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Pol/Econ Diplomacy
Pol/Econ: Last occupation of Lithuania
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Wednesday, 11 July 2007 Written by Henry Midgley
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That at least is what the Lithuanian government are calling it as their dispute with Italy gets fiercer and fiercer. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union- relations between Vilnius and Rome have been difficult- not because of any outstanding issue of real significance to the lives of Italians or Lithuanians but because of a symbolic dispute over a building. The dispute is interesting though for what it says about the relationship of the ex-Soviet republics to the past and particularly to their interwar independence and about the difficulties that awareness can create.

Lithuania had been independent in the Middle Ages and many Lithuanian nationalists return to that time- however it was also independent between the wars, and though its independence was brief and eventful (the capital Vilnius lay outside the borders of the country inside Poland) the country suffered even more when it was successively occupied both by Germany and then by Russia- the period from 1940 to 44 saw the country lose 780,000 people both to Russian and German tyranny and a bloody insurgency followed the war with a further 100,000 Lithuanians dying. Understandably therefore Lithuania post 1991 has tended to be stubbornly insistant on its rights as an independent nation.

During the twenties and thirties the Lithuanian government maintained an embassy in Rome, at the Villa Lituania, an embassy that after the second world war was taken over by Soviet diplomats and is still used for accomodation in the Russian embassy at present. Modern Lithuanian politicians and diplomats want the embassy returned- calling it the last piece of occupied Lithuania. Italy of course is under no obligation to return it- but the strength of feeling illustrates a sense that the Lithuanians have that they want returned their birthright- the territory and embassies lost by them in the 1930s and 1940s.

The likelihood is that a compromise will be reached- Italy has offered Villas to the Lithuanians in Rome for a nominal rent. This situation has occurred in other countries- the French recently paid the Lithuanians compensation for the loss of their interwar embassy in Paris and its likely that similarly an Italian token ammount will appease Lithuanian national pride- at least with the admission that the Villa Lituania is rightly theres and they have received recompense for not having it. The whole incident is interesting though as it reflects the continual need for these nations- who most people in the West assume are independent to assert their independence.

And lest anyone forget why- just ask yourself about President Putin's internet assault on Estonia and you'll work it out.