Vol 1, No 3, 12 July 1999
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:
News Review for the Baltic States
All the important news from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 3 July 1999.
This review of the week's events contains several parts. Click below to move to your area of interest:
President Lennart Meri thanked participants of the Estonian Song Festival, who he said proved that the important cultural event had not gone "out of fashion." Over 80 000 attended the first day on 3 July, while 100 000 enjoyed the final day on 4 July in beautiful summer weather in Tallinn. Remember, there are only about 1 million ethnic Estonians in the world. Even a choir from the Estonian community in war-torn Abkhazia made it to the festival. The accompanying Dance Festival also drew crowds of over 50 000.
British military Chief-of-Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie visited Estonia to discuss bilateral co-operation, Kosova and NATO integration. General Guthrie also visited the peacekeeping training centre in the town of Paldiski.
Italian European Affairs Minister Umberto Ranieri visited Estonia to discuss Estonia's EU integration. Ranieri stated that a firmer time-table is needed for the accession process and hoped it would come during the Finnish EU presidency. Ranieri also visited the Song Festival.
A high-level conference was held in Tallinn on NATO and security, organised by the Estonian World Council. Speakers included Prime Minister Mart Laar, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Defence Minister Juri Luik. Luik chided the defence brass, as he has been doing recently, and stressed the need to improve the English language skills of troops. Ilves was more upbeat, stating that Estonia will gain an invite to NATO in 2002 - though saying he's pessimistic over ties with Russia.
Governor of the Portuguese colony of Macao, Vasco Rocha Vieira, visited Estonia to discuss trade relations.
Ole! South American-based company Pacific Overseas entered the Estonian insurance market by acquiring controlling stake in two insurance companies in Estonia. The new partner for the two local insurance companies will be Venezuela's Nuevo Mundo Seguros.
Former mayor of Tallinn and Riigikogu member Ivi Eenmaa defied calls from her own party to resign. Eenmaa, of the opposition Coalition Party, voted consistently with the government over the recent negative supplemental budget. Eenmaa was the only opposition member to support the measure. Former Defence Minister and Coalition Party head Andrus Oovel stated that Eenmaa should give up her seat if she fails to follow the party position.
In a related story, Oovel himself was nabbed driving 156 km/h. A tough week for political drivers, as the former deputy mayor of Tallinn, Mait Metsamaa, killed two people in a drunk driving collision.
Finland donated two naval vessels to the Estonian navy. The two ships were handed over officially during the week at a ceremony. The vessels are fully armed and also have the ability to lay mines.
The Tallinn Stock Exchange announced it has completed all solutions to the Y2K problem.
Estonia was joyous to see the famed leader's yellow jersey at the Tour de France on Estonian rider Jaan Kirsipuu. Kirsipuu won the second stage of the famous race and took the lead in overall standings. Kirsipuu held onto the yellow jersey into the time of writing (after 8 July's stage 5), but the difficult hilly stages coming up could foil Kirsipuu's bid to make cycling history for Estonia
After weeks of intense speculation, Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans finally resigned on 5 July. Clearly unpopular with the public, as indicated in recent polls, Kristopans accused coalition partners For Fatherland and Freedom of back-stabbing the coalition. For Fatherland and Freedom on 3 July signed a co-operation agreement with the People's Party - the arch-enemies of Latvia's Way and Kristopans (see the very first Amber Coast from 14 January and also from 4 February for more).
While visiting Riga, Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen joined the chorus of international figures calling for Latvia to delay consideration of its new language law. The new law enters the dangerous area of regulating language use in the private sector - which has brought anger from both open marketers and self-righteous human rights commissioners. Whether the argument falls to restriction of EU business practices or European human rights "norms" the fact is that approval of the law would jeopardise Latvia's chances of joining accession negotiations with the EU.
However, the Saeima did approve the new language law on 8 July by a vote of 73 to 16. Four parties - People's Party, For Fatherland and Freedom, Latvia's Way and the Social Democratic Workers Party - voiced their support for the law. This raises speculation that the new government could be formed with three or four of the aforementioned parties. There is no clear indication if President Vike-Freiberga will sign the bill into law.
Arriving from Estonia, British military Chief-of-Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie continued his Baltic tour in Latvia
Lithuania celebrated King Mindaugas Day on 6 July. The national holiday celebrates the only King Lithuania ever had - as after Mindaugas the non-acceptance of Christianity kept the territory as a Grand Duchy without a Papal crown for a long period. Celebrations also extended to the mediaeval capital of Trakai and the famous island castle - where mediaeval life and battles were simulated.
Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Chairman Lord Russell-Johnston visited Lithuania the past week. Lord Russell-Johnston met with much of Lithuania's leadership and discussed various issues, such as the relations of Lithuania and the Kaliningrad region, and Russia's recently menacing war games "West '99."
A row broke out in the Seimas over the fate of a park boasting Soviet-era relics, such as dilapidated statues of Lenin and other figures. Plans were introduced to have a theme park with the statues and statue parts, but many found it objectionable - including a chunk of the parliament. The deliberations continue as opponents try to find legal loopholes to quash the idea.
A party conference of the ruling Conservative Party indicates a growing rift between the factions of ex-Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius and Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis.
Newspapers called Lithuania's surprise loss in the European Basketball Championships a "national tragedy," losing to Spain 72-74. Lithuania was expected to make the finals. At the end, Lithuania trounced the Russian team for fifth place.
As predicted, British military Chief-of-Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie made a two-day stop in Lithuania as well.
Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas may have been successful in averting large widespread farmers' protests. He satisfied some of the conditions dictated by the angry farmers, who in turn are calling for the protests to be scaled back.
However, sugar beet farmers did not heed the suggestion and began protesting in southern Lithuania on 9 July.
Trolley bus drivers are organising strikes in August to protest large debts by their employer. The drivers have not been paid and electricity supply has been limited to the trolley operator in a dispute with the state over classification of passengers allowed to ride for free.
A commission recommended against the introduction of trial-by-jury in Lithuania. It stated that it would prolong the legal process and create more bureaucracy, as well as costing much more.
As of 8 July 1999
Prepared by Mel Huang, 9 July 1999
Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo
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