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Lithuania 2001: peddling through a frenzied year

  • 2001-12-20
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - A government collapse, sporting achievements and more trouble for Williams framed the Lithuanian news picture in 2001. Here's a reminder of the top five events of the year, with their TBT headlines, and, below, what Lithuania's top celebrities told The Baltic Times were the five events they thought were the most important for their country.

1. "Lithuania welcomes new prime minister": An unstable Liberal/Social Liberal government was hastily put together by center-right forces - with a presidential helping hand - after the left-wing Social Democrats narrowly won elections in October 2000.

Constant rivalry between the two parties, led by Liberal Rolandas Paksas, who became prime minister for the second time, and Social Liberal Arturas Paulauskas, who became parliamentary chairman, consistently shook the coalition for months.

Finally, on June 18, Paulauskas demanded that Paksas leave his post. Paksas resigned two days later.

On July 2, Algirdas Brazauskas, Social Democrat party leader and two-time president, was nominated by President Valdas Adamkus for the prime ministerial post he had been dreaming of for a long time. A new Social Democrat/Social Liberal government, which many argued should have been the one created the previous October, was formed.

2. "NATO mania explodes in Vilnius": The NATO Parliamentary Assembly was held in Vilnius between May 27 and 31. It was probably the biggest international event Lithuania has seen in the last 10 years. More than 200 parliamentarians from NATO states and over 70 from 16 NATO associated states were in attendance.

Lithuanian MPs, conscious they were well ahead of their neighbors on the path to NATO, continued to say throughout the year that the admission of one Baltic state would be better than none. Latvian and Estonian MPs stuck to their view that NATO must take in all three or none at all. The assembly's opinion was that all candidates will be accepted individually, according to their achievements. But as Latvia and Estonia catch up with membership criteria, NATO is showing signs that it is coming round to the idea of bringing in all three countries as a block.

On May 23, to demonstrate Lithuanian solidarity, all political parties in the country, excepting a couple of minor stragglers, signed a historic agreement reaffirming the country's aspiration to NATO membership.

3. "Lithuanians flock to greet champion cyclist": On Oct. 13, Rasa Polikeviciute, 31, scooped up the title of world champion in the 121-kilometer Road Cycling World Championship in Lisbon, Portugal. Alongside her compatriot, Edita Pucinskaite, 25, who won silver, Lithuania once again proved its astonishing domination of women's cycling.

Pucinskaite won the world championship in Verona, Italy, in 1999. Diana Ziliute became world cycling champion in the Netherlands in 1998.

Readers of the Lietuvos Rytas daily, the Lithuanian Olympic Committee and the lottery company Olifeja elected Polikeviciute the best Lithuanian sportsperson of 2001.

4. "Butinge's biggest oil blunder": On Nov. 23, nearly 60 tons of crude were let loose on the Baltic Sea's vulnerable environment by the Butinge offshore oil terminal, the third spill since it opened in 1999.

Butinge is part of the Mazeikiu Nafta oil complex. U.S. company Williams, Mazeikiu Nafta's operator, denied responsibility and accused the Italian firm that produced the hose for the terminal. The hose was of shoddy quality, according to Williams.

But the incident has done nothing to change Lithuanians' negative opinion of the professional skills of American management in Mazeikiu Nafta. An investigation of Williams' responsibility by the Lithuanian prosecutor general is ongoing.

5. "Anthrax found at U.S. Embassy": As the nation took a day off for All Saint's Day on Nov. 1, Lithuania became the first country in Europe to report deadly spores of anthrax. They were found in the mail room of the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.

Five mailbags had been sent to a public health center as part of routine worldwide tests of mail sent to embassies from the U.S. State Department, where spores had earlier been found.

Seven embassy employees started taking antibiotics. Fortunately, no one got sick.