Lithuania Sees History in Short Visit by Bush.(NATION)

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Kovalick, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

VILNIUS, Lithuania - President Bush can expect a hero's welcome today as Lithuania, once a captive of the Soviet Union, celebrates its hard-won invitation to join NATO.

"The Bush visit is unprecedented. It represents a change of Lithuania's status that was inconceivable 10 years ago," said Alexsandras Matonis, a journalist with the Baltic News Service. "I think this visit can only be compared to Napoleon's stay in 1812."

Even before Air Force One touched down on the tarmac late last night, the atmosphere in the Lithuanian capital was a mix of excitement, pride and a little anxiety.

"We're pleased that we're back on the map and that President Bush has chosen to visit our city," Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas said.

"Such a high-profile visit will allow us to present ourselves, not only to the president himself, but to a worldwide audience. We expect throngs of Lithuanians, not only from Vilnius, will want to see and greet President Bush."

The president's visit follows a NATO summit in Prague, which invited Lithuania and six other former communist states to join the Western alliance.

Lithuania, like its fellow Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, will be the first NATO members to have been part of the former Soviet Union. …