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New Baltic Embassies Born In Britain

August 29, 1991

LONDON (AP) _ In dusty back rooms, Baltic emigre groups that have guarded the flame of nationhood for 50 years are besieged by requests for passports to newly independent states.

Mounting piles of faxes and continually ringing telephones at the embryonic embassies testify to the speed of events since the collapse of the Soviet coup last week.

Britain and the rest of the European Community, among a growing number of other nations, have recognized Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which were forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.

But none possess the grand embassy buildings they once had. All three are scrambling to provide the diplomatic services that recognition entails.

Erik Kross, a 24-year-old graduate student from Estonia, was hired by the republic’s Foreign Ministry a year ago to run an Estonian Information Bureau as a focus for Estonia’s dealings with Britain.

Now he is, de facto, his country’s representative in Britain.

″This was going to be a part-time job, but events have moved so fast,″ Kross said.

A room in the basement of Estonia House, in the west London neighborhood of Notting Hill, doubles as the information bureau and the offices of Estonia’s emigre newspaper.

As funds dwindled over the years, the Lithuanian legation sold its Kensington Palace Gardens embassy building to the Syrians.

Latvia’s legation, once based in fashionable Eaton Place, is now two back rooms in a Bayswater building owned by the Latvian Welfare Fund.

All three expect the niceties of diplomatic relations to be settled during an impending series of Baltic visits by Foreign Office minister Douglas Hogg.

Kross says he gets 20 telephone calls a day asking for visas, which he cannot give because none exist.

″I checked with the Soviet Embassy and their visa section says that they are no longer issuing visas for Estonia, even though they have not recognized our independence. Unfortunately, we can’t issue visas either, or passports. There are no instructions as yet from the Estonian Foreign Ministry about what we should do,″ he said.

He has also not been instructed how to respond to an inquiry from the British company that wants to sell knitting machines to Estonia or a diplomatic approach from the official representative of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.

Lithuania established an Information Office in Britain in January as a channel for official dealings with a British government that could not talk directly to the Lithuanian legation, staffed by 86-year-old charge d’affaires Vincas Balickas, an appointee of the prewar Lithuanian government.

The office is based in Lithuania House, home also of the Lithuanian National Council in Britain and its emigre newspaper, ″Europos Lietuvis.″

Lithuanian Foreign Ministry official Kestutis Stankevicius, who arrived in Britain in March, says Lithuania hasn’t decided whether it or the existing legation should be Lithuania’s diplomatic representative in Britain.

His sensitivity on the issue reflects the delicacy of dealings between the emigre communities which have kept the faith through five decades of exile, and young officials being sent abroad by the newly independent states.

Visas and passports are still a long way off for Lithuania as well. Documents for people wishing to travel there are available at the country’s ports of entry.

News of international recognition for Baltic independence was perhaps sweetest of all for Marie-Ann Zarina, head of Latvia’s four-person legation.

Her father, Charles Zarina, was the last Latvian ambassador in Britain. He died in 1963, confident that his country would one day regain its independence.

″My father would be overjoyed to see this day,″ Ms. Zarina said. ″He always believed that it would come, and that it would come because of change within the Soviet Union.″

The Latvian legation has continued to issue passports. It has stocks of ″thousands″ and Ms. Zarina reported lively demand, particularly among Latvians married to Britons.

Visas are being issued at Latvian ports of entry, but the Latvian legation in Britain will be able to offer them from Sept. 9.

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