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Farewell to 2011

  • 2011-12-22
  • By Olya Schaefer

Another year is coming to an end. But before we turn out the lights and move on to the next, let’s take one last look at how we got to where we are now. Here is a final glimpse at the big stories and events that made the headlines in 2011.

Will inflation follow euro transition?
By Olya Schaefer, TALLINN

The switch to the euro on midnight of the New Year was successful, as expected. Twenty minutes after midnight,
Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip withdrew 20 euros from an SEB ATM and congratulated the country
with this important milestone. “The euro is a clear statement that Estonia is a European nation, with no caveats.
We are Estonians, but we are also Europeans, and for the people of Estonia, the euro will be a source of strength
for many, many years,” reports DzD.ee. He cautioned against resting on the laurels of the impressive achievement
of fulfilling the Maastricht criteria, however, as Estonia is at this time the poorest nation in the eurozone.
Ansip, however, expressed hope that this can and will soon change.

Savisaar’s leadership under fire
By Ella Karapetyan, TALLINN

Estonian security police KAPO has confirmed to the government security committee that mayor of Tallinn and Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar secretly asked Russian officials for financial assistance [The Baltic Times reported on Jan. 6]. The committee, which consists of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo, Minister of the Interior Marko Pomerants, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet, Minister of Justice Rein Lang and Minister of Finance Jurgen Ligi was informed that Savisaar asked for 3 million euros in assistance from Moscow, and was promised half the amount. According to the police, Savisaar had claimed that he asked the Russians for financial assistance to help complete
the building of the Russian Orthodox Church in Tallinn. However, according to KAPO, Savisaar asked for 3 million euros in assistance to his Center Party plus 1.5 million euros for the church. The money was aimed at the party, not to Savisaar personally.

Estonian kidnapping remains unanswered question
By Karl Haljasmets, TARTU

Seven Estonian bicyclists were kidnapped by masked gunmen in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley on March 23. This was in a location about 53 kilometers east of Beirut. Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet said that there are still no messages or signals from the kidnappers and so the speculation being spread in different media channels are just that - speculation - and nothing more. “At the moment we don’t have any truthful versions, which is covered with evidence, on why Estonians were kidnapped,” he said. The media has suspected that the Palestinian group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) is behind the kidnapping. Its representative, Abu Ramez Moustapha, denied on television channel LBC that they are behind the hijacking. “The accusation is part of a campaign aimed at targeting the group on the political, media, and security levels,” he stated.

Zatlers calls for sacking Saeima
Staff and wire reports, RIGA

With less than one week to go before facing a re-election vote in parliament, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers stood before an expectant nation and delivered on May 28 a historic speech decrying the tightening grip over government of the so-called oligarchs and the increasing impunity enjoyed by corrupt members of society as he called
for the dissolution of Saeima. In his address, Zatlers emphasized that the May 26th Saeima vote blocking the Corruption Prevention Bureau’s (KNAB) major case against MP Ainars Slesers “resounded like a siren, warning of a serious conflict between legislators and judicial powers. Saeima, in its vote, showed contempt for rule of law, and not for the first time - rejection of a prosecutor general nominated by the highest standing legal official was a precedent,” reports news agency LETA.

Oligarchs’ pick elected president
From wire reports, RIGA

The latest online edition of the government’s official newspaper Latvijas Vestnesis includes Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis’ (Unity) announcement and evaluation of the recent presidential vote, reports news agency LETA. Dombrovskis points out that “a majority of Saeima members did not take into account society’s demand for politics without the oligarchs’ influence and punished President Valdis Zatlers for his courage.” “I wish the next president, Andris Berzins (Union of Greens and Farmers), to listen to society and continue combating the oligarchs’ influence in politics. The nation will express its opinion on July 23, which will provide a clear signal to the new president. I will continue to work in order to ensure stability, economic recovery and to overcome the consequences of the crisis,” emphasized the
prime minister. On June 2, Berzins was elected as the new president of Latvia. 53 Saeima deputies voted for him during the second vote of the presidential election - 44 voted against.

Sale of Mistral ships to Russia – a worry for Baltic security?
By Karoliina Raudsepp, TARTU

The long-prepared arms deal received its final signatures on June 17 when France agreed to the sale of two Mistral-type helicopter carrier warships to Russia for around one billion euros. The Russian national arms export company Rosoboronexport, and the French national ship-building company DCNS, signed the deal during the St. Petersburg economic forum, although the deal had already been agreed earlier, without naming prices or deadlines. Estonia and other Baltic States have expressed concerns about the deal as France is a NATO member state and relations with Russia have long been strained. According to delfi.ee, Russia will acquire four Mistrals, with 40 percent of the first two to be built in Russia and finished in France. The construction of the first ship willbegin in December in a shipyard near St. Petersburg. The Mistral is an amphibious assault ship equipped for the French Navy. It can carry 16 heavy, or 35 light, helicopters, which means fast deployment to conflict zones. It has also been deployed to Libya this year in order to rescue refugees. They are high-technology warships of a kind Russia previously did not have in its Navy.

EuroBasket-related politics and curiosities
By Rokas M. Tracevskis, VILNIUS

EuroBasket fever is felt at every step in Lithuania: supermarkets offer basketball-shaped sweets and ice-cream
with a portrait of the Lithuanian national basketball team’s hero Linas Kleiza (though this Toronto Raptors player isn’t playing for the Lithuanian national team at EuroBasket 2011 due to injury, he is taking part in commenting on Lithuanian TV3), people decorate their cars with Lithuanian tricolors or paint their cars’ details, such as mirror supports in yellow-green-red (the latest widespread fashion), the Vilnius TV tower is decorated with the world’s biggest (35 meter diameter) hoop, shining at a 170 meter height at night, and dustbins in Vilnius’ center are also decorated as hoops for a good three-point throw. Foreign and local political leaders also use their arrival at the EuroBasket games for their own self-advertising in a country where, according to the Web site of Le Monde, “basketball is a religion.”

Karlis Skrastins: July 9, 1974–September 7, 2011
By Jared Grellet, RIGA

On Wednesday, Sept. 7, Latvians learned the tragic news that one of their most respected countrymen had his life cut short, along with the lives of 44 others. As news began to filter out of Russia on Wednesday afternoon that the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv ice hockey team had been involved in an airplane accident and that there were only two survivors, Latvians were left clinging to the hope that one of the two survivors was one of Latvia’s favorite sons, Karlis Skrastins.
But within a few hours they would be delivered the heartbreaking news that Skrastins was one of the 43 who had perished in the accident. Thirty-seven-year-old Skrastins had been onboard the Yak-42 passenger plane destined for Minsk, where he and his team were due to take on Dinamo Minsk the following day in their opening game of the 2011/2012 Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) season. However, it was a destination they would never make. Taking
off from the Tunoshna airport approximately 17km from Yaroslavl, witnesses told of the plane appearing to be struggling to get off the ground, overrunning the end of the runway. Lacking sufficient ascension, the plane would then appear to
hit a local radar antenna located at the end of the runway, seeing the plane split in two with one half landing in the Volga
River, giving little hope of there being any survivors.

Latvians vote for cleaner and more cosmopolitan politics
By Philip Birzulis, RIGA

Incumbency may have its advantages, but in Latvia’s snap election on Sept. 17, it was far more of a burden. In the climax
to a turbulent year, voters gave a dressing down to the parties in power and rearranged their country’s politics. Analysts believe a relatively low turnout of 59.5 percent most hurt the so-called “oligarch” parties. The Slesers Reform
Party of former Transport Minister Ainars Slesers got just 2.4 percent of the vote, falling well short of the five percent required to get seats in the Saeima. The Union of Greens and Farmers, the party of powerful Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, saw its support almost halved. They also sent a message to Unity, the party of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, which is 13 seats poorer than before. After winning the 2010 election, it suffered from internal disputes and an awkward coalition with the Union of Greens and Farmers. Even the citizens who voted for Unity showed
displeasure with some of the party’s leading figures.

Snoras Bank nationalized
By Rokas M. Tracevskis, VILNIUS

On Nov. 16, the Lithuanian government decided to take over 100 percent of shares of Snoras Bank “for public needs,”
said Finance Minister Ingrida Simonyte, i.e. the decision on temporary nationalization of Snoras was made to protect depositors’ interests. According to assets, Snoras was the fifth biggest bank in Lithuania and the biggest non-Scandinavianowned bank in Lithuania. Snoras had slightly less than a 10 percent share of Lithuania’s
banking market. It was the only Lithuania-based bank owned by a Russian businessman, as well as the only Lithuania-based bank dealing with Russian business and the only Lithuania-based bank having such a big amount of deposits from abroad – some 20 percent of deposits in Snoras belong to foreigners, mostly Russians, according to Loreta Grauziniene, chairwoman of the Lithuanian parliament’s committee on audit. Snoras was owned by London-based Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov, who owned 68 percent of Snoras’ shares, and Lithuanian
Raimondas Baranauskas, who had 25 percent of Snoras’ shares and who was Snoras’ president and chairman of
board.