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Baltic nations offer ex-Soviet states a Western model

The tiny states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, having shed their Russian-dominated past and joined the EU and NATO, are looking to help their post-Soviet neighbors to do the same.

By Isabelle de PommereauCorrespondent / December 12, 2012

A youth rides high on a skateboard at Cathedral Square in Vilnius, Lithuania. The Baltic states jumped away from Russia; now they want to help others do it, too.

Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/File

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Tallinn, Estonia

Tiina Lokk knows what it's like to get a neighbor's help when it's needed most.

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Years ago, as her native Estonia struggled to right itself after decades of Soviet domination, the country's film industry was in shambles. But thanks to assistance from neighboring Finland and Sweden, Baltic filmmakers rescued their industry.

Today, Ms. Lokk directs the Black Nights Film Festival, the Baltics' biggest such event, held each November. And she makes a point of inviting filmmakers from former Soviet republics (from Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine to Georgia and Uzbekistan) whom she befriended in Moscow in their film-studying days – to help them move on from their Russian-dominated past the way the Scandinavians aided Estonia.

"If you've been helped, you have an obligation to help other countries," says Lokk.

What Lokk is doing with the film industry, Estonia and its Baltic neighbors have been doing on a larger scale. Over the past few years, the tiny Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia have made promoting reform across most of the former Soviet regions their main foreign-policy focus. Building on their successful transition from communist states into modern democracies, the Baltics have become advocates for Eastern Europe and South Caucasian regions one day joining the European Union and NATO, implementing programs helping those countries govern themselves more efficiently and transparently.

It is a new but natural role for them. For years, their eyes were set on the West, their energy focused on securing their independence and economic model, and integrating EU structures. Now, buoyed by their robust growth, they are turning to help old former Soviet friends by sharing their own transition experiences.

"The Baltic states have been promoting the European idea in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Ukraine, and in all the eastern states," says Kakha Gogolashvili of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi. "They've worked harder and better than anybody else so that those countries would be better supported in European institutions."

"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.

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