Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 3
24 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 15 January 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

Mass chaos at Lietuvos Radijas ir Televizija [Lithuanian Radio and Television (LRT)], as acting director Algirdas Trakimavičius submitted his resignation. The director of the radio division, Laima Grumadienė, followed suit and also resigned. And, at the session of the LRT council dealing with the resignations, its own chairman, Algimantas Mačiūlis, also tendered his resignation. Those remainding on the board named Petras Dirgėla as its chair and Vaidotas Zukas as acting LRT director. The service has been mired in disastrous financial problems, with both Radio 2 and Radio 3 off the air for a month and television broadcasts cut.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, alongside counterparts in Latvia and Estonia, filed protests with their Czech counterpart for the latter's violation of the visa-free agreement. The new visa regulations passed by Prague force Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Australians and others to provide extra documentation at the border - such as proof of funds and accommodations reservations. However, Czech authorities told their Lithuanian colleagues that the border guards have been taking the regulations "too straightforwardly" and it is not a violation of the visa-free travel agreement.

President Valdas Adamkus named Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Ušackas as Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU.

Finance Minister Vytautas Dudėnas is in Washington meeting with US government officials and also officials from the IMF, World Bank and others.

The heads of the three Baltic militaries - Brigadier General Jonas Kronkaitis (Lithuania), Colonel Raimonds Graube (Latvia) and Colonel Märt Tiru (Estonia, acting) - met with their Nordic counterparts in Denmark to discuss co-operation. After the meeting, the three, along with Danish commander General Christian Hvidt, travelled to Bosnia to inspect the joint peacekeeping force, BALTBAT.

Will he do it? The Lithuanian Liberal Union scored a three-pointer when it listed former NBA star Šarūnas Marčiulionis on its candidates' list for the Vilnius City Council. The party, which gained mass popularity after former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas joined, said they may also have world-famous stunt pilot Jurgis Kairys on the ballot. Paksas is also a stunt pilot, but Kairys's fantastic aerial display under the bridges of Vilnius dazzled even those on CNN. Local elections are due in March.

The Supreme Court ruled to reduce the sentence of convicted MP Audrius Butkevičius from the current 5.5 years to 3.5 years, citing changes in the punishment scale from a new civil code. Butkevičius remains a member of the Seimas, as the body failed to revoke his mandate (see Amber Coast from 15 July 1999 for more on this ridiculous story). Some MPs and international organisations are urging President Valdas Adamkus to grant him clemency.

The government decided to construct a European-standard rail line from the Polish border to Kaunas. The line, which would cost LTL 783 million, would significantly speed up transport from Lithuania to Poland and provide a major link in the Via Baltica project to establish a strong transportation infrastructure from Poland to Finland, through the Baltic states. However, the government has no funds budgeted for this year, saying all funding needs to come from international sources at this stage. Also, the line is projected to travel through the properties of 300 owners.

Leader of the New Alliance (Social Liberals) Artūras Paulauskas announced a nation-wide petition drive to introduce legislation to divert money from defence spending to education. Defence Minister Česlovas Stankėvičius was livid, calling it a "lack of respect for the constitutional system." If Paulaskas can get 50,000 citizens to sign the petition in two months, then the Seimas is obliged to review it. The proposal from Paulauskas aims to divert about LTL (Lithuanian lita) 148 million from this year's defence budget to education. Defence Minister Stankėvičius added that the picture in the defence sphere is not very rosy, with debts of about LTL 49 million due to budget shortfalls from 1999.

Raimond Sarkis, the honorary consul in Lebanon, was released from service by the Foreign Ministry. No official word on the reason, but the press is speculating that it was due to the reputation of Sarkis and an alleged cigarette smuggling plot several years back.

Political parties are making plans for the March local elections, as the new Social Democracy 2000 party - a moderate breakaway of the Social Democrats - said they will contest about 50 local councils. Most of the big parties are contesting all councils, including the Liberal Union and Centre Union.

Air Force commander Colonel Zenonas Vegelevičius was cleared of all charges and reinstated from his suspension. Colonel Vegelevičius was blamed for improper acquisitions and purchases by his department.

Former cabinet minister Kęstutis Skrebys has been expelled from the ruling Conservatives. The party has accused Skrebys of making statements against the party platform, a charge denied by Skrebys. Most analysts believe it is due to Skrebys being too close to former PM Gediminas Vagnorius, whose supporters have been sidelined from the party leadership following the ex-PM's public downfall and ensuing feud with party leader and Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merat Antadze travelled to Vilnius from Tallinn to meet with Lithuanian officials. Issues concerning bilateral co-operation, especially cultural, economic and military, were discussed.

Lithuania granted visa-free travel to citizens and subjects of Andorra, San Marino and Monaco.

Economics and business

Rumours have it that Russia's number two oil company, Yukos, is about to purchase a ten per cent stake in Lithuania's Mažeikių Nafta (Mažeikiai Oil) for USD 22.4 million. Economics Minister Valentinas Milaknis refused to comment on the subject, though he suggested there were some negotiations going on. The press report said the Yukos share will come from the current state majority holdings in Mažeikiai Oil. US company Williams International has full control of the company, which accounts for ten per cent of the country's GDP.

Lithuania chose Credit Suisse First Boston and Deutsche Bank to organise the next eurobond issue. The late February issue is set for EUR 250 million.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Developemnt (EBRD) took an 11.3 per cent stake in Lietuvos Žemės Ūkio Bankas (Lithuanian Agricultural Bank), in a prelude to its privatisation. The state, which holds about 75 per cent of the shares of Žemės Ūkio Bankas, is planning to privatise the bank in the first quarter. They hope the EBRD holdings will make the share more attractive.

Some final abysmal numbers for the 1999 budget, as the state failed to collect 12.7 per cent of anticipated revenues. Of the collection, VAT fared badly, missing the mark by 11.7 per cent. However, corporate income tax collection was even, as it missed the target by a huge 22.5 per cent. But excise collection came close, off by just 1.3 per cent.

The second unit at the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant was shut down due to lack of demand for electricity.

On the same pulse, 1999 domestic purchase of electricity was down by about five per cent from 1998, to a total of 7.18 billion kWh. Lithuania remains a net exporter of electricity, with 1.29 billion kWh going to Latvia and 2.02 billion kWh to Belarus. The lower electricity purchase/usage in Lithuania is a cause for concern to economists, as it indicates a slowdown in production.

Electricity utility Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy) is pleading with the government to reinstate regulations on the trade of non-ferrous metals. The utility claims that there were 394 thefts of electrical equipment in 1999, up from 238 in 1998, adding that 72.6 tonnes of wiring have been removed and 61 transformers have been dismantled. Perpetrators are believed to have sold the metals to dealers, which do not have to establish its source. The utility said it caused LTL 1.8 million in damages.

Social and local interest

Sadly, while Lithuania was commemorating the 13 January 1991 massacre of fourteen Lithuanian civilians by Soviet forces, about 20 demonstrators picketed the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow. Among the protestors were the former OMON head in Vilnius Boleslav Makutinovich and Soviet activist Stanislav Mitskevich - who is a fugitive, as he has been convicted for his anti-independence activities in Lithuania.

Social insurance fund SoDra announced it needs to take yet another loan in order to pay pensions in February. The beleaguered state insurance fund needs LTL ten to 20 million this time. The fund is already in debt by several hundreds of millions of litas.

Health Minister Raimundas Alekna, alongside Latvian Welfare Minister Roberts Jurdžs and Estonian Social Minister Eiki Nestor, signed in Copenhagen a co-operation agreement with their Nordic counterparts against the spread of tuberculosis in the Baltics. A total of NOK (Norwegian Krone) 15 million will be granted to the three countries in their fight against TB (especially drug-resistant variants).

The flu plaguing Europe is hitting Lithuania harder, as the Visaginas region's infection rate rose to 1.09 per cent - officially passing the epidemic threshold. Most of the workers at the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant live in Visaginas. The flu infection rates are also high in the urban regions of iauliai (0.91 per cent) and Panevėžys (0.84 per cent).

A research study by Lithuanian academic Vygandas Paulikas shows Lithuania receives the most government support for agriculture. For every hectare of agricultural land, the Lithuanian government spends USD 51.50 for support. This is much higher than Latvia's USD 32.75 or Estonia's USD 27 per hectare. The report added that Lithuania's share of agricultural support is larger than other regional countries like the Czech Republic, and even surpasses post-industrial giants like Canada and Australia.

Reputed criminal boss Gintautas Zukauskas was the victim of an assassination attempt in the seaside city of Klaipėda. After being shot in the head and chest, Zukauskas remained in critical condition in hospital after an operation.

Parliamentarians are furious after the tabloid Vakaro Žinios (The Evening News) printed an article suggesting three MPs engaged in the services of prostitutes. The three MPs, from three different factions, called it slanderous and plan to challenge the story.

Lithuania's forests are considered to be in okay shape by the World Wildlife Fund. Lithuania scored a cumulative 51 points, near the average of central and east European states. It clearly beat out fellow Balts Latvia (40) and Estonia (38). Slovakia, along with Sweden and Austria, took third at 57 - behind Switzerland and Finland.

Vilnius public transport workers staged a mini-strike on 18 January between 0400-0600, warning that they may organise a full strike soon. They are demanding wage arrears and increase in pay.

Illegal immigration from Asia and Africa dropped in 1999 to 261 cases, down from the 1998 number of 495. Most of the illegal immigrants this past year came from Afghanistan (129), then Vietnam (44) and Pakistan (32).

In 1999 there were a total of 14,002 fires in Lithuania, causing LTL 24.7 million in damages. The fires were also responsible for 202 fatalities, including 13 children. The number of fires rose by a staggering 50.2 per cent, due to the hot and dry summer, though damages went up only by 10.4 per cent.

And others...

The bus station in Panevėžys admitted that it had problems with Y2K, as their computers went "crazy" after the year turned to "00." The bus station is important, as it is a major transfer point and bus travel between Riga and Vilnius crosses the northern Lithuanian city.

Mantvydas Kavaliauskas, the first artificial heart recipient in Lithuania, died after getting a new donor heart. Complications with the 4.5 month old artificial heart forced doctors to do a new transplant, as the new organ could not sustain Kavaliauskas, who died days after the surgery.

Finally, neighbours of MP Algirdas Sysas are livid over the new sporting activities of the MP. Apparently the MP has been using his official car (a VW Golf) to pull him around while he is on cross-country skis. The frequent episodes have been captured on film apparently.

Exchange Rates
As of 21 January 2000

currency Lithuanian
litas (LTL)
1 US dollar 4.00
1 British pound 6.63
1 German mark 2.08
1 euro 4.06

Mel Huang, 21 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



This Week: Big
Culture Issue

Janáček's Misogyny

Rock Estonian Style

Romanian Poet Mihai Eminescu

The Visionary of Hiiumaa

Aleksandr Sokurov Special


Dni zatmeniia


Sokurov on the Web



Environmental Upside of Top-down

Slovakia's Newest Party


Sam Vaknin:
The Family Unit

Jan Čulík:
New Czech TV Director

Zhidas Daskalovski:
Balkan Inequality

Do these letters
ě š č ř ž ľ ĺ ć
ď ť ł ş ů đ ő ţ ż
look like these?
Test map If so, your browser is viewing CER with the right Central and East European characters.
If not, click HERE for help.

» Austria
» Croatia
» Estonia
» Hungary
» Latvia
» Lithuania
» Romania
» Serbia

News reviewers needed for other countries. Click HERE for more information.


Russian Debt and Capital Flight
(part 3)


Book Review:
A History of the Present




Central European
Culture in the UK

Central European
Cultural Events in the USA

Polish Culture Round-up

CER Icon

» Overview
» Working with us
» Internships
» Submit article
» Our readership
» Contact us
» CER via e-mail
» Donations


Copyright © 2000 - Central Europe Review and Internet servis, a.s.
All Rights Reserved