Politics and foreign affairs
President Lennart Meri made a visit to the Czech Republic to promote bilateral ties between the two EU frontrunners. Meri met with his counterpart, Václav Havel, to discuss bilateral ties, including the two countries' EU integration aspirations and Estonia's NATO aspirations. Meri also went to Český Krumový to inspect Czech military exercises and meet with Defence Minister Vladimír Vetchý.
Also in Prague, Transport Minister Toivo Jūrgenson signed two separate agreements on highway transport with Macedonian Transport Minister Bobi Spirkovski and Czech Transport Minister Jaromír Schling. Jūrgenson also discussed transport opportunities.
Starting a busy season of foreign visitors, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made a visit to Estonia during the week. Orbán stressed the need to increase bilateral ties between the Finno-Ugric kindred nations, adding Hungary's support for Estonia's NATO aspirations. Orbán and his counterpart, Mart Laar, discussed EU integration and the promotion of trade and economic relations between the states. Orbán also visited Tartu and the Baltic Defence College and delivered a talk at Tartu University.
A delegation from the Russian Duma, led by Deputy Speaker Vladimir Lukin, arrived in Estonia to discuss bilateral ties. After meeting with officials, such as Prime Minister Mart Laar, Riigikogu Speaker Toomas Savi and others, Lukin voiced optimism that the often-strained bilateral relations will improve under the Putin regime in Russia. Lukin, though stressing that the biggest problem remained the situation of Russian-speakers in Estonia, brought along a more conciliatory message of economic co-operation.
Representatives of the regional parliamentary body, the Baltic Assembly, met in Tartu between 26 and 28 May, to discuss closer co-operation between the three countries. The body adopted six resolutions during its sitting: co-operation in tourism, combating illicit trade, co-operation for sustainable development, co-operation on quality control for foodstuffs, combating illegal drugs and a statement of concern on the human rights situation in Belarus.
During the same time, the three foreign ministers met and signed an agreement on the exchange of confidential and classified information.
Also at the time of the Baltic Assembly's meetings, Estonian Economics Minister Mihkel Pärnoja and Latvian Economics Minister Aigars Kalvītis signed a letter of intent for close co-operation between the two countries' power utilities: Eesti Energia and Latvenergo. Many analysts see this as the initial step towards a merger, which has infuriated Lithuanian officials. Pärnoja suggested that the ten per cent stake in Lietuvos Energija held by Sweden's Vattenfall kept Lithuania out of this preliminary round, but officials of both Estonia and Latvia stressed the need to involve Lithuania in closer energy co-operation and the proposed unified energy market.
The government has told four of its ministries to "catch up" on implementing the government's strategy on European integration. The targeted ministries are that of agriculture, social affairs, environment and transport and communications.
The Riigikogu voted to keep Estonian peacekeepers in Kosovo for another year and to increase their number from the current ten to a total of 30.
The government decided to delay the controversial reform in the pension system for a year.
Well-known political analyst and editor of talk-radio KUKU-Raadio Harri Tiido took the job of deputy chancellor of the Foreign Ministry. Tiido is best known for his analyses of Russia and regional politics.
Head of the international grouping, Liberal International, Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck turned down an application by the opposition Centre Party to join. Neyts-Uyttebroeck said the party needed to change its platform in many spots to qualify as a liberal party. Coalition member the Reform Party is a member of Liberal International, while the opposition Coalition Party has observer status. Estonia was a founding member of Liberal International in the late 1920s.
Economics and business
More chaos at the central bank, as the nominee for governor, ex-Finance Minister Mart Opmann, withdrew his nomination. This comes as the bank's governing board and President Lennart Meri faced off over the nomination, which the president had rejected earlier. Opmann cited the pressure of the controversy and the possibility of lawsuits as the reason for his withdrawal.
Within a day, after all the major papers named him as the only realistic choice to take the job, acting central bank governor Peter Lohmus tendered his own resignation. Though the move has been long rumoured, and it was known that Lohmus had opportunities in Tallinn and even Washington, the timing was especially awful. Lohmus maintains that he would not have accepted a nomination for the job in any case and had planned to leave the bank much before the recent controversy began.
But, by the end of the week, it seemed like a time warp, as former governor Vahur Kraft was chosen by the governing board to head the bank yet again. Kraft's term ended in April, after his surprise defeat in a board vote in favour of statistics professor Vello Vensel. After Vensel withdrew his nomination, citing health reasons, the board chose Opmann for the job - leading to the mess chronicled above. Commentators wondered what was gained from all this bad PR - especially tarnished was Estonia's reputation internationally - as it looks the same as 30 days ago.
Chairman of the board of Eesti Telekom Toomas Sömera submitted his resignation effective in September. Sömera said he needed new challenges, and a new chairman is needed for the new challenges Telekom will face next year, when the fixed-line market is liberalised.
Food processing company Ösel has abandoned its Moscow ketchup factory and is writing it off as a EEK (Estonian Kroons) 20 million loss.
Power utility Eesti Energia signed another short-term agreement with Russia's Lenslanets to barter oil shale mined in Russia for electricity. The contracts have been short-term, due to their bartering nature, and any excess power generated can be used for export.
The government decided to create a financial institutions regulatory body, which will start work by 2002. However, early indications are that the government will subordinate it to the Finance Ministry, which angered opponents, who claim a lack of independence for the body. The proposed body will deal with banks, securities, insurance and all other financial institutions.
EMT mobile phone users will be able to pay their parking fees using their mobile phones, starting 1 July.
Among the Baltic states, Estonia has the highest average monthly wage, if calculated using the US dollar, at USD 284, up 11 per cent. This is followed by Lithuania, at USD 264.18 (up 2.4 per cent) and Latvia, at USD 241.10 (up 7.5 per cent). However, this is tempered by using the US dollar as the comparative figure, as the Lithuanian Litas is pegged to the dollar and the Estonian Kroon is pegged to the German Mark - and we know what has happened in their respective exchange rates over the year.
Using the same US dollar scheme, Latvia has the highest monthly pension among the three countries, at USD 99.70 (up 4.2 per cent), followed by Estonia, at USD 97.90 (up 0.7 per cent), and Lithuania, at USD 78.08 (up 0.4 per cent). The same exchange rate situation applies here, obviously.
Social and local interest
Unfortunately, deputy Tallinn mayor Ivar Virkus survived a no-confidence motion in the Tallinn City Council by a 19 to 32 vote. Virkus was the brilliant individual that proposed turning the downtown Tatari street into a red-light district. Among things located on Tatari street is the Music Academy, and I doubt budding concert pianists and chamber quartet violinists would enjoy being propositioned on their way to school. Activists, alongside opposition parties, screamed at the idea when Virkus proposed it. One activist pointed out that a vast majority of prostitutes are ethnic non-Estonians from the northeast, adding to the list of social woes from this ridiculous idea.
Police apprehended three individuals accused of setting off two small bombs in the popular Stockmann department store in Tallinn. One of the individuals is actually a security guard with the ESS firm, which provides security to Stockmann. However, a rash of copycat threats have hurt the image of Stockmann, which has lost a large number of customers since the bombing.
A poll published by Eesti Päevaleht showed that the opposition Centre Party remains most popular, but its popularity rating dropped from 26 per cent to 21 per cent in one month. Coming in second is the Pro Patria Union of Prime Minister Mart Laar, rising from 17 per cent to 19 per cent. The next two spots are filled by the two other ruling coalition members: Möödukad (down to 12 per cent from 16 per cent) and the Reform Party (up to 11 per cent from 10 per cent).
The Riigikogu approved the UN Convention against Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances and the European Social Charter in two separate votes.
And in other news...
There has been some controversy in the translation of the Estonian word "neeger" into English. It was translated by some news services as "nigger," although "neeger" is the appropriate neutral word to designate those from Africa or with an African background. However, this sparked a PC debate, and the question is now whether a more PC word is needed that does not have the translation problems "neeger" has, purely by its sound.
It was also announced that world-famous Icelandic pop star, Björk, will be part of a choral tour performing material by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, including a performance at the twin-spired Kaarli church in Tallinn later this summer.
As of 29 May 2000
|1 US dollar||16.72|
|1 British pound||25.04|
|1 German mark||8.00|
[Up-to-date Estonian exchange rates can be found here]
Mel Huang, 5 June 2000