Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 22
22 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 13 November 1999

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

President Lennart Meri boycotted the OSCE Istanbul Summit in protest over the organisation's inaction on the issue of Chechnya. Meri, in his letter to various heads of state, said, "I find that the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) will be celebrating when it should be acting." He called on the OSCE to focus on xenophobia and anti-Semitism, as well as the crises in the Caucasus. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel phoned Meri and expressed his understanding, but wished he would have presented his concerns in person.

In place of Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar and Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves led the Estonian delegation to the OSCE Summit. At the plenary session, Prime Minister Laar issued one of the harshest statements on the Russian military offensive in Chechnya, calling Russia's "demonising" of the Chechen nation as "racism, pure and simple." Laar called on Russia to stop its campaign against civilians, and said that the credibility of the OSCE was on the line with its behaviour in this crisis.

The Riigikogu also passed a resolution concerning Chechnya. While it condemned terrorism of all sorts, it also condemned violence against civilians. It also called on Russia to halt its military campaign and seek a peaceful solution. The resolution passed 57 to 1, with many opposition members walking out of the session.

Earlier in the week, dozens of students picketed outside the Russian Embassy in protest at the Russian campaign in Chechnya. Placards with "Putin - War Criminal" and "Russia, Hands off Chechnya" were on display at the protest.

In Helsinki, Foreign Minister Ilves took part in the conference on the European Union's "Northern Dimension." The focus the meeting was to promote regional co-operation, as Finland, a prime mover of the project and current holder of the rotating presidency of the EU, believes it will be the fastest growing part of the continent. Issues discussed included regional gas and electric networks, transit issues and regional development. Top officials from the EU member states, as well as partner countries in the region (Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia), all took part.

A Tallinn Administrative Court ruled against a motion by the opposition in the Tallinn City Council to annul the election of Mayor Juri Mois. The opposition, led by the Centre Party, has filed an appeal. They claim Mois was not able to run twice, as Mois won on the second ballot. He was uncontested both times, though the first vote failed to get a majority.

In the mean time, Tallinn Mayor Mois and Hansapank signed an agreement for a Estonian kroons (EEK) 130 million (USD 8.65 million) credit line for the city. While the current Tallinn city government coalition was in opposition in Tallinn and running the national government, they banned the opposition-led Tallinn government from a similar loan, which makes the agreement look rather controversial. Also, coincidentally, Mois was a founder and CEO of Hansapank before his political foray.

Several firms that lost out on a tender to build Estonia's airspace monitoring system are crying foul. The tender, won by French company Thomson CSF, was contested by British-Italian conglomerate Alenia-Marconi and US company Lockheed-Martin. Therefore, the project is temporarily halted until the issue is settled.

Near the end of the week, the Riigikogu passed a law governing the emergency stabilisation fund - extra funds deposited abroad for use in crisis. The new law creates a commission that would manage the funds, while the Riigikogu gains the right to determine its use. Currently, there are several billion kroons in the fund.

Peep Jahilo was named Ambassador to Norway. Previously, the Estonian Embassy in Oslo held only a charge d'Affaires, and Ambassador Juri Kahn was in residence in Copenhagen. Now, Kahn will only cover Denmark and Iceland.

Economics and business

Estonia officially became the 135th member of the World Trade Organisation on 13 November.

The Finance Ministry said that in the first 10 months of the year, 85.94 per cent of expected revenues have been collected. This includes the large one-time sums received from privatisation, including the IPO of Eesti Telekom. Tax collection lagged, with personal income tax collection at 77 per cent and corporate income tax at 87.1 per cent. VAT collection was low at 71.75 per cent, while excise was at an even more dismal 61.01 per cent.

International credit card company Visa said Estonia ranks second in the world for its rate of card issues. As of the end of the third quarter, there were over 400,000 Visa card holders (about 27 per cent of the population), registering a 136 per cent climb over the last 12 months.

The Riigikogu passed a law imposing VAT on heating starting next summer. Up until now, heating has been exempt from VAT. Estonia's VAT is 18 per cent.

The Riigikogu also passed a law creating "most favoured nation" trading status. This is in accordance with the recently approved tariffs system. Estonia has not imposed any import tariffs since the restoration of independence. The tariffs scheme, which should bring in EEK 90 million (USD 6 million) annually, will begin at the new year.


Of the 22 AIDS patients in the last decade in Estonia, 18 have died. AIDS care workers are livid about lack of treatment options in Estonia. Authorities estimate there are 50 HIV-positive individuals in Estonia, with seven registered this year.

The Social Ministry announced that 2000 people in Estonia die annually from smoking-related illnesses, and added that 3000 become seriously ill due to smoking. Among Estonia's population of about 1.5 million, there are about 355,000 smokers (making up about 24 per cent), though 70 per cent of smokers reportedly want to quit.

The local press is again focusing on drug abuse, as a Tallinn police officer died of gunshot wounds inflicted by a young drug abuser. A recent spree of drug-related killings in Tallinn has finally shook the press into action, though authorities have still been slow to react.

And others...

Estonian Border Guards rescued 19 Russian fishermen from a sinking trawler. The rescue of the fishermen from the stormy seas was hailed by both sides as an example of good co-operation between the rescue services.

A sudden snowstorm on 14 November caused a rash of accidents, leading to four fatalities and 17 injuries. The snow/hail storm hit with little warning during midday.

The reconstruction of Tallinn Airport is finally complete. The new facilities, which are fully in line with EU aviation and customs regulations, will be open to passengers in December.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Yegorov told Estonian Cultural Minister Signe Kivi that the Estonian presidential seal will be returned, however, the procedures will take time. Moscow seized the jewel-encrusted presidential symbol when it occupied Estonia in 1940 and deported President Konstantin Pats. The seal currently sits in the Kremlin.

US Presidential candidate and current Vice President Al Gore brought up Estonian President Lennart Meri in a campaign spot. Gore suggested he knows the Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Sturza via an introduction from President Meri - an obvious attack on the lack of foreign policy knowledge displayed by his primary Republican opponent, George W Bush. Bush displayed his lack of knowledge of other world leaders in a surprise interview, and even suggested that the Pakistani coup d'etat was positive.

Exchange Rates
As of 19 November 1999

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 15.21
1 British pound 24.58
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

Prepared by Mel Huang, 19 November 1999

Archive of Mel Huang's Amber Coast articles.

News Sources

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