Changing Identities of the Baltic States: Three Memories in Stone

  • Abstract:

    Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (commonly referred to as Baltic States) since the restoration of their independence in 1990-1991, have been redefining their place on the political scene. Together with the other newly emerged countries in the post-Soviet space, the three countries needed to undergo the process of the nation-building, to find their self in their new reality which was no longer created and manipulated by the Soviets. Despite some superficial similarities in the self-depiction of these countries since the beginning of the nineties (resistance to anything “Soviet”-related, general pro-Western attitudes etc.), a lot of the problems each of the countries faced were unique (e.g. the problem with the minorities in Lithuania is much less grave than in Estonia and Latvia). In this context, the question that seems necessary to raise is how do these states claim their identity, how these processes differ in the three countries and to which extent are they similar? This paper, therefore, is aimed as an inquiry of the nation-building processes in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since their breakaway from the USSR. To do so, I will use the analysis of one of the important components of the identity – the sense of place or, more specifically, the role of the statues and monuments in its construction. Disputes around the removal of the ‘Bronze Soldier’ can be seen as one of the many examples of the ability of monuments (and statues) to evoke particular kinds of feelings in people when only few remained indifferent to the whole matter. Since there is no inherent identity of the place and the only thing that matters is the meaning and sense people are giving to it, the study of the monuments and their changing biographies and narratives could help to better understand the processes in the society. Moreover, it can provide a valuable insight on the possibilities and challenges of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia to develop communities of shared values and to finally stop living in the shade of their “post-Sovietness”.