• 2001-12-20
The holiday season has arrived faster than anyone expected. As with every year, lots of gifts have been forgotten until the last minute, some Christmas cards still need to be written, and a few newspaper subscriptions have to be renewed.

This year has been a unique one, though. The tragic events of Sept. 11 have influenced people's lives right around the world, and the Baltics are no exception. Life has never been very safe in this part of the world, struck by two world wars and 50 years of Soviet occupation. Sept. 11 has added onto the general feeling of insecurity, and has left a bitter feeling that there is no safe refuge anywhere on the planet anymore.

Yet the attacks on the U.S. have ironically increased the hopes of the Baltic countries of joining NATO, in an effort to tighten global security in the face of a common enemy, international terrorism. Even the tiniest of countries can contribute their share to the common safety net.

But life goes on. Apart from tragic events both abroad and at home - September's methanol tragedy in Estonia, for example - 2001 was remarkable with light and happy events, too. The Latvian capital Riga celebrated its 800th birthday in August, a huge success proving the city was able to host and arrange large-scale events and handle the arrival of millions of visitors.

Estonia managed to place itself in the heart of Europe for one night in May, when a local duo won the Eurovision Song Contest. Next year, the contest will be held in Tallinn, so Estonians have one more high-profile, responsible, but light-hearted event to prepare for.

Vilnius was the host of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in May, arguably the biggest international event Lithuania has ever seen. And the OSCE's decision to close its missions in Estonia and Latvia is a fine Christmas gift for the people and politicians of the Baltics, since it certifies that these two countries have passed the transitional period to a stable democratic society.

So, good old Santa is coming to town.