Politics and foreign affairs
Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga made a state visit to Estonia this past week, the first state visit by a Latvian leader since the restoration of independence. The trip was designed to promote bilateral relations, ranging from EU integration to cultural exchanges. The Latvian President met with her counterpart, Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar, Riigikogu Speaker Toomas Savi and other officials. She also visited Tartu University and the Baltic Defence College in Estonia's second city.
Latvian Defence Minister Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis accompanied President Vīķe-Freiberga to Estonia, where he took part in talks with his counterpart Jüri Luik. The two discussed issues, such as the acquisition of the joint airspace surveillance system. Kristovskis also visited several training centres.
An administrative court ruled that the sacking of former head of the Citizenship and Migration Department, Andres Kollist, was illegal. Kollist was sacked by Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus for incompetence, several months ago. However, Kollist himself does not anticipate returning to the post after all that has happened.
This, and other issues, prompted 30 opposition MPs to file a no-confidence motion against Loodus, which failed that afternoon, as the government put it to a snap vote.
Estonia's Ambassador to the US, Canada and Mexico Sven Jürgenson presented his credentials to Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. Jürgenson also met with Foreign Minister Rosario Green. Jürgenson resides in Washington, DC.
Economics and business
Viisnurk has been named the top exporter of the year by the Estonian Export Association. The company export total in 1999 was EEK (Estonian Kroons) 167.4 million, which includes furniture, hockey sticks and, of course, skis. The company is the second largest cross-country ski maker in the world and is bidding to make hockey sticks for the North American National Hockey League (NHL).
The Estonian Business School named Allan Martinson, CEO of computer company Microlink, businessman of the year. Microlink has consistently held the top spot in PC sales in Estonia and has expanded strongly in the region. The company has also developed the web portal Delfi, which expanded from its Estonia base by acquisitions to Latvia and Lithuania. The portals in Estonia (www.delfi.ee) and Latvia (www.delfi.lv) both have news, fora, e-commerce and other services, while the Lithuanian version (www.delfi.lt) still does not have an e-store.
The heads of the stock exchanges of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius signed a letter of intent on their move towards the pan-Nordic NOREX. NOREX, which currently links the exchanges in Stockholm and Copenhagen, has received similar letters of intent from the exchanges in Reykjavik and Oslo. The three Baltic bourses see membership as the ultimate goal.
The budget deficit in Q1 2000 was EEK 56 million, or about 0.22 per cent of this year's expected GDP - far below the limit set by the government of EEK 410 million. As of the end of April, 28.18 per cent of this year's budget had been collected.
Direct flights between Tallinn and Moscow began again this past week, after weeks of wrangling between the two sides over timetables, aircraft and code-sharing. Estonian Air makes four return trips a day, while ELK makes three.
Finland's Olvi brewery announced it has taken a hundred per cent stake in Tartu's A. Le Coq brewery. The brewery in Tartu is number two in Estonia and holds a majority stake in Latvia's Cēsis brewery and nearly half of the shares of Lithuania's Ragutis.
The city of Tallinn announced the privatisation of Tallinna Vesi (Tallinn Water). The city, though retaining a "golden share," will sell off 50.4 per cent of the company. The sale should bring in at least EEK 580 million. Conditions for the sale are quite stringent, as the bidders must have experience in operating water utilities in at least four countries.
A survey by the Financial Times showed that the largest company in the Baltic region by market capitalisation is Estonia's Eesti Telekom (Estonian Telecom)<, at USD 1.12 billion, but it is only the 23rd largest in Central and East Europe. Russia's LUKOil was, naturally, first, at USD 9.6 billion. Hansapank comes in at 34th, with USD 561.4 million.
Social and local interest
A scary report by the UN Economic Commission for Europe shows that Estonia's population may decrease by 34 per cent in 50 years, if the current low birth rate continues. Estonia has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe and the world, and its population is already down to about 1.45 million.
A group representing World War II veterans from both sides - those fighting against the Soviets and those against the Germans - proposed a joint commemoration on 8 May. However, one leading group representing those that fought alongside the Red Army refused to participate. On the other hand, other groups from both sides are taking part in the reconciliation events.
Kadi Pärnits won the election to take over the leadership of EAKL, the largest trade union group in Estonia. She succeeds MP Raivo Paavo, who did not seek re-election, due to his MP workload.
E-pirates are working now, too, as the market for pirated CDs moves to the web. It has been publicised that sales of pirated CDs are being marketed on-line, on a free US-based server. This publication refused to reveal the URL of the site, however, as it would just promote the scam business.
And in other news...
Veteran rocker Joe Cocker is scheduled to play in Tallinn on 3 June. Rumour has it, he'll get a little help from his friends, though the special guest has not been announced yet.
Tallinn and Estonia had a quiet Volbriöö (Walpurg's Night), with no serious problems anywhere. The traditionally over-festive occasion has, in recent years, deteriorated into a problem fest, with massive public drunkenness. However, this year's banning of alcohol sales in Tallinn after 7 pm and restrictions on sales, even in licensed establishments, apparently helped.
Copterline began helicopter service between Tallinn and Helsinki this past week. The 18-minute journey between the capitals costs about EEK 2500 each way.
Deputy mayor of Tallinn Ivar Virkus suggested the establishment of a red light district in Tallinn, even going as far as naming a possible street. The issue has been debated several times in earlier years, after the restoration of independence. Prostitution in Estonia is not illegal, but street-walking and pimping are - much like laws in other countries in Europe.
Like all over the world, the now-hated "ILOVEYOU" virus wreaked havoc upon Estonia. Gullible Internet users clicked on the attachment with the dodgy extension and, voila, several networks were seriously bogged down and several graphics-based companies had their files corrupted. Reports indicate some government agencies, such as the customs agency as well as banks and telecommunications companies, were hit hard.
As of 5 May 2000
|1 US dollar||17.48|
|1 British pound||26.86|
|1 German mark||8.00|
[Up-to-date Estonian exchange rates can be found here]
Mel Huang, 5 May 2000