Politics and foreign affairs
The biggest newsmaker of the week was the election of Vytautas Šustauskas, the radical leader of the Freedom Union, as mayor of second city Kaunas. Šustauskas is infamous for leading raucous street protests and making violent and anti-Semitic remarks. His election has been protested by politicians and public groups, as well as by members of the Jewish community.
Other important local councils were also settled this past week. Valdemaras Jakštas of the Centre Union won in the second round to become mayor of Panevėžys, while his fellow party member, Saulius Raščiauskas, became mayor of Trakai. Vytautas Račkauskas of the Liberal Union won the mayoral seat in Visaginas. Marijampolė elected Vidmantas Brazys of the Democratic Labour Party, and seaside resort Palanga elected Raimundas Palaitis of the Liberal Union.
All 60 mayoral seats were settled by 13 April. At the final count, the New Alliance (Social Liberals), the Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party and the Farmers Party gained 11 mayoral seats. The Conservatives were crushed, holding only two mayoral posts.
Head of the Farmers Party Ramūnas Karbauskis threatened to stage massive farmers' protests again, if plans to fine protesting sugar beet farmers go ahead. Sugar beet farmers blocked roads on and off for weeks, in protest against government policies, but now they are being fined for damaging the asphalt on the Via Baltica highway. Officials estimate damages of up to LTL 150,000. Karbauskis also added that he is opposed to joining the EU on current terms.
Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius represented Lithuania at the gathering of prime ministers of the 11-country Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS) in Kolding, Denmark. During the summit, European Commission President Romano Prodi confirmed that enlargement is a top priority, and will be done "as soon as we can." The group also discussed regional co-operation, as well as developments in Russia. Many bilateral meetings were also held within the context of the summit.
While that was happening, defence ministers from the so-called "3+3" group - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Germany and Poland - met in Copenhagen, to discuss co-operation. The three NATO members in the group also reaffirmed their support for Baltic integration into NATO.
Head of the New Alliance (Social Liberals) Artūras Paulauskas introduced his legislation on diverting defence funds to education at the Seimas. The bill was supported by popular initiative, requiring the Seimas to discuss it. Paulauskas said that LTL 147.7 million should be diverted from defence spending to education this year, but that the amount for defence should be patched by privatisation funds. Opponents of Paulauskas accused him of being anti-NATO. The Seimas leadership, however, managed to pull a quick one on Paulauskas; using the proviso that the Seimas cannot introduce spending bills (only the government can), the issue has been delegated to the government for its "opinion."
Lithuanian Environment Minister Danius Lygis visited Latvia to meet his counterpart, Vents Balodis, to discuss environmental protection of the Baltic Sea.
Economics and business
Lithuania finally revealed its long-awaited 1999 GDP numbers, and they are bad: down by 4.1 per cent. This disastrous number was compounded by very poor late quarter numbers; respectively Lithuania's GDP dropped by 2.3 per cent, 1.4 per cent, 6.6 per cent, and 5.0 per cent quarterly. This shows very little sign of recovery. A large part of the drop is due to the inactivity of the Mažeikių Nafta (Mažeikiai Oil) oil refinery, due to lack of supply from Russia.
With those GDP numbers, the central bank announced that the current account deficit in 1999 was LTL 4.776 billion, or 11.2 per cent of GDP. This is a mild drop from 1998's 12.1 per cent.
Trade also dropped drastically in 1999, as exports totalled LTL 12 billion, down 19 per cent, and imports totalled LTL 19.3, down 16.6 per cent. Though this did mean the trade deficit fell to LTL 7.3 billion, which is down by 12.2 per cent from 1998.
Lithuania registered a mild deflation as CPI dropped 0.2 per cent, in March.
Lithuania's PPI rose by 1.2 per cent, in March.
Power utility Lietuvos Energija finally paid off its long-term loan to Merrill Lynch, as the last USD 15 million payment was made for the loan originally at USD 75 million back in 1997.
The central bank issued licenses to two foreign banks: the Finnish-Swedish MeritaNordbanken and Germany's Vereins- und Westbank. MeritaNordbanken recently took over the Vilnius and Riga operations of French bank Société Générale, while Vereins- und Westbank is the majority owner of a bank in Latvia, Vereinsbank Riga.
Social and local interest
Yet another popularity poll from Baltijos Tyrimai/Gallup showed that former President Algirdas Brazauskas, at 71 per cent, is the most popular politician in Lithuania. He is followed by current President Valdas Adamkus, at 70 per cent, and Vilnius Mayor Rolandas Paksas, at 68 per cent. Shockingly, the popularity of Vytautas Šustauskas, the leader of the radical Freedom Union, continues to climb - this time to seventh place, at 47 per cent (up five points).
Petitioners went to the equal rights ombudsman charging gender discrimination in cancer treatment. The charge stems from the fact that cancer drugs for breast cancer were fully paid by the health service, while drugs for prostate cancer were covered only by 80 per cent. Equal rights ombudsman Aušrinė Burneikienė has asked Health Minister Raimundas Alekna to look into the situation. The petitioners also charge that diagnosis has been low for prostate cancer, due to less awareness. In 1999, there were 1236 cases of breast cancer and 823 cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in Lithuania.
As of the end of last year, about a quarter of Lithuanians are pensioners. There are about 940,000 Lithuanians on the pension rolls.
London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies signed a multiyear co-operation agreement with the Education Ministry on the exchange of scholars and students.
Border guards announced that less people are being nabbed for illegal immigration year after year, showing the decrease: 1551 in 1996, 1382 in 1997, 495 in 1998, 261 in 1999 and only 43 in the first quarter of 2000.
As of 14 April 2000
|1 US dollar||4.00|
|1 British pound||6.34|
|1 German mark||1.95|
Mel Huang, 14 April