Central Europe Review Balkan Information Exchange
Vol 2, No 35
16 October 2000
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from Estonia

All the important news
since 7 October 2000

Mel Huang

Controversial divers charged

Swedish prosecutors filed charges against the organisers of a diving expedition to the Estonia ferry wreck for violations of an international treaty protecting the wreck. US millionaire Gregg Bemis and German television producer Jutta Rabe were charged in connection with the controversial dive to the site, which took place in late summer. As the wreck lies in international waters, Swedish and other authorities could not legally stop the expedition. At the time, Swedish authorities warned that if the expedition entered Swedish territorial waters it would be subject to arrest.

The expedition was based out of Germany, a significant omission on the list of signatories to the treaty. Prosecutor Robbie Jacobsson has said that they are not certain about issuing extradition requests for the two individuals. Bemis scoffed at the charge, saying that investigators should look into the more than 850 victims "murdered" in the tragedy. The tampering with the grave site has been widely criticised by Estonian, Finnish and Swedish authorities, and the sale of the video from the film has triggered anger in all three countries.


Kama's rejection halts youth movement

The Riigikogu rejected the candidacy of Priit Kama as legal chancellor. Kama, a member of the Pro Patria Union of Prime Minister Mart Laar, lost by a close 49 to 50 vote. Opposition parties complained that Kama, strongly supported by President Lennart Meri, was too politically aligned in a post that should be non-partisan. The opposition also complained about the young age of Kama—28.

Estonia has been remarkable for years with its youth movement, exemplified by the government of then-32-year-old Mart Laar and Defence Minister Jüri Luik, who first took that post when he was 27 years old. Tallinn's chief prosecutor was appointed when he was 21 years of age.


Challenging the Olympic spirit

The Czech Athletics Association is examining information before considering filing a challenge to the gold medal won in the decathlon by Estonian Erki Nool in Sydney earlier in September. Several Czech decathletes continue to stress that Nool faulted in the discus event by stepping over the boundary line. At the time of the competition, Nool was first ruled to have faulted; however, judges overruled the fault decision and validated the result.

Later, running his personal best 1500m, Nool won the gold over Czech decathlete Roman Šebrlé. Nool has since been a celebrated celebrity in Estonia, and has even moved to put his name as a trademark to prevent his likeness being used inappropriately. Challenge or no challenge, Nool has become Estonia's biggest sporting hero.


Oil spill fines adding up

The captain of Greek tanker Alambra, Georgios Sozos, has signed an affidavit stating that his craft was at fault for a massive oil spill at the Port of Tallinn in September. The affidavit admitted responsibility for spilling 145 tonnes of oil. However, officials believe the spill was much larger (at 240 tonnes), and would not accept the affidavit. This has direct impact on the fine, as the fine is EEK (Estonian kroons) 180,000 per tonne.

The Maltese-registered Alambra has been seized by court order until the situation is resolved. Meanwhile, the Port of Tallinn could impose fines of EEK tens of millions for damage as well.


Ilves talks foreign policy

Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves discussed Estonia's foreign policy at the semi-annual foreign policy speech and debate at the Riigikogu. Ilves reaffirmed Estonia's desire to complete preparations for EU membership by the end of 2002, and that the upcoming Swedish presidency should give the process a large impetus. Ilves also said that the most successful candidates should be ready for final membership talks by next year.

Ilves also raised concerns on NATO integration, especially on tasks that have been planned but not completed. Ilves also called for the promotion of more trade with Central Europe, noting that it has been low despite free trade deals with most of the region's countries.

However, some controversy came up when Ilves responded to an MP's question about his position on Baltic co-operation. Ilves said he was "tired of the patter" about Baltic co-operation and that military co-operation has been successful. He also expressed his concerns about the need for all candidates to join the EU together.


And in other news...

  • September's CPI rose by 0.4 per cent.
  • Populations Minister Katrin Saks presented a report on integration, which presented survey results indicating 84 per cent of non-ethnic Estonians consider Estonia their home and 79.3 per cent stressing their loyalty to the Estonian state. On the other hand, 86 per cent of ethnic Estonians say that people of different nationalities can work and live together in one country and 75 per cent say that different languages and cultures enrich society. Only ten per cent of ethnic Estonians spoke out against such multiculturalism.
  • The government is demanding payment for their likeness being used in an embarrassing advert by CopterLine that appeared the tabloid Eesti Ekspress several weeks ago. The photo had the individual ministers in awkward and embarrassing poses while wearing safety garb and hair nets.
  • Unemployment remained rather steady at 4.9 per cent across the country, though Ida-Virumaa still has the highest jobless rate, at 9.6 per cent.
  • The Visgenyx biotech firm in Tartu has created genetically altered mice that are immune to morphine. The specimens, which would be valuable for medical research, could sell for EEK hundreds of thousands each.
  • Number three bank Optiva Pank will undergo another name change at the start of the new year. The former Forekspank, which changed its name after a merger and central bank bailout, will be renamed Sampo Pank starting in January 2001. The central bank sold a controlling stake in Optiva Pank to a consortium of Finnish insurance companies, Sampo and Leonia.
  • British House of Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd made her final foreign trip to Estonia, arriving from nearby Latvia. Boothroyd, visiting on the so-called "free sitting week," though the idea of a week devoted to meeting constituents was a brilliant idea.

Exchange Rates
As of 13 October 2000
Currency Estonian
1 US dollar 18.00
1 British pound 26.03
1 German mark 8
1 euro 15.65

[Up-to-date exchange rates]

Mel Huang, 13 October 2000

Moving on:


Baltic News Service (BNS)
Eesti Päevaleht
SL Õhtuleht


Pat FitzPatrick
Reappraising Relations

Tom Gallagher
Return of the Poet

Magali Perrault
Nuking the Neighbours

Sam Vaknin
Parasitic Economics

Martin D Brown
Duplicity Revisited

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Roads to Roma

Wojtek Kość
Here He
Comes Again

Mel Huang
Lithuanians Vote

Andrea Mrozek
Visiting Auschwitz

Peter Hames
The Best Czech
Film Ever

Oliver Craske
The Uninvited

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Andrea Mrozek
Re-emerging Debates

Oliver Craske
Redrafting History

The Arts:
Židas Daskalovski
Strange Folk


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