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Conservatives ask Russia to compensate for Jan. 13 victims

  • 2007-01-10
  • By Arturas Racas

Lithuanians risked their lives to defend Vilnius' TV tower in 1991.

VILNIUS - Lithuanian relations with Russia could freeze over again if Parliament supports a resolution prepared by the opposition Conservative party that will ask Russia to compensate those killed and wounded in the events of Jan. 13, 1991.

The draft resolution, registered in the legislature this week, states that the Soviet army's attack in Vilnius on Jan. 13, 1991 's currently known as Freedom Defenders' Day 's was an "act of aggression against independent Lithuania and its people" and that many unarmed people were killed and seriously injured.
The document also notes that, taking into account that Russia is considered to be the successor state of the Soviet Union, the Lithuanian government should require Russia to pay compensations for those killed and injured during the events, as well as their families.

The draft resolution also calls upon the government to initiate the negotiations with Russia on this issue.
Fourteen people were killed and hundreds wounded during the Jan. 13 attack, when the Soviet army took over the TV tower and radio and television building. Tens of thousands of people surrounded Parliament, effectively preventing the Soviets from attacking the government building.

The resolution, prepared by Conservative (Homeland Union) Audronis Azubalis was welcomed and supported by Vytautas Landsbergis, member of the European Parliament and Lithuania's first head-of-state after regaining independence in 1991.
"Jan. 13 was an aggression against the restored state of Lithuania, not another act of violence in an occupied land," Landsbergis, who was president during the events, said in a statement.
"The most important thing is to realize the state's duty and responsibility, and to let the people's representatives speak their opinion," he added.

The initiative was heavily criticized by Raimundas Lopata, director of the Vilnius Institute of International Relations and Political Science, who called the move "masochism."
"Nobody should play games using such a sensitive issue," Lopata said in an interview with the Baltic News Service.
He also called for taking into account the international situation and the prognosis that relations between the East and West will be strained approaching 2008.

"The demand to compensate for the victims of Jan. 13 would add tension to Lithuanian-Russian relations. We should consider whether Lithuania will be able to resist this tension," Lopata said.
Lopata also reminded Lithuania that the elections to Russia's Duma, or lower house of Parliament, and the presidential elections will be held soon.

"Is it worth handing Russian politicians the Lithuanian card for manipulation?" he asked rhetorically.
Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas was also skeptic about the Conservatives' initiative.
"Lithuania has addressed Russia with the compensation issue more than once, but all these appeals have had no effect. If we forward new demands, should we expect a reaction?" Kirkilas asked.

In June 2000, Parliament adopted a law obliging the government to start negotiations with Russia on compensation for the 50-year long Soviet occupation. The damage caused to Lithuania was estimated at $20 billion by a special government commission.
Russia refused to acknowledge Lithuania's demand for compensation.