The Baltic Region

2020 Vol. 12 №3

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The transformation of the Baltic countries’ political elites: general and specific features



This research focuses on the features and transformations of power groups and their role in the political life of the societies of the Baltic countries. This article aims to analyse structural and functional changes in the composition of the Baltic political elites after these countries gained independence in the 1990s. The main objective of this research is to reveal the general and the specific in the transformations of Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian elites. Changes in the structure of power groups are considered on a sub-regional scale in view of the current Russian-Baltic political interaction. The common and distinctive features in the transformations of Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian elites are identified. Quantitative methods of analysis are used to detect trends in the selection of channels and mechanisms of elite recruitment. The study of power groups concentrated on both large-scale socio-political transformations and individual practices. A comprehensive examination of elite transformation in small states such as the Baltics requires the consideration of both domestic and foreign policy aspects. The thesis is put forward that despite some differences between the Baltic States their political elites have undergone very similar transformations since the 1990s. At the time, Baltic elites asserted continuity with pre-war Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia and detachment from the Soviet past. The 1990s elite struggle for power led to sharp ethnic, linguistic and political divides in Baltic societies. These rifts limit competition between power groups and reduce the ability of political systems to renew themselves. Having reached the ‘back to the West’ goal, Baltic elites replaced it with the idea of ‘Russian threat’. Bridging internal divides, which may weaken the power of the elites, was postponed as a result.