• 2002-03-21
SIBERIAN SUPPORT: A public organization was founded March 20 in the Latvian town of Valmiera to support ethnic Latvians who moved to vacant lands in Siberia when Latvia was still a part of czarist Russia. The organization, Atbalsts Sibirijas Latviesiem, aims to help to preserve Latvian language and traditions among Latvians living in Siberia. The group wants to help Latvian youths there strengthen ties with their motherland, to provide Latvia's community with comprehensive information about the lives of Siberian Latvians and to promote Latvian language and traditions there. The organization also wants to promote the participation of Siberian Latvians' folklore groups and craftsmen in Baltic cultural events and to assist Latvians who have returned from Siberia to integrate. "When Latvians from America or Western Europe return to live in Latvia, they get a warm welcome. When a Siberian or Russian Latvian comes home, our community regretfully feels reserved about embracing them," said Valmiera Mayor Maris Kucinskis. Kucinskis is one of eight founders of the organization. Some of the founders have previously visited Latvian settlements in Siberia. The organization will organize a summer camp for Latvian children from Siberia this June. From 1850 until the outbreak of World War I about 1,000 poor Latvian farmers moved to vacant lands in Siberia, forming hundreds of small scattered settlements. Many Latvians living in Siberia are also descendants of people deported there during the Stalinist purges. (Baltic News Service)

NOT TOO CLOSE: The presidium of the Lithuanian opposition Homeland Union (Conservatives) has called on the ruling Social Democrats to refrain from unilateral steps to boost relations with neighboring Belarus because it could hurt Lithuania's chances to join NATO. "The (Parliament) is continually declaring its intentions to establish cooperation with the undemocratically formed Parliament in Minsk," a statement from Conservative MPs Vytautas Landsbergis and Andrius Kubilius issued this week read. "Europe is waiting for at least a sign of goodwill from the leaders of Belarus, but the Social Democrats of Lithuania are unwilling to wait for it." Lithuania should be "especially careful" in relations with Belarus since this country is suspected of arms trading with Iraq, Rasa Jukneviciene, a member of the Conservative faction, said at a press conference March 20. "According to my information, the U.S. is preparing for a very serious reaction to the Belarusian regime." At a Parliament session in early March, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, a Social Democrat, accused the Council of Europe of not making efforts to democratize Belarus. The prime minister defended his idea to ask, together with Poland, the Council of Europe for a mandate to speak to the Belarusian leadership and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in order to reduce the international isolation of the country. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said Lithuania was ready to make steps to improve relations with Belarus, but it must first see Minsk making such steps, including expanding the powers of its Parliament, improving the human rights situation, creating an ombudsman institution and abolishing the death penalty. Social Democrat MPs condemned the recent arrest of Belarusian Social Democrat leader Nikolai Statkevich. Statkevich was detained on March 18 for staging what authorities said was an unsanctioned rally that drew several hundred people on the country's Constitution Day. (BNS)

SPARE PARTS: Customs officials in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad arrested a Lithuanian man March 19 after they found engine parts from a Soviet fighter in his van. Officials said the man was attempting to cross the Kaliningrad-Lithuania border on the Curonian Spit in a passenger van, which he told them was filled with bottles of mineral water, according to spokeswoman Yelena Manevskaya. She said officials found a hidden compartment in the van that contained 22 spare parts for a SU-17 fighter plane. The man was arrested and criminal charges are pending. The SU-17 was first deployed in 1970. Poland, Hungary, Germany, the Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria and Slovakia all operate the plane. Export versions have also been sold to Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Libya, Peru, Syria and Vietnam. (BNS)

COALITION BUILDING: Political parties representing Estonia's Russian-speaking population are continuing merger talks. Nikolai Maspanov, a representative of the organizing committee of the Estonian Russian parties' coalition group, said at a press conference this week that the parties adopted their first joint political statement. Maspanov said that the aim of the organization was consolidation of parties in the run up to elections. Maspanov said the next logical step was to begin discussing common party lists. "The 2002 and 2003 elections will be a maturity test for the parties," Maspanov said. Anatoli Yegorov, general secretary of the Estonian United People's Party, said his party had offered colleagues the opportunity to jointly prepare for elections as early as 2001. (BNS)

SMACK TRACKED: Narcotics police in Tallinn made the first seizures of the synthetic heroin which sent about 100 people to area hospitals after overdosing last week. "It's too early to speak of anything big," narcotics police Superintendent Erik Heldna told the daily newspaper Eesti Paevaleht. The synthetic drug, allegedly imported from Russia and known under the names White Chinaman, Dragon, and 999, is nearly 1,000 times more potent than heroin produced from natural opium, the newspaper reported. Emergency room nurse Raul Adlas said the addicts had apparently begun to get used to the new substance because cases of severe overdose were becoming less frequent. The overdose cases peaked at the end of last week, but emergency teams still are treating an average of eight people daily. (BNS)