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 Lithuania
All the important news from Lithuania
since 28 January 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

The leader of the National Socialist Union, Mindaugas Murza, has been entered on top of the election list for the Independence Party for the local council elections in Šiauliai. Several others from the neo-Nazi party have been listed with the Independence Party as well. The electoral commission cannot prevent the individuals from running, as they are not running with another party. The Justice Ministry has refused to register the National Socialists nine times, as it violates various laws with its extreme platform. Other political parties are urging the Independence Party to drop the Nazi candidates, but right-wing Euro-sceptic MP Rimantas Smetona, head of the National Democratic Party, said the other parties should not "butt in" on such cases.

Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis both called on authorities to be vigilant in dealing with extremist political groups. Though not naming names, Kubilius and Vytautas probably meant groups such as the National Socialist Union and the Lithuanian Freedom League, which caused a disruption weeks ago that led to the cancellation of a charity Vienna Ball.

Sadly, the quote of the week is associated with the leader of the Lithuanian Freedom League, Vytautas Šustauskas. Already on the bad side of politicians over the Vienna Ball mess, Šustauskas continued his tirade, saying that Austrian Ambassador Dr Florian Haug should be "declared persona non grata and deported from Lithuania," adding that this will allow him to "organise Vienna Balls in his country and dance at them."

In a rare show of solidarity, the five largest political parties in Lithuania signed a communiqué reaffirming their commitment to NATO integration. The communiqué - signed by the Conservatives, Christian Democrats, Centre Union, Social Democrats and the Democratic Labour Party - stressed that they will "spare no effort" in bringing Lithuania to NATO. This comes mostly in opposition to a referendum drive by Artūras Paulauskas, the leader of the non-influential New Alliance (Social Liberals), to divert defence funding to education. Paulauskas denies that he is anti-NATO. Some analysts feel this is a bid by the five parties to hold onto their status, as they have suffered under defections and the growth of other parties - a modern Lithuanian version of a Czech "pětka" perhaps.

Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas travelled to Poland to meet with his counterpart, Bronisław Geremek. Much of the discussion focused on bilateral relations, especially Poland's assistance in Lithuania's bid to join NATO. However, both sides also brought up the lingering spectre of minority rights, which has been a stumbling block in the otherwise close relationship between the former commonwealth partners.

Controversy is brewing over the reduction of judges' wages by the government. This comes despite the Supreme Court announcing the wages of acting judges should not be cut while serving.

US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson began his regional tour in Lithuania, where an agreement with the three Baltic countries on co-operation was signed. Richardson praised Lithuania for its commitment to shutting down the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant and also called on the continued privatisation of the energy sector.

Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Otto Pick and Deputy Defence Minister Jaromír Novotný made a visit to Lithuania to discuss NATO integration with Lithuanian officials. They told Lithuania not to make the same mistakes as the Czech Republic and that Lithuania should have its legislation ready for the commitments of NATO membership (such as foreign troop passage, etc).


Economics and Business

The government effectively overruled the Competitions Council by allowing Lietuvos Telekomas to raise telephone rates by an average of six per cent. Earlier, the Competitions Council ruled against the rise in tariffs, which prompted the telephone monopoly to pursue the case with the government.

A dispute over owed fees grounded a plane from Lietuvos Avolinijos (Lithuanian Airlines, LAL) at London Heathrow this week. Eurocontrol, the organisation dealing with navigation fees, said LAL owed them an unspecified sum and called on Heathrow authorities to prevent the plane from taking off. LAL disagreed with the decision. However, the route has been reopened using another aircraft.

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

Funding problems at universities are forcing some to consolidate sessions to save money on heating and electricity. The total debt among centres of higher education is estimated at LTL (Lithuanian litas) 20 million, much of it from cutbacks in funding.

A report shows that physical and emotional violence against women appears in one-third of Lithuanian households.

Agricultural production in Lithuania dropped by 12 per cent in 1999. Grain production fell the sharpest by 25 per cent, while meat production dropped by only one per cent.

There are a total of 201 registered cases of HIV infection in Lithuania, with 28 of those suffering from full-blown AIDS. So far, ten people have died over the years from AIDS-related problems.

Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius promised to pay LTL 90 million in owed agricultural subsidies by the middle of March, though the state owes some LTL 132 million from 1999 alone. Farmers, organised by "Lepper" wannabe Ramūnas Karbauskis, have initiated court action en masse to recover the back subsidies. Karbauskis is likely another of the "extremists" talked about by Kubilius during the week. Karbauskis also accused President Valdas Adamkus of "treason" for wanting to legalise the sale of agricultural land to foreigners.

Alcohol sales dropped by one-seventh in 1999, compared to 1998. However, with lower prices, the sale of hard alcohol leaped in the fourth quarter by threefold. Some sociologists attribute that to the holiday season, as well as the economic downturn in the country.

Vilnius is suffering from an outbreak of the flu as it becomes an epidemic throughout the country. More than one per cent of the city's residents have since come down with the flu, and officials are implementing various measures to combat the spread of the deadly bug. Out of the 52 regions, 12 are officially in a flu epidemic.

The Bishops Conference of the Roman Catholic Church in Lithuania issued an apology for the collaboration of some of the Church's high-ranking officials during the Soviet occupation with the KBG. The Conference also urged others to admit to their collaboration, ostensibly for forgiveness. The Conference is also planning to issue an apology for the collaboration of some with the Nazi occupation.

A poll by Vilmorus shows that 59.9 per cent of the public wants to join the EU, a mild rise from the anti-EU trend which prevailed during the debate over Ignalina. Only 18 per cent are dead set against joining the EU.


And Others...

Customs authorities said that a total of LTL nine million worth of contraband goods were seized at the border last year. Most of the items were the popular smuggled goods, such as alcohol and sugar, but violins were also confiscated at one point.

Astronomer Kazimieras Černis was credited for discovering yet another comet, bringing his total to ten. Černis is considered a pioneer in the field of comet discovery, making some breakthrough discoveries as early as 1980.

The government granted LTL 1.966 million to the Klaipėda region for relief from the freak arrival of hurricane Anatoli in early December. The hurricane caused a total of LTL 36 million worth of damage in Lithuania alone and resulted in two deaths.

Exchange rates
As of 4 February 2000

currency Lithuanian
litas (LTL)
1 US dollar 4.00
1 British pound 6.39
1 German mark 2.02
1 euro 3.96

Mel Huang, 4 February 2000

Archive of Mel Huang's Amber Coast articles

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