For the past two and half decades, the Baltic Sea Region has been a hub bustling with commercial activity
The region is made of dynamic economies, which have experienced rapid structural change and growth.
The Baltic Sea is a major outlet of trade flowing in and out of the region. Many of the countries along the Baltic shores are also significant players in European politics and global affairs.
Seen in a historical perspective, this state of affairs is hardly unusual. Given the size and weight of the major Baltic powers such as Germany and Russia, the ‘Baltic World’, to borrow a term from the British historian David Kirby, over time accrued more importance than its mere geographic position in Europe’s northern periphery would have warranted.
In the Cold War the Baltic Sea Region, however, was one of its many frozen fronts.
While it would be wrong to say that traditional links and forms of commercial and societal interaction ceased there altogether, the levels fell far below what the historical record and the inherent potential of the Baltic World would have suggested.
Then came 1989, the annus mirabilis in recent European history.
The year of the opening of the Berlin Wall, the end of real existing socialism in Europe and the final, closing acts of the Cold War that had plagued international relations since the 1940s.
By 1992 the face of Europe had changed almost beyond recognition. The two Germanies were again united in one, powerful state.
The Soviet Union had fallen apart, with the Russian Federation succeeding what remained of it, and the three Baltic Republics had regained their independence.
As a mirror image of eastern disintegration was western integration. The European Community’s internal market project took leaps ahead with the so called 1992 agenda, and the community itself was transformed into the European Union established in the Treaty of Maastricht that year. The first post-Cold War enlargement with Austria, Sweden and Finland lined up for membership, was by 1992 well underway.
Given the constellation of the stars lighting the Baltic World after 1989, it was natural to have high expectations of the future. To a large extent these expectations were fulfilled in the following two decades.
Economically, the boom of the 2000s was nearly unprecedented, fuelled by rapid growth in Russia, in Poland and the Baltic states, and also in the more established economies of Germany and Sweden.
Denmark and Finland also experienced high growth.
Politically, the older, western democracies of the Baltic World remained constant. After the somewhat uncertain first steps of the 1990s, the political systems of Poland and the Baltic states stabilized remarkably, and became functioning democracies with effective governments.
The Baltic World, in many ways was and has been a beacon of success, and maybe the best example of a post-Cold War transition that has fulfilled the promises of 1989. The euro-zone memberships of Estonia and Latvia in 2011 and 2014 respectively have only proven the point.
The current perspective, none the less, is less bright than that of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall in 2009.
Economic growth rests on less solid foundations than it seemed still some years ago. The Baltic World’s ability to breathe a new life into their economies has not disappeared, but they are gasping. While this condition is a symptom of wider changes in the European and global economies, the Baltic World, as it appears, has entered a new era.
Much of this change has to do with developments in Russia. Already before the political crisis with Ukraine blew into a military confrontation, Russia’s economy had turned to a downward cycle. This is unlikely to be a passing phase. With the EU-economy in trouble as a whole, and little help to be expected from the outside, the inner dynamism of the Baltic World is not enough to pull it from its current problems.
Rising military tension, witnessed by incidents and activity involv ing Russian craft in air and at sea, does not help to alleviate the situation. The Baltic Sea has once again become a spot, where different worlds meet, and this meeting is not without difficulties.
It is not also the first time the Baltic World has seen reversals of fortunes and internal power shifts. The dynamism of the remaining members of the region is still there, and recent events in Russia and Ukraine, has only served to increase their interaction and consolidate the political, economic and military bonds between them.
The Baltic World continues to unify, and in the future will prosper too.
In this way it still fulfills the promise of 1989. But with Russia ab sent from this communion, there is cloud with a dark lining hovering over it.
The inhabitants of the Baltic World will do wisely, if they will pay the attention to it, it deserves.