Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 13
20 September 1999

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 11 September 1999.

Mel Huang

President Lennart Meri travelled to the Yalta Summit in Ukraine. In his speech, Meri called on the CIS to improve ties with the West. Meri reiterated that each country has its own right to choose which alliance it wants to join, without interference from others.

Outside of the meeting, President Meri also met with Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. With Stoyanov, the discussion focused on EU and NATO integration, as well as bilateral ties. With Shevardnadze, the focus remained mostly on bilateral ties.

Finally, President Meri visited the local Estonian communities in Ukraine. At the town of Alupka, Meri encouraged the community to visit their homeland. In response, the community leaders stated the difficulty in them getting visas to visit Estonia. The community plans to open an Estonian language school in the town of Krasnodarka. There has been a thriving Estonian community in Crimea and the Caucuses for over a 130 years.

During the middle of the week, President Lennart Meri made a return state visit to Iceland. He was greeted at Keflavik Airport by Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, who made a state visit to Estonia last year. Meri also met with members of the Althingi (parliament) and thanked them for being the first to recognise the restored independence of Estonia. Meri also met with Icelandic Prime Minister David Oddsson and discussed NATO and other issues. Later the two first couples went out of Reykjavik to visit the historical Althingi site at Thingvellir and do some salmon fishing. Accompanying Meri on the visit was Finance Minister Siim Kallas and Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Andres Tarand.

The Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein Heide Simonis visited Estonia to encourage closer ties with the German Land. Simonis met with Prime Minister Mart Laar, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja and Tallinn mayor Peeter Lepp. Together with Simonis, a group of businessmen from Schleswig-Holstein opened a new representation office for the Land in Tallinn. The relationship between Estonia and Schleswig-Holstein is the strongest among any of the German Laender.

This week saw the country's first incarceration for a driver convicted for drink drive. Dmitri Kevask was sentenced to three months in jail for repeated offences. With the number of politicians caught driving intoxicated (a high-ranking member of the Environmental Ministry was caught this past week as well), this case should serve as a warning.

In a related item, parliamentarian Kalev Kallo decided to keep his parliamentary mandate. Kallo is the guy caught driving with 2.3 per mill of alcohol in his blood - way over the limit (see see Amber Coast from 29 July 1999 for more details.)

Estonians have become the highest per capita users of the Internet in Central and East Europe. In fact, Estonia has surpassed France and Italy and is on par with Germany and Austria in this regard. The rising numbers have no doubt come with the laying of a new fibre-optic cable across the Gulf of Finland by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) Uninet and the free service offered by the ISP TELE2, which continued to sign people up even after announcing a moratorium.

However, a snafu occurred with the free e-mail service provided by mega.ee when a repeat of the Hotmail debacle shut down the mail service. Internet "enthusiasts" showed that the password system failed and anyone could read anyone's e-mails on the system. Technology without proper background and infrastructure continues to be a major problem in Estonia.

As mentioned earlier, the government and representatives of both employees and unions signed an agreement to hike the minimum wage. Starting in 2000, the minimum monthly wage goes up from EEK (Estonian kroons) 1250 to EEK 1400. Also, the minimum tax-free annual wage goes up from the current EEK 6000 to EEK 9600 starting next year, with EEK 12000 as the anticipated mark for 2001.

The government also finalised the 2000 budget total at EEK 17.1 billion. This is down from 1999's total of 17.46 (including the 1 billion taken off in a cut during the summer) billion kroon budget. The draft calls for increases in the ministries of Culture, Defence, Education, and Foreign Affairs only. The measure will go to the Riigikogu soon. The figure is based on an expected GDP growth next year of a conservative 3.8 to 4 per cent.

Estonian leaders were shamed into sending condolences to Moscow after the tragic bombings. The press harped on the leadership for not sending any condolences, which prompted the late letter from Prime Minister Mart Laar.

Controversial Interior Minister Juri Mois introduced a plan to sack one-seventh of Estonia's 4,234-strong police force. He claims streamlining the force will weed out the weakest officers and raise the wage of the remaining ones. However, regional police in some areas are worried. In Hiiumaa, the police will be cut by half, leaving 16 officers for the entire island. Also, Tartu's police force is to be slashed by nearly 40 per cent from its current number of 400.

Members of the parliamentary opposition are joining together to call for direct presidential elections. They introduced a bill calling for a referendum to change the system. Earlier, members of the ruling coalition, led by perpetual presidential aspirant Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, also suggested the idea. However, the coalition has not made up its mind yet about this change (see Amber Coast from 20 May 1999).

Perhaps with this in mind, political parties are starting to cover both possibilities - either the system changes or stays the same - for the next presidential election. Ruling coalition member Moodukad (best translated as Moderates, but CER has been asked not to translate the name Moodukad - its members say to consider them in the same naming category as Fianna Fail of Eire or something) has begun replacing its old "Aitab Jamast - Vali Moodukad" (Cut the Crap - Vote Moodukad) slogan from the March general elections to "Tarand Presidendiks - Vali Moodukad" (Tarand for President - Vote Moodukad).

Latvian Interior Minister Mareks Seglins visited Estonia to meet with his counterpart, Interior Minister Juri Mois. The pair discussed further co-operation between their ministries and related departments.

Huh? A mysterious shipment arrived in Tallinn for the Kalev candy factory. But it wasn't cocoa...it was a cobra! The mysterious animal has been taken to the Tallinn Zoo and now investigators are puzzling over how this mix-up occurred. This comes after a similar event in Tartu, where an elephant got loose...

Controversy is brewing with the state investigations into the firm Divec, which specialises in setting up offshore companies. The state is turning a lot of attention to this case, as the firm's Internet advert on setting up cheap offshore firms even drew the attention of the US Internal Revenue Service. No, the URL will not be provided here.

Ullar Puusaag, a NCO who collapsed from a heat stroke during the Tartu marathon, died in hospital from organ failure. A press outcry about military personnel being forced into such events continued until a panel cleared the military - assigning blame to organisers and the lack of first aid at such a sporting event. However, some are puzzled on why the military men were in military uniform, including boots, during the event.

On this note, Defence Minister Juri Luik stated that EEK 3 million will be earmarked in 2000 for insurance for military personnel.

The Electoral Commission confirmed that some 230,000 permanent residents will be allowed to vote in October's local elections alongside citizens. This would make the voting base about 1.1 million.

As of August, 72 per cent of the budget has been fulfilled - counting money from privatisation, such as the proceeds from the sale of Eesti Telekom shares. Not counting that, however, tax collection remains slow, bringing in only 58 per cent of anticipated revenues.

When a 13-year-old schoolgirl brought an airgun to school, the debate about children and guns, and school safety began yet again in the press. This is not the first time pupils have brought such weapons to school.

Exchange Rates

As of 16 September 1999

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 15.05
1 British pound 24.44
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

Mel Huang, 18 September 1999

News Sources

Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo

Eesti Paevaleht




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