THE WORLD FROM.Vilnius, Lithuania since Independence, Lithuanians Have Turned Their Gaze Westward, but Cannot Escape Ties to Russia

Article excerpt

FOR a long half-century Lithuania was a captive republic, its people exiled by the hundreds of thousands to Siberia by Stalin to crush the resistance to Soviet occupation.

"We have a lot of wounds," says Jonas Kubilius, a world-renowned mathematician who served until recently as the rector of Vilnius University. "It is impossible to find a family that wasn't affected by this regime." He counts a brother imprisoned for eight years and a mother and another brother deported to Siberia among his family's tribulations.

Blood was flowing right up to the last moments of Lithuania's struggle to break from the Soviet empire, when a Lithuanian militia guard was killed near the parliament by Soviet troops in the waning hours of the failed August putsch.

So it is understandable that with independence restored, the faces of Lithuanians are turned west, not east. The list of upcoming events in the news bulletin of the Lithuanian Seym (parliament) is exemplary - from the visits of European Community representatives and NATO officials to the eagerly anticipated state visit of His Majesty King Carl Gustaf XVI and Queen Silvia of Sweden. In the parliament's press office, a young official talks hopefully about Lithuania's joining the European Council after its Oct. 25 election.

On a daily basis, Lithuania's engagement with the rest of the world has undergone a dramatic change since even a year ago. Then it was remarkable that four flights a week linked it to the west, two to Poland and two to Germany. Now there are 32 flights, with the newly established Lithuanian Airlines proudly flying a Boeing jet to London, Frankfurt, and other points west.

But these welcome developments are accompanied by a sobering reality that economically, Lithuania is unable to escape from its massive neighbor to the east. …


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