Dalai Lama visits Estonia
The Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, started his two-day visit to Estonia on 19 June.
Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Tunne Kelam pointed out in his meeting with the Dalai Lama the similar fate of the Estonian and Tibetan peoples, observing that the Tibetans are still in danger of losing their cultural values. Kelam underscored the necessity of talks between Tibet and China to secure the former's stable development and future.
The Dalai Lama met also with members of the parliamentary Tibet support group and Prime Minister Mart Laar.
The Tibetan leader also met with the mayors of Tallinn and Tartu. On 19 June, he gave a speech at Tallinn's Town Hall Square titled "Compassion and Universal Responsibility" and, on 20 June, an academic speech titled "Ethics of the New Millenium" at Tartu University.
The Dalai Lama last visited Estonia in 1991 at the invitation of the Estonian Committee. This visit comes at the invitation of the Parliament's Tibet support group and Tartu University.
Prodi and Verheugen in Estonia
European Commission President Romano Prodi and Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen had a three-day visit to Estonia after the EU's Gothenburg summit. Prodi will meet with President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, as well as with the members of Parliament and other government heads.
Both Prodi and Verheugen, on 18 June at a meeting with members of the parliamentary European Affairs and Foreign Affairs committees, recognized Estonia's good work in preparing for entry into the EU. "The enlargement process of the EU cannot be turned back," observed Prodi. "There can be no doubt that membership in the EU will rule out in the future such tragic events as the deportations of 1941 which Estonia commemorated last week."
Prodi confirmed that the pre-EU accession farm aid program SAPARD is now ready for launching, Estonia would be one of the first aspiring members to benefit from the program.
Prodi stressed that the EU is a union of countries, which, through its common institutions safeguards the stability, and security of each, nations will not disappear into the EU, nor will anyone be left out. In the interest of future successful development of so large an organization, everyone must rely on common sense and flexibility, Prodi stated.
Approval of EU stabilizes
The share of people in favor of Estonia's entry into the European Union has stabilized at 43 percent and that of potential voters against EU at 47 percent, a fresh survey by the independent polling agency Emor shows.
In April, EU membership was opposed by 46 percent and in May by 34 percent. Emor analyst Aivar Voog in his comments to the daily Postimees said it was no surprise that the figures stabilized after a sudden rise in pro-EU sentiments in May, attributed to Estonia's victory in the Eurovision song contest. "The total emotional shakeup that we had from the Eurovision played its role at the beginning of May and will remain waiting for next May, when this strange or wonderful song contest has another opportunity to change the overall emotional setting and attitudes of Estonians toward European matters, which for many are still abstract now," Voog said.
Orthodox believers picket Estonian Embassy in Moscow
About 100 activists of the Russian Orthodox Church staged a picket in front of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow on 21 June, demanding registration of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and threatening Estonia with economic sanctions.
At the embassy, demonstrators handed a letter to Prime Minister Mart Laar which accused Estonian authorities of discrimination against orthodox believers and cited the state's interference in church's affairs. "If the Orthodox Church subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate is not registered in Estonia soon, we will be forced to turn to our government with a demand for economic sanctions against Estonia," read the letter.
The Russian State Duma also issued a statement on 21 June in defense of the church. As the Russian lawmakers see it, Estonian authorities' attitude toward the pro-Moscow church is directly connected with violation of ethnic minorities' rights, restriction of the use of the Russian language and other manifestations of nationalism.
A source of the conflict is the Estonian Interior Ministry, which maintains that the Orthodox Church subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate cannot be registered, because its statutes are not in keeping with Estonian legislation. The church meanwhile refuses to change its regulations.
Border guards find contraband cigarettes
Estonian border guards discovered in a joint operation with customs officials and police about 3.6 million Prima cigarettes on 20 June in a car that entered Estonia through the Luhamaa checkpoint on the south border. The Kamaz truck's trailer contained 300 boxes of cigarettes.
The next day, on 21 June, border guards and customs officials found another huge quantity of contraband cigarettes and religious icons in a car entering Estonia through Narva, a town on the Russian border. The truck was declared to have a cargo of macaroni, but a check by border guards revealed 700 boxes of Neva Primo cigarettes holding approximately seven million cigarettes and five large parcels of icons.
And in other news...
- The European Broadcasting Union agreed on 18 June that Tallinn could host the next Eurovision Song Contest on 25 May 2002. EBU officials visited possible sites for contest, both the Lilleküla football field and the Saku Hall. EBU representatives confirmed that their impressions gave hope of Estonia making a success of the song contest.
- The Estonian government on 19 June approved an administrative-territorial reform plan worked out at the Interior Ministry, whereby the number of self-government units will be cut from the exisiting 247 to 108. One-third to one-half of the self-governments are unable to satisfactorily perform all the duties required by law.
- Many more Estonian children use computers and the Internet than adults. Over the last six months, nearly three-fourths of children aged six to 14 used computers, compared to 43 percent of adults.
Kristin Marmei, 22 June 2001
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