Politics and foreign affairs
Did he renege on a promise to resign? The Mayor of the western Sįlutę district, Algirdas Balčytis, remained on the job to the ire of his party, the New Alliance (Social Liberals) and its boss, Artūras Paulauskas. Balčytis is accused of funnelling funds earmarked for storm relief estimated at LTL (Lithuanian Litas) 84,500 into his own companies, and he has been suspended by his party already. There was confusion over a proposed no-confidence motion; nevertheless, he remains at work.
Despite the image problem with the New Alliance (Social Liberals), MP Rolandas Zuoza defected from his Social Democracy 2000 faction to join the upstart party.
President Valdas Adamkus travelled to Germany to meet with officials and to open the Lithuanian section of Expo 2000 in Hanover. Adamkus met with Berlin municipal officials and also his counterpart, German President Johannes Rau. However, Adamkus left the discussions brief, since German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is scheduled to visit Lithuania in early June.
Head of the Seimas Social Welfare Committee Birutė Visokavičienė was forced out of the role and replaced by a member of the Christian Democrats, Julius Beinortas. Visokavičienė is a member of the breakaway Moderate Conservatives faction, which has irked the Conservatives to no end. Several members of the breakaway faction, which follows the discredited former Premier Gediminas Vagnorius, have been kicked out of prominent parliamentary posts since the split.
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 same time, 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 Vattenfal 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.
A one-day sitting of the International Commission for the Evaluation of Nazi and Soviet Crimes took place in the Seimas. In a sharply worded speech, Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said that Lithuanians must come to terms with the major role Lithuanian's played in the Holocaust on Lithuanian soil. This is a far cry from his apologetic speech in Sweden months ago, which was severely criticised both at home and away. Chairman of the Seimas Human Rights Committee Emanuelis Zingeris discussed the new education programme on such crimes and its implementation. Most of the speakers warned of a resurgence in hate and anti-Semitic groups, hinting at the new neo-Nazi party founded by Mindaugas Murza and the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Kaunas Mayor Vytautas Šustauskas.
A diplomatic war with Belarus could ensue, as ambassador to Belarus, Jonas Paslauskas, was called back to Vilnius for a day. However, Vilnius maintains he was called back for "consultations," diplomatic talk for serious anger and a step from withdrawal of the diplomat. The anger comes from Belarus appointing Vladimir Uskhopchyk as deputy defence minister. Uskhopchyk has been indicted in Lithuania as a leader of the 1991 Soviet military crackdown in Vilnius.
Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov visited Vilnius to shore up co-operation. Issues of economic co-operation topped the agenda, from using Lithuania as an export route for Kazakh goods to crude oil imports from Kazakhstan.
President Adamkus also vetoed amendments to the law on investments that concerned foreign investments into the lottery business. Adamkus said such a scheme should be dealt with in the separate law on lotteries and not in this larger piece of legislation.
Economics and business
A consortium by Poland's Pekao and Italy's UniCredito won a bid for Lithuania's third largest bank, Žemės Ūkio Bankas (Agriculture Bank), and talks on its privatisation are slated to begin soon. They were apparently the only bidders for the bank, as the other large state-owned bank, Taupomasis Bankas (Savings Bank), is also due for privatisation later this year. The majority of Pekao is owned by UniCredito and Germany's Allianz AG.
With weakness in the telecom sector in world markets, the advisors to the public offering of shares in Lietuvos Telekomas said the share price should be between LTL three and 3.8 in the offering to take place in several weeks. Despite market weakness and an IPO from Sweden's Telia, analysts see the price as too low. However, Finance Minister Vytautas Dudėnas confirmed to CNBC that the IPO is still on.
The city of Kaunas received official word from Sweden's Vattenfall that they are backing out of their plans to take over local heating utility Kauno Energija. Without the right to raise heating prices, Vattenfall said their proposal was not financially sound. Plus, the new Kaunas administration under Vytautas Šustauskas is a vocal opponent of Vattenfall.
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
Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius has died after a lengthy illness. The only Lithuanian cardinal in four centuries, Sladkevičius is regarded highly by Lithuanians and in the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II made a tribute to the man be made cardinal 12 years earlier.
Social Welfare Minister Irena Degutienė appointed 29-year old Aidas Pikiotas as the new head of the troubled social welfare fund SoDra. His nomination was soon approved, and now it remains to be seen how the ex-banker can pull the ever-troubled fund out of the pit.
And in other news...
In its first six months, the portal Centras already has 20,000 users of its free e-mail service. E-mail use is exploding in Lithuania, which may explain that one of the earliest clones of the "I Love You" virus, "Let's Meet for a Coffee," came from Lithuania.
As of 3 June 2000
|1 US dollar||4.00|
|1 British pound||5.99|
|1 German mark||1.91|
Mel Huang, 5 June 2000