Baltic Minority Groups

Russians have been the largest minority group in the Baltic region since the Soviet period. Soviet authorities encouraged Russians to immigrate to the Baltic States. So many Russians flooded the cities that in Riga and Tallinn, Latvians and Estonians were actually a minority.

After independence, the large numbers of Russians in Estonia and Latvia were perceived as a threat. Consequently, both Latvia and Estonia have passed local laws that reflect anti-Russian sentiments.

Such laws include the restriction of languages other than Estonian or Latvian to be used officially. Russian language schools, newspapers, and television channels have been restricted.

Estonia and Latvia refused to grant Russian residents citizenship after independence. Therefore, Russians, who are approximately 20% of the population, have been without voting rights in these countries.

Lithuania in comparison has been more tolerant to its Russian population.

The new independent Lithuania did not see its Russian minority population as posing as great a threat, because it has a larger native Lithuanian population in comparison to Estonia and Latvia’s native populations.

The second largest ethnic minority in the Baltic region is the Polish

Polish Minority protest against school reorganisation held in Vilnius
Polish Minority protest against school reorganisation held in Vilnius

Lithuania has the highest number of Polish minorities.  This is attributed to Lithuania’s former unification with Poland as an empire. There are Polish minorities in Estonia and Latvia, though they are in far fewer numbers.

Belarusians are another minority group within the region.

The majority of Belarusians are Russian speakers. Most of the regional minority resides in Latvia.

Ukrainians are a newer minority to the region. Many have come only in the past few decades. Few ethnic Ukrainians actually have Baltic citizenship.

The Jewish minority is very small in comparison to other groups.

The number has always been small, but the Jewish population was virtually destroyed during World War II.  However, since independence, their number has greatly increased.

The largest Jewish population of the Baltics resides in Latvia.

The presence of Roma has increased in recent years.

This group is politically unrepresented. Roma are victims of human rights violations in each of the Baltic States. Roma usually live in the poorest conditions, as is the case throughout much of Eastern Europe.

The German minority has greatly decreased since the mid-20th century. There are fewer than 9,000 Germans in all three Baltic States. This decrease is mostly the result of emigration in the past few decades.

References:

  1. Peteris Zvidrins, Characteristics of the Minorities in the Baltic States
  2. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania Introduction