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Vol 2, No 21
29 May 2000
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Estonian News Review News from Estonia
All the important news
since 20 May 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

Chaos continued with the leadership of the central bank, as President Lennart Meri rejected the nomination of former Finance Minister Märt Opmann for the post. Opmann was elected by the central bank's board, but the president called on the election of a politically neutral candidate. Opmann is a member of the opposition Coalition Party. Justice Minister Märt Rask said it was the President's constitutional right not to rubber-stamp the decision, though the central bank's council disagrees.

Two bombs went off in the Stockmann shopping centre, one of Tallinn's most popular landmarks. The small explosive devices did not cause much damage, but the incident could deter the many Finns who shop at the cheaper outlet of their national department store. Several suspects have been apprehended.

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson paid a visit to Estonia to discuss NATO enlargement. Lord Robertson met with President Lennart Meri, Defence Minister Jüri Luik, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves and others. He praised the recent campaign on book donations for the military.

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson made a one-day visit to Estonia to discuss "the year of the Baltics" policy driven by his government. One of the pledges made on the trip included EEK (Estonian Kroons) five million to fund an IT university in Estonia. Persson also met with President Meri and Prime Minister Märt Laar and opened an honorary consulate in the former Swedish royal town of Narva.

Vilnius hosted a conference for the nine NATO-aspirant countries, which together called on the Alliance to remain committed to eastern enlargement. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson also attended the conference, while politicians of all walks from the US saluted the declaration. Both presidential candidates, Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W Bush, praised the move and powerful Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Jesse Helms also threw his considerable weight behind the group's aspirations. The group of nine foreign ministers (Albania and Macedonia were represented by deputies) called on NATO enlargement to occur again in 2002. Officials from NATO and members states also praised the so-called "Vilnius statement" from the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Firenze (Florence) during the week.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen made a visit to Estonia, her second since becoming president. The former Finnish foreign minister met with her new counterpart, Lennart Meri, to discuss bilateral ties.

The head of the United Peoples' Party, Viktor Andreyev, signed a co-operation deal with Russia's Fatherland/All Russia movement. The agreement called for co-operation on issues including those concerning ethnic Russians in Estonia. Government officials blasted the agreement as "disloyal" to the Estonian state.

Estonia's ambassador to Ukraine, Tiit Naber, has also been appointed Estonia's envoy to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova. Naber resides in Kyiv.

Head prosecutors from countries of the Baltic Sea region met in Copenhagen to discuss cases relating to war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The meeting was initiated by new Latvian Prosecutor-general Jānis Maizītis, who was confirmed by the Saeima earlier this month.

Economics and business

Using some revised numbers, the Statistics Department announced that GDP dropped by 1.1 per cent in 1999. Quarterly, numbers show that GDP dropped by 3.3 per cent, 2.5 per cent, 0.5 per cent in the first three quarters of 1999 respectively. Fourth quarter GDP was also revised, with the new figure showing only a 1.8 per cent growth.

A surprising twist in the energy sector occurred, when Estonia's power utility Eesti Energia and Latvia's power company, Latvenergo, signed a protocol of intent on co-operation, which could lead to the merger the companies. This would have grave implications for the privatisation of the companies, ongoing negotiations in Estonia for selling two power plants and the creation of the joint Baltic energy market. Regulators complained about the deal, but it has been endorsed by officials in both countries. A letter of intent was signed in Tartu by Economics Ministers Mihkel Pärnoja of Estonia and Aigars Kalvītis of Latvia.

The Riigikogu approved a lower subsidies programme for the regional Edelaraudtee (North-west Railways). A total of EEK 845 million will be available for the railway in the next ten years, which is about half of what the government proposed originally. Several services could be cancelled soon, and this could complicate talks to privatise the service.

The former manager of the failed Maapank, Malle Eenmaa, was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison and ordered to repay nearly EEK 30 million for her role in the bank's collapse. Eenmaa said she will appeal.

The successful CV-Online venture in Estonia has opened an affiliate in Hungary. CV-Online Magyarország Kft will offer similar services as its Estonian counterpart, creating a large CV database for online job seekers. The company already operates in the Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania (the affiliate in the latter opened just the week before) and plans to expand to Poland, Russia (St. Petersburg is functional already) and Ukraine in the future.

Is this the first "dot.com" or "punkt.ee" casualty? Internet portal xxl.ee may be facing a crunch, after the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) chose not to purchase EEK 34 million worth of its shares. The EBRD cited various problems, including management.

The government decided not to sell its remaining stake in Eesti Telekom this year, citing difficult market conditions and also a sell-off by Lithuania's Lietuvos Telekomas. The state still holds 27.3 per cent of the company, which earned the state a lot of money in a highly-successful IPO in early 1999.

The Tallinn city government decided to sell off its heating utility and public transport. This follows the planned sell-off of the city's water and refuse collection services.

Estonia banned the import of foodstuffs from Russia, due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The recent outbreak of the livestock disease has spread throughout Asia and Africa as well.

The three Baltic stock exchanges launched their joint website this past week at www.baltic-exchanges.com. The three bourses are also in talks to join the pan-Nordic NOREX exchange.

Social and local interest

A poll by EMOR showed that children in Estonia get a total of EEK four million in pocket money a week.

Perhaps a harbinger for a revolution in the print media sector in the entire Nordics region, as rival Estonian publishers Ekspress Grupp and Eesti Meedia, controlled by Bonnier of Sweden and Schibsted of Norway respectively, signed a co-operation agreement. The two will set up several joint ventures, including the launch of a joint tabloid SL Õhtuleht. The two media companies control most of the print media in Estonia.

Average wages in Q1 grew by 11 per cent, from the same period in 1999, to EEK 4501 per month.

The case of a black female American student being hounded by racist thugs in Tartu has upset those who believed Estonia was an oasis of tolerance. The student has since left Estonia and quit her studies.

And in other news...

The large "Millennium" cruise ship, with thousands of American tourists on board, will dock at Tallinn for the first time on 22 June. An estimated 10,000 tourists from the US will land in Tallinn over the summer by that cruise liner.

Convicted murderer Vitali Slavgorodski could receive over EEK 67,000 in compensation from the government for...reading his letters. The convicted murderer filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights about the invasion of privacy, and it appears the government wants to settle this.

Dissatisfied with the effects of the trademark, Tallinn's Grand Hotel Mercure plans to end its affiliation with France's Accor hotel group and rename the hotel Grand Hotel Tallinn. The hotel's 40 per cent occupancy rate in 1999 was one of the lowest in Estonia, despite its prime location near Toompea.

Estonia's entry into the Eurovision song contest, "Once in a Lifetime" by Eda-Ines Etti, came in fourth. The entry was listed as one of the favourites before the contest began and was even rated at best odds by some bookies in Britain. Did the punters follow it?

Exchange rates
As of 29 May 2000

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 17.15
1 British pound 25.24
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

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

Mel Huang, 29 May 2000

Moving on:

News sources

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

Eesti Päevaleht


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