Do you ever get tired of the "Baltic States"? I do. I find it a counterintuitive construction for several reasons, beyond the obvious linguistic factors.
One constant source of irritation is "Baltic history" books that try to somehow address only Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania yet always manage to drag Poland and Finland into the mix.
You see, you can't really discuss Lithuanian history without discussing Polish history. That is because for a large period of time both countries were part of a unified state -- Rzeczpospolita, the commonwealth of Polish-Lithuania.
Likewise with Estonia, it is difficult to discuss the Estonian national movement or the Estonian War of Independence without addressing the involvement of Finland. You can't really discuss the background of Kalevipoeg without bringing up the Kalevala. The histories are mixed.
The greatest myths, though, are to be found in the "Latvian" history books, which spend about as much time discussing Germans, Russians, Poles, and other nationalities as they do discussing Latvians proper. Try to write a history of Latvia without discussing Baltic Germans. You can't.
Current Baltic unity is part convenience, part institutional. Nobody wants to have an "Estonian" policy. They want to have a "Baltic" policy. While Condoleezza Rice might be content to meet with her Icelandic counterpart one on one -- she would not feel a pressing need to invite Denmark, Norway, and representatives from Greenland and the Faroe Islands. But when it comes to Estonians, it's preferential to lump them in with the boys down south.
And people wonder why it is so hard for these countries to agree on anything. Instead of asking why don't they get along, perhaps we should ask, why should they get along? Poland and Finland are also both formerly tsarist, both have felt the Russian threat in past decades, both are situated on the Baltic Sea -- yet no one expects them to formulate a common policy. Catholic Poland and Lutheran Finland are allegedly too different, yet Catholic Lithuania and Lutheran Estonia supposedly have more in common. They are "former Soviet republics" ... like Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan.
Coming back to the counterintuitive -- the orientations of these countries are different. Estonia, a country of islands and bays, is oriented to the north and west. Estonians have local names for Helsinki and Turku and the Aaland Islands. I know where Kotka is, and not only that, I know what Kotka, Lahti, and Joensuu mean.
When it comes to Lithuania though, I am a bit more sketchy. And not only does your average eestlane probably not know where Kalvarija is, the characters there are more foreign. Belarusians? Poles? Latgallians? Kaliningraders? How are Estonians really supposed to take part in constructing meaningful policy over a neighborhood that is unknown to them? And furthermore, how exactly did Estonia get to be perceived as belonging to that neighborhood?
The antidote to this odd political entity known as "the Baltic States" has been supranational organizations and activities -- regional programs that are based on a defined regional self interest, ideas as familiar as the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or the Northern Dimension.
Estonians no longer are expected to have identical policies to Latvians. Instead sometimes they can work with Latvia and other times they can work with Sweden. This reconceptualization of Northern Europe is based around economic interest and common history, rather than linguistic borders .
This is the vision of the future put forward by Danish diplomat Uffe Elleman-Jensen, chairman of the Baltic Development Forum. This modern day Danish strategist sees a Baltic sea region stitched together by Scandinavian banks and transport companies enriching not only the Nordics, Baltics, and everything in between, but also the St. Petersburg region. A modern day Swed, er, Hansa League, if you will.
Perhaps Elleman-Jensen has the correct conceptualization of the region, one that is more true to its historical, linguistic, and economic realities than the ones that seem so convenient on paper, but often turn to stumbling blocks.