AWKWARD MINSK: Official circles in Vilnius expressed concern March 26 over the unwillingness of Minsk diplomats to let a group of Lithuanian journalists enter Belarus, where they were to participate in a European Commission-sponsored project in Grodno. That day, the director of the Second Foreign Relations Department at the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Aurimas Taurantas, had a telephone conversation with the Belarusian Ambassador to Lithuania Vladimir Garkun. The Lithuanian diplomat expressed concern over the fact that the Belarusian Embassy failed to issue visas to the journalists. Taurantas told Garkun that the project was important to Belarus itself, thus, "the incident does not add to the development of democracy in Belarus."
BAD INFLUENCE: Nearly 60 percent of Latvian residents are concerned about a growing Americanization of the country, according to the latest public opinion poll conducted by the SKDS market and social research center. The number of those worried has increased from 51 percent in 2000 to 58.9 percent this year. The statement, "I am concerned about the trend of Americanization in Latvia" drew negative replies from 32.9 percent of respondents, and 8.6 percent were undecided. Women (63.7 percent) are more worried than men (52.6 percent). The number of those without a definite opinion was also higher among male respondents (10.5 percent) compared to females (6.9 percent). Elderly people over 55 are more inclined to complain about the issue (71.3 percent), and younger people do not seem to worry about it so much.
FRIENDLY FIRE: Deputy speaker of the Estonian parliament and one of the ruling Pro Patria Union's presidential candidates, Tunne Kelam, called his rival Peeter Tulviste a youngster in politics whose time is yet to come. "Peeter Tulviste has qualities I value highly, yet he is a relatively young politician," Kelam said in an online press conference March 26. Kelam declared that even though some party members supports Tulviste's candidacy for president he does not intend to withdraw from the race for the nomination. "Even if a problem should arise, I don't consider a withdrawal possible without the consent of the broad-based initiative group that proposed my candidacy," he said. Kelam declined to predict the outcome of Pro Patria Union's election for presidential candidate. "My style is to focus on the essence of the matter and not on foretelling the future."
GOOD REASONS: In a survey by the polling firm Vilmorus for the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, 51.2 percent of respondents reported that they are sure Lithuanian membership of NATO would guarantee security and stability, and encourage foreign investment in Lithuania. The survey showed 23.6 percent of Lithuanians believe the country must join NATO in order to be safe from the possible threat of Russia. The poll found 19.8 percent of residents believe NATO membership would irreversibly consolidate Lithuanian statehood, while 19.7 percent believe NATO membership would preserve democratic values. The results of the survey indicated 16.7 percent of the population believe Lithuanian membership of the Alliance would be beneficial because defense would be cheaper and more effective inside rather than outside NATO. Some respondents (27.5 percent) feel Lithuania doesn't need NATO membership. A total of 1,063 people in 18 towns and 56 villages in Lithuania were questioned in the survey, conducted March 8-11.
SAFE TRIP: Russians traveling in the Baltic states prefer Estonia. The number of tourists heading there has grown from year to year, the Moscow-based newspaper Vedomosti writes. Compared with 1999, the number of Russians visiting Estonia grew by 4.7 times last year to a total of 131,000. The paper cites data from the Russian tourist board. Lithuania received 81,800 Russian tourists in 2000, or 2.2 times more than the year before. Some 23,500 Russian travelers, up by 13 percent from 1999, visited Latvia last year.
MAN'S OBJECTS: One of the world's largest anthropology museums, the Musee de l'Homme (Museum of Man) in Paris has decided to dedicate to Latvian history one of its central exhibitions to Latvian history this year. "Latvia: History, Art, Traditions" will be opened in Paris on April 24. It will be organized by the Latvian History Museum, but the initiative of the exhibition belongs to Sandra Kalniete, the Latvian ambassador to France. The Musee de l'Homme will provide one of its largest halls with an area of more than 500 square meters for the Latvian exhibition, which will consist of more than 700 exhibits - jewelry, metalwork, costumes, knitwear, articles made of stone and wood, and so on. The exhibition will cover the period from the time man first set foot on Latvian territory about 11,000 years ago to today. The museum staff has picked the most beautiful and valuable items reflecting Latvian history.
DEAD BEET: Several hundred Lithuanian farmers protesting against what they called attempts by the government to annihilate the regional sugar business blocked the Via Baltica international highway close to the border with Poland on the afternoon of March 26. Officers at the Police Commissariat in the town of Kalvarija said about 500 farmers from the region blocked the highway at about 4 p.m. The farmers claim the Lithuanian government is trying to shut down the Marijampole Sugar Factory and do away with the sugar-beet cultivation zone in the province of Suvalkija, nestled up against Kaliningrad and Poland in the country's South-West, by creating a sugar monopoly. The farmers' protest is unsanctioned. "Our main demand is that the Marijampole Sugar Factory be allowed to carry out its restructuring program," one protester said. This calls for producing 26,900 metric tons of white sugar this year, but after the government approved white sugar production quotas for the various sugar producing factories in the country, the Marijampole operation was left with the same quota as last year, 22,000 tons.