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Balts murdered abroad

Ritvars Kozans, 23, left Latvia to work in the U.K. as an electrician two years ago. He had returned for Christmas in 2007 and hadn't been back since. He was found dead on May 30. In the days preceding his death, a Latvian family he was close to in Northampton said he was not himself, and that he was "prepared for the worst," adding the air of a still unsolved mystery to the case. He even expressed a desire to go back to Latvia.

Six people, all British citizens, are being questioned over their role in the murder. A diligent worker, Ritvars Kozans' employers were worried when he didn't arrive to work. Police later found his body in a garbage storage area. His car was discovered a while later on the side of the road miles from his apartment. Extensive investigations show that Kozans died as a result of a head injury. Cameras in the apartment building where the murder had taken place show six people going into the building and coming out a while later with his body.

According to the coroner, the cause of death was a blow to the back head and internal bleeding. Detective Chief Inspector Jan Meagher is leading the investigation and has found much of the community to be cooperating and helpful. Police think the murder was a result of an argument or about money. However, Kozans' mother, Zeltite Kozane, said otherwise. "He owed nothing to anyone." H is body is now being held in the U.K. until the entire court process is over. "I just want my son back so he can rest at peace," Kozane said. "If you have the guilty people and just have to determine the sentences, why keep my boy?" Ritvars was a smart kind person who, as part of a Catholic family, had a strong moral compass. "He did everything so that people would be happy. He even bought his girlfriend a horse," said Kozane. "Why is it that so many good people die while the bad people say alive to hurt more people?" Kozane runs a night home for homeless people, offering the needy food and shelter, and is a striking example of the good being punished.

The six people, two women and four men, accused of the murder have all refused to take a lie detector test. The police and family members said of the accused that they are "scared, but good people." Kozane, however, said "how can they say that? Murder does not make someone a good person." Kozane has traveled back and forth from her home in Latvia to the U.K. to try and help along the court process and, besides increased media attention, little has come of the court process and developments are slow. "If a U.K. citizen was murdered by six people in Latvia, there would be so much outrage. But they saw my boy as an outsider, as something dirty and unworthy," she explained.

After saying goodbye to her son, she vowed never to cry again and to remember the happier times. H owever, the question of motive for the murder is still at large. The fact that the alleged fight was six against one raises some serious issues, namely mob violence and the general mentality that the citizens of the U.K. and Ireland have against migrant workers, almost all of whom are EU citizens.

For the passed two years, the murder of Baltic citizens in the U.K. and Ireland has quadrupled. W hile the increase may correlate to the rise in immigrants to this region, many think something more sinister is afoot. As is the case with many foreign nationals moving abroad, there is always some sort of animosity with the local population concerning jobs. This is the explanation many give for the murder of Latvians and Estonians being murdered abroad – simple anger and jealousy. H owever, the twist in the story is that Lithuanians not being targeted as much.

Moreover, many Lithuanians are actually perpetrating the crimes as well as committing murders of other Lithuanians and Balts. The cases are seemingly endless. Sergejs Lavrinovics, a Lithuanian, was accused of the murder of Igors Bandarenko, a Latvian who was found in a harbor with his ankles tied to an anchor. In April 2008, Vitas Plytnykas, 40, and Aleksandras Skirda, 1919, both Lithuanians working in Scotland, were charged with the murder of Lithuanian Jolanta Bledaite, 35, also a migrant worker. Her head and hands were discovered in a sports bag on a beach by two local children in Arboath.

This highly publicized story comes at a time when both U.K. and Latvia suffer economic stability. More than a few Balts have even returned from the U.K. and Ireland because their prospects have gotten better in their home country. Louise O'Dwyer, an Irish citizen, said the main problem in Ireland is culture shock in a community in which divorce hasn't even been legal for a decade. "Due to the massive number of immigrants who have arrived in Ireland in the past few years, Ireland has gone into a culture shock of sorts. We were quite a closed community, quite a conservative community," she said.

O'Dwyer explains that most of the crime directed at Lithuanians and other Eastern Europeans is from other members of these minorities, and are generally a result of problems from home that have crossed the borders and drugs. "Quite a lot of the drugs busts in Ireland are found to be connected with Eastern Europeans," she explained. The majority of immigrants settle in quite well. "There are interpreters in our schools who speak Russian and Polish, and booklists etc, are often translated. The highest growth in adult education is in the language sector with Russian and Polish being the two most sought after classes." "The Irish people have welcomed people from the Baltics and they have integrated well.

Unfortunately there are incidents with the minorities that reflect poorly on the country as a whole," said O'Dwyer. W ith the economic situation getting steadily worse in the U.K., and a bit better in the Baltics, perhaps these deadly incidents will become a non issue. Perhaps with time, the slow integration of EU citizens working in another country will create a sort of pan European cooperation of workers without prejudice. However, with the deadly pattern continuing and prejudice ingrained in society, it might be a while before things change.

By Monika Hanley