Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 5
7 February 2000

C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Estonia
All the important news from Estonia
since 28 January 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

A row is developing between Finland and Estonia over comments by Finnish Interior Minister Kari Häkämies, who said that Estonia could be prevented from joining the EU if it does not deal with drug trafficking and police corruption. Häkämies maintains that at least one shipment of drugs goes to Finland each day from Estonia, partly due to corrupt police officials. Finnish police said that of the 214 foreigners convicted of drug smuggling in Finland, 81 are Estonian nationals. Finnish criminal police commissioner Jan Bergström said that Estonia is now the number one source of drugs for Finland. However, the head of Estonia's drug squad, Kalev Mõtus, responded by saying that Finnish leaders need to wake up to the increasing drug usage in Finland, using the supply-and-demand argument.

This comes uncomfortably close to a quick working visit by Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen to Estonia. Lipponen confirmed that the issue of drug smuggling was discussed with Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar and that the two sides are discussing increased co-operation. Prime Minister Laar said he expected Häkämies to provide proof of his allegations, especially of police corruption in drug smuggling.

Russia's Ambassador to Estonia, Aleksei Glukhov, set off a verbal and print storm when he called the Tartu Peace Treaty obsolete the day before its 80th anniversary. The Tartu Peace Treaty ended the war between Estonia and Soviet Russia, as Estonian forces pushed close to the former imperial capital, Petrograd. The document is called the "birth certificate" of Estonia, in which Russia "renounces voluntarily and forever all rights of sovereignty formerly held by Russia over the Estonian people and territory." In the statement Glukhov also maintained that Estonia joined the USSR voluntarily and upon that, the Treaty became legally and factually void. That is seen as historical revisionism of Soviet atrocities in the Baltic countries, like the malicious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the "non-recognition" policy followed by most of the West.

The Defence Ministry is working on a plan to concentrate Estonia's military into three points: Tallinn, Tapa and Võru. This would require significant construction work at the two rural points (EEK 26.3 million in Tapa and EEK 16.4 million in Võru) to handle the personnel numbers. However, some in the officers corps are against the move, saying social aspects of moving some of the battalion headquarters have not been considered - to which the Defence Ministry admitted. Some suspect this was a reason for the sacking of former acting Defence Forces commander Colonel Urmas Roosimägi at the start of the year, as he hinted unhappiness over showpiece developments for NATO, which he called "Potemkin villages."

Estonian students are circulating e-mails to organise a protest against the plan to conscript young men before they enter university (modelled after Finland).

The Marshal of Poland's Sejm, Maciej Płażyński, made a two-day visit to Estonia. Most of the discussion concerned EU and NATO, as well as bilateral ties. Issues relating to resumption of a normal transport link were high on the agenda. Estonia has no direct travel routes to Poland, except by buses en route to Germany. The Tallinn-Warsaw Baltic Express train stopped operating, and LOT has quit the Tallinn-Warsaw route.

The quote of the week came from Viktor Andrejev of the United Peoples Party (EÜRP) speaking about Estonia's integration programme: "The concept of the program is based on the wrong assumption that integration is only a one-way process, in which the ethnically non-Estonian part of society would adopt the Estonian language." Andrejev tends to forget that Estonian is the official language of the country and the already extended slow integration of Russian-language schools has been damaging concessions already. Does he even understand what country he lives in, one wonders.

The government moved to reduce paperwork by shifting the bulk of its communications and records to electronic means. Items such as daily briefings will no longer be printed in bulk. Minutes from government meetings, for example, cost EEK 1.5 million to print annually.

The government paid off the final set of bonds, issued for a controversial arms purchase from Israel back in 1993. The final payment of USD 7.1 million makes the total expenditure USD 60.4 million with interest. The purchase price of the arms was about USD 49 million. Though the weapons were purchased at a time when Estonia was occupied by the Russian military, was defenceless and had no one else willing to sell them good weapons, many criticise the arms for being useless, as they were designed for desert combat not arctic conditions in northern Europe. Experts also think that bookkeeping errors resulted in an overpayment of interest between USD 900,000 to 2.5 million.

The Border Guards requested EEK 30 million to create a system for detecting pollution, especially from oil. The equipment is necessary for Estonia to fulfil its international environmental obligations. Many worry, especially with the increasing oil traffic in the Baltic Sea due to further construction in Russia of oil export points.

Lieutenant Igor Schvede was named the head of the NATO integration unit in the General Staff of the Defence Forces. Lt. Col. Schvede was formerly the head of the naval minesweeping division.

The German Navy donated the mine-detection ship Cuxhaven to the Estonian Navy.

The Defence Ministry announced that it will accept the gift of four Robinson R44 helicopters from the United States. Earlier, it was revealed that the Defence Ministry kept the Americans waiting for over six months on the decision. This more than doubles the fleet of choppers for the Estonian Air Force.

Tallinn Mayor Jüri Mõis travelled to Hong Kong to drum up co-operation with the small Asian financial centre.


Economics and Business

The Statistics Department revised Q3 GDP growth downward to zero growth, from the previously announced 0.2 per cent rise. Most analysts were dismayed by the downgrade from the already poor result, though it did not dampen the optimism for this year. Most analysts are predicting growth of three to six per cent for this year.

The year got off to a bad start for the treasury, as only 6.74 per cent of anticipated annual revenues for the state was collected.

Confusion reins at public television ETV, and no one is sure who is the director. Sacked director Toomas Lepp was reinstated by an arbitration board, only to be sacked yet again by the board of governors of the public television.

The Business Software Association and Microsoft released a study showing that pirate software remains a big problem in the Baltics. Estonia showed the biggest improvement over the past few months, following Microsoft's "legalisation" programme, as the share of pirate software dropped to 72 per cent from 86 per cent. This remains above Lithuania (which dropped to 81 per cent from 92 per cent) and Latvia (which fell to 85 per cent from 90 per cent). Perhaps this is due to some high-profile raids and IT equipment confiscation by the Estonian police.


Social and Local Interest

There are about 400,000 mobile phone users in Estonia, roughly 28 per cent of the entire population.

The government has spent EEK 33.5 million for the redundancies of 424 police officials. The large-scale redundancy scheme has cost the government about one-quarter less than expected, and wages for remaining officers have risen significantly.

Partly due to the warm summer, beer consumption in 1999 jumped from 47 litres in 1998 to 61 litres per person.

Confessed murderer Aleksei Paal retracted his confession at his trial. Paal earlier confessed to killing his father, Anatoli Paal, in a heated argument. Anatoli Paal was a well-respected engineer at Narva and also the director of the Narva Power Plant. The murder shocked the entire city, as Paal was a popular former deputy mayor as well.

Kunda Nordic Tsement (Kunda Nordic Cement) is planning to build an oil shale mine in the village of Ubja and is trying to sell the idea to residents. Though residents are concerned with environmental problems, the company assures that high standards will be met and that it will provide jobs to the people. The unemployment rate in Ubja is about 30 per cent. Kunda Tsement, based in the town of Kunda in north-central Estonia, is the third largest cement producer in the world.

A new report shows that gender inequality remains in the workforce, as women earn only 63 per cent of what men earn, despite working 1.5 hours a day longer on average.


And Others...

Estonia's Kristina Šmigun has risen to the top of the World Cup standings in women's cross country skiing after a strong finish in Norway.

Commenting on the development of Estonia's nature reserves, officials said that 12 per cent of Estonian territory is under protection by legislation, while two per cent is under special protection (banning unauthorised activities and so forth). There are 318 nature reserves in Estonia, as well as 58 wildlife reserves and 252 landscape reserves.

A mildly-ridiculous situation developed with ministerial substitutions, when Economics Minister Mihkel Pärnoja suddenly took over the portfolios of the foreign and finance ministers, as well as the prime minister. This happened as Prime Minister Mart Laar and Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves travelled to separate conferences and Finance Minister Siim Kallas was on holiday. The government chancellery said it was a "record."

A shock to many Internet dial-up customers came when they received shockingly high telephone bills. It appears some dial-up users fell for a scam from adult web pages that suggested the contents were "free" if the user download and use a programme to reach it, however, it just made the dial-up call Sierra Leone instead. Thus, the unsuspecting surfers racked up ridiculously high phone bills for calling the coastal African country.

Exchange rates
As of 4 February 2000

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 15.81
1 British pound 25.27
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

[Up to date Estonian exchange rates can be found here]

Prepared by Mel Huang, 4 February 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

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