Baltic Union is located in Eastern Europe and encompasses the former Baltic States. Although the idea of unifying to some degree for the sake of mutual protection had been around in the Baltic nations since their birth, radically different historical backgrounds and consequent political differences prevented this idea from evolving into anything more than a fringe utopian ideal even as this lack of political unity repeatedly proved disastrous to the Baltic peoples. While the pre-War Baltic States did enter a number of treaties that brought them closer in early 21st century, true political unity even in the form of a loose confederacy remained elusive even as the increasingly-polarized world drew closer to the brink of destruction in the 2050's. All that changed, however, with the devastation of the Great War of 2054, and its even-more destructive aftermath.
The early groundwork that eventually led to the formation of the Baltic Union was laid by the BALTCOM Treaty of 2032, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania agreed to form a joint military command to bolster their military capabilities in the event of a Russian invasion, a step deemed necessary in the face of an ever-increasingly belligerent Russia just next door. The treaty standardized military procedures, doctrines and protocols between the armed forces of the signatories, and formed a joint chain of command that would be activated in times of emergency, allowing units from all member nations to operate on each other's soil without impediment. Poland was also invited as a non-signatory member to increase Polish-Baltic military compatibility and interoperability in case of war, being the closest ally and the likeliest source of first allied reinforcements.
The treaty never had a chance to manifest in practice when the Great War finally erupted in 2054, NATO and Eastern forces annihilating each other in a full-scale nuclear exchange.
In a rather fortunate turn of events, the Baltic States were spared the brunt of nuclear armageddon, largely owing to their close proximity to and near-encirclement by Russia, the relative lack of strategic objects and the relatively small concentration of NATO forces in the region. NATO strategists had long determined the Baltic States to be an untenable position in the event of a world war, therefore depolying only token forces to their defense, serving mainly as a deterrent. Russian military planners in turn hoped to use their close proximity and short distances involved to swiftly capture the strategic objects of the Baltics intact and then use the region as a staging ground for their further operations into Central Europe. Russian nuclear forces were also reluctant to target NATO facilities in the Baltics with strategic weapons due to prevailing Western winds that would result in a heavy fallout contamination of Russian soil.
Consequently, nuclear action in the Baltics was limited to tactical nuclear strikes against a handful of important NATO facilities. While nearby urban areas still suffered considerable collateral damage, direct casualties of the nuclear exchange were low, further limited by the advance warning of a potential escalation given by NATO intelligence services a few days before, which allowed the majority of Baltic and foreign NATO forces to mobilize and evacuate most of their manpower and equipment from facilities likely to be targeted, dispersing in the countryside. These forces were then faced with a few days of fierce fighting with a follow-up Russian invasion force. However, with much of the advanced equipment and communications crippled by the EMPs from the nuclear detonations, neither side was able to gain upper hand, Russians being largely immobilized and thrown into disarray, while the Baltic and their allied defenders were simply too few in number to mount any meaningful counterattack. As the real scale of the devastation became apparent, the survivors on neither side were willing to pursue the conflict any longer, Russian morale and discipline disintegrating as the troops began to desert en masse in order to return home and find what had become of their loved ones, Western troops in the Baltics likewise only hoping to return home. Left without any central command or control, the fighting forces simply struck an informal truce and parted their ways, their sole priority now being their own survival in the coming darkness.
While the Baltics were spared the deluge of nuclear fire that had consumed much of the North America, Western Europe, Russia and its allies, that by no means suggests they would emerge from this disaster lightly. Tens of thousands had perished during the brief hostilities and their immediate aftermath, but the worst was only to come as the nuclear twilight and nuclear winter rapidly set in. With much of the infrastructure disabled, chaos and anarchy reigned in the streets as the dazed survivors fought desperately over the rapidly-dwindling supplies, hundreds of thousands more perishing in the ensuing violence and famine. Heavy nuclear fallout blown by the prevailing winds from the West would claim additional lives.
It was at this time that the remaining Baltic and allied military units activated the BALTCOM Treaty in earnest. With no means of escaping the region, the surviving commanders adopted a cruel but necessary policy of setting up "safe zones" around the remaining military bases and strategic infrastructure objects, mercilessly hoarding all supplies and rationing them out between themselves and a small number of civilians with useful skills who managed to make it to the safe zones, leaving the rest to fend for themselves. Flocks of desperate refugees were driven away from the safe zones at gunpoint or more often than not simply gunned down after refusing to leave, stripped of their supplies and left to perish in the chilling dark of the nuclear winter. This was done not out of malice or cruelty, but the simple necessity to preserve those already inside the safe zones - a brutal reality faced by survivors who happened to find themselves on the operating end of a functional weapon pretty much everywhere else. That being said, the military forces in the Baltics did their best to save as many civilians as their limited means would allow, setting up impromptu fallout shelters and quickly restoring a number of derelict Soviet-era bunkers to operation. Even with these efforts, many safe zones eventually failed and turned upon themselves as their supplies ran out.
Baltic governments did survive the initial conflict, having taken shelter already days before the exchange. Their efforts to restore their authority in the immediate aftermath failed miserably, however, as the survivors ignored or outright turned on them in the aftermath, feeling they had failed to protect the general population. Estonian government, having generally been the most successful and competent in the decades before the war, was the only one to ride out the nuclear winter along with the civilians, albeit now as subjects of military rule. Lithuanians, however, refused to heed any further orders from their government, which had neglected to set up and provision a proper network of fallout shelters even when a global conflict was about to become inevitable. The Latvian government, which among the Baltic States had the lowest popular reputation and trust due to decades of corruption, negligence and mismanagement, suffered the worst fate - a National Guard unit whose commander was aware of their bunker's location commandeered several concrete trucks and proceeded there at considerable personal risk, literally entombing the officials who had failed their people in their own shelter to perish forsaken and forgotten by their people.
That is not to say that such fate was necessarily deserved - considerable improvements had been made in the decades before the Great War by all three of the old Baltic governments. However, seeing how much was still left to be desired, and particularly because of their lackluster preparation and response to the nuclear war, most Baltic survivors understandably felt betrayed and chose to side instead with those who could be seen taking at least some action to ensure their survival - the military.
As the nuclear winter began to thaw and dissipate around 2060, the world had all but regressed back to barbarity. All but the hardiest plant life capable of surviving deep freeze and high radiation was gone along with all the animal species that depended on it, any surviving creatures often horribly mutated by radiation. Baltic States were no exception, the frozen ruins of the old cities outside the safe zones now being inhabited only by rats, cockroaches and the occasional band of degenerate cannibals. Once lush forests were dead, only lifeless stumps standing where woodlands once stood. Much of agricultural land was contaminated with nuclear fallout and poisoned by the acid rains that had fallen in the weeks after the war. Ozone layer was gone, bombarding what little remained of life with merciless UV radiation. Things were looking rather grim even for those who had survived in the relative safety of the safezones.
Even so, life would start to make a recovery. Seeds long trapped in the frozen soil would sprout again, and first shambly farms were propped up as people from the safe zones would begin to make their first forays outside their bunkers, immediately setting to work to reclaim farmland, set up sources of drinkable water and electric energy, and restore the first vestiges of reemergent civilization.
The hydroelectric cascade on Daugava River became crucial in restarting civilization, the three power plants having survived the war remarkably intact and largely functional, becoming major community centers in their own right.
It was during this time that the largely-isolated safe zones began to reestablish contact. At first, this contact would oftentimes entail fighting almost as often as trading and mutual assistence. Since many of the commanding officers who knew each other from before the war were still alive and in charge, however, they would eventually come to an agreement that cooperation rather than competition over the limited resources was the way to go. As all of the surviving safe zones in the Baltics reestablished contact, their commanding officers agreed to form a joint command along with the old tenets of BALTCOM as the first step on the way to restoring an actual government. Since the majority of these officers held the rank of Colonel, the few with a higher rank simply lacking the means to assert their authority over the others, this time period would later become known as Rule of the Colonels. In the contemporary Baltic Union, the Colonels are held in reverence similar to the Founding Fathers of the United States, each former safe-zone community having their own revered Colonel who founded and guided it through Mankind's darkest times.
The harsh realities of the new post-nuclear world forced the Colonels and their subjects to reinvent their society from ground up. A nigh-decade in military-run bunkers with a strict regime of rationing, obligatory duties, no room for failure and no resources to spare for the weak, infirm and the slothful had already reformed the survivor communities profoundly, effectively erasing any vestiges of the pre-war civil society in lifestyle and mentality. A spartan lifestyle of military discipline and brutal efficiency was no arbitrary choice imposed by the Colonels and their supporters to maintain power, but rather a vital necessity, one that the survivors had already been living by in all but name for already a decade. Hence the decision to retain and enforce the total militarization of society was both welcomed and seen as self-evident by most survivors, any potential dissenters witholding their criticism over the obvious benefits that society-wide military discipline and organization would contribute to collective (and therefore their own) survival. The civilian populace was effectively integrated into the military, each able-bodied member above the age of 13 being assigned a military rank and duties depending on his age and abilities, subject to the same regulations and discipline as proper soldiers. In practice, most civilians would continue with their already established jobs and duties, except that now they were regarded as non-combat support arm of the military rather than true civilians. This provided a significant boost of morale and social cohesion, since now nobody could claim to be subjugated and exploited by the military, literally everyone being part of it. In order to divide the massive influx of new "soldiers" by ability and task, the four-tier system used to this day was devised, dividing all citizens into tiers with corresponding training and duties.
In order to ensure that every community was able to defend itself and retaliate against aggression, every citizen regardless of his regular assignment was required by law to study and master at least basic military skills. A mentality of "total defense" was instilled in the general populace, every single member of society being expected to defend the community in times of need.
The social roles of the old world were now largely reversed. A doctor, engineer, a skilled worker who could do something as seemingly basic as weld or repair an engine, a farmer, soldier or even just a healthy woman of breeding age were now infinitely more valuable than a lawyer, actor, fashion designer or business manager. Someone endowed with a pair of strong arms, skill with a gun or blade and basic courage was now more valuable to the community than someone with a large baggage of theoretical knowledge without much practical application. This would decisively come to shape the future Baltic culture with it's profound disdain for consumerism and intellectualism.
The Colonels would adopt and enforce a number of policies that would have been viewed as harsh or even downright barbaric and tyrannical in the pre-war world, but were dictated by practical necessities now. The first and foremost was strict rationing and zero waste of resources. Even as farms began to yield the first meager fruit and the first basic machine shops were restored to operation, their produce continued to be pooled collectively and strictly rationed to conserve resources. Ordinary theft, especially of food or fuel, became one of the worst crimes, being punished severely and only spared the death penalty because execution would itself be a waste of manpower, offenders being instead put to hard labour at reduced rations. Notably, capital punishment was never reintroduced in Baltic society because simple banishment from an established community was effectively tantamount to death sentence, the exile being condemned to slow starvation without the community support.
A rudimentary eugenics program was another introduction by the Colonels. With very limited resources and many members of the community suffering from radiation exposure, it was in the groups' vested interest to ensure that only the healthiest and fittest members were allowed to procreate, and any newborns closely examined for birth defects. Deformed or feeble offspring would be euthanized, irradiated or otherwise deficient citizens forbidden to procreate, at times subject to forced sterilization if necessary, and community doctors tasked with pairing suitable couples for breeding regardless of personal relationship status. In the long run, this had the positive effect of involving the entire community in child-rearing, without much regard for children's parentage or their parents' wedlock status. Bearing children by the able-bodied would become both a privilege and a duty, many state institutions of the later days refusing to admit childless people as an incentive to procreate. The elderly and infirm who could no longer be of any benefit to the community were likewise pressured to retire into the wastelands to die.
Lastly the Colonels adopted an uncompromising policy on national reclamation whose core tenets were reflected in the later Baltic Union's fabled motto, "Not an inch from another, not an inch of our own". In addition to showcasing the Baltic people's firm rejection of imperialism in any form, it also showcases their unyielding commitment to never surrender or relinquish a single inch of the land rightfully theirs. In the immediate aftermath of the nuclear winter, civilization and the authority of the Colonels never extended beyond visual range of their respective communities, the safe-zones. The remainder of the Baltic wasteland would remain the domain of roving bands of raiders, cultists and cannibals, with the occasional isolated independent community fortunate enough to have survived the nuclear winter on their own in between. The Colonels were determined to restore law and order to this lawless realm by any means necessary.
In the consequent years, the safe zones would embark on a relentless campaign of reconquest, securing the countryside from unsavoury elements and reintegrating independent communities into the emergent nation, by force if necessary. While these reintegration efforts were generally peaceful as far as independent communities were concerned, most seeing the benefit of joining a burgeoning network of militarized communities that could provide much-needed protection even in spite of their own reservations and distrust of the Baltic military which had callously cast them aside just a decade prior, things did not always go quite as smoothly. Communities that integrated peacefully were required to submit to the Colonels' laws, delegate the most talented community members to serve and train in one of the established safe zones as future military leaders for their community, and pay an annual tribute of resources, otherwise being left largely to their own devices. Once a cadre of soldiers loyal to the Colonels' regime was trained and appointed as the new community leaders, the subjugated communities were deemed fully integrated and were declared safe-zones themselves. Independent communities that already had a significant military presence would be disarmed to the minimum necessary for protection and assigned to the non-combat roles and allowed to serve under arms after a probationary period. Those communities which resisted were crushed, stripped of their supplies and resources, the skilled individuals forcibly taken to serve in the safe zones, and the rest of the population either dispersed among safe-zones or simply driven out in the wasteland, whichever was more expedient at the time being.
During these campaigns, the Colonels made a point of imposing a no-quarter policy on raiders, cultists, petty warlords and other groups deemed too degenerate and/or dangerous to be safely pacified and integrated. Again, this was done not so much out of prejudice as for simple practicality - the safe-zones of early post-war period simply didn't have enough resources to spare for any uncooperative prisoners that couldn't be trusted to integrate peacefully and would have to be kept under constant watch. While certain warlord militias and raider gangs who did not have a reputation for atrocities and assaults on safe-zone communities were occasionally exempted from this harsh policy and integrated, usually after dispersal among safe-zones, others like slavers and cannibals were purged as a rule to make an example.
Despite their aggressive anti-raider stance, the safe-zones under the Colonels were often forced to raid themselves in order to procure specific supplies that could not be manufactured or salvaged locally. Expeditions of elite soldiers outfitted with the best gear available were often dispatched far beyond Baltic borders, at times going as far as Ukraine and the outskirts of Moscow on their "salvage expeditions", usually launched with the goal of securing a highly-specific resource or piece of equipment. In practice, these expeditions were often little more than raids, aimed at taking valuable supplies from foreign communities. While the Balts made a point of refraining from the worst excesses of raiders like rape, torture, enslavement and wholesale massacre and destruction of settlements, and would usually leave behind at least a minimum of supplies for the defeated survivors to last for some time, these expeditions would still develop a rather unsavoury reputation for them especially among their former Eastern Bloc enemies. Oftentimes, raids were launched in retaliation for raids from the opposite side of the border, the latter often serving simply as pretext to also raid completely innocent communities that happened alogn the way. In this respect, early post-war Eastern Europe (or much of the rest of the world, for that matter) wasn't much different from what it had been during the Middle Ages, constant raiding and low-intensity warfare being endemic and almost incessant. Even though things have improved considerably since those days, frequent cross-border raiding by freebooting gangs and state-organized raiding parties alike is still a rather common occurrence.
While ethno-nationalism was rejected many places elsewhere in the post-war world, it thrived and developed into it's own peculiar brand in the Baltics. The Baltic people would come to identify as a unified nation through their common strife for survival all the while retaining their historical ethnic identities, the idea that three neighboring nations could overcome their historical division through common strife and cooperation becoming the cornerstone of their new shared identity and a great source of national pride.
By 2075, the Colonel regime had consolidated power and rebuilt civilization in the Baltics enough to set up some semblance of a civil government. The proclamation of the Articles of the Union on May 15, 2075 is considered the founding date of the Baltic Union, since celebrated as the Union Day.
The newly forged Union would face it's first serious trials during the Salvagings in the late 2090's that were taking place in the Russia at the time as the Mechanocracy of Russia was rising to power. Considering the Baltic States part of their historical territory, the Mechanocracy attempted two invasions of the Baltics, putting their doctrine of "total defense" to a whole new level of test. While previous incursions by various warlords and minor states from the East had succeeded in temporarily capturing significant territories in the Baltics, none had come close to a full-scale military occupation. The two invasions in 2095 and 2107 both managed to temporarily overrun the entirety of the Baltic Union and maintain an occupation for roughly a year and a half each before finally being driven out by stubborn resistence. In both cases, the Balts stubbornly maintained a policy of total non-cooperation along with incessant active resistence, entire communities going underground in a literal as well as a figurative sense, while those remaining above would refuse to cooperate with the invaders on even the slightest degree and sabotage the efforts of their authorities at every opportunity even in the face of brutal reprisals for every act of defiance.
The older Mekh veterans of these Baltic campaigns are rarely fond of recounting their experiences from these failed campaigns. Mecharussian soldiers patrolling the streets would be spat upon and hurled insults at by every bypasser, there always being the risk of a brick or something worse happening amidst the said insults, spittle and refuse. Establishments would refuse to serve them, those compelled at gunpoint often demonstratively spitting in their food in plain sight even if the act was often followed by a violent beating or even summary execution. People in the streets would demonstratively turn their backs on any passing Mekh and refuse to speak to them in Russian, this refusal being maintained even by native Russians, or indeed speak to them at all. People would ignore orders of occupation authorities to report in for duty and ignore curfews, deliberately appearing in the streets en masse after curfew in order to be too many in number to arrest, leaving patrols with little options besides indiscriminately gunning them down. They would demonstratively continue to celebrate national festivities and sing patriotic songs despite an official ban. When forcibly assembled to witness public executions of resistence fighters and others who had fallen into hands of the Mekh authorities, the people would loudly encourage the condemned to meet their death with pride, emboldening them with patriotic songs and loud pledges to avenge them, every public execution almost invariably being followed by a violent riot and scores of insurgent attacks, which eventually forced Mekh authorities to do away with public executions entirely. Those natives who broke this code of absolute non-cooperation and defiance risked being branded as collaborators and subjected to violent beatings or worse. Both Mecharussian occupations were marked by a reign of terror, featuring routine mass executions and deportations in reprisal for the constant acts of defiance and guerilla attacks. However, unable to take out the key leaders of Baltic society as nearly all of them were dispersed across the country and capable of operating independently according to a pre-planned policy, the authorities couldn't do much to disorganize the resistence movement. The wholesale capture and execution or deportation of defiant populations was likewise much easier said than done in a country where even school-age children were more than capable and willing to kill and be killed, every such act of repression only yielding another spike in guerilla activity and costing hundreds of Mecharussian lives. Eventually, Mekh troops withdrew to their bases and strongpoints and rarely dared to venture outside them especially after nightfall, the mounting casualties and the effective paralysis of the occupation authorities forcing their eventual withdrawal in humiliation.
Despite the heavy costs the Baltic people were forced to pay for their stubborn defiance during these occupations, entire towns being massacred or deported in reprisal actions, these episodes of Baltic history are deemed the most glorious times of the Union's history, statues and memorials to the heroes and martyrs of the First and Second Liberation Wars featuring public spaces in almost every town, school children being taught extensively about their exploits and encouraged to live by their example. These two occupations also decisively reaffirmed the already long-established view among the Balts of Russia in it's every incarnation as their natural and eternal enemies, destined to forever menace their land and freedom with their depredations. That being said, the Balts view Mecharussians not so much with outright hatred as with profound disdain and pity, variously describing them as downtrodden and miserable masochists in perpetual need of a tyrant whose boots to lick, having never known freedom themselves and therefore always looking out to deprive others of it out of envy, and as petty cowards who can only muster courage in overwhelming numbers against a weaker foe and don't have the guts to pick on someone of their own size. The two Liberation Wars also firmly cemented the Baltic belief in total resistence, elevating preparation for asymmetric warfare from a practical necessity to a way of life.
The post-Liberation War era largely saw the normalization of Baltic-Mekh relations - if such a thing can even be applied to describe two sworn enemies overlooking their differences for a time because of more pressing problems. Until the eventual re-ignition of their conflict in mid-2132, the two countries would enjoy a civil if very cool relationship, at least formally.
In practice, this formal civility was merely a cover for an ongoing invisible war, both sides routinely launching cross-border raids, sabotaging each other's infrastructure and occasionally attacking outlying settlements and military outposts. Where the Mekhs would usually employ mercenaries and raider gangs ( trained and equipped courtesy of GRU Spetznaz) to maintain plausible deniability, Baltic special forces would oftentimes not even bother with that, dismissing Mekh protests as reprisals against "criminal gangs" that the Mekhs themselves had claimed to be outside their control, likewise ascribing their own more questionable operations to "bandits" outside Baltic government control. Occasional prisoners taken during these skirmishes would traditionally be quietly exchanged on the "Bridge of Spies", a railroad bridge across Zilupe, a small border river at the easternmost end of the Latvian part of the Union.
Although the Baltic Union has always firmly denounced imperialism and aggressive expansionism in all forms, the conflict with the Mekhs that broke out in 2132 has it's roots in the early post-war days, when the Colonels exercised opportunity to reclaim the historical Estonian and Latvian lands ceded to Russia in the aftermath of WWII, using rather disreputable means for that end. Few these days know or care to remember that the contemporary Baltic town of Abrene, also known as Pitalovo to the Russians, used to host a Russian community of several thousand survivors after the war. Nowadays, there's barely a single Russian in that locale, and the few living Balts old enough to remember what became of the town's previous residents are most reluctant to discuss anything pertaining to the subject, stating that some dark secrets best be taken to the grave by those in the know. Similar fate of a sudden and inexplicable change in population ethnicity is believed to have befallen several other minor settlements in the Petseri District of Estonia directly north of Abrene, their current ethnic Estonian residents all as one claiming that these settlements were already deserted at the time their ancestors first settled down there. Whatever the truth about the fate of their original denizens, the Russians' main point of contention is the Baltic Union's purportedly-flagrant breach of a long-standing pre-war border treaty and their own policy of non-expansionism - a notion that the Baltic Union dismisses, declaring that the old Baltic nations to which the treaty was binding perished during the Great War just like old Russia did. Mecharussian government also accuses Baltic authorities for encroaching on their interests in the Kaliningrad Radland, the desolated and still heavily-irradiated wasteland in the place of former Kaliningrad Oblast that was annihilated by nuclear saturation bombardment in the opening minutes of the Great War. Baltic authorities contend that due to absence of any surviving pre-war border markers, land reclamation crews might have strayed on nominally-Russian soil here and there.
Regardless whose side an outsider might take on the Baltic-Mecharussian border dispute, all recognize that another war is just a matter of time.
Government and administration
The Baltic government can best be characterized as a decentralized stratocracy which incorporates elements of martial democracy, a military rank and political power being virtually synonymous. Practically all government offices are held by active military officers ranking Major and above, civilians only exceptionally being granted political offices and too holding a military rank as per the universal militarization of Baltic society. It wouldn't be too inaccurate to describe the Baltic Union as a confederacy of autonomous militarized communities.
The central legislative and executive body of the Baltic Union is the Council of Generals, consisting of 12 members holding the rank of General, three from each member nation each representing a branch of the armed forces. The Council is presided over by a trio of Field Marshals chosen from their midst, each representing a member nation. Laws are proposed by the Council members and must be unanimously approved by the Field Marshals in order to pass into effect. Each council member also keeps a retinue of specialists with various competences to aid him in making decisions without holding formal authority. In times of war or emergency, a Supreme Commander, also known as High Marshal in colloquial parlance is chosen, effectively holding dictatorial powers over the nation for the duration of the emergency.
Council members are elected by local authorities, officers ranking Major and above, for a term of 10 years. Most government offices have a single term of 10 years, the holder being required to retire from active service and political affairs if not promoted to a higher rank and office within that time.
While enlisted ranks and junior officers do not have any formal political power, their support is crucial if one is to advance to a higher rank with political authority, their reputation with the troops/people being taken into serious consideration by their superiors when selecting candidates for promotion.
Not every man holding the rank of General is also a Council member, most general-tier officers instead holding command of military districts, typically required to be able to maintain at least a brigade-sized standing force. While the most populous districts can support forces several divisions strong, these areas are usually sub-divided into several brigade-sized districts whenever practical in order to ensure that no general acquires enough power to start getting ideas, division-sized forces only being assembled during times of war.
Sub-district communities are governed by lesser officers, usually ranking between Major and Colonel. "Safe-zone" communities, i.e., larger urban settlements are typically governed by a Colonel, the criteria for a community to be proclaimed "safe-zone" being the ability to maintain a battalion-strength standing force. Lesser communities without safe-zone status usually fall under a Lieutenant Colonel, Major or exceptionally even a Captain, being expected to provide a company-sized standing force. There are also a number of unincorporated communities which are only nominally under government authority, retaining a liaison officer and a token military presence while otherwise being left largely to their own devices and only required to pay an annual tribute.
Safe-zones typically encompass the original post-war safe zones and the larger towns and cities. These settlements and their surrounding countryside benefit from full military protection and other privileges like full resource sharing. Any attacks on one safe-zone are retaliated against harshly with the full might of the Baltic military. Non-safe-zone settlements of smaller towns and villages on their way to full integration still benefit from military protection, but not resource sharing, being expected to demonstrate they can pull their own weight economically before being eligible for any outside investments from the safe-zone communities. Unincorporated settlements must generally fend for themselves, any military or economic intervention on their behalf being expected to be repaid with concessions aimed at eventual integration. This way, waste of resources on developing unprospective locales is avoided, allowing to concentrate fully on developing areas with potential and extending investments only to places that have proven themselves as worthwhile investing in.
The Colonel or comparable officer in charge of a community governs his charges with near-dictatorial powers as could be expected in a military hierarchy, subordinates being expected to obey without question. These officers, however, aren't above or beyond reproach, still being accountable for abuses of office and other misconduct to their superiors. Reports of such incidents are usually taken very seriously and thoroughly investigated, because no Baltic general is interested to compromise his rank and status by experiencing a mutiny within his district of responsibility over the misconducts of one of his Colonels. Colonels likewise have a vested interest in performing their duties competently and diligently if they hope to rise in rank and power, or in the very least retire from active service with full benefits, so compared to the pre-war Baltic States, political corruption in the Baltic Union is rare, if not entirely unheard of. Lastly, there is the added incentive of having to deal with a heavily armed and combat-trained populace that doesn't take lightly to infringements on their rights specified within the Articles.
The Articles are the contemporary Baltic equivalent of a constitution, specifying the nation's government system and the rights and duties of its citizens. Notably, the Articles include a section listing civic duties of all citizens before listing their rights, a feature patently absent in most pre-war constitutions.
The Articles declare the Union's commitment to reject all wars of aggression and conquest, only exempting preventive action against imminent threats to national safety and retaliation for previous attacks, provided no efforts to seize permanent territorial gains are made. The Articles also declare the Union's commitment to safeguarding the member nations' territorial integrity within their historical borders and the resident nations' ethnic identities.
As specified in the Articles, the first and foremost duty of every Baltic citizen is to resist oppression and tyranny in all its forms by any means necessary, and to be prepared to carry out such resistence with the force of arms. A citizen is to constantly train and prepare to defend his freedom and that of his nation, to conform with the established militarized hierarchy, and to obey the lawful orders of his superiors without question. Bearing arms is not a right, but a duty, sacrosanct and instrumental in defending freedom.
As per rights, the Articles state that citizens shall not be arbitrarily deprived of life, limb, liberty or property without due process, nor persecuted on grounds of ancestry or religious belief. There are, however, no provisions for freedom of speech or association - promoting unpatriotic or seditious views or associating with known outlaws or enemies of the state is forbidden.
Law & Order
As opposed to the highly bureaucratic and complicated legal systems of the pre-War Baltic States, the contemporary Baltic Union has deliberately undergone a legal simplification, both because very few legal experts survived the war and the new legal system effectively had to be built from ground up, and because the survivors purposely rejected the complex law of before, deeming it as too open for interpretation and technicality and too easy to corrupt by those with the means to hire a legal expert.
Consequently, the new legal system was designed as simple and efficient as possible, the emphasis being on having fewer but sterner rules and on the law being enforced in spirit rather than by the letter. Laws of the Union are worded simply, in a manner that doesn't require a legal degree to understand and interpret.
The task of interpreting the law and arbitrating legal disputes falls upon community Legal Officers. A Legal Officer is a position, not a rank, and can technically be held even by a citizen of a low military rank - what matters is his personal reputation in the community. A citizen who is universally regarded as having a pristine reputation within the community can be selected for training as a Legal Officer, which traditionally takes place in the University of Vilnius. Since vacant Legal Officer positions do not appear often, graduates must usually serve as deputies to established Legal Officers for some years, allowing them to pick up experience before ascending to the office themselves.
In the present day, the Legal Officer of any community is an outsider, from another community. This is to ensure a lack of personal ties with that community and thus prevent a conflict of interests, an important issue in a nation where most communities are small and members mostly know each other personally. As a further measure against corruption, Legal Officers are constantly rotated between communities. While the measure of having an outsider serve as the arbitrator in the tightly-knit communities was initially very unpopular, it was eventually accepted, giving Legal Officers additional incentive to judge righteously and maintain a good reputation, since the reputation of their entire communities of origin would depend on their character and performance.
An additonal legal office unique to the Baltic legal system is the Oathkeeper, the vague equivalent of notary. The duties of Oathkeepers are to record and keep legally-binding documents and agreements, such as last wills, marriages and business contracts, and to administer solemn oaths where applicable. Oathkeepers are usually older citizens, oftentimes retired Legal Officers, whose stalwart reputation within their community qualifies them for this position of great responsibility and universal public trust. An agreement merely spoken in the presence of an Oathkeeper is considered legally binding.
Because of the Baltic society's martial virtues and ideals, Balts have a strong sense of duty and honour, and can be relied to make good on their word without any written insurance. To a Balt, reputation is everything, especially given the average size and the degree of inter-dependence of communities - should it become known that he swindles his customers or fails to honour his word, such a man would become a pariah of his community in no time.
There is no law enforcement in the traditional sense in the Baltic Union, certainly not in the form of a distinct police force. In the safe-zones, police duties are assumed by designated security troops with specialized training, equivalent to military police of earlier ages. In lesser settlements, the task of enforcing the law falls to a locally elected Enforcer, Baltic equivalent of a sheriff, and his deputies. Lastly, the citizens themselves aid the authorities by maintaining a constant neighborhood watch. In the unincorporated communities, local rules are enforced by the residents themselves, more often than not in a vigilante fashion
There is likewise no penal system in the ordinary sense. Most Balts believe that the prisons of old were a mistake, merely serving as breeding grounds for criminals and malcontents and generating jobs and revenue for otherwise largely useless professions like criminal attorneys. There is also a practical background to this absence of incarceration - in a society that used to have very limited resources, locking miscreants up to idle at everyone else's expense simply wasn't an option.
Consequently, legal penalties instead revolve around measures beneficial to both the community and the offender. The most usual sentences for administrative offenses and minor crimes is community service and public shaming, oftentimes a combination of both. For example, a petty thief may be ordered to perform menial labour for the store he stole from while wearing a placard detailing his crime. Flogging may sometimes be added as an additional penalty. More serious offenses also entail demotion in rank, ban from holding certain jobs and lengthy relegation to hard and unpleasant duties. Serious crimes against person and property are punished by banishment, usually for a term of 5 to 10 years. Those under a sentence of banishment are forbidden from settling down in safe-zone communities or within a certain distance of them and must live at the fringes of society in minor settlements or the wilderness, which are oftentimes exposed to attacks by raiders and dangerous wildlife. A convict without any friends to aid him (friends and family members being allowed to help a banished individual) isn't likely to survive on his own for long, so people tend to think twice before making enemies in their own community by committing a serious crime.
Where someone banished may return at the expiration of his term and be considered fully rehabilitated, same is not true for someone outlawed. Outlawry is the most severe legal punishment under Baltic law, reserved for the most heinous crimes and effectively stripping the offender of any and all civil rights. The outlaw is branded on the face with the name of his crime and driven out of the community into the wilderness with only a knife and a box of matches to give him a token chance to survive, nobody being allowed to aid or comfort him in any manner under penalty of outlawry. Furthermore, since the outlaw is "outside the law", i.e., exempt from all legal rights and protections, it marks him as fair target for violent retaliation by friends and families of his victims and the community in general. Indeed, outsider critics have often likened outlawry to a thinly veiled legal sanction for lynching that often indeed follows the sentence after giving the outlaw a customary head start of one hour, although this convention isn't always honoured if the offender's crime is especially loathsome (sex offenders and parricides being especially despised). Assuming one so condemned survives the initial pursuit, he is thereafter forced to live a solitary life as a brigand or seek out a raider gang to join, having to be ever watchful of his former fellow citizens as their brands mark them as the worst of lowlifes to be killed on sight whenever encountered.
Traitors, rapists, child molesters, habitual domestic abusers, slavers, drug dealers and kinslayers are all subject to outlawry, since their crimes target the three things Baltic society considers the most sacrosanct - freedom, nation and family. Habitual offenders of lesser nature may also have their sentences upgraded to outlawry if their actions have shown they are unlikely to reform.
Foreigners who have visited the Baltic Union generally have noted the place to be remarkably safe, petty crimes being very rare. Because of the strong culture of honour and discipline that has developed throughout Baltic society in the post-war decades, crimes at least in the safe-zone communities are rare, most legal cases being the product of negligence or the heat of passion rather than greed or thrill-seeking.
That is not the case outside in the wilderness, where people still strongly prefer to travel between the more distant cities in well-protected convoys. While raiders, slavers and cannibals aren't anywhere near the problem they used to be once, they still menace the Baltic wastelands and occasionally attack outlying settlements and careless travellers. Military units patrolling the wilderness to counter this threat are under orders to terminate any such groups with extreme prejudice, and often perform their duties with quite vicious brutality, ostensibly to make an example and exact revenge for any killed comrades, friends or family members.
Organized crime generally has difficulty taking roots in a society devoted to discipline and selfless service and composed mainly of small communities where everybody knows everybody, but it does exist in the Baltic Union as well. Organized crime here consists mainly of a small but active smuggler community that delivers contraband goods to paying customers. These goods aren't necessarily illegal, oftentimes simply being tightly rationed, unavailable through proper channels or the customer simply wanting to keep his possession of a certain article discreet. Since the smugglers can provide a wide variety of hard-to-obtain foreign commodities, even the authorities generally tolerate them, occasionally even employing their services to procure foreign items and equipment not normally for sale to foreign nations.
Baltic economy can be characterized as a mixed system, state enterprises and monopolies coexisting with private businesses in a limited market economy.
Every Balt firmly believes that the key to a proper economy is production of goods rather than services or finance. The degenerate global capitalism of the pre-war Western world is now mentioned as a cautionary tale of the destruction that unbridled power of the finance industry can yield. For this reason, service and financial industries are almost non-existent in the Baltic Union, being exclusively state-owned, and economy relying almost exclusively on agriculture and industrial production, with large segments of especially the industry being under direct state ownership and control.
While private enterprises may enter production industry, most entrepreneurs simply don't have the means to set up sufficiently large operations to compete with the state industries, so most forms of manufacturing are dominated by state-owned industrial cartels. Agriculture, on the other hand, is dominated by private enterprises, i.e., family farms, the alternative being communally-managed agricultural cooperatives. Strategic industries like communications, power generation, natural resource extraction and public transportation are state monopolies.
Because of their bitter history with predatory capitalism in the pre-war era, contemporary Balts are highly distrustful of capitalism to the present day, although their resentment of Marxist Socialism is even greater for the same reasons. Their economic system aims to strike a balance between state and private interests, so that society may benefit without having to completely sacrifice the personal interests of it's individual members.
Much of the production is subject to rationing, so a two-currency system has been implemented for foreign and domestic commerce respectively. Domestic trade is conducted chiefly with Baltic marks (BMK), which are effectively ration tickets with a limited validity period (usually a year from the date of issue). The latter feature was introduced to encourage spending, thus stimulating the economy, and to discourage hoarding and speculation, as the marks would become worthless after their expiration date. Foreign trade, requiring a more permanent medium, is instead conducted with Baltcoin (BCN), a more traditional form of currency. Both types of currency are legal tender within the Baltic Union and are mutually exchangeable at fixed rates. Baltcoin sees relatively little domestic use, itself being a rationed commodity.
Due to a lack of domestic natural resources and the difficulty of importing from abroad, much of Baltic industry in the present day is light but high-tech, the idea being to extract the maximum possible added value from every Baltcoin's worth of precious imported resources. More sophisticated goods are produced in state-owned industrial plants, while private workshops and smaller factories offer high-quality master-crafted merchandise. Baltic Union is generally known among foreign customers for high-quality craftsmanship and exclusive custom-made products, lacking the mass-production capabilities of larger nations and hence resorting to quality and customization over quantity.
Baltic Union's main industries are electronics, chemical and pharmaceutical production, light machinery and various high-quality crafts. Agricultural produce makes up the majority of exports in terms of amounts, the relatively uncontaminated lands producing good quality organic products which command premium prices elsewhere, where populations must rely on synthetic food production for subsistence. Imports involve mainly raw materials, heavy machinery and high-tech products impossible to manufacture locally.
Baltic economy is, somewhat commonly for the present age, structured to be autarkic, producing as much as possible locally, since foreign trade is still far from reliable despite it's revival in the recent decades.
The scarcity of local resources has made Balts quite adept at improvisation and creative solutions to their shortages. For example, valuable materials are being locally extracted by mining pre-war landfills. The vast amounts of plastic waste alone makes up a significant proportion of source material for locally produced plastics and fuel - in fact, in the early post-war period when foreign trade was next to non-existent, the majority of fuel was produced by rendering down derelict plastic garbage into it's basic constituent hydrocarbons.
Banking and finance is strictly regulated by the state. Loans with interest are strictly forbidden. Instead, investors own a share in the prospective business, being eligible to an appropriate share of the profits. This is to prevent predatory exploitation of the general populace and the accumulation of capital into the hands of a small elite.
Baltic population is composed of roughly equal parts of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, with Russians as the largest ethnic minority. A number of other Slavic ethnic minorities (Poles, Ukrainians, Belorussians, etc.) also reside in the Union. The remainder belong to assorted "other", most prominent cover-all minority group being "Westerners" - a generic term for the descendants of Americans and Western Europeans residing in the Baltics at the outbreak of the Great War.
Although Westerners have largely assimilated since the Great War, effectively being native in all but name, they still retain a distinct identity and aspects of their ancestral culture, in no small part because the native majority views them as a distinct group. Another thing that has partly helped at least part of Westerners maintain a distinct identity is the use of English as the language of official Union-wide communique, granting it a de-facto official language status. Not perceived as outsiders, nor as fully-native, Westerners maintain their own unique identity.
Within the Union, ethnic tensions are generally a thing of the past. Where in the pre-War world, Russians used to be the Baltic nations' troublesome minority and fifth column, the native Russians of the present day seldom have any sympathy towards the neighboring Mechanocracy, the latter's culture and ways having diverged way too far from anything they could readily bring themselves to associate with. The Baltic government is very wary of old ethnic rivalries or tensions erupting again in the new world, suppressing any such sentiments at the root and adamantly maintaining that the way forward lies in inter-ethnic cooperation.
Way of life
Baltic society is heavily militarized, to the point of there effectively being no distinction between civilian and military aspects of society. This degree of militarization is maintained in order to ensure collective survival and independence despite being surrounded by greater foreign powers. Baltic citizenship and membership in the armed forces in some capacity is essentially one and the same.
The military preparation of a Baltic citizen begins literally with one's birth, when newborns are examined for deformities and deficiencies, weaklings and cripples being discarded, i.e., euthanized. This custom originates in the early post-war era, when the survivors simply couldn't afford to squander precious resources on the weak and deformed that were unlikely to survive for long in any case. Although material situation has vastly improved since those days, the convention is still upheld, if in a less rigorous manner, advanced medicine now again being available to remedy many lesser disorders.
Children deemed fit to be retained are raised by their parents until the age of 7, after which they are required to attend preparatory schools. Parents are expected to have taught their offspring basic literacy by the time they enter school. It is here that Baltic children get their first taste of military discipline, being taught basic military drill and other skills that will become necessary later in the boot camp along with more conventional subjects like mathematics, literature, grammar and natural sciences. Education focuses mainly on practical skills, various concepts being taught and explained through examples of practical application. A great importance is placed on patriotic indoctrination, teaching the children the importance of discipline and selfless sacrifice as essential to preserving freedom and Baltic way of life. Tutors also record and gauge each student's personality, talents, interests and aptitudes for future reference that will largely determine one's later path in Baltic society.
At the age of 13, every young Balt is assigned a military rank of recruit and enters boot camp to continue his or her education, essentially receiving a full-time military training. While more conventional subjects are studied along with military training, education of this time focuses heavily on military skills - physical fitness, outdoor survival, armed and unarmed combat, tactics and leadership. Youths are constantly examined and tested, their results being meticulously recorded for later reference.
Starting from the age of 16, young trainees receive the rank of Private and become eligible for various specialist training courses, depending on their aptitudes and talents. Those who demonstrate technical prowess and inclinations are assigned to study combat engineering, field repair or demolitions, youths with a talent for leadership and organization may be assigned to instructor or officer training. Trainees also begin to accompany adult soldiers on patrols and combat missions to pick up field experience, every student being required to accumulate a number of "field hours" in order to graduate. Exceptionally-talented youths may be granted permission to go on missions at a younger age. Families have no say over their childrens' assignments, but being assigned to accompany a combat mission especially at a young age is generally considered an honour and a sign of one's progeny having potential for a great future career. While the youths are usually appointed to easier assignments at first, they aren't spared any of the risks and dangers that the adult soldiers must face, and deaths or injuries are consequently not unheard of. This is, however, considered acceptable, the fallen youngsters being regarded as having given their lives in service of the Fatherland and upheld as examples.
At the age of 18, youths must pass a grueling two-week field exercise as a final examination, where they must demonstrate their mastery of everything learned in the past three years. The exercise is deliberately devised to have a very high failure rate, ensuring that only those capable of thinking outside the box and applying unconventional solutions can successfuly complete all of the assigned tasks. Some of the tasks have no right or wrong solution, or indeed a positive solution at all, the goal being to observe and record the various reactions of trainees to such challenges, picking out those who show the desired responses.
Only around 20% pass the final tests. These 20% move on to serve in the regular armed forces, which is deemed a great honour and privilege. Failure in the final exam is not considered shameful, or even a failure in the regular sense of the word, however, as the purpose of this examination is to select the very best rather than discard the weakest. The dropouts become reservists and assume civilian roles in their adult lives, but are still required to attend periodic military exercises, usually one or two weekends a month. In times of war, they are mobilized as the citizen militia of their respective community.
The 20% who have demonstrated their worth become regular troops tasked with the continuous protection of Baltic society. It is a lifelong career of struggle and hardship, and oftentimes a short one too, but those who last long enough and demonstrate the necessary qualities can indeed hope for a promising political career after the end of their active service. Civilians who failed the initial test at the age of 18 may still attempt to join the regulars later, but rarely succeed. The final examination isn't just a test of knowledge and practical skills, but also a test of personality - someone who has flunked it once is unlikely to pass it at a later date, simply not possessing the specific personal qualities desired from a prospective career soldier. Those who pass the exams may likewise refuse a military career, though this is almost unheard of - few would ever consider giving up such a position of prestige and authority, especially in a society where martial prowess is valued so highly.
Of those who become career soldiers, the most promising talents have the option to apply for special forces training, usually only after having served for no less than 5 years and done at least three combat tours of duty. The attrition rates are extremely high, only 1 out of 100 candidates passing to become a Tier One operator on average, it not being uncommon for entire classes to drop out entirely before completion. The select few who pass, however, become the elite of the elite in every sense of the word, and while their continued service is wrought with extreme danger, those few who survive until retirement are virtually guaranteed to attain high ranks and prominent political offices. A running joke among Tier One soldiers is that "a Tier One who lives to be older than 30 is useless, which is why the Union has such terrible politicians".
Career soldiers become eligible for retirement at the age of 40, receiving a veterans' pension from the state afterwards and being free to pursue a civilian job. Most, however, continue in active service for as long as their health allows, the upper age limit for active service being 65. Those who reach the maximum age must retire, and usually spend their remaining days as venerated elders of the community, upheld as examples of lifelong selfless service to the community. Civilians do not receive any state pension upon retirement, it being the responsibility of the family and community to care for their elders.
During the Colonel era, elders who were growing to be too sickly and infirm to be of further contribution to society would be expected and pressured to retire into the wilderness to die. Such a harsh custom is no longer enforced if only for a lack of continued necessity, but is still ocassionally practiced by individual elders at their own accord. When an elder feels he will soon become a burden to his family and fellow citizens, he uses one of the community gatherings to announce his intent to "take the Long Walk". Family and friends will typically make every effort to dissuade him, law and custom therefore demanding that the elder announce his intent three times in order to have time to change his mind. If the elder persists, the community then gathers in a feast to celebrate his lifetime accomplishments. The elder, wearing his best attire (usually his parade uniform and decorations) then gives his final vow to "bring order where there is none", is solemnly proclaimed legally dead by the Oathkeeper, and departs from the community with his favourite weapon and a week's worth of rations, presumably to seek out a worthy death in battle against raiders or dangerous animals. Since it is forbidden to return or settle down in another community after embarking on the Long Walk, the elders making such commitment are required to be of sound mind and body at the time they make the decision.
Family is considered a cornerstone of community and Baltic society in general. In an age when repopulation of the world is a predominant concern, having a large family is considered both a blessing and a duty towards society.
Balts of the present day typically try to marry young, usually around the age of 20 - 21. This is partly because marriage is a pre-requisite for land ownership, only married couples being eligible to receive a landhold from the state, exception being unmarried inheritors of estates. Marriage, however, isn't available to just anybody - in keeping with the principles of eugenics as laid down by the Colonels, a couple seeking to marry must first pass inspection and obtain a marriage permission from the authorities. The inspection evaluates both the candidates' health condition and also their character and financial status, i.e., the ability to support themselves and any would-be offspring. Candidates are expected to be reputable and morally-upstanding citizens, the examining commission led by the community's Family Affairs officer obtaining references from the applicants' fellow citizens. If everything is alright, the applicants receive their permit and are officially registered as married by the community's Oathkeeper.
Naturally, not every couple receives a marriage permit for one reason or another, yet continues to live together anyway. Such practice is not forbidden, the community still regarding such relationships as informal marriages, unregistered couples merely not being eligible for certain privileges that formal marriage confers. If such relationships result in the birth of healthy children and there are no objections from other community members, the couple is automatically registered as formally married and becomes eligible for the corresponding legal privileges. Alternatively, a disapproved couple may obtain marriage license if both partners can get two reputable citizens to vouch for them.
For the sake of social stability, divorces are discouraged and socially frowned upon, at least while the couple still has any underage children or other dependents to take care of. Exceptions are only taken in extreme circumstances such as substance addiction and/or domestic abuse, both being potential grounds for outlawry. Family is supposed to provide the social security that was provided by the state in earlier ages, so things like single mothers and retirement homes are essentially unknown in Baltic society. Orphans and elders without living kin need not worry, it being the responsibility of the community to care for them.
Balts are encouraged to have large families, typically having 4-6 children, it being normal for extended families to share the same household. This is as much a practical necessity as the result of state propaganda and popular opinion - the majority of citizens live in rural areas, a large family being necessary to work the land and protect against dangerous wildlife and raiders in more remote areas. Communities are involved in child-rearing, it being common for neighbors to take turns caring for each other's children and infirm whenever the primary caretakers of one family or another are absent on military exercises or other duties.
Such is the importance of family and parenthood in Baltic ideology and lifestyle that many prominent positions in society are only open to married individuals with children. Any rank above Major and Tier One status has a family with at least one child as an absolute pre-requisite. Officers above the rank of Major generally also hold a political office and are therefore expected to set example in everything including personal life, while married Tier One operatives, it is believed, will do everything within their power to survive if they have families to await them home.
While historically marital infidelity was looked upon leniently, married couples in the early post-war period frequently being involved in extra-marital matings for genetic health reasons, it is no longer true in the contemporary Baltic society. A cheating spouse of either sex is now legally subject to public shaming and a fair target for violent retaliation if caught in the act, and repeated offenses may be grounds for banishment.
Same-sex relationships aren't forbidden nor particularly frowned upon, but have no legal recognition either. Both the authorities and society maintain the view that what two consenting adults do in their bedroom is nobody's business, as long as they still have a spouse of opposite sex and children. Anyone advocating sexual deviances openly, however, is likely to be met with hostility, since it promotes an unproductive lifestyle contrary to established Baltic values.
The Balts generally maintain traditional gender roles in their society, although the division isn't stark nor strictly observed, and is generally practiced out of convenience rather than convention. Men are expected to be the fighters and breadwinners of the family, but neither are women who show such inclinations denied a profession or military career. While it is generally rare for women to attain high military or political offices, it is by no means impossible nor disapproved of.
Baltic women generally stay at home to take care of the household and family while the men are away working, training and fighting, and usually assume support roles during an armed conflict. That being said, they are still expected to be fully capable of fighting and defending their homes and communities in the absence of men, undertaking the same military training as men in sex-segregated boot camps during their teenage years. Those women who pass the final examinations are likewise eligible to join the regular army, although it is generally preferred that they do not before having given birth to at least two children - the life of a soldier is often short, and any healthy woman of breeding age is more valuable to society as a mother than as a fighter. For this reason, those women who do join the regular ranks usually opt for non-combat roles that would allow them to combine their duties with family life at home. Many of the women who spend their lives as career combat soldiers suffer from infertility or radiation exposure, being unable or unfit to bear children and therefore choosing to contribute to society as full-time fighters instead, although that is by no means always the case, numerous prominent female officers and officials having entirely ordinary families.
In general, the military and industrious aspects of Baltic society are predominated by men, while women tend to dominate in science, commerce and arts, being on average less preoccupied with military affairs and having more time for study and discussion. While it would be an exaggeration to say that Baltic women are the brains and men are the hands, especially in light of most political leaders being male, it is nonetheless true in many respects, men typically dominating fields that require pro-activity, decisiveness and specific technical skills, while women dominate areas that require more insight and analysis.
The predominant religion in the Baltics is Christianity. Estonians and Latvians are for most part Lutherans, while Lithuania and the Latgale region of Latvia have historically been Roman Catholic. Russian Orthodox Christianity is the largest religious minority with a following chiefly among Russian-speaking minorities. Jews have historically been another established ethnic and religious minority in the Baltics, although their already small population has dwindled to a few hundred since the Great War.
Baltic people are generally irreligious, and have been that way long before the Great War. While the majority of Balts do nominally affiliate themselves with one creed or another, for most their religious observances are limited to baptism and funeral rites, with the optional once or twice-a-year church attendance on Christmas and Easter. Balts generally frown upon overt displays of religiosity, viewing them as attention-seeking and hypocritical - "the more God in one's mouth, the less in one's heart", as a proverb goes. The general opinion is that a man's deeds should do all the talking there needs to be done about his faith.
Christianity has historically syncretized with native pre-Christian beliefs in the Baltics, so even professed and practicing Christians see no problem with celebrating decidedly-pagan traditional festivals like Summer Solstice and practicing other ancient pre-Christian customs along with Christian observances. In the post-war years, efforts to preserve and revive ancient traditions of Baltic peoples have also produced a sizable following of neo-paganism, each Baltic nation having their own ancestral mythologies and belief systems, and the various branches of neo-paganism being known in the national census under the blanket term of "ancestral faiths". Ancestral faiths are currently the most rapidly growing religious minority, rivalling Orthodox Christianity in following and likely to become the largest religious minority in the coming decade.
Of more unconventional religious minorities, Starovery aka Old Believers are among the most noteworthy, most of them residing in Latgale and Petseri District. Old Believers reside mostly in secluded unincorporated communities, and are viewed with suspicion and somewhat discriminated against by the rest of the Balts because of their pacifist beliefs. That said, their communities are largely left to their own devices and granted basic protection as long as they pay their annual dues, any Old Believers wishing to join broader Baltic society being free to do so and free to practice their religion on the same terms as everyone else - by completing military training and being prepared to serve their country with the force of arms.
Jews are nearly extinct in the present-day Baltics, the once-sizable minority having been decimated by the Holocaust, the following years of Soviet repression, the gradual emigration to Israel, and ultimately the Great War. The only sizable Jewish community to remain in Baltic Union is the Karaite Battalion in Lithuania, the centuries-old community of Karaite Jews having formed their own battalion stationed outside Trakai.
Since the collapse of a unified Roman Catholic hierarchy during the Great War, the Roman Catholic Church has fragmented into dozens of local national Catholic churches. The Baltics are no exception, all three constituent nations having their own autocephalous Catholic Church headed by an Archbishop. One notable difference in doctrine compared to the pre-War Catholicism in the Baltics is the abolition of celibacy for the clergy, Baltic Catholic Churches in this respect being rather unexceptional. Priests of any creed are expected to marry and contribute to the demographics just like everyone else, and serve in the military like all other citizens. Ministering the spiritual needs of the faithful in everyday lives, clergymen serve as chaplains during war, the authorities collaborating with the clergies of various confessions to devise a unified training program, allowing those with strong religious inclinations to study their faith and martial skills at the same time and become qualified to put them to good use as chaplains afterwards.
While the Baltic government is strictly secular, religious freedom is respected as long as it doesn't challenge the fundaments of state and society (i.e., militarism, eugenic practices, etc.). Minorities like the Old Believers who criticize and refuse to partake in the militarized lifestyle of the majority are viewed with suspicion, but are generally left alone, since their activities aren't otherwise overtly subversive and they still have their uses as civilians. The authorities readily cooperate with religious groups for the additional propaganda outlet that they provide to the faithful, and surely enough, Baltic believers often hear the righteousness and necessity of their lifestyle and ways reaffirmed from the pulpit along with the word of God. Religion is also approved because it readily promotes the traditional values also promoted by the government.
As could be expected in such a martial culture, Balts prefer it rough, tough and physical. Various full-contact sports are a favourite, every self-respecting community of sufficient size having it's own sports club, with members competing regularly against neighboring communities. Of team sports, the most popular are soccer, rugby, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse and ice hockey. In many of these sports, the rules on physical contact have been somewhat relaxed, so that an intense match often straddles the boundary between a proper sports game and a melee involving a ball or puck. Of individual sports, there is (predictably) a distinct preference for various combat-related sports - various martial arts, rifle and pistol shooting, archery, fencing and trick-shooting. Sporting events invariably attract large numbers of participants competing for fame and glory, and even larger numbers of spectators.
One non-combative sport that is curiously widely-popular in the Baltic Union is chess - obviously, because of its connection to military strategy.
Interestingly, Medieval European martial arts (MEMA) seem to hold a special place in Baltic hearts, having evolved from historical reenactments into full-blown organized sport of it's own right, individuals and teams regularly fighting in tournaments. This interest evidently has to do with the great emphasis on preserving their history and tradition that the Balts hold, Medieval martial arts being both a physically-demanding and exciting combat sport and also a perfect medium through which to reenact glorious episodes of Baltic history and honour the ancestors that fought in them. Consequently, MEMA tournaments are a mix of scored sports games and grand spectacles of historical reenactment with no small amount of theatrical show, usually with a particular historical theme. While teams are flexible in their roles, each team usually specializes in a particular type of character and time period. The participants often hold long-standing in-character rivalries, such as the perpetual feud between pagan Lithuanians and Livonian (Latvian and Estonian) Crusaders, teams from each side assuming respective roles and characters for the duration of the tournament, often taking their in-character sentiments so far as to require physically keeping them apart between the matches. The contestants compete in various disciplines ranging from scored single combat to an all-out melee involving hundreds of participants on each side. These grand melees typically have a historical theme, such as reenacting a certain battle, but the outcome is never staged outside of showcase or "proper" reenactment fights. The battles are rather brutal, serious injuries and even deaths not being unheard of even with certain safety restrictions in place. To die in an honest sports competition, however, is deemed a good and honourable death second only to falling in battle.
While sports enthusiasts do devote a significant part of their time training and preparing for the next competition, professionalism in sports is strongly frowned upon, most Balts seeing it as defeating the very purpose of sport as a way to improve oneself in body, mind and character. Balts similarly look with disdain upon other forms of commercialized entertainment, believing that the mercantile, money-making aspect of it detracts most of the quality it would otherwise have in it's own right.
Fishing and hunting is another popular pastime for those living in rural areas, also serving a practical purpose of providing food and eliminating dangerous wildlife. Children often accompany their fathers on their fishing trips and hunts, learning tracking, hunting and outdoor survival skills from an early age. In the countryside, it is therefore a common sight to see children no older than 10 returning home from the wilderness proudly carrying their latest catch along with a small-bore varmint rifle over the shoulder.
While video games are not uncommon, they are mostly used as training and educational aids rather than for entertainment. Youths of boot-camp age must often play highly-realistic combat simulation games to rehearse tactics or master the use of a particular weapon system before moving on to live action. A fictional game designed solely for entertainment purpose usually holds little appeal to the typical Balt, who generally values real experiences far above any simulations, let alone fictitious and unrealistic ones.
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as "Baltic" culture, merely the distinct cultures of the Union's member nations united under the thin veneer of a shared ideal of common struggle for survival and freedom.
With that considered, the Balts take great pride in their respective ethnic cultures and identities along with pride in their shared nationality and ideals. In their mind, their ethnic cultures are something to be nurtured, enriching each other and promoting true spirit of friendship and cooperation regardless of differences. This approach is not to be mistaken for the cosmopolitan multi-culturalism of the old world, however - the Balts make an abundantly clear distinction between what cultures and ways constitute "their own", and what are marked as perpetual "outsiders". Someone whose people and culture hasn't been established in the Baltic States for centuries will never be accepted as "own", being merely tolerated on promise of good behaviour and expected to assimilate in one of the predominant native cultures.
Popular culture of foreign nations holds little appeal to the Balts, who much rather prefer their own, based in ancient folklore given a modern veneer. Baltic popular culture is a rather bizarre mix of modern military and ancient folk traditions, manifest in examples like military marches being played to the tune of bagpipes and other folk instruments along with more traditional marching band instruments, patriotic songs based in ancient folklore being played over the radio, often in very modern renditions, both casual wear and military uniforms incorporating accessories from traditional folk costumes, and more.
Because pride in ancestal ethnic tradition is a cornerstone of Baltic identity, every self-respecting Balt will make a point of displaying this pride in his ancestry and region of origin somehow - usually by adopting a certain dialect of speech or elements of regional dress in his attire. For the sake of mutual understanding and communication, residents of different regions and member states will communicate in one of the standardized official languages and make a point to learn at least one other official language.
Collecting, memorizing and preserving all the diverse ethnographic traditions and lore is an ongoing task entrusted to a special profession, the Loremaster, which is essentially a mix of an ethnographer, folklorist, archaeologist, historian and craftsman. Loremasters are required to have extensive knowledge of the lore, history and traditions of their native region as well as good command of the same of other regions. Different loremasters may specialize in different skills, such as particular traditional crafts, memorization of folk songs, legends or epic poetry, or even the recording of modern history. Loremasters are also responsible for maintaining secret caches of "national treasures" - mainly ethnographic and historical records of little monetary, but immeasurable cultural and scientific value. Loss of such a cache to an enemy is regarded as utterly unacceptable, and Baltic soldiers and citizens will often go to extreme lengths to recover any such caches.
While the member nations of the Union each have their own national epics and legends, the Rememberance is the Baltic Union's shared ongoing epic, the Union's history recorded in verse and constantly updated by a commission of senior Loremasters, whose duty it is to decide which events are worthy of being recorded in the Rememberance and how. The Rememberance is constantly updated, a new volume being issued every five years.
While the Balts generally don't strike anyone as particularly inclined towards intellectual pursuits or high culture, that is not necessarily always the case. Baltic nations have a long history and tradition of choral singing, being diligently maintained to the present day. Every larger community has it's own choir, which competes with other communities much like a sports team would, it's members being no less esteemed than proper sportsmen, since they promote the fame of the community just as sportsmen do. In this respect, Latvians stand out in particular, maintaining their old tradition of a song festival taking place once every five years (sometimes more often if expedient in the context of another major public event or festival). The international song festival attracts choirs from all around the world, including even established rivals of the Baltic Union, and serves as a sort of cultural Olympic Games, allowing otherwise rival nations to compete on friendly terms. Riga Conservatory is the leading establishment of musical education in the Baltic region, even a number of Mecharussian musicians and singers having studied there.
While the Balts honour their old musical traditions to the best of their ability, their new lifestyle hasn't left them uninfluenced. Outsiders accustomed to academic musicians in tuxedos and evening dresses are often surprised to find a Baltic symphonic orchestra or choir clad in military uniforms bristling with medals, the conductor usually being a ranking officer with according regalia.
Baltic popular culture is heavily influenced by the national cultures of the member nations, and to a lesser degree of their neighbors. Folklore is a predominant element in this new form of popular culture, its influence ranging from the choice of lyrics and musical instruments of a song to the casual dress style of the average citizen. Regardless of the region of birth, a Baltic citizen is expected to be well-versed in the folklore of the other member nations as well, celebrating their traditions with equal respect to one's own. This attitude extends to every ethnic group that has historically been deemed a part of the Union, even ones traditionally considered "rival", such as the Russians. Russian folklore is perhaps the most influential outside element of Baltic popular culture, being deemed distinct from the contemporary Mecharussian culture, the native Russians likewise considering themselves distinct from the new power dominating their old ethnic homeland.
As far as the Baltic state is concerned, the purpose of popular culture must always be the promotion of unity and cooperation. State-produced or sanctioned cultural events and efforts must consequently reflect this desired spirit of unity and friendship. While old rivalries aren't censored, they are invariably presented as cautionary tales and examples of how not to conduct things, and contrasted by examples of mutual cooperation and friendship. It is for this reason that Mecharussian or other foreign sportsmen and performers are always welcomed in the country despite political differences, never being heckled or otherwise ridiculed as long as they show proper respect for the local ways.
An aspect of life especially extolled in popular culture is self-sacrifice. Historical songs and contemporary folk-song sound-alikes are both used widely to convey the importance of self-sacrifice to the audience. Those who give their lives in service of the nation are promised eternal rememberance in the songs and legends of the people, the glory of such a fate being constantly re-emphasized.
Another aspect of life that that Baltic popular culture glorifies is hard and honest work, be it on farms or the factories. A man who has made his fortunes on the efforts of others is worth nothing, deemed a parasite scumbag, all fame and glory belonging to the one who knows the hardship of tilling the land or spending long hours at the workbench.
In principle, the entirety of Baltic society is considered a part of the military in some capacity. This system was devised in the early days of the Union, so that the civilians would have no excuse to protest oppression and exploitation by the military, themselves effectively becoming part of it. The total militarization of Baltic society was also in line with the government's "total defense" policy, the goal being making the Union a too uncomfortable bite for any larger neighbor to swallow.
In creating the stratocracy of the contemporary Baltic Union, the Colonels divided the entire Baltic society into four tiers.
Tier Four encompasses the majority of Baltic citizenry, forming a paramilitary reserve force, required to attend periodic training exercises and master the basics of military skills, but otherwise not normally required or expected to partake in actual combat. Tier Four essentially comprises the civilian society of the Union, prepared to be mustered as a reserve or a combat force in case of emergency, but rarely if ever actually called to that duty. Tier Four citizens normally perform all the regular civilian and non-combat tasks, and only exceptionally take up arms to fight.
That being said, even the average Baltic civilian merits from the military training and experience of what would normally be reserved for a professional soldier in other nations, so even civil militiamen make for adversaries not to be taken lightly, especially given their training specialization in asymmetric warfare.
Given their non-combat specialization, Tier Fours usually handle the civil and auxiliary duties during wartime, serving to provide supplies, medical care, intelligence and other non-combat support for the actual fighters. Every able-bodied and sound-minded citizen is considered a Tier Four by default, being bound by the obligations and duties binding all of that class.
Tier Three encompasses all civilians with a semi-permanent commitment to militia duties, a rough equivalent to a National Guard of earlier ages. These are citizens who are not deemed fit, or are unwilling to make the commitment to serve as full-time professional soldiers, but are nonetheless capable and skilled enough to provide a valuable active defense of their respective community, i.e., armed service.
Tier Threes consequently form the mainstay of the citizen militia of every community, fighting to defend their homes and their immediate surroundings, but not normally being deployed outside their immediate areas of residence. In times of war, they are expected to provide a local garrison force and backup for the regular army, as well as serving as a reserve manpower pool for the regulars. Typically, all men of military age withi without vital skills to exempt them from frontline service are assigned to Tier Three within a community. Women are normally automatically assigned to Tier Four, unless personally requesting a transfer to a higher tier.
As with Tier Four, these militiamen are not to be taken lightly, having lengthier training and more combat experience than most professional forces. Their main weakness is light and often ramshackle equipment.
Tier Two forms the regular military of the Union, consisting of the top 20% of all candidates, which encompass the entire Baltic youth. Given the amount of training the typical Baltic youth receives, those who pass the examinations to become Tier Twos at the age of 18 often have more experience than most professional soldiers elsewhere in the world.
Consequently, the Baltic Union can muster arguably the best infantry in the world, excluding supersoldier-tier opponents. Along with extensive training from a young age, Tier Twos benefit from advanced equipment on par with that fielded by greater nations, such as powered exoskeletons and hybrid-propulsion weapons, their advantages being further cemented by intimate knowledge of local terrain and unflinching willingness to sacrifice themselves for their nation. Their main weakness is a somewhat lackluster armor and artillery along with a lack of a significant air force, an aspect dictated both by cost and terrain. With that said, their specialization in guerilla warfare is still bound to make any enemy's life extremely miserable and short, shoud they dare to invade the Union.
Being the elite of the elite, Tier One represents less than 0.1% of the total militarily-eligible population. Drafted from the ranks of established Tier Two fighters for their exceptional qualities and subject to a brutal training regime, those few who prove themselves worthy of Tier One status are granted many privileges and concessions in recognition of their elite status, not the least among them being a virtually-guaranteed fast-track to promotions and a likely political office. Assuming, of course, they live that long. Whatever the case, the Baltic special forces are firmly among the world's best, outclassed perhaps only by augmented supersoldier-tier warriors of other nations, and still more than capable of giving the latter a fight for their money.
Ideally, every military district is expected to be able to muster at least one squad of Tier One operatives. Naturally, there aren't always suitable people to make the cut available, so many districts have to resort to requesting outside support. Consequently, excess Tier Ones often get transferred to locations that fall short of the desired number regardless of their ethnic origin, resulting in very multi-national units at times. Since Tier One operators are expected to know all three of the official Baltic languages, however, that is not normally a problem.
While Tier Ones are formally assigned into battalions like regular units, they are seldom stationed all in the same military district.
A Baltic citizen-soldier's training begins effectively at birth, when he/she is examined for hereditary deformities and other flaws. Faulty babies are discarded, although the increased availability of modern medical technology has drastically reduced the incidence of such rejections lately.
Once a child reaches the age of 13, he or she is sent off to a sex-segregated boot camp, which combines regular school education with military training. Great emphasis is being placed on physical fitness and personal combat skills. Military drill and discipline is another thing taught on a daily basis, to the point of becoming a second nature.
During this time, the youngsters' aptitude is evaluated, those with special talent being sent to specialist training schools.
By the time youths reach the age of 16, when they are awarded the rank of Private, they have already amassed more experience than most professional soldiers elsewhere at the age of 20. It is at this time that they begin to accompany established soldiers on missions, sharing the same hardships and dangers and fighting the same foes. Youths routinely take part in patrols against raiders and outlaw hunts, the latter especially being deemed suitable for youngsters to pick up basic combat skills.
The final examination of aspiring Baltic soldiers takes the form of a two-week exercise rigorously testing the abilities of all candidates. Many of the tests are designed deliberately to have no correct solutions, or indeed any solutions at all, the goal being to observe and gauge the responses of the candidates. The desired outcome for each test is a demonstration of independent and unorthodox thinking. One of the tests is engineered to be a failure regardless of the candidate's choices, meant to determine one's commitment to self-sacrifice regardless of the odds of success. Those of sufficient capability are selected for Tier Two service, the rest being relegated to Tiers Four and Three respectively.
Tier Twos continue with regular training, made more intense by regular combat patrols and other unforgiving assignments, while lower tiers suffice with periodic twice-a-month training.
After serving for roughly 5 years in Tier Two, an individual becomes eligible for Tier One training, usually based on his personal record and the discretion of his commanding officer. The attrition rates are extremely high, entire classes often failing to make the cut, but those few who do make for truly formidable adversaries to even supersoldier-tier enemies. To a Baltic special operative, it is not equipment or augmentation that makes him excellent, but rather the knowledge of home terrain and the commitment to defend it.
Baltic military is essentially organized into brigades and battalions. Every major settlement is expected to provide at least a battalion's worth of Tier Two troops to be eligible for a safe-zone status. Several such settlements in turn form a military district, the equivalent of a division-sized formation in military terms. Larger cities can muster significantly more than battalion-strength forces, sometimes even division-strength forces of their own. However, whenever practical, these forces are broken down into battalion-strength groups in order to ensure that no single officer has enough military power to get overt ideas of independent power.
Sub-battalion size units often form from neighborhoods, or even extended families. It is not uncommon for the father of a family to command an entire platoon of his adult sons and their wives and children. On other occasions, neighbors serve in the same platoon. This contributes to a very close sense of camaradery, soldiers often serving together literally from the cradle to the grave. Granted, this also means that every victory is paved with the tombstones of friends and family members.
Typically, every battalion is assigned an armored and/or airborne element to ensure it's operability under all conditions. There are, however, distinct specialist units in existence as well.
In keeping with the "mission-type" tactical thinking, or "Auftragstaktik" principle pioneered by the Wehrmacht in 20th century and later successfuly implemented by Israeli Defense Forces, all Baltic NCOs and officers are trained to be able to command forces two levels above their normal commands. For example, a lieutenant or even a staff sergeant will be required to learn at least the basic principles of commanding a battalion-strength force. This is both to ensure that taking out senior officers will not cripple the chain of command, junior officers being capable of assuming command effectively, and also to ensure that a junior officer can take initiative and assume command of a force larger than his own unit in the absence of a senior commander. Another benefit for such training is that junior officers are capable to understand the broader operational and strategic goals behind their standing orders, and adjust mission parameters at their own discretion to meet them if necessary even in the absence of orders from above. Enlisted men are likewise expected to master at least basics of squad and platoon-level command, so that the deaths of their NCOs will not leave them disorganized and the most senior (or in some cases simply the most trusted and respected) soldier present can assume command and proceed with the mission.
Superiors are expected to keep their orders as brief as is practical, as every additional order and directive adds to the complexity of carrying them out, and leave the exact means of carrying them out for subordinate commanders to figure out. Entrusting subordinate commanders with the planning and execution of missions leaves superior officers free to focus on strategic planning, secure with the knowledge that their underlings understand the intent of their orders. To avoid mistakes, superior commanders must be very precise and specific about their intents.
Consequently, Baltic forces can operate very effectively even under a communications blackout. Assassinating ranking officers will likewise having limited effect on diminishing their effectiveness.
In order to ensure that their officers can competently command a combined-arms force regardless of their own specialization, Baltic military regularly rotates their officers between different branches of service and units of different ethnicity. It is hence not uncommon to see a Lithuanian armor commander lead a unit of Latvian airborne troops, or an Estonian infantry captain command a Lithuanian artillery battery. This way, officers can pick up competence in leading and organizing a multi-ethnic combined arms force regardless of their original training, having cross-competence over all branches of service they might encounter. Enlisted men are likewise routinely deployed on exercises in mixed units to facilitate inter-service and inter-ethnic cooperation. The ideal that the Baltic military aspires to is a situation when a disorganized rag-tag assembly of soldiers from all over the Union and from diverse branches of service can spontaneously organize and form a chain of command in the absence of any directives from above, and proceed to carry out missions in keeping with the broader strategic directives established by the government and supreme command for the event of war during peacetime. With every fighting man trained to such standards, it would be next to impossible to extinguish a resistence movement by an overwhelming invasion force short of complete extermination of the native populace.