Baltic Reports No 3 / July 15-21 2019

  • August 17, 2019

Pan-Baltic

Four Baltic women were elected to vice-chair positions of various committees of the European Parliament. A Latvian MP Dace Melbārde from National Alliance will be a vice-chairperson to the Culture and Education Committee. A Lithuanian parliamentarian Vilija Blinkevičiūtė from Social Democrats was elected to the vice-chair position of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee. Two co-workers Tatyana Zhdanok from Latvian Russian Union and Estonian Yana Toom from the Central Party will be serving as vice-chairs in the Petitions Committee. The latter two are known for taking controversial steps against their governments’ course by favoring Kremlin’s policies and rhetoric. The European Parliament has 20 committees, each of which elects a chair and up to four vice-chairs forming the committee bureau for two and a half year mandate. None of the Baltic MPs were elected as Committee chair for the upcoming term.

Baltic job markets are moving towards more transparency by adding a salary figure to their job adverts. In Latvia, for example, publishing wages publicly has been compulsory since last year already. Last week, Lithuania’s Parliament voted to make adding the salary interval mandatory starting from next year. The only Baltic state lagging behind is Estonia, even though studies have shown that transparent job ads make the hiring process faster and more efficient. At the moment, only a third of job ads are published with salary figures in Estonia. On the other hand, it has doubled within five years, which means that change is also happening in Estonia.

Latvia

Vice-rector of the University of Latvia, Riga City Council member and a former Justice Minister Baiba Broka has been accused of bribery. She is prohibited from working at the university’s procurement commission, as well as making decisions associated with control and supervision. She was detained for a few nights and later released together with two businessmen associated with Skonto būve construction company Guntis Rāvis and Ivars Millers. According to the Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, she took a bribe, which was registered as a donation to the society. The case concerns a project of building a new unit for the University of Latvia and the bribe amount was at least 20,000 euros. Broka denies all allegations but has decided to suspend her activities as a member of the political party National Alliance while the investigation is ongoing. She has also been prohibited to leave the country. The case has gained resonance within Latvian society because academic personnel is not highly paid in Latvia, while a political person such as Broka has been earning as much as up to 60 000 a year from working at the procurement commission.

A plan to build a liquid natural gas terminal and a gas pipeline in Skulte, a small Latvian port in the Gulf of Riga, is not supported by hundreds of residents in neighboring districts. Local people have gathered more than 2500 signatures against the project addressed to the National Environment Bureau. According to the public media, residents believe that the project does not take into account economic, social, legal and ecological risks that might occur. Skulte LNG Terminal company plans to build the gas terminal in the sea, 2.5 kilometers from the shore. The plan also includes laying around 40 kilometers long pipeline connecting Skulte Port with the Incukalns underground gas storage facility. Skulte LNG Terminal wants the project to obtain the status of an object of national interest because it would make the process of project’s implementation a lot easier. According to the company, the construction of the terminal allows Latvia to gain access to the global gas market and lessen its dependence on Russian gas. Currently, around 90% of gas in Latvia comes from Russia Currently, the only operating LNG terminal in the Baltic States is in Klaipeda, Lithuania.

Three young guys, one of them not even 18 years old, created fake news websites and published fake news stories throughout the spring and summer of 2018 in order to profit from advertising revenue. They used social media accounts to promote their websites where they published false information about various fake tragedies to attract attention. The news was, for example, about a supermarket collapsing and hundreds of people dying or about violent prisoners escaping and threatening people. All of them were untrue. This week marks the end of State Police investigation of the criminal process which was started in summer 2018 following requests from multiple businesses and state institutions. The three Latvians are now accused of disturbing public order by spreading fake news. This case is now going to court.

SOURCES: BNN, LETA, Tvnet, LSM

Lithuania

The first official visit to Poland of the new Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda revealed some details about his style and agenda. During his meeting with Polish President Andrej Duda on July 17, he expressed support to the Polish Government in regard to the rule-of-law dispute with Brussels. However, he avoided commenting directly the most important Polish-Lithuanian dispute on the original spelling of Polish surnames in the Lithuanian passports and offered to discuss the issue in the future. Nausėda won the election with a promise to reduce social exclusion and focus on the creation of a so-called welfare state. The public does not believe that he will put any effort into fulfilling his promises, but he will rather become a pro-big-business President, as a former bank employee. During his meeting with Duda, he asked him to pass the invitation to Polish banks to open their branches in Lithuania.

Lithuania’s next chief of defense, Major General Valdemaras Rupšys revealed that he will not support the introduction of compulsory military service for women. Compulsory military service was reintroduced in Lithuania in 2015. Since then around 3,800 servicemen each year are selected from a pool of men aged 18 to 26. Rupšys says that women can serve as volunteers, but the military does not have adequate housing and training conditions for a large number of women conscripts. He also suggested that the training program may be too physically demanding for women. Major General Rupšys was appointed as the country’s chief of defense by the parliament on f July 18. Until this appointment, the 52-year-old general commanded the Lithuanian Land Force. The chief of defense in Lithuania is appointed for a five-year term.

SOURCES: BNN, lrt.lt; delfi.lt Baltic Times.

Estonia

The ruling coalition loses popularity in Estonia. The two opposition parties combined are more popular amongst the people than the three coalition parties together. This has happened for the first time after the elections in March 2019, a new Norstat study reveals. One of the parties in the coalition, the Central Party, that has traditionally been widely supported by Estonia’s Russian speakers and the elderly, refused to form a government with the winner, the Reform Party.  Five months ago the party decided to join EKRE, Estonia’s hard-line nationalists and Isamaa, a nationalist conservative party. Subsequently, the Central Party’s ratings dropped. This comes as no surprise to Estonians, who have seen the decline of the ruling Central Party’s popularity since the elections.

A ten-year-old boy committed suicide, presumably because of his difficult relationships with schoolmates. Therefore, bullying amongst school children was one of the major topics in Estonia this week. Only every third Estonian school has access to the services of a school psychologist. Bullying is a serious issue in Estonian experts claim. And self-harming, in general, has become a “trend” amongst children. When a school doesn’t have its own psychologist, the responsibility of creating a healthy environment for the students lies in the head of school, spokesperson of an anti-bullying program stated. Estonia’s Minister of Education Mailis Reps started a monitoring procedure to find out whether students have enough access to support mechanisms.

An Estonian expedition ship is setting sail to Antarctica to commemorate 200 years since the discovery of the continent. In 1819, the first Russian Antarctic expedition was led by the Estonian-born Baltic German Admiral Fabian von Bellingshausen. It was intended to explore the Southern Ocean and to find land in the proximity of the South Pole. 2019 marks 60 years since signing the treaty, by which Antarctica is still governed today. The Antarctic treaty sets aside the continent as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation, and bans military activity there. Contrary to the Arctic, Antarctica remains uncontested and is the last unexploited continent on earth. During the six-month journey, the Estonian crew will also perform scientific assignments.

SOURCES: Delfi, Eesti Päevaleht, Postimees, ERR News

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