Central Europe Review Balkan Information Exchange
Vol 2, No 33
2 October 2000
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News from EstoniaNews from Estonia
All the important news
since 23 September 2000

Mel Huang

Tallinn coalition at the brink

The ruling coalition of Tallinn City Council, already holding a slim majority, faced a serious setback when the minor Coalition Party "suspended" their membership in the ruling group. This comes in consequence of reactions from the city government to a long-standing apartment privatisation scandal involving prominent members of the aforementioned Coalition Party.

The scandal, which involves the sale of uninhabited buildings in the Tallinn old town to private owners at a favourable price, re-erupted when local law firm Glikman & Glikman issued a report suggesting the sales were in violation of laws. Though the opinion stated that the former old town city officials, Jüri Ott and Elmar Sepp, did not profit personally from the sale, it was nevertheless unethical.

Mayor Jüri Mõis took a decisive step and asked for the removal of both Ott and Sepp, who served as head of the Tallinn Botanical Garden and board chairman of Tallinna Soojus (Tallinn Heating) respectively. The Coalition Party, to which both belong, warned that their sacking would jeopardise the ruling coalition—especially their two seats on the Tallinn City Council. And when the situation failed to be resolved, the Coalition Party announced a "suspension" of its membership in the ruling coalition, which resulted in the immediate sacking of Ott, Sepp and head of Tallinn's Environmental Department Aap Mumme.

Tallinn's ruling coalition is now down to 34 or 35 (depending on specifics) out of 64 seats, still a majority but becoming razor thin. With many members of the ruling coalition being also MPs and constantly travelling, many expect opposition leader Edgar Savisaar of the Centre Party to attempt to topple the coalition in a future meeting. Some also speculate that this is causing the city to delay the privatisation of Tallinna Vesi (Tallinn Water) by three weeks, as the opposition has voiced objection to the sale of a majority stake in the utility.

 

HIV explosion in Narva

Health officials are sounding alarms at the recent explosion in HIV infection among IV drug users in the north-east city of Narva. Testing on 26 September alone resulted in 21 new cases of HIV infection, making the September total at 46 and the year's total at 61. That is a doubling of cases, as currently there are 118 cases of HIV, several of them full-blown AIDS.

Officials are frightened that the number of HIV infections could be several times higher, perhaps over one thousand in Narva alone. The large number of IV drug users in Narva and the lack of concern over HIV earlier have contributed to the problem of not knowing the full scale of this potential epidemic.

The government has earmarked an emergency EEK (Estonian Kroon) 670,000 (USD 37,659) for larger testing programmes, but that may in turn force the government into crisis mode if experts' predictions of an HIV epidemic among Narva IV drug users is confirmed. Estonia has little treatment options available for HIV and doctors are warning that there is not enough money in the health care budget to deal with this growing crisis.

 

Toddler threat to national security?

A decision by a local office of the Citizenship and Migration Department to not issue a passport to an adopted three-year old has sparked massive controversy and condemnation. The toddler in question was adopted by Estonian citizens, but birth records indicate her natural parents are not Estonian citizens. Ironically, if the natural parents were not known, there would have been no controversy.

Population Affairs Minister Katrin Saks voiced indignation at the decision, wondering what possible threat to national security a three-year old could present. Her case and a growing number of lawmakers are pushing for changes to the citizenship law to rectify the apparent loophole.

However, the drafter of the original citizenship law, MP Mart Nutt, defended the system, saying giving automatic citizenship in this and other similar cases would open the possibility of people gaining dual citizenship—which is not legal in Estonia in most cases.

 

Estonia takes a controversial decathlon gold

Former European champion Erki Nool did indeed fulfil the hope of most Estonians to win a gold—though in controversial fashion. During the seventh event, the discus throw, Nool faulted on his first two attempts. His third attempt at 43.66m sparked joyous celebration, though judges later ruled the throw a fault for stepping over the throwing circle—turning joy into despair. However, judges again reversed the call saying the ball of Nool's foot did not cross the mark, reinstating the successful throw and keeping Nool in the medal hunt. Coaches for the Czech Republic, United States and Great Britain all complained, though to no avail.

Nool gained strength going into the final 1500m track event, and took the gold in spectacular fashion by running a 4:29.28 race, a personal best. His total was 8641 points, followed by Roman ebrle (8606 points), Chris Huffins (8595 points) and Dean Macey (8567 points)—no coincidence from the Czech Republic, United States and Great Britain (see above) respectively. Joyous celebration was had in Tallinn and Sydney, as hundreds of members of Nool's fanclub travelled to see him compete.

This is the first gold for Estonia since the 1992 games, when women's cyclist (now opposition MP) Erika Salumäe won her second gold in a row for individual sprint. Salumäe congratulated Nool, adding dryly that she hopes Olympic officials fly the Estonian flag the right-side-up this time; in 1992 the flag for Salumäe in Barcelona was upside-down. Independent Estonia has now won a total of eight gold medals, the best known is the success of wrestler Kristjan Palusalu in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when he became the only man ever to win both the freestyle and Graeco-Roman formats in one Games.

This brings Estonia's medal count to three—following the two judo bronze medals won earlier in the Olympics: Indrek Pertelson in the heavyweight (over 100kg) division and Aleksei Budõlin in the half-middleweight (81kg) division.

As a side note, a quick congratulations to the US football (soccer) squad for making it out of the first round for the first time ever. The US has never managed that feat since their first football appearance at the 1924 Paris Olympics. And for the Americans it all began with a hard-won 1:0 victory against..? Yep, Estonia.

 

And in other news...

The Riigikogu amended the copyright law making the possession of pirate CDs, videos, software and others a crime. Such bogus products can now be seized by law enforcement officials—including customs officials—as a large number of the pirated goods are purchased by Finns. Fines can also be imposed on those caught with pirated goods.

Finance Minister Siim Kallas maintained that he did not give false information involving a dodgy USD ten million loss by a local bank while he served as central bank chief. Though Kallas was acquitted on most charges, the Supreme Court forced a retrial of the count on supplying false information. The court process for the indicted Kallas continues.

However, Kallas in Prague at a meeting of finance ministers from the so-called "Luxembourg group" of frontrunner EU candidates voiced concern for the "politicising" of EU enlargement in member states. Kallas warned that "geopolitical arguments" should not be used in the enlargement debate—clearly a remark directed at those calling for a two-track EU.

Estonia is to pay convict Vitali Slavgorodski EEK 50,000 (USD 2810) (and to cover taxes on it) in a settlement over a human rights case taken to the European Court of Human Rights. Prison officials in Estonia routinely opened mail from the convict to government officials, which is seen as a violation of his human rights.

Alcohol distilleries report that sales in August rose by 10 per cent—which is being attributed to a major bust by customs officials of smuggled booze.

One of Estonia's most successful "new economy" companies, CV-Online, is challenging the entire continent with the opening of their CV-Europe site. The company is already the largest online recruiting site in the Baltics and has expanded rapidly to eat up competition in Central Europe.

Exchange Rates
As of 30 September 2000
Currency Estonian
kroons
(EEK)
1 US dollar 17.77
1 British pound 26.02
1 German mark 8
1 euro 15.65

[Up-to-date exchange rates]

Mel Huang, 2 October 2000

Moving on:

Sources:

Baltic News Service (BNS)
Eesti Päevaleht
ETA
Postimees
SL Õhtuleht

 

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