Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 14
27 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 18 September 1999.

Mel Huang

President Valdas Adamkus made a state visit to the Czech Republic during the week. In Prague Adamkus met with President Vaclav Havel, Prime Minister Milos Zeman, as well as a host of parliamentary leaders. The trip was a delayed visit, as the original trip planned for earlier this year was scrapped due to the hospitalisation of President Havel. Though EU and NATO remained high on the agenda, bilateral ties also came into the discussions. In the first half of 1999, Lithuanian exports to the Czech Republic totalled USD 8 million while imports ran up to USD 37 million.

The government of Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas celebrated its first 100 days in office the past week. Paksas added that the goal of the government remains to liberalise the business environment and also pledged that there will be no new taxes. Praise came in from some fellow Conservative Party members, as well as President Valdas Adamkus.

However, sharp criticism came from within. Former Premier Gediminas Vagnorius, shamed out of office for bickering with the President, harshly criticised the government for policies he deemed to be "perilous financial populism" and created a furore within the Conservative Party. He also attacked the plan to shut down the first unit of the controversial Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, as the government decided earlier this month, to placate the European Commission. This came despite the Conservative Party's announcement of a 100-day moratorium on intra-party criticism...

Of course the opposition also attacked, as the leader of the leftist, ex-communist Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party (LDDP), Ceslovas Jursenas, called the Paksas cabinet as "indecisive" and criticised it for not being honest about the state of the economy.

But a surprising resignation among the LDDP shook it when former Foreign Minister Povilas Gylys quit the party. Rumours have it that he was involved in a sweetheart land deal, though he was himself a major critic of similar deals by members of the ruling Conservative Party. This leaves the LDDP without most of its high-ranking cabinet members from their reign during the middle of the decade.

Then Seimas deputy speaker Andrius Kubilius rocked the boat even more when he announced that the Conservative Party faction in the Seimas is calling for a total shutdown of Ignalina - providing there is a nuclear alternative. The plan presented by the party would call for a new nuclear power plant, which will allow the second unit of Ignalina to also be shut down - but by 2010. They did add that they will retreat from this new plan if the debate gets "too heated."

The Seimas Defence Committee surprisingly failed to adopt the Lithuania-Russia Border Treaty. Though all members were asked to not comment on the vote, it appears only 6 members of the 13-strong committee voted for it. Most abstained. Some nationalist politicians want an international conference to settle the international status of Kaliningrad before approaching this treaty.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus reaffirmed Lithuania's resolve to prosecute all war criminals. Speaking on the 55th anniversary of the Vilnius Ghetto massacre, Adamkus stressed that Lithuania will do all it can to prosecute, and that the recent Lileikis trial suspension should not be viewed as a "lack of resolve." Adamkus also honoured 47 Lithuanians for saving the lives of Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Sturza made a two-day visit to Lithuania. The agenda focused mostly on bilateral ties, as he and Prime Minister Paksas signed an investments protection and promotion pact. They stressed the need to improve business ties, citing the low trade between the two nations. The first half of 1999 saw Lithuanian exports to Moldova at 10 million litas and imports at 14 million litas. Sturza also discussed bilateral ties with President Valdas Adamkus and other politicians before heading to Latvia.

Sturza also added a historical note to the meeting, recalling that exactly 500 years ago the then-Moldova signed its first international agreement with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. That was nearly a century before the Union of Lublin, which formed the Rzeczpospolita between Poland and Lithuania.

A team of Lithuanian peacekeepers set off for Kosova during the week. The 29-strong team will team-up with the Polish contingency in the troubled province.

The Russian regional oil company Tyumen Oil became the second company to sign an export deal with the Butinge Oil Terminal. This follows a large deal signed with Russia's number two oil company, Yukos.

The government decided in prinicple to shift the clock back to its original time zone to correspond with Latvia, Lithuania and Finland. Several years ago, as an enthusiastic "symbol" of Lithuania's resolve to integrate into Europe, then European Affairs Minister Laima Andrikiene concocted the idea to move Lithuania into Central European Time. Most of the public were not happy with the shift to CET, or derisively called "Andrikiene Time" as it threw off daily routines. Those crossing the border to Belarus gain the strange sensation of a two-hour time change... By the way, the post of European Affairs Minister was also abolished.

Stunt-pilot Jurgis Kairys was hailed by international experts as the "best" stunt pilot in the world after manoeuvring through a difficult test in Vilnius - flying under its bridges. He pulled off the feat, as some of the spaces gave him about a metre more than the plane's width. However, someone tried to wreck the event when an hour before the exhibition a metal cord was found dangling from one bridge - which could have caused a tragedy beyond belief. CNN Headline News apparently showed this as the "play of the day".

After several failed attempts Lithuania finally has a new Comptroller: Jonas Liaucius. Previous nominees to the post either withdrew their nomination after political pressure or were rejected by the Seimas. This indirectly led to the conflict between President Adamkus and former Prime Minister Vagnorius - leading to the latter's resignation (see Amber Coast from 6 May 1999 for more details on that conflict).

Latvian Interior Minister Mareks Seglins visited Lithuania and met with his counterpart, Ceslovas Blazys. The topic of discussion was how to ease the strain at the two countries' border crossings.

Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas signed two loan agreements with the European Investment Bank (EIU). The first, worth 15 million euros, will be used for various municipal projects. The second, at 6 million euros, will help fund the refurbishment of the waterworks and sewage system of the city of Panevezys. Both loans are due in 20 years.

The IMF lowered GDP growth projections for Lithuania, now saying 1999 GDP growth would be 0.5 per cent. Earlier estimates put the number at 2.5 per cent.

Exchange Rates

As of 23 September 1999

currency Lithuanian
litas (LTL)
1 US dollar 4.00
1 British pound 6.55
1 German mark 2.13
1 euro 4.17

Mel Huang, 24 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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