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Baltic Report: April 17, 2002

17 April 2002, Volume 3, Number 12

This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 5-11 April 2002.
Prime Minister Siim Kallas, Defense Minister Sven Mikser, and Defense Forces Commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts attended a question-and-answer session on Estonia's preparations for accession to NATO at the North Atlantic Council in Brussels on 8 April, ETA reported. This was Estonia's third and final meeting prior to the NATO summit in Prague in November. If an invitation is made at that summit for Estonia to join NATO, then the accession protocol would be signed about six months later, and could take about one year for all of the 19 NATO member states to ratify it. After the session, Kouts said that, compared to the previous year, the questions were favorable and he sensed greater support for Estonia's entry to the alliance. Kallas assured the council that Estonia will continue to allocate at least 2 percent of GDP for defense, which he said could even be increased if the global situation required it.

Accompanied by a delegation of businessmen, Arnold Ruutel began a two-day official visit to Norway on 10 April with a short welcome from King Harald V and Queen Sonja, who later hosted a dinner in his honor, ETA reported. Ruutel thanked Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik for Norway's strong support in addressing his country's environmental, economic, and social problems, as well as efforts to achieve NATO membership. In a speech at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Ruutel said that regional economic imbalance increased following Estonia's restoration of independence, and that local governments in Norway have agreed to assist in studies to develop Estonia's administrative organization of local governments. Ruutel was scheduled to travel to Bergen on 11 April before returning home.

The final report of the parliament's special commission investigating the liquidation of the Estonian KGB concluded that the state of Estonia has no special obligations to former employees and pensioners of the Soviet secret service, BNS reported on 9 April. It stated that no binding agreements were signed during the liquidation of the Estonian KGB to give its former employees or their families any "special rights and liberties, including the granting of citizenship or residence permits." The head of the commission, Pro Patria parliament deputy Aimar Altosaar, said there is sufficient evidence that such an agreement had been prepared, but it was never signed or brought into effect. He noted that the liquidation was very sloppy and that the government in 1991 had been insufficiently persistent and resolute in demanding the turnover of KGB files, or in preventing local KGB officials from removing them.

Prime Minister Siim Kallas admitted to the parliament on 11 April that Estonia lags behind in the passage of draft laws necessary for admission to the EU, ETA reported the next day. He said Estonia could receive up to 9.5 billion kroons ($525 million) from the EU budget for regional development for 2004-06, but warned that local structures are not yet prepared to handle such funds. Kallas said Estonia should try to retain its low tax rate, and said the EU's agricultural subsidies once Estonia joins the union would be significant. He admitted that the EU will probably not allow Estonia any transition period for tax-free trade on ferryboats, therefore the Estonian government would provide financial support for them. Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland noted that more than 80 laws must be adopted to bring Estonian legislation into line with EU norms, 15 of which she considers urgent.
* Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland spoke about the close link between information technology and human rights at the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, BNS reported on 5 April. During a meeting with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers she discussed problems of refugees and the situation in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
* During a brief visit to Tallinn on 11 April, former German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel gave a speech at the Institute of Foreign Policy in which he stated that further enlargement of NATO would be impossible without the Baltic states, ETA reported. He noted, however, that EU membership was more important for the Baltic states than NATO membership.
* Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Guchang told Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland in Tallinn on 8 April that his country regards Estonia as one of its best partners in Europe, ETA reported. They agreed on the need to have regular consultations between their ministries and to sign a cooperation protocol soon.
* The deputy chancellor of the Economy Ministry, Signe Ratso, and his visiting Hungarian counterpart, Zoltan Budai, signed a bilateral tourism agreement in Tallinn on 11 April, BNS reported. During his three-day visit Budai also held talks with officials of the Estonian Association of Hotels and Restaurants and various tourism associations.
* The Canadian government announced on 9 April it was closing its ports to fishing boats from Estonia because of "clear evidence of violations" of shrimp-fishing quotas off its east coast, ETA reported. Estonian fishing authorities denied the Canadian claim the next day, saying that Canada's calculations are based on daily-fishing quotas, not the real amount of shrimp caught.
* Parliament Chairman Toomas Savi told Czech Senate Chairman Petr Pithart in Prague on 10 April that Russian opposition to NATO enlargement was beginning to show signs of decreasing, BNS reported the next day. Savi said that Estonia could learn from the Czech experience in achieving NATO membership.
* EVR Ekspress, the operator of international passenger train traffic in Estonia, announced on 9 April that it will launch a passenger train to Minsk from 2 June, ETA reported. Two cars of the train will also be connected to a train going to Kyiv. Initially trains will run twice a week. The company will also resume train service between Tallinn and St. Petersburg on 2 June.
* Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar stated that he intends to prevent the Tallinn Water Company from raising the price of water by the rate of inflation even though such an increase is allowed in the privatization accord, BNS reported on 10 April. He also said that he would ask the Social Affairs Ministry to allow eight drugstores in the city to start selling cheap medicine from former socialist states which do not meet high quality requirements.
* UN statistics specialist Emmanuel Boudard apologized for the mistake in the latest UN Human Development Report, which incorrectly stated that the literacy rate in Estonia was 98 percent and not the correct 99.8 percent, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported on 8 April.
* The Statistics Office announced on 5 April that the consumer price index rose by 0.3 percent in March compared to February, and by 4.3 percent compared to March 2001, BNS reported.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Latvia violated the European Convention on Human Rights by preventing Ingrida Podkolzina from participating in the parliamentary elections in 1998 because of her alleged inadequate knowledge of the Latvian language, LETA reported on 9 April. The court ruled that Podkolzina possessed a valid certificate that affirmed her language proficiency when she was registered as a candidate, but was then retested by a State Language Center examiner who unilaterally decided that Podkolzina was not proficient enough and caused her name to be removed from the candidate lists. The ECHR awarded Podkolzina 7,500 euros ($6,563) plus 1,500 euros for legal costs and expenses. Kristine Malinovska, Latvia's representative at the ECHR, said the verdict was expected and showed that the current measures to protect the Latvian language in the parliament are inadequate. According to the official government newspaper "Latvijas Vestnesis" on 11 April, Prime Minister Andris Berzins was satisfied that the court recognized Latvia's right to determine the working language of its parliament and to ensure that Latvian maintains its role as the country's official language.

Top officials of six private television and radio companies sent an open letter to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Prime Minister Andris Berzins, the Competition Council, the National Radio and Television Council (NRTC), State Support Monitoring Commission, and political parties, urging changes in the existing law on radio and television and at total ban on commercial advertising in state-supported media, LETA reported on 8 April. The letter states that due to the state funding received by Latvian State Television and Latvian State Radio, these media outlets offer commercial airtime at lower prices than those of private broadcasters. The letter calls for the revision of the outdated radio and television law to bring it into line with modern requirements and EU standards. The NRTC has raised the question of introducing subscription fees to finance state broadcasting companies, but this proposal has yet to receive support from the president or prime minister.

The Latvian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Janis Karklins, criticized Russia during his presentation to the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) session on 8 April for ignoring the UN body's resolution of 20 April 2001 on Chechnya, according to the 9 April edition of the official government newspaper "Latvijas Vestnesis." Karklins questioned Russia's commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict there. Karklins went on to state that Latvia found it unacceptable that Russia, as a member of the UNCHR that claims to defend human rights in other countries, would not apply those same rules to itself, which he termed a double standard. Karklins called on Russia to respect the recommendations of the international community and fulfill its human rights obligations as well as those embodied in the Chechnya resolution.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European Policy Ian Brzezinski told Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins on 11 April that Latvia should abolish its Latvian-language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils, BNS reported. Such an action, he said, would affirm the maturity of the country's democracy and its compliance to the common values of NATO. One day earlier, the Latvian parliament passed on second reading constitutional amendments reinforcing the primacy of the Latvian language, "Diena" reported. Adoption of these amendments is considered a prerequisite for passage of a law abolishing the language requirement for political candidates.

In Riga on 9 April, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European Policy Ian Brzezinski discussed efforts to inform the domestic audience about Latvia's NATO membership drive, BNS reported the next day. When Brzezinski, who is on a three-day visit to Riga, mentioned the need to better inform the country's Russian-speaking population on the matter, Kristovskis said his ministry is preparing a Russian-language version of its website. On 10 April, the Latvijas fakti company released the results of a poll it conducted in March that indicate that 63.9 percent of Latvia's residents favor membership in NATO, with only 24.5 percent expressing opposition, LETA reported. Brzezinski praised Latvia's achievements in modernizing its armed forces when he met with Prime Minister Andris Berzins on 11 April, BNS reported. He also thanked Latvia for participating in peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia.

Interior Ministers Mareks Seglins (Latvia) and Juozas Bernatonis (Lithuania) signed an agreement in Vilnius on 5 April simplifying border-crossing procedures, BNS reported. The procedures are intended to speed up the process and reduce lines of waiting cars. Under the new rules automobiles will be inspected at one common checkpoint instead of two separate ones. The agreement must still be ratified by the parliaments of both countries, but Bernatonis hopes the new procedures will go into effect in May.
* Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis flew to Brussels on 10 April to hold talks the next day at NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons with NATO Allied Forces Europe Commander Joseph Ralston, BNS reported. They discussed Latvia's further military development after accession to NATO, noting the need for military personnel to continue upgrading skills and the military to develop its infrastructure.
* Denmark's Air Force tactical headquarters commander Major General Leif Simosen discussed cooperation with National Armed Forces commander Colonel Raimonds Graube and Air Force Colonel Vitalijs Viesins in Latvia on 7 and 8 April, BNS reported. The talks centered on search and rescue operations, as well as personnel training.
* Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula discussed with Prime Minister Andris Berzins in Riga on 5 April the need to increase economic cooperation between their countries, ETA reported. He noted that like Latvia, Croatia desires to become a member of the EU and NATO. Picula extended an invitation from Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan for Berzins to visit Croatia.
* The World Bank's regional director for Poland and the Baltic states, Michael Carter, told reporters in Riga on 9 April that Latvia's gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7.6 percent in 2001 was a very good achievement and that the World Bank expects this year's GDP growth to be some 5 percent, BNS reported. He also noted that the World Bank would make a final decision on granting the next structural reform loan to Latvia only after the IMF announces its annual assessment of Latvia.
* President Vaira Vike-Freiberga flew to London on 8 April to attend the funeral the next day of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who died on 30 March at the age of 101, LETA reported.
* Latvia's designated diplomatic representative in the Kaliningrad region, Valts Vitums, traveled to Kaliningrad to begin preparatory work for opening a consulate in Kaliningrad, LETA reported on 8 April.
* Prime Minister Andris Berzins discussed with visiting International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President Rene Fasel and IIHF Vice President Jan-Ake Edvinsson in Riga on 9 April the idea of holding the hockey world championships in Riga in 2006, LETA reported. The talks mostly centered on the construction of suitable facilities to host such a tournament.
* The Christian Democratic Union (KDS) decided at its 6th congress on 6 April in Riga to participate in the formation of a joint Christian political party, LETA reported. The congress elected Juris Kokins as KDS Chairman for the fourth time.
* Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars declared on 9 April that representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development held talks that day on the granting of loans for the renewal of ferry service between Riga and Stockholm, BNS reported. The recently founded Rigas Juras Linijas plans to launch ferry service between the capitals on 25 April.
* The number of officially registered drug addicts and users of narcotics in Latvia has more than doubled since 1998, according to the State Narcotics Center as reported in the 10 April edition of "Diena." More than 80 percent of first-time registered users in both 2000 and 2001 were under the age of 24.
* The Central Statistical Bureau announced on 9 April that the consumer price index rose by 0.4 percent in March compared to February, and by 3.2 percent compared to March 2001, LETA reported.

On 11 April, the U.S. company Williams International, which operates Mazeikiai Nafta (Mazeikiai Oil), and the Russian oil company Yukos, after three months of intense talks, handed the government draft agreements on cooperation in Mazeikiai Nafta, ELTA reported. The two companies signed a preliminary agreement in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2001) in which Yukos agreed to pay $75 million, loan another $75 million, and supply 4.8 million tons of crude oil per year to the refinery in exchange for a 26.85 percent share of Mazeikiai Nafta, but Williams canceled the agreement in December after Yukos could not guarantee oil deliveries. Officials of the two companies expressed their hope that the government will approve the agreement and that it can be finalized by June. Minister of Economy Petras Cesna expressed skepticism as to whether that deadline can be met.

A Danish parliamentary delegation headed by its chairman, Ivar Hansen, visited Lithuania on 7-9 April, ELTA reported. On 8 April he assured his Lithuanian counterpart Arturas Paulauskas that Denmark fully backs Lithuania's entry into the EU and will support its efforts to obtain higher agricultural production quotas. Hansen also stressed that Lithuania must close the second block of its nuclear power plant at Ignalina by 2009, as requested by the EU. The next day, Hansen held talks with President Valdas Adamkus during which he expressed his hope that Lithuania will complete its negotiations for EU membership in the second half of the year while Denmark is heading the EU presidency. In his speech to the parliament, Hansen repeated pledges of Danish support for Lithuania's entry into NATO and the EU and called for greater political cooperation and broader bilateral contacts in such fields as tourism, culture, education, science, and business.

Ombudsmen from 33 European countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, gathered in Vilnius on 5 April for a two-day conference titled "The Functions and Role of Ombudsmen in Democratic States," "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. The conference was organized by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commission and the Lithuanian parliament's Ombudsman Office. Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles told President Valdas Adamkus that Vilnius was chosen as the site of the conference because Lithuania has reached European standards in human rights and democracy. The Ombudsman of Kaliningrad called for an EU conference to discuss implications for the region's 1 million inhabitants when its nearest neighbors -- Poland and Lithuania -- join the EU in 2004. So far the EU has rejected Russia's requests to soften EU customs and visa regimes for the exclave.

Valdas Adamkus on 8 April vetoed the amendments to the government law adopted by the parliament on 26 March that would have changed the administrative structure of ministries by leaving only one politically appointed deputy minister and handing the leadership of the ministry administration over to the new post of state secretary, ELTA reported. The 13 ministries currently have between two and five deputy ministers, all of whom are political appointees. Adamkus proposed that the post of deputy minister be totally eliminated and that the posts of state secretary and secretaries be established in the ministries and selected through open competition. He also suggested that the changes in the law go into effect on 15 June.

Bank of Lithuania Chairman Reinoldijus Sarkinas told President Valdas Adamkus on 10 April that the bank's board will discuss the amendments to the monetary and foreign-currency laws that would end the requirement that all payments within domestic markets be made only in the national currency, the litas, ELTA reported. Sarkinas said the amendments would allow the settlement of accounts in any currency upon the agreement of the parties involved. Sarkinas also said that the bank wants to cancel the provision in the foreign-currency law requiring the central bank's permission for the opening of an account in a foreign bank. The President's Office later issued a press release indicating that Adamkus supports the amendments and hopes they will improve the business environment in the country. * U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European Policy Ian Brzezinski and representatives of the U.S. State and Defense Departments attended the meeting in Vilnius on 8 April of a working group coordinating military cooperation between Lithuania and the U.S., ELTA reported. Brzezinski acknowledged that Lithuania already acts as a de facto member of NATO and thanked the Baltic state for its contribution to the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign. * Foreign Ministry Consular Department head Gediminas Siaudvytis and his Belarusian counterpart Viktor Geisik held talks in Vilnius on 8 April on visa issues, ELTA reported. As part of its efforts to gain EU membership, Lithuania will end its policy of granting visa-free entry to Belarusian border area residents, persons over the age of 60, and international truckers beginning on 1 January 2003. On 11 April, Belarus approved the establishment of a Lithuanian consulate in the city of Hrodno and stated that it wants to open a new consular office in Lithuania.
* A delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Rytis Martinkonis visited Ireland on 10-11 April to study the country's experience in administering and using EU assistance, ELTA reported. It met with officials from the Irish Foreign Affairs and Finance Ministries, the Prime Minister's Office, the Public Administration Institute, and the chairman of Ireland's National European Forum.
* The head of the European Commission delegation to Lithuania, Michael Graham, discussed the fate of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, quotas for agricultural products, and Lithuania's administrative capacity at a working lunch with President Valdas Adamkus on 10 April, BNS reported.
* Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Guchang told President Valdas Adamkus in Vilnius on 9 April that Chinese President Jiang Zemin's planned visit to Lithuania in June would give a new boost to bilateral relations, BNS reported. There are plans for the two presidents to sign a declaration on Lithuanian-Chinese relations and for the signing of an extradition treaty.
* The parliament on 9 April commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of Lithuania's joining the international convention against genocide, BNS reported. Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas expressed regret that some Lithuanians had participated in the killing of Jews. The previous day, Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas and Rabbi Andrew Baker, a representative of the American Jewish Committee, announced that the first restored fragment of the former Jewish quarter of Vilnius would be unveiled by the summer of next year.
* Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Infrastructure Business Group Director Gavin Anderson signed a preliminary financing agreement (letter of intent) in Vilnius on 8 April for an up to 10 million euro ($8.9 million) loan to finance the development of the city's transport system, BNS reported. The EBRD is expected to extend the loan for up to 12 years without requiring state guarantees.
* President Valdas Adamkus decided on 11 April to appoint 43-year-old Vilnius 2nd district court judge Vaida Urmonaite and 38-year-old chief prosecutor of the Kaunas region Gintaras Jasaitis as deputy prosecutor generals, ELTA reported. He did not reappoint Kestutis Betingis, but gave him the post Jasaitis had held.
* The Privatization Commission on 11 April named the consortium of German energy companies, EON Energie, and Ruhrgas the winner of the contest to gain the 34 percent stake as strategic investor in the natural gas utility Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas), BNS reported. Another 34 percent share will later be sold to a Russian natural gas supplier, probably Gazprom.
* The international rating agency Fitch upgraded the long-term foreign currency borrowing rating of Vilniaus Bankas from stable to positive, ELTA reported on 8 April.
* The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant produced 3.89 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in the first quarter of this year, compared to 1.98 billion kWh produced in the same period a year ago, BNS reported on 9 April.
* The Statistics Department announced on 11 April that in the first two months of 2002 exports fell to 2.67 billion litas ($680 million), or 4.2 percent lower than in the same period last year, while imports grew to 3.88 billion litas or 6.2 percent greater, ELTA reported.
* The Statistics Department announced on 9 April that the consumer price index in March was 0.7 percent lower than in February, but 1.6 percent higher compared to March 2001, ELTA reported.
* The Labor Exchange announced on 5 April that the country's unemployment rate edged down by 0.3 points to 12.6 percent in March, ELTA reported. As of 1 April the number of officially registered unemployed was 221,100, or 6.9 percent fewer than a year ago.