• 2002-01-10
Although 2002 has barely begun and many people are only just rolling back from their season's holidays, it's already clear that this year, the year of the black horse in the Chinese calendar, will be a busy one for the Baltics.

This is the last chance for the Baltic governments to finish the homework necessary to receive invitations to join the EU and NATO - the most important political goals since the restoration of independence in 1991.

And they seem to be working that direction.

Some observers say that Estonia's recent political chaos might endanger the country's chances of joining the desired organizations. Still, "the timetable is set," as outgoing Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar said recently, for Estonia to continue its reforms. Laar, who started Estonia's reforms so promisingly 10 years ago, has made it virtually impossible to turn his country - the Baltic forerunner in many ways - backwards. It doesn't really matter whether the new government is "centrist", "rightist" or slightly "leftist."

Latvia is expecting parliamentary elections in October. The obvious forecast would be, after their sweeping victory in municipal elections in 2001, for the Social Democrats to take power.

But that's unlikely. Many left-wing nationalist voters, their main voter base, feel disillusioned by their partnership with pro-ethnic Russian forces in Riga City Council.

So one or another right-wing coalition could once again come to power, changing faces, not policies.

One of Lithuania's priorities is to settle its troubles with the Mazeikiu Nafta oil company, where an ongoing conflict between U.S. operator and Russian supplier hinders the company's operations.

The presidential race is set to begin as well, although current president Valdas Adamkus has excellent chances of keeping his position for yet another term.

The majority of people in the Baltic states think that this year will be much the same as the last, according to a recent poll carried out in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia by the Lithuanian-British company Baltijos Tyrimai.

Twenty-six percent of Lithuanians, 39 percent of Latvians and 33 percent of Estonians expect a better year, while 40 percent of Lithuanians and Latvians, and 39 percent of Estonians think the year will be the same.

Some 25 percent of Lithuanians, 9 percent of Latvians and 17 percent of Estonians believe 2002 will be worse than 2001.

What is certain is that 2002 will be crucial for determining the future of the Baltic states. So, everyone should do their best to make it a good year.