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Baltic Report: April 24, 2000

24 April 2000, Volume 1, Number 14
NATO's Clark Praises Estonia's Military Efforts
NATO Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark made his farewell visit to Estonia on 14-15 April to praise Estonia's efforts in international cooperation. But the general added that Estonia should accelerate efforts to harmonize its laws in the defense sphere. Concerning Russian objections to NATO enlargement, Clark said that he frequently tells his Russian colleagues "the best guarantee for Russia's security is NATO enlargement," "Postimees" reported. Clark also received the Order of the Cross of the Eagle, first class, Estonia's highest military decoration.

Estonia Turns Down Polish Tanks
Defense Minister Juri Luik said that Estonia will not accept a gift of 10 tanks from Poland. Luik made the decision public during a meeting with Polish Ambassador Jakub Wolasiewicz on 14 April, ending months of speculation about the fate of the ten T-55AM tanks, "Postimees" reported. The parliament's Defense Committee, which had passed a resolution on accepting the tanks, called for an emergency session to hear both sides of the debate. Committee chairman Tiit Tammsaar told BNS that "I hope that such a decision by the government will not cause any diplomatic problems between Estonia and Poland." The decision to decline the offer is based on a conclusion that newer tanks like the German-built Leopard-1 would be better for the Estonian military.
* Parliament amended the law on broadcasting to force TV stations to air 50 percent Estonian-made programs in prime time (7-11 pm), not counting game shows and news.
* The chairman of Estonian Railways (ER), Ardo Ojasalu, warned of attempts by Finnish companies to privatize ER, saying they are direct competitors for transit from Russia. Shares accounting for 66 percent of ER are for sale from the Estonian Privatization Agency, with the tender period to remain open until 17 July.
* Prime Minister Mart Laar visited Slovakia last week. His talks with President Rudolf Schuster focused on Estonia's tax system, EU and NATO membership.
* The Estonian Association of Businesspeople will submit a memorandum to the government the week of 24 April expressing their opposition to the privatization of vital state-owned infrastructure. The memorandum says that keeping infrastructure in state hands will ensure price stability, and that Estonian businesses would not be able to stand up to competition if there was a "hyper" rise in prices for transport and electricity services.

Latvian President Delays Naming Premier
Parliament deputy Andrejs Pantelejevs, the chairman of Latvia's Way, on 19 April called on President Vaira Vike-Freiberga to name her choice as Latvia's next prime minister soon lest new elections be needed, LETA reported. Latvia's Way and other potential coalition partners agreed to support Riga Mayor Andris Berzins (of Latvia's Way) as their candidate to become the country's next head of government. However, Vike-Freiberga also interviewed other prominent figures, including central bank chief Einars Repse and former Economics Minister Ingrida Udre. A presidential spokesperson stressed that the president wants to pick a candidate that can form a stable and capable cabinet, and thus needs time to carefully ponder her choice. The president is expected to name a candidate soon after Easter.
* Vasilii Kirsanov, charged in Latvia with genocide, died of heart failure on 17 April. The 85-year old former KGB major had been linked by prosecutors to 32 cases of Soviet war crimes, mostly against former national guardsmen and Boy Scouts, during the 1940 occupation. Kirsanov had been in custody since November 1999.
* A total of 12.5 million state-owned shares of Ventspils Nafta will be auctioned 28 April. The government hopes to earn about 25 million lats, which represents a sale price which is twice the current price per share.
* The Agriculture Ministry told the parliament about an EU warning that butter imports from Latvia may be cut off unless pork tariffs are reduced by the parliament by mid-May.
* An SKDS poll shows that in March the most trusted institutions in Latvia remain churches (55.1 percent), then radio (50) and TV (48.6). The Latvian Privatization Agency is the least trusted institution (-63.8), followed by the Customs Service (-56.4), parliament (-50.9) and government (-50.1).
* About 12.5 percent of Latvians have mobile phones, according to the two largest providers.
* Latvia's first sperm bank is now in use, with the first artificial insemination to occur this week. Before, sperm for such procedures was imported from Estonia.
* A pipeline break on 20 April disrupted natural gas supplies from Russia, but service was restored within three days.
* LPA has let the tender bid for advisers to restructure and privatize Latvenergo, the Latvian electric utility. The tender period runs from 19 May to 16 June. The winning firm will be responsible for preparing the utility for sale to a strategic investor.

Lithuanian Church Apologizes For Holocaust Silence
The Catholic Church in Lithuania issued an apology for past mistakes, including its silence during the Holocaust, BNS reported. Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Bishops Conference, presented on 14 April the letter drafted by the conference. Citing Pope John Paul's extraordinary message of the same nature in mid-March, the letter expressed regret that "some children of the Church had failed to show compassion to persecuted Jews during World War II, for their failure to use all available means to defend them, and for showing a lack of determination to influence those who collaborated with the Nazis." The letter also warned that "Some people lacking Christian love and compassion are trying to incite once again all past anti-Semitic manifestations still painfully haunting the Church's memory today." Earlier this year, the conference apologized that some of its members had occasionally collaborated with the KGB.

Case Against Lithuanian Ex-premier Dropped
The Vilnius regional Prosecutor's Office on 18 April dropped its long-running case against former Prime Minister Adolfas Slezevicius for abuse of power in regards to the collapsed Lithuanian Stock Innovation Bank, ELTA reported. Slezevicius was accused of demanding and receiving preferential higher interest rates, but is best remembered for withdrawing all his funds from the bank days before it collapsed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 1997). Slezevicius has maintained his innocence.

Lithuanian War Crimes Trials To Resume
The Office of the Prosecutor-General on 18 April said that trials against suspected Nazi war criminals will resume later this month, Reuters reported. Many of the trials were halted earlier due to the frail condition of the defendants, but a new law passed in February allows the defendants to monitor the trial by closed-circuit television without being present in the courtroom, effectively nullifying the age and ill health question (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2000). The case of suspected Nazi war criminal Kazys Gimzauskas will resume on 25 April and that of Aleksandras Lileikis two days later.

President Blasts Government's Economic Policy
President Valdas Adamkus used his second annual report on the country's progress on 20 April to denounce the government for having "failed" to deal with the fallout of the Russian economic crisis by drafting a sensible budget or "to rectify it in a timely" fashion, ELTA reported. In regard to long-term economic growth, Adamkus called for improving the business climate, accusing former governments of not taking up the task. Adamkus also challenged politicians to admit that the current rural policy is a "failure" and to develop a sensible version, saying the government has no right to leave farmers "deceived, angry, and seeing no prospects."
* The parliament on 20 April passed on a vote of 71 to 16 a law that provides for the partial shutdown of the controversial Ignalina nuclear power plant by 2005. EU officials had warned that the bill needed to be adopted before a donors' conference to pledge funding for the shutdown could proceed on 21 June. Britain's National Power has proposed a plan to turn the first unit at Ignalina into a gas-fired plant.
* The government has agreed to sell 10 percent of Mazeikiu Nafta shares to Russia's second largest oil company, Yukos, in exchange for a pledge of a steady oil supply to the refinery. Yukos has been exporting crude oil through the Lithuanian port at Butinge. BP Amoco signed an agreement with Williams International, the operator of the refinery, to sell oil products refined at Mazeikiai.
* Bronislovas Lubys, former prime minister and current head of the Confederation of Lithuanian Industrialists, provided about one-tenth of all funds spent during the March local election campaigns. Campaign finance reports show that the 315,000 litas ($35,000) came from the two firms he controls: the fertilizer firm Achema and the Klaipeda Shipping Company. The report shows that his donations went to parties across the political spectrum, including 10,000 litas to the radical Freedom Union of Kaunas Mayor Vytautas Sustauskas and 10,000 litas to the nationalist Young Lithuania party.
* Education Minister Kornelijus Platelis easily survived a no-confidence motion in the Seimas in an 82 to 18 vote.
* Eight residents of the Chechen capital, Grozny, asked for political asylum when they were stopped for not possessing visas on a train bound for Kaliningrad.
* Lietuvos Energija was granted a government guarantee to take two loans at 80 million litas ($20 million) from the Vilniaus and Taupomasis banks, while an audit by Arthur Anderson confirmed the state-owned company lost 117 million litas in 1999. The government also guaranteed a $5.825 million loan for Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) to roll over its debt.
* The national veterinary laboratory received a quality assurance approval from a German accrediting agency, making the export of foodstuffs to the EU easier.

A Red-Brown Coalition In Lithuania

By Paul Goble

Extreme nationalist and openly anti-Semitic leaders increasingly are taking office in post-communist countries with the support of parties linked to the old party nomenklatura and its successors.

That pattern raises the specter of the populist anti-Semitic nationalism of the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, it seems certain to make it more difficult for these countries to integrate into the West. And it calls into question left-right typologies for post-communist politics.

The latest such case happened on 13 April in Kaunas, Lithuania's second-largest city. There, a politician with a history of anti-Semitic outbursts won election as mayor only because a party closely tied to the old Communist party and security elite voted for him.

Vytautas Sustauskas won election as mayor even though his party, the Lithuanian Freedom Union, won less than one-quarter of the popular vote and gained only 11 of the 41 seats in the city council. He gained three more seats from the equally populist Young Lithuania Party. But he won only because the New Alliance, headed by Arturas Paulauskas, a former presidential candidate and son of a KGB colonel, cast its eight votes for him.

Three things about this election are striking and have more general application. First, Sustauskas has a history of open anti-Semitism and yet he won a quarter of the vote in a university city which served as the cosmopolitan prewar capital.

Like his Russian counterpart Vladmir Zhirinovskii, Sustauskas has frequently claimed that the Jews are responsible for most if not all of Lithuania's problems. Even after the elections, he said publicly that many Kaunas businesses "are in the hands of the Jewish mafia."

Not surprisingly, local Jewish groups are horrified by his rise: Masa Grodnikiene, the deputy chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said that "it is a tragedy when people like Sustauskas are elected to such posts."

But many Lithuanians are horrified as well. More than 75 percent of Kaunas electors did not vote for Sustaukas. And Laima Andriekiene, the parliamentary leader of Lithuania's Homeland Party, was one of many who denounced the city's selection of an anti-Semite as mayor.

Second, Sustauskas' anti-Semitism is part and parcel of a broader populist message of blaming Lithuania's current problems on "outsiders" and opposing that country's integration into broader Western institutions like the European Union and NATO.

Most attention to Sustauskas so far has focused on his anti-Semitism. Agence France Presse, for example, noted that Lithuania already has "a public relations problem" on the question of anti-Semitism and that Sustauskas' election will only make that worse.

But Sustauskas' anti-Semitism is only part of this broader populist message of blaming outsiders for Lithuania's troubles. He has argued that Western capitalism is destroying Lithuania's traditional way of life and that the higher defense spending NATO requires will not give Lithuania more security.

Such positions play well in a country where many people are suffering economically. And, even more, they provide the basis for Sustauskas' alliance with Paulauskas' party which opposes the same things and which also includes people with anti-Semitic views.

Indeed, a preliminary analysis of the votes these two parties received suggests that Sustauskas' populist message attracted votes while Paulauskas' organization provided much of the muscle for this takeover of Kaunas.

And third, this alliance between Sustauskas and Paulauskas raises questions about the meaning of "left" and "right" in the politics of post-communist countries.

Sustauskas is always identified as an extreme right-wing nationalist, but Paulauskas is invariably described as being center-left. But on this key vote in Kaunas, the two were on the same side, supporting the same things.

And that, in turn, suggests that they occupy the same portion of the political spectrum rather than being at opposite ends. A recognition of this commonalty is not trivial either for the people of post-communist countries or for the West.

On the one hand, it suggests that both groups should evaluate parties less by their own characterizations of where they stand on the political spectrum than by what they say on specific issues.

And on the other hand, it implies that the return or rise of mass politics in these post-communist countries is likely to find some of the same alliances between what are usually called left and right parties that first appeared in Europe after World War I.

Because of the dangers such a development would create, the alliance of Sustauskas and Paulauskas in the Kaunas city council has broader implications. It is one that poses a challenge to Lithuania, her neighbors, and all those who hope for a genuinely democratic future for all the countries of the region.