Vol 1, No 22
22 November 1999
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 13 November 1999
Politics and foreign affairs
The public seems incensed about the recent political shenanigans surrounding the oil deal with US-based Williams International. According to a poll taken by the Vilmorus agency, the popularity of those connected with the sale dramatically dropped, while those who opposed the deal saw their popularity go up. For example, the support ratings of President Valdas Adamkus, a chief backer of the deal, dropped from 81.6 per cent down to 48.6 per cent in one month. At the same time, the popularity of ex-Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, who quit due to the deal, rose from 72.1 per cent to 76.9 per cent. This has also impacted public opinion of the presidency, for years the most trusted institution, dropping from 70.8 per cent to a dismal 35.9 per cent. These shifts are abnormal, as most of these numbers for Adamkus have held steadily since he took office. It also showed that the primary backer of the deal, Seimas speaker and independence drive hero Vytautas Landsbergis, has seen better days: his rating dropped from an already dismal -46.7 per cent to -60.4 per cent.
With such popular backing, ex-Prime Minister Paksas quit the Conservative Party and is said to be leaning towards the Liberal Union. After a scathing parting shot on the attitude of the leadership of the Conservative Party, Paksas was being courted by parties from across the political spectrum. Also, Paksas agreed to take a job from President Adamkus to be his "ambassador" on energy issues.
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Gunter Verheugen visited Lithuania to assure Vilnius of support from Brussels. He reaffirmed the recommendations of the European Commission to see Lithuania begin membership talks with the EU, as well as promised funds for the shutdown of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. Verheugen suggested annual support upwards of Euros (EUR) 20 million annually, plus funds to be generated at a donors' conference to be held soon.
Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius made his first trip abroad to Sweden. Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, who has made the Baltic states his foreign policy priority in the year 2000, said Sweden would grant 1 billion Swedish kronas (USD 119 million) to the three Baltic states for business support and EU integration. Kubilius also spoke to other high-ranking Swedish officials, such as Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, to gain support for Lithuania's EU bid.
President Valdas Adamkus led Lithuania's delegation to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Istanbul Summit. At the summit, he spoke critically of Russia's campaign in Chechnya and the lack of democracy in Belarus. Adamkus also hinted that if the conditions are right in the future, Lithuania may accede to the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty - but not for now.
The Seimas also passed a resolution concerning the situation in Chechnya. The statement called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, as well as an OSCE review of the situation. The resolution also called on Russian authorities to condemn attacks on civilians and legally-elected officials in Chechnya. This comes as protestors, led by radical nationalist MP Stanislovas Buskevicius, gathered in front of the Russian Embassy and set a Russian flag on fire.
In Helsinki, Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas took part in the conference on the European Union's "Northern Dimension." The focus of this meeting is to promote regional co-operation, as Finland, a prime mover of the project and current holder of the rotating presidency of the EU, believes it will be the fastest growing part of the continent. Issues discussed included regional gas and electric networks, transit issues and regional development. Top officials from the EU and member states, as well as partner countries in the region (Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia) all took part. Lithuania also took a special interest in issues relating to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
So far, 87 former KGB operatives have been excluded from their jobs due to the lustration law, passed in 1998 and amended in 1999. The law banned former KGB operatives from sensitive jobs in both the public and private spheres. However, of the 20 individuals who have appealed such a decision, 5 have since been vindicated.
The military is worried as investment allocations for the Defence Ministry were slashed by two-thirds, from Latvian litas (LTL)137 million (USD 34.25 million) to LTL 40.5 million.
The Social Democrats face a split over the role of MP Rimantas Dagys as the Seimas deputy speaker. The leadership of the party, led by MP Vytenis Andriukaitis, ordered him to quit. However, the rival "Social Democracy 2000" camp, of which Dagys is a member, seems to be threatening a split, as Dagys stated his intention to remain in the parliamentary leadership.
Fifteen parliamentarians signed a letter calling for President Adamkus to grant jailed MP Audrius Butkevicius clemency (see The Amber Coast from 19 July 1999 for more on this disheartening story).
The Russian Duma has pushed the Lithuania-Russia Border Treaty to its next incarnate, as there is little chance of ratification before the December elections in Russia.
President Adamkus has also set his agenda for a Russian visit on 3-5 December. Aside from Moscow, Adamkus will also visit Yaroslavl and Kaliningrad.
It appears that the drive for a referendum on the oil deal with US-based Williams International is dead. The final resolution gained only 1 supporting vote. The ruling coalition opposed the referendum, while the opposition argued against the conditions set by the ruling coalition - including the date of the referendum.
Poland's Ambassador to Latvia, Jaroslaw Bratkiewicz, was stopped for drink-drive in Vilnius. He claimed diplomatic immunity after being stopped, and consular workers from the Polish Embassy in Vilnius later vouched for the visiting ambassador's sobriety and filed a protest. The camera crew for TV3 filming on the scene claimed they were abused by Polish consular officials.
Economics and business
The Economics Ministry stated that GDP in 1999 could drop by 2.1 per cent. This would be the strongest downturn thus far in Lithuania, albeit from the Economics Ministry.
Once again, the Mazeikiai Oil refinery is dry, as crude supplies from Russia ceased. Williams International, the new owner, is in negotiations with Russia's LUKOil over reinstating supply.
However, an oversight committee has given the Butinge Oil Terminal the full green light to start operations. Before this, the platform worked in a limited capacity awaiting this final approval. Greens from both Lithuania and Latvia remain unconvinced of the platform's environmental soundness and fear an oil spill.
The social insurance fund SODRA was forced to take a loan at a rather high interest rate of 20 per cent - yet another sign of the trouble it is in. The LTL 50 million (USD 12.5 million) loan is being used to make sure pensions and other payments are made for the financially-strained fund. The 20 per cent interest rate far exceeds the normal rates in Lithuania, but several local banks had already refused to lend the fund more money.
However, SODRA claims it will pay all pensions before Christmas - but would need a loan of LTL 50-60 million to do that. Year end debts for SODRA are expected to be LTL 400 million (USD 100 million).
A group opposed to a theme park with Soviet statues is suing the government to act on the matter. Some opponents have already been picketing government buildings and have even gone on a hunger strike.
The government granted an emergency LTL 150,000 litas (USD 37,500) to Turkey for earthquake relief. This is in addition to the LTL 300,000 granted in August for the previous quake that struck the country.
President Adamkus awarded cyclists Edita Pucinskaite and Dalia Ziliute with state honours. Both cyclists have been successful in the last few years, as Pucinskaite won the Cycling World Championships in Verona this year - with last year's winner Ziliute coming in third this year. Rasa Mazeikyte was also awarded for her performance at various cycling races in Europe.
The government has earmarked LTL 15 million from the state budget for renovation work in Vilnius's Old Town. The total project cost for 2000 will be about LTL 25 million.
Mel Huang, 19 November 1999
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