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Baltic nations offer ex-Soviet states a Western model

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A way to give back

The fact that they share a common Soviet past makes helping those countries reform after Soviet rule a given. "Eastern partnership countries are very important for us Balts," Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks says. "We understand their problems better than anybody else in the EU. We enjoy their trust much more than anybody else, so it is natural that we are, and should be, more active in this direction."

Kristina Vaiciunaite of Vilnius, Lithuania, was a teenager when her country broke free of the Soviet Union in 1991. She remembers how, after independence, Scandinavians came to Lithuanian schools and offered students scholarships to study abroad.

Now, as head of the Eastern Europe Studies Centre in Vilnius, a nonprofit group advocating Belorussian issues in Brussels, she does the same thing, helping students of Belarus make the journey to Vilnius to study and attend youth camps.

"When Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania wanted to enter the EU and NATO, they felt that the Scandinavians were the best spokespersons for them, as their closest neighbors," concurs Richard Baerug of the Baltic to Black Sea Alliance in Riga, Latvia, a nonprofit group aimed at promoting Georgia's and Ukraine's accession into NATO.

"Now it's time for the Baltic countries to pick up that relay and try to assist as much as possible new development further east."

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