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Baltic 'Miracle' Rooted In Independence Struggle

(Washington, DC--January 17, 2000) The ambassadors of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania told an RFE/RL press briefing yesterday that the success their countries have had over the last decade has its roots in the struggle all three of them went through to recover their independence.

Speaking on the tenth anniversary of the Soviet attack at the Vilnius television tower and the third of the signing of the U.S. Baltic Charter, each of them called attention to the progress all have made in instituting democracy and moving toward full integration with European and Atlantic institutions -- progress they characterized as "a miracle."

One of the key reasons for their success, Estonian Ambassador Sven Jurgenson said, was that "we always wanted independence and we always remembered being independent." Consequently, he said, "we know what independence means," something that gave the three Baltic countries enormous advantages.

Latvian Ambassador Aivis Ronis said that other sources of Baltic success included an American policy based on morality and values, Nordic assistance, and the support of Russian democrats in the past. And Lithuanian Ambassador Stasys Sakalauskas praised the U.S. for its continuing support, through the U.S.-Baltic Charter, for the integration of the Baltic countries into the European Union and NATO.

Each of the three pointed to differences in approach both domestically and internationally. Jurgenson noted that predictions to the contrary notwithstanding, there had not been a single instance of interethnic violence in Estonia in the past decade. Sakalauskas highlighted Lithuania's restoration of a "totally free society." And Ronis stressed the continuing importance of cooperation among the three in the future. But with their success, the three are increasingly moving in different directions, a development that has disturbed some in the region and elsewhere. But Jurgenson spoke for all three when he said that the emerging model of Baltic cooperation will be like that among the Nordic countries, with complete agreement on issues like NATO and the European Union but normal differences on other questions.