YELTSIN UPBEAT ON RUSSIAN-NATO CHARTER.
Following his meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Baden-Baden, President Boris Yeltsin told journalists yesterday that Russia will sign a charter with NATO leaders in Paris on 27 May. The announcement came as a surprise since only a few hours earlier, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii had said it was premature to suggest the charter would be signed next month. Kohl said Russia and NATO have agreed on 90% of the first four articles of the charter. However, he noted that the two sides still have considerable differences over the last article, which deals with the military facilities of new NATO members. Russia insists that NATO promise not to build military infrastructure in new member states, but Western officials say new members will not be offered "second- class status" in the alliance.
YELTSIN MAKES GESTURE ON TROPHY ART ISSUE.
At his meeting with Kohl yesterday, Yeltsin handed over some archival materials taken from Germany during World War II. The Russian leader gave back microfilmed archives of the Central Committee of the former East German ruling party, as well as 11 files from the archive of former German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau, who signed the treaty establishing diplomatic relations with the USSR in 1922. According to ITAR-TASS, Yeltsin also gave Kohl an inventory of art works and other materials taken to the USSR at the end of the war as well as a list of property the Russian Orthodox Church wants Germany to return.
RUSSIA UNHAPPY ABOUT EU WARNING TO BELARUS.
The Russian Foreign Ministry says it regrets the tone of a recent EU statement calling on Belarus to undertake genuine political and economic reforms, Reuters reported. A statement issued by the ministry yesterday said the EU warning amounted to political interference in Belarus's internal affairs. Last week, the European Parliament accused Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of a dictatorial style of government and said it would not recognize a union treaty between Belarus and Russia until the Belarusian parliament was consulted on the issue. It also said that unless reforms were implemented in Belarus, the EU would block a planned trade and aid agreement with Minsk.
FEDERATION COUNCIL FAVORS INTERNATIONAL STATUS FOR SEVASTOPOL.
The Federation Council has asked Yeltsin to consider whether the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, where the Black Sea Fleet is based, might be governed jointly by Russia and Ukraine, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. It also asked the president to insist that Ukraine recognize there are problems surrounding the legal status of Sevastopol. Last December, the upper house passed a resolution claiming Sevastopol as Russian territory, prompting protests from Kyiv. The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the resolution, saying Moscow recognized that "Sevastopol and all of Crimea belong to Ukraine." Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who has frequently declared that Sevastopol "is and will remain Russian," was absent from yesterday's Federation Council session. He flew to the U.S. for several days of meetings with politicians and business leaders.
CHUBAIS SAYS REGIONS WILL HAVE SAY IN DRAFTING BUDGET.
First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais says the government will seek input from regional governors and deputies when drafting the 1998 budget, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Chubais told reporters that the Finance Ministry is already working on next year's budget and that a government delegation will discuss budgetary issues with leaders of several Siberian regions in May. Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev said that consulting regional leaders about the budget would prevent "stupidities such as passing a budget in order to cut it two months later." Yesterday, Chubais told Federation Council deputies that the 1997 budget would have to be substantially revised because of low revenues in the first quarter.
DUMA SPEAKER ADVOCATES MONETARY EMISSION.
Gennadii Seleznev says the government should issue an additional 20-30 trillion rubles ($3.5-5.2 billion) to pay wage and pension arrears, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. He said printing the extra money would not significantly affect the inflation rate. Economics Minister Yakov Urinson sharply criticized Seleznev's proposal, saying any unplanned monetary emission would spark inflation and would hurt "the most vulnerable layers of the population."
SUPREME COURT AFFIRMS LEGITIMACY OF ELECTORAL LAW.
The Supreme Court has ruled that electing half of the State Duma using a proportional representation system does not violate voters' constitutional rights, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the law on parliamentary elections, half of the 450 Duma deputies are chosen from party lists. Only electoral blocs that gain at least 5% of the vote can receive any party- list Duma seats. In the December 1995 Duma elections, the four parties that crossed the 5% threshold won only some 50% of the total party-list votes cast. Mikhail Martynyuk, who voted for an unsuccessful bloc in 1995, lodged the appeal, claiming that he had been denied his right to representation in parliament. In an apparent attempt to call the Duma's legitimacy into question, the presidential administration publicized Martynyuk's case and sent a legal representative to support him at the court hearings.
KHLYSTUN ON CRISIS IN AGRICULTURE FUNDING.
Agriculture Minister Viktor Khlystun has told the Federation Council that state funding for the agrarian sector in the first quarter of 1997 was only 11% of budgeted levels, or 300 billion rubles ($52 million), ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Some deputies in the upper house argued that regional funds should be created to support agriculture, as has been done in the republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
IZVESTIYA SAYS MEDIA FACE CENSORSHIP ON SEVERAL FRONTS.
Izvestiya says the Duma's recent attempt to limit TV coverage of parliamentary activities is part of a larger trend of diminishing press freedom in Russia. Journalist Stepan Kiselev argues in today's edition that deputies are taking their cue from officials in the government and presidential administration who, he said, have recently sought to punish newspapers for publishing criticism of leading politicians. Also in today's edition, several intellectuals and cultural figures published an appeal denouncing attempts to turn the paper "into an obedient mouthpiece for its new masters." This follows an Izvestiya commentary yesterday saying the oil company LUKoil is seeking to replace the paper's top journalists in violation of an earlier commitment not to interfere in the paper's editorial policy. LUKoil owns a 41% stake in Izvestiya.
CONFERENCE IN MOSCOW ON COMBATING DRUG TRADE.
At the end of a two-day conference in Moscow on combating the growing narcotics trade in the CIS, Russia has received small financial commitments from the world community, ITAR- TASS reported yesterday. While various international organizations and law enforcement agencies recognized that drug trafficking is a problem in Russia and other CIS states, the UN said it would not allow Russia to take part in its international drug-combating program, pointing to Russia's insufficient means and technology to tackle the problem. But both the UN and the U.S. pledged financial support to Russian drug-combating programs, while Germany has offered funds for police training.
NAKHODKA MEDICS END HUNGER STRIKE.
Seven medics working for an ambulance service in Nakhodka, Primorskii Krai, have ended an 11-day hunger strike after receiving their February wages, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The medics are still owed several months of back pay, which the authorities have promised to pay soon. Meanwhile in Volgograd Oblast, more than 100 teachers blocked traffic on a major highway yesterday. The teachers have not received their salaries for five months and have not been paid other benefits for a year.
GEORGIAN WARLORD SAYS SHEVARDNADZE WITNESSED 1993 EXECUTIONS.
Dzhaba Ioseliani, former head of the disbanded Mkhedrioni paramilitary force, says he was arrested in November 1995 because he had informed the Georgian parliament that he was present when Interior Minister Shota Kviraya executed five men in Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze's presence. Ioseliani said the executions were carried out in western Georgia in October 1993. The date and place suggests that the executed men were supporters of late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who launched an unsuccessful insurrection in fall 1993. Ioseliani has been charged with treason in connection with the failed car bomb attack on Shevardnadze in August 1995. He protests that his arrest was illegal because, as a deputy, he had parliamentary immunity. He added that there is no hard evidence to substantiate the charges against him. Ioseliani made the claims in a letter to Supreme Court chairman Mindia Ugrekhelidze, published in the Georgian press on 16 April.
ABKHAZ PRESIDENT RULES OUT FURTHER TALKS WITH GEORGIA.
Vladislav Ardzinba says the re-routing of all telephone communications from Russia to Abkhazia via Georgia was "a political act" that showed Russia is trying to force Abkhazia to agree to enter a federation with Georgia, AFP reported yesterday, quoting Interfax. Ardzinba ruled out further talks with Georgia on a political solution to the conflict, while Georgian presidential adviser Shalva Pichkhadze told Interfax that Georgia has exhausted almost "all areas of compromise" with Abkhazia. He hinted that Georgia could be forced to seek alternative mediators if the resolution adopted at the March CIS summit on broadening the mandate of the CIS peacekeepers in Abkhazia is not implemented.
WORLD BANK LENDS KYRGYZSTAN $44 MILLION.
The World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) has approved a $44 million loan for Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL reported yesterday. The funds will be used to help reduce the budget deficit and will cover the cost of privatizing or closing down non-productive state enterprises. The loan is also intended to help maintain essential public services slated for privatization. It is repayable over 30 years with a10-year grace period.
TAJIK TALKS OFF AGAIN.
Talks between the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition have been called off again, RFE/RL's Tajik service reported yesterday. Discussions resumed on 16 April after breaking down the previous week but have now been postponed until 16 May. Both sides said they needed to consult with their leaderships before continuing the discussions.
OSCE DELEGATION IN BELARUS FACES PROBLEMS BUT MEETS WITH OPPOSITION LEADERS.
An OSCE official was barred yesterday from attending a Minsk court appearance of Belarusian opposition leader Vasily Novikov, AFP reported. Novikov, who was deputy speaker of the recently disbanded parliament, was fined 5 million Belarusian rubles ($200) for helping organize an opposition march in Minsk last month. The previous day, OSCE delegation members met with, among others, independent labor leader Hennady Bykov and former parliament chairman Semyon Shartesky, who asked the OSCE to urge Moscow to try to steer Lukashenka away from his authoritarian policies. Sharetsky is scheduled to stand trial today for refusing to comply with Lukashenka's demand that he resign from his post as parliament chairman.
BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON RELATIONS WITH U.S.
Ivan Antanovich has asked the U.S. to avoid drawing what he called "hasty conclusions" about his country. Antonovich told journalists in Minsk yesterday that Belarus is "very interested in eliminating misunderstandings" with the U.S., which he called the "great power of the modern world." Antonovich said U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Kenneth Yalowitz, who was recalled recently to Washington, will return shortly with a letter for the Belarusian president. Yalowitz left Belarus last month following the expulsion of Serge Alexandrov, first secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, who was detained by police during an anti-government march last month. Belarus accused Alexandrov of being a CIA agent who had helped organize the rally. The State Department, however, said he was observing the protest as part of his "routine duties."
UKRAINIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CONVENES FOR FIRST TIME.
Constitutional Court spokesman Yevhen Dmitrenko told journalists in Kyiv yesterday that Ukraine has gained "one more attribute of a democratic country" because it can now guarantee "all constitutional rights of [its] citizens and organizations." Dmitrenko was speaking on the first day the country's newly formed Constitutional Court convened. The court's 16 judges began considering an appeal from anti- reform lawmakers who want a constitutional provision barring legislators from holding other posts. Under the new Ukrainian Constitution, which was adopted last June after years of debate, legislators are barred from working in the government or in the private sector. Many reformist lawmakers hold top government posts in addition to serving in the parliament.
UZBEK PRIME MINISTER IN KYIV.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko says he wants to expand Kyiv's ties with the Transcaucasus and Central Asia, especially Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Lazarenko met in Kyiv yesterday with his Uzbek counterpart, Utkir Sultanov. Lazarenko said Ukraine wants to develop transit links through the regions and pursue agreements on energy supplies. Sultanov's visit also marked the first session of the Ukrainian-Uzbek Commission for Comprehensive Cooperation.
EXPERTS TO START STABILIZATION WORK AT CHERNOBYL.
An international team of experts is to start work next week on stabilizing the sarcophagus surrounding the reactor destroyed in the 1986 explosion, the plant's deputy director told Interfax yesterday. Following the explosion, which triggered the world's worst-ever civilian nuclear accident, emergency teams quickly erected a cement sarcophagus to prevent further leaking of radioactivity into the environment. The official said that the reactor still contains some 200 tons of highly radioactive material and that cracks in the sarcophagus are causing concern whether the structure would withstand a strong earthquake. An official at the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry told AFP today that a nuclear waste treatment facility will be built to handle radioactive waste from an exclusion zone around the plant and from within the reactor.
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO-RUSSIAN RELATIONS.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves says that Estonia strongly supports NATO's efforts to work out a special relationship with Russia. In an article published yesterday in The Washington Post, he remarked that Russia remains a "great European power and must be constructively involved in the creation of a new Euro-Atlantic security architecture." Ilves noted that while Russian perceptions should not be ignored, nor should the views of "100 million East and Central Europeans." Estonia and the other 10 applicant countries want to join NATO not because of a sense of "impending threat" but because of the recognition that NATO continues to perform a "valuable function" after the end of the Cold War, he said.
GERMANY SUPPORTS LATVIAN EU MEMBERSHIP.
German President Roman Herzog says he believes Latvia will meet the criteria for admission to the EU, BNS reported. Herzog was speaking at a meeting with Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis in Berlin yesterday. The two presidents discussed German- Latvian relations and future German investment in the Baltic state.
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN IN PRAGUE.
Vytautas Landsbergis says the union agreement between Russia and Belarus means democracy is deteriorating in both countries, which could heighten tension in Europe. Landsbergis, who is on a three-day visit to Prague, spoke to journalists yesterday after meeting with his Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman. Landsbergis today meets with Senate speaker Petr Pithart and Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec to discuss the Czech's Republic support for Lithuania's bid to join NATO and other European structures. He is also scheduled to give a speech at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters. Meanwhile, Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, on a state visit to Denmark, said yesterday Baltic membership in the EU is not a substitute for full admission to NATO.
Sejm speaker Jozef Zych says parliamentary elections will likely take place in Poland in mid- September, RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent reported yesterday. Under Polish law, the speaker must choose a non- work day four weeks before the end of the parliamentary term. Meanwhile, Romanian Senate speaker Petre Roman told Polish senators in Warsaw yesterday that Romania and Poland must improve political and economic relations as they have the same strategic aims, above all, joining NATO. Roman said that for Romania, membership in the alliance would mean the "first step toward integration into the community of democratic and progressive states."
SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER IN BRUSSELS.
Pavol Hamzik has asked NATO not to overlook his country's bid for membership in the alliance, TASR reported. Hamzik was speaking yesterday in Brussels, where he met with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and other officials. Hamzik said the process of change in Slovakia was "absolutely comparable to the one taking place in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary." He asked for "understanding and support" from NATO over the issue of Slovak gold that Bratislava says Prague is unlawfully holding.
SLOVAK PRESIDENT SAYS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL INCOMPETENT.
Michal Kovac says the country's chief attorney has shown "professional and moral incompetence" in failing to pursue key criminal cases. Speaking to journalists in Bratislava yesterday, Kovac urged the parliament to dismiss Michal Valo and listed 26 unsolved cases, including the kidnapping of his own son, and what he called illegal deals in the privatization of state property. Valo later rejected the allegations at a press conference, saying he would not bow to pressure from the president to resign. Valo was appointed by Kovac in 1994 but can be dismissed only by the parliament. He added that Kovac's allegations have undermined the population's confidence in the police, the judiciary, and the prosecutor's office.
HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES APPLYING FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP.
Laszlo Kovacs has denied reports that Hungary has officially applied for admission to NATO (see RFE/RL Newsline, 17 April 1997). He told Hungarian state TV yesterday that in his 16 April talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels, he confirmed Hungary's desire to join the alliance and described the country's preparations for achieving that goal, which, he said, were "received positively." He added that the government considers it important to hold a referendum on joining NATO, although it is not obliged to do so under the constitution.
HUNGARIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICE SCANDAL.
Gabor Kiss, a Socialist Party deputy, has denied informing on party members, Nepszabadsag reported yesterday. Last month, two members of the Intelligence Office were dismissed for having collected information on Socialist deputies without informing either the Minister for Secret Services Istvan Nikolitis or the legislature's National Security Committee. Magyar Hirlap reveals today that it received a warning from Nikolitis on 16 April that it would be violating state secrets if it published Kiss's denial. Meanwhile, the board of the Health Insurance Authority has voted to ask the cabinet to dismiss Agnes Cser as director-general of the Health Insurance Fund, thereby rejecting the recommendation of Welfare Minister Mihaly Kokeny (see RFE/RL Newsline, 14 and 15 April 1997).
CONFUSION OVER ALBANIAN ELECTION DATE.
Franz Vranitzky, the OSCE's chief envoy to Albania, said in Tirana yesterday that party leaders have agreed on 29 June as the date for early parliamentary elections but have not yet reached consensus on conditions for the poll. But later, Prime Minister Bashkim Fino told the ATA news agency that "the elections will be held by the end of June but a fixed date has not been agreed to." Tritan Shehu, a leader of President Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, told AFP that no date was even been discussed. Other issues to be resolved before the elections include dealing with the rebels in the south, drafting a new election law, granting all parties freer access to TV and radio, and clarifying why the pyramid investment schemes collapsed.
CROATIAN PARTIES WIN IN MOST SLAVONIAN DISTRICTS.
Croatian government spokesmen in Zagreb and ethnic Serb leaders in Vukovar said yesterday that early, unofficial returns show Croatian parties winning 16 out of eastern Slavonia's 27 districts. Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Kostovic told journalists that the governing Croatian Democratic Community has an absolute majority in most of those 16 areas. The remaining 11 were won by the Serbian Independent Democratic Party (SSDS). The SSDS, a broad Serbian coalition, claims victory in Beli Manastir and some other municipalities, while both the Croats and Serbs agree that the vote in Vukovar was evenly split. The UN administration in the area will begin to release official figures later today.
BILDT CALLS FOR ISOLATION OF BOSNIAN SERB LEADER.
Carl Bildt, the international community's High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, wrote UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan yesterday that there should be only "essential business contacts" with the Serbian member of the joint Bosnian presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik. Bildt says that Krajisnik is still close to former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. Bildt called Karadzic's role "evil," an RFE/RL correspondent in Sarajevo reported. Meanwhile, Bildt's spokesman told reporters that there will be no international aid for Bosanski Samac and Foca in the Republika Srpska and for Croat-controlled Vitez because indicted war criminals openly take part in local government there.
STEINER SLAMS BOSNIAN SERB TRIAL OF "ZVORNIK SEVEN."
Bildt's deputy, Michael Steiner, has blasted the Bosnian Serb authorities for not allowing seven Muslim males to have their own lawyers in a trial that was slated to open this week in Zvornik. He said in Sarajevo yesterday that the trial is "a travesty of justice" and could lead to sanctions against the Serbs. Mystery has surrounded the case of the seven, who surrendered to U.S. peacekeepers near Zvornik last May. The Muslims claimed to be survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, but the Serbs charged them with murder and unauthorized possession of weapons. The peacekeepers handed the Muslims over to the Serbian police, which the Muslims say tortured them.
OSCE LACKS MONEY FOR BOSNIAN ELECTIONS.
Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Peterson said in Vienna yesterday that the OSCE is $32 million short of what it needs to organize the Bosnian local elections in September. He accused various unspecified countries of engaging the OSCE in various political projects but failing to provide the money to carry them out. Peterson said the time has come to abandon the system of financing the OSCE on the basis of voluntary contributions and to start assessing members dues instead.
ALL SLOVENIAN PARTIES BACK NATO MEMBERSHIP.
All parties signed a declaration in Ljubljana yesterday supporting membership in the Atlantic alliance. The parties say that Slovenia is ready to cover all expenses connected with joining. The opposition Social Democrats launched the initiative. Slovenia has been intensively lobbying NATO member states in recent weeks in a bid to be admitted in the first wave of new members. It is the only former Yugoslav republic that most observers give a serious chance of admission in the foreseeable future, although Croatian President Franjo Tudjman says that his country is ready to join.
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BUDGET LAW.
A joint session of Romania's bi-cameral parliament has passed the law on the 1997 state budget, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported yesterday. The leftist and nationalist opposition voted against the law. Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara told RFE/RL's Romanian service that the budget will require "a few months of sacrifice" from the population but will enable Romania to shake off its current economic impasse. The budget foresees a deficit amounting to 4.5% of GDP, an inflation rate of 90%, and an 8% unemployment rate. The same day, the government amended and approved the list of 10 state-owned loss-making companies slated for privatization or liquidation. Together, those companies account for 7.5% of the deficit in the state sector.
ROMANIA WANTS TO PURCHASE USED U.S. FIGHTER PLANES.
A Defense Ministry spokesman says Romania plans to buy used fighter and transport planes from the U.S. military to bring the country closer to NATO standards. He told Reuters yesterday that Defense Minister Victor Babiuc has sent a letter of intent to the U.S. Defense Department for the purchase of 12 F-16 or F-18 fighter jets and nine Hercules C-130 transport aircraft. The spokesman also said Bell Helicopter Textron of the States was "at an advanced stage" in its bid to buy a controlling stake in the Intreprinderea Aeronautica Romana company to jointly produce Cobra attack helicopters. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Adrian Severin and his Italian counterpart, Lamberto Dini, met in Rome yesterday and signed a joint declaration on a "strategic partnership" between their countries. An RFE/RL corespondent in the Italian capital reported that the document provides for Italian support for Romania's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.
RUSSIAN DUMA COMMISSION WRAPS UP MOLDOVAN VISIT.
Adrian Puzanovsky, head of a State Duma commission for the Transdniester, says the Duma has not ratified the 1990 basic treaty with Moldova because the breakaway region's problems have not yet been solved, BASA-press reported yesterday. Speaking at the end of the commission's four-day visit to Moldova, Puzanovsky said the Duma's stance is "dictated by its responsibility" toward settling the conflict. He added that the commission was "highly appreciative" of the accords to resume negotiations signed by Chisinau and Tiraspol as a result of Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's mediation. The commission was received yesterday by President Petru Lucinschi and other Moldovan officials.
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT WARNS CLINTON ABOUT EXCLUSION FROM NATO.
Petar Stoyanov has sent a letter addressed to U.S. President Bill Clinton warning that leaving Bulgaria out of NATO risks creating a "gray area" in the Balkans, Reuters reported yesterday, citing a press release from the presidential office. Bulgaria itself could turn from an "island of stability" into an "island of uncertain security," he said. Stoyanov told Reuters he expects tomorrow's parliamentary elections to seal a new national consensus in favor of the market reforms delayed since the end of communist rule. He said Bulgaria was a latecomer to those reforms but could learn from the mistakes of its more advanced ex-communist neighbors. Meanwhile, the election campaign ended yesterday.
The Internet In The Baltic States
by Julie Moffett
The Baltic States are making steady strides along the information superhighway by co-financing projects with Western nations and organizations that will help develop network services to increase Internet capability in the coming years. Overall, in terms of Internet technology and connectivity, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania appear well ahead of most former Soviet republics. Part of the reason for their success is the strong support they have received in this effort from the governments of Finland, Sweden, and Norway.
In 1993, the Nordic Council of Ministers initiated a program called BALTnet, which provided funding for computer network development in the Baltic States. One of the most important aspects of the program was the immediate establishment of international network links between those states and their Scandinavian neighbors.
However, the Baltic States, like most countries in the region, are hampered by a technologically outdated telephone system. Most of the phone lines in the Baltic countries are analog (designed to support voice) and not digital (designed to quickly exchange data). As a result, those people who do have Internet access are often restricted in their on-line time owing to frustrating delays and expensive telephone bills.
Guntis Barzdins, a professor at the Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Latvia and a regional expert on the Internet, says that although most telephone lines in the Baltics are analog, roughly 50% of the lines in Riga and Tallinn are now digital. He says there are currently no digital lines in Lithuania but that preparations are being made for their installation in various locations in Vilnius.
There are still several major obstacles in the way of improved Internet connectivity in the Baltic nations: the high cost of computer equipment, compared with the average salaries of workers; poor communication infrastructure and a lack of digital lines; expensive telephone lines; and dependency on international funding, making long-range planning difficult. However, progress is being made in each of the Baltic States.
Since establishing an Internet connection, Estonia has concentrated on networking university, government, and commercial users. The government has played a large role in matching funds of private Western donors and making the issue a national priority. In 1995, the Open Society Regional Internet Program (OSI-RIP) invested in mobile radio links to extend connectivity to rural areas. According to OSI- RIP, it is estimated that nearly 50% of all secondary schools in the country now have some level of connectivity.
Estonia also created the Estonian Educational and Research Network, or EENET. Most of the nation's schools and government and non-governmental organizations are now connected to this network. Future Internet projects include a coordinated effort called "Tiger Leap" between OSI-RIP and the Estonian government to connect all secondary schools to the Internet by the year 2000.
Internet connectivity in Latvia is making rapid progress but is concentrated mostly in Riga. Because of a lack of funds, the Latvian government has been hard-pressed to financially support technology development and infrastructure building. Currently there are two main networks operating in Latvia.: the scientific and educational community largely use a network called LATNET, while banks and other commercial enterprises use a network called LATPAK.
Internet connectivity for schools does not seem to have been vigorously pursued. Some estimates indicate that less than a quarter of secondary schools in Latvia have Internet access. OSI-RIP says its 1997 projects in Latvia will include an effort to provide more regional connectivity outside Riga and increase communication with libraries and cultural institutions.
Lithuania's efforts to improve Internet connectivity have been hampered by a lack of government funding, but progress is being made. Its main operating network is called LITNet.
In 1995, OSI-RIP purchased 100 used computers for secondary schools, which were used as servers to connect to electronic mail. The following year, the Lithuanian Ministry of Education installed thousands of computers in secondary schools following a $7 million equipment donation from the U.S. company IBM.
Internet programs for 1997 include an OSI-RIP- funded expansion of Internet services into rural areas, additional Internet training and the testing of new satellite technology.
More than 90,000 people are estimated to use the Internet in the Baltic States: some 35,000 each in Estonia and Latvia and 23,000 in Lithuania.