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The Weekly Crier
News highlights from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
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News Highlights from August 10—August 17, 1998

  • Canadian justice officials have begun hearing witness testimony in the case of a Latvian-Canadian accused of lying about his Nazi past.
            The special court session is part of an on-going hearing to determine whether Eduards Podins lied about working as a concentration camp guard during the World War II Nazi occupation of Latvia.
            The 80-year-old Podins has denied serving as a Nazi guard, saying that he simply ran a store that sold goods at the camp.
            If the Canadian court finds Podins did lie, he could be stripped of his Canadian citizenship and deported to Latvia—where Latvian prosecutors could charge him with war crimes.
            Nazi forces occupied Latvia from 1941-1944, when over 80 percent of some 90,000 Latvian Jews were murdered.
            After regaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Latvia vowed to prosecute Nazi war criminals.
            A dozen witnesses are expected to testify at the hearing, which is being held in the town of Valmiera, 100 kilometers northeast of Riga and near where Podins is alleged to have worked as a guard.
            Most of the witnesses are now in their 70s and 80s, and were unable to travel to Canada—so the Canadian federal court arranged a hearing in Latvia itself.
            The hearing in Valmiera is expected to continue for two weeks.

  • German treasure hunters who have been combing the Lithuanian coast for months in an attempt to find long-lost czarist riches say they could be closer than ever to actually uncovering it.
            The German team on August 13 was slated to begin uncovering a mysterious cache of metal buried 20 meters off shore in a lagoon along Lithuania’s Curonian peninsula.
            What they hope they find after several days of excavation work are remnants of Peter the Great’s famed Amber Room, which the Germans say they have reason to believe are buried in the shallow lagoon near the town of Preila, some 350 kilometers west of Vilnius.
            During their siege of what was then Leningrad, Nazi troops dismantled the 50 sq. meters of priceless amber panels from a czarist palace and spirited them away. But they were then lost.
            Germany’s government claims the panels were destroyed during a 1945 Soviet bombing of nearby Konigsberg—now Kaliningrad, Russia. But Moscow and many historians argue that the contraband was buried and survived the war.
            The German treasure hunters are being aided by a Lithuanian mine sweeping squad, which will make sure the unknown objects just beneath the Baltic Sea floor are not explosives.
            To make excavation of the site easier, a makeshift dike has been constructed to drain water from the lagoon.
            A local government has set up a special committee to oversee the operation and Lithuanian troops have also been posted in the area to ensure security.
            The excavation is being funded by the German TV company NDR, which has been granted exclusive rights to film the hunt for treasure. Local officials, however, say they won’t forfeit any rights to any discovered valuables.


News Highlights from August 3—August 10, 1998

  • British citizen Martyn Symons who has been on trial in Estonia for plotting to murder his boss has maintained all along that the whole thing was a big mistake. His defense?: It was a joke, but no one understood the punch line.
            Courts in Estonia, however, didn’t buy it, handing down a guilty verdict in the case on August 5, and sentencing Symons to three years in prison.
            The 36-year-old Symons said his Estonian co-workers in Tallinn spoke broken English and failed to pick up on the subtitles of British humor when he wrote in a fax that his boss should be "topped"—considered British slang for "kill".
            But prosecutors argued in court that Symons pursued the matter further, even negotiating a 4,000-dollar payment with a hit man to plant a bomb in the car of his boss, managing director of the Olympic Casino in Tallinn, Armin Karu.
            Prosecutors say Symons, a lower-level manager at the casino, wanted Karu killed so he could take over the lucrative gambling operation.
            An Estonian co-worker, Kaido Esna, was also founded guilty of taking part in the murder conspiracy. He was sentenced to seven months in prison.
            Lawyers for both Symons and Esna said they would appeal the decisions.
            During the trial, defense lawyers called special witnesses from Britain to testify about the meaning of the word "topped." They also argued that Symons was entrapped by police who got him to make incriminating statements on tape.
            The alleged target of the murder conspiracy said he also wasn’t buying the defense argument that it was all a joke.
            “He wanted to kill me, and I’m lucky to be alive," Karu told journalists earlier this year. "The word ‘topped’ is very suspicious. If it’s a joke, it is not one I understand."

  • In one of the most anticipated rock concerts ever in the Baltic states, the Rolling Stones performed in front of a crowd of about 50,000 enthusiastic fans in Tallinn on August 8.
           On a cool, cloudy evening at Tallinn’s outdoor Song Festival Grounds, theBritish rockers kicked off their concert with Satisfaction, and concluded two hours later with Jumping Jack Flash and Brown Sugar.
            During the concert Mick Jagger on several occasions spoke in Estonian, saying at one point "Tore on siin olla!" (It’s great to be here) and later, gesturing to the crowd, "Te olete fantastilised!" (You  are fantastic).
            The Rolling Stones told Estonian television that they extended their stay in Estonia to three days because they wanted to spend more time sight-seeing around Tallinn. After their Friday concert, they reportedly stopped into a local dance club, Delkotee.
            Many people in the audience traveled from the other two Baltic states to attend the concert. Many also came from Finland and Sweden.
            Concert tickets, at around 50 dollars a piece, were beyond the means of many people in Estonia, where the average income is about 300 dollars a month.
            Also in the audience was 12-year-old Estonian Mikk Jäger, who media reports say was given free tickets to the concert because of his name.

  • Latvia has said it will not extend an agreement allowing Russia to use a major radar base on Latvian territory—despite reports that the Kremlin could apply economic pressure if it does not.
            On August 7, the Baltic News Service (BNS) quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valeri Nesterushkin as saying Moscow could cancel Latvia’s Most Favored Nation trade status if it did not allow the radar in the town of Skrunda to keep operating.
            A statement by the Latvian foreign ministry reacting to the report said the treaty on the Skrunda radar, which calls for the facility to be shut down by August 31, had to be fulfilled.
            "Talk of continuing the operation of the radar station or of halting the dismantlement of the station are empty," the statement said.
            The Latvian ministry, however, said it had no independent confirmation that Russia was seeking to prolong its rights to use the Skrunda radar, located some 150 kilometers west of Riga. It said it was seeking clarification of the BNS report.
            Since the Russian troop withdrawal from the Baltics, the Skrunda radar station has been the last outpost of a Russian military presence in the region. Soviet troops occupied the Baltics during World War II and only departed in 1994.
            But as part of a troop withdrawal treaty, Latvia allowed the Russians to continue operating the Skrunda radar, which was once one of the Soviet Union’s most important radar bases, responsible for scanning the Western skies for incoming missiles.
            Some observers have speculated that Russia has not found a replacement for the Skrunda radar, and fears that the loss of the Latvian facility will leave a hole in its western air defense network.

  • The United States will provide Estonian military forces with over 40,000 rifles, which could play a key role in the country’s national defense.
            The M-14 rifles, which are slated to be delivered next year, will be used to arm Estonia’s 80,000-strong reserves. Estonia’s standing army numbers just 2,500 men, and the reserves are a key part of the nation’s defense force. Many of the reserves do not have guns, or use badly outdated ones.
            The United States is donating the rifles, whose total value is around 2.4 million dollars, the U.S. embassy in Tallinn said in a statement. It would be one of the largest donations of arms to Estonia since it regained independence.
            Estonian defense officials say guerrilla warfare, carried out by reserves from the nation’s vast, thick forests, would be a cornerstone of defense strategy should the country ever be attacked.Estonia has also received military aid--mostly light weapons--from nearby Finland and Sweden. It has also directly purchased weapons from Israel, China and Romania.
            But confidence in the army at home seems low. In a recent survey by the Tallinn-based Saar Poll, over 70 percent of Estonian respondents said they did not believe their military could successfully repel an aggressor

  • A mysterious cache of metal has been detected underwater off the coast of Lithuania, prompting speculation that it could be long-lost Czarist treasure which many believe to be buried somewhere in the area.
            A team of German treasure hunters has been combing a nearby beach for months hoping to uncover remnants of Russian Czar Peter the Great’s famous Amber Room supposedly buried in the area by Nazi forces at the close of World War II.
            The treasure hunters were nearing the end of their expedition this past week when large amounts of metal were discovered buried 20 meters off shore, near the town of Preila—situated on a peninsula 350 kilometers west of Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.
            Excavators are building a makeshift dam to block off the shallow waters, enabling them to dig up the objects. They say they have reason to think they could be on to the Czarist treasure. They also admit the objects could be scrap or old World War II mines.
            The German team has been following leads provided by an 80-year-old former resident of the peninsula who says he saw a Nazi officers carrying mysterious boxes off a warship in 1944 and then burying them along the shore near his home.
            The German treasure hunters say a special warehouse was constructed in the area by the Nazis, but it was soon reclaimed by the sea and never again found. They say the Amber Room could be hidden away in the lost warehouse.
            The fate of the Russian Czar’s Amber Room—which was covered by some 50 sq. meters of priceless amber panels and once known as the Eighth Wonder of the World—has long been a mystery, and a source of speculation by historians.
            During their siege of what was then Leningrad, German forces dismantled the amber panels from a Czarist palace and spirited them away. But they were then lost.
            The German government has said the panels were destroyed during a 1945 Soviet bombing of nearby Konigsberg—now Kaliningrad, Russia. But Moscow has long insisted that Nazi Germany hid the treasure, and that it still exists somewhere.

  • The body of a dolphin that apparently lost its way from the Atlantic Ocean has washed ashore onto the coast of the Baltic Sea—not considered a natural habitat for the warm-blooded mammal.
           The dolphin was found this week on a beach in nearby Latvia, but was taken to a leading maritime museum in the Lithuanian seaport of Klaipeda, 350 kilometers west of the capital Vilnius, for further examinations.
            Museum biologists said the dolphin probably swam into the Baltic Sea in pursuit of a school of salmon or herring. Baltic waters, however, are not considered salty or warm enough to support dolphin life for very long.
            The museum denied rumors that the dolphin could have been one of five U.S. military dolphins that were recently taking part in mine sweeping exercises off the Baltic coast.
           All five dolphins were accounted for and had since left the region, the museum said.
            The dolphins had been flown in from San Diego, Calf. along with seven tons of frozen fish and some 25 handlers to help look for World War II-era mines still in the Baltic Sea.
            The military dolphins performed badly, however, and found no mines. Some blamed their poor performance on the uncomfortably cold Baltic waters.
            One of the dolphins also disappeared for several hours, apparently on a search for a mate. At the time, U.S. officials feared a diplomatic incident had the U.S. military dolphin strayed into nearby Russian waters.
            The only previous record of a dolphin washing ashore in the Baltics was in 1909.



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