President's Independence Day speech
President Lennart Meri, in his speech marking the 83rd anniversary of the Republic of Estonia Saturday evening, said that Estonia has made rapid progress, but at the price of deepening social inequalities. "We have had no other choice. But now it is time to take great care because we may, quite unintentionally, cross the line of social tolerance. Unemployment is considerable, pensions are small and wealth that could be redistributed is still significant," Meri said.
The President said that in Estonia no open-minded dialogue exists between the government and the citizens as to why things are this way. "The citizens want to know. The citizens want to think with the government. This is a question of the trustworthiness of the state and also, of course, of equal opportunities," Meri said.
In his speech, President Meri also discussed the political scandal which erupted after the revelation that Prime Minister Mart Laar shot at a picture of Edgar Savisaar, the leader of the opposition Center party, during target practice. "This is the sign of the lack of political culture," the President said.
Estonian dailies wrote on Monday that Lennart Meri's critical Independence Day speech offered few answers to these problems. "The president's speech contained more questions and sad statements than clear answers and solutions," daily Eesti Päevaleht wrote.
The daily Postimees wrote that while listening to the President's speech many people were struck with the impression of listening to a teacher's lesson. "Hopefully, President Meri has enough self-criticism, because many of his answers are in his own hands," Postimees wrote in its editorial.
Rail Estonia fails to privatize Estonian Railway
Transport and Communications Minister Toivo Jürgenson admitted on Wednesday that the decision to pick Rail Estonia as the buyer of a majority share in Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railway) in December was a flop.
Rail Estonia was supposed to sign the privatization agreements with the Estonian state on 28 February. "The fact is that the bidders didn't manage by 28 February to present a strategic investor, a financial scheme or deliver on everything that was promised," the minister said.
The Privatization Agency decided on Wednesday to start talks about the sell-off of Eesti Raudtee with number two bidder Baltic Rail Services (BRS). However, talks with BRS concerning the privatization can start only after a court ruling in a lawsuit filed by the number three bidder, Raudtee Erastamise Rahva AS (RER, Railway Privatization People's Ltd Co). The first hearing on this suit is scheduled for 14 March.
Helsinki and Tallinn bourses enter into strategic cooperation
Helsinki Exchanges Group (HEX) and Tallinn Stock Exchange (TSE) are entering into a strategic cooperation, which will include ownership as well as operational aspects, the parties said in a press release Tuesday.
The aim of this cooperation is to build a well-functioning securities market in Estonia and to significantly increase the visibility of Estonian companies and liquidity in the trading of their shares, the release said. HEX offered to acquire over 50 percent ownership in TSE.
Operationally, HEX offered TSE a trading system under a facilities management arrangement, thereby extending HEX's network to Estonia. Creating a much larger home market is expected to increase turnover and significantly enhance liquidity, as international investors will gain easy access to Estonian securities.
The issue will be decided at the annual general meeting of TSE to be held on 21 March.
Estonian Privatization Agency to close
The government ruled on Tuesday to wind up the business of the Estonian Privatization Agency (PA) by 1 October of this year, signaling the end of the privatization process.
Appointed as the legal successors of the PA were the Finance Ministry, in matters regarding the privatization of property, and county governments, in the privatization of land.
The Estonian privatization process started in 1991, and most state enterprises were sold into private hands from 1994 to 1997. The PA reported the successful completion of privatization in Estonia at the end of 2000, when only the sale of large infrastructure companies remained.
US Estonians protest Sting concert
The Estonian community in the United States is protesting the concert of rock musician Sting scheduled to be held in Tallinn's Vabaduse Square on an Estonian day of mourning. The date, 14 June, is recognized because 60 years ago on this date Soviet occupation authorities forcibly took more than 10,000 people from their homes in Estonia and deported them to outlying areas of Russia.
"[The] granting of the permission by the Tallinn City government attaints the deep meaning of the national day of mourning. By the signed protest, an insistent request is being made to cancel the decision to organize the concert on 14 June. The day of mourning of the Estonian nation must be never forgotten," American Estonian newspaper Vaba Eesti Sõna wrote. Several US-Estonian organizations are behind the protest.
In response to the expatriates' actions, the organizer of the concert, Makarov Muusik, said that the event has been misunderstood. "It is our idea and wish to make the world aware of this page of history, because many people even in Estonia do not know anything about deportation."
The concert organizers said that if there is anyone in the world to have expressed their ideas through songs which are as tender as the memory of that day, it is Sting, who has been an active supporter of human rights.
The organizers underlined that is not a feast, but a remembrance held in Vabaduse (Freedom) Square. "We will light candles in memory of those who did not come back and will hold a memorial service in Jaani (St John's) church an hour before the start of the concert," the statement said.
And in other news...
- The average monthly income per household member in Estonia rose nearly 13 percent in the final quarter of 2000, as compared with the third quarter. Expenditures were up seven percent during the same period.
- The Estonian government endorsed on Tuesday the plans of the sub-programs of the state integration program for 2000 to 2003, through which at least EEK ( Estonian kroon) 225 million ( USD 13.7 million) of financing will be provided to integration projects.
Kristin Marmei, 2 March 2001
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