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Vol 2, No 32
25 September 2000
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News from Lithuania
All the important news
since 16 September 2000

Mel Huang

Election 2000

With the race for the 8 October general elections heating up, a special section of the Lithuanian news review will be devoted to the campaign. A special edition of Amber Coast in next week's CER will feature a pre-election round-up.

One of the last polls before the elections was released by Vilmorus, showing two parties running well ahead of the others. The New Alliance (Social Liberals) are still ahead with 23.6 per cent support. However, the leftist bloc of Social Democrats and Labour Democrats (LDDP) formed by ex-President Algirdas Brazauskas doubled their popularity, as they are now sitting in second, with 17 per cent support. Partners of the New Alliance—the Liberal Union and Centre Union—are in third and fifth place respectively at 7.7 per cent and 5.4 per cent. The ruling Conservatives surprisingly moved into fourth with seven per cent. The Peasants Party is on the verge of the minimum threshold, polling at 4.9 per cent.

The Brazauskas-led bloc, however, has irked many local celebrities with a campaign leaflet that suggested unproven support. Nevertheless, rank-and-file members of the Social Democrats and the LDDP are calling for a quick merger to consolidate the left.

Seven parties representing the left, rural interests and nationalists signed a document against the sale of land to foreigners, calling it "premature." Signatories include the New Alliance, the two parties making up the leftist alliance of ex-President Brazauskas and the Peasants Party.

The powerful lobby group Confederation of Lithuanian Industrialists, led by self-styled "oligarch" and ex-Prime Minister Bronislovas Lubys, endorsed the centrist "New Policy" coalition (New Alliance, Liberal Union, Centre Union and Modern Christian Democrats). The 1996 endorsement by the Confederation of the Conservatives helped it to victory, but that has been linked to a series of improper appointments and scandals. No comments on the funding support for the coalition.

The left-wing Brazauskas-led coalition is also calling for a slowdown to the privatisation of Taupomasis Bankas (Savings Bank), saying people are calling for a slowdown in the selling off of major state assets. The sale of the largest state-owned bank is due to commence by year's end.

The Centre Union is pushing for an amendment to call for direct mayoral elections, due to the large number of mayors—now elected by the local councils—running for a parliamentary seat and "abandoning" their municipalities. Awkwardly, several of the most prominent mayors running for parliamentary seats are from the Centre Union's coalition partners, the New Alliance and Liberal Union.

In a US-like television interview trap, New Alliance (Social Liberals) leader Artūras Paulauskas was shamed on TV for not knowing how many NATO members there are. Reporters pointed out that this was especially sad, as Paulauskas just returned from a high-profile trip to visit NATO Secretary-general George Robertson in Brussels.


Politics and foreign affairs

The adoption of a small resolution has put Lithuania into serious trouble with Jewish organisations. The Seimas on 12 September passed a resolution legalising the declaration of sovereignty adopted by an interim government in June 1941 between the Soviet and Nazi occupations. However, the bill was pushed through by Conservative and Christian Democrat politicians despite it not being on the agenda. Jewish groups were angered, since the 1941 government is seen as a pro-Nazi unit that began the persecution of Jews and collaborated during the Nazi occupation. Litvak (Lithuanian Jewish) Conservative MP and head of the Human Rights Committee Emanuelis Zingeris angrily quit the party faction calling the tactics by the bill's supporters "unethical."

Protests from local Jewish groups, including the European Jewish Council (EJC), spread abroad. The EJC said it would boycott the 3-5 October international conference on plundered Jewish property to be held in Vilnius. Officials from the Council said that it was a "shame" that Lithuania was "rehabilitating de facto" a pro-Nazi government. MP Zingeris said that such a boycott would "boycott the memory of six million perished Jews and their culture."

The situation has been compounded by reports that Israel may boycott the restitution conference as well. Israeli media reported that the groups in the delegation are angry over the lack of guarantee from Lithuania on the restitution of property and on prosecuting war criminals. The Israelis are also unhappy at the lack of commemoration at the site near Vilnius where countless Jews were murdered by the Nazis and local accomplices. Additional reports added that Israel has issued a private demarche against Lithuania for the aforementioned resolution, according to diplomats.

Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis responded by forcing the "suspension" of the resolution's adoption. Landsbergis also wrote letters to various organisations and governments saying the resolution is not being adopted.

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.

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

Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, while speaking at the Baltic Development Forum in Malmö, Sweden, called on the EU to take a "big swallow" approach to enlargement. Kubilius argued that it would be easier for the EU to take a larger number of countries in at one time than to stagger the process.

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.

FBI Director Louis J Freeh visited Lithuania on his Baltic tour and discussed increasing co-operation with law-enforcement and government officials. Freeh said that the FBI will post representation in Vilnius in the very near future; the FBI currently has a representative in Tallinn for the Baltics.


Economics and business

The IMF issued its GDP and inflation predictions for Lithuania, saying GDP will increase by 2.5 per cent this year and four per cent in 2001. Inflation, according to the IMF, should be 1.6 per cent this year and 2.1 per cent in 2001.

The central bank has okayed a bid by Sweden's Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) to buy a 100 per cent stake in the largest Lithuanian private bank, Vilniaus Bankas (Bank of Vilnius). SEB controlled just over 40 per cent of the bank and announced the buy-out last month, alongside similar deals in Estonia (Ühispank) and Latvia (Unibanka). Swedish banking authorities have okayed SEB's bid.

Are the Czechs responsible for Lithuania not being in the WTO? Trade negotiators say that the Czech Republic remains the last hurdle for the country to gain membership in the World Trade Organisation, as other nations, such as the US, dropped its opposition over agricultural subsidy issues.


Social and local interest

According to a Vilmorus poll, Lithuanians trust the media most (57.6 per cent) but think political parties (-64 per cent) are not to be trusted, which is not unsurprising in the midst of a heated election campaign. Other institutions trusted are the presidency (43.2 per cent) and the church (42.5 per cent), but distrusted institutions include the Seimas (-62.2 per cent) and private banks (-55.2 per cent).



Most Lithuanians pinned their best medal hopes on their famous basketball team, but it turned out that a surprising gold came in women's trapshooting from Daina Gudzinevičiūtė.

Speaking of that basketball team, it started off badly with a close loss to Italy 48:50. Without NBA stars Arvydas Sabonis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (both injured), the young team fell to the solid Italian side.

However, the team, with its long list of NCAA stars, made its mark in a shockingly close loss to the US "Dream Team" with a 76:85 score. The Lithuanian team earned praises from American players and international journalists, and the "Dream Team" was booed off the court for poor shooting and lacklustre play. With two losses, Lithuania is facing a tough road to keep their bronze medal streak alive (the team won bronze in 1992 and 1996).


And in other news...

Forza Italia! The second annual military exercise Baltico 2000 got underway in Pabrad, with 1000 troops from Italy and 100 Lithuanian troops. The three-week long exercise is popular with Italian soldiers and Lithuanians alike, especially on leave time in Vilnius for the troops.

Hero turns goat, as world-famous stunt pilot Jurgis Kairys is fined for displaying tobacco advertising during his recent televised stunt exhibition in Kaunas. Strangely, Formula-1 champion Mika Häkkinen, also bearing similar tobacco brand names on his clothing while watching the exhibition, was not fined. Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis paid the LTL (Lithuanian litas) 5000 fine for Kairys, and Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius has ordered an investigation into why the fine was applied. Tobacco advertising became fully illegal earlier this year.

Lithuania and Latvia celebrated on 22 September "Baltic Day," marking the historic Battle of Saule in 1236. The combined Lithuanian and Latvian force during that battle dealt a heavy blow to Germanic crusaders along the Baltic Sea, forcing them to consolidate into the Teutonic Knights. Was the exclusion of Estonia for "Baltic Day" purely out of historic reasons, or is it related to a statement by Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves saying Estonia is "not a Baltic state" perhaps?


Exchange Rates
As of 23 September 2000
Currency Lithuanian lita (LTL)
1 US dollar 4.00
1 British pound 5.84
1 German mark 1.78
1 euro 3.48


Mel Huang, 23 September 2000

Moving on:


Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo
Lietuvos Rytas
Lietuvos Aidas
Kauno Diena


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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