Why this story matters:
The patriotic project "Mission: Siberia" is immensely popular among millennial youth in Lithuania. It combines several attractive features: a hiking challenge, travelling the world, capturing unique images for followers on social networks, reconnecting to the country's painful past, and connecting generations -- usually young people with ancestors who were exiled to Siberia in the 1940s.
These people were forcibly displaced by Soviet authorities for owning more property than permitted, engaging in anti-Soviet activities, or simply being reported as anti-Soviet by someone. Although after the Stalinist era many survivors were rehabilitated and allowed to return, some stayed.
After trade in milk, apples and other products, this millennial project is becoming the next victim of diplomatic spats between countries.
Clearly, the project is not apolitical, with an emphasis on honouring anti-Soviet resistance and sustaining the Lithuanian identity of those who have stayed behind and integrated into Russian society. However, limiting youth travel (and who hasn't met a single millennial who doesn't dream of travelling to Siberia!) is only likely to further consolidate the emerging image of Russia as ready to restrict anything that doesn't suit its political purposes.
Details from the story:
- Back in February, the Russian ambassador to Lithuania warned that the project, whereby young Lithuanians travel to Siberia in a challenging 'survival' project to clean up graves of expellees from the 1940s, may be halted this year.
- The project is organised by a foundation called Jauniems, consisting of young people annually competing to take part in a trip across Siberia, to meet Lithuanians who still live there. The project started 12 years ago and has organised 16 expeditions.
- Allegedly, the move is related to the decision of several European countries to expel Russian diplomats in reaction to the poisoning of Sergey Skripal in the UK. Diplomatic sources said that issuing visas will be difficult as a result.
- In the last week of June, Russian diplomats stated that they are halting the project over "lack of mutuality" with Lithuania in the building of monuments to Russian soldiers and prisoners of war who died during WW2.
- Some of the issues faced in memorializing the graves relate to the ban on Soviet symbols in Lithuania. New legislation allows Lithuanian municipalities to remove plaques with such symbols, including from graves.