Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 7
21 February 2000

C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Lithuania
All the important news from Lithuania
since 12 Feburary 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

Lithuania celebrated its Independence Day on 16 February, but a ceremony presenting various recipients with state awards was marred by a protestor. In the ceremony, a shocked President Valdas Adamkus was confronted by nun and former dissident Nijolė Sadūnaitė, who protested against the awards being presented to ex-Premier Kazimiera Prunskienė and former Interior Minister Marijonas Misiukonis.

About 40 members of the Seimas filed a complaint about the award to the latter, accusing Misiukonis of being a KGB agent.

The EU officially began membership talks with Lithuania and all other associate members not yet negotiating for membership. This came at a meeting of EU and associate members in Brussels on 15 February.

European Commission President Romano Prodi and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Günter Verheugen visited Lithuania late last week to support the country's EU integration effort. Verheugen reiterated that only five chapters will be opened at most for the new set of negotiating countries. Prodi also urged the three Baltic countries to take individual roads to the EU, as they are "not triplets."

As the deadline to register for the upcoming local elections passed, the small, fringe Independence Party is challenging its disqualification. The Central Electoral Commission said the paperwork was incomplete. Some experts attribute this to pressure placed on the Commission after the Independence Party chose Mindaugas Murza, the head of the Union of National Socialist Unity, to lead its candidate list in the city of Šiauliai. The Independence Party is challenging the decision in court.

Coincidentally, Mindaugas Murza asked the Ministry of Justice to drop the registration process of the National Socialist Unity, saying the group is folding. Murza said the activities will be merged into the already functioning group, the Lithuanian National Labour Union.

The US Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) refused to provide evidence in the war crimes trial of Aleksandras Lileikis, due to Lithuania's inability to guard its secrets. The head of the OSI, Eli Rosenbaum, refused to divulge the needed info during the case on Lileikis, thus sending the process into chaos. However, Rosenbaum continues to accuse Lithuania of not proceeding with prosecuting Lileikis. Does this make sense?

But the issue could be moot, as the Seimas passed a law allowing for such trials of war criminals to be held in absentia. For those unable to participate in the court proceedings, special closed-circuit televisions would be provided. This could jumpstart several dozen cases held up by the health of the defendants, including that of Lileikis. However, the sentences, if any, would be served after recovery.

Ex-Premier Gediminas Vagnorius surprisingly suspended his membership in the ruling Conservatives, a party he helped found. His chief rival, Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, accused Vagnorius of continuing to evade responsibility for his government.

MP Jan Senkiewicz is upset at the Office of the Prosecutor General, which summoned former members of the Armia Krajowa for questioning in cases of crimes against humanity. Prosecutor General Kazys Pėdnyčia spoke to Polish Ambassador to Lithuanian Eufemia Teichmann about the cases involving former AK members.

The Seimas ratified the Council of Europe's Convention on Minorities. However, MP Senkiewicz voiced doubt about its ratification, questioning whether it was just a means of window dressing.

The ruling Conservatives ousted another prominent member, this time the outspoken Nijolė Oželytė. Oželytė is the fourth prominent member of the party to be expelled during the parliamentary cycle – the other three were all former ministers.

The opposition LDDP is calling on the Seimas Ethics Committee to censure Speaker Vytautas Landsbergis. Landsbergis last week accused former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas of "intrigues" in negotiations between Lithuania's Mažeikių Nafta (Mažeikiai Oil) and Russia's LUKOil over supplies. Landsbergis later retracted the statement, saying he "misunderstood."

The wildly popular Liberal Union, now led by former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, faced its first test, as members from several constituencies defected to the New Alliance (Social Liberals), led by former presidential candidate Artūras Paulauskas. The defectors included a mayor of a small constituency.

The Seimas passed a law on higher education, which many called a compromise document. The law, passed despite a large number of abstentions, organises and regulates the country's higher education system. Some opposition MPs were angry at the possibilities of introducing high tuition fees.

The Seimas also ratified an agreement on pensions with Russia. The agreement would oblige the country of residence to acknowledge pensioners from the other country.


Economics and business

Trade dropped drastically in 1999, with exports falling by 19.3 per cent and imports by 17.3 per cent from 1998. Though the trade deficit dropped by 13.8 per cent, it is attributed to the large drop in trade itself. Germany remained the largest trade partner for Lithuania (15.9 per cent of exports, 16.5 per cent of imports), followed by Latvia (12.7 per cent, 2 per cent) and Russia (6.8 per cent, 20.2 per cent). The EU accounted for 50.1 per cent of exports and 46.5 per cent of imports.

Lietuvos Avolinijos (LAL, Lithuanian Airlines) finally went and reclaimed their jet from London's Heathrow Airport. The continental navigation firm Eurocontrol lifted its seizure order after debts from the Lithuanian flag-carrier were resolved.

Thomson Financial BankWatch upgraded the intra-country risk rating of Vilniaus Bankas (Bank of Vilnius) to A/B from B.

January's budget collection fell below the target by 12.6 per cent. Officials blame new tax rules for the lower numbers.


Social and local interest

Real estate agency OberHaus named Riga as the most expensive city for a two-room flat in the Baltic region. In the centre of town, the usual rent for such a flat is between USD 650 to USD 1200. Tallinn and Vilnius are both lower, at around USD 483 to USD 1034 and USD 900 respectively.

A new poll by Baltijos Tyrimai/Gallup showed that, despite a mild drop of eight points, former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas remained the most popular politician in Lithuania, with a total of 76 points. He is followed by President Valdas Adamkus at 75 (up by one), former President Algirdas Brazauskas at 74 (up by one) and former presidential candidate Artūras Paulauskas at 62 (down one). Strangely, radical politician Vytautas Šustauskas, who led the campaign against the charity Viennese ball, remained at 45 points in seventh place.


And in other news...

The Lithuanian service of Voice of America (VOA) has been drastically cut, from six employees to a mere two. Many said that that is tantamount to cutting the service outright. The Latvian service also took a major cut, from five to two employees. However, the Estonian service was spared the chop, as figures show higher ratings among listeners.

Exchange rates
As of 18 February 2000

currency Lithuanian
litas (LTL)
1 US dollar 4.00
1 British pound 6.43
1 German mark 2.02
1 euro 3.95

Mel Huang, 18 February 2000

Archive of Mel Huang's Amber Coast articles

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