15 January 2001, Volume 2, Number 1
REGIONALARE NUCLEAR WEAPONS DEPLOYED IN KALININGRAD?
"The Washington Times" of 3 January, citing unnamed U.S. intelligence and defense officials, said that Russia was moving tactical nuclear weapons into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad in an apparent effort to pressure NATO. The Russian Defense Ministry denied the report the same day with a spokesman for the Baltic Fleet saying that the report was "either a political provocation or inaccurate journalism." Officials in the Baltic states reacted by noting that any reaction would be inappropriate until the report was confirmed. Lithuanian parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Alvydas Medalinskas noted that Russian Ambassador to Vilnius Yuri Zubakov had told him that there has not been any transfer of nuclear weapons, BNS reported. Polish officials were more outspoken. Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski on 4 January called for an international inspection of Russian arms dumps in Kaliningrad. A U.S. State Department official, however, said that Washington would not support the inspection request because there were no arms-control agreements allowing them. Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius called the Polish offer meaningful, but cautioned "the issue should not be debated excessively in order not to scare away NATO enthusiasts."
BALTIC POPULATIONS VARY ON NATO, EU MEMBERSHIP.
Interviews with 500 people aged 15-74 in each of the Baltic countries indicated that Latvia had the highest proportion of supporters of the EU while Estonia had the most supporters of NATO, BNS reported on 28 December. Among residents of Latvia 51 percent favored and 37 percent opposed EU membership while the proportion of supporters and opponents in Estonia and Lithuania were more or less balanced. The number of EU supporters in Latvia has increased since the beginning of summer. * The agreement on the Baltic states uniform transit procedure went into effect on 1 January 2001, BNS reported the next day. Its aim is to simplify and speed up crossing the Baltic states for transit cargo by unifying customs documents and requirements.
ESTONIAFEWER PEOPLE NATURALIZED IN 2000.
The number of persons who gained Estonian citizenship by naturalization decreased from 4,533 in 1999 to 3,425 persons this year, BNS reported on 27 December. The majority of the new citizens (2,030) were children under the age of 15 one of whose parents is an Estonian citizen or those born after 26 February 1992 whose parents are not citizens of any country. Citizenship was given to 1,297 persons who passed tests on the Constitution and Citizenship Act as well as of Estonian language. Since 1992, 113,764 persons have gained Estonian citizenship by naturalization. But the numbers may rise in 2001. Some 11,000 people passed the Estonian-language exam during 2000, of whom 7,973 were adults and the remainder primary and high school graduates who took the exam as part of their graduation tests, BNS reported on 2 January. The government spent 1.85 million kroons ($112,000) for the exams; 850,000 kroons of this sum came from the government reserve when the number of exam takers was much higher than expected in August and December.
MINIMUM WAGE, INCOME TAX-FREE MINIMUM RAISED.
According to an agreement concluded between the government, employers, and employees last year, the minimum wage was raised from 1,400 kroons ($85) to 1,600 kroons a month from 1 January, ETA reported on 2 January. According to the Statistical Office, some 15 to 20 percent of the country's 600,000 workers are paid the minimum wage. At the same time, income tax law amendments that came into force from 1 January raised the income tax-free minimum for individuals from 800 to 1,000 kroons a month. Last year this minimum was raised from 500 to 800 kroons a month.
YEAR ENDS WITH BUDGET DEFICIT.
According to preliminary information, state budget receipts in 2000 were 27.948 billion kroons ($1.69 billion) and expenditures 28.23 billion kroons, resulting in a state budget deficit of about 285 million kroons, BNS reported on 2 January. Finance Minister Siim Kallas said the deficit was as large as it was primarily due to an overly optimistic plan to obtain 680 million kroons from the sale of state property, He added that the country's total deficit would be about 400 million kroons if local government budget deficits were included.
PRIME MINISTER DISCUSSES EU, RUSSIA IN FINLAND.
In talks with Finnish President Tarja Halonen on 4 January in Helsinki, Mart Laar noted that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were part of Europe both historically and culturally and their accession into the European Union will provide an unique opportunity to promote the common European spirit, BNS reported. While the talks were held in Finnish, Halonen said that she firmly intends to learn Estonian. Laar also met his Finnish counterpart Paavo Lipponen in Ilomantsi in eastern Finland to discuss relations with Russia and the enlargement of the EU.
TALLINN WANTS EU TO SET TIMETABLES FOR ENDING TALKS.
Estonia's chief negotiator for talks with the EU Alar Streimann told Reuters on 29 December that he hopes that timetables for EU candidate countries to adjust to EU laws and standards will be set during Sweden's six-month term as EU president in the first half of 2001. He welcomed Sweden's setting EU enlargement as a priority of its presidency, noting that "for the first time enlargement has been included as a separate point in the agenda for the (Gothenburg) summit at the end of the Swedish presidency." He said setting dates for wrapping up accession talks will give candidates a clearer idea of when membership will come and allow them to better plan needed transition periods. Estonia intends to fulfill all the criteria for EU membership by 1 January 2003.
FERRY TRAVEL BETWEEN ESTONIA FINLAND AMONG LARGEST IN EUROPE.
More than 6 million people traveled by ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki in 2000, ETA reported on 3 January. The only larger ferry passenger operations in Europe are between England and France and Denmark and Sweden. Viljar Jaamu, marketing director of the Hansatee shipping company, noted that of every 10 passengers traveling between Tallinn and Helsinki, eight are Finns and two are Estonians. He said that the number of passengers reflects the tax-free shopping available on board the ships, and that "if tax-free shopping is liquidated upon accession to the European Union, the number of passengers will drop by a half, and the total number of tourists visiting Estonia will drop by one third." The port duties of 20 kroons ($1.22) per passenger gave Tallinn more than 100 million kroons of revenue last year.
* The new tobacco law that came into force on 1 January prohibits smoking in public places -- including medical, educational, and cultural establishments, shopping and service centers, sports facilities, and public transport, ETA reported on 3 January. The law also restricts smoking in restaurants and bars by requiring that some rooms have to be smoke free. Failure to do so can result in fines up to 250,000 kroons ($15,100). If a minor is caught smoking in a public place, his parents may be fined up to 10,000 kroons.
* In November exports of goods totaled 7.024 billion kroons and imports 10.169 billion kroons for a trade deficit of 3.145 billion kroons, BNS reported on 27 December. Estonia's leading export partners were Finland (28.1 percent), Sweden (16.4 percent), Latvia (8.3 percent), and Russia (7.3 percent) with Finland (31.6 percent) and Russia (10.8 percent) the leading import countries.
* Foreign direct investment (FDI) increased by 1.9 billion kroons in the third quarter of the year to a total of 87.9 billion kroons since 1992, ETA reported on 27 December. FDI made up 48 percent of all investments in the country and the growth in the ratio indicates greater trust in the country's economy. Sweden has contributed 39 percent of the FDI and Finland 31 percent. Most of the FDI were in the fields of finance, industry and transport, warehousing and communications, each having about a 23 percent share.
* The European Environment Agency ranked Estonia as its fourth strongest partner (after Austria, Denmark and U.K.) among 31 European countries in the amount of required information (65 percent) which it had supplied, ETA reported on 29 December. Latvia which supplied 55 percent of the information was ranked 10th and Lithuania with 35 percent was 24th. Estonia sends information on air, water, wildlife diversity, and refuse management on a voluntary basis. The EU will use the information to check how international conventions are met and whether candidates are ready for EU membership.
* Estonian Gas sold 825 million cubic meters of natural gas in 2000, or nearly 15 percent more than in 1999, BNS reported on 3 January. The growth was due to gaining new clients for the weather during the year was warmer than expected.
* The Democratic Party, which had been formed in October by the merger of the Blue Party and the Development Party, has split over internal differences, BNS reported on 3 January. The 17-member governing board elected at the merger congress lost nine members and had not yet been formally registered. Former Development Party members headed by Tiit Made and Coalition Party defector Ulo Nugis with his supporters decided to register the party without members of the former Blue Party and elected a new board.
* The Bank of Estonia is planning to withdraw two-kroon ($0.12) bank notes from circulation and replace them by coins of the same value, BNS reported on 5 January. A similar replacement of one-kroon notes is already under way. The two-kroon notes were issued only once in 1992, but 9.3 million of them were in circulation at the end of November.
* In accordance with a decision signed by the Baltic defense commanders in December, Estonia started round-the-clock surveillance of its air space from the beginning of the year, BNS reported on 2 January. The National Airspace Surveillance Center carries out the surveillance and also relays all the data to the Regional Airspace Surveillance Coordination Center in Lithuania.
LATVIARIGA TO INSTITUTE DAYLIGHT-SAVING TIME THIS YEAR.
The government on 2 January decided that the country will institute daylight-saving time this spring, LETA reported. Last February the three Baltic states decided not to turn back their clocks one hour in the spring and thus had the same time as Germany and Spain when these countries changed to daylight-saving time. Minister of Economy Aigars Kalvitis noted that Latvia had too few daylight hours and thus decided to comply with a draft European Commission directive that provides for instituting daylight-saving time in EU countries between 2002 and 2006. The government urged Lithuania and Estonia to adopt a similar time policy.
BIRTHS RISE, DEATHS FALL IN 2000.
In January-November 2000 the number of births in the country was 18,600 or some 800 more than in the same period in 1999, BNS reported on 3 January. The number of deaths fell by 600 to 29,400. The birth rate increased by 5 percent compared to last year, but the total population decreased by 10,800.
OIL TERMINAL INCREASED TURNOVER IN 2000.
The Ventspils Nafta (VN) oil terminal last year reloaded 18.8 million tons of oil and oil products, or some 400,000 tons more than in 1999, LETA and BNS reported on 3 January. VN handled 13.6 million tons of crude oil, 4 million tons of diesel fuel, 1.2 million tons of car gasoline and other oil products. VN spokesperson Gundega Varpa said that "these results top initial estimates by VN which expected its performance indicators in 2000 to fall short of 1999 figures due to the complicated situation with export of oil and oil products in Russia." Since its opening in 1961, VN has reloaded a total of nearly 770 million tons of oil and oil products.
FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS CAUCASUS FOR COE.
During a brief visit to Baku on 3 January, Indulis Berzins, who chairs the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, assured President Heidar Aliyev of Latvia's support for Azerbaijan's acceptance into full membership of the Council of Europe later this month, He told his Azerbaijani counterpart Vilayat Quliev that in order to achieve that objective Azerbaijan must ensure that the 7 January repeat parliamentary elections are free and fair. Berzins also met with leading members of opposition parties that won representation in the 5 November parliamentary elections, but are boycotting its sessions, arguing that the election returns were falsified. Berzins flew on 4 January to Yerevan via Tbilisi, where he met during a brief stopover with his Georgian counterpart Irakli Menagharishvili, who expressed his support for the simultaneous admission of Armenia and Azerbaijan to full membership in the Council of Europe. In Yerevan Berzins held talks with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, and other officials. After the trip Berzins said that both countries took Council of Europe membership very seriously and their admission would strengthen democracy and facilitate much-needed reforms, BNS reported on 5 January.
* A Riga city court on 28 December sentenced Juris Recs, one of the leaders of the radical rightist organization Perkonkrusts, to a three-year jail term for participation in the bombing of the Victory monument in Riga in June 1997 and other offenses, BNS reported. The prosecution had asked for a six-year term, but the court acquitted Recs on a number of charges citing insufficient evidence. It also took into account that he did not have a previous criminal record and has an underage daughter. Recs admitted being involved in the Victory monument bombing, but denied involvement in several other crimes for which he was charged. He admitted being the ideological leader of the group who had delivered lectures to its members about its history. He was detained in May 2000 after hiding for more than two years in forests.
* The Riga city council on 28 December approved the city's balanced budget of 164.75 million lats ($270 million) for 2001, BNS reported the next day. The city expects to get almost two-thirds of its revenues (94.58 million lats) from personal income tax. The planned increase of 10.9 percent over this year is in part based on government plans to increase the minimum monthly wage from July. The council decided to allocate 2.7 million lats for the celebration of Riga's 800th anniversary in the summer.
* In the third quarter of 2000, the balance-of-payments current account deficit fell from 75.5 million lats to 63.4 million lats ($103.934 million) or 5.8 percent of GDP, BNS reported on 29 December. The positive balance of services in the quarter reached 66.2 million lats and covered 39.5 percent of the negative balance of goods, which increased by 12,1 million lats due to higher oil prices. The positive balance of capital and financial accounts amounted to 65.4 million lats
* The government on 27 December decided to support the bioethanol plant project developed by the Jaunpagasts Plus company by including a state guarantee of 8.9 million lats ($1.5 million) for its construction in the 2001 budget, BNS reported. Finance Minister Gundars Berzins said that the company would receive the state guarantee only in March or April since several unresolved issues on other financing remained. The state guarantee is the first promised to a private company since 1994, and comes on the heels of the suspected murder-for-hire of Jaunpagasts Plus owner Dainis Peimanis on 15 December.
LITHUANIAEU PROVIDES FUNDS FOR CLOSING NUCLEAR POWER PLANT.
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and the head of the European Commission delegation to Lithuania, Dieter Thiel, signed a financial memorandum on 29 December on the closing of the first reactor at the Ignalina nuclear power plant, BNS reported. In its national energy strategy adopted last year, Lithuania pledged to close the first reactor by 2005 and to decide the fate of the second reactor in 2004. The EU had earlier allocated 10 million euros ($9.2 million) for closing the reactor and will provide an additional 35 million euros under the terms of the memorandum. At an international donors' conference in Vilnius in June, the EU member states had promised to provide 265 million euros for closing the first reactor. Valionis said that the signing of the memorandum is concrete proof that the European Commission is carrying out those obligations.
PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP INCREASES.
A survey, conducted in December by the SIC Rinkos Tyrimai polling firm, indicated that 48.9 percent of residents would vote in favor of Lithuania's membership in NATO if a referendum on the question were held now, BNS reported on 3 January. Some 22.3 percent would vote against membership with 28.8 percent undecided. Polls conducted by Baltijos Tyrimai in January and by SIC in August had indicated that 38 and 42.2 percent of residents favored NATO membership, respectively. A SIC poll in November indicated that 26.2 percent of residents unconditionally supported NATO membership, with 22.4 percent against, 12.7 percent were "more for than against," 13.6 percent were "more against than for" NATO membership, and 25.1 percent said they did not know. Petras Zapolskas, director of the Foreign Ministry's information and culture department, said that the growth of public support for NATO from November to December could have been caused by the discussions of Lithuania's NATO membership at the NATO parliamentary assembly in Berlin in November and the session of the Baltic Assembly in Vilnius in December.
SWEDEN TO HELP LATVIA, LITHUANIA CATCH UP WITH OTHER EU CANDIDATES.
Swedish Ambassador to Lithuania Jan Palmstierna said on 4 January that Stockholm is ready to open all the chapters of EU membership talks for Latvia and Lithuania, ELTA reported. Lithuanian parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Alvydas Medalinskas noted: "Sweden is doing its best [to ensure] that Lithuania and Latvia catch up with the front-runners, and it is...up to us whether this will be translated into reality." Medalinskas praised Sweden's plans to pay more attention to matters in northern Europe, especially in the Kaliningrad region, during its six-month presidency of the EU.
LITHUANIA, LATVIA AGREE ON BORDER DEMARCATION.
The co-chairmen of the Lithuanian-Latvian State Border Delineation and Demarcation Commission, Zenonas Kumetaitis and Ints Upmacis, on 28 December in Vilnius signed an album of maps of the border, descriptions of the border, and a final border re-establishment protocol, BNS reported. The two countries began the re-establishment of the border by signing an agreement on the issue in June 1993 and subsequently formed a joint commission which continued the detailed work. The land border, which stretches for 588 kilometers, is marked by 1,805 posts. The commission will end its work in 2001 when the two countries and Belarus sign a document on the point of intersection of their frontiers. In July 1999 Latvia and Lithuania signed an agreement on their sea border. Lithuania's parliament ratified that measure last year, but Latvia's legislature has delayed doing so under pressure from the country's fishing industry.
PRESIDENT NOMINATES CENTRAL BANK HEAD TO SECOND TERM.
After talks with Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas and Seimas Chairman Arturas Paulauskas on 4 January, Valdas Adamkus signed a decree nominating Reinoldijus Sarkinas for a second five-year term as governor of the Bank of Lithuania, BNS reported. His first term ends in February, and the nomination still has to be approved by the parliament. Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas declared the decision logical, especially in view of the plans to unpeg the litas from the U.S. dollar later this year and peg it to the euro. He noted: "This process could be dragged out if a new governor came to the bank. Furthermore, a new governor might bring about instability and mistrust."
TWO NEW AMBASSADORS APPROVED.
The parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on 27 December approved the candidacies of Vygaudas Usackas and Ginte Damusyte to become ambassadors to the United States and NATO, respectively, BNS reported. Usackas had been Lithuania's senior negotiator for EU membership, but he decided to give up that post when Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis decided not to retain him as one of his deputy ministers. While residing in Vienna, Damusyte also served as Lithuania's ambassador to Slovakia, Croatia, and Slovenia. She replaces Linas Linkevicius, who resigned after becoming defense minister. President Adamkus on 29 December appointed former chancellor Petras Austrevicius, whom Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas had appointed director general of the government's European Committee, the new senior negotiator for EU membership.
* The Statistics Department announced on 29 December that the GDP in the third quarter of 2000 totaled 12.028 billion litas ($3 billion), or 3.1 percent more than in same period in 1999 and 10.3 percent greater than in the second quarter this year, BNS reported. For the first nine months of 2000, GDP totaled 33.243 billion litas or 2.3 percent more than in the same period in 1999. The greatest growth was in the transport sector (13.5 percent), domestic trade (10.8 percent), communications sector (10.6 percent), and manufacturing industry (7.1 percent) with the greatest decline in the construction sector (18 percent ).
* Estonia's Hansapank, the largest bank in the Baltic states, as the only bidder, won the tender to acquire a 90.24 percent share in Lithuania's largest state-owned bank, Taupomasis Bankas (Savings Bank), BNS reported on 29 December. The specific terms of the tender have not been revealed, but the State Property Fund apparently decided to reduce the price from 200 million litas ($50 million) to 150 million litas, though the government would then not take on any additional liabilities for the bank's illiquid assets and bad loans. The government is committed to complete the privatization by the middle of February.
* Foreign direct investment (FDI) increased by 484 million litas ($124 million) in the third quarter of the year to a total of 9.228 billion litas, BNS reported on 29 December. This amounted to a per capita FDI of 2,497 litas as of 1 October. Denmark was the largest foreign investor with a 16.9 share of total FDI, followed by the U.S. with 14.8 percent, Sweden with 13.2 percent, Estonia with 7.2 percent, and Germany with 6.9 percent. Investments were mostly made in the processing industry (28.8 percent), trade (22.5 percent), postal and communications services (17.9 percent) and at financial mediation firms (15.5 percent).
* Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas and Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas have signed an agreement according to which the municipal water utility Vilniaus Vandenys will receive loans for water purification projects, BNS reported on 27 December. The Vilniaus branch of Poland's Kredyt Bank will provide a 7.7 million euro ($7.2 million) loan to build water purification installations while Riga-based Vereinsbank Riga will invest $3.5 million for upgrading waste treatment facilities. Both loans are backed with state guarantees.
* Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy) on 1 January stopped electricity exports to Belarus when an intermediary company failed to make advance payment for future exports, BNS reported the next day. The halt came some two weeks after Lithuania had resumed exports after a two-month break when Swiss-registered Acotra Grand bought around 200 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity for Belarus. In 2000 Lithuania's exports of electricity totaled 1.5 billion kWh of which about 700 million kWh went to Belarus. Having signed new or renewed contracts with four foreign companies that have promised to purchase one billion kWh of electricity each, Lietuvos Energija hopes to boost electricity exports to 6-7 billion kWh in 2001.
* Statistics Department Director Petras Adlys announced that 343,700 thousand employees were financed from the budget in 1999, BNS reported on 28 December. The largest number (144,300) worked in education, 90,200 in health and social care institutes, and 66,300 in public administration or economic and social policy. For every one thousand working people there were 54 employees working in pubic administration. The corresponding number is 79 for Latvia and 58 for Estonia, as compared to an average of 56 for EU countries.
* The state social insurance fund (SoDra) announced that in 2000 it had collected about 4.2 billion litas ($1.05 billion) or 8.1 percent less than planned, BNS reported on 3 January. Actual expenditures reached 4.426 billion litas, 2.9 percent less than projected, resulting in a deficit of 226 million litas, some 24 million litas lower than expected. SoDra's 2001 budget is planned with a 32.19 million litas surplus, but the deficit is likely to be about 76 million litas.
* The government on 3 January approved a new EU membership delegation, BNS reported. Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis will continue as its head but will now have European Committee head and Lithuania's chief EU negotiator Petras Austrevicius as well as Deputy Foreign Minister Dalia Grybauskaite as deputies. Austrevicius in turn will have three deputies: deputy head of the European Committee Klaudijus Maniokas, Director of the Foreign Ministry European Integration Department Rytis Martikonis, and Ambassador to the EU Mission Romualdas Kalonaitis.
* President Valdas Adamkus on 2 January sent back to the newly elected parliament its first law that he had vetoed, BNS reported. The legislation had amended several articles of a health insurance law on funding pharmaceuticals.
* The number of mobile phone users has increased from 340,000 in early 2000 to about 490,000 (about one in eight inhabitants) at its end, BNS reported on 2 January. Omnitel, the leading operator, boosted the number of users from 214,00 to 300,000 while Bite GSM raised its customers from 120,00 to 170,000. Tele 2, which recently won Lithuania's third GSM 900 MHz license, has not announced its latest data, but is estimated to have over 20,000 users.
END NOTE'SHOTS HEARD ROUND THE WORLD'
By Paul Goble
January 13 marked the tenth anniversary of an event that changed the world. On 13 January 1991, Soviet troops fired into a crowd surrounding the Vilnius television tower. But they did more than kill 14 Lithuanian demonstrators: They destroyed three assumptions that underlay what many in both Moscow and the West saw as the emerging post-Cold War world.
First, this shooting and the reaction of Lithuanians to it suggested something that many had thought impossible: that Lithuania and her two Baltic neighbors Estonia and Latvia were in fact going to be able to escape from Soviet occupation and recover their national independence in short order.
Second, the Vilnius shooting pointed to something many had assumed could not happen: that the East European revolutions of 1989, revolutions that ended Soviet domination of that region, could and would spread via a Baltic bridge into the Soviet inner empire, leading to its disintegration and to the appearance of 12 new countries on the map of the world.
And third, it demonstrated something many world leaders were unwilling to acknowledge: that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was not prepared either to negotiate in good faith with the ever-growing number of popular movements his policies had allowed to emerge or to reimpose order through the massive application of force.
None of these developments or conclusions was immediately apparent either in Moscow or in Western capitals, both of whom were focused on the imminent start of Operation Desert Storm against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. But all of them together soon meant that the unthinkable became the conventional wisdom and the impossible was transformed into the achieved.
A week before the shootings, on 6 January 1991, Gorbachev had dispatched Soviet security forces into Armenia, Moldova, western Ukraine and the three Baltic countries nominally to enforce Soviet military draft laws but in fact as a show of force against the pro-independence and anti-Moscow political movements in all six places.
Throughout the following week, tensions between these Soviet troops and the populations they had been sent to control continued to rise, nowhere more sharply than in Lithuania. Then on Saturday night, 13 January, the Soviet soldiers fired into the crowd in the Lithuanian capital. And that country's leader, Vytautas Landsbergis, was convinced that Gorbachev planned to kill or imprison his entire government.
Soviet documents releashed later showed that such were in fact Moscow's intentions, but the kind of crackdown Landsbergis feared did not happen. On the one hand, one group of Soviet troops lost their way -- it hadn't been supplied with the necessary maps -- and never made it to the parliament building where the Lithuanian government was rapidly assembling a crowd. Moreover, the presence of Western journalists and diplomats in the parliament building guaranteed that any such action would be reported to the entire world.
And on the other hand, the Lithuanians showed a resolve that Soviet commanders were apparently not prepared to challenge, and Western leaders reacted sufficiently forcefully to convince Gorbachev that despite all the understanding these governments had shown to his, they would find it very difficult to deal with Moscow were there to be a Soviet version of Tiananmen Square in the Baltic countries.
After the Soviet troops fired on the crowd, it did not disperse as many might have expected. Instead, they began to sing an old Lithuanian hymn, and thousands of Lithuanians rushed to parliament square as a sign to Moscow that it would have to be prepared to kill far more than 14 of Lithuania's citizens if it wanted to block that country's national movement.
And even though Western leaders were working closely with Gorbachev in the international alliance against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, most of them were appalled by what the Soviet leader had done or at least was associated with. As he travelled to the Middle East for the last round of pre-war talks, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker spoke for many when he issued from his airplane a tough statement condemning what Moscow had done in Vilnius.
Moreover, the events in Vilnius suggested that despite 50 years of Soviet occupation, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had remained part of Europe and were thus in a position to become the bridge over which the ideas of the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe spread into the Soviet Union.
A few Soviet officials understood this -- including Gorbachev's reformist advisor Aleksandr Yakovlev -- and hoped to allow the Baltic countries to go their own way much as the East Europeans had. Gorbachev was unwilling to do that lest Soviet republics follow the Baltic lead, but by trying to hold on to them after they had signalled that they wanted to leave, Gorbachev in fact created a situation in which the Baltic revolution spread to the entire Soviet Union.
And perhaps most importantly of all, the killings in Vilnius that January night a decade ago and the killings of five Latvians by the Soviet Black Berets in Riga a week later destroyed much of the faith many Soviet citizens and many Western leaders had in Gorbachev, and ever more of both groups began to ask whether he could in fact succeed in his policy of trying to liberalize the Soviet state.
For many in both places, Gorbachev as a result of Vilnius appeared too willing to rely on a show of force rather than engaging in negotiations with his political opponents but more unwilling that his predecessors to use the amount of force that might have been necessary to suppress them totally.
Many who reached that conclusion decided that Gorbachev's days in power were now numbered. Those who wanted to move toward a political solution, like the massive crowds of Russians who protested against the Vilnius action in the streets of Moscow, increasingly turned to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin or to the leaders of the non-Russian republics. Those who wanted more force -- including senior officers in the security services -- became the leaders of what was to be the last act of the Soviet system, the failed coup of August 1991.
The world of January 2001 was in many respects defined by that night in Vilnius a decade ago, in a confrontation between a frightened government and a people whose faith in the rightness of their cause meant that they were prepared to sacrifice themselves in the name of freedom.