16 October 2000, Volume 1, Number 33
REGIONALBALTS EARN SHARE OF OLYMPIC MEDALS.
Athletes from the three Baltic countries won a total of 11 medals at the Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. Lithuanians won two gold medals (for women's trapshooting and men's discus), and three bronze medals (for women's cycling individual road race, women's double sculls rowing, and men's basketball). Latvians won a gold in men's gymnastics floor exercise, a silver in the men's 50 km walk, and a bronze in men's lightweight judo. And Estonians won a gold medal in the decathlon, and two bronze medals in mid-lightweight judo and heavyweight men's judo.
MOSCOW EXPERT SAYS NEW PORTS TO HURT BALTS.
Konstantin Voronov, a Russian foreign economics expert, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 October that Moscow has failed to block consideration of the Baltic countries for membership in NATO but that its plans to construct new ports in the Gulf of Finland could seriously undermine the economies of the three Baltic states. He said that past Russian failures to build such ports should not lull the Baltic governments into concluding that Russia will not eventually construct them.
POLAND EXPANDS MILITARY TIES WITH BALTS.
Poland on 27 September concluded a new military cooperation agreement with all three Baltic countries for 2001, BNS reported. Next year, Poland and Lithuania plan to have 66 joint events, up from 22 this year. Meanwhile, Poland plans to increase its number of joint projects with Latvia to 40 and with Estonia to 17. At a news conference announcing this accord, Polish Defense Minister Klich said that his country continues to support Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian applications for NATO membership.
ESTONIAMERI CALLS FOR NEW ESTONIAN POLITICS.
In an interview published in "Postimees" on 3 October, President Lennart Meri said that he hoped Estonian politicians would focus more on the development of Estonia's national defense so that it can be admitted to NATO in 2002 or 2003. He repeated his concern that Estonia's industrialists have failed to come up with an "Estonian Nokia," a reference to the kind of industry that would allow Estonia to become internationally competitive. And he said that he believes that the next Estonian president must have a political background even if he or she is not now an active politician.
LAAR SAYS EU INTEGRATION HELPS PROMOTE REFORM.
In an interview published in the German weekly "Der Spiegel" on 2 October, Prime Minister Mart Laar said that Estonia's efforts to meet EU requirements were helping to speed reforms that his country needed in any case. Laar's comments came as Estonian Finance Minister Siim Kallas on 25 September warned in Prague that delaying EU expansion out of geopolitical calculations could have a negative impact on the region. Meanwhile, on 29 September, the new European Commission representative in Tallinn, John Kjaer, expressed his concern about what he said was low popular support in Estonia for EU membership, BNS reported. But four days earlier, the Emor market research company found that half of all Estonians support joining the EU, up from 46 percent only two months earlier.
LAAR SAYS GOALS IS TO LET PEOPLE KEEP MORE OF INCOMES.
Prime Minister Mart Laar said on 28 September that the government had drafted its 2001 budget with an eye to allowing Estonians to keep a larger share of their incomes, BNS reported. The draft budget now being considered by the parliament calls for increased spending on defense, education, social programs, and road construction, but stays in balance. The government does not intend to freeze pensions, but it will index the pensions to the rate of inflation. On 5 October, the Finance Ministry said that it hopes to postpone unemployment insurance requirements until 2002, "Aripaev" reported. Many Estonians, however, remain dissatisfied with their economic situation. A recent poll reported by ETA on 6 October found that one-third of Estonian families believe that their economic situation has deteriorated over the past year. Meanwhile, ETA reported another reason for dissatisfaction: one-third of all Estonian rural families do not have running water, and half of those living in rural areas do not have indoor plumbing.
ESTONIA CRACKS DOWN ON COPYRIGHT PIRACY.
On 27 September, the Estonian parliament passed amendments making the possession of pirated materials against the law, ETA reported. The same day, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported that as of 1 October customs officials will begin confiscating from tourists pirated copies of audio and video recordings they may have purchased in Estonia. Customs officials will also have the power to fine those possessing such goods.
ESTONIA UNPREPARED FOR AIDS EPIDEMIC.
Doctors told "Postimees" on 25 September that the Estonian government lacks the resources and organization to cope with the rising number of HIV cases in the country. Especially hard hit has been the northeastern and predominantly ethnic Russian city of Narva where 98 new HIV cases were identified in the last two months alone, BNS reported on 6 October. The Social Ministry has allocated an extra 670,000 kroons ($50,000) for treatment this year, but medical officials say that is far from enough.
EVER MORE ESTONIANS GO ONLINE.
More than one-third of Estonians aged 15 to 74 -- 35 percent in all -- used the Internet and e-mail during September, ETA reported, up from 28 percent in the second quarter. According to the Emot market research firm, 43 percent of Estonians now use a computer at work and 19 percent have one at home. Meanwhile, Aripaev reported on 28 September that the Estonian government will invest some 260 million kroons ($20 million) in developing information technology.
* Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen on 3 October praised Estonian's progress toward membership in the European Union, BNS reported. He dismissed reports that Helsinki was concerned about an influx of Estonian workers if Estonia is included in the European Union. And he discussed with Estonian President Lennart Meri the possibility of creating a Baltic Sea energy circuit.
* Brigitte Schulte, the German Defense Ministry's state secretary, apologized to Estonia for Germany's role in allowing the Soviet Union to occupy Estonia, ETA reported on 27 September. Speaking in Hanover, she said: "I apologize for all that Estonia has suffered in its history as a result of the secret German-Russian pact" -- a reference to the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which divided Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence.
* The Bank of Estonia predicted that Estonia's economic growth for 2000 will reach 5.5 percent or higher, ETA reported on 4 October. The growth rate of the global economy is expected to be only 3.9 percent for this year. Estonia's strong growth is being fueled by foreign demand for Estonian goods and services.
* Estonia trails only the Czech Republic in the per capita rate of foreign direct investment for 1999, according to UN data, ETA reported on 4 October. Last year, there was $217 of foreign direct investment per capita in Estonia.
* Estonia's foreign debt rose to 48.3 billion kroons ($2.9 billion) or almost 60 percent of GDP as of the end of the second quarter, ETA reported on 25 September. Meanwhile, the daily "Paevaleht" reported on 26 September that the Estonian state budget deficit stands at one billion kroons ($55 million), just as predicted.
* Several local governments have appealed to the central government for financial assistance since their income tax revenues do not cover increasing expenses for municipal services such as schools, libraries, and nursing homes, the daily "Postimees" reported on 4 October. The Finance Ministry estimates that 30 percent of local governments may need help to cover a 60 million kroons ($4 million) shortfall in their budgets.
* Parliamentarians are the group in Estonia most open to corruption, according to a World Bank study reported by ETA on 2 October. The World Bank said that Estonia's corruption levels are relatively low compared to others in the region but that Tallinn must do more to cut corruption to international standards. Meanwhile, on 3 October, Estonia's central criminal police launched its first investigation into money-laundering, BNS reported.
* The Estonian government on 26 September approved the Defense Ministry's annual national program for meeting NATO membership requirements, BNS reported. Defense Minister Juri Luik said the government planned to fulfill a commitment to raise defense expenditures to 2 percent of GDP by 2002, and will complete its defense strategy document by next year.
* American and Estonian officials on 6 October signed a plan of U.S. military aid to Estonia for the next year, BNS reported. The plan calls for 50 joint events to be held, mainly three-to-five day seminars and trips. The U.S. military mission, which began its work in 1994, will also advise on long-term planning processes and complete the defense forces medical doctrine.
* Prime Minister Mart Laar blamed the opposition parties in the parliament for the country's failure to adopt necessary legislation to qualify for the European Union's SAPARD program, which provides funding for the agricultural sector, ETA reported on 26 September. While the ruling coalition has a majority in the parliament, the agriculture committee, controlled by the opposition, has used its procedural rights to withdraw the bill from plenary debate and a final vote.
* The Justice Ministry plans to merge the Rummu and Murru prisons to create a more modern facility with some 2,000 inmates, "Postimees" reported on 6 October.
* Russia's Culture Ministry opposes returning property to Estonia's Tartu University that was evacuated to Russia during World War I, "Segodnya" reported on 27 September. Ministry officials said that the items had now been merged with other collections and thus could not be returned.
* The Finnish-Estonian Copterline flights between Helsinki and Tallinn will end on 4 October because the company has failed to pay its debts for navigation services, BNS reported.
* The captain of the Greek tanker "Alambra" on 2 October said that 250 tons of oil from his ship had polluted Estonia's Muuga port in mid-September, BNS reported. Earlier, on 27 September, a Tallinn court ordered the seizure of the tanker. But the tanker's owners continue to deny responsibility and Estonian officials said that it remained uncertain who would pay for the damages the oil leak had caused. Environment Minister Heiki Kranich said he will recommend stricter requirements in Estonia's ports, after the Nature Protection Society charged the Tallinn Port with negligence in allowing substandard ships into the harbor, ETA reported on 29 September.
* The Coalition Party announced on 29 September that it was suspending its membership in the ruling coalition on the Tallinn city council after several of its members were charged with corruption, ETA reported.
LATVIAPRESIDENT SAYS PRIVATIZATION PROGRAM POLITICIZED...
Speaking on Latvian state radio on 25 September, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said that privatization processes in that country have been politicized "in an unhealthy manner." Many Latvians appear to agree. According to an SKDS poll taken in August but reported by LETA on 6 October, some 71.8 percent of the residents of Latvia view the privatization process up to now as a failure. The same poll also found that 56.7 percent of Latvian residents do not trust the country's commercial banks.
...EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT CORRUPTION.
The Latvian president also expressed her concern about the level of corruption in Latvia, LETA reported. She said that recent international studies had found that corruption in Latvia remained high and she said that all Latvians must fight against this evil. Meanwhile, Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins said on 28 September that foreign investors should report to the government any instances of corruption or demands for bribes that they encounter, BNS reported.
LATVIA TO IMPOSE VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR BORDER REGIONS.
Because Latvia and Russia have been unable to agree on a special visa regime for those living in border regions, Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins told BNS on 28 September that Riga will impose visa requirements on them as of 10 October. The absence of an agreement for a special regime will affect some 1,200 people in Latvia and some 500 in Russia, officials said.
SEA BORDER ACCORD WITH LITHUANIA REMAINS MIRED IN CONTROVERSY.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said on 2 October that there should be no delay in approving the sea border treaty with Lithuania. Such an agreement is "necessary," she said. But the country's fishermen, who estimate that their incomes would drop some two million lats ($3.2 million) a year, oppose it and are threatening to blockade ports, something Latvia's top officials have warned against, BNS and LETA have reported. Prime Minister Andris Berzins told Latvian State Radio on 5 October that a compromise with the fisherman should be reached before the parliament ratifies the treaty.
LATVIA FACES MULTIPLE HEALTH CRISES.
Latvia now ranks third among Eastern European countries after Russia and Belarus in the number of registered HIV and AIDS cases, LETA reported on 2 October. Meanwhile, officials reported that 89 children have been stricken with tuberculosis so far this year and Latvia is now plagued by tick-borne encephalitis cases, the news agency reported the same day. But the Save the Children organization said that there is no diptheria vaccine available for children in Latvia who are at risk.
LATVIAN COALITION PARTIES NOT TO OUST KALVITIS.
For Fatherland and Freedom said on 25 September it will not support an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion against Economics Minister Aigars Kalvitis, LETA reported. It thus aligned itself with its coalition partners the People's Party of Kalvitis and Latvia's Way of Prime Minister Andris Berzins. The People's Party and For Fatherland and Freedom have been embroiled in a political row as the latter voted twice with the opposition on controversial decisions causing the government to lose both votes.
LATVIAN CHARGED WITH WAR CRIMES.
The Office of the Latvian Prosecutor-General officially filed charges against Konrads Kalejs for war crimes for his role as a camp guard during the Nazi occupation of Latvia, but a local judge refused to issue an arrest warrant on the grounds that there was no evidence that Kalejs was evading prosecution, BNS reported on 28 September. Prosecutors announced that they will appeal that decision. Human rights activists and Western governments praised the prosecutor's move but expressed concern about the judge's decision. Meanwhile, former Latvian Foreign Minister Janis Jurkans objected to the trial saying that "I do not want to live in the ashes of World War II."
* Riita Uosukainen, the speaker of the Finnish parliament, said in Riga on 28 September that EU candidate countries must solve all issues -- including border disputes and the status of minorities -- before being admitted, BNS reported. But Fatherland and Freedom leader Maris Grinblats said on 30 September that it was time to stop thinking only about the rights of ethnic minorities and start reminding them of their obligations before Latvia, the Baltic agency reported.
* Speaking to a Riga conference on the Architecture of Security in Northern Europe, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis said that in the future, Latvia and Russia might be able to cooperate if Moscow forgets its "old ambitions and historic nostalgia" and becomes truly democratic, LETA reported on 25 September. But until that happens, he said, Latvia has no alternative to joining NATO and the European Union.
* Latvian Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis presented to NATO representatives Latvia's membership action plan for 2001, BNS reported on 25 September.
* Michigan National Guard adjutant general, Major-General Gordon Stamp, visited Latvia 27-28 September to discuss ongoing cooperation between his units and the Latvian defense forces.
* Latvia's GDP grew 5.1 percent year on year in the first half of 2000, the Central Statistics Department reported on 27 September. The department also revised upwards GDP growth in the first quarter from 5.3 to 5.5 percent.
* Latvia's deficit in its current account balance of payments rose to 7.4 percent of GDP in the second quarter of 2000 from 3.5 percent of GDP in the first quarter, LETA reported on 29 September.
* The government submitted its draft bill for the 2001 national budget to the parliament for consideration on 29 September, LETA reported. The fiscal deficit has been set at 1.88 percent of GDP and projects a total spending level of 1.5 billion lats ($2.5 billion). The biggest proposed increase is in municipal budgets, as well as NATO and EU integration needs. The final vote on the budget is not expected until 30 November.
* The Competition Council opened two cases on possible violations of the Law on Competition by the state-owned joint-stock railway "Latvijas dzelzcels" (LDz), LETA reported on 28 September. The cases were opened because "Latvija Statoil Ltd" and "Neste Latvija Ltd" charged that the state railway was hampering their exports of oil products from Latvian ports.
* Russian Party member Sergei Mirski said on 28 September that his group will continue to cooperate with the For Human Rights in an Integrated Latvia caucus in the parliament but will contest the next elections on its own, BNS reported. The withdrawal of the Russian Party from that electoral group could cause it to lose seats in the next parliament. Mirski said that his group would continue to cooperate with the FHRIUL group because dialogue between Russians and Latvians should not be lost. And he came out against calls for civil disobedience over the new language law.
* Three FHRIUL parliamentarians plan to monitor the Belarusian elections, BNS reported on 6 October.
* Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka signed a decree acknowledging that accused war criminal Vasili Kononov has voluntarily relinquished his Latvian citizenship, LETA reported on 2 October. He took this step after being granted Russian Federation citizenship.
* Latvia's security police have opened an investigation of leaders of Latvia's National Bolsheviks for hooliganism and forgery, BNS reported on 4 October. One of them, Vladimir Moskovtsev, was detained on 3 October but released after questioning. Earlier, Markovtsev and some 15 of his so-called Limonovites protested in front of the country's parliament to demand the release of a Russian musician, LETA reported on 28 September.
LITHUANIALITHUANIANS TILT LEFT IN GENERAL ELECTIONS.
In parliamentary elections on 8 October, Lithuanians shifted the political balance in that country back towards the left. The Social Democratic coalition led by ex-President Algirdas Brazauskas came in first, gaining 31 percent of the vote, but it failed to attract partners for a new government. The center-left New Union/Social Liberals led by Arturas Paulauskas, a former prosecutor-general, came in second with 19.39 percent, followed by its coalition partner Liberal Union at 17.04 percent. The current ruling party, the Conservatives, were routed -- receiving only 8.54 percent. Only these four groups of the 15 which ran slates of candidates cleared the minimum threshold for distribution of the 70 seats by proportional representation. Along with seats won in the 71 single-mandate districts, the Social Democratic bloc will hold 51 seats, the New Union/Social Liberals 29 seats, the Liberal Union will hold 34 seats, and the Conservatives will have nine. The balance of the 141 seats were won by individual candidates from the Peasants' Party, the Center Union, three different Christian Democratic parties, the radical Freedom Union, and other small extremist parties. Several seats remain undecided, with the candidates separated by a one-vote margin. The Liberal Union and the New Union/Social Liberal Party are cobbling together a coalition and formulating a government in consultation with President Valdas Adamkus. Brazauskas' Social Democratic bloc will form the major parliamentary opposition.
CONFERENCE ON PLUNDERED JEWISH PROPERTIES HELD...
Vilnius hosted a major international conference on Jewish cultural properties plundered during World War II on 3-5 October, with representatives from over 35 countries and various organizations in attendance. The three-day conference focused on developing a mechanism for the restitution of property, such as patents, religious objects, and an estimated 600,000 works of art stolen from Jews during the Holocaust, Reuters reported. During the conference, U.S. and Russian negotiators reached a breakthrough deal that will open access to Russia's archives for the restoration of plundered Jewish properties. U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, head of the U.S. delegation, called it a " major, major step forward," adding that "it may be the biggest step forward since the end of World War II." He also said that the opening would show "the dimensions of the art stolen by Hitler's orders throughout Europe." Participants on 4 October also attended a memorial event for Holocaust victims held at the site of the former Nazi concentration camp in Paneriai, Lithuania.
...ENDS WITH CALL FOR ALL STATES TO EXPEDITE PROPERTY RESTITUTION.
The Vilnius conference concluded on 5 October with a declaration calling for all states "to expedite" and "take all measures to return" such assets. The resolution also called on organizations and museums throughout the world to take part in the effort by providing information on such plundered objects. President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Lord Russell Johnston, said that success of the conference's aims "depended on individual efforts of each country," ELTA reported. U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, praised the conference's work and also expressed hope that the restoration of the historic Vilnius Jewish quarter would create a "living museum" for the community, BNS added. In keeping with the spirit of the conference, the outgoing Lithuanian parliament passed a law which returns a collection of 370 Torahs currently in safe keeping in the national library, ELTA reported on 3 October.
Aleksandras Lileikis, who was being tried in a Lithuanian court on charges of war crimes, died 27 September of a suspected heart attack, ELTA reported. His trial had been suspended on 3 July due to his poor health, but a court session on 23 June set a precedent for testimony delivered via closed-circuit video-conferencing equipment. He was 93. Another man charged with war crimes whose trial also has been suspended due to poor health, Kazys Gimzauskas, also 93, remains in the hospital.
...BOTH SIDES REGRET DEATH OF MAN ACCUSED OF WAR CRIMES.
Both prosecuting and defense attorneys voiced regret over Lileikis' death. Algirdas Matuiza, the lawyer for Lileikis, said that it "was a shame both for prosecutors and those medical experts who, under pressure from Nazi hunters, kept doubting whether the defendant was feigning his diseases," ELTA reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office issued a statement saying that its office, as well as the parliament and government, "did their best to bring Lileikis to court," adding that "this work in pursuit of historical justice will be carried on." But Simonas Alperavicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, accused law enforcement officials of dragging out both the investigation and the court case. "Of course, nobody wanted him in prison but the [court] process should have taken place," Alperavicius told BNS. Parliament deputy Emanuelis Zingeris lamented, "Unfortunately, Lithuania's legal system has so far failed to determine the truth in a single war-crimes case," adding that "knowing the truth would make it easier for everyone." The head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, called it a "shame on Lithuania" that Lileikis died "as a free man."
SOVIET OCCUPATION SAID TO HAVE COST LITHUANIA $20 BILLION.
Meeting its legal deadline, a Lithuanian government committee announced on 6 October that the Soviet occupation of Lithuania caused an estimated $20 billion worth of damages. The committee, led by Deputy Justice Minister Rasa Budbergyte, included the costs for loss of property by destruction or Soviet seizure, as well as persecution of Lithuanian nationals, the Catholic Church, and other institutions and groups in Lithuania. The summary of total costs will now be presented to the Russian government as the legal successor to the Soviet Union in accordance with a law passed earlier this year calling for compensation from Moscow for the former Soviet occupation of Lithuania.
VILNIUS TRIBUNAL FINDS COMMUNISM GUILTY.
An international tribunal investigating the crimes of communism announced on 27 September a guilty verdict against communist institutions. The panel of legal scholars and historians, which held hearings in June and September, said the point of the proceedings, which were not legally binding, was for the crimes of communism to be aired in public for the world to see. The panel said that the various Communist parties and their institutions -- especially in the Soviet-occupied states -- were criminal organizations, and its members who carried out acts of physical, emotional, and material damage were labelled as criminals. The vice chairman of the tribunal, Arturas Filikaitis, said that communism "resorted to terror, violence, and a search for enemies, the alleged culprits of their failures, who were tortured and destroyed," ELTA reported.
* Lithuania's Olympic basketball team gave the U.S. team its biggest scare since professional basketball players were allowed to compete in the games, losing by only two points, 85 to 83, after a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Lithuania barely missed. U.S. player Antonio McDyess said that "Lithuania showed big heart. No one expected them to come out and play the way they did. They never backed down once," AP reported. The U.S. "Dream Team" went on to beat France 85 to 75 to win the gold medal, while Lithuania defeated the Australian team 89-71 for its third consecutive Olympic bronze.
* Lithuania's GDP remained constant in the second quarter of 2000, the statistics department reported on 29 September. It added that GDP growth in the first half of 2000 was 1.9 percent year-on-year, standing at 21.21 billion litas ($5.3 billion), ELTA reported. Growth occurred in fields such as transportation and communications, but a sharp slump in construction and a mild contraction in manufacturing during the second quarter kept the GDP flat. In a more encouraging sign, the central bank reported that the current account deficit in the first half of 2000 had dropped to 900 million litas ($250 million), down from $625 million in same period in 1999.
* Italy's General Giuseppe Ardito, commander of the NATO Ground Forces for Southern Europe, praised Lithuania's military achievements and vowed that Italian troops will continue training there, BNS reported on 27 September. The second annual Lithuanian-Italian war games, Baltico 2000, was conducted at the Lithuanian base in Pabrade from mid-September to 6 October. The Italian troops spent about 12 million litas ($3 million) in Lithuania last year for food, fuel, telecommunications and other services.
* The Lithuanian parliament on 26 September adopted the country's first post-Soviet criminal code. Its drafters said that the new code is in harmony with EU norms, though enabling legislation setting regulations could take another two years to be enacted, ELTA reported. The parliament also voted to annul a controversial resolution lauding the short-lived 1941 provisional government that has triggered widespread anger among Jewish organizations. Emanuelis Zingeris, the only parliament deputy of Jewish heritage, said that the revocation would allow Lithuania to "exclude this shameful fact" from history.
* Mecys Laurinkus, head of Lithuania's State Security Department, in an interview printed in the daily "Respublika" on 25 September said that "radical Arab terrorist organizations" and "various Marxist movements" have been operating in Lithuania over the last two years, but they are "easy to shadow" because they have "not yet taken root." Laurinkus said that the groups use Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia as transit countries where they can launder money and establish intelligence bureaus.
* Estonia's Hansapank was the only bidder in the privatization of Lithuania's largest remaining state-owned bank, Lietuvos Taupomasis Bankas (Lithuanian Savings Bank), both ETA and ELTA reported. The Lithuanian government plans to sell 90.73 percent of shares in the bank, which is the country's second largest with about 15 billion litas ($3.75 billion) in assets. Hansapank itself, however, is controlled by Sweden's Foreningssparbanken (known as "Swedbank") which is the majority owner of the entire Hansapank group in the Baltics.
* The coalition of Social Democrats and Labor Democrats (LDDP), led by ex-President Algirdas Brazauskas, on 26 September presented to the electoral commission three initiatives containing the requisite 50,000 signatures from the public supporting each of them. If the electoral commission rules the signatures valid, the three bills must be considered by the new parliament. The first initiative involves lifting the minimum tax-free monthly income to 320 litas ($80) from the current 214 litas. The second seeks to postpone the increase of VAT on heating keeping it at 9 percent, BNS reported. And the third requires the government to retain the majority share in 15 economic objects of "key national interest" such as the Taupomasis Bankas (Savings Bank), which are currently listed on the privatization schedule for this year.
* Bronislovas Lubys, the head of the Confederation of Lithuanian Industrialists, is the largest political contributor in the 8 October general elections, according to preliminary financial declarations by the parties. Achema and the Klaipeda Shipping Company (KLASCO), two companies controlled by Lubys, gave a total of 280,000 litas ($70,000) to three parties running in coalition: the Liberal Union (60,000 litas each from both companies), the Center Union (110,000 litas from Achema), and the New Union/Social Liberals (50,000 litas from KLASCO), BNS reported on 29 September. The two companies were also the largest contributors to the local elections held in March. According to reports filed with the Chief Election Commission, the New Union/Social Liberals Party has the largest war chest of 710,000 litas, followed by the Liberal Union with 572,000 litas, and the Center Union with 463,000 litas. A local company called Vaizga, linked to the Russian oil giant LUKoil, donated 250,000 litas to the left-wing social democratic coalition.
* Vytautas Landsbergis, leader of the ruling Conservatives, in a nationally televised campaign debate with Algirdas Brazauskas, leader of the social democratic coaliton, on 2 October, apologized to the country for past mistakes. Landsbergis said that "I have to assume extensive responsibility for mistakes and inappropriate conduct of some former ministers and premiers," BNS reported. "I must ask for forgiveness for many more things. I have looked down on people," said the campaigning Landsbergis, whose Conservatives are expected to lose more than half their seats and to go into opposition.
* The Vilnius office of the State Tax Inspectorate said on 25 September that it will begin seizing the property of public broadcaster LRT (Lithuanian Radio and Television) on 29 September for tax arrears. Of LRT's total debt of 13 million litas ($3.25 million), some 3.8 million litas are tax arrears; other debts are to utilities and broadcasting facilities, BNS reported. This is the first time property will be seized; earlier only LRT bank accounts were frozen as the station's debts mounted. Despite the debts there was no disruption in programming for the Olympics and the 8 October parliamentary elections. LRT's debts are expected to double by year's end.
* SoDra, Lithuania's social welfare fund, reported that its deficit for this year reached 210 million litas ($52.5 million) at the end of September, ELTA reported on 3 October. In that same period, the fund collected only 3.1 billion litas of an estimated 3.38 billion litas. Experts expect the deficit to break the quarter billion mark by year's end. Carrying over last year's indebtedness, the total deficit of SoDra is now 494 million litas.
* Three employees of the Inkaras footwear factory in Kaunas on 5 October began a new hunger strike in protest of continuing wage arrears. They said that they had renewed the protest because the government had not fulfilled its earlier promises to strikers and their own families' poor economic situation, ELTA reported. An earlier hunger strike, which lasted a month, ended on 1 September when all Inkaras employees received a small portion of their wage arrears. Local union leader Kazimieras Ruzevskis said that "nobody listened" to him when he tried to dissuade the drastic campaign before the 8 October general elections.
* A survey of Lithuanian youths conducted by the Spinter company and commissioned by the State Council for Youth Affairs and the Council of Lithuanian Youth Organizations found that although 65 percent are satisfied with their present life, 60.8 percent think the general economic condition in Lithuania is worsening, BNS reported on 25 September. More than two-thirds, 72 percent, would like to live and work in a foreign country for a certain period of time or permanently. Fifty-one percent are pessimistic about their career prospects in Lithuania.