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Vol 2, No 31
18 September 2000
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News from EstoniaNews from Estonia
All the important news since 8 September 2000
Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

President Lennart Meri officially asked the Riigikogu to appoint Rear Admiral Tarmo Kõuts as commander of the Defence Forces. The popular head of the Border Guards is supported by most parliamentary factions, and once it reaches the agenda it should be a relatively easy vote. However, his predecessor, Lieutenant General Johannes Kert, has still not made up his mind on his future, and there is fear that the President's extra-constitutional move could have cost Estonia yet another top officer. Meri, in an unconscionable speech to the Riigikogu, thanked the parliament for "upholding civilian control" of the military. Many angry MPs retorted to the press that Meri was unconstitutional in his sacking of Kert, which sparked the entire mess. Meri has refused to give a proper explanation of why he demanded Kert's sacking, now saying that since the parliament acted, he does not have to give a reason (see the Amber Coast from 4 September 2000, Military Musical Chairs, for more on the President's heavy hand in causing the military leadership crisis).

However, the nomination of Priit Kama by President Meri to be legal chancellor is drawing more parliamentary ire. Many are complaining about his young age, 28, and his partisanship with the Pro Patria Union of Prime Minister Mart Laar. Until several closed-door meetings were held, some MPs within the ruling coalition had even voiced opposition to the nomination. The opposition remains opposed to Kama's nomination.

Chairman of China's People's National Congress Li Peng and a large delegation made a two-day visit to Tallinn last weekend. Li met with various officials, including President Meri and his counterpart, Riigikogu Speaker Toomas Savi, discussing bilateral ties.

While that was happening, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) met in Tallinn, as well. Though the event was focusing on UNPO member Chechnya's plight, the coincidental timing of the Li visit allowed several other UNPO members—such as Tibet, Taiwan and East Turkestan—to sound off against Chinese human rights policies.

Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves called on the UN Security Council to reform and get rid of its "1945" structure, saying it must have the courage to change along with the world. Ilves also promoted IT development in lesser-developed countries and the need to reform and strengthen peacekeeping operations during the 55th General Assembly of the UN.

Estonian troops are taking part in the Baltic Triangle 2000 peacekeeping exercises in Denmark from 6 to 16 September, alongside their Danish Latvian, Lithuanian, German and Polish counterparts.

Lithuanian Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis called off a scheduled visit to Estonia, citing a "heavy workload," but rumours have it that he was upset by the lack of high-level meetings.

Canadian Defence Minister Arthur Eggleton made a visit to Estonia to reaffirm Canada's interest in further NATO enlargement. Eggleton met with various officials to discuss promoting bilateral ties in the defence sphere.

Hungarian Justice Minister Ibolya Dávid made a two-day visit to discuss bilateral co-operation. Dávid, meeting with Prime Minister Laar, also stressed joint efforts in promoting world awareness of the crimes of Communism.

Estonian Justice Minister Märt Rask hosted his Baltic counterparts, Ingrīda Labucka (Latvia) and Gintaras Balčiūnas (Lithuania), in Pärnu to discuss trilateral co-operation. The three ministers signed an agreement to promote exchange visits by experts and to set up joint workshops.

Lithuanian Transport Minister Rimantas Didžiokas hosted his Baltic counterparts, Anatolijs Gorbunovs (Latvia) and Toivo Jürgenson (Estonia) in Klaipėda to discuss the fate of the Via Baltica transport link. The three also discussed the possibilities of reviving passenger train service from Tallinn to Warsaw (via Rīga and Kaunas), as the earlier service shut down due to lack of use (perhaps the slowness and bad hours of the journey are to blame, as well).


Economics and business

The government decided that there is no need for a negative supplemental budget for this year. Prime Minister Mart Laar said that revenue collection is relatively on target, the only problem being funds from sale of state property. The TOP Olympic Yachting Centre, which is due to bring in EEK (Estonian kroons) 320 million of the EEK 617 million expected in property sales, remains unsold and its sale by year's end is uncertain. The yachting events of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games were held there.

The government also failed to approve a preliminary draft of the 2001 budget, as coalition partners continue to argue over spending and taxation. The left-leaning Mõõdukad (roughly translated as "Moderates," although they request that name not be used) wants higher social spending, while the liberal Reform Party would like to see the tax burden drop. Among questions still unanswered is if, and by how much, the current 18 per cent VAT would rise, and where the Social Ministry can find EEK ten million for spending for the handicapped.

With the stronger-than-expected Q2 GDP report out last week, the Finance Ministry revised its 2000 GDP expectations from 4.1 per cent to six per cent. The Ministry also increased the GDP mark for 2001 to 5.5 per, cent from 5.1 per cent, a number important in drafting the budget. It is projected that this year's CPI will rise by 3.9 per cent, down from the original 4.5 per cent estimate.

The battle for the fixed-line telephone market has commenced, as one of the challengers, Uninet, paid EEK one million for the coveted "100" dialling prefix.


Social and local interest

A poll published by the Saar Polling Agency revealed that a large number of Estonians would like aliens to leave the country. Various questions about aliens garnered 45 to 55 per cent of respondents suggesting it would be better for them to leave. Pollsters suggest the answers were made out of emotion and not out of reality, but it has sparked off a debate in the media, nonetheless.

The usually quiet Minister for Regional Administrative Reform, Toivo Asmer, made headlines, when he proposed a radical reorganisation plan for local administrations. Instead of the current 247 parishes, Asmer proposed a "15+5" system, where the current 15 counties, plus the five largest cities, will remain as local government districts. Smaller parishes would only be sub-divisions. Critics are calilng this plan "Soviet-era centralisation," though some complain it does not go far enough. Asmer visited Finland, and Finnish Regional Minister Martti Korhonen supported his plan wholeheartedly.

The so-called "simplified border crossing regime" used by residents near the Estonian-Russian border officially ended, as a full visa regime has been applied to all. The EU-mandated move was unpopular to many who work or have relatives and property across the border, especially the divided Setu community. Officials at the border say no problems have arisen due to the regime, though the fate of free visas, especially those to be issued by Russia, remains in limbo.

An appellate court in Tallinn overturned the corruption conviction of Malle Eenmaa, the ex-manager of the collapsed Maapank. Eenmaa was convicted of improprieties that led to the bank's collapse, but the appeals court overturned the 1.5 year prison sentence, EEK 29.5 million restitution fine and has ended the freezed on all her accounts. The collapsed bank still has over EEK one billion worth of outstanding claims, with 80 per cent of it from state institutions.

Estonia's "official" unemployment rate is up to 4.9 per cent, though the jobless rate in the north-eastern Ida-Viru county is still highest at 9.6 per cent.

Though still substantially lower than regional countries, Estonian health officials are concerned about the rise in HIV infection rates among IV-drug users. In August alone, eight new cases were diagnosed—a lot compared to the 14 in the first seven months of the year and the nine between 1997 and 1999.

In the annual Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Estonia came in lowest of all Central and East European countries with a score of 5.7 out of ten, which is 27th place overall. Slovenia came closest to catching Estonia at 5.5 points, followed by Hungary at 5.2 points. Baltic neighbour Lithuania did not fair as well, with 4.1 points, putting them in 43rd place, while Latvia was far lower, at 3.4 points in 57th place.

Exchange Rates
As of 15 September 2000
Currency Estonian
1 US dollar 18.16
1 British pound 25.55
1 German mark 8
1 euro 15.65

[Up-to-date exchange rates]

Mel Huang, 15 September 2000

Moving on:


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


Catherine Lovatt
Sex is a Crime

Alexei Monroe
Laibach's Legacy

Kai-Olaf Lang
Leaving Liberalism

Brian Požun
Class Time

Mel Huang
Questionable Justice

Sam Vaknin
The Value of a Life

Jan Čulík
Ticket, Please!

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Enough Problems

IMF in Prague:

Andreas Beckmann
A Bubble Burst

Tiffany G Petros
Old Friends

Ron Breznay
Greener Grass

Emil Kerenji
The Road to War in Serbia

Culture Calendar:

Timothy Hendon
Casting Calls


Press Reviews:

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