweden and Finland. As the need for NATO evaporates, this distinction may become less important. However, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also joined NATO along with Poland.

Denmark, Sweden and Finland are members of the European Union. The Norwegian people rejected entry in a referendum. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined in 2004, with Poland, so that the Baltic is now surrounded by EU territory, except for Kaliningrad and St Petersburg.

In Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland there is a common political culture of social democracy: good education and welfare services paid for by relatively high taxation levels (much higher than in the United States). Traditionally the difference between rich and poor has been narrower than in the unrestricted free market, low taxation, countries. The Scandinavians see a danger that they will compelled by the European Union to dismantle their welfare systems - much as Canadians fear the North American Free Trade Area - NAFTA.

Eastern Shore
On the eastern side are a variety of peoples. In Finland and Estonia are Finno-Ugrian speakers originally from Central Eurasia (but it is possible their ancestors were there before the Indo-Europeans). In Russia and Poland are Slavs. Lithuania and Latvia are another group of Indo-European speakers whose languages are not closely related to either Slavs or Germanic languages.

The three formerly Soviet Baltic republics have joined the European Union. The Estonian language is mutually intelligible with Finnish. It is possible that the Baltic states will evolve towards the Scandinavian norm and unlikely that they will fall back under the control of Russia. However, they have tended to adopt low flat tax regimes. The policy of President Putin may be ominous as he seems to be trying to reconstruct the Soviet Union and the Russian minorities in these former Soviet states may be a pretext for intervention.

Southern shore
Germany occupies the southern shore.

In medieval times the Germans dominated the eastern shore through the Order of Teutonic Knights who saw themselves as being crusaders converting the heathen. But they also brought in German settlers to what became East Prussia and founded new trading cities, some of which formed the Hanseatic League, a loose trading confederation linked by maritime trade. (They developed the pound sterling = Easterling).

Later, in the 17th century, Sweden dominated the eastern shore, occupying Finland, Estonia and parts of Lithuania. Russia replaced Sweden as the dominant power in the 18th century especially after Peter Romanov built his capital at St Petersburg. In the 20th century the three Baltic states were briefly independent from 1920 to 1939. Following the second world war the Baltic was a divide in the Cold War with NATO bases in Denmark and Norway, and Soviet bases in Poland, East Germany and the Baltic states (and by treaty at Porkkala in Finland). Most of the Germans were expelled or fled before the Soviet army. Now, it may become a Scandinavian lake and a connection between the successors of the Soviet Union and western Europe.

Baltic Council
In 1992 all the Baltic countries plus Norway and Iceland formed a Baltic Council for consultation.

All the bordering states are now members of the EU - except the former Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad) and Russia itself.

Gas pipeline
Russia and Germany have built a gas pipeline through the Baltic to supply Russian gas to western European - especially Germany. The intention of Russia (Putin) is probably to avoid disputes with Ukraine and Belarus over transit fees, and to reassure western Europeans that the gas will not be interrupted by third parties. But of course by tying western Europe to Russian gas Putin has created a dependency.

Last revised 8/07/12


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