Politics and foreign affairs
The Riigikogu passed a set of amendments to the education system concerning languages in schools. All secondary schools must start the transition to become Estonian-language schools by the 2007/2008 academic year, meaning 60 per cent of a school's curriculum must be in Estonian. However, teaching in minority languages remains an option for primary schools.
Estonia has "caught up" to others in the so-called "Luxembourg" group of EU candidates, as the European Commission opened two new chapters - fiscal control and regional affairs - and closed provisionally four chapters - foreign relations, fisheries, CFSP, and corporate law. So far, 25 chapters have been opened in talks with Estonia, with 12 provisionally closed.
Estonian and Russian negotiators agreed to replace the current "simplified border crossing" system with long-term, multiple-entry visas. Estonia had requested ending the practice of allowing those on a set list to cross the border at will, citing the need to meet EU border requirements. Both sides pledged to offer 4000 visas to those with families, property or religious congregations on the other side of the border. Estonian officials also believe this cuts down on the number of Estonians crossing over to buy cheap goods.
The opposition filed a no-confidence motion against Finance Minister Siim Kallas, and the government promptly scheduled it for 10 April. The opposition is indignant that Kallas, who is still facing court hearings on a protracted case of corruption, can serve in the government while indicted. Kallas has been cleared of most wrong-doing connected with a scandal involving a scam with a Swiss company, while he was governor of the Central Bank, but the Supreme Court sent one charge back to lower courts for a new trial.
The Riigikogu approved a USD 25 million loan from the World Bank to fix the vital highway from Tallinn to Tartu to Luhamaa.
Estonia's new Ambassador to the United Nations, Merle Pajula, handed over her credentials to UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan in New York. Before the appointment, Pajula served as the director of the Foreign Ministry's Press and Information Department.
Riigikogu Speaker Toomas Savi and a delegation travelled to Australia to meet with parliamentary officials and tour the Olympic compound. Savi held meetings with Senate President Margaret Reid, House Speaker Neil Andrew, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer among others.
Economics and business
Debate in the Riigikogu on the privatisation of the regional Edelaraudtee (South-western Railways) was suspended, as members could not agree on the scale of subsidies for the regional service. Britain's GB Railways is negotiating to buy the rail company, but has made subsidies a big issue.
The government and Canada's Suncor began negotiations over plans to build an oil shale processing plant in Estonia. The Canadian company's plan would be a boost for the region, as it would employ a few hundred workers and the increased demand for oil shale would keep more miners on the job. The plant is estimated to cost EEK (Estonian kroons) 2.5 billion.
The Taxation Department said that 11,760 people filed their income declarations via the Internet before the 31 March deadline, but about a quarter of them contained errors - thus requiring paper re-files.
February's trade deficit rose to EEK 1.5 billion, with total imports at EEK 5.1 billion and total exports at EEK 3.6 billion.
Estonia's CV-Online plans to launch its services in the Czech Republic in the near future. The successful on-line database has also been successfully launched in Latvia.
Ühispank became the first Estonian bank to offer Wirless Application Protocol (WAP)-based banking, where customers can check balance and credit card usage from by WAP.
A total of 20.4 per cent of the year's expected revenues, or EEK 5.822 billion, has been collected as of the end of March.
Anti-piracy and intellectual property campaigners demonstrated the widespread availability of pirated CDs and sent them to Prime Minister Mart Laar and Tallinn Mayor Jüri Mõis as proof. Mõis set off a storm among the campaigners in March, when he downplayed the amount of pirated CDs in Tallinn, suggesting the campaigners themselves are exaggerating the problem (see Amber Coast, Modern-day Pirates, 11 October 1999, for more about the problem of pirated music in Estonia).
Social and local interest
The 2000 census in Estonia took place this past week. This is the first post-Soviet census, which included several dozen questions about each individual, as well as housing situations. Provisional results will be available in several months, while the full results are not expected this year.
In 1999 Estonian men spent about EEK six million on Viagra. One pill costs about EEK 150-200 kroons from chemists, with about 50 doctors allowed to prescribe the anti-impotence drug.
London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies and the Education Ministry signed a co-operation agreement on the exchange of scholars and students.
Postimees remained the paper with the highest daily circulation, at 60,200, expanding the distance between chief rival Eesti Päevaleht, which has a circulation of 41,400. The weekly, Eesti Ekspress, which is blamed for the slowness on Thursdays in bars, cafes and shops, is second with a circulation of 47,500. This is followed by the rural Maaleht (43,300) and the tabloid Õhtuleht (42,000). The highest-circulated Russian-language paper is the weekly bonus, Vesti Nedelja Plus, with 24,000.
A poll by ES Market Research Institute showed that the opposition Centre Party is most popular, with 26 per cent support, followed by the Pro Patria Union of Prime Minister Mart Laar, at 17 per cent. Coalition partner Mõõdukad gained 16 per cent support, while the Reform Party lingered at only ten per cent.
The same poll also showed that 55 per cent of respondents thought the government was doing poorly or somewhat poorly, compared to 28 per cent with positive thoughts.
Again, the same poll showed the popularity of ministers, with Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves earning the highest approval ratings of +51 per cent and only -14 per cent disapproval rating, followed by Cultural Minister Signe Kivi (+48/-15) and Defence Minister Jüri Luik (+40/-19). Prime Minister Laar was viewed ambivalently with a +41 per cent approval rating and -34 per cent disapproval rating. Finance Minister Siim Kallas was second lowest with a -51 per cent disapproval rating.
And in other news...
An early casualty of import tariffs? The Sõnumileht tabloid reported that an import duty of EEK 25,000 has been levied against the 1.4 tons of imported matzah for the Jewish community about to celebrate Passover.
Scientists from London's Natural History Museum announced that fossils found in Estonia and Latvia substantially link for the first time the gap in evolution between fish and amphibians. The fossils found are from a creature half-way between the two, apparently shaped like a crocodile but with tail-fins.
As of 31 March 2000
|1 US dollar||16.32|
|1 British pound||25.84|
|1 German mark||8.00|
[Up-to-date Estonian exchange rates can be found here]
Mel Huang, 7 April 2000
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