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Baltic Report: February 28, 2000

28 February 2000, Volume 1, Number 6
Prime Ministers Meet In Tallinn
Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar hosted his counterparts, Andris Skele of Latvia and Andrius Kubilius of Lithuania, in Tallinn on 18 February. The meeting focused on strengthening regional cooperation, especially in the energy sector, BNS reported. The three prime ministers also agreed in principle to make joint acquisitions of military equipment, and Latvia and Lithuania decided to follow Estonia in abandoning the annual change to summer time. But the issue of Latvia's pork tariffs remained unresolved.

Parliament Paralyzed By Opposition Delays
Parliamentary proceedings ground to a near halt when opposition parties launched delaying tactics to defeat a government bill restoring property to those who emigrated to Germany in 1941. The opposition, led by the Center Party, tabled numerous amendments. The government says that the proposed act will affect very few cases, but the opposition argues that passage would be tantamount to recognizing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The opposition also has accused President Lennart Meri of pressuring the government to pass the legislation.
* Estonia celebrated Independence Day on 24 February. In his annual speech, President Lennart Meri criticized the lacking morals, calling for a return to "Protestant ethics." Meri supported legislation that would have university students fulfill their military obligations.
* A study shows that the Red Army inflicted 56 billion kroons ($3.5 billion) of environmental damage on Estonia.
* Defense Minister Juri Luik and U.S. Ambassador Melissa Wells signed an agreement on the exchange of classified information.
* Average wages in the fourth quarter hit a record at 4,799 kroons ($303) a month. December numbers are even stronger, at 5,375 kroons. Stockbrokers make about 2.2 times more than the average, while those in hotels and restaurants make less than half the average.
* Central Bank Governor Vahur Kraft suggested that a new set of 500 kroon notes entered into circulation this past week could be the last before Estonia adopts the euro.

Russia Voices Concern Over Kononov Verdict
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has received a letter from Russian acting President Vladimir Putin protesting the war crimes conviction of Vasili Kononov. Calling the guilty verdict "unfair," Putin requested that Kononov be transferred to Russia. In addition, he offered Russian citizenship to the former Soviet partisan, LETA reported. Kononov was convicted of causing the deaths of nine civilians in the village of Mazie Bati during a Soviet partisan operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 24 January 2000). President Vike-Freiberga has responded to Putin, reminding the acting president that Kononov's case is currently under appeal by the defendant. Meanwhile, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin said he would refuse to accept the Order of the Three Stars, Latvia's highest award, because of the Kononov case.
* The parliament removed 16 March as the commemorations day for soldiers after years of controversy....

* The parliament extended the term for the ad hoc commission investigating the pedophilia scandal until 13 April.
* Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs called off his hunger strike after eight days. He staged the strike to protest suggestions that he was part of the pedophilia case.

Vilnius Unhappy With Lack Of Israeli Cooperation On Deportation Case
Lithuanian prosecutors are frustrated at the refusal of Israel to provide evidence in the genocide case against Nachman Dushansky, BNS reported. Dushansky, who emigrated to Israel and became an Israeli citizen, is charged by Lithuania with taking part in the deportations of families to Siberia during the Soviet occupation.
* Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and Central Bank Governor Renoldijus Sarkinas signed the annual memorandum with the IMF, pledging to retain fiscal conservatism in Lithuania by keeping the budget deficit under 2.8 percent of GDP.
* Over 100 protestors gathered in front of the parliament demanding the voiding of two state orders awarded on Independence Day. The protestors said that two of the honorees, ex-Premier Kazimiera Prunskiene and ex-Interior Minister Marijonas Misiukonis, had been accomplices of the Soviet KGB.
* The campaign for the March local elections officially got under way. A total of 9,933 candidates from 26 parties are running.
* The council of Kaunas Energy has approved a controversial 15-year lease of the company to Sweden's Vattenfall. The issue has also become charged during the election campaign.

Lithuanian Parties In Crisis

By Kestutis Girnius

A major transformation of the political party system in Lithuania is underway. The dominance of the traditional parties is being challenged by dissent within their ranks and the rise of the politics of personality. As a consequence, more parties will be represented in parliament, governing coalitions will be more broadly based, but less stabile and coherent. The task of governing Lithuanian is likely to become more difficult.

Since 1992 Lithuania has had a very stable constellation of political parties. Five parties--the Conservatives, the Christian Democrats, the Centrist Union, the Social Democrats, and the LDDP (the reformed Communists)--representing a broad political spectrum from right to left have dominated Lithuanian politics. The parties have had a clear political program, unitary leadership, and a distinct electoral base. Party discipline and loyalty were firm. Parliamentarians from these parties showed little inclination to migrate to other parties, form new factions, or found splinter parties. Each of the five parties (with the exception of the Centrist Union in 1992) had cleared the 5 percent barrier in parliamentary elections, while no other party had done so.

Change has been in the air for several years, but in the last four months the traditional system has come under siege. The presidential elections of 1997 were the first harbingers of the growing importance of individual personalities. The two chief contenders--Valdas Adamkus and Arturas Paulauskas--ran as independents and gained 72.7 percent of the votes in the first round. Adamkus went on to win the presidency, where he has spared no effort to project the image of an independent above the factional strife of party politics. Paulauskas subsequently founded his own party, the New Union (Socialist Liberals). Its lack of a cohesive political program merely emphasizes that its main purpose is to provide Paulauskas with an effective electoral vehicle. Although it failed to win seats in several by-elections due to voter apathy, the New Union has been blatantly playing the populist card and seems poised to enter parliament in the fall.

Former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas is the newest beneficiary of the politics of personality. He became a national hero overnight when he announced on 18 October 1999 that he could not sign the agreement for the sale of Mazeikiu Nafta to Williams International on the grounds that the terms of the agreement were extremely unfavorable to Lithuania. Paksas's action was hailed as a courageous refusal to "sell out" Lithuania to foreign interests. In short order Paksas resigned the premiership, left the Conservative Party, joined the Liberal Party and was elected its chairman. Although not a new creation like the New Union, the Liberal Party had gained less than 2 percent of the vote in the 1992 and 1996 elections, and even this modest appeal was waning. Upon Paksas's entry its popularity has soared. According to the latest polls, it has the support of almost 20 percent of Lithuanian voters, more than double that of its closest rival the Centrist Union. The Liberal party avows free market, even libertarian positions, but it is now the personal party of Paksas and its policies will be those that he chooses.

Concurrent with the rise of the politics of personality has been the unexpected collapse of the cohesion of three major traditional parties--the Conservatives, Christian Democrats, and Social Democrats. Despite its almost obsessive fixation on the need for unity, the Conservative Party has bent rent by bitter internal quarrels, primarily, but not exclusively, between the party's two leaders and founders--chairman of the parliament Vytautas Landsbergis and former Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius. Landsbergis has emerged the victor. Several supporters of Vagnorius have been thrown out of the party, while Vagnorius has suspended his membership. Even if Vagnorius were not to found his own party, the Conservative party would remain deeply demoralized and highly unpopular. The latest polls note that it would have difficulty clearing the 5 percent barrier.

Their former coalition partners, the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party (LCDP), are no less divided. A bitter contest for control of the party has been waged for several years between a conservative and modernist wing. When the conservatives won control of the party apparatus at the party conference last fall, the modernists formed their own faction in parliament and unofficially withdrew from the party. Reconciliation is not even on the agenda. Polls indicate that less than 3 percent of the population support the LCDP. In the 1996 parliamentary elections the Conservatives and the LCDP won 40 percent of the vote. This fall they will be lucky to get 10 percent.

The Social Democrats have also split. Personal ambitions and the new leadership's espousal of more radical positions have been the chief causes of the disagreement. The moderate wing of the party has founded a new entity, called Social Democracy 2000, and has adopted more centrist positions. The majority's tilt to the left could lead to eventual fusion with the post-Communist LDDP.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for October. But the municipal elections on 19 March could be the first sign of the redrawing of Lithuania's political map.

(Kestutis Girnius is the director of RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service)