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Vol 2, No 32
25 September 2000
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News from EstoniaNews from Estonia
All the important news since 16 September 2000
Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

The Riigikogu approved Rear Admiral Tarmo Kõuts as the new commander of the Defence Forces. Only three voted against the appointment, while the former head of the Border Guards received 76 supporting votes. Kõuts told the Parliament that organisation reform is the key and a mobilisation plan must be finalised.

Rescue Services director Harri Hein was named by Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus to succeed Kõuts at the Border Guards. Hein will take up his duty after he returns at year's end from a NATO training course in Hungary.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer hosted his Baltic counterparts in Hannover for their annual "3+1" meeting. Fischer expressed his support for quick EU enlargement, with each candidate judged on its own merit. However, Fischer also suggested that the three Baltic countries could indeed enter the EU simultaneously, though that was received cautiously by the three Baltic officials.

Estonia, along with most EU applicants and EFTA countries, signed onto the EU statement that called on Yugoslav voters to oust Slobodan Milošević in the upcoming elections.

Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, speaking at the Baltic Development Forum in Malmö, Sweden, criticised the EU for losing momentum in the enlargement process. Ilves accused EU leaders of heeding to an "accountant's way of thinking" and losing the vision from the Rome summit that laid out the goal of enlargement.

The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers called on Russia to expedite the return of diplomatic property of the Baltic countries to their rightful owners. Properties in Rome and Paris were taken over by Soviet officials after the illegal annexation, despite both France and Italy adhering to the non-recognition policy. Russian diplomats still use the said property, though by local laws they belong to the Balts.

The Riigikogu defeated three bills presented by the opposition, but all three were resubmitted later in the week. The opposition presented two bills on the deal with NRG for the country's main power plants—one to call a referendum for it, and the other to publicise the deal's details despite the hush clause. The opposition also delivered a petition signed by some 163,000 against the NRG privatisation. The third bill called for parliamentary control of the privatisation of the country's railways.

FBI Director Louis J Freeh visited Estonia and praised the work of its police, calling it an example in the Baltic Sea region. Freeh also suggested that a FBI training centre, like a similar one in Budapest, could be opened in Estonia.

New Estonian Ambassador to Poland Aivo Orav presented his credentials to President Aleksander Kwaśniewski. During the meeting, Kwaśniewski reiterated Poland's support for Estonia's NATO membership.


Economics and business

The privatisation of the country's railways, Eesti Raudtee, became increasingly chaotic, as two of four bidders merged their bids and the fate of a third is in limbo. The two less-successful bidders, according to analysts' predictions, joined their bid: RER, a group of local entrepreneurs, and Sweden's state-owned SJ International. This came days before reports suggested US rail company CSX, seen as a top bidder, is pulling out, due to problems back home, to be replaced in the same Estonian bidding entity by another US company, RailAmerica. No one is sure what exactly is going on legally and technically with both events. The privatisation is to be announced by the end of the year. The other bidder is a joint bid by railway concerns and entrepreneurs in Estonia, Britain and the US.

A deal with Sweden's Teracom on purchasing a 49 per cent stake in the country's Broadcasting Centre fell apart this week. Teracom and the government argued over management of the company after the deal, which would have brought in EEK (Estonian kroons) 110 million for the minority stake and a guaranteed EEK 500 million in the future for digitisation of broadcasting. Talks on the profit-making television and radio relayer are now proceeding with France's TeleDiffusion de France.

Another privatisation collapsed, as Swedish energy giant Vattenfall pulled out of the deal to buy Pärnu Soojus (Pärnu Heating). Apparently, bureaucracy was the cause of the collapse.

The central bank announced that the Q2 current account deficit was 4.5 per cent of GDP, which is lower than recent averages. However, the central bank also revised Q1 current account numbers upward to 6.5 per cent of GDP.

The government approved the 2001 budget and sent it to the Riigikogu for approval. The balanced EEK 29.4467 billion budget increases funding for education, defence and agriculture. The numbers are based on a GDP rise of 5.5 per cent, called "modest" by Finance Minister Siim Kallas.

The IMF issued its GDP and inflation predictions for Estonia, saying GDP will increase by four per cent this year and six per cent in 2001. Inflation, according to the IMF, should be three per cent this year and 2.7 per cent in 2001.

Hansapank is forcing its customers to change their PIN codes for its cash machines, in response to a recent criminal operation of stealing card info and PINs that cost the bank EEK 600,000 in stolen cash.


Social and local interest

The radical regional administration reorganisation plan proposed by Administrative Reform Minister Toivo Asmer remains controversial and has split public opinion between urban and rural residents. Some 40 per cent of urban residents supported the plan to do away with over 200 local governments, though the plan is supported by only 21 per cent of rural respondents. Asmer said his e-mail box has been inundated with complaints since he introduced the plan in early September.

A Greek vessel, the Alambra, has leaked an estimated 500 tons of oil into the Baltic Sea off of Estonia's coast. Earlier, the captain claimed it was not from his vessel but later admitted so, after noticing holes in the hull. The clean-up effort, with help from Finland, is due to cost EEK 135 million and has cleared up 320 tons of oil already. Estonian officials will seek to fine the shipper over EEK 100 million for the environmental damage and clean-up costs, which is likely to be picked up by insurers.

Estonian truckers say there's no point to strike or start blockades, since the excise is much lower percentage-wise than throughout Europe. The truckers' association said that excise accounts for 40 per cent of diesel prices in Estonia, compared to 55-80 per cent throughout the continent.



Estonia sent a 33-athlete strong delegation to the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. The cold temperatures at the opening ceremony kept half the delegation from marching, though the flag-bearer was yachtsman and 1992 bronze medallist Tõnu Tõniste.

Estonia's first medal was won by Aleksei Budõlin in men's half-middleweight judo. Budõlin secured the bronze after beating France's Djamel Bouras.

Estonia's second medal was also in judo, as Indrek Pertelson captured the bronze in men's heavyweight judo. Pertelson lost to France's David Douillet (eventual gold medallist) in the semis, but beat Ruslan Sharapov of Belarus for the bronze.


And in other news...

World-famous conductor of the Estonian Philharmonic Choir and Tallinn Chamber Choir Tõnu Kaljuste suggested as his replacement another world-famous choir conductor, Paul Hillier. Hillier is familiar with Estonian choral music, having conducted several popular recordings of works by Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis. Kaljuste is quitting the post, complaining about misdirected policies on culture by the government.

The Prison Department is embarking on a novel programme for prisoners to make uniforms for their guards. Officials say that this would save the department money and give jobs to prisoners.

Newspapers eagerly reported a proposal from President Lennart Meri to invite world leaders from 1991 to the tenth anniversary of the restoration of independence in August 2001. Names like Gorbachev, Bush, Yeltsin, Major and Gentscher were listed by the President's foreign policy advisor Toivo Klaar. However, the day after President Meri himself said no such plan was in the works, and it was the "initiative" of a "30-year-old" and not a "70-year-old."

A surgeon called a 55-year old woman "lucky" after they removed a 3.5cm sewing needle from her liver. The lady said that she swallowed it 34 years ago.

There are apparently 210 dogs on Estonia's payroll at the moment, mostly for rescue and guard work. Money budgeted for dogs ranges from EEK eight to over EEK 25 a day, which makes them higer paid than prisoners, news agencies pointed out.

The government is irritated after helicopter company CopterLine used a picture of the cabinet—wearing safety gowns and caps—as a centrefold advert in the weekly tabloid Eesti Ekspress. It was not a flattering photo, with most of the cabinet members looking like butchers or McDonalds workers, while one minister was on the ground in a dodgy pose. It will be hard for a few of these guys to live this one down.

Exchange Rates
As of 23 September 2000
Currency Estonian
1 US dollar 17.99
1 British pound 26.27
1 German mark 8
1 euro 15.65

[Up-to-date exchange rates]

Mel Huang, 23 September 2000

Moving on:


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


Seán Hanley

Andrew Kotas
Steel Structures

Jan Čulík
Czech Depression

Andrew Stroehlein
Online Journalism

Mark Preskett
Moldova's Bad Luck

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Fuelling Hungary

Mel Huang
Grave Diving

Sarah Whitmore
Ukraine's Constitution

Wojtek Kość
Jerzy Giedroyc (1906-2000)

Benjamin Halligan
Miloš Forman

Sam Vaknin
Dreamworld and Catastrophe

Press Reviews:
Oliver Craske
UK: Velvet Demonstrations?

Andrew Mrozek
Left Hanging

Culture Calendar:


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