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Baltic nations offer ex-Soviet states a Western model

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SIDEBAR: Left behind? Russian-speaking minorities struggle in new Baltics

"They are a mental bridge," Mr. Gogolashvili says. "Sometimes they play the role of interpreters, explaining to the European Union our real intentions."

In the wake of the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, the EU designated Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine as "eastern partners" that Europe should pay more attention to.

"It is crucial that the EU pay more attention to us," says Gogolashvili. "We have no other option than to Europeanize ourselves and become part of a united Europe."

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.

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