PRESIDENTIAL BATTLE: The recent meeting between the Russian and Latvian presidents in Austria was "a display of political will" on the part of Russia, and now the Kremlin expects reciprocation from Latvia, Russian deputy presidential chief of staff Sergei Prikhodko said in an interview with Baltic News Service on Feb. 23. Russian president Vladimir Putin had met with Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga regardless of the predominantly negative attitude of the Russian public towards Latvia, he said. "Building on his authority, the president demonstrated our preparedness to discuss existing issues directly - of course, if the other party is willing to listen," said Prikhodko, who is responsible for international relations in the Kremlin. He said it was important for Russia "to inform Latvia about areas we are concerned about."
SOCIAL ENGINEERING: Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer welcomed on Feb. 27 Latvia's adoption of the expanded National Program for the Integration of Society. The program aims to tackle problems in the political, social, educational and cultural spheres. One of its aims is to speed up the naturalization process for the non-Latvian population with measures including support for Latvian language learning. The Latvian authorities will now begin to implement the program thanks to a state budget allocation for 2001. Mr Schwimmer said he hoped that Latvia would ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as soon as possible and that Latvia would accede to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
ARREST INSURANCE: On Feb. 25, a Lithuanian court allowed the 10-day arrest of the head of the Klaipeda office of the state-run social insurance fund, Sodra, on charges of abusing his powers and forging official documents. Viktoras Valceris, 38, was detained two days before at the Klaipeda bureau of the Special Investigations Service. Interrogations and searches were conducted following his detention. Valceris has headed Sodra's office in Lithuania's port city since 1991. After the director of Sodra, Aidas Pikiotas, resigned at the end of January, Valceris was a candidate to succeed him. Sodra's council approved his candidacy. Valceris was involved in a controversial liquidation of a fishery company, Jura. Officials are exploring a possible link between Valceris and the writing-off of part of Jura's debt.
REMEMBER CHECHNYA: Marking the 57th anniversary of the Soviet Union deporting the Chechen nation en masse, protestors assembled in Vilnius on Feb. 23 demanding that the world not turn a blind eye to the continuing war in Chechnya. Around 50 people hoisted the flag of independent Chechnya and waved placards demanding the recognition of Chechen independence in front of government buildings. Member of Parliament and conservative leader Vytautas Landsbergis took part in the protest, saying military actions in Chechnya must be stopped as quickly as possible. "We can discuss Chechnya's right to self-determination, but the most important thing right now is to stop the war," Landsbergis said. The majority of Russians have become immune to events in Chechnya because of Russian propaganda, he said.
TARTU POSTS: A total of 209 people filed applications for 15 vacancies in the Education Ministry, which is soon to be transferred to Estonia's second largest city of Tartu. More than 10 people applied for each of the managerial posts, the largest number, 42, to head the Department for Youth. The best candidates of the 209 will be picked by March 26, and in March another competition for about 30 posts will be announced. The Education Ministry will pay 14,000 kroons ($815) to the Fontes Recruitment consultancy company for filling each post. All department heads will be elected by the end of April. Of the Education Ministry's present staff, 41 have agreed to continue in Tartu.
LAWYER FOILED: Latvia's security police detained a prosecutor over large-scale bribe taking, it was confirmed Feb. 21. Aleksejs Margevics, a lawyer in the eastern Latvian city of Daugavpils, was detained over an attempt to take a bribe to the tune of $5,000. Margevics was operating in a group together with another private individual whose name will not be revealed for ethical reasons. The two were attempting to extort a bribe in exchange for a favorable procedural decision in a criminal case. Margevics became known to the broader public earlier in connection with a successful case related to the insolvent company Tolaram Fibers.
MINISTER SAVED: Latvian economy minister Aigars Kalvitis managed not to go the same way as his Lithuanian counterpart Eugenijus Maldeikis when he survived a no-confidence vote Feb. 22 proposed by the opposition Social Democrats over what they regard as faults in the privatization of Latvijas Kugnieciba (LASCO, Latvian Shipping Co). Maldeikis resigned a month ago after a major scandal. The motion in Latvia was supported by only 30 MPs of the opposition in the 100-strong legislature. A number of Social Democrats believe breaches of the law have occurred in the LASCO privatization process.