Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 5, 26 July 1999

C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for the Baltic States

All the important news from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 17 July 1999.

Mel Huang

This review of the week's events contains several parts. Click below to move to your area of interest:



The second round of the US-Baltic Partnership Committee finally met in Washington during the past weekend. US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott hosted foreign ministers Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia and Algirdas Saudargas of Lithuania, as well as Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins (as the government changed during the days around the meeting). Calling NATO membership for the three Baltic states as "almost inevitable," Talbott worked to soothe growing concerns from the Baltics that the northern part of Europe would be forsaken for the south (Balkans). The three also held informal talks with other officials, including US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.

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Former KGB agent Mikhail Neverovski faces trial in Parnu for his role in the deportation of hundreds of Estonians in 1949. The KGB man pled not guilty, and the trial is expected to be slow due to the 79-year old man's frail health. Many victims are scheduled to testify. One victim, deported with his family to Siberia, called Neverovski "not human" when speaking to the press.

Speaking about plans for the 2000 budget, Finance Minister Siim Kallas stated that with the exception of education and defense most areas would stay at this year's already-reduced levels. Defense spending will be raised to 1.6 percent of GDP, en route to the 2 percent agreed upon "normal" amount for the race for NATO membership. Kallas currently predicts a 5 percent GDP growth in 2000.

The no-confidence motion against Tallinn City Council Chairman Edgar Savisaar failed. Only 19 voted for the measure, while it needed 33 in order to succeed. Savisaar's supporters from his Centre Party claimed this was a publicity stunt before the October local elections, while the Tallinn opposition (the national governing coalition) stated that Savisaar brought "disrepute" to Tallinn with some shady deals. One involves the sale of Tallinna Keskturg (Tallinn Central Market) to a company well-known to be a front for the local mafia.

A poll taken in Tallinn showed a surprising result for the current national governing coalition. It gave the centrist Moodukad a 17 percent lead. Current Tallinn City Council Chairman Edgar Savisaar's Centre-left opposition party gained 13 percent, followed by the government members Reform Party (12 percent) and Pro Patria Union (11 percent). Local elections are scheduled for October.

Member of Parliament, leader of the Rural People's Party and former Chairman of the Estonian Supreme Council Arnold Ruutel drove into a ditch trying to avoid a wild boar. He was not injured and the car was okay, but it invoked memories of a car crash involving Ruutel several years ago when he "fell asleep" at the wheel. A controversy ensued when tabloids in Finland and Estonia ran a story that Ruutel suffered from Alzheimer's Disease which caused his "lapse" while behind the wheel. Ruutel vehemently denied that story at the time.

The western Laane County's governor, Arder Vali, was sacked this past week due to an incident at a party when he was drunk and sexually harassing women. He denies the latter claim, but will get six months of compensation for the firing.

Sadly, more stories about cars and drink. Former Tallinn deputy mayor and current Member of Parliament from the Centre Party, Kalev Kallo, was nailed for driving while very intoxicated in downtown Tallinn. After denting a few cars, a local reporter followed him when he stopped (you can see a picture from the newspaper Postimees at http://www.postimees.ee/leht/99/07/23/ and it is sad). The police later noted that Kallo's blood alcohol count was 3.43 per mil, which is quite high. He joins another former Tallinn deputy mayor and Centre Party colleague in the drink-drive doghouse, Mait Metsamaa, who was accused of killing two people last month in a drink-fuelled crash.

With Finland's action against Slovakia over bogus asylum claims by its citizens and Lithuania's similar perpetual problems with its citizens going to London, Estonian officials are raising alarm bells over its own open borders with most of Europe. Local papers carried a list of all the "conditions" each country has for Estonian travellers.

Current head of the Tallinn Police, Helmut Paabo, is in deep trouble over a building lease when he ran the regional police in Ida-Viru county earlier. An investigation has been initiated into the lease, which allegedly was illegally made.

Second quarter CPI went up by only 0.9 percent.

Finnish justice proved its "merits" when a higher court upheld the decision that the Finnish boycott on Estonian shippers was legal and just. The court sided with the Finnish longshoremen since they want their Estonian counterparts to be paid the same (that would entail the dock workers getting more money than President Lennart Meri) wage as they do in Finland (see the 6 April 1999 edition of Amber Coast for a revealing look at Estonian-Finnish relations).

An all-too-common occurrence: a bus full of Estonian tourists returning from England and Scotland was robbed on a highway by Polish bandits.

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The USAID office in Riga closed officially during the week, marking the end of US assistance programmes to Latvia. A ceremony officially marked the completion of the bureau's work in Latvia. Over the eight years it has been active, some 60 programmes were implemented at the cost of USD 57 million.

CPI went up 1.8 percent in the second quarter of 1999.

A group of youths held the organisational meeting for Kolovrat in Riga last weekend, drawing major reactions from political parties and government officials. The organisation, seeking to register as an NGO, is aimed at promoting Russian culture and the rights of Russian speakers - albeit agreeing that the teaching of the state language is important and should be respected. What concerns most is that the majority of the organisers are allegedly also members of Russian National Unity, a radical Russian nationalist group nicknamed "Barkashovians" by the press. The organisers of Kolovrat stated that they will seek to give instruction on gun use, martial arts and self-defence to its members. The Constitutional Protection Office is already investigating and advising the Justice Ministry on the matter.

One of the smallest banks in Latvia, Land Bank, had its operating license withdrawn by the central bank. The bank, already in merger talks, failed to meet the minimum requirements for an operational bank set by the central bank.

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The Butinge Oil Platform finally began operations this past week, though delayed by four Latvian protestors. The four chained themselves to a buoy near the terminal and forced authorities to check for damages before the start of the operation. The first assignment is a 70,000 tonne delivery to British Petroleum. The four were questioned and later deported.

The entire leadership of Lithuania attended the official opening ceremony for Butinge. Musing on why protestors are not demonstrating at the Ventspils facility in Latvia, Lithuanian Economic Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis said: "It proves that the 'greens' are political prostitutes and are being paid for all this." President Valdas Adamkus, formerly a high-ranking official with the US Environmental Protection Agency, said he's convinced that Butinge is safe.

Russia's number-two oil company, Yukos, agreed to send 2.5 million tonnes of crude through Butinge over the next few years. This would cover 25 to 30 percent of the operations of Butinge. At the same time, oil giant LUKOil offered a direct link from its oil fields for the remaining 33 percent of the shares to Mazeikiai Oil. Financially irresistible, but an anathema for the ruling Conservative Party.

Rumours permeate the Lithuanian press about a possible retreat by US oil company Williams International. Williams and the Lithuanian government have been in negotiations on selling two-thirds of the country's oil industry to the US giant, but the signing of the deal continues to be delayed. Leader of the Centre Union Romualdas Ozolas claimed that Williams is "packing its bags" - which the company vehemently denied. The sale of Lithuania's oil industry, under Mazeikiai Oil, has been controversial from the start. Mazeikiai Oil is comprised of the Mazeikiai Oil Refinery and Butinge Oil Terminal as well as the connecting pipeline network.

Lithuanian prosecutors filed charges against Antanas Gudelis for genocide and war crimes committed during the Second World War. Gudelis is accused of leading a Nazi-sponsored division in its killing actions on Lithuanian soil. Gudelis currently resides in Australia whom Lithuania has already approached requesting information about his whereabouts.

In the German town of Huttenfeld the World Lithuanian Community leadership met to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the declaration of émigrés and exiles, the Lithuanian Charter. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus also took part in the festivities. The Charter clearly states: "A Lithuanian remains Lithuanian everywhere and any time. A Lithuanian should pass on the nation's vitality, preserved by the ancestors, to the future generations so that we could live forever."

Vilnius municipal authorities received a thumbs-up from the government to take a 28 million litas loan to cover social insurance payments and holiday pay for teachers.

A poor rancher, trying to prevent his cows from wandering into Belarus, was nabbed by Belarusian border guards when he strayed across into the neighbouring state. Little do the cows know of fodder and meat shortage problems there.

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Exchange Rates

As of 22 July 1999


Estonian kroons (EEK)

Latvian lats (LVL)

litas (LTL)

1 US dollar (USD)
1 British pound (GBP)
German mark (DEM)
Euro (EUR)


Czech koruna (CZK)
Hungarian forint (HUF)
Polish zloty (PLN)
Russian rouble (RUB)
Slovak koruna (SKK)
Slovenian tolar (SIT)
1 Est. kroon (EEK)
1 Latvian lats (LVL)
1 Lith. litas (LTL)

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Mel Huang, 23 July 1999

News Sources

Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo

Eesti Paevaleht


Lietuvos Rytas
Lietuvos Aidas
Kauno Diena

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The Issue (#5):

Andrew Stroehlein


The EU:
Promised land or
bad neighbour?

A Step Backwards
for Estonia?

Future in Europe

Romania's Only Way Ahead

A Green El Dorado?


Mel Huang:
A Hot Summer in Riga

Catherine Lovatt: Romania
and the EU

Sam Vaknin:
NATO's Assault on
the Environment in
the Balkans

Tomas Pecina:
Czechs and NATO

Vaclav Pinkava:

Gusztav Kosztolanyi:
Corruption in

Central Europe


Baltic States
Czech Republic

Readers' Choice:
The most popular article last week

Hungarian IT
Past and Present


Book Review:
A Testimony of Failure: Martin Fendrych's
Jako ptak na drate

Book Shop


Willis of Oz

Music Shop


Central European
Culture in the UK


Gyorgy Szomjas's

Djordje Milosavljevic's


Transitions Online


in Central Europe

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