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Vol 2, No 29
4 September 2000
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News from Estonia
All the important news since 25 August 2000
Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

In an acrimonious session, the Riigikogu voted 47:46 to remove Lieutenant General Johannes Kert from the position of Defence Forces Commander. This comes as President Lennart Meri dismissed Kert at the end of June, despite needing parliamentary approval. The session featured heated debate and speeches from Meri, Kert and Defence Minister Jüri Luik. Later, it turned out the vote may have been compromised by opposition MP Tõnu Kauba, who was playing with his electronic voting console (see this week's Amber Coast for the full story).

In a meeting of the National Defence Council the day before that raucous Riigikogu session, President Meri nominated Rear Admiral Tarmo Kõuts—currently head of the Border Guards—to the post of Defence Forces commander. The Riigikogu Defence Committee is scheduled to discuss the appointment with Meri in the near future, and Kõuts should be confirmed this month.

Estonia expelled two Russian diplomats for "activities incompatible with their status"—a typical euphemism for spying. The daily Postimees, quoting anonymous government sources, said the two were going a bit too far in studying Estonia's border defence. As expected, Russia immediately expelled two Estonian diplomats in retaliation and accused Estonia of harming bilateral relations.

Prime Ministers from the Nordic and Baltic countries met in Pärnu, Estonia, to discuss regional co-operation, with IT issues and e-commerce high on the agenda. Also high on the agenda were EU and NATO integration for the Baltics, to which the premiers all pledged their support. In attendance were Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (Denmark), Mart Laar (Estonia), Paavo Lipponen (Finland), Davíð Oddsson (Iceland), Andris Bērziņš (Latvia), Andrius Kubilius (Lithuania), Jens Stoltenberg (Norway) and Göran Persson (Sweden).

Icelandic Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson also made a three-day official visit to Estonia while in the country for the summit. Oddsson reiterated his country's support for Estonia's membership in NATO, saying Iceland—though small—can speak with its NATO vote. However, Oddsson does not seem optimistic about a 2002 NATO entry for the Baltics. President Meri also asked Oddsson to share Iceland's experience in creating a national genetic database, a project Estonia is beginning.

Foreign Ministers from the Nordic and Baltic countries met in Middelfart, Denmark, under a new name, "8," instead of the "5+3" moniker used in years past. Again, EU and NATO integration played a large role in the talks, with EU CFSP chief Javier Solana joining them for the talks. Solana was upbeat about the Baltic states' chances of getting into NATO and the EU soon.

A controversial diving expedition to the site of the Estonia ferry wreck has ended. US millionaire Gregg Bemis, who does not believe the official report, which concluded that the ferry sank on 28 September 1994 due to the vehicle hatch coming off, funded the controversial expedition monitored by coast guards of several regional countries. Sweden and Finland tried to ward off the dive and reiterated that, under the treaty to protect the site as a mass grave, Bemis and his crew are subject to arrest and imprisonment if they step foot in any of the signatory countries. They also urged Germany—the base for the divers and a controversial filming crew—to sign the treaty. Anger is mounting over the filming of the dive, as the film is being sold to help fund the dive. Bemis has not discussed the results of the dive yet.

A no-confidence motion against Economics Minister Mihkel Pärnoja failed by a 46:50 vote in the Riigikogu. The opposition called the vote after the deal to sell the country's main power plants to US company NRG Energy was signed.

Several extra sessions of the Riigikogu failed over the week, due to lack of a quorum. Important issues, such as the NRG deal and important EU harmonisation legislation, were left undebated, due to both opposition tactics and lack of discipline in the ruling coalition.

The "party of power" was split, when former Riigikogu Speaker Ülo Nugis took nearly half the members of the Coalition Party out to form a new centre-right union. Nugis, who has his power-base in the southern Tallinn suburbs, was heavily criticised by remaining Coalition Party members. The Coalition Party, which provided two past prime ministers, has only one seat in the Riigikogu today—that of ex-Premier Mart Siimann.


Economics and business

After four years of negotiations and problems, Estonia and US energy company NRG Energy finally signed the deal for a minority stake in the country's main power plant, Narva Elektrijaamad (Narva Power Plants). However, the deal signed is only on the basic terms of the sale, while a supplemental pack of agreements covered issues such as investments, wholesale purchase, etc. Remaining issues will still need to be worked out over the next 12 months, but all sides are optimistic that the deal will be concluded once those final pieces are put together.

One of Sweden's largest banks, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB), has announced it wants to take full control of Ühispank, a bank in which they currently hold a 50.2 per cent stake. SEB said they will do the same for other banks they control in the Baltics, namely, Latvia's Unibanka and Lithuania's Vilniaus Bankas. SEB is offering EEK (Estonian kroons) 38 per share for Ühispank. The stock naturally made the news, closing at EEK 37.1 the day of the news, up 37.4 per cent.


Social and local interest

Music lovers were shocked, as the award-winning conductor of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tõnu Kaljuste, said he's quitting in protest over the government's policy on culture and its under-funding. Kaljuste is in high demand as a guest conductor and choir director and should find himself in one of the most prestigious jobs internationally in no time.

The new Estonian Information Technology College was opened ceremonially by Prime Minister Mart Laar and will start operations this academic year. The College is funded by the government (EEK six million), the Swedish government (EEK five million) and Eesti Telekom (EEK two million).

The tabloid SL Õhtuleht, which was created from the merger of the tabloids Sõnumileht and Õhtuleht, has taken the top spot in newspaper circulation, with 232,000 readers. "Serious" daily Postimees follows closely at 231,000, while struggling daily Eesti Päevaleht—which announced a format adjustment and redundancies—is at 178,000 readers.

Police report that in the first half of 2000, drug-related crime jumped by nearly fourfold, to 513 cases. Cases of possession of narcotics hit a record 895 in that period, almost doubling the 468 cases in all of 1999.


And in other news...

Estonian footballers were eliminated from the race for the UEFA Cup, with two lopsided aggregate results. Viljandi Tulevik drew 1:1 with Napredak of Yugoslavia in the second round, but the aggregate was a 2:6 loss. Flora Tallinn also lost 0:2 to Belgium's Brugge, with a horrible 0:6 aggregate.

Concert promoter Jüri Makarov said that he plans to invite Sting to headline a concert set to take place on 14 June 2001, the 60th anniversary of a mass deportation of innocent Estonians and other Baltic peoples by the Soviets.

Exchange Rates
As of 1 September 2000
Currency Estonian
1 US dollar 17.58
1 British pound 25.49
1 German mark 8
1 euro 15.65

[Up-to-date exchange rates]

Mel Huang, 1 September 2000

Moving on:


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


Charles Ingrao
Handling Milošević

Jens Boysen
Germany's Radical Right

Brian J Požun
Slovenian Political Heat

Wojtek Kość
Polish Presidential Election

Mel Huang
Estonian Military Confusion

Delia Dumitrica
Romanian Return to the Old Days?

Jan Čulík
Czech Media Privitisation

Sam Vaknin
Feudalism and Communism

Pál Závada,
the best-selling Hungarian author

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Corruption

Andrew James Horton
Yugoslav Film

Delia Dumitrica
Hungarians in Romania

Andrew Stroehlein
Czechs and Germans

Sam Vaknin
Post-Communist Disappointment

Culture Calendar:


Press Reviews:

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