Vol 1, No 1, 28 June 1999
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:|
News Review for the Baltic States
All the important news from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 19 June 1999.
This review of the week's events contains several parts. Click below to move to your area of interest:
A short work week for Estonia and Latvia. 23 and 24 June were both public holidays in Estonia. Victory Day is celebrated on 23 June, marking the victory of Estonian forces in repelling the German Landeswehr. The decisive battle was fought in Cesis (known in German as Wenden and Estonia as Vonnu), Latvia, which broke the spine of the Landeswehr, kept Estonia free of German forces and allowed Latvia's military to regain the upper hand. This being the 80th anniversary of the historic battle, a special ceremony was held in Cesis with government and military dignitaries from both Latvia and Estonia in attendance.
Both Estonia and Latvia celebrated the Summer Solstice on 24 June as public holidays. The celebrations of St John's Day (Jaanipaev in Estonian, Jani in Latvian) is usually the focal point for summer celebrations, before the extended holidays people like to take later in the summer. The solstice is important to most Nordic inhabitants, as the sun barely drops beyond the horizon during these days.
Baltic politicians criticised Russia for the military exercise "West '99" held on 21 to 26 June. The exercise, deemed the largest since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is seen as a response to the Baltics' NATO aspirations. Lithuanian Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis called it "psychological, cold-war moves", and Estonian parliamentarian Mart Nutt said the exercise brings Russia "factually into a cold war with NATO."
Continuing from the pan-Baltic theme, this year's Victory Day parade was symbolically held in the border town (with Latvia) of Valga. President Lennart Meri delivered the annual speech, in which he reminded citizens of the need to defend one's own country and the cost involved. Over 800 military personnel took part in the march down the main street of Valga.
The budget debate could be in the clear after the opposition abandoned its delaying tactics. The second reading of the one billion EEK negative supplemental budget continued early in the week. With the government holding a trump card in being able to link the measure to a confidence motion, the opposition chose to walk out of the chamber instead of calling incessant ten-minute delays after each of the 500+ amendments they introduced. The second reading passed easily without the obstruction, and both sides stated their readiness to work on a compromise. Prime Minister Mart Laar stressed that it would be passed by 1 July.
Organisations representing Russian speakers protested against the reburial ceremony for Estonian freedom fighter Alfons Rebane. Rebane served in the Estonian military and fought against the Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1941. During the German occupation, Rebane served as a leader of the Estonian Legion fighting the Soviets. After the return of the Soviets, Rebane fled and became a leader of "Operation Jungle" of the British Secret Service SIS supporting the Baltic resistance units, "the Forest Brothers". Rebane's ashes were returned to Estonia to be re-buried on 26 June, and the government earmarked funds for a ceremony bestowing full military honours - the bone of contention for the protestors.
Four more chapters of negotiations between Estonia and the EU were closed this past week. Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves stressed that Estonia will be ready by 2003 to join the EU, but voiced doubt that the EU itself would be ready to accept members then.
The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, subordinate to Constantinople, elected a seven-member Synod in Tallinn. The appointment of Turkish citizen Stephanos as the new Patriarch has angered some locals, who called for one of the flock from the domestic church to be named as its head.
Early in the week with temperatures peaking 30C there was widespread fear of a beer shortage for the celebrations of midsummer's eve. Beer manufacturers stated that their production for a week's supply was exhausted within days. However, the temperature cooled down for the traditional outdoor celebrations. Sadly many accidents, mostly drink-related, occurred during the extended holiday. One instance involved a drunken ten-year old who needed emergency aid.
Former ambassador to Germany and Ukraine, Tiit Matsulevits, took up his post in Moscow as Estonia's ambassador to the Russian Federation. No replacement has been named for the empty post in Kyiv.
President-elect Vaira Vike-Freiberga announced some of her priorities in her first set of press conferences and interviews. She thanked outgoing President Guntis Ulmanis for his fine work in re-establishing the office of the presidency and stated she will continue his work. She confirmed her foreign policy goal is Latvian membership in NATO and the EU during her term (which expires in 2003), but domestic politics will feature the integration of non-Latvians. She noted her experience as a refugee herself, fleeing from Latvia after the Soviet invasion, will help her in this area. Already fluent in many languages, she will also take up learning Russian. Former opponent in the election, Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs, said she would "shine" on the international stage (see last week's Amber Coast for all the news on the Latvian presidential election and on President-elect Vike-Freiberga).
Bribery allegations mar last week's presidential election in the Saeima. Leader of the Social Democratic Workers' Party, Juris Bojars, stated that an unnamed, Russian-speaking business executive offered his party 75,000 LVL on behalf of Latvia's Way to vote for its candidate, Transport Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs. For the second set of elections, Bojars claimed he was offered "anything he wanted" by the individual. Bojars states he has witnesses to the phone conversation, while Latvia's Way denied any links to the alleged bribes. Several other parliamentarians also announced that they had been approached with bribes, all concerning Latvia's Way and Gorbunovs. The prosecutor's office may investigate.
In the mean time, President Guntis Ulmanis made his final trip abroad as President to Rome to take part in the 900th anniversary celebrations of the Order of Malta. The charity arm of the Roman Catholic Church is active in Latvia, especially with the disabled. During the visit Ulmanis was scheduled to meet with Pope John Paul II and new European Commission President Romano Prodi (also see last week's Amber Coast for more on the legacy of Ulmanis).
A trade fair in Budapest named Latvian Independent Television, LNT, the most improved and best television station in Central and Eastern Europe
Standard's & Poor's held all of Latvia's ratings. Politicians expressed their satisfaction. Short-term credits are rated at A3 (foreign) and A2 (local), while long-term credits are BBB (foreign) and A (domestic).
President Valdas Adamkus visited Budapest to take part in the NATO seminar. In his address he re-iterated Lithuanian support for NATO activities in the Balkans and the KFOR deployment. He also met with NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark, and the NATO commander praised Lithuania's foreign policy as a "stability increasing factor" in the region.
Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis made a two-day visit to Germany. In meeting his counterpart, Bundestag Speaker Wolfgang Thierse, issues on EU and NATO enlargement dominated. Landsbergis also met with leaders of Brandenburg and other federal officials. Strangely, Landsbergis defeated German Interior Minister Otto Schilly twice in chess during a small festival.
Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek visited Lithuania to take part in the bilateral co-operation committee. Issues discussed on the bilateral level included Lithuania's participation with Polish forces in KFOR and ethnic minority concerns in both countries. Both Lithuania and Poland have sizeable minorities, mostly in localised areas. They called for a special meeting in Warsaw on 29 June on the minorities issue, about which Buzek noted concerns. Lithuanian negotiators accuse Poland of handing over an "ultimatum" on terms for the discussions. There are questions on issues such as education and the spelling of names, as well as border postings and administrative divisions.
Outrage continued from the Seimas's failure to strip convicted MP Audrius Butkevicius of his mandate. Many, ranging from the press to President Adamkus, condemned the inactivity. Even one Member of Parliament was assaulted in the street concerning the moral ineptitude of the institution.
The Seimas approved Colonel Jonas Kronkaitis as the new head of the military. Kronkaitis is a dual Lithuanian-US citizen and served for 27 years in the US Army. His confirmation by a 75-3 margin brings him to head the military from his current role as deputy defence minister. Earlier, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent a letter to the Pentagon approving the appointment.
The Seimas ratified the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights banning capital punishment. Though Lithuania already banned the death penalty in late 1998, the ratification re-ignited the debate on capital punishment. The public is decisively against the abolition, as are a few smaller political parties from throughout the political spectrum.
Israeli Ambassador to Lithuania Oded Ben-Hur caused controversy when he stated that Lithuania is a paradise for war criminals, and that the commission formed by President Valdas Adamkus to investigate both Nazi and Soviet war crimes is ineffective. This triggered widespread anger among politicians, with the leader of the Centre Union, Romualdas Ozolas, demanding Ben-Hur be recalled by Israel.
The conclusion of the posting of USAID local co-ordinator Ronald Greenberg also signalled the phasing out of US assistance to Lithuania. Greenberg stated that Lithuania had "graduated" from the aid programme and commended Lithuania for its success. Estonia was the first central European country to "graduate" from US assistance several years back. Latvia joined this club last year.
The support ratings for President Adamkus tumbled... to 86.4 percent. Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas's ratings rose to beyond the 70 percent mark.
President Adamkus signed the bill on "public sector lustration" into law, but he called for better legal procedures to apply the law.
Economic Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis cancelled the tender to build a power link from Lithuania to the west European power grid. He stated that the tender had been arranged poorly and was not clear "even to us." He stated a new, western-standard tender would be announced in two months. This is the second time the project has collapsed.
The Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party (LDDP), the successor of the Lithuanian Communist Party, called for the tenth anniversary of its break with Moscow to be celebrated. The 1989 move, when the Lithuanian Communist Party announced its break with the Soviet mother organisation, is seen by many as the step that turned Moscow's attention to the Baltic freedom movements.
Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhei Linh visited Lithuania along with a business delegation during the week. In meetings with both President Adamkus and Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas the issue was the large debt for electricity accrued by Belarus. The two sides differ on the amount, as Lithuania estimates it being around 77 million USD and Belarus claims 70 million USD.
Farmers in the northern Joniskis region blocked the highway to Riga for a short time while protesting about sugar beet prices and other agriculture issues. The farmers organised a "tractor march" with tractors, pickers and other farm equipment to partially block the busy highway. The government moved quickly to appease the farmers, ending the protest before a "Lepper" situation took hold.
As of 24 June 1999
Prepared by Mel Huang, 26 June 1999
Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo
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