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UPDATED: Baltic states: please stop calling us «former Soviet» countries

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23 Comments | Politics

The ambassadors of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have written to German media asking them to discontinue the routine practice of referring to the three independent, democratic republics as "former Soviet" countries.

The Facebook page of Latvia's embassy in Germany confirms that the ambassador in Germany, Elita Kuzma has signed a letter to news outlet Die Zeit following a recent report, along with her counterparts from Estonia and Lithuania. 

The letter says it is historically and legally inaccurate to refer to the three countries as successor states to the Soviet Union. All three countries were independent from 1918 until 1940 and were then occupied for half a century before regaining their freedom in 1991.

"The Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian ambassadors have sent a joint letter to Die Zeit's online version, asking for the Baltic States not to be called successor states of the Soviet Union because it is not consistent with historical truth and is contrary to international law," accompanying text says.

The letter was sent in the former Prussian capital, Berlin.

You can read the full text (in German) HERE.

It is worth noting that one the series of articles under the banner "The Legacy of the Soviet Union" to which the ambassadors draw the attention of the Die Zeit editors was actually written by Sergejs Potapkins - a member of the Latvian parliament with the opposition Harmony party and a member of the Saeima's Foreign Affairs committee. His contribution does however note that independence was "regained" in 1991.

Germany, which was unified under Bismarck in 1871 from a variety of smaller states and principalities, is not alone in having parts of its media routinely referring to the Baltic states as "ex-Soviet" or "former Soviet".

News outlets in the former Roman and Norman colony of Great Britain, the former Carolingian territories of the Holy Roman Empire and former Grand Monarchy of France, and the former British and French colonies in North America have also been known to do the same thing.

Curiously the tendency is less prevalent in the former Warsaw Pact countries and even in the former Tsarist Empire and former dominions of the Golden Horde to the east of Latvia.

See, it does get a bit silly after a while.

Komentāri (23)

Janis

The differences between the examples given in the article and the Baltic States is that being in the Soviet Union is both in living memory and has deep effects on the current state of the Baltic countries.
LSM_eng

LSM_eng

That's perfectly true Janis. We could have cited Vichy France, divided Germany and so on, but we decided to keep the tone fairly light.
RMazurs

RMazurs

I wonder if Russia is ever called a “former Soviet country”.
Gregor Fröhlich

Gregor Fröhlich

You can be sure about that. And in general "Russia" and "Soviet Union" are often used as synonyms in western states.

Janis

It's disingenuous to compare the effect of the Vichy regime on modern France to the effect of the Soviet occupation on Latvia. As much as Latvians hate to admit it, both Soviet and post Soviet thought are still persuasive in Latvia. When this mindset is gone people will stop referring to Latvia as as a former Soviet state.
RMazurs

RMazurs

I am pretty sure that whole “Occupied by Nazis” made a good point to French that peace with Germany should last longer than 20 years, thus they subscribed to the whole idea of EU. And I am sure it has made some impact on French politics.

Matiss

True, but how can Baltic states get rid of this thinking if we are constantly reminded of it, are labeled and categorised wtihin it?

Krisjanis

"The letter was sent in the former Prussian capital, Berlin." - made my day. Keep it up, LSM! :)
Gregor Fröhlich

Gregor Fröhlich

Well, this thing gets blown out of proportion pretty badly and the ambassadors letter is quite embarrasing. Let's get the facts right: It's 25 years since the end of the Soviet Union, so "Die Zeit" publishes a series of articles about the states situated on its former territory, with the focus on how they are still affected by the soviet legacy.
In the short introduction to the series all these states get subsummised under the term "Nachfolgestaaten", which expresses exactly what I just wrote, a state on the site of a former state.
That's all. None of the Baltic states is called itself a “former” or “ex-soviet state. The article about Latvia also makes clear, that it was already an indepent state before 1940 which regained independency 1991. I can see no reasons for complaints here.
I wonder, what the ambassadors would prefer: That “Die Zeit” excludes their countries from this series and act like the wouldn't have a soviet past?

Uh

If that's the case then it acctually is even better founded than if they had said "former Soviet" - Baltic States were established in 1918 and legally continued to exit during Soviet occupation, that's exactly why independence was restored, not established, therefore these are not countries replacing the Soviet Union after it collapsed, Soviet Union didn't even exist yet when these countries were established.

Mad Cow

Latvia looks and feels like a Soviet country, so who cares? If it weren't for Western cars a few modern supermarkets and better clothing that we wear I'd say we might as well be back in 1985 :)

Latons

Runā tikai savā vārdā. Laikam Trakā govs nav dzīvojusi padomju laikos, ka šitādas muļķības raksta..

smith

Basically like every country in the world...

Anna

Dutch journalists and statisticians go to Russia, New York and Australia instead of "former soviet republic of Russia", "former Nieuw Amsterdam" and "former Nieuw Holland", but in their publications some still use "ex soviet landen", "voormalige sovjet landen" and "voormalige Sovjetrepublieken" when they write about the Baltics nowadays. Some of those articles are written by journalists born in 1988 or later - recent university graduates who have not experienced and can not remember the SU. It is a habit that can be weeded out by creating awareness and some explaining.

asdfg

Referring to Baltic states as ex-soviet countries may be justified if the material is about the effects of Soviet past - economical, demographic, cultural etc. but otherwise it is quite unnecessary. We usually do not say "city of Munich in former West Germany is known for it beer festival" or something like that. But if we want to talk specifically about, for example, the post war division of Germany and its impact on united Germany then it sounds legit.

as

In Berlin in former Nazi country! How is that? Fair enough!

mlee

Exactly- who cares how a former nazi country and today's honey for rapists calls someone else. They just want to feel better than someone.
duelffer

duelffer

Please note, that ZEIT ONLINE immediately changed the teaser to the series and replyed to the letter via Twitter, where it was published by the ambassy of Lithuania. twitter.com As always we made the changes transparent in the infobox that is included in each article of the series.

Latvian

Cool, thanks very much
mrserge

mrserge

How about info on what was updated in article?

Whut?

Give a cat milk and it will ask for soure-cream.
John Valenciacf

John Valenciacf

Though it's quite usual for people to make geographic mess-ups. I know several Latvian media outlets that wrongly call The Netherlands "Holland" and The United Kingdom "Great Britain" for example, even though they are not the same.

And if we're striving for accuracy, there never was a Roman or Norman colony of Great Britain: most or all of Scotland was independent in both cases.

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