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Vol 2, No 38
6 November 2000
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News from
Estonia

All the important news
since 3 November 2000

Mel Huang

 

Pyrrhic politicking

The ruling coalition in the Tallinn City Council beat the master of the intrigues game, opposition leader Edgar Savisaar, by winning a vote of confidence overwhelmingly. City Council Chairman Rein Voog (Reform Party) received only 23 votes of no confidence in the 64-member council, while Mayor Jüri Mõis got 24 votes of no confidence. Both will stay in office.

With all the behind-the-scenes intrigue, Savisaar managed to gain only his own Centre Party's 21 votes and two from the Coalition Party in the no confidence motions (Mõis got an extra no vote from a Russian-speaking council member). All other council members, both in and out of the coalition, did not vote.

Centre Party officials were angry over the outcome, as they had lined up 33 deputies to topple the government a week ago. All of the Russian-speaking groups crossed over to the ruling coalition at the last minute, and Centre Party members called them unreliable and untrustworthy.

However, the ruling coalition, by participating in backroom dealing and other shadowy intrigues, may have given up too much for some to swallow. Among the promises made was one to work on leasing the picturesque Aleksandr Nevski Cathedral next to the Parliament to the Orthodox Church, which is aligned with the Moscow Patriarchate (instead of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople). Promises on other social issues were also made by the coalition, leading many in the press to call it a Pyrrhic victory.

The politicking has damaged the reputation of many politicians, especially that of Mayor Jüri Mõis. Mõis admitted using reputed underworld power broker Meelis Lao as a source of "intelligence" against the opposition and commented on allegations of mob ties and corruption by Savisaar and others. In return, Savisaar accused Mõis of being linked with organised crime and other unsavoury sorts.

 

The KGB's shadow

The leading daily, Postimees, has reported on a document produced during a low-profile court case that involves the transitional government of late 1991 making a secret deal with the KGB. The agreement produced at the trial of Sergei Bouchelovski, a former KGB agent fighting to extend his temporary residence permit in Estonia, indicates that Estonia would leave former KGB operatives alone and guarantee their freedom despite their dodgy careers, in exchange for files, equipment and arms from the Estonian KGB branch.

Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus ordered an investigation into the entire matter, handing it over to the Security Police. Loodus also called a meeting of officials with expertise in the matter, who concluded that the agreement, signed in December 1991 by Minister of State Raivo Vare and an official KGB representative, Vyacheslav Shironin, has no validity today. They argue that subsequent agreements with Moscow and Estonian legislation have rendered the agreement invalid.

However, the most worrisome aspect of the scandal is that the file was not in the hands of the government chancellery or the archives. Postimees reported that it was lifted from all Estonian archives before the then-transitional government, led by current opposition leader Edgar Savisaar, left office in early 1992. Loodus has placed most of the emphasis on finding out what happened and how the files were palmed, especially its legal implications (see this week's Amber Coast for the full story and analysis).

 

HIV skyrockets

The number of HIV cases diagnosed this year was doubled in the month of October alone. With 104 new cases reported in October, the total for the year 2000 has risen to 211.

There are only 268 individuals in Estonia with HIV at the moment. Most of the cases in October came from IV drug users in Narva, but the diagnoses of some IV drug users in Kohtla-Järve have concerned officials, since it shows the trend is moving westward, towards Tallinn.

 

Driving drunk

The Riigikogu began deliberating amendments to effectively make drink-driving legal, albeit at a minimal level. Current legislation allows for zero tolerance, and the new amendment, if adopted, could cause discord with EU norms, officials noted.

Different MPs have suggested either a 0.2 per mil or 0.5 per mil as the minimum threshold. Police officials complained that this would force a major investment in breathalyser equipment. Amendments being debated also would ban speaking on mobile phones while driving without a hand-free set, which is in accordance with several other European countries.

A recent police survey suggested 1.66 per cent of all drivers are under the influence of alcohol on the road.

 

And in other news...

  • Is local Microlink going to challenge Bill Gates? A Microsoft representative discussed the idea of setting up an e-government for Latvia with Latvian officials—with Microsoft's assistance, of course. However, Estonia's Microlink, the largest IT company in the Baltics, is trying to jump into the game. Microlink played a large part in the creation of Estonia's virtual government system.
  • French company TeleDiffusion de France signed an agreement to purchase 49 per cent of the Tallinn Broadcasting Centre. The French company, second in the original bidding, came into play after the original winning bidders, Sweden's Teracom, pulled out over a managerial dispute. The TeleDiffusion bid was EEK (Estonian kroons) 95.4 million and has promised investments of EEK 282.3 million to upgrade the centre to complete digitalisation.
  • Prime Minister Mart Laar travelled to Hungary and took part in two conferences, one on transition and the other on NATO enlargement. Laar also met with his Hungarian counterpart, Prime Minister Viktor OrbĆn.
  • The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartolomeos I, visited Estonia to greet his flock, but was boycotted by those Orthodox believers that side with the Russian Patriarchate.
  • Estonia's GDP rose by a remarkable 7.4 per cent in Q2, compared to the same period in 1999, marking a cumulative 6.4 per cent rise in H1 2000, compared to H1 1999. Analysts have since raised 2000 GDP growth expectations to well over six per cent.
  • Are shopping centres contributing to society? That's what the Statistical Department thinks: the rapid growth of shopping centres and strip malls in Estonia has decreased the size of the shadow economy by 6.6 per cent since last year.
  • Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves embarked on an eleven-day tour of South America. The high cost for the five-country trip is being defended by officials. Several minor agreements on visa and tourism are expected to be signed during the trip, which includes stops in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay.
  • A poll released by EMOR shows that support for EU membership is down to 43 per cent, with those opposed to EU membership up to 45 per cent. On the NATO front, 53 per cent of respondents supported NATO membership, compared to 30 per cent against the move. Since the beginning of the year, support for EU and NATO membership has dropped by nine and four per cent, respectively.
  • But in another bid to reaffirm their leading status, MPs from the six countries of the so-called "Luxembourg" group (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia) met in Tallinn to discuss harmonisation efforts in each of the parliaments and the entire enlargement strategy.
  • The government also sent delegates to the EU to discuss the issue of keeping some of Estonia's mandatory fuel reserves in Finland. Estonia currently does not have facilities for the reserves, of which a 90-day supply is mandatory under EU regulations.
Exchange Rates
As of 3 November 2000
Currency Estonian
kroons
(EEK)
1 US dollar 18.09
1 British pound 26.23
1 German mark 8
1 euro 15.65

[Up-to-date exchange rates]

Mel Huang, 3 November 2000

Moving on:

Sources:

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

 

THIS WEEK:
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Becoming Independent

Marius Dragomir
Romanian Elections

Yuri Svirko
Pariah Pals

Jan Čulík
A Long Wake

Mel Huang
Dealing with
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Brian J Požun
Have a Seat

Matilda Nahabedian
Schengen's Curtain

Kinoeye:
Steven Jay Schneider
Mute Witness

Interview:
József Krasznai

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Sam Vaknin
The Fragmentation of Yugoslavia

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