Prague, 31 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- At a bridge over the Narva River that forms a border crossing between Estonia and Russia, a new diplomatic tradition is being forged.
An Estonian man dressed as Santa Claus trudges along the snow-covered road between two border posts. He shakes hands with Russian border guards. Then he shouts greetings to a Russian man dressed in a similar costume of Ded Moroz -- Father Frost -- who is walking from the opposite direction.
The actors playing out the roles of the holiday characters describe each other as brothers who have not see each other for a year. Their greetings include wishes of peace and prosperity in the coming year of 2006 and the years that follow.
"Greetings to you all! I missed you! Through snow and storm, from east to west, through all Russia I came," says Ded Moroz. "In Russia we say: 'The way you greet the New Year is the way you will spend it.' So let this meeting become a good tradition for many years."
The two have been meeting on the border since 1997 as part of a project known as Christmas Without Borders. The idea originated with customs authorities who say it is aimed at improving cooperation on both sides of the border in an effort to make crossings faster and more efficient.
Toivo Kuldkeep, chairman of the Association of Estonian International Road Carriers, which was participating for the first time, described the initiative as "great"
"It's a kind of act of good will," he says. "Santa Claus and Ded Moroz could be the ambassadors of this. From our side, we want to show that we are not in any kind of conflict with [Russian] border guards and customs and vice versa. We are all on the same side and we all want the traffic to be faster across the borders."
"Now, since the enlargement of the EU enlargement, the number of vehicles crossing the border has significantly increased, especially here in Narva," says Kuldkepp. "Our wish for next year would be that Santa could perhaps shorten the queues on the border. This is in the interest of cargo carriers as well as border servicing authorities. So this is a nice event. I'm very happy with this."
The rendezvous on the bridge was followed by a ceremony at Russia's Ivangorod Checkpoint and by a lunch in Narva.
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