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Archive for January, 2012

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‘The Suffering Olympics’

Published: January 30, 2012

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA — The “double genocide” wars that pit Stalin’s crimes against Hitler’s are raging in wide swathes of Europe and every now and again along comes a gust from the past to stoke them. The 70th anniversary this month of the Nazi adoption at Wannsee of annihilation plans for the Jews provided one such squall.

Yes, the past is still treacherous beneath Europe’s calm surface. Memory swirls untamed in the parts of the Continent that the American historian Timothy Snyder calls “Bloodlands,” the slaughterhouses from Lithuania to Ukraine that Hitler and Stalin subjected to their murderous whim.

To mark the Wannsee anniversary, over 70 European Parliament members, including 8 Lithuanians, signed a declaration objecting to “attempts to obfuscate the Holocaust by diminishing its uniqueness and deeming it to be equal, similar or equivalent to Communism.” It also rejected efforts to rewrite European school history books “to reflect the notion of ‘double genocide.”’

All of this was too much for the Lithuanian foreign minister, Audronius Azubalis, a conservative, who blasted the Lithuanian social democrat signatories as “pathetic.” His spokeswoman declared that the only difference between Hitler and Stalin was the length of their mustaches. She said legal qualifications of the crimes they committed were “absolutely the same”: genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Roger Cohen


Category : Opinions

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Lithuania: not as bright as it seems
January 30, 2012 
by Jonathan Wheatley

The mood turned sour again on European markets on Monday, as fresh worries about Greece rattled investors’ nerves. But that didn’t stop Lithuania getting a one-year bond auction away at a pretty impressive yield, on the day the country said its economy grew by a healthy 4.3 per cent last year.

Nevertheless, a glance behind the headline figures suggests that even where things look cheerful, investors should be cautious.

Lithuania sold 70m litas ($26.6m) of one-year debt with a yield of 2.74 per cent, Reuters reported, down from a yield of 3.876 per cent on 50m litas of debt maturing in August 2013 sold at the beginning of January. Average yields on Lithuanian one-year debt have fallen from more than 4 per cent at the end of November to 2.71 per cent today.

Lithuania and the other Baltic states, says Neil Shearing at Capital Economics, “have been the poster child for austerity in the face of crisis, pursuing internal devaluation and implementing big budget cuts despite huge falls in output.”

Read more…

Category : News

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RE: Our January Europe tour has come to its end.

Right in time, my friend; just as Davos 2012 ends!

Pls forgive some sarcasm but very unlikely EU countries, like the Soviet communist exploited and impoverished Lithuania, have long showed the way to Europe by adopting serious austerity policies that go almost to the point of "eating the dog food", to use a hyperbole. Unfortunately, this good model that Davos 2012 has been looking so desperately for (and could not find) is drowned in the cacophony of bureaucratic screams around bailing out Greece and other profligate countries that are, so far at least, the true winners in Europe! The whole Europe will soon "go to the dogs"; so your Journey was not a month too soon, Aage.

My advice now: invest in the European dog food :)

Valdas Samonis,

Category : Front page

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Audronius Azubalis:
Sooner or later the history knocks at the door of the present

Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian of Armenia and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis. Vilnius, 26 January2012.

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian paid a working visit to Lithuania on January 26. Within the framework of eth visit Minister Nalbandian had meetings with Lithuania’a Prime Minister Andrius Kubilis, Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis and Vice-Speaker of Sejm Cheslovas Yurshenas.

At a joint press conference with his Lithuanian counterpart Edward Nalbandian expressed gratitude to Lithuania for adoption of the Armenian Genocide act back in 2005.

“The arguments of Turkey do not stand any criticism. They say the bill passed by the French Senate will hinder the process of normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations. However, it’s clear to everyone that it’s only Turkey that prevents that normalization. Turkey says the French law edits history. Unfortunately, the black pages of the tragic history of our nation have already been written, and the only way to turn these pages is the recognition and condemnation of this crime against humanity.

The bill passed by the French Senate is not targeted against any concrete country, the Armenian Foreign Minister said, adding that Turkey’s reaction is an evidence of that country’s state policy of denial.

Referring to the same issue, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister said: “Sooner or later the history knocks at the door of the present, and we have to open it. We have to look the history in the face and assess the reality in an open, transparent and fair way. Without that we’ll never have peace in stable inter-state relations. That is why I think that right are the politicians who say that history must be discussed, while those who say history should be left to historians are wrong. Mistrust in bilateral relations will exist until we square accounts with the past.”

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Category : News

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Turkey, where
Europe meets Asia

Today we publish the last travel report
from our journey around Europe. We hope you
have enjoyed the photos and articles, and that it has
been possible to understand from what we have focused on
that Lithuania has its rightful place in the new Europe, and that
there are an infinite number of Lithuanian footprints in many countries.

Today's journey begins in Istanbul, the ancient metropolis located on both sides of the Bosporus Strait separating Europe from Asia. We then follow the footsteps of St. Paul through Galatia, before ending up in Myra,
the south-western Turkish hometown of Santa Claus!

Tour guide, writer and photographer: Aage Myhre

To read today’s travel report, click HERE

To read the previous articles, go to our SECTION 11

Category : Front page

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EUROPE – MY HOME & MY CASTLE (10 of 10) Turkey, where Europe meets Asia

Today we publish the last travel report
from our journey around Europe. We hope you
have enjoyed the photos and articles, and that it has
been possible to understand from what we have focused on
that Lithuania has its rightful place in the new Europe, and that
there are an infinite number of Lithuanian footprints in many countries.
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Today's journey begins in Istanbul, the ancient metropolis located on both sides of the Bosporus
Strait separating Europe from Asia. We then follow the footsteps of St. Paul through Galatia,
before ending up in Myra, the south-western Turkish hometown of Santa Claus!

Tour guide, writer and photographer: Aage Myhre




eace in the homeland, peace in the world”
- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938)
Turkey's prominent leader and reformer during the interwar years

Year 860: The Vikings arrive in Istanbul after their long river journey all the way from the Baltic Sea.

I am in Hotel Conrad in Istanbul. The view from the terrace outside my hotel room is amazing. I look down at the beautiful city I've learned to like so well. The boats on the Bosporus Strait bustle frantically back and forth between the Asian and the European side. Large ships are headingtowards the Black Sea. Others to the Mediterranean Sea.

It must have been quite a sight to see the armada of Viking ships sailing in here in the year 860. The Vikings came to plunder. They had travelled far; starting from the Baltic Sea, following the rivers through Russia, by then ruled by a Viking, Rurik. They came to the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. From there it was only a short distance through the Bosporus Strait until Istanbul, or Miklagard (‘The Great City’) as they named the city – at that time the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, with hundreds of thousands of residents and colossal treasures the Vikings had never seen before.

Huge walls met them when they sailed in here from the Black Sea and docked in the harbour of the Golden Horn. The huge wealth made ​​contemporary Istanbul a tempting prey for the Vikings, but the size made them chose to go into service of the emperor instead of trying to conquer the city. He appointed them to a guard of mercenaries, known as 'The Varings.' Their most famous chief was Harald Hardrada (1015 - 1066), half brother to the Norwegian king Olav who was killed in the famous Battle of Stiklestad outside Trondheim in the year 1030. Harald became king of Norway in the year 1046. During the seven years he was here in Miklagard, he had a comet career and was named the top-commander of the The Varings. From Constantinople he led a total of 18 major battles around the Mediterranean Sea, such as against Sicily and North Africa. He conquered no less than 80 cities. The Vikings’ era in Istanbul came to an end after 344 years(!) here on the banks of the Bosporus, in 1204, when the Crusaders conquered the city.

From my terrace I look over to the mosque that was once the world’s largest church building, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom Church). It was completed in the year 537. On one of the pillars is written, clearly visible to this day, 'Halvdan was here'. Carved into the pillar-marble in the contemporary Norse language, the Runes, some time at the end of the 800's. Think about it. A Norwegian Viking was behind the world's first graffiti ...

Down at the Bosporus shore I see the lavishly beautiful Dolmabahce Palace. It was there in the palace he died in 1938,
Turkey's first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938). Founder of the country as a republic and a modern, democratic society, a revolutionary and wise statesman, who more than any other has made Turkey a tolerant nation where the country's many nationalities and religions generally live in peaceful coexistence. Probably also the best guarantor for conflict management in the Middle East. It is said that Turkey is the very barometer of how the state of peace and harmony in the world. Atatürk's famous epigram, "Peace in the home country, peace in the world" still applies.

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My international family gathered at Hotel Conrad's rooftop in Istanbul. Phenomenal views of the Bosporus and the
Asian part of the city. Lithuanian, Iranian, American and Norwegian in perfect harmony!

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Water and land are living together in great harmony here in Istanbul. A captivating beautiful, ancient, modern city.
Photo: Aage Myhre

It is late afternoon when my plane takes off from Istanbul Ataturk Airport. The flight is set to Antalya in southern Turkey. Soon I gaze down at the impressive mountain massifs that so beautifully characterize this country. I've got a window seat on the left side and look down towards the area where today's capital, Ankara, is located. Through centuries the Galatians lived there, the people Apostle Paul wrote two letters to. They were Celts who had come all the way from Ireland and Britain to settle right here. The many people movements through the history of mankind never cease to surprise me. It might well have been that it was through the Galatians that Christianity came to northEurope. The apostle went this route on foot from Istanbul home to his birthplace Tarsus in southern Turkey, now called Yalvac (Psidian Antioch). It's strange to think that it was here that Paul and Barnabus lived and from here introduced Christianity to our pagan world. Yalvacs history dates back to 280 BC. In Paul's time the area had a mixture of Jews, Romans and Greeks.

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The Roman province Galatia. During the time of St. Paul people here spoke Galatian, an extinct Celtic language spoken here from the 3rd century BC up to at least the 4th century AD, although ancient sources suggest it was still spoken in the 6th century.

The sun has already disappeared into the evening azure Mediterranean Sea as we slowly descend towards Antalya. I can still easily study the pine-clad Taurus Mountains, sloping down towards the sparkling clear sea outside the irregular coastline of rocky headlands and secluded coves. It is said that Antalya is bathed in sunshine 300 days a year. It is therefore not surprising that this is a tourist paradise with a focus on sunbathing, swimming and water sports. But Antalya also has a large number of historical sites, beautiful mosques and much more scattered in the surrounding landscape characterized by pine forests, olive and citrus trees, palms, avocado and banana plantations.

This is the fascinating backdrop to my visit. I have come to Antalya to participate in the inauguration of a so-called "Religious Garden" which will include a mosque, a church and a synagogue, designed to beautifully symbolize the glorious history of many nationalities and religions living side by side here in Turkey since historic times.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has arrived from Ankara to perform the official opening, and as he opens
this complex of Muslim, Christian and Jewish places of worship, he emphasizes that his government will eliminate all remaining obstacles to religious freedom in Turkey.

During the subsequent dinner, the Prime Minister tells us that religious tolerance in Turkey is a legacy from the Ottoman Empire. He cites the regulations that once upon a time were introduced by Mehmet the Conqueror, the sultan who captured Istanbul in 1453, that the Ottoman Empire would always show respect for non-Muslims."Because of this significant historical experience, Turkey is currently a guarantor of peace and brotherhood inthis region," concludes Prime Minister Erdogan.

Netherlands’ 'European Affairs Ministers', Atzo Nikolai, and members of the diplomatic community in Ankara and religious leaders representing Turkish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish minorities participate in the ceremony. Applaud the Prime Minister's speech.

"People will be able to freely practice their religion in this Garden of Tolerance. This is a very important message,"
says AtzoNikolai, and adds: "The EU will continue to encourage reforms in Turkey. It will probably still be frictions sometimes but the reforms Turkey has undertaken are encouraging. "

Leaders of Turkey's non-Muslim minorities support the opening of the new "Garden of Religions", but not without acerbic remarks about legal matters that increasingly restrict their activities. "Catholics are able to practice their religion in Turkey, but has no property rights over their own churches. I hope we will get this right one day," said Father Alphonse Sammut, a representative of the Catholic church in the country.

The Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Mesrob II, emphasizes that non-Muslim places of worship as soon as possible should be opened in all major Turkish cities. "This should be done either by renovating historical sites or to build new ones such as the one here," he says.

That evening I walk along one of the endless, soft Antalya beaches, listening to the lazy waves that slowly wash in from
the Mediterranean Sea. A clear, dark sky with billions of twinkling stars arches over me. Almost reflecting the dramatic historical events that have taken place in this area through more than 2000 years. I wonder about tolerance, religious freedom, brotherhood and peace can really begin to grow out from here to neighbouring countries in the Middle East, where war and hatred still dominate...

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Photo: Aage Myhre.


The Ottoman Empire

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Europe in 1430, when The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire both were leading forces.
The Ottoman Empire was a Turkish empire which lasted from 27 July 1299 to 29 October 1923.

The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and longest lasting empires in history; such that the Ottoman State, its politics, conflicts, and cultural heritage in a vast geography provide one of the longest continuous narratives. During the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular at the height of its power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the empire became the most powerful state in the world – a multinational, multilingual empire that stretched from the southern borders of the Holy Roman Empire (until the outskirts of Vienna), Royal Hungary (modern Slovakia) and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the north to Yemen and Eritrea in the south; from Algeria in the west to Azerbaijan in the east; controlling much of southeast Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. The empire contained 29 provinces and numerous vassal states, some of which were later absorbed into the empire, while others were granted various types of autonomy during the course of centuries.

With Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), and vast control of lands around the Mediterranean basin, the empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries.

After the international recognition of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNA) headquartered in Ankara, by means of the Treaty of Lausanne signed on 24 July 1923, the GNA proclaimed on 29 October 1923 the establishment of the Republic of Turkey as the new Turkish State that succeeded and formally ended the defunct Ottoman Empire, in line with the treaty. The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished on 3 March 1924.

Today’s journey:

View Larger Map Turkey

Turkey is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia (mostly in the Anatolian peninsula) and in East Thrace in South-eastern Europe. Turkey is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria to the northwest; Greece to the west; Georgia to the northeast; Armenia, Azerbaijan (the exclave of Nakhchivan) and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the southeast. The Mediterranean Sea and Cyprus are to the south; the Aegean Sea is to the west; and the Black Sea is to the north. The Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles (which together form the Turkish Straits) demarcate the boundary between East Thrace and Anatolia; they also separate Europe and Asia.

Turkey is one of the six independent Turkic states. The vast majority of the population are Muslims. The country's official language is Turkish, whereas Kurdish and Zazaki languages are spoken by Kurds and Zazas, who constitute 18% of the population.

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Turkey's location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia makes it a country of significant geostrategic importance.
Photo: Aage Myhre.

Oghuz Turks began migrating into the area now called Turkey (derived from the Medieval Latin Turchia, i.e. "Land of the Turks") in the 11th century. The process was greatly accelerated by the Seljuk victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert. Several small beyliks and the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm ruled Anatolia until the Mongol invasion. Starting from the 13th century, the Ottoman beylik united Anatolia and created an empire encompassing much of South-eastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed following its defeat in World War I, parts of it were occupied by the victorious Allies. A cadre of young military officers, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues, organized a successful resistance to the Allies; in 1923, they would establish the modern Republic of Turkey with Atatürk as its first president.

Turkey is a democratic, secular, unitary, constitutional republic with an ancient cultural heritage. Turkey has become increasingly integrated with the West through membership in organisations such as the Council of Europe, NATO, OECD, OSCE and the G-20 major economies. Turkey began full membership negotiations with the European Union in 2005, having been an associate member of the European Economic Community since 1963 and having reached a customs union agreement in 1995. Turkey has also fostered close cultural, political, economic and industrial relations with the Middle East, the Turkic states of Central Asia and the African countries through membership in organisations such as the Turkic Council, Joint Administration of Turkic Arts and Culture, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Economic Cooperation Organisation.



Istanbul is the largest city of Turkey. Istanbul metropolitan province (municipality) had 13.26 million people living in it as of December, 2010, which is 18% of Turkey's population and the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Europe (including the Asian side of the city) after London and Moscow. Istanbul is a megacity, as well as the cultural, economic, and financial centre of Turkey. It is located on the Bosporus Strait and encompasses the natural harbour known as the Golden Horn, in the northwest of the country. It extends both on the European (Thrace) and on the Asian (Anatolia) sides of the Bosporus, and is thereby the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents. Istanbul is a designated alpha world city.

During its long history, Istanbul has served as the capital of the Roman Empire (330–395), the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). When the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed on 29 October 1923, Ankara, which had previously served as the headquarters of the Turkish national movement during the Turkish War of Independence, was chosen as the new Turkish State's capital. Istanbul was chosen as a joint European Capital of Culture for 2010 and the European Capital of Sports for 2012. Istanbul is currently bidding to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. The historic areas of the city were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985. The city covers 39 districts of the Istanbul province.


Myra, Turkey – where Santa was born

(sorry Finland...)

St. Nicholas, who later became known as Santa Claus, was a popular bishop at Myra in the 4th century AD, born in Patara between 260 AD and 280, famous for his miracles and known for his kindness.  His parents died of the plague and he was left a wealthy young man.

It is said that he was thrown into prison by Emperor Diocletian, perhaps participated in the Council of Nicaea, implored Emperor Constantine for a large tax reduction for Myra which was granted and destroyed Myra's renowned temple of Artemis (among many others).  After the death of St. Nicholas, Myra became a rich pilgrimage centre with many new churches built.

Rock-cut tombs of Myra.
Photo: Wikipedia.

Bari, Italy, where Santa is buried...

In 1087 Italian merchants, during the confusion of the Seljuk invasion, stole his body at Myra and transported it to Bari in Italy, which became a pilgrimage centre and where his relics are still preserved today.  An oily substance called Manna di S. Nicola, which is highly valued for its medicinal powers, is said to flow from them. 

St. Nicolas who later became better known as Santa Claus, and
Bona Sforza, the Grand Duchess of Lithuania, are both buried in the cathedral of Bari, Basilica di San Nicola.

And ironically enough, the relics of the woman who was such a leading symbol of Lithuania's greatness are to be found, not in Lithuania, but in southern Italy along with the remains of the symbol of today's Christmas traditions, a bishop from Myra in today’s southern Turkey...

St. Nicholas' cult spread beyond the Byzantine Empire in the 6th -11th centuries, celebrated especially in Holland and the East Church under Russian imperial patronage.  He later became the patron saint of Greece and Russia as well as of children, sailors, merchants, scholars, those unjustly imprisoned and travellers.

St. Nicholas was known for his charitable nature and humility.  Several legends about him have been based on his kind and giving nature and have led to the development of Santa Claus.

For more information about St. Nicholas, see the website St. Nicholas: Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus.

Myra was a leading city of the Lycian Union and surpassed Xanthos in early Byzantine times to become the capital city of Lycia.  Its remains are situated about 1.5 km north of today's Demre, on the Kaş-Finike road. Most of the ancient city is now covered by Demre and alluvial silts, for it is located on the river Demre Cay in a fertile alluvial plain.  Today this large plain is almost covered with greenhouses stuffed full of tomatoes.  In ancient times this area was probably farmed extensively, for export and trade with the interior of Lycia.

The date of Myra's foundation is unknown.  There is no literary mention of it before the 1st century BC, when it is said to be one of the six leading cities of the Lycian Union (the other five were Xanthos, Tlos, Pinara, Patara and Olympos).  It is believed to date back much further however, as an outer defensive wall has been dated to the 5th century BC.

The city is well known for its amphitheatre (the largest in Lycia) and the plethora of rock-cut tombs carved in the cliff above the theatre.

Myra once had a great temple of the goddess Artemis Eleuthera (a distinctive form of Cybele, the ancient mother goddess of Anatolia), said to be Lycia's largest and most splendid building.  It was built on large grounds with beautiful gardens and had an inner court defined by columns, an altar and a statue of the goddess.  Not a trace of it remains today, however, since St. Nicholas (the bishop of Myra in the 4th century AD) in his zeal to stamp out paganism in the region, had the temple of Artemis, along with many other temples, completely destroyed.  See more about St. Nicholas below.

In Roman times the emperor Germanicus and his wife Agrippina paid Myra a visit in 18 AD and were honoured with statues of themselves erected in Myra's harbour (Andriace, located 5 km southwest of Myra).

St. Paul changed ships at Myra's port on his way to his trial in Rome, in about 60 AD, after he had been arrested in Jerusalem after being charged with inciting to riot.  Andriace was a chief port for Egyptian vessels passing through the area; Egypt was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire and the imperial government had a fleet of grain ships that carried grain to Rome and other parts of the Empire.  Andriace was a major trans-shipment point for grain from Alexandria - grain came from the plain near Myra, and was also possibly brought in by boats, to be shipped onwards from Lycia.  It is likely that Paul made the trip to Rome on a grain ship as these were often used to transport passengers as well.


People I’ve met in Turkey

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My views of Mediterranean Turkey

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Bosporus – between Asia & Europe

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Category : Blog archive

Lithuania recognizes ‘fact of Turkish mass killings’ in Armenia during WWI

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Genocide Survivor, Arax, Armavir Region, Republic of Armenia

Diplomatic relations between France and Turkey are tending towards zero. That’s how Ankara has reacted to the French Senate’s approval of a bill that outlaws any public denial that the killings of Armenians which took place in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 were genocide. Turkey threatened to retaliate by introducing anti-French sanctions. The first blow came from the Turkish National Radio and Television Corporation which suspended cooperation with Euronews TV.

Earlier, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Paris, froze its political, military and economic ties with France and cancelled joint military exercises.

The bill imposes a punishment of up to one year in prison and a 45,000-euro fine on anyone who dares deny the Armenian genocide. President Nicolas Sarkozy has two weeks to sign it into law.

Turkey has vigorously protested the accusations of mass killings of Armenians during the First World War and reacted painfully to Western criticism. Meanwhile, the fact of genocide has been recognized by more than 20 countries, including Russia, Lithuania, Greece, Belgium, Canada and the majority of U.S. states. But that recognition envisaged no criminal penalties. Political analyst Stanislav Tarasov told the Voice of Russia that the fate of the genocide bill in France is still pretty vague and that 86 senators who voted against may attempt to block it:

"The Turks may try to play the French senator card. Senators can appeal the bill in the Constitutional Court. This would require just 60% of the votes. Turkey also fears that other countries may follow suit and pass similar genocide laws, which would derail its long-cherished hopes to join the European Union. Finally, Turkey and Armenia might return to the Zurich protocols they signed in 2009. They contain a very important provision, namely that Yerevan agrees to move the genocide issue from big politics to the academic sphere."

Some politicians in Ankara and in European capitals think that the past should be left in the past and that modern politics should be based on modern realities. And yet, genocide is too sensitive an issue for Armenia to be easily dropped. The Armenian government has already thanked Paris for support. The votes of 600,000 French Armenians whose representatives lobbied the new law will give President Sarkozy a significant boost in his bid for re-election.

Read more…

Category : News

BRAVO! It’s about time! All too often “historical” news and commemorations in Lithuania seem to be taken for granted – as if everyone there wasn’t interested or already knew about it…

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I try to follow all the English "press" from the Baltic Times to "English". 

FINALLY I discover you! AND..... you place an article on Feb 16th Lithuanian Independence on the FRONT PAGE and feature an absolutely marvellous "historical" section.

BRAVO! It’s about time! All too often "historical" news and commemorations in Lithuania seem to be taken for granted - as if everyone there wasn't interested or already knew about it.

The fact is most of us are STARVED for this kind of information and even regular English speaking tourists need historical perspective to truly appreciate Lithuanian culture - if only to help understand a tragic and fragmented history. I will read you much and often.

Edward Kestas Reivydas,
M&R Americana Insurance Service Inc Santa Monica, California, USA

Category : About VilNews sidebar / Opinions


Have your say. Send to:

By Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas,
Ph. D., Chicago

A wave of unity sweeps the international Lithuanian community on March 11th every year as Lithuanians celebrated the anniversary of the Lithuanian Parliament's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. However, the sense of national unity engendered by the celebration could be short-lived.

Human beings have a strong tendency to overgeneralize and succumb to stereotypical us-them distinctions that can shatter even the strongest bonds. We need only search the internet to find examples of divisive thinking at work:

- "50 years of Soviet rule has ruined an entire generation of Lithuanian.

- "Those who fled Lithuania during World II were cowards -- and now they come back, flaunt their wealth, and tell us 'true Lithuanians' how to live."

- "Lithuanians who work abroad have abandoned their homeland and should be deprived of their Lithuanian citizenship."

Could such stereotypical, emotionally-charged accusations be one of the main reasons why relations between Lithuania's diaspora groups and their countrymen back home have become strained?

* * *

Text: Saulene Valskyte

In Lithuania Christmas Eve is a family event and the New Year's Eve a great party with friends!
Lithuanian say "Kaip sutiksi naujus metus, taip juos ir praleisi" (the way you'll meet the new year is the way you will spend it). So everyone is trying to spend New Year's Eve with friend and have as much fun as possible.

Lithuanian New Year's traditions are very similar to those in other countries, and actually were similar since many years ago. Also, the traditional Lithuanian New Years Eve party was very similar to other big celebrations throughout the year.

The New Year's Eve table is quite similar to the Christmas Eve table, but without straws under the tablecloth, and now including meat dishes. A tradition that definitely hasn't changes is that everybody is trying not to fell asleep before midnight. It was said that if you oversleep the midnight point you will be lazy all the upcoming year. People were also trying to get up early on the first day of the new year, because waking up late also meant a very lazy and unfortunate year.

During the New Year celebration people were dancing, singing, playing games and doing magic to guess the future. People didn't drink much of alcohol, especially was that the case for women.

Here are some advices from elders:
- During the New Year, be very nice and listen to relatives - what you are during New Year Eve, you will be throughout the year.

- During to the New Year Eve, try not to fall, because if this happens, next year you will be unhappy.

- If in the start of the New Year, the first news are good - then the year will be successful. If not - the year will be problematic.

New year predictions
* If during New Year eve it's snowing - then it will be bad weather all year round. If the day is fine - one can expect good harvest.
* If New Year's night is cold and starry - look forward to a good summer!
* If the during New Year Eve trees are covered with frost - then it will be a good year. If it is wet weather on New Year's Eve, one can expect a year where many will die and dangerous epidemics occur.
* If the first day of the new year is snowy - the upcoming year will see many young people die. If the night is snowy - mostly old people will die.
* If the New Year time is cold - then Easter will be warm.
* If during New Year there are a lot of birds in your homestead - then all year around there will be many guests and the year will be fun.

* * *

* * *
Christmas greetings
from Vilnius

* * *
Ukraine won the historic
and epic battle for the
By Leonidas Donskis
Philosopher, political theorist, historian of
ideas, social analyst, and political

Immediately after Russia stepped in Syria, we understood that it is time to sum up the convoluted and long story about Ukraine and the EU - a story of pride and prejudice which has a chance to become a story of a new vision regained after self-inflicted blindness.

Ukraine was and continues to be perceived by the EU political class as a sort of grey zone with its immense potential and possibilities for the future, yet deeply embedded and trapped in No Man's Land with all of its troubled past, post-Soviet traumas, ambiguities, insecurities, corruption, social divisions, and despair. Why worry for what has yet to emerge as a new actor of world history in terms of nation-building, European identity, and deeper commitments to transparency and free market economy?

Right? Wrong. No matter how troubled Ukraine's economic and political reality could be, the country has already passed the point of no return. Even if Vladimir Putin retains his leverage of power to blackmail Ukraine and the West in terms of Ukraine's zero chances to accede to NATO due to the problems of territorial integrity, occupation and annexation of Crimea, and mayhem or a frozen conflict in the Donbas region, Ukraine will never return to Russia's zone of influence. It could be deprived of the chances to join NATO or the EU in the coming years or decades, yet there are no forces on earth to make present Ukraine part of the Eurasia project fostered by Putin.

* * *
Watch this video if you
want to learn about the
new, scary propaganda
war between Russia,
The West and the
Baltic States!

* * *
90% of all Lithuanians
believe their government
is corrupt
Lithuania is perceived to be the country with the most widespread government corruption, according to an international survey involving almost 40 countries.

* * *
Lithuanian medical
students say no to
bribes for doctors

On International Anticorruption Day, the Special Investigation Service shifted their attention to medical institutions, where citizens encounter bribery most often. Doctors blame citizens for giving bribes while patients complain that, without bribes, they won't receive proper medical attention. Campaigners against corruption say that bribery would disappear if medical institutions themselves were to take resolute actions against corruption and made an effort to take care of their patients.

* * *
Doing business in Lithuania

By Grant Arthur Gochin
California - USA

Lithuania emerged from the yoke of the Soviet Union a mere 25 years ago. Since then, Lithuania has attempted to model upon other European nations, joining NATO, Schengen, and the EU. But, has the Soviet Union left Lithuania?

During Soviet times, government was administered for the people in control, not for the local population, court decisions were decreed, they were not the administration of justice, and academia was the domain of ideologues. 25 years of freedom and openness should have put those bad experiences behind Lithuania, but that is not so.

Today, it is a matter of expectation that court pronouncements will be governed by ideological dictates. Few, if any Lithuanians expect real justice to be effected. For foreign companies, doing business in Lithuania is almost impossible in a situation where business people do not expect rule of law, so, surely Government would be a refuge of competence?

Lithuanian Government has not emerged from Soviet styles. In an attempt to devolve power, Lithuania has created a myriad of fiefdoms of power, each speaking in the name of the Government, each its own centralized power base of ideology.

* * *
Greetings from Wales!
By Anita Šovaitė-Woronycz
Chepstow, Wales

Think of a nation in northern Europe whose population is around the 3 million mark a land of song, of rivers, lakes, forests, rolling green hills, beautiful coastline a land where mushrooms grow ready for the picking, a land with a passion for preserving its ancient language and culture.

Doesn't that sound suspiciously like Lithuania? Ah, but I didn't mention the mountains of Snowdonia, which would give the game away.

I'm talking about Wales, that part of the UK which Lithuanians used to call "Valija", but later named "Velsas" (why?). Wales, the nation which has welcomed two Lithuanian heads of state to its shores - firstly Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, who has paid several visits and, more recently, President Dalia Grybauskaitė who attended the 2014 NATO summit which was held in Newport, South Wales.

* * *
Read Cassandra's article HERE

Read Rugile's article HERE

Did you know there is a comment field right after every article we publish? If you read the two above posts, you will see that they both have received many comments. Also YOU are welcome with your comments. To all our articles!
* * *

Greetings from Toronto
By Antanas Sileika,
Toronto, Canada

Toronto was a major postwar settlement centre for Lithuanian Displaced Persons, and to this day there are two Catholic parishes and one Lutheran one, as well as a Lithuanian House, retirement home, and nursing home. A new wave of immigrants has showed interest in sports.

Although Lithuanian activities have thinned over the decades as that postwar generation died out, the Lithuanian Martyrs' parish hall is crowded with many, many hundreds of visitors who come to the Lithuanian cemetery for All Souls' Day. Similarly, the Franciscan parish has standing room only for Christmas Eve mass.

Although I am firmly embedded in the literary culture of Canada, my themes are usually Lithuanian, and I'll be in Kaunas and Vilnius in mid-November 2015 to give talks about the Lithuanian translations of my novels and short stories, which I write in English.

If you have the Lithuanian language, come by to one of the talks listed in the links below. And if you don't, you can read more about my work at
* * *

As long as VilNews exists,
there is hope for the future
Professor Irena Veisaite, Chairwoman of our Honorary Council, asked us to convey her heartfelt greetings to the other Council Members and to all readers of VilNews.

"My love and best wishes to all. As long as VilNews exists, there is hope for the future,"" she writes.

Irena Veisaite means very much for our publication, and we do hereby thank her for the support and wise commitment she always shows.

You can read our interview with her
* * *
Facing a new reality

By Vygaudas Ušackas
EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation

Dear readers of VilNews,

It's great to see this online resource for people interested in Baltic affairs. I congratulate the editors. From my position as EU Ambassador to Russia, allow me to share some observations.

For a number of years, the EU and Russia had assumed the existence of a strategic partnership, based on the convergence of values, economic integration and increasingly open markets and a modernisation agenda for society.

Our agenda was positive and ambitious. We looked at Russia as a country ready to converge with "European values", a country likely to embrace both the basic principles of democratic government and a liberal concept of the world order. It was believed this would bring our relations to a new level, covering the whole spectrum of the EU's strategic relationship with Russia.

* * *

The likelihood of Putin
invading Lithuania
By Mikhail Iossel
Professor of English at Concordia University, Canada
Founding Director at Summer Literary Seminars

The likelihood of Putin's invading Lithuania or fomenting a Donbass-style counterfeit pro-Russian uprising there, at this point, in my strong opinion, is no higher than that of his attacking Portugal, say, or Ecuador. Regardless of whether he might or might not, in principle, be interested in the insane idea of expanding Russia's geographic boundaries to those of the former USSR (and I for one do not believe that has ever been his goal), he knows this would be entirely unfeasible, both in near- and long-term historical perspective, for a variety of reasons. It is not going to happen. There will be no restoration of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical entity.

* * *

Are all Lithuanian energy
problems now resolved?
By Dr. Stasys Backaitis,
P.E., CSMP, SAE Fellow Member of Central and Eastern European Coalition, Washington, D.C., USA

Lithuania's Energy Timeline - from total dependence to independence

Lithuania as a country does not have significant energy resources. Energy consuming infrastructure after WWII was small and totally supported by energy imports from Russia.

First nuclear reactor begins power generation at Ignalina in 1983, the second reactor in 1987. Iganlina generates enough electricity to cover Lithuania's needs and about 50%.for export. As, prerequisite for membership in EU, Ignalina ceases all nuclear power generation in 2009

The Klaipėda Sea terminal begins Russia's oil export operations in 1959 and imports in 1994.

Mazeikiu Nafta (current ORLEAN Lietuva) begins operation of oil refinery in 1980.

* * *

Have Lithuanian ties across
the Baltic Sea become
stronger in recent years?
By Eitvydas Bajarunas
Ambassador to Sweden

My answer to affirmative "yes". Yes, Lithuanian ties across the Baltic Sea become as never before solid in recent years. For me the biggest achievement of Lithuania in the Baltic Sea region during recent years is boosting Baltic and Nordic ties. And not because of mere accident - Nordic direction was Lithuania's strategic choice.

The two decades that have passed since regaining Lithuania's independence can be described as a "building boom". From the wreckage of a captive Soviet republic, a generation of Lithuanians have built a modern European state, and are now helping construct a Nordic-Baltic community replete with institutions intended to promote political coordination and foster a trans-Baltic regional identity. Indeed, a "Nordic-Baltic community" - I will explain later in my text the meaning of this catch-phrase.

Since the restoration of Lithuania's independence 25 years ago, we have continuously felt a strong support from Nordic countries. Nordics in particular were among the countries supporting Lithuania's and Baltic States' striving towards independence. Take example of Iceland, country which recognized Lithuania in February of 1991, well in advance of other countries. Yet another example - Swedish Ambassador was the first ambassador accredited to Lithuania in 1991. The other countries followed suit. When we restored our statehood, Nordic Countries became champions in promoting Baltic integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. To large degree thanks Nordic Countries, massive transformations occurred in Lithuania since then, Lithuania became fully-fledged member of the EU and NATO, and we joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2015.

* * *

It's the economy, stupid *
By Valdas (Val) Samonis,

n his article, Val Samonis takes a comparative policy look at the Lithuanian economy during the period 2000-2015. He argues that the LT policy response (a radical and classical austerity) was wrong and unenlightened because it coincided with strong and continuing deflationary forces in the EU and the global economy which forces were predictable, given the right policy guidance. Also, he makes a point that LT austerity, and the resulting sharp drop in GDP and employment in LT, stimulated emigration of young people (and the related worsening of other demographics) which processes took huge dimensions thereby undercutting even the future enlightened efforts to get out of the middle-income growth trap by LT. Consequently, the country is now on the trajectory (development path) similar to that of a dog that chases its own tail. A strong effort by new generation of policymakers is badly needed to jolt the country out of that wrong trajectory and to offer the chance of escaping the middle-income growth trap via innovations.

* * *

Have you heard about the
South African "Pencil Test"?
By Karina Simonson

If you are not South African, then, probably, you haven't. It is a test performed in South Africa during the apartheid regime and was used, together with the other ways, to determine racial identity, distinguishing whites from coloureds and blacks. That repressive test was very close to Nazi implemented ways to separate Jews from Aryans. Could you now imagine a Lithuanian mother, performing it on her own child?

But that is exactly what happened to me when I came back from South Africa. I will tell you how.

* * *
Click HERE to read previous opinion letters >

VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the
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