The Dregs of Independence: What the Baltic States Have Come to After 30 Years of Economic Autonomy

By the early 1990s the Baltic Republics had modern manufacturing and energy industries, quality roads, and well-equipped seaports.

November 27th marked the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Law on the Economic Independence of the Republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. In fact, it was the beginning of the independence of the three countries, or rather the beginning of the end.

In the Baltics they are now persistently trying to forget their Soviet heritage. But facts are facts. By the early 1990s the Baltic Republics had modern manufacturing and energy industries, a dense network of quality roads, and well-equipped seaports. It would seem that life was thriving. But no.

Alignment with Europe has turned countries with excellent potential into beggar vassals. A ruined economy, protracted financial crises, and mass fleeing abroad for work. And it’s also stupid and inexplicable stubbornness. You have Russia at your side! Yes, such an economic partner is dreamed of by the world superpowers, but why, it is better to create the image of an enemy and live off the loans of the European Union.

Although you know, it seems that the laws of economics are taking their toll. And the young generation of Latvian or Lithuanian learn not English, but Russian. They need to know how to survive the emerging world order and be successful. Elena Norkunayte writes about what the Balts had and what they got.

Political activists protesting in front of the Saeima started with attractive gifts to the authorities. After all, Christmas is coming.

When allocating budget money for the year, the Parliament cynically ignored the already adopted law on raising the wages of medical workers. From hopelessness and despair they took to the streets of Riga.

“We’ll just go in and get them out of there! They should be assembled in one bus and sent away from Latvia. They are traitors!” said a participant of the protester Peters Gimans.

Farmers strike in Lithuania – they are strangled with taxes. In Estonia, among the economic achievements is the lowest pension in the European Union. Was that what the inhabitants of the three Baltic republics dreamed of in the late 1980s?

“30 years ago, many people who are more complete, more adult – in the political and economic meaning of this word – tried to explain this to the Balts, and in response they heard that it is your typical Mordor horror, you understand nothing, we will be free now, we will heal now,” said the political scientist Armen Gasparyan.

Hand in hand, they chose their own way, breaking the window of the Soviet Union. This is what the Baltics were called until they themselves renounced their special status and all privileges.

In a law signed 30 years ago, the economic autonomy of the former union republics was enshrined in constitutions. The specifics of the region were taken into account – this is one of the fundamental principles of the document. For example, the authorities of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania themselves determined the amount of wages, pensions, and benefits. In fact, the Baltics were assigned the role of a locomotive that would be the first to go on new economic rails. But using the example of Latvia, the economist Aleksandr Gaponenko describes how this dream of perestroika was smashed to pieces.

“The influence of the Americans, who funded this exit process, was very strong. I just know how much money was given and to who,” said economist Aleksandr Gaponenko.

These are revealing details of the deal, as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania became colonies of the West – from a direct participant of the events, a former employee of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Republic.

“They’re talking about $1 billion that was poured here by the Americans. Well, for example, the participants of famous barricades near the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia received $100 – a hundred dollars back then, for the time, for every day that they stood,” said the economist.

In the late 1980s the Baltic industrial giants were at their peak. For example, 20,000 people worked at VEF – a Riga electrical engineering plant. 13,000 jobs were produced by the Soviet “Intel” – the microelectronics plant “Alfa”, which in terms of area was about 200,000 square meters!

“It’s defence. It’s space. This, if you remember, was such Soviet shuttles ‘Buran’,” recalls the former worker of one of the industrial giants of the Baltics, co-chairman of the “Latvian Russian Union” (LRU) Yury Petropavlovsky.

Yury Petropavlovsky is one of those for whom “VEF” is not an installation above a trendy nightclub, and “Alfa” is not the first letter of the Greek alphabet, especially not the name of a Riga shopping center. As a former worker of the Soviet Silicon Valley, he thinks globally, and suspects a large-scale conspiracy in the destruction of Latvia’s industry.

“It was the clearing of not Latvian, not Baltic, but of the whole former Soviet Eurasian business space,” said Yury Petropavlovsky.

It is one of the biggest shopping malls in Latvia. A hypermarket. A good illustration of how the era of production was replaced by the era of mad consumption. Several buildings of the famous Soviet electronics plant were turned into a huge shopping center, and the whole country – into a market.

“My gold is my free Latvia!” is an inscription on a bright installation. Therefore, in order to compare prices in Soviet and capitalist Riga, we will take as a basis the value of a gram of gold (8.52 and 2320) and calculate the exchange rate – it is about 1 to 270. I.e., 1 Soviet – it is 270 modern rubles. Or about €4.

Vyacheslav Altufiev, a Doctor of Economic Sciences and holder of a degree in Latvia, counts every kopeck, more precisely, every cent.

“Here, €60. ‘obkhozyaystvovaniye’ is called garbage removal,” said the Doctor of Economic Sciences Vyacheslav Altufiev, showing a bill.

He is a widower, living alone on a pension of €380. In the winter €260 is spent on housing costs, and as a result €120 remains. Or 30 Soviet rubles.

“Here, two cartons of milk, a half-eaten jar of sprats. Here’s some cooked broth. It’s for me for dinner. I remember receiving about 200 rubles, the apartment cost 50-40 – it was much less. Now I’m limiting myself. It was once said that politics is a concentrated expression of economics, but in reality this isn’t the case at the moment,” complains Vyacheslav Altufiev.

The Baltic States did not become Switzerland, and in terms of development they did not catch up with the Czech Republic and Poland. Instead of economic autonomy, mandatory EU directives were obtained.

“The European Union started to look at these republics not as industrial actors, but rather as subjects of labour supply,” said the Doctor of Sociological Sciences and political scientist Dmitry Gavra.

“Everyone in the world depends on each other, the question is what the ordinary people get from it. It should be said that when large enterprises were in operation, in the end the ordinary people lived easier,” said the Deputy of the European Parliament from Latvia (2018-2019) and Co-Chairman of the Board of the “LRU” party Miroslav Mitrofanov.

So is it any wonder that under the slogan “for the life of the nation” teachers, farmers, and health workers strike.

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