Baltic Reports No 8 / August 19-25, 2019

  • September 15, 2019

Pan-Baltic

This week 30 years passed since Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians held hands all the way from Tallinn to Vilnius to show their resistance to the Soviet Union. In 1989 the Baltic Way brought together around two million people in a 670 kilometre human chain. It was a way to remind the world of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which was signed by the soviets and nazis and led to the occupation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union in 1940. The three Baltic Prime Ministers met in Riga to participate in a symbolic session of Baltic Council.The Baltic Way is one of  the most outstanding peaceful demonstrations to take place on earth and continues to inspire freedom-fighters in many countries around the world. This week, for example, Tallinn-based Hong Kong entrepreneur together with other activists, organised a similar demonstration to oppose Chinese government. The 40-kilometer pro-independence human chain was called the “Hong Kong Way” and united around 135 000 people.

I respect the reasoning behind meeting with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, but that doesn’t mean I would do the same. This is what Lithuania’s president Gitanas Nauseda told to the press after the meeting with Estonia’s president Kersti Kaljulaid on Estonia’s National Independence Day on August 20. Kaljulaid met with Putin in last April and this surprised the Baltic populations. The meeting was not pre-planned and took place as unexpected part of her working visit to Moscow, where she participated in the opening of the newly renovated Estonian embassy. This was the first time in years since a high ranking Baltic official met with their Russian counterparts.  Nauseda said he sees the need to adjust the positions of all three Baltic capitals before pursuing a dialogue with Moscow. For this to be achieved, Nauseda offered to renew regular meetings among the Baltic Presidents. In 2018 the Baltic Presidents met Donald Trump in Washington, in 2017 they met with Germany’s President Joachim Gauck. Previously, the meetings have been dedicated mostly to the relations among Baltic countries and were more often held.

SOURCES: ERR News, Newsweek, Estonian World, lsm.lv, Swissinfo

Latvia

The Harmony party together with their partner “Honor to serve Riga” had been in power at the Riga City Council for more than ten years. With the newly elected mayor Olegs Burovs the decade-old coalition has been restored. The election followed after two-month long discussions among the coalition and opposition parties. Rīga city council has been in a state of turmoil since April when then-mayor Nils Ušakovs of Harmony party was suspended because of corruption scandals. Ušakovs hasn’t been charged and gained immunity after being elected to the European Parliament. In May, another representative of the party “Honor to serve Riga” Dainis Turlais was elected as Riga’s mayor, but resigned after just three weeks in office because of lack of support from the Municipality council. The opposition parties present at the council are not happy with the restoration of the decade old coalition which also includes Harmony party, because of corruption scandals and lack of addressing pressing issues of the capital of Latvia, for instance repairing roads.

Riga City Council made another news this week by proposing  to introduce a tourist fee for companies offering tourist accommodation. According to the plan, the fee would be one euro per day, but the maximum fee per guest would be limited to 10 euros if the guest is staying for longer than 10 nights in a row. The plan is to introduce the fee starting from January 1, 2021. The proposal of introducing a tax had been raised in 2017 and since then discussions have been held with the industry and almost everyone has expressed support, as such a fee is already in place elsewhere in Latvia and in the world. Opposition members at the council have asked the deputies to explain the economic justification for the proposal. In order to control the provision of fees and charges, the City Council would need to develop and maintain special software that could cost € 50,000 to implement.

The new owner of Latvia’s PNB Bank, whose operations were suspended last week, wants to invest EUR 146 million in the bank, according to an announcement posted on the PNB website. The Baltic Reports reported last week that the bank had been asked by the  European Central Bank to completely cease the provision of financial services, including the execution of customer payments. According to the announcement on the bank’s website, the decision of the Financial and Capital Market Commission to suspend the bank’s financial services was unexpected and the regulator will be asked to explain the reasoning behind the detection of the unavailability of deposits. All week people have been standing in lines at PNB’s locations. Other banks will take over dealings with PNB bank’s clients’ funds.

SOURCES: Baltic News Network, LSM, Baltic Times,

Lithuania

Vytautas Landsbergis, a prominent Lithuanian politician published an open letter to CEO of the e-commerce giant Amazon, Jeff Bezos, asking to stop selling products bearing USSR symbols. In the Facebook post on the eve of the 80th commemoration of the Molotov-Ribentrop pact, Landsbergis pointed to children’s T-shirts and sofa cushions bearing sickle-and-hammer. He noted that this is an appropriate moment to stop such indirect “education” and remove symbols of the USSR, a Nazi war crimes collaborator. However, Jeff Bezos didn’t react to the call in any way. Landsbergis’ move was inspired by the international Elves movement, which is campaigning against retailing businesses selling soviet decorated clothing and merchandise using the hashtag ‪#‎Whynotswastika‬ already for few years. In 2018 they approached American retail giant Walmart. Walmart has promised to stop selling clothing with soviet symbols. However, a sleeveless shirts with soviet red stars are still being offered on Walmart’s online store on August 25, 2019. Earlier, the sports clothing company Adidas agreed to remove shirts with the USSR letters and other Soviet Union symbols on them from its online store.

Lithuania is negotiating the purchase of four million iodine tablets to ensure the safety of its citizens in case of an incident at the Ostrovets nuclear power plant. The Russia financed plant under construction in Belarus is located 30 kilometers away from the EU border and roughly 50 kilometres away from Lithuania’s capital Vilnius. This week Lithuanian Health Ministry announced that the tablets will cost around one million euros and will be in advance handed out to people living in the risk zone, which includes Lithuanian capital Vilnius. On August 22, the International Atomic Energy Agency team concluded the review the pre-operational safety at the nuclear plant. Consequently, Belarusian nuclear safety regulatory authority announced a plan to address the identified safety deficiencies. However, the Lithuanian Ministry of  Foreign Affairs announced that the plan does not take into account their recommendations to implement safety measures before the opening of the plant, not after it. The first power-generating unit of Ostrovets nuclear power plant is scheduled for commissioning in late 2019. On September 5, Vilnius Municipality is organizing the first nuclear safety drills. During them one of the major highways of Vilnius will be turned into a one-way evacuation path.

On August 19 and 20 the Lithuanian Navy conducted unique communication trials using drones.  The exercises aimed to test communication technologies enabling real-time information exchange in the open sea. Scientists and marines used aerial, surface and underwater drones to collect information on the maritime environment. In the future such technology should facilitate responding to different challenges ranging from search and rescue operations to the protection of sea routes leading to the seaport of Klaipėda. It is the first project of this kind for the Lithuanian Navy. It is a part of the Baltic Institute of Advanced Technology led EU funded project OCEAN2020. It’s the first project to bring together military-oriented scientific research aimed at enhancing security in the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea from all over Europe. It is one of the first projects funded by the EU Preparatory Action on Defence Research, which is a testing stage of the European Defence Fund. In 2018, project has been launched by a consortium of 42 partners from 15 European countries. This comes during challenging times in the security sensitive Baltic Sea. Projects such as Nord Stream 2, NordBalt Sweden’s Lithuania’s electricity link, intensifying shipping lanes – makes it  highly contested and also vulnerable maritime area. In the framework of OCEAN2020 augmented and virtual reality technologies will be employed for monitoring and control of the maritime environment for the first time. The international drills employing the technology in the Baltic Sea led by the Swedish Navy are planned for August 2020.

SOURCES: LRT, The Baltic Times, Radio Free Europe, Daily Mail, Delfi Lithuania, Belarus News, Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Naval News

Estonia

An American PhD student Keegan McBride revealed that scientists in Tallinn Technological Institute committed fraud. A group of prestigious researchers received funding from the European Commission for a project to improve public services. Around one third of the sum was allocated to the scientists, who were not involved in the research in any way. The rector Jaak Aaviksoo’s first reaction was to deny the gravity of the problem. He lied about not having enough information about the case. Estonian scientists claim that the fraud happened partly because Estonian universities are underfunded. Fraud amongst scientists is common, but rarely anyone speaks about it openly.  In order to keep good Estonian scientists from emigrating and to attract brilliant minds to come to Estonia, the universities are increasing salaries by scheming with project funds. Estonian research and innovation sector receives less than 1,5% of GDP. Only less than half of it comes from the government itself. This is lower than in most EU countries. The average funding for research and innovation in the EU is 2% of GDP.

Next week, the first ever self-driving bus will start serving people on a public road in Tallinn. Major cities around the world have been introducing self driving buses and now Estonia will be the first one in the Baltic region to do so.  The bus has already received the number plate from the Estonian Road Administration. It will be taking people from a tram stop to art museum Kumu in the central park called Kadriorg. The vehicle is made by a Danish company Autonomous Mobility and the operators were trained in Denmark. The maximum speed for the bus is only 15 km per hour.

Religious sect is trying to open their prayer center in a small Estonian town Aseri. To mark this step, the God Seekers Movement organised an international conference in the small town. It involved 250 people from 20 countries. Local Estonians were protesting against the God Seekers Movement that started in Belarus 20 years ago. By now, the Christian organisation has already bought over ten flats and real estate in the tiny town of 1200 people. Local protesters claim that its rather business than religion. The mayor is being accused of cooperating with the religious movement. Estonia is considered one of the least religious countries in the world, therefore, it is surprising that the international religious group has chosen Estonia as their  country of interest. Why Aseri? Because Sergei Šidlovski, the leader of God Seekers Movement, claimed that God has heard the prayers of religious Aseri people. Besides Estonia, the God Seekers Movement’s mission bases are located in Ukraine and Russia.

SOURCES: Delfi Estonia, Postimees, Geenius, Eesti Teadusagentuur, godseekers.net

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