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 Lithuania

All the important news from Lithuania since 11 September 1999.

Mel Huang

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus travelled to Crimea for the Yalta Summit. During his address, Adamkus called for strengthening of ties between the Baltic and Black sea regions and the removal of artificial barriers for exchange and commerce.

The only bilateral meeting held by President Adamkus was with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. The two called for an increase in bilateral relations.

Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas made a three-day visit to France. There, he met with Premier Lionel Jospin, European Minister Pierre Moscovici and Speaker of the National Assembly Laurent Fabius. The focus of the visit revolved around EU and NATO integration, as well as bilateral ties. Paksas inquired about the Lithuanian diplomatic buildings from the Interwar period, which are currently being illegally occupied by Russian diplomatic services. Paksas also queried the officials about the allegations of dumping into the EU market by Lithuanian companies.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem harshly attacked Lithuania, calling it an "ultimate haven" for war criminals. The Centre's controversial director, Efraim Zuroff, expressed various angry remarks after the Vilnius Regional Court rejected prosecutor motions to re-examine the health of accused war criminal Aleksandras Lileikis (see Amber Coast from 11 February 1999 for more on Lithuania's dilemma with "international justice").

The European Commission, though somewhat satisfied with Lithuania's decision to shut the first unit of Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in 2005, called for the second unit to be turned off in 2009. This, the Lithuanian government will not approach until 2004 (see also Amber Coast from 19 August 1999 for a round-up on the Ignalina issue).

Coming back from Brussels with that news, Economics Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis stated that a donors conference for the shutdown will be held in Vilnius this autumn. He said that the EU has preliminarily promised about half the funding, at first this is to include EUR 200 million more from the Structural Funds. However, estimates bring the shutdown costs for the first unit into the billions. And this does not include the price of electricity or the expected social costs in the town of Visaginas, where most of Ignalina's Russian-speaking workers live.

The Central Bank approved the merger of Hermis and Vilniaus Bankas, which will create the second largest bank in the Baltics - behind Estonia's Hansapank. The combined assets of the bank will be LTL (Lithuanian litas) 5.56 billion. The Central Bank gave Vilniaus Bankas the rights to acquire two-thirds of all of the shares of Hermis within one year. Earlier regulators hinted the move would be blocked due to monopoly rules. Vilniaus Bankas is the second largest Lithuanian bank and will be absorbing the fourth largest - Hermis.

The Social Insurance Fund SODRA has to take a loan from the Hansabankas, the Lithuanian branch of the Estonian banking giant Hansapank. The loan, totalling LTL 30 million, has been apparently rejected by several local banks - a testament to the state of the fund. The fund is estimated to be in debt by LTL 320 million.

This, along with a plethora of criticism - especially from the Seimas, prompted SODRA director Vincas Kunca to resign.

From 13 to 21 September, the large military exercise Amber Hope '99 will be held in Lithuania - mostly at the Rukla training site. Some 1400 soldiers from five countries are taking part: Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark and Romania. The exercises will also bring together the joint Lithuanian-Polish Peacekeeping Battalion LITPOLBAT. Head of Lithuania's military, Brigadier General Jonas Kronkaitis, opened the exercises.

Due to US budget cuts, the FBI will not be opening its office in Vilnius as planned.

The Central Bank will put LTL 500 notes into circulation, starting next year. The notes will feature the portrait of much-loved poet Vincas Kudirka, the author of Lithuania's national anthem.

Lithuania is on its way to meeting its UN profile expectations, as Oskaras Jusys was elected deputy chair of the current session of the UN General Assembly.

The British government is reminding Lithuania to remain vigilant about keeping out bogus asylum seekers travelling to Britain. The numbers per month are down from a high of 100 to about 55, but with the charged atmosphere in Dover and other parts of England, Westminster is taking this seriously. Vilnius is also taking this seriously. Since Finland's re-introduction of visas for Slovaks broke the mould, the government worries that Britain may do the same for Lithuanians.

Protestors against the opening of a theme park dedicated to Soviet-era memorials and relics began a hunger strike in front of the Seimas. President Adamkus urged the protestors not to use such dangerous tactics.

The Seimas is beginning the process of ratifying the border agreement with Russia - unilaterally. The measure has become stuck in Russia, as the government there does not want to present it to the Duma unless passage is assured.

President Adamkus kept the top score as the most popular politician, with 84 per cent approval. Prime Minister Paksas surprisingly still holds second, with 69.6 per cent, followed by Centre Union leader Romualdas Ozolas a distant third at 42.3 per cent.

Sadly, that does not reflect on the Seimas, as 41 per cent in a recent poll stated they did not trust the work of their constituency's MP. Lithuania's parliamentary voting is split, half being done by first-past-the-post constituency mandates, and the other half by PR lists. Some 15 per cent didn't even know their MP's name, which is still considerably better than many other countries with long democratic traditions.

NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Javier Ruperez and the Assembly's Secretary General Simon Lunn finished their Baltic tour in Lithuania. The pair met with Prime Minister Paksas, Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas, Defence Minister Ceslovas Stankevicius and military commander Brigadier General Jonas Kronkaitis. The visiting officials confirmed that NATO enlargement is an ongoing process and supported Lithuania's aspirations to join the organisation.

There were changes in the Customs Department, as director Stasys Stazys resigned due to prolonged health problems. At the same time, over two-thirds of parliamentarians signed a petition calling for the replacement to be former director Alvydas Budrys - who was sacked by former Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, but subsequently the sacking was ruled illegal by court.

Opposition forces promise a heated battle for amendments on foreign companies owning the country's oil sector. The amendments, which will facilitate the complete entry of US fuel company Williams International to the purchase of Mazeikiai Oil, sparked off criticism from all opposition groups.

Two small leftist parties announced they will head into the coming elections with the ex-Communist Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party (LDDP). The Women's Party of former Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene and the New Alliance (Social Liberals) of former presidential candidate Arturas Paulauskas, both running under 5 per cent in the polls, will join the LDDP list.

Krakow mayor Andrzej Golas visited Vilnius to meet with its officials, as well as President Adamkus. The two cities discussed expanding economic ties, as cultural and political ties already exist for the two former royal capitals of the joint monarchy.

Bankruptcy proceedings against the failed Litimpeks bank have begun. The Central Bank asked for the proceedings to begin after revoking the bank's operating licence several weeks ago.

Fuel company Lietuvos Kuros (Lithuanian Fuel) ran out of petrol for about ten days, and its service stations remained either partially dry or totally out of fuel for sale. The government has since stepped in to bail-out the company.

Exchange Rates

As of 16 September 1999

currency Lithuanian
litas (LTL)
1 US dollar 4.00
1 British pound 6.50
1 German mark 2.13
1 euro 4.16

Mel Huang, 18 September 1999

News Sources

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

Lietuvos Rytas
Lietuvos Aidas
Kauno Diena




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