Year in Review: 2008's strangest headlines

  • 2008-12-17
  • By Monika Hanley

HARMLESS: After a careful analysis, animal specialists determined that the crocodile had already been killed and stuffed.

RIGA - As the year comes to a close, we at The Baltic Times take a minute to reflect on the year's wildest and weirdest stories. While much of the serious news could be considered hilarious in its own right 's with celebrities in Lithuania starting their own political party and a section of the Ventspils port being put on sale on E-bay 's we bring you the best of 2008's unforgettable news.

Blind driver strikes again
TARTU 's In May, for the third time in less than a year, blind driver Kristjan Gradolf, 20, was caught and arrested in the Estonian city of Tartu. The driver was also drunk at the time of the arrest. Gradolf had a friend instruct him while he drove, and according to him, he is "good at it."
The friend, who is also the owner of the car, had to pay a $1500 fine.
Gradolf gained notoriety in August 2007, as police realized he was blind when he couldn't find the tube for the breathalyzer test. The first time he was faced with a large fine, the second time he spent five days in prison. This time he faced criminal charges as a repeat offender.

TV Chief in the closet
VILNIUS 's In October, Audrius Siaurusevicius, general director of Lithuanian National Radio and Television, resigned after getting drunk and spending hours barricaded in a hotel utility closet on election night.
In his official report to police, he claimed to have been "held hostage by journalists," who would not let him out.
"I am going to press big charges on you," Siaurusevicius told the journalists.

Various reports revealed that he had locked himself in the closet for five hours after a confrontation in which he allegedly damaged a journalist's camera, which is estimated to be worth up to 30,000 litas (8,695 euros).
The news portal Delfi reported that he probably lost his mobile phone and was trying to find it in the closet. When asked if he was drunk at a press conference, the general director of LRT only claimed that journalists were drunk as well. He said he did not stay in the cabinet willingly, accusing journalists of holding him hostage.

No parking for crocodiles
RIGA 's Shoppers got a nasty surprise on the morning of March 12 when they discovered a crocodile on the loose in a public car park.

Riga Municipal Police spokeswoman Inese Timane told BNS that the police received a call at 8 a.m. When policemen arrived, they found the crocodile there, just as described. Food and Veterinary Service representatives arrived and, using their years of specialist training, confirmed that the crocodile was stuffed and therefore there was no cause for alarm.
Food and Veterinary Service spokeswoman Solveiga Smiltene told BNS that somebody must have left it as a joke, taking the stuffed animal out of the garbage container. The stuffed animal was described as being "in a very poor state."

Veterinary service experts took the crocked croc to the Nature Protection Board to see whether it is possible to restore it and place it on display in a museum.

Prime Minister rocks out
RIGA 's Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis got his rock on with Paul Rodgers and legendary rock group Queen in Arena Riga on Sept. 19. Near the end of the concert, Godmanis took the stage and played the drums to the hit song "All Right Now," to fans' great approval. Godmanis is not a newcomer to the stage, having played the drums in his younger days and hosted a rock show on Radio SWH before being elected prime minister.

Exorcists form dream team
VILNIUS 's Kicking off the year with a black twist, Lithuanian exorcists joined supernatural forces in a bid to combat the armies of darkness. Following a blessing from the church, an exorcist's association started operation in the country.

The newly-formed association of exorcists hopes to lend a helping hand to each other to rid the possessed of evil spirits, the Lietuvos Zinios newspaper reported. Church leaders hoped the organization 's unifying the nation's bell, book and candle-wielders 's will also be able to cooperate with exorcists from other countries.
The Kurtuvenai town church in the district of Siauliai is visited by several people claiming to be possessed by evil spirits each month. They come in hope of finding and getting help from priest Kestutis Daknevicius. He is one of six exorcists currently operating in Lithuania. Daknevicius believes that possession by evil spirits in a serious problem in Lithuania.

"Quite a few people come in hope of receiving help. Maybe there aren't so many real cases of possession among those that turn to us, however the cases of most applicants are really serious," Daknevicius told the daily.

Harry Potter camp threatened over "black magic"
RIGA 's The organizer of a summer camp for Harry Potter fans in northeastern Latvia received about 15 anonymous threat messages to her cell phone.
According to manager Lolita Osipova, the text messages with threats were sent to her from various telephones. The senders of these messages urged her to scrap the camp, quoting the Bible and pointing at the summer camp's links with evil spirits, sorcery and magic, and warning of divine punishment.

Vjaceslavs Bogdanovs, the priest of the Gulbene Roman Catholic congregation, confirmed that he had spoken in his sermons about the Harry Potter books' negative impact on the young generation.
Osipova said she was surprised at the Christians' negative response to the Harry Potter camp, especially because children from pastors' families had been attending the camp in the previous years, which means that not all Christians are afraid of Harry Potter.

In a surprising turn of events however, Osipova, upon confronting the offending priest, found that he was in fact a long lost relation. All sins were suddenly forgiven and the camp was given the go ahead from the church leader.
"We teach children to waltz. This is magic!" Osipova said.

Fortune teller swindles 10,500 from woman on street
RIGA 's A fortune teller mid-October swindled 10,500 lats (14,940 euros) from a woman on the street after convincing the victim that her children would die if she did not pay.
The victim was allegedly approached by a 40 to 60-year-old woman on the street and asked for directions. The woman then said that the victim's youngest son will die on Nov. 10 and the eldest son will also die soon.
The woman was told she had to pay the fortune teller to avoid the tragic outcome. Both women went to an ATM and the victim withdrew 500 lats. It was not enough for the swindler, however, so both women went to a bank's office where the victim withdrew 10,000 lats from her account.

President's residence sold to casino operator
TALLINN 's With Baltic economies continuing their plummet into stagflation, the Estonian government has decided to take drastic measures. In a strong show of the country's commitment to capitalism, the government has announced that it will sell the presidential summer residence at Paslepa to Olympic Entertainment Group owner Armin Karu.

The Estonian-language daily Aripaev reported that a company owned by Karu paid 15.3 million kroons (0.98 million euros) for the summer residence in Western Estonia, which was sold through the State Real Estate Company.
Karu told the paper that he does not have any concrete plans for the building: "It has a definite culture historic background, but I do not have a clear plan for the complex yet."
The Paslepa residence was actively used by late President Lennart Meri. Current President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, however, commonly entertains guests on his farm and has little use for the Paslepa residence.

Good Friday striptease condemned
VILNIUS 's Male stripping on Good Friday earned a harsh response from a Conservative Lithuanian MP in March.  Plans to hold the International Men's Striptease Championship in Vilnius on Good Friday also instigated a public outcry from conservatives and religious communities.
Former Lithuanian Prime Minister Irena Degutiene said in an announcement that the event was inconsistent with Christian values and the nation's traditions. The event was to be held in a Vilnius nightclub.
In her words, Good Friday is the height of Lent when the entire Christian world mourns the death of Jesus Christ. Degutiene said the striptease contest was an outrage against Lithuanian believers, and destroys basic moral values.

Guard defaces Latvian painting at U.S. museum
PITTSBURGH 's A guard at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, U.S.A. has defaced a Latvian painting worth $1.2 million. The painting, a work by Vija Celmina titled Night Sky Number 12, was destroyed when security guard Timur Serebrykov, 27, attacked it with a set of keys.
Serebrykov initially denied destroying the work, but later confessed after learning that the crime had been caught on tape by a nearby surveillance camera.

"I did it with a key… I did not like the painting… excuse me," Serebrykov told investigators. The museum's experts say that the painting is considerably damaged and are not sure if attempts to salvage the artwork will be successful.