• 2001-11-08
QUICK DEATHS: A Latvian racer died on the morning of Nov. 5 of heavy injuries he sustained in an accident during a rally the previous day. Ervins Jonass, 26, had suffered fractures and internal injuries, reported a hospital where the comatose racer was rushed. The accident happened during one of the stages on the Latvia 2001 rally around Riga county. Jonass, driving a Mazda 323, got up too much speed at the start and couldn't take the first turn, crashing into a tree. His co-driver, Janis Berzins, escaped without injuries, but the rescue team had to cut the car up to get the racers out. No harm was done to any of the people watching the rally. This was Jonass' first rally season although previously he had been taking part in rally sprints. This fall has been marked by a series of tragedies in Latvian sports. In late October F-1 powerboat driver Viktors Kunics was killed in an accident during a race, and Girts Ostenieks lost his life while practicing on the bobsled and luge track in Sigulda.

YOUNG RASCALS: A Moscow court began hearings in a case Nov. 6 against two members of the radical National Bolshevik movement who threw eggs at the Latvian agriculture minister in June. Moscow's Presn district court will hear the hooliganism case against Mikhail Filatov, 18, and Grigory Tishin, 15, which is punishable with a jail term. The Moscow headquarters of the National Bolsheviks said that Filatov is a vocalist in punk band Chudo-Yudo, while Tishin, the son of the head of a National Bolshevik branch in Moscow, is still at school. The pair lobbed eggs at Atis Slakteris during the opening of a trade fair of Latvian-made goods at the International Trade Center in Presn and were caught immediately by security guards. Tishin also has a case of vandalism open against him after throwing bottles of bad-smelling paint at the Georgian Embassy in Moscow last month, demonstrating the National Bolsheviks' attitude toward Georgian leaders' policies of independence from Russia.

LANGUAGE RIGHTS: Estonian linguists are against the plan of the ruling coalition to ease language proficiency requirements so citizens of Estonia who do not know Estonian can run in local government and Parliament elections. The government failed to take into consideration the consequences for the Estonian language, reads a statement by the national committee of the European Year of Languages. "The change would prevent the government from fulfilling its constitutional duty to secure the preservation of the Estonian nation and culture, including the continuation of Estonian as the official language," the linguists declared. "In a situation where moves are made toward diminishing the value of the Estonian language and legalizing a second official language, the principle of least risk must be observed. We cannot accept any lowering whatsoever of the status of Estonian as the official language." The statement was signed by a dozen linguists, including Director of the Institute of Estonian Language Urmas Sutrop.

AGAINST TERROR: A Central and Eastern European conference on anti-terrorist efforts, initiated by Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, was held in Warsaw Nov. 6. Kwasniewski's idea was strongly supported by U.S. President George W. Bush. The conference was attended by the leaders of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia and Macedonia. The forum in Warsaw succeeded in its three main goals: consolidating the region in the fight against terrorism, discussing the prospects for NATO enlargement and preparing common mechanisms for Central European countries to boost security. Pledges were made to beef up security at border areas, cut down on money laundering and keep up a united front to push for NATO and EU enlargement.

TONS OF TOURISTS: A total of 3.19 million foreigners visited Lithuania during the first nine months of this year, a rise of 1.5 percent over the same period last year, the State Tourism Department announced this week. "The Sept. 11 events in the United States have so far failed to slow the growth in the number of foreign visitors to Lithuania. A total of 363,400 people from abroad came to Lithuania in September, up by 3.1 percent month-on-month," Rimantas Skirmantas, head of the department's information and marketing division, said in a press release. This year the number of visitors from Portugal increased by 68.4 percent, South and Central America by 63.5 percent and Africa by 63.2 percent. But the number of visitors from North America fell by 88.6 percent.

TOO MANY PRISONERS: In spite of recommendations from Council of Europe experts, the Lithuanian Parliament Oct. 30 rejected amendments to the nation's criminal and penal codes, which would have eased conditions for prisoners serving life sentences. The amendments would have allowed for the transfer of prisoners serving life sentences from prison to high-security work colonies after serving at least a decade. The Lithuanian Justice Ministry, which is behind the amendments, noted in an explanatory note that the legislation was being presented in response to recommendations made to Lithuania by a group of experts from the Council of Europe and its committee against torture. The committee's findings on prisons and the treatment of prisoners in Lithuania released this fall said prison overcrowding is a serious problem there. The ministry reported that Lukiskes Prison in central Vilnius, with a capacity of 906, held 1,578 prisoners in May this year, 72 of them serving life terms.