Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 24
6 December 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 27 November 1999

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

The opposition failed to remove Finance Minister Siim Kallas by a 37 to 51 margin. The opposition said that a current defendant in a criminal case should not be in the cabinet. Though Kallas has been acquitted of wrongdoing in the case of the "missing ten million," a part of the charge remains open in a lower court. Kallas was accused of corruption while he was head of the Central Bank, as a small local bank lost USD 10 million in a bogus investment deal in Switzerland.

The Defence Ministry annulled the deal with France's Thomson CSF on the construction of Estonia's airspace surveillance system. This came after the Public Procurement Office and an administrative court said the tender was not proper. The tender was challenged by British Aerospace, Lockheed-Martin of the US and Italian-British joint venture Alenia-Marconi. The Defence Ministry will decide the following week what to do.

Estonian Shipping has filed a complaint with the EU over Finland's continual boycott of their ships. They are now more livid, as domestic Finnish companies have taken over the exact route run by Estonian Shipping. The Finnish courts have been less than helpful, so the issue is going to the European Commission. One powerful Finnish union head even called the boycott "totally braindead."

Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves made his semi-annual foreign policy speech to the Riigikogu. The priorities of Estonian foreign policy remain the same, with NATO and EU membership a strong part of it.

Meanwhile, his party has merged and become officially the People's Party Moodukad (which roughly means "Moderates," but they do not like that word). Ilves was the head of the People's Party side of the merger, but Moodukad leader Andres Tarand will lead the merged party.

A report also came out about campaign spending during the last local elections in mid October. It showed that all the parties spent a combined amount of EEK (Estonian kroons) 16 million, with the opposition Centre Party having spent the most, at EEK 4.9 million. Only the United Peoples Party, which represents Russian-speakers, failed to submit a valid report.

Tallinn Mayor Juri Mois got the attention of the press and opposition when he offered two Tallinn borough leadership posts to those in the opposition. He let former Kristiine borough head Juhan Hindov of the Coalition Party take the seat in North-Tallinn, but what alarmed people was that former slum-area Lasnamae leader Pavel Starostin has become the new leader of the suburban Mustamae region. Earlier, Mois had accused Starostin of corruption and got the backing of the press and investigators, which makes this move look strange. Mois wants to broaden his ruling coalition, which just signed an agreement with the Coalition Party. Those two seats bring Mois's majority up to 36 seats out of 64 total.

The Tallinn City Government also sent the 2000 budget bill to the City Council. The budget will total EEK 2.346 billion, which is under this year's EEK 2.52 billion.

Acting Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces Colonel Urmas Roosimagi severely reprimanded the head of the Katiseliit (Civil Guards), Captain Benno Leesik, concerning the division of armed Kaitseliit members who were stationed to guard a rail construction site during a dispute between two private companies, something completely against the law. A subordinate of Leesik has since been severely demoted, and the future career of Leesik is likely in doubt.

Foreign Minister Ilves also attended the WTO Summit in Seattle. Estonia became the 135th member of the WTO just weeks ago. The Estonian delegation claimed to have come under an "attack" by protestors.

While near there, Ilves opened the honorary consulate in his old place of residence, Vancouver, Canada. Harry Jaako is the new honorary consul, dealing with the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.

Andrei Kostin, who called in a fake bomb threat to the US Embassy, was given an extra 1.5 years in jail. He was already serving a prison sentence when he made the bogus threat with a smuggled mobile phone.

Economics and Business

Estonia dropped a few places in the annual Heritage Foundation report on Economic Freedom in the world. Estonia ranked 22nd in the world at a score of 2.20 - which is better than most of Scandinavia. Estonia and the Czech Republic remain on top of the region.

Estonia also did well in the Wall Street Journal Europe report on Central and Eastern Europe, coming in the top five in nearly all categories. For example, Estonia came in second in price stability, third in business ethics and currency stability and fourth on rule of law and economic strength. The only category where Estonia ranked below the top five was in balance of payments, where Estonia came in ninth.

Real time information and trade exchange between the Tallinn and Vilnius bourses came on-line. Now, both the Riga and Vilnius bourses are linked real-time to Tallinn. This is the first step in the Baltic bourses' move to join NOREX, the joint Nordic stock exchange.

Local consulting firm Rose Marketing won the bid for the news agency ETA. The privatisation price was quite low, but it entailed the honouring of a large debt by the troubled news agency.

Two US companies - Azurix and International Water - and two French companies - Generale de Eaux and Lyonnaise des Eaux - are interested in buying Tallinna Vesi (Tallinn Water), the local utility company. The city plans to sell it next year.

Central European medical company Medicover opened its first full clinic in Tallinn. The new clinic cost EEK 20 million, and the company plans to expand to Latvia and Lithuania soon.

Social and Local Interest

There are now 120,000 Internet banking users in Estonia - 90,000 with Hansapank and 30,000 with Uhispank. With the popularity of the internet, it is not surprising to have almost ten per cent of the population using this form of banking.

The final plan on re-organising the police force has been issued by Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus, which calls for the cutting of some 600 jobs. The earlier plan, which later led to the reduction in job cuts, was attacked by Tartu Mayor Andrus Ansip. The plan also abolishes some prefectures and merges the control of Tallinn's police with the national system. Some local officials are still crying foul. This has put a massive strain between two members of the national (and many local) ruling coalitions: the Pro Patria Union of Loodus and Reform Party of Ansip.

A poll by EMOR showed that nearly two-thirds of Estonians support the restoration of capital punishment. Of respondents, 64 per cent supported the death penalty, while 32 per cent were against. Estonia is unlikely to change the law, however, due to Council of Europe commitments.

And Others...

Bah humbug...the Estonian government decided to draw up a plan not allowing ministerial employees to get a Christmas bonus. They claim in a year of austerity, that's not possible.

President Lennart Meri was named "most hostile" to the press by journalists. He was actually "most friendly" last year, but made a massively critical and partially unfair speech in Washington about Estonian journalism. This year, former Interior Minister and current Tallinn Mayor Juri Mois was named the "most friendly" to the press - mostly for his ability to open his mouth and speak his mind on new policies not supported by his colleagues.

A massive storm blew through Estonia and the whole Baltic region earlier in the week, causing havoc with maritime shipping and electric wires. Most of Estonia lost power at one point in the day, but it appeared that Tallinn stayed bright (it did in this part of town anyway). Several boats carrying lumber also sank or ran ashore during the storm, with gusts at hurricane level.

About a hundred inmates waiting for trial at the Tallinn Prison went on a hunger strike, asking for more phone privileges and audio and video recording equipment. Prison officials called it "blackmail" and donated the food to a homeless shelter. Apparently, the abuse of the phone in the prison and using phone cards that had been tampered with costs Eesti Telefon hundreds of thousands of EEK a year.

Exchange Rates
As of 2 December 1999

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 15.60
1 British pound 24.98
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

[Up to date Estonian exchange rates can be found here]

Prepared by Mel Huang, 3 December 1999

Archive of Mel Huang's Amber Coast articles

News Sources

Baltic News Service (BNS)

The Baltic Times

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Reuters news on Yahoo


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