• 2004-09-15
It is no secret that all three Baltic states are in the middle of a public relations war with Russia. Remarkably, however, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are defending themselves from different sets of accusations, though on the whole it would appear that the common denominator in this increasingly vitriolic battle is imperial Russia's inability to come to terms with its loss of control in the region.

Nevertheless, if the Baltics aren't careful, they too could lose, though the price of defeat will amount to a battered, blackened reputation in Europe 's something they can hardly afford.
Lithuania is currently under fire for hosting a pro-Chechen Web site and passing a resolution not to allow a transit-free corridor via its territory to the Kaliningrad exclave. The latter was done after Russia made the absurd request for such a corridor in Brussels, and the Lithuanians needed the resolution to demonstrate sovereignty (which Russia apparently feels it can infringe on). The Web site, however, is far more complicated. Hosting a site that is pro-Chechen is in itself understandable, perhaps even necessary, but when that site is propagating ethnic hatred and advertising a multi-million dollar bounty for a lawfully elected head of state, then the situation needs to be addressed. In this case, sympathy for the Chechen cause must maintain civility, especially after Beslan.
Vis-a-vis Latvia, Russia's PR campaign has been even harsher, with the sheer number of televised reports this year reaching staggering proportions. The attack has carried over into international organizations, such as the OSCE, and not without some success. The gist of the criticism centers on the new requirement that minority students take more classes in Latvian (though the citizenship issue is also raised), but the government managed to stave off any significant damage to its reputation after an 11th hour media blitz that included a trip to Moscow.
Not so in Estonia. Here the fallout has been significant, as one would expect after a wave of vandalistic attacks on WWII monuments that followed the erection 's and removal 's of a monument depicting a German soldier. Even though the Lihula monument's initiators intentions were noble 's to honor Estonia's freedom fighters 's in this day and age one has to show a bit more sophistication and a lot more tact that just plopping down a plinth depicting a MP40-totting Wehrmacht warrior in the middle of a field. Prime Minister Juhan Parts was right to have the monument dismantled, but he would have been even more right had he never allowed it to see the light of day. As it is, the damage has been done.
The Kremlin-orchestrated PR onslaught will continue 's we can rest assured of that. The question is 1) how prepared the Baltics will be to counteract it, and 2) whether they will give Moscow more fodder. All three countries have worked extremely hard to get where they are today 's the increase in tourist flows is the most tangible dividend on that investment 's and it would be a shame to undermine that achievement.