VILNIUS - President Valdas Adamkus said Russia's decision not to issue visas to young Lithuanians who had wanted to travel to Siberia and pay homage to resting places of exiled Lithuanians was an unwillingness to acknowledge a maturing generation of citizens who cherish the values of freedom and democracy.
In a letter read at a traditional meeting of exiles, political prisoners and freedom defenders in Ariogala on Aug. 5, Adamkus recalled that on June 14 he had applauded the Lithuanian youth's decision to go to sites of massacre, imprisonment and concentration camps in Russia.
"I applauded young people's willingness to see the places of suffering of their parents and ancestors, their aim to find out more about the sorrowful history of our homeland. Unfortunately, such an aim of the young generation seemed too dangerous to somebody," the president said.
However, last month Russia refused to issue visas to the expedition. It did not give a reason.
The travelers planned to visit the Krasnoyarsk region, where 165 Lithuanians were compelled to work in the forestry industry in 1948. They lived in several stables. About 50 Lithuanians are buried at a cemetery there. Expedition participants planned to decorate the Lithuanian cemetery.
The first trip to the Irkutsk region on June 14-25 was successful, with travelers decorating a Lithuanian cemetery and meeting with local Lithuanians.
In response to Russia's refusal to issue visas, the Foreign Ministry expressed a protest, even though Russia did not provide a reason for refusing visas.
As explained by Lithuanian diplomats, Russian officials have said unofficially that the aim of the Irkutsk expedition was to visit places of exile and decorate victims' graves, but not to politicize. But since group participants, including Lithuanian politicians, allegedly started making political statements, the members of the second expedition have not been issued visas.
In Russian officials' words, participants in the expedition should make up their mind as to whether they want to go decorate graves or politicize.
On June 14, 1941, Soviet occupation authorities deported Lithuanians to camps and prisons in the U.S.S.R. Some 150,000 people were exiled from Lithuania during the Soviet occupation, many of them died in exile of starvation and inhuman living conditions.
After Lithuania restored independence, June 14 has been marked as the Day of Mourning and Hope.