Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 17
18 October 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 9 October 1999

Mel Huang

*NOTE: The News Review for Estonia will go on a temporary hiatus and should return in early November.

Foreign ministers from the "5+1" front-running EU candidates met in Tallinn early in the week. Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves hosted foreign ministers Boris Frlec (Slovenia), Bronislaw Geremek (Poland), Jan Kavan (Czech Republic) and Janos Martonyi (Hungary), as well as the chief negotiator and former president of Cyprus, George Vassiliou. The six called for the EU to set a conclusion date for the accession talks with the six to be in 2000, or "no later than 2001." The group also called on the EU to start talks with all other applicant countries, but hinted not to slow down the process for the front-runners (see this week's Amber Coast for more info).

Maltese Foreign Minister Joseph Borg followed the group a day later and met with Foreign Minister Ilves to discuss EU integration. The pair also discussed trade ties, as there is a massive imbalance: Estonian exports to Malta totalled EEK(Estonian kroons) 87.2 million, while imports from Malta reached a measly EEK 381,000.

The European Commission report on Estonia was rather positive, without serious reprimands. Areas of criticism included the stricter new language law, corruption, protection of intellectual properties and more. However, the report did not have many charged negative terms as some of the other candidates' reports in the "5+1" group sadly bore (EC Report summary).

Estonia is preoccupied by the murder of businessman and former deputy Tallinn mayor Mait Metsamaa. Most believe it was an underworld hit, as Metsamaa is reputed to be in close company with some of the biggest underworld figures in Estonia. Mait Metsamaa is the same person who has been constantly in the press over a traffic accident in which 2 people were killed. This ends that story effectively. The local dailies tactlessly put pictures of the bloody crime scene on the front pages...

President Lennart Meri signed the ratification of the WTO accession protocol into law. The government also ruled that the ratification was indeed legal, despite complaints from Legal Chancellor Eerik-Juhan Truuvali. The ratification has also been deposited with the WTO Secretariat, and Estonia will become a full member in one month.

But did he make a mistake? President Meri was invited as the principle speaker at a US ceremony sponsored by the Voice of America on the incorporation of broadcasting into the US State Department (no more USIS anymore). However, during the speech Meri said nothing about VOA but praised its "competitor Radio Free Europe. The author chooses to not elaborate, being employed by one of the parties... The same speech also berated the Estonian press in remarkably harsh tones, though the blanket accusations caused the press to in turn criticise back.

The Riigikogu approved the government-sponsored import tariffs on third countries. Estonia can now place import tariffs on a wide range of agricultural products from countries with which Estonia has no free-trade agreement, such as Russia, the US and Canada.

The opposition launched a no-confidence motion against Interior Minister Juri Mois, but it predictably failed by a 32-45 margin. Mois has been under fire since drawing up a plan to cut the number of police. Mois, coincidentally, is the Tallinn mayoral candidate from the ruling Pro Patria Union, while the no-confidence motion comes from the current Tallinn City Council Chairman and leader of the opposition Centre Party, Edgar Savisaar.

One of the last opinion polls before the 17 October local elections showed the Centre Party on top with 16.5 per cent support - a massive dive of 8 per cent, however. In second, third and fourth places are the three parties of the ruling coalition - Reform Party, Pro Patria Union and Moodukad - between 7-11 per cent each.

Preliminary voting, which took place on 11-13 October, showed a rather good turnout - 9.3 per cent. Among citizens 10 per cent already voted, while among non-citizens only 5.8 per cent had voted. Local elections allow all permanent residents to vote, which adds some 20 per cent to the number of voters.

However, officials say some early voting results may be annulled due to questionable campaign tactics. Police are investigating claims of vote-buying - with possibly bootlegged vodka - in the industrial city of Kohtla-Jarve. Three candidates with the Centre Party are accused of being involved, and several left-wing challengers have filed complaints to the Electoral Commission.

The infamous "radioactive lake" in the former Soviet nuclear processing town of Sillamae will be sealed by 2006, following a new agreement signed in Tallinn. The project links together the Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish governments, as well as other organisations, to the clean-up. Some joked that every element in the Mendeleyev Periodic Table is in that "glowing" lake...

Sweden's Autoliv took a 49.5 per cent stake in seatbelt manufacturer Norma. The negotiations dragged on for months before the final confirmation of the deal. Norma is one of the largest seatbelt makers in Europe, especially in the Russian market.

A survey showed that the average work week in Estonia is 39 hours.

Unemployment numbers for September were at 5.2 per cent, with the north-eastern Ida-Virumaa region still highest at 9.5 per cent.

The Tax Department is going after the town of Paldiski, freezing its accounts over a EEK 3.6 million tax debt.

Russian language grade schools will all begin teaching Estonian starting in grade one. This new regulation, to begin next school year, has been implemented by many schools already - usually at the urging of parents and teachers.

Estonia has asked the United Nations for Estonian-related items in the League of Nations archive. Estonia was an active participant in the ill-fated international organisation, which UN representatives noted after the request.

Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves is under pressure to sack Foreign Ministry deputy chancellor Mart Helme over alleged corruption. Reports filtered out by a local tabloid suggested Helme, the former ambassador to Russia, redirected construction contracts for the Moscow embassy to a manor house he owned.

Adding to those woes, it was reported that the dolomite being used to refurbish the exterior of the Foreign Ministry building was obtained from an illegal mine...

Russia will opens a consular office in Tartu, and will upgrade it to a consulate soon.

A drunken "hooligan" named "Sergei" harassed and eventually bit a British diplomat in Tallinn...

And finally, a certain writer for Central Europe Review managed to crunch out a commentary on pedestrian safety for the leading daily Eesti Paevaleht.

Exchange Rates
As of 14 October 1999

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 14.47
1 British pound 24.06
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

Prepared by Mel Huang, 15 October 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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