The Baltics: More famous than you might think

  • 2005-09-07
Take a trip to any part of the world and the phrase "I come from the Baltics" is likely to be met with confused looks of wonder and confusion. "The Balkans?" people reply. But more and more, this part of the world finds itself in the news. As the Baltics emerge as independent countries after years of occupation, the world is getting a better sense of their unique identity. A common question might follow: "What are the people like?" To assist in answering this question, TBT staff has put together a list of some of the most famous and maybe not so famous people with connections to the Baltics.

Mikhail Baryshnikov 's Latvia - Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov was born in Riga in 1948. He started dancing in 1960. He studied in Leningrad under the famous Aleksander Pushkin and began to make a name for himself early on in his career. In 1974, Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union and started dancing with the American Ballet Theatre. He has become the face of ballet not only in cultural circles but among common people and has been described by dance critics as "the most perfect dancer of all time."

Zydrunas Ilgauskas 's Lithuania - This 30-year- old Kaunas native joined the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball League for the 1997 season. The 7'3'', 230 pound center has remained with Cleveland since being drafted. He was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team in 2002-2003.

Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn - Estonia 's These three Estonian born computer geniuses were only in their twenties when they invented Kazaa in collaboration with a Swedish programming company. Kazaa, a peer to peer file sharing program, allows people to find virtually any song or movie on the internet'ssometimes even before it is officially released'sand download it for free. But the trio insists they never thought of creating it to bypass buying licensed music, movies and software. Says their official spokesman, "Consumers decide what to do with the tool. You can't blame the tool maker." The three have also had a hand in creating two other famous programs 's Skype and Hotmail.

Auric Goldfinger 's Latvia 's Goldfinger is a millionaire industrialist, the founder of Goldfinger Industries and one of the richest men in England. He defected from Soviet occupied Latvia and opened a small jewelry store in London like his father and grandfather had done before him in Riga. His empire includes factories, biological institutes, horse breeding farms and research facilities. He has the largest private gold reserve in the world. So what if he's a product of Ian Fleming's imagination and a James Bond character? We can still credit him to Latvia, can't we?

Mart Poom - Estonia - The Estonian Giant, as he is affectionately called, was born in Tallinn in 1972. Mart Poom started playing football in 1979, and has played at home in Estonia, as well as in Finland, Switzerland and England. The Estonian goalkeeper made his English Premier League debut at the end of the 1996/97 season in front of a nail-biting crowd of 55,000, against Manchester United. He currently plays for Arsenal.

Uljana Semjonova 's Latvia 's Semjonova was born in 1952 in Daugavpils, Latvia. At seven feet tall, she is the tallest female basketball player ever to play in the Olympic Games. Semjonova's team won the Soviet Union women's basketball championship 15 times and the European Champion's Cup 15 times. It is an anstonishing fact that her team never lost a game in international competition in 18 years of play. This basketball superstar won an amazing 45 medals and was the first non-U.S. woman to be admitted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Charles Bronson 's Lithuania 's This rough and tumble Hollywood star of "The Magnificent Seven," "The Great Escape" and "Death Wish" fame was originally born as Charles Buchinski to Lithuanian parents in Pennsylvania. But wait, is he really Lithuanian? The Latvians claim him as theirs …

Mark Rothko 's Latvia - Born Marcus Rothkovich in Daugavpils, Rothko is one of the world's best-known 20th century abstract painters. In 1913, his family emigrated from Latvia to the U.S.A. Rothko's work is regarded to have made major contributions to the world of abstract art and his works are some of the most recognized 20th century paintings. He has been exhibited at some of the most prestigious galleries in the world including the Metropolitan Museum, the Tate Gallery and the Guggenheim.

Carmen Kass 's Estonia 's The whole world loves Estonian born Carmen Kass- the model for Christian Dior's perfume "J'adore." Not just another pretty face, she is president of the Estonian National Chess League and, while she didn't win, received almost 2,000 votes when she ran for election to the European Parliament in 2004.

Monica Lewinsky 's Lithuania

It may not be something that Lithuanians want to advertise, but America's favorite presidential home wrecker is of Lithuanian heritage.

Mena Suvari - Estonia - The object of Kevin Spacey's fantasies in the film ''American Beauty '' (1999) has Estonian heritage 's Mena Suvari's father is Estonian. She has been acting since she was 12 and has appeared extensively in both television and films perhaps most notably as Heather in the first two American Pie films.