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Vol 2, No 17
2 May 2000
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Estonian News Review News from Estonia
All the important news
since 22 April 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

Four ministers - Ivari Padar (Agriculture), Siim Kallas (Finance), Toivo Jürgenson (Transport and Communications) and Tarmo Loodus (Interior) - signed an agreement on using electronic data interchange (EDI). The system, which will come into use by the end of 2001, should cut down on bureaucracy and paperwork as well as corruption and fraud. Many documents can be filed electronically, following the implementation of the EDI system.

The government said they are planning to sue Estline for the "Estonia" ferry disaster of 1994. The government is claiming EEK (Estonian Kroons) five million in damages.

Estonia's Ambassador to the United States, Sven Jürgenson, has been named ambassador to Canada and Mexico.

The heads of the civil guards in the Baltic states met in southern Estonia, on the invitation of Kaitseliit head Benno Leesik. Along with Arvydas Počius, head of Lithuania's KASP and Jānis Kononovs, chief of Latvia's Zemessardze, the civil guard chiefs discussed further co-operation. The three also visited several training sites and inspected an ongoing training exercise.


Economics and business

Out of the blue, Central Bank Governor-elect Vello Vensel, citing health reasons, withdrew his name from the post. This came as a surprise to most politicians and analysts, as Vensel has been discussing plans for the central bank in recent interviews. Vensel has said he is quite ill, with his blood pressure shooting over 220, but the media have been speculating on reasons for the change of heart, focusing on old skeletons in the closet. Deputy Governor Peter Lõhmus will take over in the interim. Vensel was elected by a surprise vote last month.

Politicians and the press reacted to the Vensel withdrawal with scepticism. The press focused on possibilities not concerned with health. Eesti Päevaleht went furthest in pursuing a story, speculating on Vensel's possible links to the KGB during the Soviet occupation. Finance Minister Siim Kallas lashed out at the central bank's governing board for picking someone unfit for the post, which the press picked up quickly, as his party's representative to the board, Kalev Kukk, was apparently the only member, except for incumbent Vahur Kraft, to not support Vensel. Others are speculating about undue pressure put on Vensel from various special interests, ranging from political to commercial banking. Vensel is adamant that his health is shot, and that it is the only reason for his withdrawal, though that is a hard sell for the ever-yellowing media.

The central bank announced the sale of its holdings in Optiva Pank, the third largest in Estonia, to Sampo Financial. Sampo Financial, which is co-owned by two Finnish insurers - Sampo and Kalevi - plans to acquire the central bank's 57.9 per cent holding in Optiva Pank and then discuss it with other shareholders. The central bank took hold of Optiva Bank shares in a rescue of the then-failing Forekspank back in 1998.

The government decided not to tamper with fuel excise taxes this year, worried that it would increase bootleg petrol use. However, the government has decided to impose excise on foreign fuel additives.

The largest mobile phone service provider in Estonia, EMT, has established a mobile positioning system allowing emergency services to pinpoint the location of a distressed caller phoning the 112 emergency number.

An aviation accord with Russia was signed, paving the way to the restoration of direct flights between Tallinn and Moscow. Flights between the two capitals were halted when a spat on a variety of issues - including third parties, code-sharing and aircraft - boiled over in March.


Social and local interest

In the inquest into the death of a patient during an abortion, an investigative panel assigned blame for the lethal fault to the anaesthesiologist. Hospital officials have since been suspended or sacked, but the issue continues to grip the press.

Disturbingly, several dozen neo-Nazis celebrated Hitler's birthday (albeit two days late) in a Tallinn pub. Security officials said nothing could be done because it was not advertised and was peaceful. Jewish groups voiced serious concern.

Tartu University is restructuring its BA system to fit European norms, cutting baccalaureate studies down to three years.

Local officials are crying foul from fears of centralisation and consolidation in medical care and education. A Swedish report on reforming the medical care system called on the consolidation of Estonia's 78 hospitals to 13. On the other hand, a number of rural schools face closure, due to lack of students.


And in other news...

An old foe returned on the anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear accident, as 20 computers were ravaged by the CIH virus. The virus, set to go off only on the anniversary date, is apparently still in circulation on pirated software.

Estonians enjoyed record temperatures, which climbed as high as 27 C, during the week. However, with the traditional public inebriation celebration of Volbriöö (Walpurg's Night) on 30 April, officials are worried about excessive drinking that Sunday evening and the preceding weekend.

Estonia celebrated the first book printed in Estonian (1525), with President Lennart Meri saying it saved Estonia from being assimilated into other cultures. The first book was of catechisms published in Lübeck in Estonian, Latvian and Livonian.

Piles of old tax documents and records were found on the streets and skips around Tartu. Tax officials were confused when the documents were brought back by those who found them and were not sure what happened. Some believe it was an accident that occurred during a move, others worry that there are angry employees...

Exchange rates
As of 28 April 2000

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 17.16
1 British pound 26.92
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

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

Mel Huang, 28 April 2000

Moving on:

News sources

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

Eesti Päevaleht


Jan Čulík
New Czech TV News Chief

Catherine Lovatt
Romanian Local Elections

Sam Vaknin
Yugoslav Myths

Mel Huang
Estonia's Military

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Censorship

Oliver Craske
UK Media Look East

Brian J Požun
Slovene Skinheads

Peter Hames
Finále Film Festival in Plzeň

Elke de Wit
Anne Høegh Krohn's Debut

Elke de Wit
Goethe's Misogyny

Wojtek Kość
Polish Cultural Review

Culture Calendar:

Extremism and Coalitions

Czech Republic