The Lithuanian men's basketball team fulfilled a dream of every Lithuanian fan, beating Australia by a score of 89:71 to capture the Olympic bronze medal. It was the third Olympic games that Lithuania has participated in since the restoration of independence and the third time it has won bronze in men's basketball—which has become a second religion to the nation.
This time, the public was initially very skeptical; after all, the team's two biggest stars were not playing, due to injuries. More surprising, perhaps, was the moment when the young and energetic team made it into the semi-finals, where they lost to the US "Dream Team" by two points. At home, the team members were elevated to the status of national heroes, and politicians pointed to the strength of the new, post-Soviet generation that is able to compete and win world-wide.
The news media were explicitly jubilant, claiming that these are the days when it is not shameful to be a Lithuanian. Unfortunately, the night of the victory was marked by street violence in Lithuania: shop windows were broken and billboards were destroyed. The Sydney Games were Lithuania's most successful to date, where they finished 33rd in the medal count, including two golds and three bronze medals.
From October 3 to 5, Vilnius hosted an international forum on looted cultural assets from the Holocaust-era, which was held under the auspices of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The Forum was seen as a follow-up to a Washington conference that was held last year. US Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat announced that the US will grant USD 500,000 to Russia to register looted Holocaust assets.
At the forum, the problem of Lithuanian Jewish property was also raised, within the context of the assets that were looted from Jews before the Second World War and have not been returned. According to some estimates, the compensations could amount up to LTL (Lithuanian litas) four billion (USD one billion). Pursuant to present Lithuanian laws, only Lithuanian citizens permanently residing in Lithuania have a right to have their property restored. Jewish interest groups have protested that persons have a right to their property regardless of their place of residence. Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said that Lithuania would seek a dialogue with Jewish organisations to find a compromise.
Arguably the most important cultural event of the year took place last week, when three Nobel Prize winning writers—Günter Grass, Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska—visited Vilnius to give several talks and presentations. They met extensively with audiences at the University of Vilnius, where all of them read excerpts from their works, followed by a discussion at Vilnius City Hall on problems of memory and the future. They also opened a memorial plaque to Russian poet Josef Brodsky at the house where he stayed during his visits to Vilnius in 1966 to 1971.
Welcome to the WTO
This week, Lithuania announced the end of its negotiations with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and that it will become a member after the Seimas ratifies the agreements. According to officials, the main membership advantages are the increased trust of investors and the most-favoured trade regime. It is also believed that WTO membership will help with the negotiations for EU membership. Lithuania has been negotiating with the WTO for six years and was lagging behind Latvia and Estonia, which both became members last year. The reason for this delay was Lithuanian insistence on subsidies to its farmers, which caused problems with US and other trade partners.
Now, Lithuania will abolish subsidies for exports and decrease support for agriculture in general. Lithuanian officials insisted that the new agreements will not destroy its agricultural sector but will only induce producers to decrease prices and compel the state to seek other forms of support. Supposedly, WTO membership will not encroach upon the existing free trade agreements.
Toward the end of the campaign
A small scandal erupted when it was discovered that little-known oil company Vaizga has donated LTL 250,000 (USD 62,500) to the Social Democratic coalition led by former President Algirdas Brazauskas. The company is owned by the wife of Ivan Paleichik, who is the head of LUKOil Baltija, the subsidiary of Russia's oil giant. This plays into the hands of Brazauskas's opponents, who fear that he will restore a "friendship" with Russia.
Brazauskas contributed to the debate this week by announcing that, if his coalition wins, it will normalise Lithuania's relations with Russia, which have deteriorated under the right-wing governments of the Conservatives. Some polls put the coalition just a little ahead of the New Alliance (Social Liberals) led by former Prosecutor General Artūras Paulauskas. His party, according to the election commission, has had the most expensive election campaign. This week, Paulauskas was also accused of secretly planning a post-electoral coalition with the Brazauskas coalition that will most likely put them in control of the Seimas. Paulauskas denied the allegations.
And in other news...
- Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis publicly apologised for mistakes the Conservatives—of which he is chairman—made in power over the past few years. The statement came during the last days of the election campaign and is largely seen as an attempt to woo back supporters. Most of the other parties took it as insincere and untrustworthy.
- President Valdas Adamkus also made a public statement, but it was in connection with the bronze medal won by the men's basketball team at the Olympics. He tied it together by stating that Lithuania should also seek to appoint a strong team to its Parliament on Sunday 8 October.
- German company Object-Entwicklung started to build the biggest supermarket and shopping mall in the Baltic states near Kaunas, on the highway between Vilnius and Klaipėda. They plan to invest LTL 190 million (USD 47.5 million) and create 1000 new jobs.
- It turned out that only one buyer—Swedish-owned Estonian bank Hansapank—wants to purchase the biggest state-owned bank in Lithuania, Lietuvos Taupomasis Bankas (Lithuanian Savings Bank), as the deadline for tenders expired. This is said to be a setback for the government, which had hoped a profitable sale would boost the budget.
- A hundred of the biggest Lithuanian companies are reported to have increased their sales by 25 per cent this year. However, specialists are very skeptical about the outlook, since the market is mostly tied to the Russian economy, which has not yet recovered.
As of 6 October 2000
|Currency||Lithuanian litas (LTL)
|1 US dollar||4.00|
|1 British pound||5.79|
|1 German mark||1.78|
Inga Pavlovaitė, 6 October 2000
- Archive of Lithuanian news reviews
- Archive of articles Lithuania
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on the Baltic states through CER
- Return to CER front page