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Archive for January, 2012

Your publication is one of the few remaining publications, where our English speaking Lithuanians can keep abreast of events and maintain their pride of being Lithuanian

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Jon Platakis.

We, at the National Lithuanian American Hall of Fame, are extremely appreciative of the superb job you did in prominently displaying our articles in your publication.

Your publication is one of the few remaining publications, where our English speaking Lithuanians can keep abreast of events and maintain their pride of being Lithuanian.

Jon Platakis, Chairman, National
Lithuanian American Hall of Fame

Category : About VilNews sidebar / Opinions

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Hanseatic Baltic

VilNews is on its way around Europe! 
Throughout January you are all invited on a
journey from north to south, from east to west. Some
articles will dwell with history. Some with Lithuanian contact
points in various countries. I have travelled across Europe with
camera and notepad for nearly 40 years and hope you will enjoy seeing
and reading about some of my experiences. Today's tour starts in Tallinn,
capital of Estonia, continues to Riga, and ends up in Kaunas. Have a nice trip!

The depicted scene shows the unloading of some merchant vessels in the period of the Hanseatic League. In the background redbrick warehouses, typical for this period.
Illustration: Illustrator: Rösel, B.

Today our journey starts in the 'Danish city' of Tallinn, Estonia. We drive from there south through several Hanseatic towns, and arrive in metropolis Riga
in Latvia. From there we follow the coast to the tourist town of Jurmala,
before we cross the border into Lithuania, to Klaipeda and Kaunas!

Tour guide: Aage Myhre

To read today’s travel report, click HERE

To read the previous articles, go to our SECTION 11

Category : Front page

- Posted by - (2) Comment

Description: Description: Description:


Hanseatic Baltic


VilNews is on its way around Europe!
Throughout January you are all invited on a
journey from north to south, from east to west. Some
articles dwell with history. Some with Lithuanian contact
points in various countries. I have travelled across Europe with
camera and notepad for nearly 40 years and hope you will enjoy seeing
and reading about some of my experiences. Today's tour starts in Tallinn,
capital of Estonia, continues to Riga, and ends up in Kaunas. Have a nice trip!

Description: Merchant vessels of the Hanseatic League
The depicted scene shows the unloading of some merchant vessels in the period of the Hanseatic League.
In the background redbrick warehouses, typical for this period.
Illustration: Illustrator: Rösel, B.

Today our journey starts in the 'Danish city' of Tallinn, Estonia. We drive from there
south through several Hanseatic towns, and arrive in metropolis Riga in Latvia.
From there we follow the coast to the tourist town of Jurmala, before we
cross the border into Lithuania, to Klaipeda and Kaunas!

Tour guide: Aage Myhre


The Hanseatic League

Hanseatic League ports.

Description: File:Haupthandelsroute Hanse.png
Main trading routes of the Hanseatic League

The Hanseatic League was an economic alliance of trading cities and their merchant guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (c. 13th–17th centuries).

The League was created to protect commercial interests and privileges granted by foreign rulers in cities and countries the merchants visited. The Hanseatic cities had their own legal system and furnished their own protection and mutual aid. Despite this, the organization was not a city-state, nor can it be called a confederation of city-states; only a very small number of the cities within the league enjoyed autonomy and liberties comparable to those of a free imperial city.

Lübeck in northern Germany became a main base for merchants from Saxony and Westphalia trading eastward and northward. Well before the term Hanse appeared in a document (1267), merchants in different cities began to form guilds or Hansa with the intention of trading with towns overseas, especially in the economically less-developed eastern Baltic. This area was a source of timber, wax, amber, resins, furs, along with rye and wheat brought down on barges from the hinterland to port markets. The towns raised their own armies, with each guild being required to provide levies when needed. The Hanseatic cities came to each other's aid, and commercial ships often had to be used to carry soldiers and their arms.

Lübeck's location on the Baltic provided access for trade with Scandinavia and Kiev Rus, putting it in direct competition with the Scandinavians who had previously controlled most of the Baltic trade routes. A treaty with the Visby Hansa put an end to competition: through this treaty the Lübeck merchants also gained access to the inland Russian port of Novgorod, where they built a trading post or Kontor. Other such alliances formed throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Yet the League never became a closely managed formal organisation. Assemblies of the Hanseatic towns met irregularly in Lübeck for a Hansetag (Hanseatic Diet), from 1356 onwards, but many towns chose not to send representatives and decisions were not binding on individual cities. Over time, the network of alliances grew to include a flexible roster of 70 to 170 cities.

Riga joined the Hanseatic League in 1282, and become the first Hanseatic City in Livonia. Tallinn was the next Livonian city to join the group. In Lithuania, local merchants were subject to the laws of the grand Duchy of Lithuania and were free to conduct trade with Hansa merchants, but the Hansa merchants found it difficult to secure a monopoly on Lithuanian trade. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was hostile to the Germans after attempts at conquest. Tariffs were exacted at the Lithuanian borders with Poland and Livonia. Hansa merchants were tolerated, if they paid their tariffs, and developed trade routes through Lithuania all the way down to the Bug river where the Ukraine is today.

At the start of the 16th century, the League found itself in a weaker position than it had known for many years. The rising Swedish Empire had taken control of much of the Baltic. Denmark had regained control over its own trade, the Kontor in Novgorod had closed, and the Kontor in Bruges had become effectively moribund. The individual cities which made up the League had also started to put self-interest before their common Hanseatic interests. Finally, the political authority of the German princes had started to grow—and so to constrain the independence of action which the merchants and Hanseatic towns had enjoyed. By the late 16th century, the League had imploded and could no longer deal with its own internal struggles, the social and political changes that accompanied the Protestant Reformation, the rise of Dutch and English merchants, and the incursion of the Ottoman Empire upon its trade routes and upon the Holy Roman Empire itself. Only nine members attended the last formal meeting in 1669 and only three (Lübeck, Hamburg and Bremen) remained as members until its final demise in 1862.

Today’s tour:

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Description: Estonia

Description: File:Tallinn-view-from-Tompea.jpg
Tallinn, capital city of Estonia, was the northernmost city of the Hanseatic League.
Photo: Wikipedia.

Estonia is the northernmost Baltic State. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia (343 km), and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation (338.6 km). Across the Baltic Sea lies Sweden in the west and Finland in the north. The territory of Estonia covers 45,227 km2 (17,462 sq mi), and is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. The Estonians are a Finnic people, and the official language Estonian, is closely related to Finnish.

Estonia is a democratic parliamentary republic divided into 15 counties. The capital and largest city is Tallinn. With a population of 1.34 million, Estonia is one of the least-populous members of the European Union, Eurozone and NATO. Estonia has the highest GDP per person among former Soviet republics. Estonia is listed as a "High-Income Economy" by the World Bank, as an "advanced economy" by the International Monetary Fund and the country is an OECD member. The United Nations lists Estonia as a developed country with a Human Development Index of "Very High". The country is also ranked highly for press freedom, economic freedom, democracy and political freedom and education.

There are seven Hanseatic League towns in Estonia and each summer everyone is welcome to join the Hanseatic Days which recreate the spirit of that era. On Hanseatic days people dress up in medieval clothing, cook medieval food and play medieval games and music. Handmade goods are offered at the medieval market. Masters demonstrate, and apprentices learn, how to make things using leather, wool, rope, cloth, wood, twigs and clay. These sessions are a lot of fun and highly educational – perfect for families.

Description: File:Korghoone.PNG
Tallinn’s St. Olaf's church was the tallest building in the world between 1549 and 1625.

Tallinn – the medieval 'Danish town’ that saw the world's first Christmas tree

Tallinn means supposedly ‘The Walled Danish City 'in Estonian.

It was in 1219 that Danish crusaders, under the command of King Valdemar II (the victorious), won the crucial battle over Estonia’s pagans. During the last phase of this battle, says the legend, God gave the Danes the win by letting a red banner with a white cross fall from the sky, over the hard-pressed Crusaders. Inspired by this 'divine miracle' the Danes strength came back and they won the battle. The Danes are thus still ‘in debt’ to Estonia for its flag, Dannebrog, the world's oldest state flag still in use. The name Tallinn means supposedly the walled Danish city’. In Estonian, the legacy of Denmark lives, even today.

In 1285 Tallinn became the northernmost member of the Hanseatic League, which during the 1300s concerned the Danish kings more and more. The Hanseatic League power grew, and in 1346 the Danes ‘gave in’ and sold Tallinn, along with large areas of land in northern Estonia, to the Teutonic Order. The city, with a population of 8000, was at that time very well entrenched within a strong city wall with 66 defense towers.

In contrast to other capitals in Europe, Tallinn managed to preserve the totality and the structures of its medieval and Hanseatic origin. Most of the cobbled streets are still as they once were. Buildings, dated as far back as the 11th century, are preserved in their original form.

The City Hall - Town Hall Square - stands still, after seven centuries, as the ancient, well preserved heart of the city. The City Hall itself, the only intact Gothic town hall in Northern Europe, is now a museum and concert hall.

The Town Hall Square is also known for something Estonians themselves claim is a historical fact, that it was here the world's very first Christmas tree was born. Here Christmas lights were lit already in 1441...

The medieval feeling creeps over me as we walk along the old city wall and its 26 watchtowers. We stop at the narrow Müürivahe Street (near Viru Gate) where the old wall has been preserved in its original form. Further medieval I'm hardly ever.

Description: Latvia

Jūrmala is a city in Latvia, about 25 kilometers west of Riga. Jūrmala is a resort town stretching 32 kilometres (20 mi).
It has a 33 km stretch of white-sand beach, and a population of 55,580.
Photo: Wikipedia.

Latvia is the Baltic State 'in the middle'. It is bordered to the north by Estonia (border length 343 km), to the south by Lithuania (588 km), to the east by the Russian Federation (276 km), to the southeast by Belarus (141 km), and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden. With 2,067,887 inhabitants and a territory of 64,589 km2 (24,938 sq mi) it is one of the least populous and least densely populated countries of the European Union. The capital of Latvia is Riga. The official language is Latvian and the currency is called Lats (Ls).

The Latvians are a Baltic people, culturally related to the Lithuanians. Together with the Finno-Ugric Livs (or Livonians), the Latvians are the indigenous people of Latvia. Latvian is an Indo-European language and along with Lithuanian the only two surviving members of the Baltic branch. Indigneous minority languages are Latgalian and the nearly extinct Finno-Ugric Livonian language. Latvia and Estonia share a long common history: historical Livonia, times of German, Polish-Lithuanian, Swedish, Russian, Nazi German and Soviet rule, 13th century Christianization and 16th century Protestant Reformation. Both countries are home to a large number of ethnic Russians (26.9% in Latvia and 25.5% in Estonia) of whom some are non-citizens. Latvia is historically predominantly Protestant, except for the region of Latgalia in the southeast which is historically predominantly Roman Catholic.

Latvia is a unitary parliamentary republic and is divided into 118 administrative divisions of which 109 municipalities and 9 cities. There are five planning regions: Courland (Kurzeme), Latgalia (Latgale), Riga (Rīga), Vidzeme and Zemgale. The Republic of Latvia was founded on November 18, 1918. It was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union between 1940–1941 and 1945–1991 and by Nazi Germany between 1941–1945. The peaceful "Singing Revolution" between 1987 and 1991 and "Baltic Chain" demonstration on August 23, 1989 led to the independence of the Baltic states. Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence on August 21, 1991.

Latvia is a member of the United Nations, European Union, Council of Europe, NATO, OSCE, IMF and WTO, and is part of the Schengen Area. It was a member of the League of Nations (1921–1946) and the Baltic Free Trade Area (1994–2004). Latvia is also a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States and Nordic Investment Bank, and is together with Estonia and Lithuania involved in trilateral Baltic States cooperation and Nordic-Baltic cooperation.

After economic stagnation in the early 1990s, Latvia posted Europe-leading GDP growth figures during 1998–2006. In the global financial crisis of 2008–2010 Latvia was the hardest hit of the European Union member states, with a GDP decline of 26.54% in that period. Commentators noted signs of stabilisation in the Latvian economy by 2010. The United Nations lists Latvia as a country with a Human Development Index (HDI) of "Very High".


Riga – the Hanseatic city that became the world's leading Art Nouveau Centre

The Town Hall Square in Riga.

Riga is the largest Baltic city. Around 700,000 live here. Riga is located at the mouth of the Daugava River, which has functioned as a trade route since ancient days. From here the Viking ships sailed up the rivers on their way to the Caspian Sea and Constantinople, today's Istanbul. Riga's history goes back to the 2nd century, but began to develop as a centre when the Viking trade took off in the early Middle Ages. In 1282 Riga became a member of the Hanseatic League. Hansa was instrumental in giving Riga economic and political stability, and the town has retained its position as the energy point of the Baltic Sea's southeastern shore.

Still today is part of the old wall from the 14th century intact. Most of the wall was originally removed to give the city room for expansion. As for the other two Baltic capitals, the old town is interesting. Soviet buildings outside the city centre is just sad stuff. Just a shame you see them too well when you drive into the old town; where cobbled streets, gabled houses, churches, shops and restaurants are creating a phenomenally warm, good atmosphere.

When I first came here to the old town, in January 1991, it was freezing cold outside. But the Latvians had lit bonfires, many, and made themselves a human wall around the parliament to prevent the Soviet forces, who stood around, to come in. It was while I was in Parliament here that I experienced the Soviet Union's propaganda lies. When I was in the Parliament the 17th of January 1991, Soviet television reported that their soldiers had taken over the parliament building. I, and many others, were inside the building, listening in disbelief as no single Soviet soldier was to see inside.

At the end of the 1800s, many European traders settled in Riga. They left their distinctive marks on the city, not least by raising many buildings in Art Nouveau style. This was the original French genre reflecting creative freedom; classic elements interwoven with flowing lines and decorative shapes and objects.

Riga is said to contain the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world. And the Art Nouveau architecture

in Riga is truly fascinating. Many buildings have been restored in full glory, as they were built during the years 1894-1914. There are over 800 Art Nouveau buildings here, which makes it extremely interesting to walk around the streets here. I am overwhelmed by these wonders.

Description: Lithuania

Description: C:\Users\Aage\Pictures\2011-07-11 001\IMG_4966.JPG
The Friedricho pasažas (Friedrich passageway ) is a unique restaurant complex in Lithuania’s coastal city Klaipėda.
Photo: Aage Myhre.

Lithuania is the southernmost and largest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark. It borders Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and a Russian exclave (Kaliningrad Oblast) to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 3.2 million as of 2011, and its capital and largest city is Vilnius. The Lithuanians are a Baltic people, and the official language, Lithuanian, is one of only two living languages (together with Latvian) in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.

For centuries, the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea was inhabited by various Baltic tribes. In the 1230s the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, who was crowned as King of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the first Lithuanian state, on 6 July 1253. During the 14th - 16th century, Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe: present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia were territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. With the Lublin Union of 1569, Lithuania and Poland formed a voluntary two-state union, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighbouring countries systematically dismantled it from 1772 to 1795, with the Russian Empire annexing most of Lithuania's territory.

In the aftermath of World War I, Lithuania's Act of Independence was signed on 16 February 1918, declaring the re-establishment of a sovereign state. Starting in 1940, Lithuania was occupied first by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end in 1944 and the Germans retreated, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania.

On 11 March 1990, the year before the break-up of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence. Prior to the global financial crisis of 2007–2010, Lithuania had one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union. Lithuania is a member of NATO, the Council of Europe, and the European Union. Lithuania is also a full member of the Schengen Agreement. The United Nations Human Development Index lists Lithuania as a "Very High Human Development" country. In 2011, Lithuania hosted the European men's basketball championship, EuroBasket 2011, and the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting.


Klaipeda – Lithuania's 'German' port city, with the best Baltic Sea beaches

Description: C:\Users\Aage\Pictures\2011-07-12 001\IMG_4942.JPG
Photo: Aage Myhre.

The image of the Baltic States as dull, gray and Soviet like is very much incorrect. This I learned already during my first visit here in 1990. Still, it surprised me to come to Klaipeda, a city quite different from the other Lithuanian cities. More German looking in a way. I soon learned that the Lithuanian port city once was called Memel and that the area out here on the Baltic Sea coast some time ago belonged to Germany.

A trip from Vilnius to Klaipeda takes less than three hours on the 4-lane motorway. But the difference in architectural style is as if to drive from Florence to Hamburg....

Klaipeda was founded in 1252, and in this old town you can see many, many buildings that each tells stories about the life and development over 700 years. Houses with timber frames and masonry, some pure brick houses, adorn the cobblestone streets side by side. Lithuania's 10 mil-long coast has also the Baltic Sea's most beautiful sandy beaches.

The two picturesque tourist towns, Nida and Palanga, are located just a few kilometres away from here.

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Photos: Aage Myhre.


Kaunas – the Hanseatic town at the Nemunas River

Description: File:Perkuno namas 2006-06-30.jpg
House of Perkunas (God of thunder and the sky), the most original and archaic Gothic secular
Building in the Old Town of Kaunas. Originally built by Hanseatic
merchants, serving as their office from 1440 till 1532.

Since the end of the 14th century, Lithuania's trading relationships with Königsberg and, especially, Danzig, which became the most popular of the Hanseatic towns in Northern and Eastern Europe, got increasingly significant. Lithuania and Danzig started their trading relationships already at the end of the 14th century. During Vytautas' term of office, Lithuania and Danzig maintained regular relationships. The waterway Nemunas (Lithuania’s largest river) - Kaunas Sea - Deimė - Prieglius - Aismarės - Vistula was the way transporting cheap staples from Lithuania to Danzig, which greatly profited the intermediates.

In order to improve accessibility of cheap goods, by the advantageous Nemunas quay the Hanseatic counting-house was established. The main outbound goods were wax, fur, leather, wood, mould, tar, and, since the 15th century, grain. What Kaunas used to receive was other goods, such as salt, which could not be substituted, and also ironware and baize. The office was open till the middle of the 16th century, and these were the most glorious and the most venerable times of Western Europe's city Kaunas.

Kaunas is the sole Lithuanian town that belongs to 'The new Hansa Union' that was established in 1980. It is an organisation of economically and politically active member-cities of the old Hanseatic League that aim for close cooperation. At the moment, the organisation unites more than 170 European towns international towns'. Every year, Kaunas presents itself at the annual event of the union "International Hansa Days" by introducing the heritage of cuisine, folk art, music, theatre, etc. Furthermore, since 2005, at the end of August, Kaunas draws crowds of people from the entire Lithuania, who can admire the unique Kaunas Old Town and lose themselves in the Middle Ages, i.e. try armour, play medieval games, taste the old European dishes, listen to the troubadours' songs, wield a sward, enjoy watching the night's sky coloured by amazing fireworks, and a lot more.

The public institution "Hansa Kaunas" and Kaunas local government that organise the festival already for the fourth time have managed to achieve that the festival be known not only in Lithuania but also outside. Now the event has become the priority of the town and it now has gained its face, traditions and lots of devoted supporters.

The festival has broadened: on the stage one can see not only Lithuanian performers but also guest artists from Germany, Poland, Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Norway and Holland. Moreover, three documentary films have already been produced. Financing is increased as more and more supporters are found. Appropriations of both the local government and the Government of the Republic of Lithuania have been increased.

Category : Blog archive

Learn more about Lithuania’s leading Hanseatic city!

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The above illustration is from a German web site with a lot of interesting information about Klaipeda (Memel) of those days!

In the early 1200s, the Teutonic Knights (‘Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem’) started building a castle in the Pilsāts Land of the Curonians and named it Memelburg; later the name was shortened to Memel.
From 1252-1923 and from 1939–1945, the town and city was officially named Memel. Due to political changes between 1923 and 1939, both names were in official use; since 1945 the Lithuanian name of Klaipėda is used. 

The names Memelburg and Memel are found in most written sources from the 13th century onwards, while Klaipėda is found in Lithuania-related sources since the 15th century. The first time the city was mentioned as Caloypede in the letter of Vytautas in 1413, for the second time in the negotiation documents of 1420 as Klawppeda, and for the third time in the Treaty of Melno of 1422 as Cleupeda. According to Samogitian folk etymology, the name Klaipėda refers to the boggy terrain of the town (klaidyti=obstruct and pėda=foot). Most likely the name is of Curonian origin and means “even ground”: „klais/ klait“ (flat, open, free) und “ped“ (sole of the foot, ground).

Read more at: 

Category : Opinions

Historic deal between Klaipeda and the U.S. Port of Philadelphia

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The Republic of Lithuania Port of Klaipeda and the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding that promises to open Philadelphia ports to the European and Asian shipping trade via the ice-free port of Klaipeda, the Lithuanian port city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.

Lithuania’s Transport and Communications Minister Eligijus Masiulis led a delegation of that country’s leaders to meet with Pennsylvania state and city officials, as well as Leo A. Holt, President of Holt Logistics Corp., and PRPA Chairman Charles Kopp and Executive Director James McDermott. Together, they signed the MOU, which pledges increased support for expanded trade between Philadelphia and Klaipeda. The delegation also included Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States Zygimantas Pavilionis and Eugenijus Gentvilas, the Director General of Klaipeda Seaport.


Category : News

Lithuania turns to LNG, picks Norwegian Hoegh for platform

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* Floating LNG platform to have 170,000 cubic meters capacity
* Operations expected to start at the end of 2014
* Terminal to reduce Lithuania's dependence on Russian gas 

Lithuania took a step towards less dependence on Russian gas by deciding on Monday to pick Norway's Hoegh LNG to provide an offshore platform for liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports. 

Majority state-owned oil terminal Klaipedos Nafta said in a statement that it chose Hoegh to supply a floating storage regasification unit (FSRU), and that operations were expected to start at the end of 2014.
An FSRU is cheaper and faster to build than a fixed LNG terminal on land.
Klaipedos Nafta said that the FSRU had been ordered in South Korea and will have a capacity of 170,000 cubic meters of LNG. 


Category : News

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From east to west

in European Russia

VilNews is on its way around Europe! 
Throughout January you are all invited on a
journey from north to south, from east to west. Some
articles will dwell with history. Some with Lithuanian contact
points in various countries. I have travelled across Europe with
camera and notepad for nearly 40 years and hope you will enjoy seeing
and reading about some of my experiences. Today's tour starts in Orenburg,
East Russia, continues to Moscow, and ends up in Kaliningrad. Have a nice trip!

Moscow Kremlin – a thunderstorm brewing.
Кремль. Перед ливнем.

Photo: Wikipedia

Our today's journey begins at the Ural River between Asia and Europe, where
Siberia starts. From there we fly two hours west, to Moscow, the capital
of this vast country called Russia. We end today’s journey in the
Kaliningrad Oblast here at the Baltic seashore.

Tour guide: Aage Myhre

To read today’s travel report, click HERE

To read the previous articles, go to our SECTION 11

Category : Front page

- Posted by - (1) Comment



From east to west

in European Russia


VilNews is on its way around Europe!
Throughout January you are all invited on a
journey from north to south, from east to west. Some
articles dwell with history. Some with Lithuanian contact
points in various countries. I have travelled across Europe with
camera and notepad for nearly 40 years and hope you will enjoy seeing
and reading about some of my experiences. Today's tour starts in Orenburg,
East Russia, continues to Moscow, and ends up in Kaliningrad. Have a nice trip!

Description: File:Kremlin 27.06.2008 01.jpg
Moscow Kremlin – a thunderstorm brewing.
Кремль. Перед ливнем.
Photo: Wikipedia

Our today's journey begins at the Ural River between Asia and Europe, where
Siberia starts. From there we fly two hours west, to Moscow, the capital
of this vast country called Russia. We end today’s journey in the
Kaliningrad Oblast here at the Baltic seashore.

Tour guide: Aage Myhre


View Larger Map

To Siberia – probably the only one ever going there voluntary, without a visa

It’s January 1992. I have been invited on a trip to Orenburg city on the border to Siberia. Together with two British business leaders that I early in the 1990s helped with contacts in Russia. As a Norwegian I cannot be issued a visa to Russia in Vilnius. But according to the Lithuanians, I can safely travel to Siberia without papers. Soviet rules are still valid. Lithuania and Siberia are both considered to be just regions, six months after the termination of the USSR. Orenburg Oblast is home to Orenburg Cossacks at the Ural River, considered the boundary between Europe and Asia...

Description: CCCP-42544 aeroflot yak42 at Manchester 3-5-1992

I decide to take the chance. Not long after we land in Moscow. Flights from Vilnius still belong to the category domestic,
despite the months that have now passed since Lithuania was officially approved as an independent nation, also by Russia. Therefore, no passport control, neither in Vilnius nor on arrival Moscow. The very long journey around the metropolis, to the other airport, the one that operates flights to the east of Russia, is also fine. Not long after we are smoothly seated in a Yak-42 from the airline Aeroflot. This is a flight I will never forget. There is no food on board, so many of the passengers sit in the aisle to eat food brought along. Not to forget the drinks. The only thing missing is someone lighting a bonfire for cooking or frying food. Passengers have distinctive facial characteristics. Asian. Mongolian. The vodka they generously share with us is very handy in reducing anxiety for what might happen with this incredibly smelly plane...

The Ural city of Orenburg, on the border with Siberia,
founded in 1743.

Description: C:\Users\Aage\Pictures\2011-09-16\001.jpg
In April 1992, three months after the visit to Siberia, I, in Oslo, got a new visa to the Soviet Union. The country
that is alive and well long after it has ceased to exist. Stamped CCCP!

Hotel Metropol, at the Kremlin, top of luxury in Moscow.

We land in winter dressed Orenburg a late, dark January evening. Two meters of snow. Cold of course. We are picked up by our hosts. One car in front, one behind, we in the middle. There is much here in the Russian wilderness that is about security and protection these days. The dacha, the house, which awaits us there, deep in the Ural forests, is brightly lit, surrounded by high barbed wire fences. German Shepherd Dogs barking persistently. I feel uncomfortable. This give me associations to a concentration camp, to Stalin prisons camps further east, on Siberia's frozen tundra. The Gulags.

Inside the house two lightly clad ladies are waiting in the lavishly decorated dacha that soon proves to be a small luxury hotel. Facial expressions of the young ladies are indescribable in what they see that I have brought with me my wife. But the food is good. The same is the cognac and whisky, all 'blue label'.

"Only one western delegation has visited the city before you, namely Swedish Volvo," tells our host. This is a fact that has made them nervous about our safety. They say that a whole army stood around the runway when we landed. All with sharp loaded Kalashnikov machine guns, ready to protect us. Just in case ... Over the next few days we visit the city's
mayor and discuss possible business with the hosts. A total abundance of food and fine beverages always available...

The flight back to Moscow takes place during daytime, in sparkling sun over the endless snow-covered plains and forests west of the Urals. Soon we arrive in Moscow. We check in at the Hotel Metropol right on Red Square. Luxury for $500 per night. But it feels good after the trip to the Siberian gateway. No one checks my papers.

Moscow is enormous – but a city I do not easily become familiar with
About 10 million people live in Moscow. It makes the city to number seven in the world, largest in Europe.

Moscow is enormous. Everything is big here. Inhuman. The outskirts are characterized by gloomy gray block houses
from the Soviet era, while the city centre has many historic and newer buildings that really deserve closer acquaintance. I have tried several times, but there is something about Moscow as a whole that I never feel comfortable with. The greyness. Doldrums. New rich oligarchs in expensive luxury cars, while the majority are living in rather poor conditions. The often harsh atmosphere of business at any cost. Culture The country Russia drowns in greed, corruption and fraud. Terribly sad, because Russia has so many good aspect and qualities to be proud of.

Moscow is the city with 'rush hour' round the clock. "Russia has two problems: fools and roads", said author Nikolai
Gogol nearly two centuries ago. The Russians have a tendency to protest by saying that there are fools all around the world, but when it comes to roads they agree. Today's traffic is Russia's Achilles heel, a disaster that seems to have no salvation.

Moscow's endless traffic jams have become the icon that defines the Russian capital. More than the Lenin Mausoleum, 
the prostitute on Leningradskoe Shosse, and unregistered taxi drivers from various Stan Republics offering services from their abandoned car wrecks. 

Description: File:RedSquare (
Kremlin and the Red Square in Moscow.
Photo: Wikipedia.

 History of Russia

Description: File:Russian-regions.png

Russia, officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation, is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (both via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea. It also has maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk, and the United States by the Bering Strait.

At 17,075,400 square kilometres (6,592,800 sq mi), Russia is the largest country in the world, covering more than one eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area. Russia is also the eighth most populous nation with 143 million people. It extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe, spanning nine time zones and incorporating a wide range of environments and landforms.

A Viking was the first Russian ruler

The history of Russia begins with that of the Eastern Slavs and the Finno-Ugric peoples. The state of Garðaríki ("the realm of towns"), which was centered in Novgorod and included the entire areas inhabited by Ilmen Slavs, Veps and Votes, was established by the Varangian chieftain Rurik in 862 (the traditional beginning of Russian history).

Scandinavian Norsemen, called "Vikings" in Western Europe and "Varangians" in the East, combined piracy and trade in their roamings over much of Northern Europe. In the mid-9th century, they began to venture along the waterways from the eastern Baltic to the Black and Caspian Seas. According to the earliest Russian chronicle Rurik was elected ruler before his successors moved south and extended their authority to Kiev, which had been previously dominated by the Khazars.

Thus, the first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus', emerged in the 9th century along the Dnieper River valley. A coordinated group of princely states with a common interest in maintaining trade along the river routes, Kievan Rus' controlled the trade route for furs, wax, and slaves between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire along the Volkhov and Dnieper Rivers

Kievan Rus', the first united East Slavic state, was founded by Rurik's successor Oleg of Novgorod in 882. The state adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state because of the Mongol invasion of Rus' in 1237–1240.

Two tsars competing with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

During that time a number of regional magnates, in particular Novgorod and Pskov, fought to inherit the cultural and political legacy of Kievan Rus'. After the 13th century, Moscow came to dominate the former cultural center. In the 15th century, the grand princes of Moscow went on gathering Russian lands to increase the population and wealth under their rule. The most successful practitioner of this process was Ivan III (the Great) who laid the foundations for a Russian national state. Ivan competed with his powerful northwestern rival, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, for control over some of the semi-independent Upper Principalities in the upper Dnieper and Oka River basins.

The development of the Tsar's autocratic powers reached a peak during the reign (1547–1584) of Ivan IV (the Terrible). He strengthened the position of the monarch to an unprecedented degree, as he ruthlessly subordinated the nobles to his will, exiling or executing many on the slightest provocation. Nevertheless, Ivan is often seen as a farsighted statesman who reformed Russia as he promulgated a new code of laws (Sudebnik of 1550), established the first Russian feudal representative body (Zemsky Sobor), curbed the influence of clergy, and introduced the local self-management in rural regions.

Although his long Livonian War for the control of the Baltic coast and the access to sea trade ultimately proved a costly failure, Ivan managed to annex the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia.

By the 18th century, the Grand Duchy of Moscow had become the huge Russian Empire, stretching from the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth eastward to the Pacific Ocean. Expansion in the western direction sharpened Russia's awareness of its separation from much of the rest of Europe and shattered the isolation in which the initial stages of expansion had occurred. Successive regimes of the 19th century responded to such pressures with a combination of halfhearted reform and repression. Russian serfdom was abolished in 1861, but its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to increase revolutionary pressures. Between the abolition of serfdom and the beginning of World War I in 1914, the Stolypin reforms, the constitution of 1906 and State Duma introduced notable changes to the economy and politics of Russia, but the tsars were still not willing to relinquish autocratic rule, or share their power.

The Russian revolution in 1917

The Russian Revolution in 1917 was triggered by a combination of economic breakdown, war weariness, and discontent with the autocratic system of government, and it first brought a coalition of liberals and moderate socialists to power, but their failed policies led to seizure of power by the Communist Bolsheviks on 25 October. Between 1922 and 1991, the history of Russia is essentially the history of the Soviet Union, effectively an ideologically based state which was roughly conterminous with the Russian Empire before the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The approach to the building of socialism, however, varied over different periods in Soviet history, from the mixed economy and diverse society and culture of the 1920s to the command economy and repressions of the Joseph Stalin era to the "era of stagnation" in the 1980s. From its first years, government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the Communists, as the Bolsheviks called themselves, beginning in March 1918. However, by the late 1980s, with the weaknesses of its economic and political structures becoming acute, the Communist leaders embarked on major reforms, which led to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Following the Russian Revolution, Russia became the largest and leading constituent of the Soviet Union, the world's first constitutionally socialist state and a recognized superpower, which played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II. The Soviet era saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the 20th century, including the world's first human spaceflight. The Russian Federation was founded following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, but is recognized as the continuing legal personality of the Soviet state.

Today’s Russia

The history of the Russian Federation is brief, starting from the late 1991. Russia was recognized as the legal successor to the Soviet Union on the international stage. However, Russia has lost its superpower status as it faced serious challenges in its efforts to forge a new post-Soviet political and economic system. Scrapping the socialist central planning and state ownership of property of the Soviet era, Russia attempted to build an economy with elements of market capitalism, with often painful results. Even today Russia shares many continuities of political culture and social structure with its tsarist and Soviet past.

Russia has the world's 11th largest economy by nominal GDP or the 6th largest by purchasing power parity, with the 5th largest nominal military budget. It is one of the five recognized nuclear weapons states and possesses the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Russia is a great power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the G8, G20, the Council of Europe, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Eurasian Economic Community, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and is the leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Russia has the world's largest reserves of mineral and energy resources and is the number one natural gas producer as well as number one oil producer globally. Russia has the world's largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world's fresh water.


Russian-Lithuanian relations

During the course of the 19th century, the Presidential Palace in Vilnius served as a residence for several Imperial Russian governors, such as Mikhail Muravyov, nicknamed "The Hangman". In 1812, both the Russian Tsar Alexander I and the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte used the Palace as their residence. During Napoleon's invasion of Russia, he organized military operations and Lithuanian army units from the Palace, including five regiments of infantry, four cavalry regiments, and the National Guard of Vilnius. He received Lithuanian noblemen, newly appointed officials of the administration, and other dignitaries in the Palace as well. After Napoleon's defeat in 1812, the Palace was used for ceremonial proposes; it was here that then-general Mikhail Kutuzov was awarded Russia's highest military award – the Order of St. George. During 1824-1834, the Palace was reconstructed by the prominent St. Petersburg architect Vasily Stasov in the Empire style, under supervision of Karol Podczaszyński. Stasov's reconstruction of the Palace has remained to this day.

During the Northern Wars (1655–1661), the Lithuanian territory and economy were devastated by the Swedish army. Before it could fully recover, Lithuania was ravaged during the Great Northern War (1700–1721). The war, plague, and famine caused the deaths of approximately 40% of the country's population.

Foreign powers, especially Russia, became dominant in the domestic politics of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that had been established in 1569 (Union of Lublin). Numerous factions among the nobility used the Golden Liberties to prevent any reforms. Eventually, the Commonwealth was partitioned in 1772, 1792, and 1795 by the Russian Empire, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria.

The largest area of Lithuanian territory were occupied by the Russian Empire in 1795. After unsuccessful uprisings in 1831 and 1863, the Tsarist authorities implemented a number of Russification policies. They banned the Lithuanian press, closed cultural and educational institutions, and made Lithuania part of a new administrative region called Northwestern Krai. These ruthless Russification policies failed owing to extensive network of book smugglers and secret Lithuanian home schooling.

The Russian domination was rather inconsistent with the direction of Lithuanian history. Russians were Orthodox 

Christians, Lithuanians were Catholics, Lithuanians used Latin script, as opposed to Russia’s Cyrillic, Lithuanians felt culturally more related to Scandinavians, Poles and Germans, than to Russians, and Lithuania was united by trade routes through the Baltic Sea to Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain, rather than through the great rivers and into Russia. 

After the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), when German diplomats assigned what were seen as Russian spoils of war to Turkey, the relationship between Russia and the German Empire became complicated. The Russian Empire resumed the construction of fortresses at its western borders for defence against a potential invasion from Germany in the West.

On 7 July 1879 the Russian Emperor Alexander II approved of a proposal from the Russian military leadership to build the largest "first-class" defensive structure in the entire state – the 65 km2 (25 sq mi) Kaunas Fortress.

Description: Kaunas Fortress
The Kaunas Fortress was constructed and renovated between 1882 and 1915 to protect the Russian Empire's western borders, and was designated a "first-class" fortress in 1887. During World War I, the complex was the largest defensive structure in the entire state, occupying 65 km2 (25 sq mi). The fortress was battle-tested in 1915 when Germany attacked the Russian Empire, and withstood eleven days of assault before capture. After World War I, the fortress' military importance declined as advances in weaponry rendered it increasingly obsolete. It was used by various civil institutions and as a garrison. During World War II, parts of the fortress complex were used by the governments of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for detention, interrogation, and execution. About 50,000 people were executed there, including more than 30,000 victims of the Holocaust. Some sections have since been restored; the Ninth Fort houses a museum and memorial devoted to the victims of wartime mass executions. The complex is the most complete remaining example of a Russian Empire fortress.

A more organised 
movement for independence of Lithuania emerged in the 1880s, with their own publications, and exile institutions, mainly in Prussia. The tsar allowed a Lithuanian nationalist congress to convene in Vilnius in 1905, and the congress demanded autonomy from Russia, restoration of previous borders, and restoration of Lithuanian language as language of instruction in schools. 

Between 1868 and 1914, approximately 635,000 people, almost 20% of the population, emigrated from Lithuania. Large numbers of Lithuanians went to the United States in 1867–1868 after a famine.

Before any of Lithuania’s demands vs.  Russia were met, World War I broke out and Lithuania was occupied by Germany. At the end of the war, Lithuania declared itself independent. The Bolshevik Red Army invaded and installed a puppet government, but by May 1920, Lithuanian and German forces had driven the Russians out. Lithuania was recognised as independent, and remained so until 1940.

In 1939, Germany took control of parts of Lithuania, but let the Soviets take over, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact. In 1940, the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, installed a puppet Communist government, and the Lithuanian SSR was established (the Nazis re-invaded Lithuania for the period 1941-1944). 

The Soviets immediately began various russification measures, and deported tens of thousands of ‘suspected’ Lithuanian people, first in 1941, then for the period 1944-1953 and later. The numbers of Lithuanians in Siberia and Central Asia increased dramatically when this large portion of Lithuanians were involuntarily deported into these areas. After de-Stalinization, however, most of them returned home. Some Lithuanian communities in certain regions of Soviet Union were formed during the Soviet occupation; Later, some Lithuanians were relocated to work in other areas of the USSR; some of them chose not to return to Lithuania, even after it became independent.

It is estimated that some 50,000 Lithuanians still live in Russia.

In 1944, Soviet forces "liberated" Lithuania, and Stalin immediately set about eliminating Lithuanian nationalism. Tens of thousands suspected nationalists were killed and several hundred thousand were sent to Gulag prison camps. All in all, during World War II and Stalin's reign of terror, around one third of the Lithuanian population was killed or deported. Lithuanian guerillas continued to fight the Soviets until around 1953. 

Collectivisation and careless industrialisation severely damaged Lithuania's economy and ecology. Soviet rule also brought many Russians to Lithuania, with promises of good jobs and housing.

Both in the 1950s and the 1970s, there were political protests in Lithuania, but it was not until Gorbachev came to power in the mid 1980s, that the winds of change began to blow. Gorbachev himself, in 1987 began discussing more openly the possibility of more autonomy for the Baltic States, and in 1988, a popular front was established, under the name "Sajudis".

A strong expression of the Lithuanians’, Latvians and Estonians commitment to independence from the Soviet Union took place in 1989, when an enormous number of people from the three nationalities joined hands - literally - in a 600 kilometre (400 miles) chain from Tallinn via Riga to Vilnius, facing west towards Europe, and turning their backs at the Soviet Union. 

In February 1990, multi-party elections were held, and the Sajudis movement won a majority in the new parliament. In March, they declared Lithuania independent. Gorbachev sent troops and introduced an embargo. An agreement was reached, by which Lithuania agreed to somehow "freeze" the independence declaration.

In the beginning of 1991, many crises between Moscow and Vilnius occurred over military conscripts and other issues, including the fatal Soviet attacks on Lithuania 11-13 January 1991. But the Soviet Union was falling apart, and in the wake of the failed coup in Moscow in August, Lithuanian independence became a reality.


Lithuania’s Prime Minister: The West should have no illusions about Russia

Description: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius
Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“Russia's decision on its leadership change this year has effectively buried any hopes of a renewal of relations with the West,” Lithuania's prime minister Andrius Kubilius told in an interview with Lithuanian Radio in 2011.

"No one should have illusions about how Russia will be ruled for decades to come," he said.

Lithuania is among Russia's harshest critics in the European Union and NATO.
Last year, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that he had decided to reclaim the presidency next year, setting up the possibility that he could rule Russia until 2024. In nominating Putin, his United Russia party also approved his proposal that President Dmitry Medvedev take over Putin's current role as prime minister.

"All the restart policies or renewal of relations should now be locked in a deep drawer with a simple note attached: 'Here rest expired and naive dreams,'" Kubilius said.

He said Putin's decision was not a surprise.
"But it probably surprised someone somewhere in Berlin, Brussels or Washington, where those illusions were alive as some expected Russia would turn into a modern state. Those illusions are over," Kubilius said.

Lithuania has most recently locked horns with Russia over natural gas prices.
It currently receives 100 percent of its gas from Russia and believes it is paying too much. It has been attempting to negotiate a lower price with Moscow, so far unsuccessfully.

Kubilius' conservative government irked Russia earlier this year by using a EU rule that allows member states to split companies that supply and transport natural gas — a direct blow to Russia's state-runGazprom, which owns 37.1 percent of Lithuania's main gas company, Lietuvos Dujos.VILNIUS, Lithuania — Russia's decision on its leadership change next year has effectively buried any hopes of a renewal of relations with the West, Lithuania's prime minister said.

"No one should have illusions about how Russia will be ruled for decades to come," Andrius Kubilius told Lithuanian Radio.

Lithuania is among Russia's harshest critics in the European Union and NATO.
Last autumn, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that he had decided to reclaim the presidency next year, setting up the possibility that he could rule Russia until 2024. In nominating Putin, his United Russia party also approved his proposal that President Dmitry Medvedev take over Putin's current role as prime minister.

"All the restart policies or renewal of relations should now be locked in a deep drawer with a simple note attached: 'Here rest expired and naive dreams,'" Kubilius said.

He said Putin's decision was not a surprise.
"But it probably surprised someone somewhere in Berlin, Brussels or Washington, where those illusions were alive as some expected Russia would turn into a modern state. Those illusions are over," Kubilius said.

Lithuania has most recently locked horns with Russia over natural gas prices.
It currently receives 100 percent of its gas from Russia and believes it is paying too much. It has been attempting to negotiate a lower price with Moscow, so far unsuccessfully.

Kubilius' conservative government irked Russia by using a EU rule that allows member states to split companies that supply and transport natural gas — a direct blow to Russia's state-run Gazprom, which owns 37.1 percent of Lithuania's main gas company, Lietuvos Dujos.

Read more:
The Moscow Times




Russia-Lithuania relations should not be held hostage to the past

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with his

Lithuanian counterpart Audronius Azubalis.


Relations between Russia and Lithuania should not become a hostage of the past, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his Lithuanian counterpart Audronius Azubalis last year, ITAR-TASS reports.


“We do not want the historic truth to be forgotten, but we also have a common intention not to make our current relations hostage to the past and hostage to those events for which neither we nor Lithuanian leaders of this day bear responsibility,” he said.


“Assessment of the past events was made long ago – in the last years of the Soviet Union and now by the authorities of modern Russia,” the diplomat said. “We (Russia and Lithuania) have a commission of historians who work rather fruitfully, professionally, without emotions and provoking movements on our common history that had quite a few sad pages.”

“Historians know well what a difficult task it is to do this work. But if we do not go along this difficult path, we will not get the historic truth in its entirety,” Lavrov said. “Therefore we agreed that discrepancies existing in the analysis of our common history – and we do not keep it secret – should remain an object matter for the commission of historians. We would like this work to be activated,” he said.


The Russian diplomat expressed confidence that “it will really help to step up contacts between civil societies of Russia and Lithuania, develop youth contacts and build relations for the future.”


Russkiy Mir Foundation Information Service



Deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia

The cruel deportations of hundreds of thousand Lithuanians to Siberia during and after World War II is the very saddest chapter in the relations between Russia (USSR) and Lithuania. An exhibition that right now is shown in the famous Balzekas Museum in Chicago shows the true face of these atrocities. 

Let us also commend Dr. Audrius Plioplysa marvellous work to collect so many touching letters from some of the exiled Lithuanians. .


Exhibition in the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, Chicago


Location, Contact and Link
6500 S. Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60629
website: Balzekas Museum's own


Description: life-long dream of Stanley Balzekas, Jr., to preserve for posterity the wealth of material pertaining to Lithuania's history and culture was realized when he opened the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in a "two-flat" building next to his auto dealership on Archer Ave in Chicago on June 22, 1966. His personal collection of art, armor and rare maps was donated and placed on display. Still the president of the museum's board of directors, Stanley Balzekas has seen his museum grow to a major repository of publications, cultural artifacts, and arts not only of Lithuania, but also of the Lithuanian immigrants to the United States and the generations that followed them. The Museum quickly outgrew the available space on Archer Ave and moved to its present, greatly expanded facilities in 1986. With a substantial staff, many volunteers, and many hundreds of donors and members, the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture is a major player in the Lithuanian cultural life and scholarship in the United States.


Letters from Siberian Deportees

The Balzekas Museum's Hope & Spirit exhibit and program, commemorating 70 years since the start of Soviet deportations to Siberia, includes 157 original handwritten and personal letters from Lithuanian deportees to their relatives living in London, England; Sydney, Australia; Chicago, Illinois; Bogota, Columbia; Toronto, Ontario; and other cities. Among these letters are 20 written by children who were deported. The exhibit includes 218 original photographs from Siberia and 71 addressed envelopes. All of these items are extremely rare and of immense historical value and are being presented to the public for the first time.  



Letters from Siberia presented by Hope & Spirit curator
Dr. Audrius Plioplys 
For over 30 years, Dr. Plioplys has been both a neurologist/neuroscientist and a professional artist. His research has concentrated on finding causes and cures for cognitive disorders, from autism in children, to Alzheimer's Disease in the elderly.

His art work is an ongoing metaphorical investigation of consciousness and the thought process. He has transformed the neurobiology research laboratory into an artist's studio. Dr. Plioplys has merged neurology and neuroscience with art. 
Read More



 Letter examples, presented by the collector, Dr. Audrius Plioplys




Family of 8 deported
Posted on October 10, 2011


Kazimieras Janusonis with his wife Agota, and 6 children were deported to work in the same collectivized farm in Siberia. The location of the Bilchirsk kolkhoz was in the northerly portion of the Irkutsk region. Agota wrote letters to her brother-in-law, P. Janusonis, who was living in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

She wrote, “We work in the kolkhoz. Our family has 7 members: me, 4 daughters and 2 sons. (She notes 7 family members because when she wrote this letter, her husband had already died–AVP.) The oldest is my daughter Petronelija, then my son Jonas, thirdly my daughter Agota, and fourth, my son Antanas. All 4 work in the kolkhoz. My younger 2 daughters, Janute and Valiute, are students. Janute completed grade 9 and now attends grade 10. Valiute, my youngest, 12 years old, finished grade 4…We did not bring anything with us besides what were able to stuff into one bag. Adequate clothing is very difficult for all of us…Winters are very cold and summers very hot. We are surrounded by mountains and forests. There is little flat ground.”

In another letter she wrote, “We are surrounded by tall mountains which are covered with impenetrable forests. Wild animals live there–polar bears and wolves. We live in a valley near a small stream. We use it’s water because there is no well. Without fur coats, it is not possible to go outside, even for a brief period of time, in the winter. And then, the fur freezes solid as an animal’s horn. Thus, we wear cotton coats. We live with the Buriats (related to the Mongols–AVP).”

Kazimieras Janusonis died in Siberia, shortly after the photograph was taken. After serving 10 years of hard labor on the kolkhoz, Agota and her children were allowed to return to Lithuania. However, they were not allowed to return to their family farm.

On display we have 5 letters and 3 envelopes from the Janusonis family as part of the Hope and Spirit exhibit which I have organized. The exhibit is at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, in Chicago, and has been extended until the end of April, 2012.

Posted in Letters from Siberia


Mother buries her two infants in Siberia
Posted on October 10, 2011


In these two photographs, Veronika Norkunas buries her two young children near the city of  Barnaul, in Siberia.

In the top picture, 4 year old, Livija-Liucija Norkunaite is being buried. She was born in Lithuania, and died on September 21, 1941, in Siberia.

In the bottom picture, 16 month old Zenonas Norkunas is being buried. He was born in Lithuania, and died on September 22, 1941, in Siberia.

On one September day, Veronika buried her four year old, and on the next day, her 16 month old.

The pictures were sent to A. Norkunas who was living in Adelaide, Australia.

These young children survived only 3 months after their deportation in June, 1941. They only survived 3 months in Stalin’s new society.

There is no available further information about this Norkunas family.

These two images are from over 230 original deportee photographs from Siberia which are on display in the Hope and Spirit exhibit, which I have organized, at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, in Chicago. Quite literally, due to popular demand, the exhibit has been extended to the end of April, 2012.

Posted in Letters from Siberia


14 months old–deported to Siberia; 14 years old–dead
Posted on October 10, 2011


Zigmas Zarunskis was 14 months old when he, with his family, were deported to Siberia. At the age of 14 years, instead of attending school, he was assigned to work as a lumberjack. While chopping trees, a limb fell down on him, killing him. The photograph was mailed to a relative in Jackson Heights, New York. In it, standing from left to right, are Zigmas’ parents, Pranas and Ona, his younger brother Jonas (who was born in Siberia), and his older sister, Zita. No further information is available about the Zarunskis family.

This photograph is one over over 230 which are on display in the Hope and Spirit exhibit, which I have organized, at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, in Chicago. Quite literally, due to popular demand, the exhibit has been extended to the end of April, 2012.

Posted in Letters from Siberia


Health care and God’s will
Posted on September 2, 2011

Konstancija and Jonas Marmas, with their three children, in the Krasnoyarsk Region of Siberia

The Marmas family was deported, from their family farm in Griskabudis to work as lumberjacks for 10 years.  The uncle of Jonas Marmas was Dr. Vincas Kudirka, the author of the Lithuanian national anthem. Possibly it was because of this familial relationship that they were deported.

In this letter, written to Alfonsas Lietuvninkas, in Chicago, Mr. Marmas comments about the health care system. Apparently Mr. Lietuvninkas was having health issues. Mr. Marmas writes: “You wrote that health care costs are expensive.  For us, from one aspect, it is very good–we do not have to pay for anything. Along with this, there also are no medicines available. It would be better to pay and at least feel that your health is improving, instead of waiting to see if the illness clears or not. What can you do, if that is God’s will?”

He further wrote that during the winters, temperatures were frequently -55 to -60 degrees Centigrade (-75 degrees F) with 5 to 6 feet of snow. During the short summers the temperature would reach 50 degrees Centigrade (120 degrees F), and at night fall to freezing, destroying even the potatoes that were their main food source. There is no further available information about the Marmas family.

The Marmas family letters and photographs are currently on display as part of the Hope and Spirit exhibit which I have organized, at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, in Chicago. This exhibit, and extensive programs, will continue into January 2012.

Posted in Letters from Siberia


10th grade graduation present: 167 hard labor jobs and meningitis
Posted on August 9, 2011


Dobilas Ralys and his mother in Siberia. The letter was written by his sister, Ramune Ralys, and was sent to their uncle, V. Cizinas, in Paterson, New Jersey. In this letter she details some of her own life events upon being exiled to Siberia with her family. She was attending the 7th grade at the time of deportation. In the Krasnoyarsk District’s farm labor camp (kolkhoz) the middle school was located 2 miles away, which she attended until completing grade 10. At that time, she took over the labor tasks of her mother, who was too ill to work.

The Ralys family had been living in Kaunas, where Mr. Ralys worked as a bank accountant. In 1910 and into the 1920′s he wrote general interest articles under the pseudonym of Vargovaikas (Child of Misery). The family was deported to a forced labor camp to serve a 6 year term. Upon returning to Kaunas, the family was allowed to live in the house that they had previously owned, but only in a portion of the basement. Mr. Ralys died within a year of returning to Lithuania. He was 66 years old at the time of deportation.

In this letter, Ramune details some of the tasks that she had to do. “Shoveled snow…worked as a camp cook…collected and burned straw, planted corn, weeded wheat fields, collected silage, transported logs, transported grains, cleaned grains, and so on. In all, I did 167 different jobs.” During  September of the second year’s hard labor, she became ill with what appears to have been a form of meningitis/encephalitis. She suffered the entire winter, but was able to return to labor in the spring.

This letter, and several hundred like it, are on display as part of the Hope and Spirit exhibit that I have organized at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago. The exhibit will continue through mid-January 2012.

Posted in Letters from Siberia


$4 for one egg, $70 for a pound of butter
Posted on July 18, 2011


Morta Abromaviciene, at the age of 67, was deported to Siberia with her husband Stasys, who was 74. Mr. Abromavicius died 3 years later, while Mrs. Abromaviciene was able to serve her prison term in Tinsk, in the Krasnoyarsk District. After 7 years of hard labor, her health was broken–she was so frail and weak that she was transferred to the Tupik sanatorium, in the Shirinsky District of Khakassia, for one year to recover.  It was while she was in the sanatorium, that she was able to write letters to one of her daughters, who was living in Chicago.

In the early 1900′s, Mr. and Mrs. Abromavicius had both, independently, traveled to work in the United States. They met in Braddock, Pennsylvania, where they were married in 1906. With their two young daughters they returned to Lithuania in 1913, and bought a small family farm. All totaled, they had 2 daughters and 4 sons. During the war, one son died, and the other children moved to the United States.

When she returned to Lithuania from Siberia, she found all of her farmhouses burned to the ground. She went to the nearby larger city, Marijampole, where she lived and died 10 years later. She was able to survive only because her children continued to send her packages.

In her letters from Siberia she notes that the winters are very cold, with the temperature frequently minus 40 degrees Centigrade (which is exactly minus 40 degrees F).

She is thankful to her children for the packages that she has received, and mentions the items that she needs to obtain. She notes that when packages arrive, the other residents of the sanatorium crowd around as the package is opened. She gives most of the contents to the other residents, keeping only the essential items for herself.

One time, her daughter made an error and sent her $50 in cash (I am changing the actual amounts into what would be current US$ value, given years of inflation). To exchange this currency into rubles, she had to travel to a bank in a distant city. The travel cost was $32, leaving her very little.

In another letter she notes how expensive even the most basic items are. One egg cost $4. One kilogram of butter, $140–which means $70 for one pound of butter!

Why was this family treated like criminals? Landowners, because they might object to Stalin’s new political system, needed to be either exterminated or deported. This was genocide, pure and simple, on the basis of political motives. This happened to the Abromavicius family, and to millions of other families across Eastern Europe.

The letters of Morta Abromaviciene are on display as part of the Hope and Spirit exhibit, which I have organized, at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 6500 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago, Illinois. The exhibit has been extended, and will continue until mid-January, 2012.

Posted in Letters from Siberia



Russia and Three Baltic States



Description: relations between the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) and Russia are complicated not only nowadays but in the past as well. The geographical location of the Baltic States makes them strategically important for Russia’s national security as today as in the past. Probably all problems of these countries are laid down in the 20th century’s history.

 The period was extremely difficult for Europe as well as for Russia, and the consequences are being felt in today’s realities. To solve economic and political disputes between these countries, the historical perspective should be taken into account.


Baltic States recklessly seek “Historical justice”
As it is mentioned above the Baltic States and Russia confront with each other in diverse sort of issues. Mainly and most probably it is related to the harsh and tricky situation during the World War II. It is possible to say that the source of disputes is Molotov-Ribbentrop pact signed in 1939 by Soviet Union and Germany’s foreign ministers, which was a Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union. Both states pledged neutrality in case of a war and not to support any third part.  As it is known now, there were secret protocols dividing northern and Eastern Europe between German and Soviet Union spheres of influence. Accordingly to the pact Poland would have been divided into two halves shared by Hitler and Stalin and the Baltic States would have become under Soviet Union’s dominance. This short glance of the history has not been leaving from the political life of the Baltic States since last 60 years and became permanent object in their relations with Russia.

Many believe that Soviet Union did a huge damage to the humanity under the presidency of Stalin. Of course, this view might be debated but it is obvious that the victory of Nazis would have brought much more human devastation and bigger tragedy to the whole Europe. Anyway, official political line of the Baltic States claims that after World War II, Soviet Union and now Russia as legitimate successor of Soviet Union was/is responsible for what happened and have to apologize and reimburse the damage done during that era. As history has shown Soviet Union delegates and even modern Russia’s officials have already done so at least four times.  First, Stalin’s cult and crimes were publicly denounced and condemned during the 20th Congress of Communist Party of Soviet Union by speech made by Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of Communist party and the Soviet Union. That is to say that this is the first time after Stalin’s epoch when officials of Soviet Union revealed and criticized the dictatorship of Stalin and faulty policy led by him towards some human and economic activities.

Secondly, special Soviet commission under Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, in December 1989, the commission concluded that the protocol had existed and revealed its findings to the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies. As a result, the first democratically elected Congress passed a declaration in December 1989 admitting the existence of the secret protocols, condemning and denouncing them. In 1992, the document itself was declassified only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Third, the sovereignty and independence of  the Baltic States was recognized by the first democratically elected president of Federation of Russia: B. Yeltsin. He recognized the independence of the Baltic States and invited the rest of the world to do the same.

That is to say that by recognizing sovereignty of the Baltic States, Russia automatically rejected the idea of its bid to pretend to restore the influence in this region. Russia recognized all freedoms and respects towards these countries establishing diplomatic and economic relations with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Fourth, during EU-Russia summit in 2008 president V. Putin was asked by an Estonian journalist “why is that so hard to recognize the fact of the occupation of the Baltic states?”. The answer of the president was as following:

"<…...>The conspiracy happened in 1939 between Russia and Germany. I believe it was a conspiracy. What can we do now? It was the reality at the time when small countries were involved in the reality of those days. <…>  in 1989 the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies declared that Molotov and Ribbentrop pact did not reflect the real will of Soviet people and recognized the illigitimate action  taken by them. It was condemned. What more accurate is possible to say about this? What else? How many times can we repeat that? Every year? We think that everything possible is said about that and this question is already closed".

As it is seen both Soviet government and the government of modern Russia recognized  de facto and de jure the independence and territorial sovereignty of the Baltic states which actually means that all claims to get this territories back is faulty and there is no foundation for such claims. Moreover, it is recognized that conspiracy between two states (Nazi German and Soviet Union) had no legal foundation, it was in conflict with international law and it is absolutely illegitimate. Consequently the destruction of the sovereignty of the Baltic States was condemned and sovereign power of the national states was recognized.

The policy of the Baltic States on international stage
Despite all these facts Baltic States’ governments are prone to get into open conflicts with Kremlin, criticizing Russian government and even block the EU-Russia negotiations. This took place in 2008 when Lithuanian delegation made the list of demands which must be involved in the negotiations with Russia. Of course, it was not very welcome news for Russia.  The Slovenian government, which held the EU's rotating presidency, has heavily criticised Lithuania for not withdrawing its objections to initiate talks on a new partnership pact between the EU and Russia. This action of Lithuania among old member states was accepted negatively and criticized by president of European commission J.M Barroso, who said “Lithuania lost its opportunity to shut up” . This veto did not let to move forward for all 27 members states and stuck for some time. It is worth mentioning the requirements made by Lithuanian officials. In fact there were three main concerns which should be considered as “interests of Lithuania”.

First, to restore the supply of the crude oil via Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline which broke down in 2006 and Russian officials said it would take at least several years to restore it. Of course, since Russia is being considered as “aggressor” and seeking to rebuild its power in the Baltic States, it was accepted as political blackmail. At that moment Lithuanian president pointed out that "Today we know that oil will not flow through this pipeline any more", he told during a conference. Meanwhile, Russian technical watchdog Rostekhnadzor said in September that Transneft would need at least another 18 months for repairs, meaning that the pipeline could not be reopened before the end of 2009. 

Even if this technical problem was politicized and it was being tried to create the image of Russia as an “unreliable partner”, the pipeline was reopened on the same time as technical experts predicted. Second, to solve the conflicts between Georgia and Moldova: it is valuable to stress that it is difficult to unmask the real interests of the Baltic States in Caucasus and Moldova. It is more seen as trials to damage Russian security interests at the same time harming EU foreign policy. Third to encourage Russia to cooperate in criminal cases of the killings in 13th of January 1991 when Omon (Russian special intelligence service) killed the rebellions. Russia commented on it proclaiming that according to the then law Omon protected the interest of Soviet Union and acted accordingly to its constitution.

Apparently all these issues might be solved bilaterally, but the Baltic States use Europe Union as an instrument to solve their chronic problems. For example Lithuanian conservative party “Union of homeland” passed “The reimbursement for occupation damage” law in 1999 before going to step down from the ruling government. Anyway this law has been never implemented or at least it has been never trying to be implemented because Russian officials ardently respond to these attempts. After more than a decade of playing a cat with a mouse, newly appointed minister of foreign affairs of Lithuania Audronius Ažubalis retreated and said that, “at first Lithuania should do its homework and estimate what real damage has been done and then deliver the claim“.

Unofficially some representatives speak about 25 billion (almost three times more than the annual budget of the country) euro harm. Recently new numbers showed up.  Latvia's Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins estimated the losses from Soviet occupation are $18.5 billion. Is money dearer than national pride?

But it is not clear how this number is estimated. If we follow this logic, then Russia has the right to claim for compensation for building roads, manufactures, the world biggest nuclear plant in Lithuania (in 2010 it was closed as precondition for membership in EU), harbors, Mazeikiu refinery (Lithuania), hundreds of apartments and dozens of various buildings etc.  These initiatives of reimbursements of “losses” might set precedent for other countries which were involved in these historical games. If all 15 former member states of Soviet Union claimed for the compensation for “damage” done during Soviet epoch what would Russia do? There are tremendously huge problems within Russia as well and economic ones. So if Russia would try to reimburse the claims of former member states, it would take many decades of payments at the cost of own Russian citizens. Anyway there is very little chance that these initiatives will come true in the nearest future. It is worth mentioning that former Soviet Union’s states try to use different international organizations to do harm to Moscow.

Is it possible to rewrite history?
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) at its XVII annual session approved the Vilnius Declaration including 28 resolutions, one of them entitled "Reunification of the Divided Europe", in which Joseph Stalin's regime in the USSR and the Nazi regime in Germany are recognized as equally evil. The resolution aroused a squall of protests in Russia, in the State Duma, as well as among ordinary citizens. In the Russian blogosphere, the OSCE resolution is among the top subjects of discussion. Konstantin Kosachov, chair of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, claimed that the Federal Assembly would issue an official statement, possibly even in a form of a joint declaration of two houses which is a rare occasion, adding that the reaction is going to be "harsh and operative". Oleg Morozov, First Vice Speaker of the State Duma, claimed that the comparison of Communism and Nazism is disgusting; Gennady Zyuganov, chair of the Communist Party of Russia, characterized the document as "a disgrace of Europe", indicating that equalization of the USSR with the Nazi Germany is loathsome and destructive for Europe itself.

What is so offending for the Russian audience in this document? In fact, Russians don't dispute the totalitarian character of Stalin's rule, mostly informed about the order in their country in that time from their grandparents. This fact does not need approval from European neighbors. Russians are rather outraged with the obvious hypocrisy: the document suggests that only the USSR and Germany were the evil states of the XX century, while other Europeans were "warm and fuzzy", never being involved in infringement of human rights, and in military atrocities. But if other Western powers were so impeccable, why did they concede half of Europe to Hitler, leaving Russians alone with the totalitarian adversary? Why did they hesitate for such a long time before establishing the anti-Hitler Coalition? Was it Stalin who paid for this hesitation, or millions of Russian families?

Have our Western neighbors really followed the UN Human Rights Declaration since the times of the Crusade? Have all of them condemned Hitler in his cradle? "Our respected partners forget that the subject of totalitarianism is much broader, and that totalitarian regimes existed also in Spain, Portugal, and Greece, and that the European history is far more variable to reduce it to the times of World War II", reminds Mr. Kosachov.

Other disputes arise when it comes to the Baltic States. In the last few years, a new idea of rewriting European history appeared. That is to say that the most debatable event of last century is the World War II. The Baltic States claim that the most brutal and humiliating war was initiated not by Germany but also by the Soviet Union. This brings harsh and operative responses from Moscow. In modern politics history is attached to political realities that is to say that by putting blame on Russia as one of the initiator of World War II, western countries want to diminish Russia’s growing influence in Europe and in the world and restore its reputation which they lost after “Munich agreement” in 1938.  

It is seen how former members and the Baltic States are using international organizations as the instruments to revenge to Russia for so-called “occupation”. This adopted resolution is only a segment of the strategy. By accepting resolution of anti-Russian coalition will have at least some sort of legitimate basics for the claim of the compensation in the future.

Concluding historical perspective in the relations between the Baltic States and the Federation of Russia it is important to notice that even professional historians are not able to properly evaluate or interpret the extraordinary events of the 20th century. Any trials of rewriting history or the use of the history for political purpose will be strongly rejected by Moscow and will not bring any neither political nor economic benefits for the Baltic States or any other country in the relations with Russia.

As a result all these disputes caused by extraordinary and harsh historical circumstances reflect themselves on economic and political agenda as well. With collapse of Soviet Union, Baltic states always tried to “escape” from Russia’s sphere of influence. Finally they became a part of European Union and NATO in 2004. Notably this happened relatively in a short period of time. Probably that is because Western countries wanted to gain influence over Eastern European countries sooner than it would do Russia and diminish its dominance. As it is seen now, Baltic States started using their opportunities in western organizations in order to widen their own old wounds.

Politicized economy
It is important to notice that the Baltic States geographically and historically are very connected to Russia. As a result economic ties developed at great extant. However, as tendencies show the Baltic States try to reduce and minimize dependence upon economic sector as well. Immediately after Soviet Union collapse, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia aimed for integration in Western structure such as European Union and NATO. Anyway, Russia remained the most important trade partner for the Baltic States in the last decade of 20th century. During the whole independence period Estonia has imported more goods from Russia than exported there. The difference between exports and imports started to increase significantly since 1998. Later the difference decreased, but grew again in 2004.  

Contrary to Estonia, Russia remained the main export market for Latvia also during 1990s. In 1996 exports to Russia comprised nearly 25% of Latvia’s total exports. The share of goods imported from Russia remained slightly smaller, staying near 20%. In 2004, the trade deficit between Latvia and Russia was 8.5 times greater than the deficit of Latvia’s total external trade.

The volume of Lithuanian exports to Russia amounted to 3.4 billion LTL (nearly 1 billion euros). Compared to 2004, exports increased almost 44%, which indicates that Lithuanian trade with Russia grew faster than Lithuanian trade in general. Altogether, Lithuania imported goods from Russia in the sum of 11.9 billion litas (3.4 billion euros). Within a year, imports grew 51.3%. In comparison with previous years, Russia’s share in Lithuanian imports has been rising steadily, almost reaching the 1996 level in 2005 (29%).

As it is seen Baltic States and Russia have a great trade turnover in general. Anyway the trade balance with Russia always remained negative. That is mainly because Baltic States import oil, gas and other raw materials from Russia. Negative trade balance was emphasized in the recent years mainly due to the growing oil prices. Also this fact could be explained that export to Russia is more difficult than export to Baltic States which apply EU rules because Russia implies many non-tariff barriers such as quotas, strict licensees. Also, the devaluation of rubles in the last decade  caused the cheaper Russian export to Baltic states meanwhile the commodities from Baltic region became more costly in Russian market. The same must be said about present economic crisis, when Russian government gradually devaluated rubles to keep its export alive. So these reasons caused deep trade deficit for Baltic countries. Only Lithuania had higher volume of foreign trade with Russia than other Baltic neighbours (Estonian exports to Russia were 155.9 million EUR and imports from Russia 491.4 million EUR in 2003, for Latvia respective figures were 137.5 million EUR and 405.3 million EUR, for Lithuania 548.5 million EUR and 1931.6 million EUR).

As it is known now, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus have formed the Common Custom Union which came into force on July 1st. This growing custom wall nearby the Baltic States’ borders will affect their economies as well. For example, Lithuanian Ministry of foreign affairs has estimated that national exporters will pay 65 million litas (20 million euro) additional taxes only because of new tax system appeared in the Custom Union. That is to say some industries of the Baltic States might be seriously damaged and probably will get no prerogatives or exceptions from Russian government.

Such policies might distance the Baltic States from trade dependence on Russia in the long term, since Baltic States will be forced to search for new markets and make their industries more efficient. On the other hand, these industries will gain big loses in short term. It might be more painful in the light of current economic crises since unemployment rate is one of the highest among the European Union member states.

In any case the Baltic States will heavily be depended on Russian natural resources including oil and gas. Countries pay the world price for these recourses even though they are located close by Russian borders. All of three Baltic States get nearly 90% of oil and 100% of gas from Russia. Moreover, the closure of the nuclear plant, built by Soviet, in Lithuania, in 2010 increased the energy dependency upon Russia. As following Lithuania is planning to build new nuclear power plant and in this way to create common energy policy of the Baltic Sea region including the Baltic states, Poland and some of Scandinavian countries. Anyway, the real future of this project seems to be vague. There was an attempt to create some companies responsible of managing and organizing this program but it was disbanded since it did not fulfill the requirements of the European law. Also countries do not agree on the distribution of the electricity among countries which causes the absence of the strategic investors since this project was extremely expensive.

As a response to such energy policy Russia has suggested to participate to building up the nuclear power plant in Kaliningrad exclave. However this proposal has not received any serious attention.

Russia tries to promote very expensive and important project called Nord Stream which will go under the Baltic bypassing the Baltic States and Poland. Even if it is much more expensive to build pipeline under the sea it is much safer geopolitically for Russia. This might be considered as a response of Russia because of unfriendly posture of Baltic States towards it. 

NATO between the Baltic States and Russia
Baltic States are of geopolitical importance for Europe as well as for Russia. Probably it was one of the reasons why Baltic States were accepted to NATO in 2004. Since then Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia try to integrate into the western structure. Of course, it does not make Russia to be happy at all since NATO is considered to be a threat to Russian national interests.  The last spark occurred and NATO announced its plans to do military exercises in the Baltic States. These plans were declared shortly after France selling warship Mistral to Russia.  

This happened soon after Georgia-Russia military conflict as a symbol of mutual trust between Russia and France and response to Georgian aggression. Anyway, the Baltic States raised their concern about this warship that might be used against them. As a result NATO declared its plans about military exercises in the Baltic States, although NATO claimed there is no link between these two cases.

The relations between the Baltic States and Russia are sluggish and imply negative tendencies.  Since the Soviet Union collapsed, the Baltic States try to “escape” from any aspect of influence of Russia. The main goals of the Baltic States were to integrate into Western structures such as European Union and NATO and these have been accomplished successfully. The fundamental purpose of such policy was to diminish the influence of Russia and by using the international instruments to negotiate with Russia about questions concerning the Baltic States. The main connections with Russia take place within following framework. Historically, the Baltic States demand to recognize the occupation of the Baltic States and reimburse the damage caused during the Soviet period. Russia reckons that it has already admitted the fact and does not see any reason why it should do that. The Baltic States attempt to achieve its “historical justice” in any possible way. Economically the Baltic States try to channel its trade ties with Russia to other markets, although its competitive opportunities and development is not always capable for that.  Even if the Baltic States are able to reduce the dependence upon Russia as a trading partner, they still heavily rely on Russian natural resources especially on gas and oil and barely can change that in the foreseeable future. The Baltic States do not present any economic importance for Russia. In terms of national security, the Baltic States use NATO to outweigh the possible Russian intervention despite the fact that neither Russia nor European partners do not claim that there are serious foundations for such intentions. Military exercises just frustrate Moscow and escalate distrust of the Baltic States.  As a result Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia operate in western organizations in order to diminish influence of Russia and use them as a tool in “speechless negotiations” with Russia. Every time when any attempt of such kind is seen, Russia gives strong and operative response. Consequently the foreign policy of Russia towards the Baltic States is obviously reactive than proactive. 




The Baltic Kaliningrad

By Grant Heard

Königsberg, today’s Kaliningrad, was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in 1944 during World War II and was subsequently conquered by the Red Army after the Battle of Königsberg in 1945. The city was annexed by the Soviet Union according to the Potsdam Agreement and largely repopulated with Russians. Notice the beautiful inner city (top photo), which was not rebuild by the Soviets (bottom photo), only the church remains.

From Prussia to Russia: a history of the region
The Kaliningrad exclave lies on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland. It is today a part of the Russian Federation. Its population is predominately of Russian origin, with many other nationalities of the Former Soviet Union that make up the rest of the population. However, it was not always a Russian province, either politically or culturally. It has been Old Prussian, Lithuanian, German and Russian at one point in time or another. An understanding of the history is needed to best understand the claims that these countries have on the region today.

The Kaliningrad region was originally called the Samland, which was originally inhabited by the Prussian tribes whose language and culture, although has since died out, was similar to Lithuanians and Latvians of today. The Prussians, before the arrival of the Germans, were not Christianized, nor were they highly organized in trade or military. It was when these tribes proved to be difficult to defeat that the Teutonic Knights were called in to take over. They were tempted by the prospect of land and privileges from both the German Empire and the Catholic Church, which included grants to the Teutonic Order of full sovereignty over all the land it would conquer from the Prussians. The Prussians resisted the Teutonic Knights. An early account of the conquest of the Samland comes from the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, which describes the conquest of Master Anno of the Teutonic Knights as he led the crusaders into the wilderness of the Samland:

The land is almost surrounded, being on the peninsula, by the wild seas, which had been a protection for it. No army had ever invaded there, and on the other sides no one can fight against it because a wild stream, wild and deep, flows along it… A narrow peninsula extends toward Memel, and there the Christians came with their stately army. The Christians rejoiced. They found the great forest of the Samites there. It was wide and thick, not of puny saplings, but trees so large that they served as a bulwark… The Christians came upon it and vowed not to rest till it had been cut in two… Then, when they had cut and slashed through the forest, the army advanced directly into the land. The Samites learned that they were visited by guests who wished to do them harm.

Although this raid was a success, as the crusaders passed deeper into the forest, they were ambushed and all but annihilated. However, the crusaders pressed on, and new attacks were launched, but from Prussia in the south, instead of Livonia to the north. The Teutonic Knights conquered the region and advanced their frontiers from Prussia to the south bank of the Memel River. It was then that Koenigsberg was founded in 1256, named in honor of King Ottokar of Bohemia, who had brought large armies on crusade to Prussia.

Prussians were granted a great deal of rights under the Teutonic Order. Prussians were much more numerous than the Germans, mainly because it was difficult to convince Germans to immigrate to this land because of its harsh, swampy landscape. Thus, the Prussian peasants were treated like German peasants and even lived side by side with each other. In the Samland region, the Prussian language and customs survived until the seventeenth century, being the last region where the Prussian died out. The Prussian culture died out because of Germanization. The Prussian peasants could even rise to the status of freemen. These freemen were allowed to own land and estates. They enjoyed many rights that the Germans did and were even treated like Germans. This helped to facilitate the Germanization of the Prussians. It also helped Prussia to become a country of peasants and landowners, a country in which the rest of the nobility was less important and less elevated above the rest of the population than it was elsewhere. And Koenigsberg was to remain quite autonomous from the rule of higher nobility in the years to come.

Under the Teutonic Order Prussia grew rich, and as the prosperity and freedom of the aristocracy and peasantry grew, the more the people began to feel “dominated” by the Teutonic Order, who was felt to be an alien ruler. So when the Order found itself in a long war with the Duchy of Lithuania and Poland in the fifteenth century, its people were sometimes on the side of the enemy. This is because the Polish had a more liberal form of government where the nobility were becoming much more powerful and the start of republicanism were forming. The Teutonic Order lost a number of battles, including the Battle of Tannenberg, which soon led to the Second Peace of Thorn in 1466. Here the Order lost its independence to Poland. West Prussia, which included the major trading center of Danzig, was given to Poland. However, East Prussia was left to the Order, but only as a Polish feoff. The Order was finally dissolved during the Reformation in 1525 by the last Grand Master of the Order, and he then became ‘Duke of Prussia’, though still under Polish feudal supremacy.

Koenigsberg was one of Prussia’s most important trading centers up till the sixteenth century, second only to the port of Danzig. Some of Koenigsberg’s main export items included rye, corn, hemp malt and waxes, and it had many guilds. The city had about 30-40,000 inhabitants at the time, which was even larger that Berlin. Politically, Koenigsberg was organized on a fairly democratic basis, base on the Third Estate system. Because of their power and privileges, the town did not hesitate to oppose the nobility. This in turn caused struggles between Koenigsberg and the nobility, and helped to prevent Prussia from becoming a noblemen’s republic. Even after the famines and the Plague hit the region during the mid-sixteenth century and their trade had declined, the town still would not relinquish its autonomy. It wasn’t until 1674 that the town finally surrendered much of its autonomy and agreed to pay higher taxes to the nobility when Fredrich William marched several thousand troops by surprise into the city.

In 1701 Koenigsberg became part of the Prussian Empire. The city became the focal point of the unification of the Prussian empire when Fredrick I was crown King of Prussia in Koenigsberg. Under this new rule immigrants flooded into Eastern Prussia, mainly to escape religious prejudice. People from all over Europe, including Jews, were welcomed into the Prussian state. They were then settled in East Prussia to help replace the losses experienced by the plague. There was not the overwhelming harassment and discrimination, either ethnic nor religious, then that would be experienced in the German Reich. This was also a time of the rise of the great Prussian militarism. The military became a powerful force as loyal, professional soldiers replaced mercenaries.

In 1756 Koenigsberg and East Prussia came under the brief rule of Russia, as the Seven Year’s War left the area almost completely defenseless. But this occupation would be short lived as the Prussian army reclaimed the territory after the battle of Zorndorf in 1758. This brief occupation did not bring about radical change in the population. As Sabastian Haffner writes, “the war, in a manner of speaking, passed over the heads of the people; they ducked and let the storm blow over.”

By the nineteenth century, the tide of nationalism swept throughout Prussia. This nationalism helped the great Prussian politician, Otto von Bismarck, to channel power in order to establish the first German Reich by 1871, after a series of wars with Austria, France and Denmark. From this time on Koenigsberg and East Prussia were to be absorbed into Germany, where it would remain as such until 1945.

After World War I, East Prussia was then separated from the German mainland by Poland by the Versailles Treaty, connected only by a corridor through Polish territory. However, prior to World War II, Hitler connected the German mainland with East Prussia. When Poland resisted, Hitler was given an excuse to attack Poland to reconnect the region with Germany. This fact still weighs very heavily on the memory of many Poles and is part of the reason why Poland fears a Russian corridor to Kaliningrad.

Koenigsberg fell to the Red Army in April 1945. The population was completely wiped out of Koenigsberg during the war. All the inhabitants of Koenigsberg were killed by the advancing Soviet Army, deported to other parts of the Soviet Union, or escaped to the German mainland.

Koenigsberg was surrendered to the Soviet Union in 1945 at the Potsdam Conference, when the Western leaders agreed to the Soviet proposal

…That pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement, the section of the western frontier of the USSR which is adjacent to the Baltic Sea should pass from a point on the eastern shore of the Bay of Danzig to the east, north of Braunsberg-Goldap, to the meeting point of the frontiers of Lithuania, the Polish Republic and East Prussia.

Stalin did not have any historical or legal basis for his desire to control Koenigsberg, but he did present a justification: the territory would be a just compensation for the efforts and losses experienced by the Red Army during World War II and the region was to serve as a vital base for Soviet military power. The strategic view that Koenigsberg served was the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic now possessed an ice-free port located closer to the region of potential confrontation with the West than the Soviet bases before the war and that was much less vulnerable than the Soviet facilities in the Finnish Gulf. Of the other ice-free ports that were acquired by the Soviet Union by the annexation of the Baltic States, Kaliningrad was considered to be superior to the rest.

The town of Koenigsberg was almost completely destroyed by 1944 by the devastating air bombing of the British Royal Air Force. In fact, almost 90% of the buildings were completely destroyed by the British air campaigns. When the red Army arrived, the rural areas surrounding the city suffered great damages. When the Soviet Union claimed the territory, the first order of business was to clear away the rubble that was left and to eradicate the area’s German past and to replace them with a Russian veneer. One method of doing this was to rename the cities and towns that were in the region. Koenigsberg was renamed Kaliningrad after the former president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Kalinin. Soviet-style architecture and concrete housing blocs then replaced many of the buildings in the city. Today little remains of the features of the former Koenigsberg. However, as Romuald Misiunas and Rein Taagepera have claimed, the bulk of the construction carried out in Kaliningrad dates from the 1970s or later, and by the early 1990s, a lot of destruction still remained outside of the city.

During the Soviet period, the bulk of the economy was centered around the military establishment in the region, even though the fishing industry and paper processing were also important. Kaliningrad was considered one of the most heavily militarized regions in all of Europe during the Cold War. This is why the region was cut off to foreigners and most Soviet citizens until the late 1980s. The region’s population remained isolated from the West because no ships were even allowed to dock in the Kaliningrad port.

However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Kaliningrad was faced with a special and complex set of problems. The large military infrastructure was reduced, at first by the perestroika programs of Gorbachev and reduced to even smaller numbers during the Yeltsin administration. The economy was then plunged into the transition from the planned-economy of the Soviet era to the market-based economy of modern Russia. This has brought not only economic hardships but social implications as well.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the importance of the Baltic Fleet stationed in Baltysk, Kaliningrad Oblast has become less strategically valuable and its shipping trade has not lived up to expectations. The money that is allotted to the Russian military today dwarfs in comparison to the military-based economy of the Soviet days. During the Soviet Union, the Baltic Sea region had 6 different ports to station its Baltic Fleet forces, but today that number has been reduced to two, in Kaliningrad and in Kronstadt (in the Leningrad Oblast, near St. Petersburg). Of these two, the port in Kaliningrad is the only one that remains ice-free during the winter.

This has caused many politicians to stress the importance of the Kaliningrad region to the military security of the region, while at the same time, has caused some anxiety among its neighbors Poland and Lithuania. In fact, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, in 1998, said that Kaliningrad “is a threat not only to Poland but also to European security.”

The amount of forces in Kaliningrad is unknown. However, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London estimates a total number about 20,000 soldiers currently in Kaliningrad, of which 14,500 belong to the ground forces, and the rest to naval and border forces, and the interior troops. There are two Russian submarines, two destroyers, four frigates and 30 other surface ships in the Baltic Sea. It is this military complex in the region that Russia might use to further its image as a superpower and a bargaining chip to mark its influence within the Baltic Sea region.

The economic situation also remains a big concern for Russia and its neighbors. The economic conditions are not very good at the moment, but it does have potential for the optimist. At the moment, the income per capita of the region is 83 percent of the federal average, although the cost of living is about the same, while five percent (almost a quarter in certain areas) of the population remains unemployed. In fact, after the economic crash in 1998, the governor declared a state of emergency for the region.

However, the region is among the 5 regions with the Russian Federation with the greatest number of enterprises with foreign capital. Kaliningrad has a Special Economic Zone, which allows foreign countries to produce goods in the region and then transport them to the Russian mainland without having to pay the higher export duties and taxes they usually have to pay to Russia. At the beginning of the decade Kaliningrad had a Free Economic Zone, in which foreign companies and ventures could transport goods free of duties and tariffs, but this was changed in 1996 to the Special Economic Zone when Russia began to lose millions of dollars (and other forms of hard currency from the West) and wanted to bring the oblast under tighter federal control. The federal government has invested almost 1 billion rubles into the program, but it still needs foreign investment to modernize its economy. The Special Economic Zone, in theory, is to help the Kaliningrad region in several ways. First, it eases the problems faced by Kaliningrad in being separated from Russia. Second, it supports a region that is severely lagging behind the rest of the Baltic states economically. Third, it improves European access to Russian markets.

This last point is important because Kaliningrad relies heavily on its trade with foreign countries for its economic need. This was having an adverse effect on the economy of Kaliningrad because many local producers could not compete with the goods that were flooding the market from other countries. In 1999 there were 6,150 registered small enterprises and firms in the oblast, which accounted for only 20 percent of the economic activity of the population of the region, bringing in only about 12 million dollars of taxes. In fact, 80% of Kaliningrad’s consumer goods are imported. Kaliningrad needs to build up its own large scale industry in order to compete with its neighbors Poland and Lithuania, but to do this foreign investment is needed to help build up the region’s industrial infrastructure.

The hard economic conditions are having an adverse effect on the social conditions of the region. The region is rampant with crime and drugs. In fact, in 1998 a total of 19,491 crimes were committed in the region over the first eleven months, of which 65.8 percent of these crimes were considered “grave” crimes. Kaliningrad has become a transit point for drug smuggling en route from Europe into Russia and vise versa. Additionally, with over 3,000 reported cases of HIV, Kaliningrad has one of the highest AIDS rates in Russia, if not Europe, and this does not account for the unregistered cases of HIV.

The Kaliningrad exclave’s ethnic make-up is unmistakably Russian. Today the population of the Kaliningrad oblast numbers around 927,000 people, of this 683,600, or 78.5%, are ethnic Russians. The other countries that may have possible claim to the territory (Poland, Lithuania and Germany) combined to only about 2% of the population. 

After over half a century, many of the local Russians were born and raised in the Kaliningrad region, which gives the region its Russian ethnicity, although with special characteristics. Anna Romanovna, a Kaliningrad resident, says that:

“All these reasons (political situation, economics, and ethnicity) make Kaliningrad looking more like Moscow (relatively, of course), just because it differs from other typical Russian cities in many ways: they don't have border problems which we have with several states between us and the main territory of Russia, it differs ethnically, it looks different because of its specific architecture, etc. But, anyways, it's certainly a Russian city!”

The overwhelming Russian population would make it extremely difficult for any country to acquire the region from Russia.

Although right-wing groups from Lithuania, Poland and Germany have made calls for the incorporation of Kaliningrad into their respective countries, these countries have made it clear that Kaliningrad is a part of the Russian Federation and have not made any meaningful claims to the region. However, rumors still abound and some Kaliningrad residents have their suspicions about Kaliningrad being given to another country. Elena Golovina, a resident of Kaliningrad, said:

“The geographical location of the Kaliningrad region makes different speculations about the enclave's future possible… Some of them speculate about the region being separated from the "coastal" Russia and being autonomous. Others speak in favor of the enclave being integral part of the country. Sometimes we hear rumors from Moscow about our region being sold to Germany in order to cover Russian debts.

I still remember the example of my younger brother when it came time to choose between the English and German languages to study at school (we are offered to choose one of them to be "the main" and the other to be "the bonus one"). My mother insisted on him learning German, because we could not predict the way the things would go.

To best understand the concerns that Kaliningrad has with other countries, we must first look at the relationship that Kaliningrad has with its other neighbors.

Polish and Russian relations have been somewhat cold as of 1999, especially in reference to the Kaliningrad region. Poland and NATO thought that Poland’s accession into NATO was supposed to eliminate an irritant from the mutual relationship with Russia, but in fact has had an almost opposite effect. This cold relationship was dampened even more in an incident in 2000 where Poland expelled nine Russian diplomats from the country for charges of spying on its armed forces. Russia responded by expelling nine Polish diplomats. Another incident happened in February 2000, when anti-Chechen war protestors broke into the Russian consulate in the town of Poznan and vandalized the building.

One of the biggest sore spots has to be the calling for a corridor by the Russians between Belarus and Kaliningrad. Russia would like to build a corridor from Belarus for the transportation of military equipment and troops and goods to the isolated exclave. For many Poles, a Russian corridor through Polish territory sparks many memories of the German connection to East Prussia through the Polish Corridor before the war and the period of Soviet domination during the second half of the Twentieth Century. 

There has been a loud outcry from many Polish politicians that no corridor will be built on Polish soil, thereby furthering the mistrust of the two countries.

However, Poland finds it is not in its interest to be anti-Russian, especially with Kaliningrad. Poland has maintained that Kaliningrad is an inseparable part of Russia and has made no claims to the region. For membership into the EU, Poland has to maintain well-defined borders with its neighbors, which it has done. Any dispute with Russia for Kaliningrad will only weaken its plea for admission. Additionally, there is a sense of cooperation between Kaliningrad and Polish officials to help to lessen the amount of smuggling along their mutual border.

Lithuania has recently experienced rather good relations with Russia and the Kaliningrad region. Lithuania’s former Foreign Minister, Vygaudas Usackas, said of Lithuania’s relationship with the Kaliningrad region;

“Following the re-establishment of Lithuania’s independence, Kaliningrad was perceived as a risk and a threat to the stability of the region. Over recent years, Lithuania has been deliberately working to make the Kaliningrad region be seen as an opportunity for regional and European co-operation. Our national interest is to co-operate with neighbors that share the same values. We should like the Kaliningrad region to become an attractive partner for economic and cross-border co-operation and a ‘window of opportunity’ for wider co-operation between Russia and the enlarging EU.”

Like Poland, Lithuania does not have any territorial disputes with Kaliningrad and has been working hard to maintain good relations. At the present time, Lithuania is one of the Kaliningrad region’s largest investors. Twelve percent of Lithuania’s overall trade is with Russia and has invested about 3.9 million dollars and has established 32 new enterprises in the Kaliningrad region within the last year. Lithuania has worked very closely with the EU and the Council of Baltic States to help implement reform in Kaliningrad. It also has implemented a visa-free regime with the citizens of Kaliningrad. Citizens of Kaliningrad and Lithuania are allowed to travel back and forth across each other’s borders and stay in the other country or oblast for a month without the need for a visa. Lithuania has stated that it will not abandon the visa free regime of the Kaliningrad region’s residents, but has maintained that as Lithuania is integrated into the EU it will eventually have to review the issue of the visa free travel with non-EU countries. Lithuania also allows the Russian military to use a corridor that runs through its country to Kaliningrad, but under certain restrictions.

Germany’s relationship with the Kaliningrad region has also been good. Although it has strong historical ties to the region, Germany has maintained that it would not make any claims to retake the region. However, there have been rumors lately about German leaders secretly offering to waive Russia’s debt to Germany in return for economic domination over Kaliningrad. Of course, this is not a deal for the revival of Prussia, which could cause an outcry by many of its neighbors who still remember the horrors of Nazi occupation, but rather a debt-for-equity deal. Even if this rumor turns out to not be true it still shows some of the uncertainty that many have about the future of Kaliningrad.

Germany has been involved in economic ventures in the exclave, although rather hesitant because of the uncertainty of laws and poor infrastructure. One such venture was with the German automobile manufacturer, BMW. In 1999, the German car company BMW created a 25 million dollar joint venture in Kaliningrad. The company has taken over a Soviet naval factory that was first built by the Germans before the war to make U-boats. This will hopefully have a good effect on the economy of Kaliningrad and Russia. The venture employs about three hundred workers, with an average wage of about 3,500 rubles a month (USD $130), and the cars that are produced in Kaliningrad will be sold in Russia with 30% of the cost of each car will stay in Russia. BMW’s strategy focuses on advanced sales and tax breaks. Duties comprise 60% of the price of imported BMWs in Russia. But Kaliningrad, with its special economic zone, grants importers immunity. Moreover, BMW’s Russian partner in Kaliningrad is assembling the cars cheaply. In all, BMW hopes that costs will be about 20% less than BMW cars that are imported into Russia. The success of this venture may create more interest of other companies looking to take advantage of the Russian market. This is one reason why the Russian presidential administration has bought 130 cars from Kaliningrad for about seven million dollars and plans on restraining from taxing the firm until the operation is on firm ground. Of course, this firm is starting small but success could attract other investors that have been wary of venturing into Kaliningrad due to the financial crisis of 1998 and Kaliningrad’s high crime rate and social problems.

The Kaliningrad Oblast is a Russian territory. Although there are other countries that may have possible claim to the area and the region is an integrated part of the Baltic Sea region, the exclave is an inseparable part of the Russian Federation because of its ethnic Russian population, its military forces stationed in the region and economic reliance. However, with its rich history and being the focus of much concern for its neighbors and Western European institution, the Kaliningrad exclave will be a priority for economic and social restructuring.



Category : Blog archive

Russian suspicion, wary that the U.S. is looking to create a Russian version of the Arab Spring

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Mike McFaul, the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, with President Obama.

Just before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swore in Mike McFaul on January 11 as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, she told the audience packing the State Department's Benjamin Franklin Room that "Mike's reputation precedes him."

Yet it's that very reputation that has Russia eyeing McFaul with suspicion, wary that the ambassador, who arrived last Saturday, is looking to create a Russian version of the Arab Spring.

From the start, McFaul's mission to Moscow has been different. As Clinton explained to the audience that day, rather than send the Russian Foreign Ministry a diplomatic note announcing the appointment, the president took it upon himself to tell Russia's president, in person, about it.

"When President Obama saw President Medvedev at the G-8 summit in Deauville in May he simply said, 'I'm planning to nominate Mike to be the next ambassador to Russia,'" Clinton explained, "and President Medvedev responded immediately with a tone full of respect, 'Of course. He's a tough negotiator.' And that was that."

But it isn't his negotiation skill that has Russia nervous.

On McFaul's second day on the job in Moscow he was slammed by Russia's government-controlled Channel 1 television. "The fact is that McFaul is not an expert on Russia," said a Russian commentator. "He is a specialist solely in the promotion of democracy."


Category : News

NATO chief worried by Russia’s Kaliningrad build-up

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NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen with President Dalia Grybauskaite

On a visit to Vilnius last week NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Russia to refrain from building up its military near the alliance’s borders, saying it was a concern for the 28-nation organisation. Rasmussen questioned Russian moves to bolster its forces in its Kaliningrad territory, which borders Nato members Lithuania and Poland, part of Moscow’s Cold War-era stamping ground. “These Russian statements are of course a matter of concern for Nato allies,” he told reporters in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius. “It is a complete waste of Russian financial resources, because it is a build-up of offensive military capacities directed against an artificial enemy, an enemy that doesn’t exist,” he said.

“Nato has no intention whatsoever to attack Russia,” he added, speaking alongside Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite. Moscow has warned that it plans to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, and earlier this month, Russian media reported that an S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft missile system would go into service there in April.


Category : News

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From Warsaw to Budapest

VilNews is on its way around Europe! 
Throughout January you are all invited on a
journey from north to south, from east to west. Some
articles will dwell with history. Some with Lithuanian contact
points in various countries. I have travelled across Europe with
camera and notepad for nearly 40 years and hope you will enjoy seeing
and reading about some of my experiences. Today's tour starts in Warsaw,
continues to Kraków, then to Prague, Bratislava and Budapest. Have a nice trip!

The Renaissance Sukiennice building is the central feature of the Main Market
Square in Kraków Old Town.

Photo: Aage Myhre

Our today's journey begins in Warsaw. From there we drive south in Poland,
head west to Prague in the Czech Republic, before continuing south to
Bratislava in Slovakia and Budapest in Hungary.

Tour guide: 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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The never ending neighbour dispute

A few years ago my wife and I fell into conversation with two Poles in Oslo. When they heard that my wife was from Lithuania, they were quick to assert that the Vilnius area is actually Polish and never should have been given to Lithuania after World War II. My wife immediately responded that the area Punsk in eastern Poland in reality is Lithuanian and should be re-incorporated into the mother-country. The dispute was in full swing.

I have subsequently many times seen texts reminiscent of history forgery when Polish and international historians describe the Polish-Lithuanian relations in the later Middle Ages. The relationship is often described as if Poland was the leading nation and Lithuania a province in the east, while the reality was as the map above shows, with Lithuania as Europe’s biggest nation for centuries.

But Lithuania is not much better in its attitudes versus Poland and the Poles. In a comment article this week, Gary Peach has some interesting reflections on this topic in the European Voice. This is an excerpt of what he writes:

“Foreign minister for only two years, Audronius Ažubalis cannot be blamed for all of Lithuania's external mishaps and misfortunes. With neighbours like Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russia's Vladimir Putin, diplomatic successes are hard to come by. But as regards Poland and Latvia, Ažubalis shoulders some responsibility for the sorry state of affairs.

In fact, the minister alone set the tone for relations with Poland this year when, in an interview released on 2 January, he lashed out at Warsaw, saying that issues involving Lithuania's minorities, which include approximately 200,000 ethnic Poles, are a domestic matter and that Vilnius should not be lectured. “We don't need a big brother,” said Ažubalis, who in not-so-subtle terms went on to compare Polish pressure on Lithuania to bullying by Russia and the Soviet Union.

This was exceptionally harsh rhetoric, and will probably lead to a new nadir in bilateral ties.


Category : Front page

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From Warsaw to Budapest


VilNews is on its way around Europe!
Throughout January you are all invited on a
journey from north to south, from east to west. Some
articles will dwell with history. Some with Lithuanian contact
points in various countries. I have travelled across Europe with
camera and notepad for nearly 40 years and hope you will enjoy seeing
and reading about some of my experiences. Today's tour starts in Warsaw,
continues to Kraków, then to Prague, Bratislava and Budapest. Have a nice trip!

Description: C:\Users\Aage\Pictures\001 Adobe\Digital Camera Photos\2007-08-13-1901-20\IMG_1778.JPG
The Renaissance Sukiennice building is the central feature of the Main Market Square in Kraków Old Town.
Photo: Aage Myhre

Our today's journey begins in Warsaw. From there we drive south in Poland,
head west to Prague in the Czech Republic, before continuing south to
Bratislava in Slovakia and Budapest in Hungary.

Tour guide: Aage Myhre


The never ending neighbour dispute


A few years ago my wife and I fell into conversation with two Poles in Oslo. When they heard that my wife was from Lithuania, they were quick to assert that the Vilnius area is actually Polish and never should have been given to Lithuania after World War II. My wife immediately responded that the area Punsk in eastern Poland in reality is Lithuanian and should be re-incorporated into the mother-country. The dispute was in full swing.

I have subsequently many times seen texts reminiscent of history forgery when Polish and international historians describe the Polish-Lithuanian relations in the later Middle Ages. The relationship is often described as if Poland was the leading nation and Lithuania a province in the east, while the reality was as the map above shows, with Lithuania as Europe’s biggest nation for centuries.

But Lithuania is not much better in its attitudes versus Poland and the Poles. In a comment article this week, Gary Peach has some interesting reflections on this topic in the European Voice. This is an excerpt of what he writes:

“Foreign minister for only two years, Audronius Ažubalis cannot be blamed for all of Lithuania's external mishaps and misfortunes. With neighbours like Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russia's Vladimir Putin, diplomatic successes are hard to come by. But as regards Poland and Latvia, Ažubalis shoulders some responsibility for the sorry state of affairs.

In fact, the minister alone set the tone for relations with Poland this year when, in an interview released on 2 January, he lashed out at Warsaw, saying that issues involving Lithuania's minorities, which include approximately 200,000 ethnic Poles, are a domestic matter and that Vilnius should not be lectured. “We don't need a big brother,” said Ažubalis, who in not-so-subtle terms went on to compare Polish pressure on Lithuania to bullying by Russia and the Soviet Union.

This was exceptionally harsh rhetoric, and will probably lead to a new nadir in bilateral ties. Poland feels Lithuania has attached unfair strings to a multi-billion investment in an oil refinery – Lithuania's largest taxpayer – and has threatened to dump the investment and sell it to the Russians. Warsaw also supports the desire of Lithuania's Poles to spell their names with the letter ‘w', which does not exist in Lithuania's alphabet, and to post street signs in two languages in some towns. At one point, Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, even said he would not set foot in Lithuania until the ‘w' appeared in passports.

The Lithuanians have their own set of gripes, and are now reeling from Poland's decision late last year to withdraw from a nuclear power plant project that would replace the one Lithuania closed in 2009 as part of its EU accession agreement. Formally, Poland, which has no nuclear power tradition, says it must concentrate on building its own plant; informally, the country is fed up with Lithuania and sees no reason to make any efforts to help the diminutive neighbour restore its status as a ‘nuclear power'”.

Read the complete article here:

Today’s journey:

View Larger Map

Description: Poland

Poland is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north. The total area of Poland is 312,679 square kilometres (120,726 sq mi), making it the 69th largest country in the world and the 9th largest in Europe. Poland has a population of over 38 million people,[6] which makes it the 34th most populous country in the world and the sixth most populous member of the European Union, being its most populous post-communist member. Poland is a unitary state made up of sixteen voivodeships. Poland is a member of the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), European Economic Area, International Energy Agency, Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Atomic Energy Agency and G6.

The establishment of a Polish state is often identified with the adoption of Christianity by its ruler Mieszko I in 966, over the territory similar to that of present-day Poland. The Kingdom of Poland was formed in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented a long association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin, forming the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth ceased to exist in 1795 as the Polish lands were partitioned among the Kingdom of Prussia, the Russian Empire, and Austria. Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic in 1918. Two decades later, in September 1939, World War II started with the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invasion of Poland. Over six million Polish citizens died in the war. Poland reemerged several years later within the Soviet sphere of influence as the People's Republic in existence until 1989. During the Revolutions of 1989, 45-year long communist rule was overthrown and the democratic rule was re-established. That gave foundations to modern Poland, constitutionally known as the "Third Polish Republic".

Despite the vast destruction the country experienced in World War II, Poland managed to preserve much of its cultural wealth. There are currently 14 heritage sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in Poland.

Since the end of the communist period, Poland has achieved a "very high" ranking in terms of human development and standard of living.

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The beautiful Tatra Mountains are a mountain range which forms a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, and are the highest mountain range in the Carpathian Mountains. The summit Rysy (2,499 m/8200 ft), located in the north-western part of Tatras, is the highest mountain in Poland.

A journey through former Warsaw Pact countries

It hurts to get back to the Baltics and Eastern Europe after experiencing Finland and Scandinavia. Admittedly, these countries at the Baltic Sea’s southern coast have undergone great development since the Iron Curtain fell in 1990, but it is also terribly hard to think of all the hundreds of thousands who died; tortured and killed by Hitler’s and Stalin’s obedient idiots. These once proud culture nations were on a par with countries in Scandinavia before the world war so brutally changed everything.

After the war, these countries were forced into the Warsaw Pact, the 'Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance', a military
alliance between the Soviet Union and countries in what is often called the Eastern bloc. It consisted of both real independent states and states that despite their formal independence in reality were controlled from the Kremlin. Attempts to break out of the pact were brutally suppressed by the Soviet power apparatus.

Warsaw is located barely five hours by car from Vilnius. We drive.


Warsaw - the city that rose from the ashes

Warsaw is the post-war bird phoenix. Barely 20% of the city was left after the war’s bombs and fires. Most of Warsaw was in ruins. After the war, under the Communist regime that was installed by the Soviet conquerors, major residential projects were completed in order to solve housing shortage. Mostly through the use of large, prefabricated concrete elements.

Gray, dreary suburbs as in the rest of the post-war Eastern Europe. Fortunately, many of the city's historic streets, buildings and churches were restored to their original shapes.

Description: File:Destroyed Warsaw, capital of Poland, January 1945.jpg
Warsaw in ruins, autumn 1944.

During the Second World War, Warsaw was subject to Nazi administration. All higher education institutions were closed and the entire Jewish population, several hundred thousand, about 30% of city residents were moved into the infamous Warsaw ghetto. When the order in 1943 came to destroy the ghetto as part of Hitler's 'Endlösung', this resulted in the famous Jewish 'ghetto uprising'. Despite fighting a heavy superior force, they held out for nearly one month. When the fighting ended, almost all survivors were massacred. Only a handful managed to escape or hide.

In the summer of 1944 came the great 'Warsaw uprising',
when the Poles decided to fight against Hitler's forces. Nearly 200 000 civilians were killed. The Germans then razed Warsaw to the ground. In violent anger. Monuments and public buildings were blown apart by a German special unit, 'Das Verbrennungs-und Vernichtungs command'.

About 85% of the city was in ruins, including the historic old
town and castle. Stalin's forces were standing in the outskirts of the town and watched the whole thing, but did not intervene.

Description: Old Town
Old Town in Warsaw as it appears today. Beautiful and cozy. Mostly new buildings, but in their original form.

Lublin – the city where Poland and Lithuania signed their 1569 Union Treaty

Description: File:Lublin, Stare Miasto - Brama Krakowska i Plac Łokietka (2009-06-12).jpg
Cracow Gate in Lublin Old Town is among the most recognizable landmarks of the city.

The Union of Lublin replaced the personal union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with a real union and an elective monarchy, since Sigismund II Augustus, the last of the Jagiellons, remained childless after three marriages. In addition, the autonomy of Royal Prussia was largely abandoned. The Duchy of Livonia, tied to Lithuania in real union since the Union of Grodno (1566), became a Polish–Lithuanian condominium.

It was signed July 1, 1569, here in Lublin, and created a single State, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was ruled by a single elected monarch who carried out the duties of Polish King and Grand Duke of Lithuania, and governed with a common Senate and parliament.

Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland. It is the capital of Lublin Voivodeship (province) with a population of 350,392 (June 2009). Lublin is also the largest Polish city east of the Vistula River.

Kraków - Culture at Europe's largest medieval town square
Kraków has grown from a Stone Age settlement to become Poland's national academic and artistic centre. Medieval

Krakow was surrounded by a 3 km long city wall with 46 towers and seven gates. The current town plan was drawn up in 1257 after the destruction of the city during the Tatar invasion in 1241 Union of Kraków and Vilnius of 1499, also known as the Vilnius Protocol was an important agreement in the Polish-Lithuanian union. So it was indeed these two towns that played key roles during the long partnership between these nations.

Krakow was relatively undamaged by WWII, and stands today as one of the most beautiful and genuine Eastern Europe has to offer.

In 1978, Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow, raised by the Vatican as Pope John Paul II, the first Slavic pope ever and the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years.

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Photo: Aage Myhre.

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Kraków’s central market square, Rynek Glowny, is Europe's largest medieval square.
Photo: Aage Myhre.

Description: Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It has a population of 10.5 million. The country is bordered by Germany to the west, Poland to the north, Austria to the south and Slovakia to the east. Its capital and largest city, at 1.3 million inhabitants, is Prague.

It is a pluralist multi-party parliamentary representative democracy, a member of the European Union, NATO, the OECD, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the Visegrád Group.

The Czech state, formerly known as Bohemia, was formed in the late 9th century as a small duchy around Prague, at that time under dominance of the powerful Great Moravian Empire (which reached its greatest territorial extent during the reign of Svatopluk I from the House of Mojmír). After the fall of the Empire in 907, the centre of power was transferred from Moravia to Bohemia, under the Přemyslids. During the rule of Přemyslid dukes/kings and their successors, the Luxembourgs, the country reached its greatest territorial extent (13th–14th century). Life in the country was significantly affected by the Hussite wars, during which it faced economic embargo and crusades from all over Europe. Following the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Crown of Bohemia was gradually integrated into the Habsburg monarchy as one of its three principal parts alongside the Archduchy of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. The Bohemian Revolt (1618–20) led to the further centralization of the monarchy including forced recatholization and Germanization. During radical reforms in the 18th century the Bohemian Crown was even de facto abolished (1749). In the 19th century the Czech lands became the industrial powerhouse of the monarchy and the core of the Republic of Czechoslovakia which was formed in 1918, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I.

After the Munich Agreement, Polish annexation of Zaolzie and German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the consequent disillusion with the Western response and gratitude for the liberation of the major portion of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won the majority in the 1946 elections. In a 1948 coup d'état, Czechoslovakia became a communist-ruled state. In 1968, the increasing dissatisfaction culminated in attempts to reform the communist regime. The events, known as the Prague Spring of 1968, ended with an invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries (with the exception of Romania); the troops remained in the country until the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when the communist regime collapsed. On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into its constituent states, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

The Czech Republic is the first former member of the Comecon to achieve the status of a developed country according to the World Bank. In addition, the country has the highest human development in Central and Eastern Europe, ranking as a "Very High Human Development" nation. It is also ranked as the third most peaceful country in Europe and most democratic and healthy (by infant mortality) country in the region.

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Český Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic’s South Bohemian Region.

My choice is Prague and Václav Havel

Václav Havel (1936-2011) was the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992), before the country was divided in two. He was also the first president of the Czech Republic (1993-2003).

I hold him as Eastern Europe's leading and best political leader after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and I believe that Europe should count itself very happy that a man with his qualities had much to say in the post communism era. He also had a successful career as an essayist, playwright, poet and dissident. In 2005, British Prospect Magazine ranked him fourth among the world's top 100 intellectuals. If only several East European leaders had been keeping a similar level ...

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Václav Havel.

Prague has been a political, cultural and economic centre in Europe and especially central Europe through 1100 years. For centuries, during the Renaissance, the city was the permanent seat of the two Holy Roman emperors and thus also the capital of 'The Holy Roman Empire'. Later Prague an important city in the Habsburg monarchy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

"Prague is like a textbook of styles," I think as I walk around in the Old Town. Here stand a thousand years of architectural gems side by side. Good architecture from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque. Most of these beautiful buildings are
now carefully renovated and restored. 'The city with the golden spire' is one of the nicknames this beautiful city has received. Church steeples and bell towers as far as I can see.

The most famous landmark in Prague, the Charles Bridge, has carried people on its curved arches over the Vltava river for hundreds of years. It was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1357 to replace the old bridge that had been
destroyed by a flood in 1342. This part of Prague is now a pedestrian paradise, where all the tourists are wandering around and enjoying the sight of the river, the beautiful architecture and each other. No doubt that Prague is attractive and breathtaking beauty. Probably the number one tourist city in Eastern Europe!

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Bells toll for all visitors to Prague.

Description: Slovakia

The Slovak Republic (short form: Slovakia) is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about 49,000 square kilometres (19,000 sq mi). Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south. The largest city is the capital, Bratislava, and the second largest is Košice. Slovakia is a member state of the European Union, NATO, United Nations, OECD and WTO among others. The official language is Slovak, a member of the Slavic language family.

The Slavs arrived in the territory of present day Slovakia in the 5th and 6th centuries during the migration period. In the course of history, various parts of today's Slovakia belonged to Samo's Empire (the first known political unit of Slavs), Principality of Nitra (as independent polity, as part of Great Moravia and as part of Hungarian Kingdom), Great Moravia, Kingdom of Hungary, the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Habsburg Empire, and Czechoslovakia. A separate Slovak state briefly existed during World War II, during which Slovakia was a dependency of Nazi Germany between 1939–1944. From 1945 Slovakia once again became a part of Czechoslovakia. The present-day Slovakia became an independent state on 1 January 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

Slovakia is a high-income advanced economy with one of the fastest growth rates in the European Union and the OECD. The country joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone on 1 January 2009. Slovakia together with Slovenia and Estonia are the only former Communist nations to be part of the European Union, Eurozone, Schengen Area and NATO simultaneously.

The Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic went their separate ways after 1 January 1993, an event sometimes called the Velvet Divorce. Slovakia has remained a close partner with the Czech Republic. Both countries cooperate with Hungary and Poland in the Visegrád Group.

Slovakia is one of Europe’s most beautiful countries. Here from the Tatra Mountains.

Bratislava – home of Škoda

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and, with a population of about 431,000, also the country's largest city. Bratislava is in southwestern Slovakia on both banks of the Danube River. Bordering Austria and Hungary, it is the only national capital that borders two independent countries.

Bratislava is the political, cultural, and economic centre of Slovakia. It is the seat of the Slovak president, the parliament, and the executive branch of the government. It is home to several universities, museums, theatres, galleries and other important cultural and educational institutions. Many of Slovakia's large businesses and financial institutions also have headquarters there.

The history of the city, long known by the German name Preßburg, has been strongly influenced by people of different nations and religions, namely by Austrians, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks, and Jews. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, a part of the larger Habsburg Monarchy territories, from 1536 to 1783 and has been home to many Slovak, Hungarian, and German historical figures.

More than 60% of all direct foreign investments in Slovakia are located in the Bratislava Region. The car manufacturer Volkswagen was established in Bratislava in 1991 subsequent to acquiring Škoda Auto and has expanded since. Currently, its production focuses on sport utility vehicles, which represent 68% of all production. VW Touareg is finished and Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7 are partially built there.

In recent years service and high-tech oriented businesses are thriving in Bratislava. Many global companies, including IBM, Dell, Lenovo, AT&T, SAP, and Accenture, are building their outsourcing and service centres or have plans to build in near future here.



Description: Hungary

Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The capital and largest city is Budapest. Hungary is a member of the European Union, NATO, the OECD, the Visegrád Group, and is a Schengen state. The official language is Hungarian, also known as Magyar, which is part of the Finno-Ugric group and is the most widely spoken non-Indo-European language in Europe.

Following a Celtic (after c. 450 BCE) and a Roman (9 CE – c. 430 CE) period, the foundation of Hungary was laid in the late 9th century by the Hungarian ruler Árpád, whose great-grandson Saint Stephen I was crowned with a crown sent by the pope from Rome in 1000 AD. The Kingdom of Hungary lasted for 946 years, and at various points was regarded as one of the cultural centres of the Western world. After about 150 years of partial Ottoman occupation (1541–1699), Hungary was integrated into the Habsburg Monarchy, and later constituted half of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy (1867–1918).

A great power until the end of World War I, Hungary lost over 70 percent of its territory, along with one third of its ethnic population, and all its sea ports under the Treaty of Trianon, the terms of which have been considered excessively harsh by many in Hungary. The kingdom was succeeded by a Fascist regime, and then a Communist era (1947–1989) during which Hungary gained widespread international attention during the Revolution of 1956 and the seminal opening of its border with Austria in 1989, thus accelerating the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The present form of government is a parliamentary republic, which was established in 1989. Today, Hungary is a high-income economy and a regional leader in some respects.

Hungary is one of the thirty most popular tourist destinations of the world, attracting 8.6 million tourists a year (2007). The country is home to the largest thermal water cave system and the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grasslands in Europe.

The people of Hungary (the Magyar) have been known as great horsemen for centuries. As invaders crossed or conquered Hungary over the centuries, they brought with them their fine Turkoman (ancestors of today's Akhal-Teke), Iberian (ancestors of Andalusians and Lusitanos), and Arabian horses. These horses were crossed with the hardy little local horses to create a superior mount for the Hungarian cattlemen.

A traditional Hungarian horseman steering horses on the Great Hungarian Plains, or “Puszta,” in Bugac, Hungary.


Budapest – the city where the language has Finnish-Siberian origin

Who would have believed it, that the Hungarian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group, originating in languages ​​spoken in Siberia and Finland? Or that the Finno-Ugric languages, together with Basque, Turkish, Greenlandic and Maltese are the only languages in Europe that does not belong to the Indo-European language family? The largest Finno-Ugric languages ​​are Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Mari, Syryen and Northern Sami.

Hungary and Budapest is always full of surprises!

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I am driving into Budapest a hot summer afternoon. We have had a few wonderful days in Hungary’s holiday paradise at Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest lake. Drunk good Hungarian wine and enjoyed the delicious water. But now it is the capital that counts. Infinite beautiful Budapest, Buda on one side, Pest on the other side of the slow Danube River which divides the city into two, with its beautiful water surface..

1100 years before me it was the Magyars, the ancestors of today's Hungarians, who entered the area. Even then, there was a town here, Aquincum, founded by the Romans around 89 AD. In the year 1541, the two districts of Buda and Pest were invaded by the Ottomans, who remained here until 1686 when the Austrian Habsburgs conquered the city.

World War II resulted in 40% of Budapest's Jewish community to beexterminated. A total of 400,000 Jews and about 40,000 ethnic Hungarians were killed during the war.

After the war the city was a showcase for Hungary's harsh communist government. In 1956, led this hard line to the rebellion. The revolution ended when the USSR sent in tanks and troops.
Over 2.500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet soldiers were killed in the conflict. 200,000 fled the country.

In 1896 Hungarians celebrated the 1000 anniversary of the Magyars arrival in the city. Many buildings were erected on the occasion. Metro, Parliament and Freedom Bridge were among them. Today's Budapest is full of architectural attractions, including a Roman amphitheatre, Gothic cathedrals, a traditional Turkish bath, and much more. Here I feel at home...

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The Buda Palace in Budapest.

Szeged in South Hungary – where the 1956 revolts started

Description: Dénes Fejér  2006 001
 Dénes Fejér

Ruszkik, haza!

Russians, go home!

The 1956 revolution in Hungary gave hope - but ended in disillusionment. This was what Dénes Fejér (78) told me when I met him here in the University Aula in his South-Hungarian hometown Szeged. Mr. Fejér was himself a 23-year old journalist, actively participating when the Hungarian uproar against the Soviet rulers started exactly here 55 years ago.

I asked him to confirm that the 1956 revolution in Hungary started here in the University Aula in the Szeged University,

“Yes, this is correct,” he says. “55 years ago, on the 16th of October, 1956, students from our Szeged town founded the youth organisation of MEFESZ (Hungarian Student Organisation). This event could be considered as the very first step of the revolution because in Hungary, at that time, after over ten years of Communist post war regime, only state founded and supported organisations could be established in a legal way.”

“The Szeged initiative could be seen as the first crack on a dam where water is about to pour through. Of course, you don’t immediately realise when you see a small stream of water; that what follows it is going to overwhelm you. The Communist leadership did not see right away what actually was about to happen, as they did not expect such a massive force appearing in just a few days.”

Dénes Fejér, who was 23 when the revolt started, stands here in the Aula that looks more or less the same as it did in 1956, demonstrating how things started evolving exactly here that October evening 55 years ago.

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Hungarians gather around the head of the toppled Stalin Monument in Budapest 1956.

I ask Dénes Fejér to explain more about the 1956 revolt that started here in Szeged:

You were yourself present in that Aula meeting, and if I understand you correctly, this meeting became a fateful event (among several other developments in those days) which led inevitably to the outbreak of the revolution. It was the first meeting after World War II where questions were not pre-arranged slogans glorifying the regime, but where - because of the insistence of the audience - everyone was allowed to speak, and raise questions. What would you say were the most significant things happened at that assembly?

For two years after the end of the war in 1945, there was a plural political system in Hungary. Different political parties existed, and in the 1945 general elections the Independent Smallholder and Civil Party received absolute majority with 54% of the votes and the Communist Party only received 17%. Stalin realised that the people of Hungary did not want to embrace its system. The 1947 elections were already fraudulent and the Communist forces won. In 1948 the Social democratic Party was forcibly incorporated into the Communist party. The general wave of terror appeared only after this time. Forced nationalisation was started with businesses, commercial institutions, industrial entities and later, even private property like houses. A terror organisation was created within the Internal Ministry, called the AVO (State Security Authority) which later became an independent entity, having its own rules and methods.

This was the background where the MEFESZ was established, as the very first independent organisation in Communist Hungary. The programme and its demands were summarised in twenty points of the there are a few that are interesting. These included the request for open and free debates, the open trial of guilty Communist functionaries, the abolishment of death penalty in political cases, democratic elections, freedom of speech, and the that the 15th of March, the Commemoration Day of the 1848 Revolution should become an official national day. As you can see, these conditions and demands are natural in a free country but were unknown and unthinkable in a dictatorship. Although not part of the twenty points, another demand was phrased by the participant of the meeting. This was later a key phrase of the revolution: Russians, go home! The most fundamental demand was for the truth, that is to say that the leaders of the country should not lie and should not make the young people and the population lie. Telling the truth in Hungary at that time meant sever prison sentences.

To my knowledge, the assembly started as a rather innocent gathering where the students simply asked: “Why are the Soviet troops still stationed in our country?”, but ended with a the clear demand: “Ruszkik, haza!” - “Russians, go home!” From such a radical manifestation of the demands, you must have known that this was about to become dangerous?

The whole meeting started as a regular Communist youth organisation meeting. The Communist youth leaders gathered before it and reviewed the demands of the MEFESZ leaders, like András Lejtényi. When they learn the radical nature of these, they became frightened and left immediately for higher authority, the Communist party representatives at the university. Then the MEFESZ leaders went to meet the gathered students, read their demands, and the MEFESZ had the day!

“There was a general feeling of freedom among the participants. Fear disappeared. Saying the truth was a standard, normal thing during the event that caused happiness and joy among the audience.”

Didn‘t you realise that, according the Soviet system of those days, your collective name was "Shut up!" Did you not know that the Aula microphones were only for the Party collaborators and that nobody else were supposed to talk?

Nobody thought of ‘Shut up!’ at that time. After the first few words, there was a general feeling of freedom among the participants. Fear disappeared. Saying the truth was a standard, normal thing during the event that caused happiness and joy among the audience. The principle of ‘Shut up!’ had accumulated an amount of pressure in everyone that just erupted then. The age of ‘sober thoughts’ ended and the demand of freedom and truth became prevalent for the university youth.

You were yourself working as a journalist those days, and on the 23rd of October the newspaper “Delmagyarorszag” published your article called “Az igazsag keresesenek utjan”. What was the essence of this article and what reactions did you get?

This article, titled the ways of finding the truth, summarised what I have just explained above. It is very typical that we were not even sure whether the article would appear at all. The official, Communist newspaper Délmagyarország reported the event but left out the most important aspect which was the break of the dam, the shedding of the Communist oppression!

The period of hope to win over the mighty Soviet Union by peaceful measures, however, did not last long, and soon fights started spreading all over Hungary and the revolution began before your eyes. How will you describe this outcome of your efforts from the Aula assembly?

The main fighting happened in Budapest. This was the obvious and visible sign of the revolution. The fighting, the combat on the streets. The AVO, the armed troops and the Soviet soldiers were all surprised that ‘here they shoot back’. It was believed that a demonstration of force with tanks on the street would frighten people and prevent the escalation of the events, thus helping the consolidation of the Communist dictatorship. It didn’t happen like that.

Probably the Hungarian national character contributed to this as well. The courage to start again, to love one’s country, the national tradition of not giving in to slavery.

The revolutionaries of Budapest used bottles filled with petrol against tanks. They had no heavy weapons or anti-tank artillery. They fixed a burning piece of rag on the bottle and tossed it to the moving vehicle. The burning liquid turned the steel monsters into burning coffins. When the Soviet soldiers were abandoning their vehicles, they became easy preys to the weapons of the fighters.

There was an interrelation between the demands of the Szeged students, the fighting in Budapest and the revolutionary state nation-wise. The mental preparation rallied the fighters. The machine guns and the words were equally weapons of the revolution. Words changed things without bloodshed. From the smallest villages in Hungary to any institution or organisation, everyone of them had revolutionary councils. They replaced the very often incompetent previous leadership whose only added value to the system was their loyalty to the oppressing regime. The highest authority in the Communist state, the Central Committee and the Political Committee was simply dismissed. Instead of them reliable and trustworthy people were elected by the population or members of institutions or organisations. With open or secrets ballots. I was elected by a secret ballot to be on the workers’ council of the press in Szeged, and on the city’s revolutionary council.

I think this was the real result of the revolution. Replacing the old, Soviet puppets, the Communist leadership, and raising new, honest people into the power. This was created by the synergy of the students’ wishes and of the fighting in Budapest.

“For those who have never lived in oppression, in fear and in deprivation, for those who, on a daily basis, enjoy freedom and the rights of liberty, they probably don’t really know what freedom means for a prisoner.”

It has been said that something nearly supernatural stirred the hearts, minds and consciousness of the Hungarian people those days. Those shared feelings with friends and strangers must have been very special?

This special, disturbing experience is not difficult to describe for those who lived through it. The beautiful memories must be recalled from the past half-century. For those who have never lived in oppression, in fear and in deprivation, for those who, on a daily basis, enjoy freedom and the rights of liberty, they probably don’t really know what freedom means for a prisoner. I believe that it was this everlasting desire for freedom that prevailed back then. It was as if we were not even walking on the face of the Earth, as if floating in air. The communication changed among people, they were smiling to each other. They were nice, understanding towards each other. We even believed that the ‘guards’, our oppressors could change because they would realise that it is, in fact, better to live like this, free. It is probably also true that the experience of freedom created delusions.

By mid November 1956, it became evident that your revolution was lost. Not only the street fights, but also the lengthy demands of the students, which were fully supported by the whole society, were not going to be met. Instead, more and more of reprisals and arrests happened and an air of bitter disillusionment began to replace the heady days of the victorious revolution. How would you describe these days?

In the first days of November, it became obvious that the revolution had failed. Not in its results, not in its memories, not in its principles but in its survival. It was not our weakness but the overwhelming Soviet military power that defeated it. The twelve days a freedom turned into a totally different direction. In a few days we suddenly had to realise that those who had pretended to be with us till the 4th of November in 1956, turned into bloodthirsty puppets of the occupying forces and lost their human faces, becoming willing executioners.

The new puppet regime with Soviet arms behind it could only gradually strengthen its own position. They were expecting results, agreements, and waiting for their supporters t show once again. This started very slowly with the dismissed Communist leaders and members appearing again and again. Once they were feeling safe, the brutal punishment started.

We were hoping that they might have learnt their lesson, that we could not be treated the same way as we had been treated for nine years before the revolution. This was not the case, they continued everything in much the same way as it had been before. Everything came back, the deportation camps, the beatings, the prisons, the torture. Hungary again became a prison and we again humiliated prisoners.

It took some time before the Soviet rulers of your country were able to close the borders completely, and Austria was very willingly letting thousands of refugees cross into their country. You decided not to leave, why was that?

It became obvious that for those who had participated in the revolution, there was no place in Hungary any more. And many of them indeed left the country. Maybe some left because of fear, some because of adventure or new possibilities. Almost 200.000 people left the country. One of my best friend left who is currently living in New York while I was kept in a Soviet military prison in Eastern Hungary. Another friend of mine, who was briefly arrested with me, was inviting me to go to France.

It had never occurred to me that I could or would leave. Never, for a moment. I knew that I had account for all my activities eventually, and I was hoping that my life would be spared. During the revolution I did not fight, did not kill anyone. In my captivity Major Zokov, the Russian officer was interrogating me about all these things. Ha was trying to convince me that we were counter-revolutionaries while I was trying to convince him that we were revolutionaries. We couldn’t convince each other of course. I do not recall any fear gripping me, when, together with seven of my colleagues, I was transported in an ambulance, escorted by two armed armoured personnel carriers. I was wearing a white shirt and, when we were disembarked at the main square of Csongrád to be taken to the nearby hills, I remember thinking that anyone could easily recognise the white on a corpse, and might be able to inform my mother about my fate. I was not executed, but taken to Debrecen to the Soviet military airfield.

After I was released from prison, I did not want to leave. I couldn’t leave my country. I would not replace Hungary for any other place. I have seen a few peaceful spots in the world where life could be different than here. Once a Hungarian poet has said that for a Hungarian patriot ‘whether your faith may be blessed or cursed, here [ie. in Hungary] you must either live or die’. This is a moral command for me.

Some of your fellow students were executed and the Soviet jails were filling up during the next few months. You were among them arrested, hence it would be interesting to hear your personal story from the time after the revolution was so brutally crushed?

In the spring of 1957 I was arrested again, this time by the Hungarian political police. But before that an interesting episode happened in my life. When I was released from the Soviet prison, in February I returned to Szeged where I was approached by the newly organising Communist party, through two veteran leaders, Vince Bite and Károly Csíszár. I used to know Uncle Vince, since when I was ten to twelve, I used to be his helper in playing bowling at the beach. They told me to become member of the MSZMP [the newly formed Communist party] because I had been selected to be chief editor of the Délmagyarország newspaper. I had three days to consider their offer. I turned it down. Have you given it enough thoughts? Uncle Vince asked me. I have, I told him. Well, I hope you won’t regret it, he answered.

In two months time, I was arrested. I was interned. The whole thing became only a little bit clearer when I was released after one year. The temporary imprisonment that required no court verdict, could be prolonged indefinitely after every six months. When I was released, I was only allowed to do manual labour, only as a non-qualified worker, despite having a university degree with a certificate that allowed me to teach. My driving license was withdrawn, my reserve officer rank of the army was taken away, I did not get a passport, and could not travel abroad. As I recall, it did not really effect me because after finishing secondary school, I went to work on the Tisza bridge and learnt the craftsmanship of carpenters. This enabled me to work with my own two hands, and solved my financial problems.

What was difficult was the social exclusion. When my friends saw me on the streets, they went to the other side. Nobody dared speaking to me, or to be seen in the company of a convicted ‘counter revolutionary’. I was living with my mother and with my elder sister because I had lost my elder brother who had died in Russian captivity in the war.

During the sixties the terror had waned a little bit. I was allowed to teach in elementary school, although only subjects that were practical based, handcrafts. On regular basis a political officer appeared to check on me, and to try to make me work with them as an agent. I refused, and eventually got fed up with it all, and I returned to the construction industry. In the end I became a foreman, then a project manager. I was applying for eight years to the Szeged university law faculty but was always turned down. In the late 80s I was invited to be as chief editor of one of the first independent publishers. This was already the end of the Kádár-regime [János Kádár was the leader of Communist Hungary after 1956, till 1989. The period between 1956 and 1989 was often referred as the Kádár-regime.]

“It was only after many years that we learnt that the USA and the Great Britain informed the USSR that they would not oppose their intervention in Hungary.”

The governments of the free world watched your Hungarian Revolution with deep admiration even if none of them seriously considered providing military support, nor condemnation strong enough to stop the brutal actions of the Soviet Union. How do you view the behaviours of the Western countries those days?

The Western world provided enormous help to those almost 200.000 Hungarians who left the country. Those who went not as adventurers were appreciated by their new countries. Among the refugees you can find people who still come back to Hungary and who in fact, have two countries now. They have no roots, and their children have departed from Hungary for good.

The Western influence that we had in the days of the revolution was deceiving. It was only after many years that we learnt that the USA and the Great Britain informed the USSR that they would not oppose their intervention in Hungary.

Radio Free Europe was continuously encouraging the fighters to carry on because they were promised foreign help. This has led me to conclude that if it succeeds, if we had national local government in Szeged, I would suggest to change the name of Roosevelt Square in Szeged (like it was changed from Stalin Square) as I cannot support a liar, a friend of Soviets, even if he had been once the President of the USA.

Description: roosevelt-szeged
Roosevelt Square in Szeged. The inscription lauds Franklin for his stand against
Fascism. Dénes Fejér, however, wants to change the name of the square.
“I cannot support a liar, a friend of the Soviets, even if he had been once
President of the USA,” he tells me.

Category : Blog archive

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Interview with Vytis Jurkonis in today’s Baltic Times:
Relations between Poland and Lithuania have become over-politicized

Vytis Jurkonis

What do you think about the policy of Poland towards Lithuania? MEP Vytautas Landsbergis told the magazine IQ that Poland has “a psychological defect from some heritage.”

My opinion is that the relations between Poland and Lithuania became over-politicized. Both sides have run into a situation where none of them can step out and decline their ‘principled position.’

Psychological defects are present both in Poland and in Lithuania and it shows first of all that we are not indifferent to ourselves and to our history. Nonetheless, I feel that some politicians cannot accept the fact that the concept of a nation is changing – we see the process when the voluntary and civic aspect of the identity is starting to prevail over the cultural one. One can resist that, can try to minimize the effects, but you cannot just deny the process. All in all those psychological or mentality issues, which certainly exist, are being manipulated and exaggerated by some politicians. This is the cheapest way to mobilize their electorate.


Category : Opinions

Thank you letter from Massachusetts, USA

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Dear Editor:

Thank you for the excellent acknowledgment and presentation you have given our video "Vilna" and our CD, "The Eternal Question" (Di Alte Kashe).

One sees that this site is a labor of love.  The care, attention to detail, accuracy and thoroughness is evident throughout.

zol z@@n mit m@zl

Wolf Krakowski
Fraidy Katz
Kame'a Media:
Northampton, Massachusetts, USA

Category : Opinions


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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 >

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