Finally, the moment we've been working for - membership to the European bloc. Membership to a group of nations that values freedom and equality. Membership to an economic union that provides for and looks after its less developed nation-states. Membership to - in a word - civilization.
What a delectable word it is - civilization. Two months after the Council of Europe was established in Strasbourg in 1949 to lay the foundation for a qualitatively new level of continental cooperation, what is commonly referred to as the birthday of the European Union, 42,000 Latvians were shanghaied onto cattle carts and mercilessly dumped in the Siberian wasteland. Over the following years, hundreds of thousands of Balts were deported, repressed, humiliated and killed. In the meantime, a determined Western Europe continued on the path to unification - liberalizing trade, tearing down borders, issuing a common currency, setting up a court to review human rights violations - so that on May 1, 2004, it could eventually absorb the countries that had become hapless victims of totalitarian communism.
Naturally, membership didn't come easy. A vast sea of legislation needed to be translated, reviewed, debated, negotiated over, and finally, adopted. Most of the 10 acceding states will burn the midnight oil on April 30 to ram all the amendments through their parliamentary systems. A few might even be tardy.
The crucial thing to remember here is that, as President Vaira Vike-Freiberga stresses (see interview on Page 18), the lengthy accession process was all about membership, and membership is all about improving the lives of ordinary citizens. In other words, the most important part starts now. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will only receive as much benefit out of membership as they are prepared to take. How large the net gain will be for the most part depends upon how well each country works (granted, Eurocrats have been known to drag their feet on processing their paperwork). The European Union is about opportunity, but the opportunity is finite.
So after a couple days of celebration, the hard work begins. The Baltics will bring up the bottom of the EU25 (in terms of GDP per capita), and only by displaying the same perseverance and dedication that got them to the bloc will they be able to climb up its ladder of prosperity. Given their unique set of advantages - cheap labor, trilingualism, proximity to the East - there's no reason why the Baltic states, in another 10 years time, can't become an economic model for other countries to emulate.