Baltic Reports No 10 / September 2-8, 2019

  • September 15, 2019

Pan-Baltic

Half of Russian-language tweets about NATO presence in the Baltics were generated by robots between May and July this year. This was revealed by NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in their quarterly study. The Latvia-based international organisation has been monitoring robotic activity in the region for three years already. They concluded that the coverage by pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets is systematically amplified by fake social media accounts especially during military exercises. Many of these messages originate from the “troll farm” – as they call it – run by the Russian Internet Research Agency. There were military drills in all the Baltic states this summer and Lithuania was targeted the most out of the three Baltic countries. The NATO centre also pointed out that Russian-language tweets by automated accounts are on the rise. 

There isn’t much Baltic-Ukrainian solidarity amongst young people. That is what international consortium of scientists have concluded. The study on Baltic and Ukraine’s youth perception of each other was performed by researchers from the UK, New Zealand, Ukraine and all three Baltic States. The interim report was recently presented during an event at the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis. According to the report most of the Baltic respondents think about Ukraine in terms of international system and evaluate Ukraine’s situation as uncertain. Lithuanian and Estonian students are more optimistic and think that support to Ukraine can make a difference. However, they see partnership-building with Ukraine as viable, only because it is in their own interest, which is containing Russia. Young Latvians think NATO should help but probably can’t win. If Ukraine is in a governance crisis, then it is its own worst enemy and EU or US aid will make no difference. According to Latvian students it’s Latvia and not Ukraine which needs help when it comes to economic development. Meanwhile, Ukrainian students are largely divided over whether Baltic States can or cannot be relied upon. Kyiv students are most optimistic and some of them said that Russia’s threat will lead Baltic states to help Ukraine. Ivano-Franskivsk and Odessa students believe Ukraine is isolated and must help itself, not rely upon others.

SOURCES: lrt.lt,stratcomcoe.org, jeanmonnet.nz

Lithuania

The Polish public broadcaster TVP is expanding its presence in Lithuania by launching a TV channel on September 17. The channel called TVP Wilno will target the Polish diaspora living in the country. Polish speakers are around 6% of Lithuania’s population, but the group is concentrated in Vilnius region where it makes around half of its people. Vilnius or Wilno, in Polish, is of great importance both to Polish and Lithuanian identities. The historic tension between the two nations reaches back to the 16thcentury when the joint state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was established leading to never ending rivalry between the two nations. The new TV channel TVP Wilno is financially backed by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is set to cover Lithuania’s eastern regions, where Polish speakers make the majority of the population, but also honour Lithuanians interested in Polish culture, history and current affairs. According to the broadcaster’s management TV Wilno will be a channel that connects Lithuania and Poland and it’s goal is to develop friendly relationship. It will use a frequency currently used by the long-established TVP Polonia. The frequency was assigned in 1994 on the basis of agreements signed between the two countries.

We wanted to make people aware of the spread of phedofilia in Polish Catholic Church. This is how the Lithuanian film director EmiLIS VElyVIS and the team of well-known actors defend themselves in court. They are facing charges of “disturbing a religious ritual”. In July 2018, they staged and filmed a promotion performance in a church in Lithuania’s Polish speaking town ŠALČIninKAI. It happened during the locally significant Assumption of Mary into Heaven festivities. Actors dressed up like priests were singing religious chants when entering the church five minutes before the holy mass and were inviting church goers to the premier of the Zero Live Show, the live pop musical. Actors were also giving believers fake marihuana joints. These were meant to symbolize the bribes for not speaking out on phedofilia accusations against the Catholic priests in Poland. Locally, the film director VElyVIS is known for producing low quality blockbusters. This time, he is believed to have used the Polish Catholic Church phedophilia scandal to gain visibility for his show. During the last court session, some of the church goers and witnesses said it was their worst life experience. Velykis will most likely be fined with 10.000 euros and each actor with 7.000 euros in fines. Lithuania and particularly its Polish speaking regions are seen as very religious, but the church’s influence is gradually diminishing because of the generation change. Meanwhile, the Catholic church holds its grip on society claiming that around 80% of the population are Roman Catholics even if majority of them never visit the church.

Lithuania’s public broadcaster investigation team reported that since 2017, the Lithuanian Government has spent nearly 50 million euros of public money on self promotion. Government ministries and agencies regularly purchase air time to inform the public about reforms and initiatives they undertake, especially if they are funded by the European Union and normally include a line for publicity in the budget. According to journalists it is often difficult to tell when public funds are used for legitimate ends as opposed to personal promotion of the institution’s leadership. One of the most notable cases found during the investigation is when Mayor of Utena ALvyDAS kaTINAS paid over 4,000 euros to the most watched TV channel LNK to interview him for news report in 2017. The public broadcaster also acknowledges that the phenomenon when politicians are abusing public money for promotion purposes is widespread. All the major private and even self-proclaimed independent media outlets in Lithuania are “addicted” to public funding. This means that people working there who should be performing journalistic watchdog function are rather writing pre-ordered articles. This is the major obstacle for the development of quality journalism in Lithuania.

SOURCES: broadbandtvnews.com, lrt.lt

Latvia

China’s objectives in the Baltic states are preventing the spread of uncomfortable topics related to foreign policy an example being Tibetan independence. This is one of the conclusions that the Riga based Baltic investigative journalism center Re:Baltica has found out in their latest report which focuses on China and in particular its soft power in the region.  China is set to increase its soft power and disseminate Beijing’s worldview through Confucius Institutes. There’s one Confucius Institute in each Baltic country. While the directors are hired and funded by local universities, the teachers are chosen, hired and paid by Hanban, a non-profit government organisation that promotes Chinese language instruction around the world. According to Latvian security services, the Confucius Institutes pose  intelligence risks, because they disseminate ideological messages favorable to China’s Communist party among academics, ambassadors of culture and entrepreneurs. Even though China’s investments in the Baltic countries have so far been insignificant, the Chinese officials have their eyes on large strategic infrastructure projects. One of the examples is 15 billion euros worth undersea railway tunnel connecting Tallinn and Finland’s capital Helsinki. According to ReBaltica’s journalists, this is simultaneously tempting and worrying. Out of  Baltic countries, Latvia attracted the biggest investment from China – 59 million euros.

Latvia’s Internal Security Bureau detained two management level employees  of road construction company Celu Buvniecibas Sabiedriba Igate along with the former long time State Border Guard Chief Normunds Garbars. According to LETA news agency, Celu Buvniecibas Sabiedriba Igate is owned by three Latvian businesspeople and the company’s turnover in 2018 was around 43 million euros. In 2015, the Border Guard made an agreement with Igate for construction of infrastructure objects along the border, and in October 2017, the Interior Ministry allocated additional 31 million euros to the company for strengthening Latvia’s borders with Russia and Belarus between 2017 and 2020. During the construction, non-conformity with the technical specification was discovered. Also signs of money laundering were uncovered in financial transactions of the company, according to the Internal Security Bureau. The Corruption Prevention Bureau recently raided Igate company and questioned its employees in relation to corruption case in another local municipality. 

SOURCES: ReBaltica, LETA, LSM

Estonia

The US government was going to invest nearly 16 million US dollars in a facility for special operations forces based in Estonia. However, last week, the Pentagon announced that instead, it will put this money into the construction of the US-Mexico border wall. There is quite a strong American military presence in Estonia and in this particular base, both American and Estonian forces permanently work and train together. The secret American special forces unit was brought in 2014, when the US president Barack Obama visited Estonia. During the past five years the American government has invested more than 200 million euros in the defence of this Baltic country. This particular base – with a hidden location – was already counting with the additional financial boost.  The United States is the biggest and most important security partner for the Estonia. Recently the US announced that is redirecting investments previously intended to upgrading military sites in several European countries under European Deterrence Initiative. Estonia’s Defence Minister Jüri Luik, wishfully declared that the Pentagon’s decision won’t affect the US-Estonian relations. In reality, the Pentagon’s decision to redirect the investment is a sign of change already.

After almost three decades of struggling, Estonia’s national passenger airline Nordica  – previously known as Estonian Air – will stop operating in October this year. The company won’t be dissolved, but will only operate flights under the Polish LOT airline. Nordica has had many changes in the management, but nothing seemed to stop the decline of the passengers and number of routes. At the same time, Estonians watched how the Latvian company Air Baltic grew, became the number one airline in Tallinn Airport, and ultimately took over the airline passenger business in the Baltics. The Latvian low-cost carrier was established as a joint venture between Scandinavian Airlines and the Latvian state in the mid-90s. Estonia’s Nordica is now putting all its hopes into the cooperation with the Polish airline LOT, but it is doubtful they could ever catch up with the Latvia’s success story.

Soon it may be the end of Estonian Green Party. The state Supervisory Committee on Party Financing recommended the Estonian greens to declare bankruptcy instead of paying fines that the committee has already issued. While in many Western countries, the greens perform well, Estonia tends to be more like the other Baltics where the greens struggle to make it to government. The party polled only 1.8 percent at the general election in March, 2019. The party has been in debt for nine years already, but the recent year has been particularly tough after they were told to pay back the prohibited donations. In 2017, the Estonian Green party elected a new leader, Züleyxa Izmailova, a 34-year-old environmental activist with a multinational background. Many put their hopes in her for the new rise for Estonia’s greens. However, she didn’t fulfill their expectations. The committee’s statement this week painted a gloomy picture. They have advised the party to boost its finances by collecting all due membership fees, and asked it to draw up a financial plan based on its activities. None of this has been done.

SOURCES: delfi.ee, washingtonpost.com, err.ee, postimees.ee,err.ee, aerotime.aero, arileht.delfi.ee, bnn-news.com, news.err.ee

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