Politics and foreign affairs
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder finished his Baltic tour with a seven-hour stop in Vilnius. During his stay, Schröder commended Lithuania's progress and stated Germany's support for its EU integration. Schröder, who is the first head of government to visit Lithuania since a fateful visit in 1939 by a certain someone for the Anschluß of "Memelland," also mentioned that Germany is "partly to blame" for the less-than-smooth common history of the countries. However, a minor row broke out concerning payments to forced labourers during World War II, as Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis insisted that the funds should not pass through Moscow.
Immediately after the visit, the Seimas passed a resolution demanding that wartime compensation be made directly from Berlin to Vilnius, not via Moscow. Labelling the Moscow route as tantamount to recognising the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Seimas hurried this through and is now pushing for Germany to do the same.
Another resolution passed by the Seimas calls for the government to demand compensation from Moscow for funds seized by the Soviet occupation authorities. The resolution, which will no doubt anger Moscow, also called for the return of funds lost by depositors to Soviet banks. A third resolution, drafted by Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, concerning compensation from Moscow for the occupation, is still pending in the Seimas.
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It looks more and more likely that the October general elections will be fought among blocs, as the Liberal Union all but confirmed it was ready to take part in a centrist coalition with the Centre Union and the New Alliance (Social Liberals). The left-wing has already entered into a coalition, while the right-wing is posed to do the same. Several nationalist groups have already joined into an election coalition as well.
The presiding judge in the case against accused Nazi war criminal Aleksandras Lileikis said the trial will resume on 21 June. This comes after medical teams declared Lileikis fit for trial, as the accused can now follow proceedings by closed-circuit monitor, thanks to legal changes in Lithuania. The case against his former colleague, Kazys Gimzauskas, is still in limbo, as the defendant is in hospital.
In Lithuania's Karmelava, the headquarters of the joint Baltic airspace surveillance system, BALTNET, was opened on 6 June. Defence ministry and military officials from the Baltic countries, as well as partner states (mostly NATO members, such as the United States and Norway), took part in the opening ceremony. Estonian Defence Minister Jüri Luik called it a step closer to NATO for the countries.
The US-Baltic Partnership Committee held their annual meeting in Tallinn during the week, hosted by Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves and attended by US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Ušackas and Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Māris Riekstiņš. Talks focused strongly on economic and defence co-operation, as Talbott talked about the progress being made towards NATO integration in the Baltics. The joint communiqué also applauded continual war crimes prosecution, regardless of ideology and very much in defence of the prosecution of Nazi and Soviet war criminals. The latter infuriated Moscow.
The Seimas also passed a law concerning martial law in Lithuania. It will regulate some aspects of when martial law can be declared by the president, namely when Lithuania's independence and territorial integrity are under attack.
British authorities deported a total of 18 Lithuanians from the town Peterborough, north of London. A total of 561 Lithuanians have been kicked out of Britain already this year, bringing back fears that visa-free travel could be restricted. Some claim it already is, as some legitimate tourists are already being harassed and barred from Britain.
A joint sitting of the Lithuanian Seimas and the Polish Sejm focused on bilateral relations between the two former commonwealth partners. Issues relating to NATO and the EU played a large role as well as the ever-present tense issue of minorities.
Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas made a visit to Denmark to promote bilateral ties. Saudargas met with Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen and even had an audience with Queen Margrethe II.
A military exercise, code-named JCET-2000, is being held around the Klaipėda region. This multifaceted exercise also involves high-speed cutters from the German Navy and elite SEAL units from the United States.
Economics and business
The consumer price index dropped by 0.3 per cent in the past month, mostly due to transportation and goods.
Finance ministers from the Baltic and Nordic countries met for their annual meeting in Tallinn. The issue of tax co-ordination was high on the agenda, along with the divide between harmonisation and co-ordination - a sensitive topic for many of the attendees. Estonian Finance Minister Siim Kallas spoke out against harmonisation of taxation policies, saying that free but fair competition, like in business, is good for countries.
Trade in April dropped sharply, with exports down 19.9 per cent and imports down by 17.3 per cent from the previous month.
Officials are predicting that the largest remaining state-owned bank, Taupomasis Bankas (Savings Bank), will be privatised later this year, probably in October or November. This comes as the state is in talks with a Polish-Italian consortium (of Pekao and UniCredito) to buy another large state-owned bank, Žemės Ūkio Bankas (Agriculture Bank).
Social and local interest
The Office of the Ombudsman for Gender Equality ruled that the national health service is indeed guilty of discrimination in not covering fully the cost for a leading treatment for prostate cancer. Petitioners earlier complained that treatment for breast cancer was covered 100 percent and the 80 per cent coverage of care for prostate cancer is a case of gender discrimination.
The official unemployment rate in May dropped by 0.2 per cent to 11.1 per cent. The highest regional rates remain in Pasvalys (20.4%), Lazdijai (19.6 per cent) and Akmenė (19.6 per cent). The jobless rate in Vilnius is 7.5 per cent and 8.4 per cent in Kaunas. Most worrying is the high unemployment rate in the other large cities, such as Šiauliai (15.5%) and Panevėžys (14.8 per cent).
Teachers in the rural region of Rokiškis called off their strike after weeks of industrial action. This came after the municipality arranged to get a loan to pay off wage arrears for teachers.
The Education Ministry is trying to push through a law on exam secrecy, after the national secondary education exam for the Lithuanian language was leaked before the exam day. Exam question leaks - especially on the Internet - have become a major problem in the region and around the world. Dealing with the math exam leak delayed the process, as officials hurried to compile a new version of the test.
And in other news...
A crazy situation occurred when a Lithuanian ship, the Zenitas, sank minutes after being released by the port pilot in Tallinn Harbour. The ship, en route to Rotterdam with minerals picked up in Tallinn, is registered in Honduras. One crewmember was killed. An investigation is under way.
Milan's world famous Scala orchestra was delayed in departing from Vilnius due to a row over fuel costs. The chartered jet for the orchestra and its world-famous head, Riccardo Muti, was grounded, as airport officials waited for confirmation that fuel would be paid for. Officials at the music festival at which the orchestra performed pleaded with officials at the airport, who finally let the plane go, fuelled and 1.5 hours late.
Lithuania's Kalnapilis beer is soon to be on sale in Chicago - the centre of Lithuanian activity in North America. The company said some 20,000 bottles of beer will be exported every month. Other Lithuanian beers, such as Utenos, are available in other parts of North America, such as Washington, DC.
As of 9 June 2000
|1 US dollar||4.00|
|1 British pound||6.05|
|1 German mark||1.95|
Mel Huang, 9 June 2000