Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 12
27 March 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 18 March 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

Prime Minister Mart Laar, Defence Minister Jüri Luik and Defence Forces commander Colonel Märt Tiru presented a progress report on Estonia's NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP). The presentation by Laar focused on Estonia's commitment to NATO integration, especially the rise in defence spending to two per cent of GDP by 2002. Laar also held a short meeting with NATO Secretary-general George Robertson.

A first of its kind, the interior ministers of the three Baltic countries signed an agreement on cross-border witness and victim protection. Now victims and witnesses can be housed across borders before testifying in court. The agreement was signed in Tallinn by Tarmo Loodus of Estonia, Mareks Segliņš of Latvia and Česlovas Blažys of Lithuania.

The Supreme Court struck down a challenge to last year's budget amendments by legal chancellor Eerik-Juhan Truuväli. At the time, there was question as to the constitutionality of the amendments by the opposition.

The Riigikogu approved changes to the law on aliens, in effect legalising the stays of aliens while they apply for a residence permit or are renewing one. This change solves the problem of the growing queues at offices of the Citizenship and Migration Department, as many temporary residence permits expire this year.

The Tallinn Police Department named Rene Berting as the head of its anti-drugs unit, replacing the much-criticised Kalev Mõtus. Mõtus in turn heads the newly-created anti-drugs unit of the Border Guards service. Several officers from the Tallinn squad followed Mõtus to his new division after the protracted dispute with the Tallinn Police.

This comes as Finnish Interior Minister Kari Häkämies visited Estonia to discuss the fight against drugs. Häkämies earlier this year made statements suggesting Estonia would not be allowed to join the EU due to corrupt police and the lucrative drug transit market, which has strained bilateral relations. Häkämies said later that the press misinterpreted his statement.

The World Bank approved a USD 25 million project to renovate the Tallinn-Tartu-Luhamaa highway. The money accounts for about half the cost of renovating the vital transport link, with most of the remainder to come directly from the state budget.

The opposition managed to stall out a bill on the classification of language statuses of schools. The government sought to make the classification of an "Estonian-language school" as one with at least 60 per cent of the curriculum in Estonian. Legislation requires all schools in Estonia to be integrated by the 2007/2008 academic year.

Populations Minister Katrin Saks visited England and Wales to discuss issues of ethnic integration. Saks met with various officials and also inspected integration programmes in England. Finally, Saks also visited the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

Unsurprisingly, Tallinn Mayor Jüri Mõis is yet again in the spotlight with another group angry at his comments. Anti-piracy and intellectual property campaigners are livid over the mayor's statements that the problem with pirated CDs and videos in Tallinn is overblown. Mõis also added that the issue is prompted by over-zealous lobbying by such organisations. Most observers, domestic and foreign, consider the problem nearly too far to comprehend, especially fuelled by Finnish consumption of the pirated (read: cheap) goods (see Amber Coast entitled, Modern-day Pirates, from 11 October 1999, for more on this problem.


Economics and business

The central bank announced that Estonia's current account deficit in 1999 was EEK (Estonian Kroons) 4.64 billion, or 6.3 per cent of GDP. This is a drop from 1998 figures of 9.2 per cent of GDP, but is mostly attributed to less consumption.

Economics Minister Mihkel Pärnoja is seeking to lower the VAT on heating to between five and eight per cent. Starting mid-year, VAT will be introduced on heating. The move is opposed by others in the ruling coalition, who complain that the revenues have already been earmarked for spending.

US tech firm FusionOne took over control of Estonian IT firm Dataline. The IT sector is one of the fastest growing industries in Estonia and has been attracting take-over interest from abroad.

The consortium of television cable companies called off the one-day blackout protest, after angry comments from customers and politicians alike. Many cable TV customers were due to be cut-off for a day on 19 March by the complaining companies, who are angry over the monopoly given to one company in several Tallinn suburbs.

The producer price index rose 0.5 per cent in February, compared to January.


Social and local interest

Tallinn Mayor Jüri Mõis has devised a plan to merge several adjacent local administrations with that of Tallinn, prompting angry complaints from the local council heads. Neighbouring regions, such as Saku and Viimsi, are among those listed in the plan. The Estonian government has been pursuing a re-organisation plan for local administrations to cut down the number of bureaucracies.

At the deadline only two are standing as candidates to lead the main trade union, quelling any rumours of Centre Party boss Edgar Savisaar trying to nab the coveted post. Incumbent MP Raivo Paavo of Mõõdukad declined to run again, saying the head of the union should come from within its ranks.

There are 7281 parolees in Estonia, with most of them on suspended sentences. Only about 300 are post-incarceration parolees.

Several Christian organisations are protesting the large adult convention, L'Erotique, saying it is corrupting public morals. Believe it or not, the Language Inspectorate is also after the organisers for having adverts that are not in Estonian.

A UN report shows that Estonia has one of the fastest aging populations in Europe and the world. Currently, about 19 per cent of Estonians are over the age of 60. However, in 2050, the figure is projected to go up to 38 per cent, putting Estonia in seventh place in Europe.

Mother Anne-Ly Suits broke a record, as she gave birth to her fourteenth child, making it the biggest immediate family in Estonia.

On the other hand, a botched abortion, which left a woman comatose several days later, has sparked a debate on the state of medical care and patients' rights and also inadvertently re-sparked the abortion debate in Estonia.


And in other news...

Due to fatigue, sadly, yellow vest-holder Kristina Šmigun lost the women's cross country World Cup on its last weekend. Her falling at the last race dropped her into second place in the standings. However, Kristina Šmigun has become a force to be reckoned with in women's cross country skiing and is seen as a favourite in next year's World Cup.

In the first pan-Nordic Viking Lotto with Estonia participating, no one won the EEK nine million jackpot. The largest winner in Estonia took home about EEK 10,000. However, the roll-over makes the next jackpot possibly as high as EEK 21 million.

Exchange rates
As of 24 March 2000

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 16.09
1 British pound 25.55
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

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

Prepared by Mel Huang, 24 March 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

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