Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 16
11 October 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 2 October 1999

Mel Huang

President Valdas Adamkus made a state visit to Estonia early on in the week. During the two-day visit, Adamkus met with President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar and Riigikogu Speaker Toomas Savi. The theme was clearly promotion of bilateral ties and the strengthening of Baltic co-operation. At every instance, the talk was of how strong the ties between the two nations are. Adamkus suggested that there was a "healthy competition" between the states, to which Meri added that it wass "not a race" but rather it was the final outcome that was important: - that all three Baltic states become equal members of the European community. Adamkus also visited the Baltic Defence College in Estonia's second largest city, Tartu.

Ex-President Algirdas Brazauskas is politicising himself again by rallying politicians and scientists against the planned privatisation of Mazeikiai Oil to the American company Williams International. The group, which includes leftist politicians from several opposition groups, called on the government to cancel the deal to sell a majority stake of Lithuania's oil industry. However, that may not be necessary as the talks between the government and Williams are draging on inexplicably - with the latest deadline set for the end of October.

However, the Parliament disregarded the noise and passed a set of amendments allowing for Williams to take its majority share. The set of five bills, which passed with margins ranging from 73 to 79 for and 37 and 42 against, would also set state guarantees for loans and give smaller stakes of Mazeikiai Oil to international financiers and suppliers. The opposition has threatened to take this to the courts.

Despite all this, Economics Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis caught the attention of the US and others when he suggested Lithuania could get crude oil from Iran. After having returned from a trip to Iran, Pakistan and the UAE, Maldeikis said talks could begin soon on the crude supply. This would effectively force Williams to back out of the Mazeikiai Oil deal due to US policy against Iran. Maldeikis quickly backed down when Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas said no such thing was in the works and that the Seimas had called for an inquiry into the alleged plan.

The sagging Christian Democrats are in trouble, and their leader, Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas, will be jumping ship. Though the veteran politician said he would not run for the party leadership after his term expires, rumour has it that he is keeping an especially tight grip over party affairs for the time being. The party, which holds two portfolios in the current government, has sagged below the five per cent barrier in most opinion polls.

Speaking of polls, the latest from Baltijos Tyrimai/Gallop showed that Lithuanians trust the presidency but not the Seimas. Some 72 per cent of respondents stated they trusted the presidency, while only 20 per cent trusted the Parliament. The state and local governments all received around 45 per cent approval.

The same poll also showed that the opposition Centre Union is leading the way in party approval ratings, though not by much at 15.8 per cent, followed by the ex-Communist opposition Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party and the Conservative Party who got 8.7 and 7.8 per cent approval respectively.

The Lithuanian-Russian Border Treaty passed through the Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee, as the objecting members were not in attendance.

After heated debate, the Seimas also fully supported the energy strategy for the next five years, -which calls for a partial shutdown of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant by 2005. The plan, passed by a 63 to 31 margin, calls for a shutdown of the first unit of the controversial plant by 2005, while the fate of the second would be tackled in the next strategy paper in 2004. The plan is contingent on foreign assistance funding - though an amendment by ex-Premier Gediminas Vagnorius on linking the timetable with such funding assurance was defeated.

Experts have declared the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant to be Y2K compliant.

A large smuggling ring has been broken up at the Vilnius airport. Among those involved was the son of a high-ranking Transport Ministry official.

Anti-monopoly regulators in Lithuania agreed to the merger of two large banks, Hermis and Vilniaus Bankas (Bank of Vilnius). A few weeks ago, the Central Bank gave its approval. Apparently, Vilniaus Bankas already holds 50 per cent in Hermis.

Reports note that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will be delaying his trip to Lithuania, as well as to Latvia and Estonia. There was no mention of when the trip, originally scheduled for later this year, will be rescheduled.

The Lithuanian-Latvian Maritime Border Treaty heads to the Seimas for deliberation and ratification. There is nearly universal support for its passage, a rare thing in Lithuania these days.

The commander of Lithuania's military, Brigadier General Jonas Kronkaitis, travelled to Tallinn to meet with his counterparts from Latvia (Colonel Raimonds Graube) and Estonia (Colonel Urmas Roosimagi). Various co-operative projects were discussed, ranging from the Baltic Defence College in Tartu, Estonia to a proposed new joint naval training centre in Liepaja, Latvia. The joint airspace monitor BALTNET was also discussed, as its headquarters will open in January 2000 in Lithuania and the infrastructures of the three countries are required to be fully ready by the end of 2000.

Environmental Minister Danius Lygis hosted his Latvian counterpart. Vents Balodis, in the city of Birzai, where they signed a co-operation agreement.

The unemployment rate at the end of September reached 8.3 per cent. The Lazdijai region, adjacent to Poland, remains the area with the highest rate of unemployment, with a 17.8 per cent jobless rate. Vilnius is at 5.8 per cent.

This comes as the EU announced that the regions of Marijampole, Utena, and Klaipeda/Taurage will each receive special funding. What happened to Lazdijai?

The IMF released its comparative information on Central and East European GDP levels. Lithuania's GDP came to USD 6437. This is a bit higher than Latvia and Romania but below Estonia and other Central European states. The data comes from 1998 figures.

Euroscepticism is growing quickly: 30.6 per cent of respondents in a recent poll were against Lithuania's EU membership. -34.1 per cent of those polled were in favour of EU membership. Most experts believe that the Ignalina situation has damaged the EU's reputation among Lithuanians.

Collapsing fuel company Lietuvos Kuras (Lithuanian Fuel) was sold to Dutch investors for a token sum of LTL 1.

Exchange Rates
As of 7 October 1999

currency Lithuanian
litas (LTL)
1 US dollar 4.00
1 British pound 6.61
1 German mark 2.19
1 euro 4.29

Mel Huang, 8 October 1999

News Sources

Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo ELTA
Lietuvos Rytas
Lietuvos Aidas
Kauno Diena





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