With the race for the 8 October general elections gaining speed, a special section of the Lithuanian news review will be devoted to the campaign.
As political rhetoric is heating up from all sides, President Valdas Adamkus met with the leaders of the largest factions to ask for some civility in the campaigning. Reportedly, Adamkus was by angered the Conservatives when they played the Russia card, as the party often accuses its competitors of wanting to drive Lithuania back into Russia's arms. The so-called "Let's Get On" coalition of leftist parties, led by ex-President Algirdas Brazauskas, has vehemently denied the Conservatives' claims, however. Brazauskas was the former head of the Lithuanian Communist Party, of which its successor, the Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party (LDDP) is a part of the coalition.
In an alarming trend, New Alliance (Social Liberals) Leader Artūras Paulauskas visited Brussels to explain the party's foreign policy to EU and NATO leaders. Paulauskas, following the lead of his coalition partner Rolandas Paksas of the Liberal Union, met with EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen and NATO Secretary-general George Robertson. During the meeting with Lord Robertson, Paulauskas said that the rise in defence spending must be taken into consideration, with the development of society and the anticipated goal of two per cent of GDP should being pushed back a year to 2002. Lithuania is targeted to budget two per cent of its GDP for defence in 2001, but many are unhappy that Lithuania's campaigning is actively involving foreign officials.
Many groups were outraged by the decision of the Central Electoral Commission to register three members of the National Socialists to run in the elections. The State Security Service claims that the signatures gathered by the three candidates were forged, which led to a raid on the office of the National Social Union and homes of several of its members. Election officials defended the registration, saying that there was no way to eliminate them without legal proof. The three are slated to run in the single-mandate districts and are not expected to win. Party leader Mindaugas Murza, who is not running in this election, was indignant over the raids, calling it an attempt to destroy the party. The party is technically illegal, as the Justice Ministry refused ten times to register it for its unconstitutional and racist platform.
The Central Election Committee, however, did refuse to register the candidacy of disgraced MP Audrius Butkevičius. Officials, supported by an administrative court decision that the convicted felon cannot run as he was still serving his prison sentence for graft, refused to register. The indignant Butkevičius challenged the ruling but was turned down. Butkevičius is on probation until the middle of 2001, but he said he will challenge the first by-election that comes up (see the Amber Coast from 19 July 1999, Lithuanian Parliament Fails to Clean House, for more on the shameful story).
A feud has erupted between right-wing newspaper Lietuvos Aidas and Kaunas mayor Vytautas Šustauskas and has snowballed into daily attacks. Lietuvos Aidas claims that Šustauskas was once jailed in Petrozavodsk for assault, though Šustauskas did not file that on his declaration for his candidacy in the elections. If this is true, he will not be allowed to continue his candidacy.
Politics and foreign affairs
Negotiators from all EU-applicant countries met in Vilnius to discuss strategy and the apparent slowing of the enlargement process. The negotiators stressed that the "regatta" approach of evaluating each individual country must be applied in the EU case.
Canadian Defence Minister Arthur Eggleton made a visit to Lithuania to reaffirm Canada's interest in further NATO enlargement. Eggleton met with various officials to discuss promoting bilateral ties in the defence sphere.
Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis heeded calls by opposition and Jewish groups and asked President Adamkus to veto a controversial declaration that legalised the declaration made by an interim government on 23 June 1941 to restore Lithuania's independence. That puppet government has been linked to the Nazi occupation regime and its atrocities. It is odd that the resolution was passed by the Conservatives themselves, though Landsbergis admitted it should have been drafted better.
Social Welfare Minister Irena Degutienė signed a social security guarantee agreement with her Finnish counterpart, Maija Perho. The agreement will allow citizens of both countries to take full advantage of social welfare benefits while residing in the other country.
Lithuanian troops are taking part in the Baltic Triangle 2000 peacekeeping exercises in Denmark from 6 to 16 September alongside their Danish Estonian, Latvian, German and Polish counterparts.
Lithuanian Seimas Chairman Landsbergis called off a scheduled visit to Estonia citing a "heavy workload," but rumours have it that he was upset by the lack of high-level meetings.
Estonian Justice Minister Märt Rask hosted his Baltic counterparts, Ingrīda Labucka (Latvia) and Gintaras Balčiūnas (Lithuania), in Pärnu to discuss trilateral co-operation. The three ministers signed an agreement to promote exchange visits by experts and to set up joint workshops.
Lithuanian Transport Minister Rimantas Didžiokas hosted his Baltic counterparts, Anatolijs Gorbunovs (Latvia) and Toivo Jürgenson (Estonia), in Klaipėda, to discuss the fate of the Via Baltica transport link. The three also discussed the possibilities of reviving passenger train service from Tallinn to Warsaw (via Rīga and Kaunas), as the earlier service was shut down due to lack of use (perhaps the slowness and bad hours of the journey are to blame, as well).
Economics and business
The government and the IMF agreed that this year's budget deficit will remain under 3.3 per cent of expected GDP, most likely at 3.2 per cent. President Valdas Adamkus has pushed Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius to cut the budget soon, which is a hugely unpopular move before the elections. Kubilius hinted that some LTL (Lithuanian litas) 180 million of spending this year could be cut by the end of September.
A bigger worry came when the Economics Ministry announced that the expected GDP growth for 2001 will be only 3.1 per cent. Alongside the 2.1 per cent estimated for this year, Lithuania is falling far behind other countries in the region in its economic recovery.
Lithuania registered a deflation of 0.6 per cent in August. Lithuania's trade is also being severely hurt, as the lita is pegged to the US dollar at LTL four to USD one.
Mažeikių nafta (Mažeikiai Oil) breathed a sigh of relief, as it concluded a five-year oil transit deal with Russia's second largest oil company, Yukos, for four million tons to be exported via the Butingė oil platform. Negotiators between Williams International, the parent company of Mažeikių nafta, are continuing meetings with Russian oil giant LUKOil for a more steady supply for the ailing Lithuanian oil company.
Social and local interest
A Vilnius regional court convicted four individuals for their role in the murder of famous priest Ričardas Mikutavičius. The main instigator in the crime was sentenced to life in prison, while his three accomplices got between 13 and 22 years in jail. The case embarrassed law enforcement officials, as the priest remained technically "missing" for many months, because his body was misidentified.
The government decided to merge the Administrative Reform Ministry with the Interior Ministry at the beginning of 2001, with some redundancy of staff. However, the next government will have to see if it will appoint a minister to the axed ministry for a symbolic two months.
In the annual Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Lithuania ranked in the middle among Central and Eastern European countries, with a score of 4.1 out of ten, which is 43rd place overall. This is below Estonia's regional best of 5.7 points, putting them in 27th place, Slovenia's 5.5, Hungary's 5.2 and the Czech Republic's 4.3 points. Latvia lagged among the Baltic countries, with 3.4 points, putting them in 57th place.
And in other news...
An energy worker from Lithuania was kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas, while working as a contract engineer in a rural part of the South American country. Vladimir Molotsov and a Russian colleague were both abducted during a break, and diplomats are working to secure their release.
The publishing house Šviesa had to convince customs officials that the classic, Kama Sutra, is not pornography. Customs officials kept the books impounded, until they were certified by the publishing house.
Finally, a candidate for the radical Young Lithuania movement, Birutė Užkuraitytė-Statkevičienė, pulled a publicity stunt in her long-shot bid for a Parliament seat. Being a former Olympic swimmer, she swam across a flooded quarry with her hands and feet tied together. She claims she was inspired by the recent aeronautic acrobatics of Jurgis Kairys, though CER is not sure where the connection is.
As of 15 September 2000
|Currency||Lithuanian lita (LTL)
|1 US dollar||4.00|
|1 British pound||5.63|
|1 German mark||1.76|
Mel Huang, 15 September 2000
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