Politics and foreign affairs
Prime Minister Mart Laar made a two-day visit to Slovakia. In Bratislava, Laar discussed bilateral ties as well as NATO and EU integration with Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda. They also talked about tax policies with President Rudolf Schuster. Laar also met with Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš and Bratislava Mayor Jozef Moravčík.
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Wesley Clark made his farewell visit to Estonia to meet with officials and to speak at the Baltic Defence College in Tartu. General Clark emphasised that the best security for Russia is NATO enlargement, adding that he is satisfied with Estonia's progress towards NATO integration. President Lennart Meri also awarded General Clark the I Class Order of the Cross of the Eagle, the highest military award in Estonia.
Inexplicably, Estonia has decided to turn down a gift of ten T-55AM tanks from NATO-member Poland, citing expenses in maintaining them. Defence Minister Jüri Luik told Polish Ambassador Jakub Wołąsiewicz that he will send an official thanks-but-no-thanks in the near future. This prompted an emergency meeting of the Riigikogu National Defence Committee, which earlier supported the receiving of the tanks. However, the Committee seemed to be won over by suggestions that Estonia is in line to get some free Leopold-1 tanks, which are more modern. Those supporting the receiving of the tanks, on the other hand, attacked the Defence Ministry for not giving Poland a firm answer for over half a year, making this a public slight against a NATO member. Beggars apparently can be choosers.
Instead of creating a new ministry to handle information technology, the government decided to give the responsibility of IT policies to the Transport and Communications Ministry. This would basically mean the Ministry would not be merged into the Economics Ministry, as earlier planned (but halted due to budget problems). There will also be a name change to the Ministry, but no idea what it will be just yet.
While that came about, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves spent the week at the United Nations in New York talking about Estonia's progress in IT.
A mildly bad press piece for Ilves came out, as various papers quoted Austrian Ambassador Michael Miess suggesting Ilves had Nazi sympathies. Later, it was revealed that the report was a "misinterpretation."
The Education Ministry has made it clear it wants to officially move to second city Tartu by July 2001. The plan has been in discussion for years as a part of a decentralisation plan.
Turns out there was not much public mess at the emergency party conference for the Coalition Party, as Märt Kubo was elected chairman. Earlier, there were worries of a massive break in the party to come to head at the session, which even prompted two security companies to refuse to provide security to the meeting. The former "party of power" has essentially lost its support, and even owes tax authorities some EEK (Estonian Kroons) 200,000. However, the rebel faction led by former Riigikogu Speaker Ülo Nugis remains vocal and active, and the affairs of the party are nowhere near settled - at least informally.
Economics and business
First quarter inflation was 1.3 per cent, which is attributed partly to the rise in petrol and fuel prices.
The fate of the regional Edelaraudtee (South-western Railways) is again unknown, as the government halted deliberation of a subsidy bill in the Riigikogu. The Riigikogu cut about half the subsidies out of the bill, causing the government to react and freeze debate. Britain's GB Railways, which has been chosen as the potential buyer, said that with the subsidies they would invest EEK three billion into the company - half of it on rails and signalling. GB Railways has indicated that the privatisation plan would not work without the subsidies.
Social and local interest
The Riigikogu approved amendments to the broadcasting law that forces television stations to air locally produced programming for at least half of the prime time (7 pm-11 pm) viewing hours. This excludes news and game shows, thus placing private stations, such as TV1 and TV-3 with their US-heavy programming, at a disadvantage. This would likely cut the number of Hollywood (and Bollywood, popular as well on Kanal 2) films and programmes, such as "Beavis and Butthead" and "The Simpsons," though nothing seems to be set yet.
The government voted to refund EEK 226,000 worth of legal bills to Urmas Kaju, the co-defendant in an abuse-of-power case against Finance Minister Siim Kallas. The government said that the state is obliged to refund legal fees for those acquitted of charges. However, Kaju and Kallas remain charged with one remaining criminal count, which the Supreme Court sent back to the lower courts. Kallas is being defended by the legal firm of Rask & Teder, of which Justice Minister Märt Rask is a named partner. No idea if Rask voted on this particular issue in the cabinet.
Postimees unveiled in an undercover story that unlicensed pharmaceutical products, mostly smuggled by people from Russia, are being sold at open markets. Some of the products are common pain relievers, but others are not even licensed in Estonia.
An odd twist to media circulation statistics, as daily Eesti Päevaleht won the on-line battle with 379,000 hits last week. Though the paper version of Postimees clearly outpaces Eesti Päevaleht, its bulky Internet version got just 354,000 hits last week. The classified ads paper Kuldne Börs got 183,000 hits.
And in other news...
Estonia's national ice hockey squad did poorly in the second week of the Group B contest. After a spectacular win against Britain earlier, they faltered on nearly every match, beating only the Netherlands. Estonia sat at sixth place as of time of writing.
Finnish copyright protection groups complain that over two million pirated CDs are purchased by Finns in Estonia each year, mostly from the large Kadaka turg (Kadaka market). This is one of many responses by groups in Estonia, Finland and elsewhere to comments by Tallinn Mayor Jüri Mõis suggesting the problem has been exaggerated by copyright protection groups.
And the quote of the week comes from our favourite mayor, Jüri Mõis (taken from BNS), this time speaking about the need to raise monetary compensation for cabinet ministers: "Those who speak about non-monetary incentives are propagating an outdated theory."
As of 21 April 2000
|1 US dollar||16.69|
|1 British pound||26.39|
|1 German mark||8.00|
[Up-to-date Estonian exchange rates can be found here]
Mel Huang, 21 April 2000