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Vol 2, No 14
10 April 2000
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Lithuanian News News from Lithuania
All the important news
since 1 April 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

President Valdas Adamkus made a three-day visit to Poland to strengthen bilateral ties. He thanked President Aleksander Kwaśniewski for Poland's strong advocacy of Lithuania's aim to be a member of NATO. Adamkus also discussed other issues with Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, including energy links and minority affairs (read The Conquest of Pragmatism by Joanna Rohozińska from 20 September 1999, for an overview of the difficult relations between the two countries in this area).

NATO Commander General Wesley Clark made a farewell visit to Lithuania, bringing controversy again during a press conference. General Clark made negative comments about Russia's draft defence policy, which Moscow fired back at with a reciprocal negative reply to the comments. Last time in Vilnius, Clark fielded questions about his resignation from the top NATO military job.

With the coalition in the capital set, former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas was elected mayor of Vilnius. Paksas, now also the leader of the Liberal Union, returns to the job he held before becoming prime minister. However, this job is likely to be temporary, as Paksas plans to run in the autumn general elections. Paksas gained all 30 votes from his coalition partners.

The mayoral vote in second city Kaunas became a mess, as grandstanding by the two candidates left no one elected in the 41-seat council. Leader of the radical Freedom Union Vytautas Šustauskas, gained 16 votes in the failing attempt. In opposition, Gediminas Žemaitis of the New Alliance (Social Liberals) also failed to get a majority, gaining only 14 seats. The Conservatives, with their seven seats, did not take sides. Both candidates apparently made ludicrous promises in the increasing farcical situation in the second city, where arm-band National Socialists have already protested outside City Hall for Šustauskas.

There was total tranquillity in third city Klaipėda, as incumbent Mayor Eugenijus Gentvilas was re-elected with 26 votes in the 31-seat council. Though there is no former coalition, the popular mayor from the Liberal Union worked out a deal with five parties in the council to co-operate in a non-official coalition.

However, in fourth city Šiauliai, Vida Stasiūnaitė of the New Alliance (Social Liberals) became mayor, after gaining 18 of 31 votes in the council from coalition partners Centre Union and Social Democrats. She has since announced her intention to resign from the Seimas, and hinted that Vilnius Mayor Paksas should commit himself to Vilnius, and not set his sights on anything else.

In fifth city Panevėžys, there was no such luck, as the mayoral vote ended up in a stalemate. Valdemaras Jakštas of the Centre Union just failed to get the majority, landing 14 of 31 votes. His challenger, incumbent Mayor Vitas Matuzas of the Conservatives, fared worse, with only 12 votes. In the municipalities without resolution of the mayoral situation, after two months the central government will take over and dissolve the council for new elections.

The New Alliance (Social Liberals) also took over several other mayoral posts, including Alytus and Švenčionys. The Farmers Party took the top post in the Biržai, Ignalina, Širvintai and Šiauliai regions. The Centre Union won the post in Rietavas, while the Polish Electoral Action retained the mayoral spots in both Vilnius region and Šalčininkai. A total of 47 of 60 councils have completed their elections as of 6 April (see Amber Coast, A Leap into the Unknown, 27 March 2000, for all the round-up of the local elections).

The ruling Conservatives issued an ultimatum to a breakaway group: rejoin by mid-April or be expelled. The breakaway Moderate Conservatives faction in the Seimas, headed by ex-Premier Gediminas Vagnorius, is now planning to start their own party. A war of words continued, since the threat was issued between MPs from both sides.

While on a visit to Vilnius, Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman voiced support for Lithuania's EU and NATO bid. Zeman also said his country will help Lithuania in its agricultural reforms, noting that in the Czech Republic, the percentage of people working in agriculture dropped from 15 per cent to four per cent. Several bilateral agreements were also signed during the trip, and Vilnius apparently declined the offer by Zeman to purchase Czech L-139 light fighter aircraft.


Economics and business

Lithuania's current account deficit in 1999 dropped by LTL (Lithunian litas) 416 million from 1998, to a total of LTL 4.78 billion. This is believed to be about 11 per cent of the year's GDP, but preliminary GDP numbers are not due until 9 April.

Budget collection faltered, resulting in a Q1 shortfall of LTL 101.6 million, or 7.2 per cent of the anticipated revenues.

The national ELTA news agency celebrated its 80th anniversary on 1 April.


Social and local interest

The national unemployment rate rose to 11.4 per cent, a jump of 0.2 per cent from the beginning of March. The highest regional jobless rate remained in Akmenė (21 per cent) and Šalčininkai (20.6 per cent). Vilnius had an eight per cent unemployment rate.

The first post-election poll by Baltijos Tyrimai/Gallup projected much of the election's results accurately, with the New Alliance (Social Liberals) coming in first, with 14.2 per cent, followed by the Liberal Union, with 12.7 per cent. Following that was the Centre Union, at 7.7 per cent, and the Farmers Party, at 7.1 per cent. No other parties crossed the five per cent mark.

The same poll shows that people still trust the presidency most, with 52 per cent of respondents in the affirmative. This is followed by the central bank (42 per cent), local governments (40 per cent), and, surprisingly, social insurance fund SoDra (35 per cent). The government remained low on the trust table, at 24 per cent, while the Seimas wallowed at the bottom, with 16 per cent trust. The biggest drop came from the military, which fell by seven per cent, to 35 per cent trust.

And another poll by Sprinter showed that 70 per cent of Lithuanians would take to the streets and protest, if a specific problem affected the population. The poll also indicated that about 60 per cent of respondents feel protesting is the best way to get the government's attention.


And in other news...

Pair skaters Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas took the bronze for ice dancing at the World Championships, the best result for Lithuania in a premiere ice-skating event.

Famous violinist Raimundas Katilius shockingly died of a stroke on stage, in Bad Kissingen in Germany. Katilius was also a professor at the Vilnius Conservatory.

Exchange rates
As of 7 April 2000

currency Lithuanian
litas (LTL)
1 US dollar 4.00
1 British pound 6.33
1 German mark 1.96
1 euro 3.84

Mel Huang, 7 April 2000

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