“We know what we are, but know not what we may be,” once said William Shakespeare. This line captures the essence of identity (who we are); there is no given and fixed identity. For example, the self-concept of “Lithuanian” in the 13th, 18th and the second half of the 19th centuries involved different elements: the loyalty to one’s lord, the statehood’s exclusivity or on the linguistic-ethnic basis. The identity is retained in stories written in history textbooks, everlasting attempt to maintain traditions in the fields of education, science, culture and politics. Glory and honour for researchers of history and teachers, who patiently work in the telling of Lithuania’s history and maintaining our identity.
I will not say anything new: if we do not narrate our history – of course, scholarly justified rather than mythologized or mystified – others will do it for us and, most likely, quite differently. We will always “remain children” and, even more, we will lose our selfhood and self-esteem if we do not know our past. From history we take our stories of success which are a source of pride and spiritual strength. Moreover, by reacting to economic, social and political changes of power, we create traditions and identity of tomorrow.
Identity is the result of our interactions with one another. We are born among people and we are among them in different ways, so the relation with others defines us, our values, interests, friends and enemies. Globalization, the decline in traditional ideologies, the search of exclusivity and even vanity in the virtual world will never allow us to be in a “desert island”, that is, without other people. Even Robinson Crusoe had Friday. Turn off your mobile devices, access to social networks, try to brush it all off – you will feel a growing need to socialize and be around people, search for, present and define yourself. Being in a bigger circle of people, and institutions they have created (family, friends, relatives, people, nation or region), provides us with opportunities of security, trust and collaboration.
People deliberately congregate into groups and this naturally separates “insiders” from “aliens”. The distinction of “insiders” versus “aliens” is applied to both people and countries. The community of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia has emerged from the Soviet occupation together with the singing revolution and has transformed into permanent concern about their safety – the actions of Russia reasonably strengthen the perception of the Kremlin as “alien”.
On the other hand, the Baltic identity is more than that and giving up this identity and communication between Baltic States would be a mistake, because the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian experience in the Soviet Union, achievements of these three small countries in history – to be independent, to choose their own direction and to become stronger in the Western world – show the Baltic sustainability in times of geopolitical hardship. “We are the winners!” the Baltic identity discovers more and more ways of contact and cooperation with the Northern European countries.
“Baltoscandia is already waking up,” wrote former Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Ažubalis. She is awoken, and trying to awake other European countries, especially after Putin’s ideological megalomania, corruption and brutal autocracy. You should read tweets of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Carl Bildt or President of Estonia Tomas Hendrik Ilves. US President Barack Obama’s visit in Tallinn gave Baltic leaders an opportunity to discuss threats to regional security and continuous cooperation with the United States. We have to offer our own input, not just ask for something. A lot of political analysts tend to be sceptical about Baltic unity and emphasize the lack of enthusiasm to communicate. Economic interests can separate relatives, let alone countries. The power of small states with similar historical experience and geopolitical situation is usually limited. Therefore, this trust in the support of another small country and collaboration with stronger countries or a wish to join their blocks is a logical result in the global world.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have linguistic, religious and cultural differences, but they are on the decrease. English or even what us playfully called “Baltlish” languages tear down communicative barriers; religiosity is on the decline in Northern Europe, Europeanisation and common political practice make us more similar in the context of the European Union, or even lay foundation for the future region of Baltoscandia. Whether it is good or bad is a political or even ideological question, however, it does not deny the fact that today the Balts are more similar than ever before, and this can be used as a base for political collaboration.
More frequent communication among the Baltic (and Nordic) leaders of the highest rank and implementation of collective, though short-term, innovative projects, increasing security would be both practically useful and would maintain the spirit of the Baltic Way. The coordinated and tangible help for Ukraine could be a stimulus to move from words to actions and it would also give something to think about for the “insiders” called Europeans.
Mindaugas Jurkynas is a professor at the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy of Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas.