Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 1
10 January 2000

C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Estonia
All the important news from Estonia
since 1 January 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

President Lennart Meri unexpectedly replaced acting Defence Forces Commander Colonel Urmas Roosimägi with Colonel Märt Tiru. Roosimägi goes back to being the head inspector of the air defence system. Tiru, the former head of the foreign relations department of the General Staff, will hold the post until June when Lieutenant General Johannes Kert returns from a one-year study leave. President Meri attributes the change to a different focus needed to implement Estonia's NATO "membership action plan."

Though he resigned alongside Roosimägi, Colonel Aare Ermus is named as permanent Chief of the General Staff of the Defence Forces..

Estonia still has not found the means to transport 10 donated T-55 tanks from Poland to Estonia. The tanks remain in Poland. Estonia has no tanks in its military at this time.

In a speech in Stockholm in mid December, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves lambasted the west for double standards. In a speech full of charged words, Ilves attacked the prejudice shown by western countries against central and east Europe -- especially the Baltic region. He also proposed a regional grouping called "Yule-land" of all countries that have the word root "yule" in its vocabulary (such as "jõul" in Estonian, "joulu" in Finnish, "yule" in English, "jul" in Swedish, etc.).

In mid December the budget for the year 2000 was passed by a 53 to 34 margin. The budget, which merges the social and health care budget for the first time, totals EEK 28.53 billion. This takes into account of the controversial abolition of corporate income taxes.

The Tallinn City Government announced that the 1999 budget missed its target by just a hair, with only 98.8 per cent of the budget fulfilled. Many blame the political bickering and also the campaign ploys used by the former administration before the local elections in the fall -- such as lowering water fees for no reason.

On the other hand, the Tartu City Government announced their 1999 budget had a surplus, with 101 per cent of the budget fulfilled. A higher-than-expected price for a privatised item allowed some refinancing of debts earlier may have been responsible for the good outcome.

US Congressman Tom Lantos paid a visit to Estonia late in the week on his final Baltic stop.


Economics and Business

The Estonian government approved what is considered the final privatisation programme. The remaining large infrastructure companies -- namely Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railways) and Edelaraudtee (Southwestern Railways) -- are due to be sold off this year. The Privatisation Agency will likely be closed at the year's end as well.

The joint Baltic bourse list began the year with no info exchange problems. The combined index will start in the near future. Of the 13 companies on the list, 5 are from Estonia: seatbelt maker Norma, telecommunications giant Eesti Telekom and the three banks of Hansapank, Ühispank and Optiva Pank. Real-time info on the stock can be found at this site from the Tallinn Bourse. An agreement on the prevention of double taxation with the US goes into effect at the start of the year.

Year end numbers from the Patent Office shows that in 1999 there were 4,417 requests for trademarks and 619 requests for patents -- the latter up by 33.7 per cent. Most of the trademark requests came from Germany (1,000), the US (460), France (411) and Switzerland (290), as well as 723 from Estonia. Among patent requests, the most came from the US (162) and Sweden (146), while Estonian requests totalled only 13.

Swedish construction giant Skanska takes a majority share of number two construction company EMV. The new bosses said they will acquire all the shares of the company and seeks to expand its presence in Latvia and Lithuania. The acquisition of 61 per cent of EMV shares cost EEK 86.7 million.

Changes for the new year include the introduction of customs tariffs for countries with which Estonia does not have a free trade agreement (such as the US, Russia, Canada) and the increase of the minimum wage to EEK 1400 per month.

The Finance Ministry announced that the 1999 budget was fulfilled by 102.53%counting funds from privatisation. However, year-end results also showed that tax collection was only fulfilled by 85.34 per cent.

Private TV stations Kanal 2 and TV 3 are suing public broadcaster ETV for breach of contract. ETV receives payment from private stations for not running adverts, but ETV ran them anyway. Another private station, TV 1, said they will join in the legal action.

Also, the Latvian television station Latvijas Neatkarīgā Televizija (Latvian Independent Television) purchased Estonia's TV 1 from a local investment bank. Rumours are floating that Poland's Polsat is after the whole conglomerate.

Estonian (formerly Italian) real estate mogul Ernesto Preatoni buys Saules Banka from its previous owner, Unibanka. Preatoni, who recently became an Estonian citizen, plans to focus the bank on real estate. Earlier in the fall Preatoni founded a bank in Estonia with a similar focus.

New car sales down by 15 per cent in 1999 compared to 1998, though December was apparently a record breaker. In 1999 a total of 8,907 new cars were purchased in Estonia, a percentage re-exported. The most popular car make was Toyota, with 1,057 cars sold, followed by Peugeot (835) and Mazda (764).


Social and Local Interest

In 1999 only 4,533 people became new Estonian citizens -- down by half from 1998. Of the total, 2,444 were children gaining automatic citizenship under the new citizenship rule for children of non-citizens. Another 1,910 were naturalised.

One of the new citizens is real estate mogul Ernesto Preatoni. In receiving his citizenship for special service to Estonia, Preatoni gives up his Italian passport.

On 1 January 33 babies were born in Estonia -- though they expected about 60. The first baby of the year is a boy, Konstantin.

A December report by Baltic Media Facts shows that 21 per cent of Estonians used the internet in the past six months, a rise by 16 per cent. The biggest climb came from those in their 40's. About 17 per cent of Estonian have computers at home and 7 per cent of Estonians access the internet from home.

Officials also reported that on-the-job accidents remained nearly the same in 1999 as in 1998. A total of 518 were injured on the job this past year, 18 more than in 1998. However, there were 50 fatalities, 10 less than in 1998.


And Others...

The oldest living person in Estonia, Anna Jürnas, celebrated her 108th birthday on 6 January. Many happy returns indeed! Imagine, she was born when Tsar Aleksandr III (well-known as a protagonist of Russification) was still on the throne in St. Petersburg!

A total of 189 cruise ships called at the Port of Tallinn in 1999 -- that is more than the estimated 160 that called at Helsinki.

Estonia spent an estimated EEK 200 million on the millennium bug. No problems came up at all throughout the country, including electricity and health care.

And finally, the city of Pärnu had a strange thing to deal with over the new year. Police were confused when a deranged man called and said Santa Claus and Snow Whites were threatening him with automatic guns. Police arrived to find nothing and the man did not want to leave the police station, fearing Santa Claus coming for revenge...

Exchange Rates
As of 7 January 2000

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 15.17
1 British pound 24.98
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

[Up to date Estonian exchange rates can be found here]

Prepared by Mel Huang, 7 January 2000

Archive of Mel Huang's Amber Coast articles

News Sources

Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo

Eesti Päevaleht



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