Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 21
15 November 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 6 November 1999

Mel Huang

The election of former Interior Minister Juri Mois as Mayor of Tallinn remains controversial and has been challenged by the opposition, which claims that the election was in contravention to Tallinn City Council rules, as Mois gained the necessary majority only on the second ballot. The opposition believes that Mois should not have been given the chance to run again, because he failed to gain a majority in the first round (by one vote) as the sole candidate. The opposition Centre Party has filed a court challenge since. Adding to the intrigue, the recordings of the election session disappeared for a day - and were later found to have been simply misplaced.

Mois added to the controversy by holding onto his parliamentary seat, which seemingly creates a conflict of interest. The law does stipulatate, however, that Mois give up his mayoral wages. That should not matter much to Mois though, as he is considered one of the richest men in Estonia, being the former chairman of banking giant Hansapank.

In the mean time, former Viljandi Mayor Tarmo Loodus was sworn in as the new interior minister.

French company Thomson CSF won a contract to build Estonia's new airspace surveillance system. The system, which is NATO compatible and a part of the joint Baltic airspace surveillance system, BALTNET, will cost about EEK (Estonian kroons) 1 billion (USD 66 million). The system should be operational by the end of 2001. Payment for the system should start with the 2001 budget, though the full payment scheme is being worked out currently. But some competitors, such as Lockheed-Martin and Alenia Marconi Systems, are reportedly filing complaints about the awarding of the contract to their French competitor.

On the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari hosted four of his colleagues - presidents Lennart Meri (Estonia), Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia), Valdas Adamkus (Lithuania), and Aleksander Kwasniewski (Poland) - in the university town of Jyvaskyla for commemorations (see this week's Amber Coast for a related story). All the leaders remembered fondly the watershed event but warned against a future Cold War and the possibility of new divisions in Europe.

Finnish President Ahtisaari also participated in the "Estonia and the European Union" conference in Tallinn where he spoke about the need to harmonise Estonia's legislation, especially concerning language, with that of the EU. However, Ahtisaari praised the development of Estonia and the entire Baltic Sea region in his address. Finland currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Prime ministers from the Nordic and Baltic countries gathered in Stockholm for a one-day meeting under the "5+3" group. The focus of the meeting was EU enlargement and bilateral co-operation. The group, which is comprised of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden, expressed satisfaction at the recommendations of the European Commission to start membership talks with all prospective members. The next annual meeting will be held in the Estonian resort city of Parnu.

The United States has donated 40,000 M-14 rifles to the Estonian military. The shipment, paid for by Estonia, arrived this past week.

The popular Elmar Efendijev of the Centre Party easily won re-election as the mayor of Narva.

MP Sergei Ivanov has left the United People's Party. This was not unexpected, however, since, during the local elections, the United People's Party left him stranded when they formed another coalition, the People's Choice. By then, Ivanov was already leading People's Trust. Ivanov, who is well-liked among the Russian-speaking communities and probably the best known politician from the Russian-speaking camp in all of Estonia, is currently in a coalition in the Tallinn City Council with the three parties that run the national government. This could facilitate a massive split among Russian-speaking electorates, as the moderates would move towards Ivanov and radicals would remain with the established Russian parties.

Environmental Minister Heiki Kranich is in hot water over several costly trips. Kranich attended several conferences in exotic locales, such as South Africa and Australia, with several advisors to discuss issues such as migratory birds and fisheries. The business class tickets are a major issue of press anger, as they cost hundreds of thousands of kroons.

Both Hansapank and Uhispank announced that they will close for change of the millennium from 31 December until 3 January. However, the banks maintain that cash machines will be fully stocked.

The fate of the collapsed ERA Pank was sealed this week when the Supreme Court upheld the bank's bankruptcy. Officials believe the liabilities of the bank exceed EEK 500 million, while revenues from liquidation would generate less than half that amount. ERA Pank was closed by regulators earlier this year.

Is a milk war churning in Estonia? Lacto, a regional dairy located in Rapla, has said they want to corner the milk market by purchasing 85 per cent of all milk in Estonia at a price of EEK 3.30 per litre - EEK 0.07 more than it currently pays per litre. Competitors, including United Dairies, a regular target of monopoly accusations, called it a "bluff." The rural newspaper Maaleht suggested the company is going to sell powdered milk to Iraq.

In October, the consumer price index rose by 0.2 per cent.

Oil transit firm Pakterminal was named the largest company in Estonia, but only the seventh largest in the Baltic states. The largest is Latvia's power utility Latvenergo. However, about 47 per cent of the biggest 500 companies in the region are in Estonia.

Justice Minister Mart Rask is livid over the slowness of the judicial system. Minister Rask, in a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice Uno Lohmus, asked for an evaluation of the performance of the judiciary system. Rask said that almost 1000 cases have been dragging for years and that it is leading to vigilante justice.

A report from the Social Ministry shows that drug use in Estonia is becoming a serious problem. The report stated that, among the general population, 5.7 per cent of ethnic Estonians and 7.7 per cent of non-ethnic Estonians have tried illegal drugs. More alarming is drug use among 18-24 year olds, as 15 per cent of ethnic Estonians and 21 per cent of non-ethnic Estonians indicated some prior usage. Even more troubling is that, among 15 and 16 year olds, 4.5 per cent of students in Estonian-language schools and an alarming 16 per cent in Russian-language schools have tried illegal drugs. However, the Ministry claims the problem is not as bad as the press and the report suggest...

The tide turned, however, when Estonian police arrested a notorious drug smuggler from Finland. The suspect, who presented false identity papers, was apprehended carrying what police believe was cocaine. Officials heralded the year-long sting co-operation between Finnish and Estonian authorities that led to the apprehension of "one of the century's biggest drug dealers."

A report from the Finnish Social Ministry shows that, on average, Estonian women get paid 37 per cent less than men, the highest discrepancy in the Baltics (Latvia at 30 per cent and Lithuania 23 per cent). The same study showed that those between 30 and 39 years of age made, on average, the highest wage of any age group.

An ominous survey carried out by Postimees showed a massive discrepancy of opinions on the Russian campaign in Chechnya between Estonian-language and Russian-language secondary schools. Some of the most shocking comments from graduates of Russian-language schools include: "There is one answer: level Chechnya to the ground...it is cruel, but war is cruel," and, "For every Russian soldier killed or imprisoned, a Chechen village should be razed."

A horrific multiple murder shocked Estonia, as four people in Tartu were stabbed to death by a knife-wielding assailant looking for drink money. This has sparked a debate on alcoholism and alcohol sales.

Fears of an underworld war are growing, as the managing director of Keskturg (the central market), Vadim Polishtshuk, was shot several times in an attempted hit. Polishtshuk survived the attack, but was severely injured. Police found the car of the perpetrators later, and it was rigged with a explosive device which the police disarmed.

But the story of the biggest underworld hit this year just got stranger, as the murder of businessman and former Tallinn deputy mayor Mart Metsamaa is now suspected to be a crime of passion. Investigators are leaning towards a scenario in which the ex-boyfriend of Metsamaa's girlfriend took revenge against the flamboyant businessman. The investigation is continuing.

A celebratory party was held for Karl Jaanus as he celebrated his 100th birthday. At the occasion, Jaanus was presented with a replacement Freedom Cross to replace the one he won during the Interwar period. Jaanus is the last living veteran of the War of Independence who was awarded a Freedom Cross. About 16 veterans from the War of Independence are still alive today.

As thousands celebrated the anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia, only a few dozen turned out in Estonia - some in Narva, and some in the town of Sillamae.

The border post with Russia at Luhamaa has been incinerating bootlegged and pirated goods confiscated there. Most of the contrabands are fake brand-name clothing and shoes and pirated music and videos. The incinerator was originally intended for a veterinary lab.

Exchange Rates
As of 12 November 1999

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 15.02
1 British pound 24.41
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

Prepared by Mel Huang, 12 November 1999

News Sources

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The Baltic Times

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

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