NATO: Parties pledge unity
Eleven parties have signed an agreement in the Seimas to send a signal of political consensus confirming Lithuania's determination to accede to NATO and participate in the common foreign and security defence policy of the EU. All the parties have also pledged to maintain defense spending at 2 percent of the GDP next year.
In a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus, US Ambassador to Russia Jim F Collins confirmed that the US position in the NATO enlargement question has not changed. He said NATO is open for enlargement and accepting new members. He refused to comment on the position of other states, including Russia. But Collins remarked that Russia's refusal to participate in NATO's parliamentary assembly in Vilnius is not a constructive decision, because it casts away a chance to exchange views and opinions.
In the Latvian Parliament, German Bundestag speaker Wolfgang Thierse claimed that Baltic membership in NATO would be counterproductive if it would trigger a confrontation with Russia. Although Germany firmly supports Baltic membership, it is important to remember, Thierse said, that formal membership does not guarantee security and sovereignty.
Russia's possible confrontational stance was confirmed by Grigorij Javlinsky, the leader of the liberal Jabloko coalition in Russian politics. Russia is worried about NATO's approach to its borders, Javlinsky said, but also emphasised that Lithuania is a sovereign state and has the right to choose its security policy.
Paksas addresses nuke issue
In a report to the Seimas on 24 May, Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas raised the issue of energy strategy since the fate of Ignalina nuclear power plant is becoming Lithuania's most serious impediment in the EU negotiations. Paksas pledged to initiate wide-reaching discussion on the crucial question of whether Lithuania is going to stay reliant on nuclear energy and continue to export energy to its neighbours.
So far, the Cabinet has approved shutting down the first block of the reactor in a three-stage plan to dismantle the plant. The dismantling would start in 2011 and end, according to various options, sometime between 2030-2080.
A month ago, the government signed a contract with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development concerning assistance in closing Ignalina. If the Seimas ratifies the agreement, the first money from donors could be used this autumn.
Gambling law goes ahead
On 24 May, the Seimas approved amendments to a gambling law sent back for revision by President Valdas Adamkus. According to the President's staff, the law needed checks against corruption and language to prevent organised crime from gaining control over gambling.
In particular, they underlined proposals to clarify the procedures for cancelling licences for gambling outlets and to clearly define the status of a gambling control commission.
Baltic study space takes off
After the Seimas ratified an agreement among Baltic governments on common higher education residency status, it is likely that the conditions for intra-Baltic study will improve.
The agreement aspires to allow Baltic students to choose freely to study in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. This means that citizens of other Baltic countries would pay the same fees as native students and receive credit for their studies abroad.
The countries hope the agreement will foster higher academic mobility, increase the number of study areas, whet academic competition, and thus improve study standards across the region.
State television wasted public money
A state report details numerous instances of ineffective public spending confirming the bleak funding picture facing the debt-ridden Lithuanian national radio and television company.
For example, auditors found that employees received bonuses totalling about LTL (Lithuanian litas) 1.3 million (USD 325,000) for higher qualifications, although no system for measuring qualifications was being applied. Employees also received bonuses from commercial advertising revenues, although they have decreased by LTL 3.6 million (USD 900,000) in a year. State controllers strongly recommended the TV company to get an internal auditor to supervise its financial affairs.
The national radio and television company has debts of LTL 14.7 million (about USD 3.7 million) where 40 percent are delayed tax payments despite receiving about LTL 35 million (USD 8.7 million) in public money in recent years.
Confusion in the Social Liberal camp
After a flap about an opposition-sponsored scam on his reputation, Gediminas Jakavonis, Social Liberal (New Union) faction whip in the Parliament, has missed a couple of days' work without official notice. Party members were told that their leader is ill.
In the meantime, another leading figure in the Social Liberal camp, Gediminas Dalinkevicius, has announced his resignation from the party board. He made the decision after party leadership announced that Dalinkevicius had to resign all responsible posts, otherwise they would release compromising news about him.
And in other news...
- The championship in the country's basketball league has not yet been decided, as Vilnius' Lietuvos Rytas team won 69:69 against Kaunas Žalgiris and thus equalised the game series 2:2. The decisive match was set for 26 May.
- The State Security Department announced nabbing the first spy in Lithuania who will be brought to court. His identity has not been disclosed.
- On 19 May, the Liberal Party marked the day of freedom from taxes this year by walking in the streets of Vilnius with a huge stone to symbolise the load of taxes on an ordinary citizen.
- The city of Nida kicked off the summer season with a huge weekend-long celebration.
- The making of crosses by traditional Lithuanian craftsmen was put on the UNESCO list of world masterpieces.
Inga Pavlovaitė, 25 May 2001
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