Facing the East
Due to enormous interest, there were not enough chairs for everyone attending a meeting with Russian businessmen held in the Seimas this past week. The message of the meeting, "less ideology, more pragmatism," was especially supported by one of the most influential Russian businessman, ex-Prime Minister Anatoli Chubais.
The head of Russia's main power utility encouraged attendees to shed any fears about Russian imperialism. MP Kazimira Prunskienė supported this, saying that isolation has no future, whereas economic relations are the base of the state.
Energy agreement signed
In a related story, representatives of Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy) signed an agreement with Russia, Belarus, Latvia and Estonia about the establishment of parallel energy systems. The same agreement was blocked by earlier governments, and it led to a major scandal in 1999 when the Conservative-led government prohibited the power utility to sign it, calling it an obstruction to integration with Western energy systems.
This week, a working group was also established to consider a Lithuanian proposal that would remove a clause forcing a party to comepensate if it withdrawals from the agreement.
Strasbourg to decide ex-KGB officers dismissal
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg accepted two cases concerning ex-KGB officers in Lithuania: the cases of Kęstutis Džiautas and Juozas Sidabras. Both individuals were dismissed from civil service in accordance with lustration laws, and they claim they cannot find jobs in the private sector because of that revelation.
The Court posed some questions for Lithuania, asking about the possibility that the lustration rules affected the private lives of the individuals, since the law prohibits work in certain private sector jobs, as well as whether the two were treated legally in their dismissal before a court order.
Further resignations in the government
Economics Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis (Liberal Union) submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, requesting a leave of absence until the matter is sorted out by President Valdas Adamkus, who is on his traditional winter holiday in Mexico. According to his party colleagues, Maldeikis is sacrificing himself for the good of the party and government.
Maldeikis worked in the cabinet for the three months since its inception, but the scandal over his recent Moscow visit forced him to resign. This is the second resignation by Maldeikis from a cabinet job; the first was in 1999 in protest to the sale of Mažeikių Nafta (Mažeikiai Oil) to US company Williams International.
The same scandal claimed its second victim when Rolandas Zujevas, economics and privatisation advisor to Seimas Chairman Artūras Paulauskas, also resigned. Zujevas denies any wrongdoing but stated it was a moral responsibility, since he was also a member of the delegation on the questionable trip to Moscow.
The scandal first erupted when fears surfaced that the infamous Moscow visit was organised by parties that were "very interested" in the privatisation of Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas), most notably because the visiting officials did not stay at the Lithuanian Embassy compound but chose paid-for accommodations at an exclusive new Moscow hotel.
Kaunas politics in further turmoil
Last week, Kaunas Mayor Gediminas Budnikas (Freedom Union) resigned from his post. This week, his deputy Kazys Starkevičius (Conservatives) followed suit. Both resignations still require approval from the Kaunas City Council, which is due to convene shortly. Starkevičius expressed his inability to work under present conditions and regretted that he could not do what he sought out to do.
In the meantime, the leader of the right-wing Freedom Union, MP Vytautas Šustauskas, had to react to severe criticism both from his colleagues and opponents after he was shown speaking on Swedish TV allegedly using anti-Semitic rhetoric. His coalition colleagues in Kaunas announced they are against his position and asked Šustauskas to step down as a member of the City Council. Other City Council members have said his behaviour is abnormal and socially dangerous, as it is equivalent to Holocaust revision.
Seimas Chairman Artūras Paulauskas asked the Ethics Committee to evaluate the MP's behaviour, though Šustauskas defended himself by saying his remarks about global Jewish capital do not apply to all Jews, and that his personal opinions have nothing to do with the politics of the Freedom Union (for a recap on Šustauskas see Mel Huang's article from 25 April 2000, Lithuania's Loons Take Off).
Radiation cloud from Chornobyl
Panic from Belarus this past week reached Lithuania when Belarussian authorities reported a "strange" cloud coming from the south-west, hinting it might have originiated in Chornobyl, Ukraine. It was detected along the border by guards, whose safety devices suddenly detected an increase of radiation by 15 times. The cloud was about 15 kilometres long and is believed to have drifted into the Baltic states. Experts ruled out any radiation in the cloud's path, saying the cloud floated mainly over marshland.
Money down the road?
After reports of massive corruption, State Roads Department Deputy Director Jonas Puluikis resigned. He is the second top official to step down due to the scandal after ex-Transport Minister Gintaras Striaukas was also found to be involved.
It now appears that private companies have mushroomed around the department's tenders process each month, as the involved companies' accountants established dividends for shareholders, some of them just happen to be family and friends of the heads of the department. The mastermind of the scheme is believed to be the firm Biseris, where the wife of ex-Minister Striaukas and son of Puluikis held shares.
And in other news...
- Former parliament member Egidijus Bičkauskas, who is currently working as an advisor to the foreign minister, will receive disciplinary measures at work and face a LTL (Lithuanian litas) 3000 (USD 750) fine after causing a hit-and-run car accident in Vilnius. It was reported he was under the influence of alcohol.
- The government extended the deadline for completion of negotiations with Danish-owned DFDS Tor Line over the privatisation of the Lithuanian Shipping Company (LISCO) for two more months, but it wants more: LTL 51.2 million, in comparison to the earlier sum of LTL 47.9 million that was set for the previous unsuccessful privatisation.
- Mažeikių Nafta produced 25.5 per cent more oil in January than it did in the same month last year. This is the best result in one and a half years.
- Lithuanians were involved in a minibus accident in Poland, resulting in three fatalities and numerous injuries.
- Unemployment reached its peak in January at 13.1 per cent, according to statistics from the Employment Agency.
- Although no cases of BSE have been registered so far in the country, the EU has assigned Lithuania to the group of enhanced risk countries due to the lack of suitable equipment for laboratory testing.
Inga Pavlovaitė, 9 February 2001
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Baltic News Service (BNS)