• 2002-05-02
The proposed tram service advertised in posters going up around Vilnius this week using futuristic images of the new line would add to a transport network that is already advanced.

Lithuania has the best infrastructure in the region, according to investors and international organizations. Along with Klaipeda - its ice-free seaport - and four international airports, Lithuania had the first satellite-based telecommunications system to emerge from the former Soviet Union.

Its far-reaching network of roads is a good way better than those of its Western-oriented neighbors Poland, Latvia and Estonia, let alone Belarus and Russia. Pothole-free Lithuania has pristine four- and six-lane highways connecting its five major cities, making it a greater pleasure to travel through than Latvia or Estonia.

A road projected to be part of the Via Baltica running up the coastline between the Estonian towns of Ikla, near the Latvian border, and Parnu, is an appalling welcome to Estonia that contradicts its squeaky clean image. Latvia's country roads are likely to destroy your car if your attention on the route ahead lapses.

A lot of questions have been asked about why this is the case. Part of the answer lies with the obscure figure of Antanas Snieckus, leader of the Lithuanian Communist Party from 1936 to his death in 1974. Unlike its two Baltic neighbors, Lithuania avoided heavy industrialization and large numbers of Russian immigrants, and it got more funds from Moscow for its infrastructure. It was partly Snieckus' strong loyalty to the Kremlin that helped Lithuania avoid the same sort of heavy-handed political and cultural purges in the Stalin and post-Stalin eras that Latvia saw.

Today, rickety trolleybuses creak and groan as they move slowly down Gedimino Avenue, part of the route for the proposed tram line. Despite inevitable grumbles from taxpayers at how expensive they could be - and despite the fact that both Riga and Tallinn have had trams for decades - trams in Vilnius are a public transport vision of the future.