The politics of a stalemate
The stalemate in Kaunas politics ended this week when Erikas Tamašauskas of the New Alliance (Social Liberals) was elected mayor, winning 25 out of 39 votes. His only rival, Ramūnas Garbaravičius (Conservatives), won the remaining 14 votes. This is the third mayor that has been elected in the ten months since the last local elections.
Tamašauskas was elected after Gediminas Budnikas (Freedom Union) resigned, complaining he was unable to work in a coalition with the Conservatives. Following the election of Tamašauskas, which the Freedom Union supports, Budnikas has assumed the post of first deputy mayor. This seems to signal the creation of an informal coalition between the two parties. The two parties previously made a coalition agreement after the March 2000 local elections, though it later collapsed.
The priorities of the new mayor include reorganising the local government. He also wants to do away with bureaucratic restrictions and attract investment to the city.
Drinking in moderation
Fifty-nine-year old pensioner Irena Bičiulienė was freed this past week after serving a week of a two-year prison sentence. Her sentence also included a LTL (Lithuanian litas) 1250 (about USD 312) fine and the confiscation of a quarter of her assets.
On 9 January, the pensioner was found guilty of possessing 72 litres of homemade beer. According to a law adopted last year, any person possessing more than 50 litres of any drink that has more than 3.5 per cent alcohol may be sentenced to serve up to eight years in jail.
Bičiulienė had 72 litres of 7.1 per cent strength beer, thus she was in violation of the law. However, Bičiulienė was freed after a media campaign pointed out the dubious nature of the law, evoking recommendations from judges on the Supreme Court that the law should not apply to homemade beer.
Bičiulienė is one of thirteen people punished so far for possession of beer; one prison sentence has even been upheld upon appeal.
Search for market minister falters
Upon returning from his holiday in Mexico, one of the first acts of President Valdas Adamkus was to accept the resignation of Economics Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis in the wake of his scandalous visit to Moscow.
The question of who will take over the post became urgent. The candidate supported by both coalition partners is the mayor of Klaipėda, Eugenijus Gentvilas of the Liberal Union.
Gentvilas' only condition, that the Klaipėda mayoral post remain in the control of the Liberal Union, has proved to be controversial and divisive. Chairman of the New Alliance (Social Liberals) Artūras Paulauskas said that the post is not inherited and should be based upon election results. This is precisely what Liberals want to avoid, since they control only ten of the 31 seats in the Klaipėda City Council. Nevertheless, President Adamkus seems to support the candidature of Gentvilas.
Court verdict in genocide case
A Vilnius court ruled that Kazys Gimžauskas is guilty of collaborating with the Nazis and of being an accomplice in the genocide against Jews between 1941 and 1944. Gimžauskas, charged with helping to kill five Jews, was a deputy in the security police subordinated to the Nazi administration.
The charge was later changed to signing documents that transferred three Jews to the Nazi police. However, since Gimžauskas is terminally ill (and likely suffering from Alzheimer's Disease) and cannot be punished with a prison sentence, the court has terminated his case.
Controversy over Šustauskas continues
Reactions to the anti-Semitic speech made by Vytautas Šustauskas on Swedish TV are still being voiced. Deputies from the Seimas have filed requests with the prosecutor-general to investigate whether his actions amount to inciting ethnic and racial hatred. Moreover, representatives of the Kaunas Jewish community have refused to allow Šustauskas to attend a public discussion about anti-Jewish sentiment, saying that they cannot communicate with a person who himself targets Jews.
First, they would like to hear his condemnation of Jewish genocide. In the meantime, Šustauskas has changed his rhetoric and started to praise Jews for their business skills.
BSE panic spreading
Fears of BSE are evident in meat sales records released this week. They show decreasing sales of beef, alongside a concurrent increase in pork and chicken sales of about 15 percent. At the same time, the prices for the latter two have gone up. The media also dug up the case of a man in Klaipėda who may have died of BSE in 1982. In the meantime, EU health authorities have warned Lithuanian officials of increased exposure to possible infection from other European countries.
Success of book exhibition
This week, the second international Vilnius Book Exhibition ended amidst huge success. 40,000 visitors not only actively purchased books but were also interested in the event's extensive cultural programme. The most successful were books on Lithuanian literature and daily life in the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania, as well as those by contemporary authors Jonas Mekas and Juozas Erlickas. One highlight of the exhibition was the many writers who were present to sign copies of their books.
And in other news...
- The government proposed to overtake the debts of local governments, currently amounting to LTL 333 million (about USD 83 million).
- An honorary consulate of South Korea was opened in Vilnius this week with the aim of deepening economic relations between the two countries. Ex-Prime Minister Aleksandras Abišala was entrusted with the job.
- Three Lithuanian robbers escaped from a prison in Roskilde, Denmark, and have not been found.
- The state budget received approximately the same revenue, LTL 470 million (about USD 118 million), in January 2001 as in January 1998, just before the Russian economic crisis affected the economy. However, experts have warned that this is largely due to companies agreeing to pay their February taxes in advance.
- The eighth European information centre was opened in Utena. It was sponsored by PHARE.
- The Russian embassy donated two computers to a high school in Ukmergė that has a large proportion of Russian-speaking schoolchildren.
- Former Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis (Conservatives) declared that he would not run in the presidential elections due at the end of 2002.
- A flu epidemic has been declared in nine cities where there are more than a hundred sick for every 10,000 inhabitants.
Inga Pavlovaitė, 15 February 2001
Baltic News Service (BNS)