What does Pribaltika mean?


Pribaltika (Прибалтика) is a Russian term, that when translated literally means „ by the Baltic Sea“. Although that term is not used for all of the countries by the Baltic Sea. For example, Sweden or Germany have never been referred to as Pribaltika – this is reserved for areas that have at one time been part of Russia or the Soviet Union.

Historically the term „Pribaltika governorate“ was first used for Estonia, Livonia and Courland as part of the Russian empire at the end of the 19th century, previously these same areas had been called Ostsee governorate (Ostsee – Baltic sea in German) and was renamed due to Russification policies. Pribaltika was also used for Lithuanian areas and occasionally when discussing Finland when referring to nations under Tsarist rule.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania having attained independence after the First World War were again referred to Pribaltika only after the Soviet Union occupation. „Soviet Pribaltika“ was widely used in the Russian language and filled a pseudo configuration in the USSR for former independent nations.

Is Pribaltika a geographical term in current Russian vocabulary? For example, Lithuanian philosopher and Cultural theorist, Gintautas Mažeikis believes that the issue is not an innocent naming of a place but it reflects the attempts at a revival of the Soviet era. In his view, the use of Pribaltika expresses an imperialist attempt to treat the Baltic nations as part of the Russian sphere of influence, “naš”-region („ours“ region). As opposed to „Baltic nations“  (страны or государства Балтии), that recognizes Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian choices and independence.

Of course, the Russian media oppose Mažeikis’ opinion. For example in the opinion of Russian Baltic (or actually directly translated as Pribaltika) research association President, Nikolai Meževitš, every language has the right to name things as they see fit. There is nothing political in the name Pribaltika, seeing this, as a spectre is typical Baltic paranoia, Russo phobia, and the desire to deny their Soviet past. (His being mentioned in the Kapo (Estonian State police agency) yearbook and his propaganda attack on a nuclear plant shows the truth behind the so-called impartiality of Meževitš). Obviously, we could ignore the Russian language use of the term Pribaltika but we should not, due to the Kremlin propaganda machine use in its information war against the Baltic nations.

The ridiculing of their Baltic neighbours’ independence, the denial of the Soviet Union having occupied the Baltic’s and with the desire to create an ethnic-based divide, it is essential to stress importance on an ideologically relevant name.

Do you consider the term Pribaltika ideologically charged?

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Pictures: Baltic region map dated 1730. Saamiblog/Flickr/CC