8 September 2003, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 23 to 31 August 2003.
MEETING OF BALTIC, NORDIC PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMEN.
In his opening address as host of a two-day meeting of chairmen of the Baltic and Nordic countries' parliaments in Palanga, Lithuania, Lithuanian speaker Arturas Paulauskas warned on 25 August that environmental problems might arise as a result of Russian oil giant LUKoil's plans to extract oil from the Baltic Sea near the Curonian Spit, a site included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, BNS reported. He asked for support in convincing Russia to cooperate more closely with Lithuania, UNESCO, and other Baltic states on this issue and other ecological matters. Finnish Parliamentary Chairman Paavo Lipponen, a former prime minister, gave strong support to Paulauskas' position, but the group issued no joint statement on the issue. Paulauskas also called on Estonia and Latvia to back Lithuania's proposal to foster multilateral cooperation with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Estonian and Latvian speakers Ene Ergma and Ingrida Udre, however, stated that the enormous differences between the Caucasian states make such cooperation difficult and suggested direct bilateral cooperation would be more feasible.
On 26 August, Gediminas Kirkilas, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Lithuanian parliament, delivered a report while meeting at a resort in Nida on the Curonian Spit concerning the development of relations between Lithuania and the Kaliningrad Oblast. Kaliningrad Duma Chairman Vladimir Nikitin, who was scheduled to deliver a report at the same meeting on the future development of Kaliningrad, canceled his plans after learning of Paulauskas's appeal against LUKoil's drilling plans, both BNS and ELTA reported on 26 August.
* The foreign ministers of the Baltic and Nordic states met in Riga on 29 August and discussed the future of the enlarged EU, relations with Russia, and developments in Iraq, LETA reported. They agreed that the quality of negotiations rather than their length is important at the EU intergovernmental conference, which begins in early October. They mentioned the need to protect the interests of the small countries and make Europe's institutional system more transparent. The ministers said that the introduction of visa-free travel between Russia and the EU could only be viewed as a long-term goal.
* The police chiefs and their deputies of the capital cities of Helsinki, Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius met in Riga on 29 August, LETA reported. They discussed issues, such as greater cooperation in curbing illegal migration, car thefts, drug trade, and trafficking in human beings. This was the first meeting of the police chiefs of the Baltic capitals, but there are plans to hold such meetings on a regular basis with the next meeting scheduled in Tallinn in November during which a cooperation agreement is to be signed.
PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES EU MEMBERSHIP.
An extraordinary session of parliament on 25 August discussed a special report prepared by deputies of all factions on the anticipated consequences of Estonia joining the EU, BNS reported. Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Marko Mihkelson noted that EU membership should reduce strains in Estonian-Russian relations and end the doubled customs duties that Russia has imposed on imports from Estonia for more than eight years. There was little debate among the 94 deputies attending the session, as almost all agreed that EU membership is the best way for Estonia to protect its national interests and guarantee stable development. The deputies mentioned farmers and fishermen as clear winners because the EU will give them greater aid, while likely losers will be pensioners and the unemployed who will have to cope with increased costs of living after the country's admission. Even though a Center Party congress recently expressed opposition to EU membership, an unofficial poll of its 28 faction members indicated that 17 support Estonia joining the EU.DEFENSE-REFORM CONTROVERSY ERUPTS.
Res Publica parliament faction Chairman Taavi Veskimagi and Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher criticized Defense Minister Margus Hanson's plans to reduce the number of military draftees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003) and said Estonia must preserve the principle of total defense, LETA reported on 28 August, citing the daily "Eesti Paevaleht." Veskimagi noted that the Res Publica faction met with Prime Minister Juhan Parts on 25 August and concluded that Estonia cannot afford a totally volunteer army. Veskimagi said the party plans to hold a conference soon to discuss the conceptual basis of Estonia's national defense. The party hopes that development guidelines for the defense forces will be discussed in parliament as a matter of national importance.MINISTER URGES VETERANS TO TAKE PART IN DEBATE OVER REFORM OF DEFENSE FORCES.
Speaking at a rally of World War II veterans in Rakvere on 23 August, Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher expressed support for the recently proposed military reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003), BNS reported. He noted that as a member of the paramilitary Defense League, he fully supports the country's defense forces, and urged the audience to participate in the debate on what Estonia's long-term defense doctrine should be. Noting that the day marked the 64th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in which Germany and the Soviet Union divided up Eastern Europe, Vaher also expressed regret that "the crimes of communism have not been tried in a tribunal of nations" similar to the Nazi war-crimes trials held in Nuremberg.SWEDISH PREMIER SHARES EXPERIENCE OF EU MEMBERSHIP.
During a visit to Tallinn on 28 August, Goran Persson told his Estonian counterpart Juhan Parts that EU membership has benefited Sweden and should have the same results in Estonia, BNS reported. Persson said that a negative vote in Estonia's EU-membership referendum on 14 September would not change Sweden's attitude to Estonia, but relations and cooperation between the two countries would be bolstered by a positive vote. He rejected the claim that EU membership would result in a loss of national identity, saying that in fact it allows countries to maintain their identities with greater confidence.ACCORD ON AVOIDING DOUBLE TAXATION SIGNED WITH TURKEY.
Visiting Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland and Turkey's Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan signed in Ankara on 25 August an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation, BNS reported. The agreement should help boost trade and business ties. Ojuland also held meetings that day with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul during which bilateral political, defense, economic, and cultural cooperation, as well as activities in the EU and NATO, were discussed. On 26 August, Ojuland traveled to Izmir to open Estonia's third honorary consulate in Turkey and attended an international trade fair.
* Latvian Prime Minister Einars Repse traveled to Tallinn on 23 August for talks with his Estonian counterpart Juhan Parts on the upcoming EU referendums, BNS reported. The prime ministers participated at a pro-EU rally at Tammsaare park in Tallinn and a concert by opera singer Andrea Boccelli. On 24 August, they went to Parnu to take part in a meeting campaigning for Estonia's EU accession.
* Together with Interior Minister Margus Leivo, Police Director General Robert Antropov made a trip to St. Petersburg on 25-27 August to introduce Harry Tuul as the new Estonian police liaison officer to the chief of the northwestern federal main directorate of the Russian Interior Ministry, Major General Andrei Novikov, and the heads of the interior departments of St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad Oblast, BNS reported. The police officials agreed to launch an exchange program for specialists in the near future.
* Culture Minister Urmas Paet discussed with Tomas Durdik, UNESCO's leading Central European fortress expert, the addition of the bishop's stronghold of Kuresaare on the island Saaremaa to the UNESCO world heritage list in Tallinn on 25 August, BNS reported. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee earlier this year placed the fortress on a tentative list, but the final decision will be made next summer.
* Self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovskii held an online video conference from London with residents of the city of Narva at the Rugodiv cultural center on 26 August, BNS reported the next day. He said that Estonia joining the EU and NATO was unavoidable and it would give Estonia first a political and then also an economic guarantee of independence. The conference was organized and financed by Narva-based businessman Andres Valme who is urging Berezovskii to be a candidate for the Russian Duma in the 99th electoral district in the Kingissepp region (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 22 August 2003).
* The government approved on 26 August the draft 2004 state budget, proposed by the Finance Ministry, according to which budget revenues were estimated at 46.4 billion kroons ($3.3 billion) or 17.4 percent higher than this year, BNS reported. The revenues are 318 million kroons greater than in the previous draft presented earlier this month because higher income is expected from dividends in state-owned companies, from corporate income tax, and from the sale of state property.
* The government decided on 25 August to give the Defense Ministry permission to purchase up to 1,321 troop and combat vehicles from the German armed forces for up to 295 million kroons ($21 million) in the years 2003-2007, BNS reported. If Germany offers suitable vehicles, the first deliveries could take place before the end of the year. The planned expenditures for 2004 are no more than 37.5 million kroons.
* Justice Minister Vaher told a meeting of Estonian freedom fighters in Rakvere on 23 August noting the 64th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that communism should be unconditionally condemned just as Nazism was condemned at Nuremberg, BNS reported. Another Res Publica parliament deputy Urmas Reinsalu had made a similar appeal recently. The spokesman of the right-wing Pro Patria Union welcomed the statements, but pointed out that the Estonian parliament had already passed such a resolution and the conservative group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had proposed a resolution to declare the communist crimes as criminal.
* The Council of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church issued a statement on 26 August urging the people to vote "yes" in the referendum on EU membership, BNS reported. Provost of Voru Andres Maevere was the only member of the council who voted against issuing the statement. On 27 August, the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate announced that since membership in the EU does not concern a person's spiritual life the church would not make any public recommendations on the matter.
* Thailand has decided to transfer nine convicted foreign criminals, including two Estonian women convicted of being drug couriers in 1995, to complete their prison sentences in their home countries, BNS reported on 27 August. Earlier this year, Thailand had sent three other Estonian convicts, two of whom had been arrested with the women, to Estonia.
* The state-owned postal company Eesti Post accepted the resignation of Alo Streimann as the company's board chairman on 26 August, BNS reported the next day. He had become board chairman only in November 2002, but was awarded a "golden handshake" of six months pay or 350,000 kroons ($25,000). His performance had been criticized as the company's profits in the first half of the year fell to 13 million kroons from 30 million kroons in the same period last year. This was primarily due to greater wages for the management, high mobile phone bills, and the leasing of SUVs for the management.
* The government has decided that it will hold its weekly cabinet meetings on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays so that ministers would be able to attend sessions of the EU Council of Ministers and other EU working groups, BNS reported on 25 August. The first Thursday meeting was held on 4 September.
UN COMMITTEE NOTES LATVIA'S PROGRESS FIGHTING RACIAL DISCRIMINATION.
The Latvian Foreign Ministry announced on 28 August that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had concluded in a recent report that Latvia had made progress in eliminating discrimination (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 22 August 2003), LETA reported. According to the committee, the number of complaints about racial discrimination in Latvia has decreased since it issued its first report on Latvia in 1999. The committee mentioned as positive actions the passage of the Society Integration Program and the Labor Law in 2001 and of amendments to the law on parliamentary and local elections, as well as the creation of the post of society integration minister in 2002. It called on the Latvian government to define racial discrimination in all relevant laws according to international norms and to inform citizens about options for defending their rights in cases of racial discrimination. The committee also said the planned education reforms to be implemented in 2004, against which Russian speakers have protested, fully comply with UN conventions.RULING COALITION AGREES ON DISTRIBUTION OF ADDITIONAL FUNDS IN 2004.
The parties in the ruling coalition agreed after lengthy debate on 25 August on how to distribute the additional 25 million lats ($43 million) that the Finance Ministry recently added to the revenue projections in the 2004 budget, LETA reported the next day. The funds will not be restricted to several projects, but will be broadly distributed. The largest amount, 3.9 million lats, will go to increase pensions, with 3.2 million lats being allotted for transportation subsidies, 2.5 million lats for the alimony fund, 2.3 million for farmers, and 2.2 million lats for health care. Additional money will also be allocated for internal security, the justice system, promoting tourism, maintaining embassies, and programs to assist children and the disabled.SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO BE ASSISTED WITH EURO-INTEGRATION.
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic made a working visit to Riga on 26 August, LETA reported. Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete told him that Latvia is willing to share its experiences seeking membership in the EU and NATO. The foreign ministers agreed that relations between their countries are good, but noted that cooperation should be increased. The countries are preparing agreements on trade and economic relations; on cooperation in education, culture, and sports; on international trucking; and a tax convention. Svilanovic invited Kalniete to visit Serbia and Montenegro. He also met that day with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga who informed him about processes of social integration in Latvia and its policy on ethnic minorities.NEW POLITICAL PARTY FOUNDED.
More than 200 people participated in a 28 August meeting during which a new left-wing party, Free Choice in a Europe of Peoples (BITE), was established, BNS reported the next day. The congress elected parliament deputies Jakovs Pliners, who left the National Harmony Party (TSP) earlier that day, and Nikolajs Kabanovs as the new party's chairman and secretary, respectively, and a 15-member council. Kabanovs said the party's main aim will be to protect the interests of the Russian community in Latvia, and the party's name was chosen to indicate its support for Latvia joining the EU. On 29 August, the two parliament deputies, joined by three deputies from the Equal Rights Party, reestablished the For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) faction, which had ceased to exist after the TSP and Latvian Socialist Party (LSP) quit it earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003 and 9 June 2003).FIVE ECONOMIC REPRESENTATIONS TO OPEN ABROAD THIS YEAR.
Economy Minister Juris Lujans announced on 27 August that Latvia plans to open economic representations this year in the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Russia, and France to promote Latvian exports, BNS reported. Lujans said the Latvian economy has developed to the extent that not only should investment in Latvia be promoted, but also Latvian investment abroad. Latvian Development Agency Chairman Juris Kanels told reporters that almost all the new economic representatives have been selected. They will start working in September so that their offices can begin operating by November. The representations will be located at the Latvian embassies of the countries involved, except for Germany, since Berlin is not that country's economic center. Lujans also noted that three more economic representations in the United States, the Czech Republic, and an unnamed country should be opened before the end of 2004.
* Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen made a one-day working visit to Riga on 29 August to discuss Latvia's upcoming EU membership referendum and the future of the enlarged Europe, BNS reported. He held separate talks with Prime Minister Einars Repse and President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, met with Finnish business representatives, and toured Riga's Old Town. Vanhanen said that he fully supports Latvia joining the EU.
* Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete received a letter from U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage expressing gratitude that Latvia had seized 28 tons of contraband Russian armament bound for Iran at Riga's airport earlier in the month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2003), BNS reported on 27 August. Armitage praised Latvia's effort and wrote: "Latvia's contribution towards the restriction of the distribution of arms is a visible example for our friends and partners also moving ahead along the Euro-Atlantic road."
* Major General Thomas Cutler, the adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard, flew to Riga on 27 August to strengthen long-term cooperation between Michigan and Latvia and discuss future plans to support and promote Latvia's military readiness and ability to join NATO operations, LETA reported. He held talks with President Vike-Freiberga, Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, and Defense Ministry officials and visited the army training center in Adazi.
* Former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus joined his former Latvian counterpart Guntis Ulmanis at a conference on Baltic states unity and enlargement of the EU in Riga on 23 August, BNS reported. Adamkus also participated in the Latvian television program "The Baltic States' Road to Europe" and had dinner with Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete.
* President Vike-Freiberga told several thousand residents of the town of Preili in Latgale on 23 August that they should vote "yes" in the referendum on EU membership on 20 September, LETA reported. She congratulated the residents of Preili on the 75th anniversary of the town and also noted that the day was the 64th anniversary of the signing of the Nazi-Soviet agreement, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, by which the two countries divided the Baltic states between themselves.
* The Riga International Court of Arbitration decided on 25 August to postpone its hearing of a claim of 1.05 million lats ($1.8 million) by the Riga Free Port Administration against the company Neste Latvija Ltd. until 15 October, LETA reported. The port is charging that Neste did not fulfill the provisions of its land-lease contract resulting in large losses for the port.
* The government decided on 26 August that 8.5 million lats ($13.4 million) of the 50 million lats assigned in the 2004 budget for the co-financing of EU funds will be spent on establishing new civil service posts to administer the EU structural funds, BNS reported the next day. Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said that this was a compromise since his ministry had suggested spending only 7 million lats while the other ministries had requested 11.6 million lats. There are plans to hire 469 new officials, of whom 260 will be in the Agriculture Ministry, 70 in the Finance Ministry, 63 in the Welfare Ministry, and smaller numbers in other ministries.
* The nongovernmental Independence -- Outside the European Union movement organized a protest march of some 150 people from Riga's Town Hall Square to the Freedom Monument on 23 August, BNS reported. They carried Latvian flags and banners urging the population to vote against EU accession in the referendum on 20 September. A smaller anti-EU rally, organized by another NGO, All for Latvia, was also held that day in front of the German Embassy in Riga.
* Daugavpils Mayor Ivars Skincs submitted his resignation to the Daugavpils City Council on 27 August and it was approved by a vote of 14 to one, LETA reported. He had become mayor only in April after there was a no-confidence vote against the previous city Mayor Rihards Eigims. Skincs expects to return to his former post of director at the Daugavpils 17th High School.
WORLD INFORMATION-TECHNOLOGY FORUM IN VILNIUS.
The WITFOR-Vilnius 2003 world information-technology forum was officially opened in Vilnius on 27 August by its honorary chairman, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, BNS reported. The three-day forum, attended by more than 670 participants from 72 countries -- including vice presidents from Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM -- was organized by the Lithuanian government and the International Federation for Information Processing, under the patronage of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and UNESCO. ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi noted that the forum will adopt a declaration that will serve as the basis for the World Summit on Information Society in Geneva in December. UNESCO Deputy Director-General Abdul Waheed Khan said the forum should devote attention not only to the development of information technologies, but also to their use in education and to increasing information accessibility to all.CONSERVATIVES AND UNION OF POLITICAL PRISONERS SIGN PRELIMINARY MERGER AGREEMENTS.
Andrius Kubilius and Povilas Jakucionis, chairmen of the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) (TSLK) and Union of Lithuania's Political Prisoners and Deportees (LPKTS) respectively, signed agreements on 28 August on the principles of creating a single political organization and on cooperation until that merger is completed, BNS reported. The first agreement states that a Freedom Fighters Faction (LKF) will be formed in the new party, as well as in local chapters as desired. The LKF will be allowed to retain its property and separate bank accounts. The founding congress of the new party is scheduled to take place in December. The TSLK now has 13,000 members and the LPKTS 47,000.NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR PRESENTS CREDENTIALS TO PAKSAS.
Ambassador Stephen Mull officially presented his credentials to President Rolandas Paksas on 26 August, BNS reported. The 45-year-old diplomat joined the U.S. diplomatic service in 1982 and, after serving in South Africa, Poland, and the Bahamas, most recently worked as deputy ambassador to Indonesia. Mull handed Paksas a personal letter from U.S. President George W. Bush saying that he would welcome a visit by the Lithuanian leader to the United States. Mull said that among his main goals in Vilnius will be the development of mutual economic-trade relations and attracting more U.S. investments to Lithuania. Paksas thanked the United States for its assistance in promoting Lithuania's impending NATO membership and noted that by sending troops to the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Lithuania has shown that it does not plan to be just a "recipient of security."
* Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic made a working visit to Lithuania on 27 August, BNS reported. His talks with Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis focused on expanding political cooperation and learning more about Lithuania's experience in gaining membership in the EU and the World Trade Organization. The foreign ministers signed an agreement on cooperation in the fields of education, science, culture, and sports. Svilanovic also had meetings with President Rolandas Paksas, Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, and parliament Deputy Chairman Gintaras Steponavicius.
* A delegation of Hungarian border guards began a three-day visit to Lithuania on 27 August by visiting the Foreigners' Registration Center in Pabrade, where illegal immigrants and foreigners seeking refugee status are housed, BNS reported. The next day the delegation traveled to the Medininkai customs post on the Belarusian border and had a meeting with Vaclovas Zabarauskas, the deputy head of the Lithuanian Border Guard Service. On 29 August, the Hungarians inspected the Lithuanian-Belarusian border during a helicopter flight and became familiar with the work of customs officials at Vilnius International Airport.
* Lithuanian and Polish presidents Rolandas Paksas and Aleksander Kwasniewski decided during a telephone conversation on 27 August to support the call by Pope John Paul II to accentuate the role of Christianity as the continent's spiritual anchor in the European Union's constitution, BNS reported. The presidents also agreed to meet with European Commission President Romano Prodi to discuss EU funding for joint infrastructure projects, such as the Via Baltica highway and the Rail Baltica railway.
* Visiting Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Vadim Bulavin held talks with his Vilnius counterpart Arturas Zuokas on 29 August, ELTA reported. They talked about the possibilities of developing greater economic, social, and cultural ties between their cities with Zuokas stressing his plans to make Vilnius a large center for international events, political forums, and conventions.
* European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) First Vice President Noreen Doyle has sent a letter to the government expressing the bank's agreement to participate in the financing of a project to connect the power grids of Lithuania and Poland, BNS reported on 25 August. The power companies of the two countries, with the support of the EBRD, decided in July to establish a joint venture to prepare the project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). Its future depends on the receipt of substantial aid from the EU.
* After three weeks of training and acclimatization in Kuwait, peacekeeping troops from the Grand Duchess Birute Motorized Infantry Battalion moved to their deployment zone in Iraq, the town of Al-Hillah some 100 kilometers south of Baghdad, BNS reported on 25 August. They will be serving in the sector controlled by Poland.
* Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said in an interview on Lithuanian state radio on 26 August that the government will propose to the parliament to postpone the imposition of significantly higher land taxes until next year, ELTA reported. He also declared that his government was not planning to introduce a new real estate tax, but would call for increasing the salaries of 45,000 public sector employees such as teachers, doctors, cultural workers, and civil servants.