After an annual German-Baltic foreign ministers' meeting in Hannover, Joschka Fischer told reporters that "much speaks in favor of [all three Baltic states joining the European Union together]." Fischer gave no timeframe for the enlargement but said the Union should be ready to receive new members by 2003. Fischer's remarks coincided with publication of a research paper by the Deutsche Bank, which said the enlargement is more likely to happen with a large "convoy" joining at once, rather than a "regatta" scenario. In all of the outlined "convoy" scenarios, the Baltic states would join the EU together.
FBI Director Louis J Freeh has promised more cooperation with Latvia. Among topics discussed with the country's authorities during a visit to Latvia was the investigation of the recent bombing at the Centrs department store. Freeh also said that Latvia had done its part to assist the US in resolving a case of a series of explosions in North Carolina. Other areas of cooperation will include the fight against drug trafficking and computer crimes. According to Freeh, FBI representatives would soon be assigned to Latvia on a permanent basis (a FBI office exists in Tallinn already).
Unprecedented NATO-Baltic naval exercises were held last week. Cooperative Ocean 2000, a large-scale international naval exercise involving ten states, was held in the Gulf of Rīga and the Baltic Sea to perfect cooperation in maneuvering, rescue operations and the transportation of cargo. NATO's Standing Naval Force Atlantic, and the joint Baltic naval squadron, BALTRON, participated in the exercises. It is the first time ever ships of the Standing Naval Force Atlantic, "an immediately available reaction force," have passed into formerly Soviet-controlled Baltic waters. The PfP exercises were held immediately following a three-day NATO military exercise in the Baltic Sea near the Polish coast and the international PfP minesweeping exercises, Open Spirit 2000, in Latvia.
The Latvian government has approved a draft budget for 2001. Next year's draft budget has a deficit equivalent to 1.74 percent of GDP and puts expenditures at LVL (Latvian lats) 1.5 billion. The only program that may see its financing increased is Defense and NATO integration, as it has been allocated 1.3 percent of GDP (compared to 1.06 percent in 2000).
The NATO Integration Council, composed of government ministers, adopted the 2001 NATO Membership Action Plan, which emphasizes the developing of the compatibility of Latvia's National Armed Forces with NATO military units, participation in international peacekeeping operations and public support for building the state defense system.
Fighting among government coalition partners continues. Andris Bērziņš's cabinet faced further difficulties after Economy Minister Aigars Kalvītis (People's Party) threatened to remove representatives of For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) from influential positions in state-owned companies and the privatization agency. Kalvītis's moves are seen to be in retaliation to TB/LNNK's rejection of Edmunds Krastiņš's (People's Party) nomination for the position of chairman of a new financial market watchdog. The opposition Social Democrats have called for Kalvītis's resignation. Consultations between the Prime Minister and participants of the governing coalition aimed at ending the row have met with no results so far. Meanwhile, the New Party, the smallest member of the four-party centrist coalition, has made an official proposal to merge with the second largest party, Latvia's Way.
According to the Naturalization Board, more than 34,800 persons have acquired Latvian citizenship through naturalization since 1995. Women, who make up 68.2 percent of the total, more actively apply for citizenship. More than 65 percent of naturalized persons claim to be Russians. Some two percent of applicants have failed in the Latvian history test, and about eight percent have been unable to pass the language exam. On average, more than 1000 persons have been naturalized each month since January 2000. Meanwhile, European MPs visiting Latvia said that the naturalization rate must still be accelerated and the whole system of naturalization adjusted so that is able to cope with increased demand.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Deputy Secretary-General Seiichi Kondo welcomed Latvia's intention to join the OECD convention on combating bribery involving foreign officials on international business deals. The deputy secretary-general said the OECD would complete an evaluation of Latvian legislation by the end of October. After that, a decision will be made on inviting Latvia to participate in the operations of the OECD anti-bribery group. Latvia is the first Baltic state which has expressed its intention to join the convention.
Non-financial investment jumped in the first half of 2000 to LVL 353.0 million, a 22 percent year-on-year increase from LVL 296.1 million, the statistics office said.
Unibanka's board said it had formally given its backing to a buy-out plan from majority owner Sweden's Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) at LVL 1.90 a share. Unibanka's second largest owner, High Bridge Services LLC (HBS), which has around ten percent of shares, said the offer undervalues the bank and should be "no less than LVL 2.50" a share.
Latvia's television and radio commission agreed to open bidding for a third nationwide broadcasting license. Channel TV3, owned by Sweden's Modern Times Group, has been calling for a tender for months so it could expand its coverage beyond the Latvian capital. If TV3 wins the license, it would be the Baltic country's second nationwide commercial television broadcaster after LNT, owned by Polish company Polsat. TV3's sister stations in Estonia and Lithuania are the most popular stations in their markets.
Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš ruled out the devaluation of the lats, despite the continuous downslide of the euro's exchange rate.
The board of the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA) decided not to approve any of the bidders to become adviser for the sell-off of state-held shares in Ventspils Nafta (Ventspils Oil). It may delay the company's privatization by some two or three months.
Culture and eductation
The 15th Rīga International Film Forum, Arsenals, kicked off last week. During the nine days of the "unconventional" festival, 240 films from around 40 countries will be shown. This year, the festival takes place under the banners of the brilliant Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel and the late renowned Latvian documentary maker Juris Podnieks. New British and Chinese programs are being presented alongside items such as The Bed of Surrealism, Take It or Leave It!, animation program Baltorama, the Baltic Film Show and Competition, a Victor Tsoi retrospective and more.
Three regional higher education institutions have established the Baltic Academic Quality Alliance, which will create joint study and research programs. The allies—Vidzeme University College (Valmiera, Latvia), Tartu University (Estonia) and Vytautas Magnus University (Kaunas, Lithuania)—intend to create a joint master's program in Baltic politics and society by the 2002 / 2003 academic year. Future cooperation plans also envisage joint distance-learning activities, a common Internet homepage and a Baltic virtual library, joint research activities, conferences, seminars as well as exchange visits of students, lecturers and administrative staff members of the universities.
An exhibition of Latvian modern art opened in Vienna. The exhibition contains paintings and graphics by Ieva Iltnere and Ilmars Blumbergs, as well as tapestries and installations by Egils Rozenbergs. The works of Latvian artists can be viewed in the gallery at Palais Palffy in the Old Town of Vienna until 14 October 2000.
Vsevolods Zelonijs, a 27-year-old athlete from Rīga, has won Latvia's first medal in this year's Summer Olympics. Zelonijs won the bronze medal in the 73-kilogram (middleweight) men's judo competition, sharing third place with Anatoly Laryukov of Belarus. Zelonijs beat Yong-Sin Choi of Korea in a match lasting 53 seconds.
Opposition leftist groups tried to use the name of the Latvian medal winner, an ethnic Russian, to promote their campaign of non-violent resistance to the state language law implementing regulations in Latvia. The leftists claimed that Zelonijs "has unconsciously joined the resistance campaign, because, having received his Olympic medal, he did not run around the place waving the Latvian flag like other athletes do but just held the medal up." In their interpretation, Zelonijs's behavior means he does not consider winning the medal being of any good to Latvia. The press has yet to see what Zelonijs himself has to say on the matter.
Anyone in the United States hoping to see the Latvian team during NBC's delayed broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics was disappointed. The network broke away to a series of commercials, just after showing Kuwait's entrance. By the time the videotaped broadcast returned, the Mexican team was entering Olympic Stadium in Sydney. Nor could the American public get a glimpse of the Estonian or Lithuanian teams. Baltic communities in the US launched an e-mail protest campaign.
As of 23 September 2000
|1 US dollar||0.62|
|1 British pound||0.90|
|1 German mark||0.27|
Daria Kulagina, 23 September 2000
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