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 Lithuania
All the important news from Lithuania
since 1 January 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and Foreign Affairs

The Belarusian-language Baltijos Bangų Radijas (Baltic Waves Radio) went on the air on 1 January. The radio station will soon reach eight hours of programming, consisting of original material from its Vilnius studio, programmes in Belarusian from Lithuanian Radio in Vilnius, Radio Liberty in Prague, Radio Polonia in Warsaw, and Radio Racja from Białystok. The idea of the station has irked Belarusian officials, as it is funded by various Western NGOs -- which are calling for no censorship, something not in line with present Belarusian policies. It is being broadcast at MW 612 kHz (AM 612) and should be in range for radios in western Belarus.

On the other hand, Lietuvos Radijas ir Televizija (Lithuanian Radio and Telvision) is in huge financial trouble. A court froze their accounts due to mounting debts, estimated at LTL 13 million. The council of the public radio and television moved immediately to cut the TV broadcasting day by 2 hours, scale back production of programmes, and suspended the broadcasts of Radio 2 (cultural programming) and Radio 3 (classical music) starting 15 January for one month.

The Mayor of Vilnius Juozas Imbrazas resigned from the ruling Lithuanian Conservatives and immediately joined Liberal Union -- the same party of his predecessor and former PM Rolandas Paksas.

The financial mess of the state has also resulted in the downsizing of security staff at the Embassy in Moscow. Instead of the normal 8 police officers, only 3 will serve at the Embassy.

The trip of President Valdas Adamkus to Moscow is postponed again, this time due to the resignation of Boris Yeltsin. In December an earlier planned trip was also cancelled due to the illness of Yeltsin at the time. No idea when this will be rescheduled.

In late December Lithuanian and European Commission officials signed a series of memoranda for PHARE assistance funding in 2000. However, at the time a "technicality" prevented the signing of the memorandum concerning the shutdown of Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.

After the "technicality" was corrected, officials signed the memorandum which pledges ā‚10 million in 2000 to help the shutdown process of Ignalina. There was apparently some confusion about the second unit; the original document suggested a shutdown in 2009, but the Lithuanian government had made no such promise. Only the first unit's fate has been set, with shutdown due by 2005.

US Congressman Tom Lantos travelled to Lithuania at the start of the year to begin his Baltic tour. Lantos, a former Holocaust survivor, focused heavily on Lithuania's policies towards the prosecution of war criminals. Though most of the meetings went smoothly, it appears he and Prosecutor General Kazys Pėdnyčia had some major disagreements which led to a loss of temper, among other things, during the meeting. Pėdnyčia said the US was a country that failed to respond to their requests for information, which infuriated Lantos. Lithuania has been criticised for dragging its feet on prosecuting Nazi war criminals, but the US Justice Department has also been lax in providing documentation it stated it had in its possession. At the time Special Investigations Unit head Eli Rosenbaum claimed to have evidence saying war crimes suspect Aleksandras Lileikis was faking his illness, but declined to provide it to Lithuanian prosecutors, causing the case to fall at the time (see this week's Amber Coast for more on this story).

The Prosecutor General's Office also announced that Australian authorities have turned over a series of information on war crimes suspect Antanas Gudelis -- who is a naturalised Australian citizen. This comes many months after the information request was issued by Vilnius.

Also late in December Israeli Interior Minister Natan Sharansky visited Lithuania. He took part in the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the organisation "Sochnut," which marked the start of the "great emigration" of Soviet Jews to Israel. Also during the visit Sharansky, while meeting officials, said Israel does not allow for extradition of its citizens. Two Israeli citizens are wanted for crimes against humanity in Lithuania (see this week's Amber Coast for a related story). He also paid a visit to former Lithuanian dissident Viktoras Petkys, who shared a jail cell with Sharansky during the Soviet days in Russia.

At the end of the year President Valdas Adamkus travelled with Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski to Kosovo and Macedonia. In Kosovo Adamkus greeted Lithuanian peacekeepers, who are serving alongside the Polish unit. In their brief stop in Macedonia Adamkus also met with new Macedonian President Boris Trajovski and discussed bilateral ties.

In mid December the sentences for those convicted of trying to set up an autonomous Polish zone in Lithuania were commuted. Four former officials of the Šalčininkai district had their prison sentence commuted. though one remained in prison. The local council in the mainly Polish-populated area attempted to create a pro-Moscow zone in Lithuania during the restoration of independence 10 years ago.

At the end of December Jonas Rudalevičius became the new Administrative Reform Minister, replacing the disgraced Sigitas Kaktys, who resigned in early December due to a corruption probe.

Also in late December the Seimas passed the budget for the year 2000 with 69 votes -- the opposition walked out. The budget totals LTL 6.851 billion, carries a LTL 800 million deficit (about 1.7% of GDP). This also reflects a lowering of corporate income taxes from 29% to 24%.


Economics and Business

Lithuania's Q3 GDP dropped drastically by 5% from the same period last year. Looking at the first nine months of the year, Lithuania's GDP dropped by a total of 4.9%. Analysts are now looking at a significant GDP decline for the year. The 30.7% decline in oil refining was a key factor, according to analysts.

The Central Bank also announced that the current account deficit dropped in Q3 to LTL 1 billion, or 8.8% of GDP. For the first nine months of the year the current account deficit stood at LTL 3.38 billion, or 10.9% of GDP.

And for the first time since the restoration of independence, the unemployment rate hits double digit. As of the start of the year, the national jobless rate sat at 10%, a rise of 0.5% in a month. The highest jobless rate remains in the northern Akmenė district with 19.7% unemployed, followed by the Šalčininkai district next to Belarus at 19.3% and the Lazdijai district adjacent to Poland at 18.6%. The unemployment rate in Vilnius remains lower at 6.9%, and in second city Kaunas is 7.1%.

Finally, preliminary indications show collection for the budget fell short by LTL 800 million in 1999, as only LTL 5.89 billion were collected.

A host of tax and tariffs hikes began on 1 January in Lithuania. Tariffs for electricity and gas rose by an average 17.6% and 5% respectively, while local telephone rates will rise in February. Several taxes also rose, such as VAT for heating to 9% and contributions to the social insurance fund by a total of 3%.

Some revenues for once -- the state agreed to sell Klaipėdos Transporto Laivynas (Klaipėda Transport Fleet) to an affiliate of the Norwegian company J.O. Odfjell for LTL 83 million. The company also pledged to invest LTL 50 million in the near future and retain up to 70% of current jobs.

Another state-guarantee loan was executed, this time it went to Lietuvos Geležinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways) from the large Vilniaus Bankas -- this time LTL 24.2 million litas. Preliminary info shows the national railway losing about LTL 34 million in 1999. This comes after the state assumed LTL 200 million of debts racked up by the social insurance fund SoDra in mid December.

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, 4 are from Lithuania: banking leader Vilniaus Bankas (Bank of Vilnius), dairy company Rokiškio Suris (Rokiškis Cheese), brewery Kalnapilis and textiles company Utenos Trikotažas (Utena Knitwear). Real-time info on the stock can be found at this site from the Tallinn Bourse.

In 1999 the Butingė Oil Platform, which began operations only a few months back, reloaded 740,000 tonnes of oil. This of course does not include the minor oil spill (see above).

However, the Biržai Pipelines, also owned by the Mazeikiai Oil conglomerate, carried 23% less crude than in 1998.

And finally, the Mažeikiai Oil Refinery processed 4.599 tonnes of crude in 1999 -- down by 2.221 tonnes, almost one-third from 1998.

In December gas utility Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) signed a long-term supply deal with Russia's Gazprom. Supply is guaranteed until 2005, as price is taken from a combination formula of world heating oil prices. Lietuvos Dujos also signed a USD 15 million loan deal with German investment bank DePfa.

Ukio Bankas suggested in late December that they are studying the possibilities of opening a bank in Republika Srpska, the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bank believes the Balkans would be a good market after stabilisation.

British Airways also announced that they will discontinue the London (Gatwick) - Vilnius route in the spring. BA made three flights a week between the cities. The route from Gatwick to Riga remains.


Social and Local Interest

About 50 foot patrolmen from the Vilnius police force held a sit-in at their barracks due to wage arrears. They demanded to know when they will be paid before vacating the building after their shift. Union officials stress this was a spontaneous act and not planned.

A Russian citizen and his son from the city of Rostov-na-Donu asked for political asylum in Lithuania. Officials have placed them at a refugee centre while investigating the claim.

A crazy grandmother killed her two grandchildren, aged 8 and 10, and hung herself. She had been under watch by authorities and was known to be mentally unbalanced and had a long history of mental problems.

A poll by Baltijos Tyrimai/Gallup showed that the recharged Liberal Union of ex-PM Rolandas Paksas is running away with the votes, being the most popular party with 14.7% of popular support. They are followed by the Centre Union at 13.7% and the ex-Communist Democratic Labour Party at 11.8%. Noticeably, the ruling Lithuanian Conservatives fell below the 5% margin for the first time, sitting at 4.8%.


And Others...

A brewer from the Samogitia region of Lithuania managed to lift a popular TV show host with his beard. Antanas Kontrimas lifted Eglė Bucelitė, who weighed 58 kilograms, with his beard during a morning TV show.

The so-called "solidarity holiday" in which civil servants were asked to take an unpaid week off in December yielded some results. In the Seimas, between staff and members, a total of LTL 133,873 was saved from the budget.

Finally, during the Christmas season, the large TV tower in Vilnius was made into the largest Christmas tree in the world -- with thousands of lights. It is believed to have set a world record, as the TV tower, standing at 326 metres, was once one of the tallest structures in Europe.

Exchange Rates
As of 7 January 2000

currency Lithuanian
litas (LTL)
1 US dollar 4.00
1 British pound 6.59
1 German mark 2.11
1 euro 4.12

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

Lietuvos Rytas
Lietuvos Aidas
Kauno Diena



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