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Baltic Report: February 7, 2000

7 February 2000, Volume 1, Number 3
Common Baltic Approach To Energy Issues Urged
U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on 2 February urged the three Baltic countries to adopt a common approach to energy and environmental issues. Speaking in Vilnius, Richardson said that such a common strategy will "put the Baltic countries in a much stronger position vis-a-vis their Nordic and European neighbors, as well as Russia."

Finland Accuses Estonia Of Being Drug Pipeline
Finnish Interior Minister Kari Hakamies told the Finnish press on 27 January that most of Finland's drugs come into the country via Estonia. He suggested that Estonia's EU bid may fall short if issues surrounding drugs and police corruption are not solved. Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar has admitted that work needs to be done in this area, but he also said he expected the Finnish interior minister to have proof of his allegations--especially of police corruption in the drug trade.
* Estonian politicians reacted angrily to a suggestion by Russian Ambassador Aleksei Glukhov that the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty is now obsolete.
* Estonian women work on average 1.5 hours more per day than men and receive only 63 percent of men's wages.
* An arbitration board has ruled that the sacking of former Estonian Television Director Toomas Lepp was illegal. But within hours of the reinstatement, Lepp was again fired by the government's broadcasting council.
* Estonia has made the final payments on 1993 bonds issued for a $49 million weapons purchase from Israel. Including interest, payments on this issue totaled $60.4 million, but accountants suggest Tallinn in fact overpaid between $900,000 and $2.5 million due to a mistake in calculating the interest.
* Polish parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski met with President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar, parliamentary speaker Toomas Savi, and others during a Tallinn visit.
* Secondary school students began circulating e-mails to rally support against the proposed legislation to conscript young men before they begin their university studies (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 31 January 2000).
* The government's statistics department revised GDP figures down to zero growth in the third quarter. Earlier, it had announced a 0.2 percent increase for that period.
* The German Navy announced it will donate a mine-detector vessel, the "Cuxhaven," to the Estonian Navy.
* Twenty-eight percent of all Estonians use mobile phones.
* Viktor Andreyev, head of the Russophone United People's Party, said last week that "The concept of the [minorities integration] program is based on the wrong assumption that integration is only a one-way process, in which the ethnically non-Estonian part of the society would adopt the Estonian language," BNS reported on 1 February.

Latvian Arms Smugglers Convicted In India
A Calcutta court found five men originally from Latvia guilty of arms smuggling and sentenced them to life in prison on 2 February. But despite their plans to sell these arms to a religious cult, they were not convicted of inciting warfare against India, a capital offense. During the trial, four of the five took Russian citizenship in expectation that it would help their cause. The Latvian Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister Andris Skele called the life sentence excessive, but President Vaira Vike-Freiberga refused to challenge the foreign court's sentence: "Every state has own laws and those laws must be respected."
* Nine Latvians--mostly posthumously--were honored by the Israeli embassy in Riga as "Righteous Among Nations" for trying to save the lives of Jews during the Holocaust. Most of the honorees perished at the hands of the Nazis, either from execution or while in a concentration camp. A total of 71 Latvians are now among the "Righteous Among Nations."
* Latvia's population continues to decline. In the last year, deaths outnumbered births by 13,300, despite a small increase in the birthrate and a small decline in the death rate. Moreover, 1,800 more people left the country than immigrated to it. Riga estimates the current population at 2.424 million.
* Nearly half of all Latvians--45 percent--want to join NATO as soon as possible; only one-third--34.1 percent--oppose such a move, according to a SKDS poll.
* At the request of 57 members of parliament, Supreme Court Chairman Andris Gulans has named Justice Voldemars Cizevskis to examine various allegations of malpractice by Prosecutor General Janis Skrastins.
* President Vaira Vike-Freiberga shared her own experiences as a refugee with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata while they met during the international financial forum in Davos.
* Valdis Lauskis assumed the mandate of the late Leonards Stass, who died last week in the parliament building of a heart attack. And Peteris Apinis took over the mandate of ex-Premier Vilis Kristopans, who resigned from the parliament last week.
* Latvia lost its voting rights at the UN General Assembly for a few days because of partially unpaid dues. Riga subsequently transferred $100,000 and Latvia's voting rights have been restored.

Political Extremism Condemned
Political figures from across the political spectrum have denounced the rise of extremism in Lithuania, including the candidacy of a neo-Nazi leader in the upcoming local election in Siauliai. The small Independent Party on 29 January placed Mindaugas Murza, the leader of the unregistered National Socialist Unity, at the top of their electoral list. Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and parliamentary Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis both each warned against the appearance of such extremist and "street" politicians.
* The five largest Lithuanian parties, holding most of the seats in the current parliament, have signed a declaration to "spare no effort" in the country's NATO integration.
* Agricultural production in Lithuania fell by 12 percent in 1999. Grain output fell 25 percent, with meat production dropping only 1 percent.
* The Bishops Conference of the Roman Catholic Church in Lithuania issued a formal apology for collaboration with the KGB during the Soviet era and called all former collaborators to admit their guilt and ask for forgiveness. The conference said that a similar statement on collaboration during the German occupation would be forthcoming.
* Three Lithuanians in five--59.9 percent--want their country to become a member of the European Union. Only 18 percent are opposed, according to a Vilmorus poll.
* The navigation fee collection firm Eurocontrol blocked a Lithuanian Airlines plane from leaving Heathrow Airport in London saying that the airline had failed to pay certain fees. * Vytautas Sustauskas, the head of the radical Lithuanian Freedom Union, suggested that Austrian Ambassador Dr. Florian Haug be "declared persona non grata and deported from Lithuania," so he could "organize Vienna Balls in his country and dance at them," ELTA reported on 5 February 2000.

Reaffirming U.S. Policy In The Baltics

By Mel Huang

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott reaffirmed Washington's support for the integration of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the European Union and NATO during a 2 February speech in Tallinn. Speaking to his immediate audience, Talbott said that "Estonia is coming home to the West; it is coming home to Europe; it is coming home to where it has always belonged."

"For Americans," Talbott continued, "the fate of the Baltic states is nothing less than a litmus test for the fate of this entire continent, where the United States has such deep and abiding interests. It's not just a test for you to pass, but for us to pass it together. We will do so when these three distinctive and deserving nations--Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania--are secure, stable, prosperous democracies integrated into all the structures of the Euro-Atlantic community."

Talbott appealed to the European Union to move quickly on Baltic membership to the union. "The more broadly Europe defines itself...the more peaceful and secure Europe will be." With respect to NATO, Talbott reiterated Washington's "open-door" policy, once again stressing that history and geography will not be a factor in the NATO eligibility of any country.

"The Baltic states in particular should not be punished for having prevailed over occupation and dictatorship," he continued, "nor should you be forgotten or neglected now that you have made such progress in establishing prosperity and openness in your neighborhood."

Speaking directly to those who oppose Baltic membership in NATO, Talbott said that their inclusion will help ensure "that this region as a whole never again becomes a zone of insecurity and instability."

Talbott also discussed the EU's Northern Dimension program, which seeks to involve Kaliningrad and northwestern Russia. He said that Washington was actively backing this approach through its own North European Initiative which is intended to promote cooperation across this entire region. "Our hope is that Russia will come, over time, to view this region not as a fortified frontier but as a gateway; not as a buffer against invaders who no longer exist, but as a trading route in a word, that Russia will come to view the Baltics Hanseatically."

In other comments, Talbott praised Estonia's commitment to raising defense spending to 2 percent of GDP and its participation in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and in Georgia. And he lauded Estonia's "real and impressive progress" at integrating its minorities. But concerning the future of the OSCE mission in Estonia, Talbott said only that Washington would seek to ensure that the OSCE "registers the very real progress that Estonia has made and that that progress is reflected in the OSCE's future role and mission in Estonia."