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Here we are again, winding down another eventful year, as we prepare to move forward into the unknown. Before we close the door on 2010, why not let’s take one last look in the rear-view mirror at some of the headlines - the surprises, the losses, the unbelievable, the successes - that grabbed our attention during the year.
Estonian cross-country skier Kristina Smigun-Vahi won Silver at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, coming in second in the 10 km freestyle race. The competition was won by Swede Charlotte Kalla, who finished in 24 minutes and 58.4 seconds. Smigun-Vehi, winner of two gold medals at the Turin Games, finished 6.6 seconds behind. Third place was won by Norwegian Marit Bjoergen, who finished 15.9 seconds behind the winner. The only Latvian competitor, Anete Brice, finished in 70th place, five minutes and 53.4 seconds behind the winner. 78 athletes took part in the competition.
Latvia’s Martins Dukurs won silver in the men’s skeleton competition at the Vancouver Olympic Games on Feb. 19, bringing his country its second silver medal of the games. In the first run of the competition, he also set a new track record in finishing first. Dukurs earlier this year won the Skeleton World Cup. The Latvian duo of Andris and Juris Sics won the silver medal in the men’s luge doubles event a day earlier. Cabinet of Ministers regulations stipulate that Latvia’s silver medal winners each receive an award of up to 37,500 lats (53,500 euros) for their success in Vancouver.
Russia raises contract demands
France’s blatant disregard for the national security concerns of its NATO partners will be tested as Russia has placed new demands in its negotiations on the purchase of four high-tech French warships. The ongoing talks hit rough seas on March 25 when Moscow insisted that the Mistral-class vessels, which are amphibious assault, command and ‘force projection ships,’ must be delivered fully equipped.
The French defense ministry responded that President Nicolas Sarkozy had clearly told his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, that the amphibious assault ships would be sold without sensitive equipment. “The president said publicly, in front of his Russian counterpart, what the scope for negotiations was,” said defense ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire, referring to the presidents’ Elysee meeting on March 1.
Drasius Kedys’ corpse was found on April 17, during the traditional annual action “Let’s do it 2010” when volunteers throughout Lithuania were collecting rubbish in parks and forests, working to clean up Lithuania’s environment. A group of sea scouts came to clean the environment near the village of Slienava in the Kaunas region. A fisherman sitting at the nearby Kaunas’ lagoon told the leader of that group of scouts, that he saw something which looks like a dead body in the nearby forest. They both went to look at that body and informed the police. The Prosecutor General’s Office suspects that Kedys, who kept saying his young daughter was the victim of pedophiles, gunned down a Kaunas judge and his daughter’s aunt in October last year and officially remained at large until his death. Prosecutors say there is no evidence of child molestation in the case, except for video ‘confessions’ of Kedys’ daughter, which, according to prosecutors, were made and staged by Kedys himself. A big part of Lithuanian society does not believe the prosecutors in this case.
Estonia invited to join OECD
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and Minister of Finance Jurgen Ligi attended the formal accession ceremony of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on May 27. The ceremony, during which Ansip received Estonia’s official invitation to join the organization, took place at the headquarters of the OECD, in Paris at Chateau de la Muette.
In his speech, the prime minister said that receiving the invitation to join the OECD was a great honor and privilege for Estonia. “This year is very important for Estonia,” said Ansip, upon addressing the ministers of the OECD countries. “For a long time, Estonia has had two important policy goals: joining the OECD and becoming part of the euro area. Today, we can say that the first goal has been achieved, and the second one is within our reach.”
President Brazauskas dead
On June 26, former Lithuanian President Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas, 77, died in his home in Vilnius’ prestigious residential area of Turniskes. Such news about the passing of the almost mythological man-epoch came as no surprise, because Brazauskas’ cancer was the top story in the Lithuanian media for many months. A year ago he went to Israel for cancer treatment. Brazauskas was Lithuanian president (or “lackey of Lithuania” as he called himself) from 1993-1998, and prime minister from 2001-2006. He happened to be the leader of the country when the Russian army left Lithuania and when his country joined NATO and the European Union.
Relief at the beach
With average air temperatures of 21.5 degrees Celsius, this year’s July was the hottest summer month in Latvia in the last 95 years, according to data from the Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Center. Information from the longest-serving weather stations in Ventspils and Liepaja indicate that July 1914 was slightly warmer, at least in the province of Kurzeme. Data from the town of Ainazi, in northern Latvia, show that July 1992 was one tenth of a degree warmer than this year. In other places in Latvia, July 2010 turns out to be the hottest month on record. The temperature rose above 30 degrees on 15 days that month, reaching a record high of 34.8 sweltering degrees in Ventspils on July 13. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Latvia, 36.4 degrees, was recorded on Aug. 4, 1943 in Daugavpils.
Bronze in the World Basketball Championship
On Sept. 12, the Lithuanian national basketball team was awarded with bronze medals in the world championship in Turkey. After the bronze final, Lithuanian cities and towns turned into cheerful and very patriotic chaos due to celebrations in the streets. On late night of Sept. 13, the Lithuanian team arrived at the Vilnius airport from where it went to the top of a special bus via the streets of Vilnius where it was greeted by happy Lithuanians. The bus arrived to the Rotuses Square in the Vilnius Old Town. More than 10,000 Lithuanians waving Lithuanian tricolors gathered in the Rotuses Square and surrounding area to greet the Lithuanian national basketball team, which returned from Turkey. The meeting was full of songs and cheerful speeches wishing Lithuania to get Europe’s gold medals for the fourth time in the EuroBasket 2011 which will be held in Lithuania.
Voters elect to ‘stay the course’
Calls of congratulations poured in from around Europe as Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and his Unity alliance won the parliamentary elections on Oct. 2. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius each wished Dombrovskis success with the economic growth program for Latvia. European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek congratulated Dombrovskis on his coalition’s win, saying “It shows that courage and determination pay off in hard times.” Dombrovskis may find himself the center of attention at this weekend’s EU summit. The Financial Times writes that “Latvia’s prime minister is not normally the man to talk to at EU summits. But at this Saturday’s meeting… leaders from Greece, Ireland and elsewhere should want to grill him on how his government pushed through some of Europe’s toughest austerity measures - then not only survived a general election but also increased its support.”
An American guy & his girls
On Nov. 19-20, the NATO summit in Lisbon finally approved the alliance’s defense plans for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – the NATO defense plan for Poland was extended to the Baltics. The adoption of NATO defense plans for the Baltics was an issue of high importance for Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite who demanded it in public during her meetings with the NATO secretary general and on other occasions – the other two Baltic presidents were somewhat shy to talk about it loudly. The plan considers Russia as a possible danger and therefore, it is a delicate case. Until 2010, NATO had such defense plans only for Norway, Poland, Turkey, and Greece.