20 March 2000, Volume
Estonia Approves New Conscription Law
The Estonian parliament on 14 March gave final approval to a law on military service, ETA reported. The new law allows students to choose when--within three years of beginning their university studies--they wish to complete their one-year of military service. Defense Minister Juri Luik, who supports the law, added that the conscription period could be reduced to eight months in the near future.Estonian Government Approves Integration Program
The Estonian government approved a social integration program for the years 2000-2007, according to ETA on 14 March. Population Minister Katrin Saks said that the program "is not meant to solve all national problems in Estonia at once, but should speed up" the integration of ethnic minorities into Estonian society. Saks said that the government has allocated about 72 million kroons ($4.46 million) for various integration projects, of which 40 million kroons will be spent on Estonian-language instruction.
* Russian officials said on 15 March that a suspected spy for British intelligence was apprehended but accused Estonian intelligence services of playing a role in the alleged spying case. Estonian and British officials declined to comment on the case.
* Toomas Savi on 16 March was re-elected as speaker of parliament. Both deputy speakers--Tunne Kelam and Siiri Oviir--were also re-elected for another one-year term.
* The unemployment rate in February rose to 5.6 percent, up 0.2 percent from January. The northeastern Ida-Virumaa region had the highest jobless rate at 10 percent.
* Ambassador Raul Malk on 15 March presented his credentials to Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio. Malk resides in London as ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland.
* The government on 14 March approved the introduction of ID cards. The cards will merge the functions of various items, such as drivers licenses, insurance information, domestic identification, and more. The cards could go into use as early as next year.
* During a visit to Tallinn on 16-17 March, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian thanked Estonia for its moral support.
* Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves discussed EU integration and bilateral ties with Irish President Mary McAleese and Foreign Minister Brian Cower in Dublin.
* The foreign trade deficit fell to 17.3 billion kroons ($1.07 billion) in 1999, down 4.5 billion kroons from 1998. A total of 43.2 billion kroons in exports and 60.5 billion kroons in imports. Exports were down 5 percent and imports by 10 percent.
No Violence During Legionnaire March
The annual march by Latvian legionnaires on 16 March went without a major hitch, despite some minor altercations with protestors, LETA reported. Over 1,000 veterans and supporters took part in the morning church service and the march to Freedom Monument. The legionnaires were those forcibly conscripted by German occupation forces to fight against Soviet forces during World War II. Though the event was not sponsored by the government, several parliament members took part in the event.
* President Vaira Vike-Freiberga remains the most popular politician in Latvia according to a poll by Latvijas Fakti published on 14 March, garnering the approval of 70.8 percent of respondents in the survey, followed by Riga Mayor Andris Berzins (58.9), and Central Bank head Einars Repse (47.1). Culture Minister Karina Petersone is the most popular member of the government with 41.9 percent, followed closely by Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis with 40.7.
* Parliament member Janis Adamsons, who was found by a court to be involved with the KGB during the Soviet occupation, withdrew his appeal on 15 March. Adamsons's fate now rests with the parliament, as a majority vote would revoke his mandate.
* While in Riga on 14-16 March, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskarian signed a cooperation agreement for the two countries' foreign ministries and an accord on the prevention of double taxation.
* A Latvijas Fakti poll published on 14 March showed that 40.7 percent of respondents feel their financial state has deteriorated in the past 12 months.
* Unemployment in February held steady at 9.1 percent. Riga had the lowest jobless rate in the country at 4.2 percent, but Rezekne continues to have the highest with 27.7 percent of the workforce jobless.
Lithuania Celebrates Restoration Of Independence
Lithuania on 11 March celebrated the 10th anniversary of the passage of the legislative act which restored the country's independence. In a commemorative speech, President Valdas Adamkus thanked those activists who made the break from Soviet hegemony possible. Adamkus added, "We have made mistakes by hurrying too much sometimes and by doing nothing when haste was a necessity," but noted that "there is no doubt that we are marching forwards," ELTA reported. Adamkus also predicted that by the 20th anniversary, Lithuania would be a member of both NATO and the EU. The parliamentary chairman in 1990 and again now, Vytautas Landsbergis, took the opportunity to point out that "The historical tradition of Russia has remained unchanged," adding, "we can see as quite practicable the desire of those politicians to restore the new Soviet Union." The parliament speakers of Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Iceland also took part in the festivities (see "End Note" below).Lithuanian State Security Agency Needs Restructuring
Lithuania's director of State Security, Mecys Laurinkus, called for a restructuring of his agency and a reordering of its priorities, ELTA and BNS reported on 15 March. Speaking to a plenary session of parliament, Laurinkus said that there was a need to reinforce the counterintelligence efforts of the country because of increased activity by foreign intelligence services on Lithuanian territory. Laurinkus said that his agency is now required to perform 11 functions, most of which overlap with the work of the Interior Ministry, Customs Department, and other agencies which have ample resources to fight organized crime, economic crime, and corruption.Poll Suggests Political Shake-Up Ahead
A Vilmorus poll published by "Lietuvos Rytas" on 13 March showed that the popularity of the center-left New Alliance (Social Liberals) shot up by 8.8 percent from February, reaching second place with 11.2 percent of public support. The Liberal Union of ex-Premier Rolandas Paksas remained on top with 12.5 percent, down 6.5 percent from the previous month. The Center Union dropped by 1.1 percent to 8.3 percent. The ruling Conservatives sat at 5 percent, while the Christian Democrats of two cabinet ministers has only 2.9 percent support. The same poll also shows that President Adamkus reclaimed the top rating among politicians at 55.3 percent, moving above Paksas, who fell to 45.2.
* The Lithuanian parliament approved a Lithuanian-Russian agreement on the promotion and mutual protection of investments on 14 March. The accord was signed last June.
* While on a visit to Paris on 15 March, Defense Minister Ceslovas Stankevicius and his French counterpart Alain Richard discussed further relations in the defense sphere and also the need of an agreement on the exchange of confidential data between the two countries.
* Belarus on 16 March halted the requirement of transit visas for Lithuanians travelling to Russia. The surprise introduction of the visa requirement caught many off-guard, but the requirement is being suspended for two weeks.
* While in Vilnius on 13-14 March, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskarian signed a cooperation agreement for the two countries' foreign ministries and an accord on the prevention of double taxation.
* Five more local regions will be established on 1 May officially, and the councils will be elected alongside others during the local elections on 19 March. A total of 9,900 candidates are running for 1,562 seats.
Lithuania's Peaceful Revolution Still Unrecognized
By Asta Banionis
A decade ago, Lithuania's newly-elected democratic parliament voted to restore the country's independence. It was a tremendous act of courage and the culmination of a peaceful revolution in that country representing a decisive blow against the Soviet empire.
On 11 March 1990, representatives of Lithuania's democratic movement, Sajudis, elected to the assembly to carry out their electoral mandate--the end of 50 years of foreign occupation. Sajudis candidates had won 107 of the 130 seats decided by that date. A few more candidates would be seated after winning their run-offs after 11 March. Lithuanians, their supporters in the West, as well as the world press waited in anticipation of the coming confrontation with the Kremlin.
But the transcript of the debate preceding the vote shows that members of the Lithuanian communist party who were also elected tried to dissuade the majority from voting for independence. Algirdas Brazauskas, communist party head who in 1993 was elected president of Lithuania, argued that the country's economic ties to the Soviet Union should be resolved before any political decision was undertaken on independence. Others counseled delaying the vote for one or two months to gauge the Kremlin's reaction.
Sajudis delegates, led by Vytautas Landsbergis, turned for advice to a member of their brain trust abroad, Stasys Lozoraitis. As the charge d'affaires of Lithuania to the United States and also to the Holy See, Lozoraitis had worked closely with Sajudis even as he maintained diplomatic credentials from the pre-war government. He was confident that if the Sajudis parliamentarians took the initiative, world opinion would sway the Kremlin into abandoning its claims on Lithuania. Soviet authority and power had been eroding under Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost policies and Lozoraitis felt strongly that the revolutionary moment shouldn't be squandered. He urged Landsbergis not to wait, but to act.
Based on that encouragement, the Sajudis delegates began a series of five votes, first establishing their legitimacy as a national Lithuanian--not soviet--legislative body, and then reestablishing both the symbols and the substance of their country's independence. The critical vote on independence came late in the evening at 10:30. It was 124 with 6 abstentions--the few confirmed Kremlin loyalists among the parliament members didn't want to be on record as being against independence.
Today, 10 years later, it is easy to forget the threats faced by these men and women who voted to restore Lithuania's independence that historic night. Although everyone hoped for tough, but honorable, negotiations with the Kremlin, each of those involved was aware that this was the same government which a year earlier had bludgeoned to death demonstrators in Georgia and had attacked democracy advocates in Azerbaijan.
Within a week, Soviet military units based in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, in a show of strength drove their tanks and flew their planes near the parliament building. On 22 March they seized a building in the center of the city, and on 27 March they attacked the Red Cross hospital where Red Army deserters were being sheltered. As the Kremlin ordered foreign journalists and diplomats out of Lithuania, the Soviet military became more aggressive, seizing more buildings in an effort to prevent the new government from exercising any power.
Before the end of the month, the Kremlin declared an economic blockade of its rebelious republic. These efforts to reassert Soviet authority by wearing down the insurgent Lithuanians failed. The Kremlin eventually opted for the coup d'etat playbook during the week of 7 January 1991, which led to the killing of 13 civilians by Soviet paratroopers on the night of 12-13 January. The Lithuanians eventually triumphed with the defeat of the putschists in Moscow in August 1991. With Soviet authority totally discredited, foreign governments rushed to recognize the Lithuanian government which had withstood the attacks of Soviet forces as well as the indifference of Western democratic governments.
During those many months of provocation when Soviet military forces attacked them in the streets and public squares, the Lithuanians showed their discipline as well as their determination. Never once did they fire a weapon to advance their cause. They defended themselves with the tools of passive resistence and appealed to the conscience of their attackers as well as the world.
Landsbergis, who is today speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, visited Washington, D.C. in advance of the 11 March holiday. He was asked by a journalist if any Western leader had acknowledged and endorsed the non-violent tactics of the Lithuanians in winning their struggle for independence. Landsbergis said that they hadn't, and that he found it "remarkable that even the United States, the country with the strong tradition of Martin Luther King" had not in any way adequately supported their methods. Landsbergis added that only the non-governmental organizations had lauded and supported Lithuania's non-violent movement for independence.
By failing to support the non-violent methods of the Lithuanians, U.S. President George Bush and other leaders of Western democracies missed an opportunity to advance the cause of peaceful change. All too frequently, oppressed nations take up arms to achieve their goals and there are few successful alternative models for social and political change. The Lithuanians a decade ago demonstrated that a people united in a just cause, by appealing to the world's conscience, can achieve their goal. But not without sacrifice.
The historic events of the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union were the result of a true people's movement rejecting both the ideology and institutions of repression. Western democracies were the beneficiaries of these courageous decisions made by ordinary men and women. Now, these same men and women have to find the courage not to falter as they build their new institutions and create their new societies.