Long lines, short tempers at border posts

  • 2007-07-18
  • By TBT staff and wire reports

TRUCULENT TRUCKERS: tired of waiting, truckers have started to organize protests (Photo by Mike Collier)

LUDZA - While temperatures reach summer highs across the Baltics, tensions are rising correspondingly at the region's notoriously congested border crossing points.

Fed up with waits of several days' duration to cross from one country to another, truckers have started to take direct action.

July 17, several hundred trucks waiting to cross to Russia from Latvia simultaneously turned from the right-hand side of the road and parked across the carriageway, completely blocking what little roadspace remained for approxiimately an hour.

The demonstration was reportedly planned by Lithuanian drivers using their in-cab radios to co-ordinate the protest.

Their intention was to draw the attention of both the public and the authorities to the ongoing issue of interminable border delays that have been virtually permanent features for the last six months.

Truckers claim that Russia-bound trucks currently begin to queue some 50 kilometers from the Terekhovo border post, though official Latvian sources state that the line never exceeds 6-8 kilometers.

Some frustrated drivers voiced the opinion that politicians are keeping the lines long in order to get more money from the EU to invest in borderland infrastructure.

The action certainly did attract the attention of the authorities. Latvian Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis promised harsh punishments for truck drivers intentionally blocking roads or staging similar protests.

"Any attempt to block a road or to stage demonstrations of any other kind will be punished. If these words are not heeded, police will act vigorously," the minister told the press, adding that punishments might even include arrests.

"If there are attempts to block roads, I do not rule out that drivers might be detained at the Lithuanian border as well. It is a bad scenario, as it causes a chain reaction and a negative response from Lithuania," Godmanis admitted.

"If they do not observe order, we will act vigorously," he warned.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry says it is keeping a close watch on the situation and promised to support Latvia's initiatives on infrastructure development in Brussels.

"It is not for the first time that queues have formed at the Latvian-Russian border. As trade volumes and cargo flows are increasing 20-30 percent each year, the infrastructure of the exterior EU border no longer matches the requirements," a press release from the Foreign Ministry said.

"We are positive that the problem of throughput at the EU and Russian border cannot be an argument to restrict free movement of goods and services on the European Union's internal market," the release concluded.