Politics and Foreign Affairs
Lithuania held a two-day donors conference for funds to partially shut down the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. Most called it successful, as about EUR 207.85 million was pledged by donors from international organisations and individual countries. Denmark pledged EUR 16.2 million, Sweden EUR 13 million, Belgium EUR 1.65 million and the US, Finland, Norway, Poland, Austria, Netherlands, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and others promised EUR 1.5 million each. The EU is slated to offer a whopping EUR 165 million in the next few years. Several projects have also been proposed for the future, including a power link to Poland, refurbishment of several power stations and repairs to the transmission network.
However, one side note came from Russian Deputy Energy Secretary Bulat Nigmatulin, who proposed that Russia lease the controversial nuclear plant. Declaring it completely safe, Nigmatulin said that there are "no technical grounds" to force the shut down of Ignalina. That idea was rejected outright by the Lithuanian government and was heavily criticised by EU Commissioner for Enlargement Günter Verheugen, who said "it would not solve the problem."
When EU Commissioner Verheugen visited Kaunas before the donors conference, his delegation once again snubbed the city administration, which is led by radical mayor Vytautas Šustauskas. Members of the city council are livid at the move, saying the will of the people of Kaunas is being neglected. Perhaps the strain was just too much, as Šustauskas ended up in hospital with heart troubles.
A strong centrist block for the upcoming election is taking shape, as the leaders of four parties - the Liberal Union, the New Alliance (Social Liberals), the Centre Union and the Modern Christian Democrats - agreed on co-operation. Though the four parties will not join their lists, they will co-operate in the 71 first-past-the-post constituencies. Many analysts believe the group will win the next elections.
In a development that is as political as it gets in an election year, Vilnius City Council has decided to sue the government for funds in an increasingly heated row. Vilnius, headed by the opposition Liberal Union's Rolandas Paksas, claims the government attached many responsibilities and forced mandates onto the municipality and never sent funds for them - totalling some LTL (Lithuanian litas) 120 million. This comes as the Finance Ministry in the Conservative-led government accused Vilnius of failing to transfer LTL 94.1 million worth of tax revenues to the treasury.
Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar hosted his Baltic counterparts, Andris Bērziņš of Latvia and Andrius Kubilius of Lithuania, in the "summer capital" of Pärnu for a regular meeting. The trio focused on how to better exchange information, especially on issues relating to EU and NATO integration. The prime ministers also discussed Russia and Lithuania's recent claim to damages from the Soviet occupation, which was supported in principle by all.
The first class of the Baltic Defence College (BALTDEFCOL) graduated this past week. The 32-strong group is composed of students from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, the United States, Hungary, Germany and Sweden. Defence ministers from Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden attended the ceremony, alongside Estonian President Lennart Meri, British First Sea Lord Admiral Michael Boyce and Danish military commander General Christian Hvidt. Next year, two classes of 40 will study at the BALTDEFCOL.
Alongside the BALTDEFCOL graduation, the Lithuanian Military Academy also graduated its class of 93. President Adamkus promoted them to lieutenants.
And British First Sea Lord Sir Boyce was also in Vilnius to discuss military co-operation with Lithuania.
Lithuania is livid with Russian press reports that General Vyacheslav Achyalov may be appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to be a member of the UN Security Council. Achyalov has been indicted in Lithuania for his role in the bloody Soviet crackdown in Vilnius in January 1991. Another person indicted for his role in the bloody crackdown, General Vladimir Uskhopchyk, was recently made deputy defence minister of Belarus. Lithuania has since sent an appeal to CIS states asking for co-operation in apprehending indicted criminals, but such a plea will get very little attention from the East.
Foreign ministers from the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS) met in Bergen, Norway, to discuss regional co-operation. High on the agenda was the EU's "Northern Dimension" and the integration of Kaliningrad into the region. The council also approved a change to the mandate of the human rights commissioner, changing the role to that of a democratic development commissioner. Former commissioner Ole Espersen is completing his term. He will be replaced by the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Denmark's Folketing, Helle Degn. The members of the CBSS are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden, while the US, Britain, France, Ukraine and the European Commission are observers.
In yet another resolution geared not at reviving the economy but set on unachievable historical aims, the Seimas condemned Russian foreign policy and its stance on NATO enlargement. Surprise, surprise, it was introduced by Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis.
The Seimas failed to approve around-the-clock alcohol sales, after the number of abstentions defeated the bill on procedure.
Economics and Business
A total of nine companies - from Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and the US - would like to take the Belarusian power debt to Lithuania off Vilnius's hands. The results of the auction for the debts, which Lithuania claims to be about LTL 224 million, will be announced soon. Press reports indicate the bids came in as low as LTL ten million and as high as half of the debt.
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The opposition Centre Union lost a motion to put funds from the recent disastrous IPO of Lietuvos Telekomas into reforming the pension system. Most of the funds collected from the IPO from outside of Lithuania have since been put into Lithuanian hands.
Oil exploration company Geonafta has been sold again, this time to a Lithuanian-Swiss-Polish consortium for LTL 52 million. The consortium took an 81 per cent stake in the company, after the first sales agreement with a Norwegian company fell apart several months ago.
The largest private bank in Lithuania, Vilniaus Bankas (Bank of Vilnius), got a special gift from the government - a five-year tax exemption. The bank is controlled by Sweden's SE-Banken.
Social and local interest
Time for the traditional Vilmorus poll on politics and institutions. This month, after his "return" to politics, former President Algirdas Brazauskas became the most favoured politician, with the support of 69.3 per cent of those polled. He is followed by President Valdas Adamkus, at 65.2 per cent, then by the leader of the New Alliance (Social Liberals), Artūras Paulauskas, at 59.8 per cent and head of the Liberal Union and Vilnius mayor Rolandas Paksas, at 58.7 per cent.
Among political parties, the New Alliance (Social Liberals) remains on top, with 19.7 per cent support, followed by the coalition of the Social Democrats and Democratic Labour Party (LDDP), at 11.2 per cent, the Liberal Union, at 10.1 per cent, the Farmers' Party, at 9.2 per cent, and the Centre Union, at 6.8 per cent. No other party got more than five per cent. If the centrist coalition (see above) holds together, they will have over 36 per cent of current public support.
In a highly controversial report, the World Health Organisation ranked Lithuania's health care system 73rd in the world. Many countries, including Britain, have complained about the methods used by the WHO in critiquing the state of health care in the world. Latvia came in at 105th and Estonia ranked 77nd.
Just when everyone was touting the skills of the microsurgery team at Vilnius University Red Cross Hospital, there appear to be plans to scale it back. Massive redundancies are now being forecast.
And in other news...
Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU, Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Ušackas, was mugged and severely attacked one evening in the resort town of Palanga. Police are investigating, while Ušackas remains in hospital with bruises and a concussion.
One of the most popular beers in Lithuania, Ekstra by Švyturys, won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup in New York City.
A Lithuanian frigate, with 18 hands aboard, is feared to be lost, as its engines failed in the wake of Hurricane Carlotta off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Search parties from the US and Mexico still have not had luck in finding the ship, which is a part of the Klaipėda Shipping Company's fleet.
As of 23 June 2000
|Currency||Lithuanian lita (LTL)
|1 US dollar||4|
|1 British pound||6.03|
|1 German mark||1.92|
Mel Huang, 23 June 2000
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