Through Alexander Bretttravel editor
The Croft Magazine // The Baltic states, clinging to the side of Russia, are cheap for students, but an odd collection of tech startups and run-down dumps.
I have already said that Europe is characterized by its “clusters within a cluster”. Well, the Baltic Entente, clinging to the side of Russia, is one such group: bridging the gap between Finland and the rest of the continent. It consists of three small nations: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These are countries thirty years after their separation from the Soviet Union and twenty years after their accession to the European Union. But, while all have joined the single currency and liberal social structures, Lithuania and Latvia still look like outposts of the communist empire, while Estonia erased its 20th century to raise a mini aspirant Nordic.
In August 2020, I bridged the gap: traveling from Vilnius, through Riga, to Tallinn, along the route of the “Baltic Chain”: the line of human hands, formed by two million people the 23rd August 1989, asking for independence from the Soviet Union. Unlike Prague, these towns did not become a party capital after communism, and are still home to a group of uneducated, travelless old ladies who cling to conservatism with a small “c”, as well as a good handful of tracksuits. gopniks.
Upon landing at Vilnius airport, I was driven to my downtown hotel (a vast former monastery, where I was the only guest). The next morning I woke up to a shattered town of dilapidated, overgrown, frozen houses covered in a layer of industrial dirt, sometimes with specks of Catholic color. Lithuania, indeed, is the only Catholic country in the region, a by-product of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, with a single monarch from 1569 to 1795. Lithuania, too, in August 2020, seemed to be the only country where the coronavirus pandemic has been accepted. Here, masks were mandatory inside. In Latvia and Estonia, there were no masks or hand sanitizers in sight.
Anyway, after dodging the small presidential motorcade, I walked through a forest to the Vilnius TV tower, the socialist structure characteristic of communist cities. On a turning glacier, 165 meters above sea level, I looked over a sea of concrete blocks towards Belarus. Then, after a lunch of cepelinai dumplings, back in the medieval center, I stocked up on newspapers and food for the bus ride. This southern stage was that of peasants in vast fields, living in decrepit wooden houses with Russian-style windows. Falling asleep, the day darkening, I crossed the border and sailed to Riga.
With the end of Lithuanian modernism, Riga’s monetary and cultural poverty was all the more apparent. This backwater of strong balm and dried fish is ruled by the giant structure occupied by the Latvian Academy of Sciences, known to locals as “Stalin’s birthday cake.” Escape on a 70s train more suitable for the third world, I had lunch in Jurmala, where money had flowed to create a seaside resort. Then he was back to pick up my suitcase and head to my final stop. The northern leg was through the strewn forest, after crossing the border, with the occasional white town.
Here in Estonia the roads were smooth, the language Finnish and the people pretty. With a population of barely one million, it is a microstate occupying a normal landscape. Tallinn (with its cobbled streets and Vana Tallinn booze) still feels cut off, though the self-driving buses, proper broadcast, and food from the palace gardens welcome you back to civilization. It’s a nation where residents even vote online, and with Skype and its start-ups, it’s clear that Estonia has successfully launched itself into the future, leaving its southern neighbors struggling. And, while his constant bickering over snuggling up to Finland (they even share a national anthem tune but, believe me, it’s one-sided admiration) is irritating, you can’t help but admire them. get out of the rubble.
Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett