MOLES? An elderly woman detained last week in the Latvian city of Balvi on suspicion of growing marijuana said she was only growing it in an attempt to chase off the moles chewing away at her vegetable garden, the Balvi police reported. The 60-year-old woman told the police that she did not know that the plant was a banned substance. Police said she had marijuana plants weighing a total of five kilograms growing in her garden. She told police the plant's smell apparently deterred moles. She said she fed the seeds of the plants to birds. Latvians traditionally grew hemp to use the seeds for making a dark butter. Hemp can now only be grown in limited amounts for specific purposes and only with the permission of the Welfare Ministry's drugs control committee. Police said the woman was released with a warning. She could have faced a 200 lat ($310) fine.
POLITICAL UNITY: In a move that party leaders hope will usher in a new era where political parties in Estonia are no longer based on language, the Reform Party and the Russian Baltic Party in Estonia on March 4 signed a preliminary accord on forming a union. "All are Estonian; not Estonian or Russian parties," said Sergei Ivanov, head of the Russian Baltic Party and its sole representative in Parliament, after signing the agreement. The Russian Baltic Party currently has 1,200 registered members. "Political division based on nationality will inevitably disappear and be replaced by positions based on one's world view," said Prime Minister Siim Kallas, chairman of the Reform Party. "In Parliament the nationality that one belongs to is seldom discussed, mostly the debate is about other matters such as taxes or law enforcement," he said. Under the accord, the two parties hope to create a single strong liberal political party. As part of their progress toward that goal the parties will have a common ticket in this fall's local elections. If Parliament approves legislation banning multi-party and citizens' association tickets from elections, the common list will apparently be that of the Reform Party. Beginning next week deputies from the Russian Baltic Party in Estonia will take part in meetings of the Reform Party faction with the full rights of members of the faction. Sergei Ivanov is the Russian party's only deputy in the current Estonian legislature. Both party leaders added meanwhile that the merger won't be carried out in a haste. "We don't want the present supporters of the Russian Baltic Party in Estonia to turn their backs on the party," Kallas said.
ELECTION LAW: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe High Commissioner for National Minorities Rolf Ekeus said March 5 in a meeting with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga that his current priority in Latvia was pushing for the adoption of amendments to Latvia's election law. Ekeus and Vike-Freiberga also discussed education reforms designed to make Latvian the only language of instruction in state schools by 2003 and other issues regarding the integration of society and the naturalization of non-citizens. Asked if Latvia should grant to non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections, Ekeus said that for the time being it is not a usual practice in Western countries and therefore it remains a domestic question in Latvia. Ekeus also praised the non-citizen information campaign conducted by the naturalization department. The OSCE's permanent mission in Latvia closed Jan. 1 to the relief of many politicians in the country.
SIGHTSEEING: On March 1, the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian heads of governments gathered in the picturesque Lithuanian coastal resort of Nida to discuss issues to facilitate cooperation between the three countries. An accent was made on the problems of agriculture and energy. Recent plans by the European Commission to cut subsidies for future members of the European Union, continuing EU negotiations, and a possible tripartite free trade agreement were discussed by Lithuanian Algirdas Brazauskas, Latvian Andris Berzins, and Estonian Siim Kallas at this latest Baltic Council of Ministers. A joint statement that emerged from the meeting gave little evidence of a united stand against the EC's proposals except that agricultural issues are the most important problem facing the three countries in the negotiations for EU membership. They also looked at ways to speed up a common Baltic electricity market. Brazauskas called for the Via Baltica highway project to be speeded up so that the road, which dissects the Baltic states from south to north, will be finished in 2003.
TRAFFIC: Lithuania is a country of origin, and to a lesser extent a transit country, and destination for trafficking in women and girls, the U.S. Department of State said in a report on human rights practices on March 5. The report, which evaluates the situation of human rights in Lithuania in 2001, said that Lithuanian police on occasion beat detainees and misused detention laws. According to the document, which is available online at http//:www.state.gov, Germany, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria were major destinations for trafficked women. Women and girls from Belarus, Kaliningrad, Latvia and the Lithuanian countryside are trafficked to the major cities in Lithuania.