Before we greet the New Year, let’s take a moment and have one last look back. It’s been a year marked by the high hopes of a new government in its early days, economies continuing their rebound from crisis, and Baltic countries asserting themselves on the world stage; the final months, though, ended sadly in national tragedy and loss, capped by the sudden resignation of a respected prime minister.
We’ve enjoyed the highs, and need to learn from the lows, as we close the door on 2013.
Cabinet fully competent, says Butkevicius (Jan. 10)
Lithuania’s Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius says he does not think that the question of the legal immunity lift for MP Neringa Venckiene will pose a threat to the coalition, reports ELTA. The prime minister says that it is the job of responsible institutions to deliberate whether a person is guilty or not.
“I want to say that the coalition is strong and it works unanimously, no adverse effects are possible. Such issues should be discussed in instuitions responsible for this job, but not at the Seimas,” said the PM when he was asked how the vote on the legal immunity lift on the former Kaunas district judge, now MP and leader of the party Drasos Kelias (The Way of Courage), Neringa Venckiene, may affect the coalition.
On Dec. 28, Lithuanian Prosecutor General Darius Valys asked the Seimas to allow the prosecution of MP Venckiene and the further restriction of her liberty.
Opposition fizzles out as Saeima passes euro bill (Feb. 7)
Pushing Latvia further down the road towards finally trading in its cherished lats and joining the eurozone, Saeima on Jan. 31 endorsed the euro adoption bill in the second and final reading, reports LETA. Fifty-two MPs voted for the bill, 40 voted against it, while two abstained. Euro adoption would also mean another step in Latvia’s ongoing re-integration efforts with the West.
All MPs who supported the bill were coalition members; those opposing the bill were opposition members and Janis Dombrava of All for Latvia-For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, whereas the abstainers were MPs Andris Berzins and Janis Duklavs (both of the Green/Farmers Union).
[It was a July 9 decision in Brussels at the ECOFIN meeting by European Union finance ministers that gave the final approval to allow Latvia to join the eurozone and become the eurozone’s 18th member on Jan. 1, 2014].
Vote scandal threatens Estonia’s election system (June 13)
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said at a June 7 meeting between the four parties represented in the Riigikogu that the Reform Party’s recent internal elections scandal has exceeded all limits of tolerance, reports Public Broadcasting. Ilves stressed that the Reform Party’s internal scandal opens the doors for others to undermine the trustworthiness of “the whole elections system, and harms the reputation of Estonia.”
“I am glad that this time an investigation of the circumstances, and punishment of the culprits, has been done quickly,” said Ilves.
He stressed that the internal elections of one party and Estonia’s e-elections are, technically, two different things. “In this case, only one’s own party and party members were cheated upon; we could say that others didn’t suffer,” Ilves said. He also noted that many people would want him to simply condemn the Reform Party, to brush the matter under the rug, but that would be the “easy way out.”
Lithuania set to take EU Council reins (June 27)
The eyes and ears of Europe, and the world, will be turned to Lithuania for the next six months as the country takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In a historic first for a Baltic country, starting July 1 many of the EU’s most important decisions will go through Vilnius, the state capital.
This represents a major achievement for the country and its citizens. Speaking about the benefits of the upcoming Presidency, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said that it will open up invaluable opportunities for the country. “After nine years of EU membership we can test our capacities and demonstrate that we are not only good members of the European family, but also excellent neighbors. The Presidency also means enhancing the country’s visibility and awareness, and should give a boost to the economy. More than 200 various meetings will take place in Lithuania with around 30,000 participants to attend,” she said, reports ELTA.
Song Festival ends with ‘Ligo’ concert (July 11)
A glorious and sunny summer’s day welcomed the traditional procession of Song and Dance Festival participants, which got underway at 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning, marking the final day of the event. Starting at the Freedom Monument, the participants then proceeded along Brivibas Street to Riga’s Daile Theater, where they were greeted by folklore ensembles, chief conductors and state officials. The process lasted till after 4 p.m., which left little time for the participants to hurry to Mezaparks for the finale.
The more than 15,000 singers on stage, along with the audience, on Sunday evening closed out this year’s song festival with a thrilling musical and visual performance, with the festivities lasting well into Monday morning. The 25th Latvian Song Festival and 15th Dance Festival closed with the ‘Ligo!’ concert at the Mezaparks open-air stage on July 7, as the choir singing continued until 6 a.m. in the morning, reports LETA.
Star swimmer caught for doping (July 11)
President of the Estonian Swimming Federation Karol Kovanen confirmed that the B-sample of a young Estonian swimmer, who had given a positive doping sample at the Estonian-Finnish competition at the end of May, had also turned out to be positive, reports National Broadcasting.
“I can confirm that the result of the B-sample was positive and now a process will be launched according to certain rules,” said Kovanen. He added that he was not allowed to reveal the name of the swimmer as yet.
According to information available to Estonian National Broadcasting, the athlete in question is a 17-year-old swimmer who has broken a number of junior-level records in Estonia.
Baltic presidents meet with Obama at White House (Sept. 5)
The three Baltic presidents meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, DC on Aug. 30 were reassured that the United States considers the Baltic countries to be equal partners in strategic cooperation, reports LETA.
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Latvian President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite arrived in Washington at Obama’s invitation last Friday.
During the meeting with Obama and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the officials discussed the Baltic countries’ security in the North Atlantic Treaty context, the regional cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic countries, as well as sharing the Baltic countries’ experience with Eastern
Partnership and Central Asia countries and the cooperation with these countries.
Baltics concerned over war games (Oct. 3)
The three Baltic NATO states on Sept. 20 questioned the purpose of major war games by Russia and Belarus close to their borders, accusing their Soviet-era master Moscow of a secret “anti-West” agenda, reports AFP. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all expressed concern about the scale of military maneuvers publicly intended to prepare defenses against terrorism.
“Russia has officially stated that these are anti-terrorism exercises. But the number of participants and amount of military equipment indicates that that this is not their agenda,” Lithuania’s Defense Minister Juozas Olekas told AFP. “Every country has the right to conduct exercises, but we are concerned that these exercises are not transparent,” he added.
Riga mourns Maxima roof collapse victims (Nov. 28)
Search and rescue teams looking for survivors at the scene of Latvia’s worst post-independence disaster were called off Monday afternoon, four days after the roof collapsed at a neighborhood Maxima shopping center, taking the lives of 54 rush hour shoppers and rescue personnel.
What was a typical weekday evening for many buying necessities on their way home from work turned to tragedy after the roof – a construction site at the time – caved in showering steel and concrete on those below. Three rescue workers were killed as a portion of the roof fell on them as they responded to the initial collapse.
Vilnius heads into summit (Nov. 28)
Ukraine’s surprise decision earlier this month to pull back from negotiations leading to the signing of a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU, and instead turn toward Russia, leaves a big cloud hanging over this week’s Vilnius Summit. The signing was supposed to be the main event, capping one of Lithuania’s key initiatives in its Presidency of the EU Council.
Reactions were swift in the West. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said that “If the position of the Ukrainian government about not signing the association agreement with the European Union stays in force, it will prove to be a strategically poor choice for the country,” reports LETA.
Dombrovskis steps down (Nov. 27)
Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis has taken political responsibility for the Zolitude tragedy last week and will step down, as he announced after a meeting with President Andris Berzins on Nov. 27, reports LETA.
“I wish to thank Latvia’s society for support during the trying period when the country was battling the economic and financial crisis to return to the path of growth. I also apologize for all that we have failed to achieve,” said Dombrovskis.
Latvia needs to have a government that will be supported by the Saeima majority and deal with the current situation in the nation, said Dombrovskis.