Border deal linked with WWII celebration

  • 2004-12-01
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - The Baltic presidents met in Vilnius on Nov. 26 to pen a number of agreements, ranging from the creation of a Pan-Baltic basketball league to a consensus on whether to travel to Moscow for the May 9 celebrations next year.

Baltic leaders were lukewarm about attending the celebration, since for most Balts World War II did not end with the liberation of Berlin, despite an announcement that Moscow was prepared to sign border agreements with the Baltic countries if the latter attended the 60-year anniversary ceremony.

Aiva Rozenberga, spokeswoman for Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, said recently that "the president's position is clear - May 9 continued into half a century of occupation, and nothing can change this opinion."

Vike-Freiberga has yet to make up her mind on whether to attend the celebration. In fact, no public announcement has been made by the Baltic leaders on whether to attend. West European countries commemorate the end of the war a day earlier on May 8.

Many observers have speculated that Moscow's reluctance to ratify border agreements with the Baltic states was an attempt to slow down the expansion of supranational bodies such as the EU and the security alliance NATO. Yet expansion became a reality last spring, and now the borders of the Baltic states are those of the EU.

Still, during the EU-Russia summit in The Hague on Nov. 25, Russia's envoy to the EU Sergei Yastrzhembsky said that President Vladimir Putin had "spoken positively about the need to sign these treaties in the near future."

Russia told EU officials in May that the country would ratify the border agreements. Meanwhile, Russian Embassy officials in Riga have stated that the agreement could be completed within one year. More specific information, however, was unavailable.

Russia has, at other times, drawn a connection between its border agreements and Latvia's and Estonia's attitude toward their sizable Russian minorities to no avail. "If [Baltic state] leaders arrive for the May 9 celebrations in Moscow, it would be a colossal breakthrough for improving relations, after which a lot could be expected, demanded and achieved. If they refuse, it would be a completely different gesture - also political. It would be received completely differently," Konstantin Kosachov, chair of the Duma's international affairs committee, told journalists in Moscow on Nov. 29.

Kosachov said he hoped that Baltic leaders would decide to attend the celebrations. "I hope your leaders do not make a mistake - it will be a window of opportunity, which will either close or open," he added.

The possibility of attending the ceremony has already sparked an angry condemnation from Baltic MEPs at the European Parliament. The politicians wrote a letter at the end of October to EU leaders asking them not to participate in Moscow's celebrations due to the event's ambiguous representation.

Aldis Kuskis from Latvia, Vytautas Landsbergis of Lithuania and Tunne Kelam of Estonia signed the letter as did Christopher J.P. Beazley of the United Kingdom. "With alarm and concern, we turn to the leaders of the world. It is important that in replying to the invitation of President Putin, the leaders of these countries undoubtedly divide their show of respect to heroism, the sacrifices carried by military personnel and civilians from the illegal occupation of the Baltic states and violent subjugation of Central and Eastern Europe," stated the letter.

The Baltic Basketball League will takeover for the now defunct Northern European Basketball League created by Lithuanian basketball star Sarunas Marciolonius, which at one time had teams competing from 10 European countries. The league fell in financial difficulties in 2002.

The BBL already has a sponsor in the SEB banking group. For the 2005 season the league will be made up of five teams from Lithuania, three from Latvia and two from Estonia. The first championship game will be held in Vilnius.