Freedom House Finds Freedom of the Press in the Baltic Countries, But Not in Russia
Freedom House’s annual report on the status of freedom of the press in the world, “Freedom of the Press 2003,” finds that of the Central, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union only nine have freedom of the press. The Baltic countries are at the top of lists as countries having free press, while Russia is rated as not having free press. The report assigns points to each country based on the level of freedom of press in the country. The higher is the score the less freedom. Countries with 30 or less points are rated as having free press. Estonia received 17 points, Latvia and Lithuania 18 points and Russia 66 points.
Book on Holocaust Distributed to Schools in Estonia
A Book about the Holocaust titled “Tell it to Your Children” has been published and is to be distributed to schools in Estonia, according to the Baltic Times (5/2/03). Toomas Parnsalu Executive Director of the Friends of Israel told reporters that 4500 copies of the book in Estonian would be provided to Estonian schools. Another 1000 books in Russian would go to Russian speaking schools in Estonia. The book written by Swedish writers Paul Levine and Stephane Bunfeld tells about the 1933-1945 Holocaust in Europe. A chapter on the Holocaust in Estonia written by historian Selev Valdma was added to the Estonian and Russian editions. In his introduction to the book, Estonia’s President Arnold Ruutel notes there were some Estonians who participated in the Holocaust
Russian Government Violates Bush-Putin Energy Partnership Agreement
Writing in The Washington Times (5/5/03), Ariel Cohen, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, concludes that the reasons for Russian state owned oil company Transneft shutting down oil exports through the Latvian Port of Ventspils are “to punish it [Latvia] for joining NATO and for staunchly supporting the U.S. in the war against Saddam’s dictatorship” and to “grab Latvia’s energy infrastructure.” The Russian boycott contradicts President Bush’s “new energy partnership” with Russia, agreed upon by the two Presidents last fall. Under this policy Russia was to increase oil sales on the world market. Instead of increasing exports, the Russian government’s boycott of Ventspils has resulted in potentially decreased oil exports by 13%. Five major Russian oil companies have asked the Russian government to reopen Ventspils, “but to no avail.” They were told, writes Cohen, not to meddle in Russian foreign policy. “Obviously, something bigger is at stake… Sources in Moscow indicate that Transneft would like to gobble up the Latvian oil terminal or facilitate its sale to a Russian oil company at only a quarter of the price.”
Estonia’s Long Range Radar System Is Operational
According to an Estonian Ministry of Defense press release (4/21/03), in April the Ministry took over the operations of the Lockheed Martin TPS—117 long-range radar system. The $16 million system will extend the range of BALTNET, the joint air surveillance network that monitors the airspace in the Baltic region, by an additional 600 miles to the east and beyond the Polish radar system. Eventually, BALTNET data will be sent to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Under a separate contract, Lockheed Martin also will provide a TPS—117 radar system to Latvia which will be installed by the end of August.
Baltic Countries May Form a Joint Military for Missions in Iraq
BNS reports (5/6/03) that the military staffs of the three Baltic nations have started planning for a joint peace-keeping operation in Iraq. The unit would probably be of battalion strength, a company from each of the Baltic countries and would serve under allied command. According to the State Secretary of the Ministry of Defense, Edgars Rinkevics, the United Kingdom and Denmark have expressed interest in establishing a Baltic unit. Political decision on the formation still have to be made by the Baltic governments.
IMF Forecasts for Latvia Greatest Economic Growth Among EU Candidate Countries
The International Monetary Fund, in its latest report forecasts that this year Latvia will experience the greatest economic growth among the EU candidate nations. IMF had lowered it economic growth projections worldwide due to the war in Iraq; however, for EU candidate states it forecasts greater economic growth for 2003 than last year’s growth. Latvia’s growth in GDP is projected at 5.5% this year, while Lithuania is looking at 5.3% and Estonia at 4.9%. With a projected 1.9% growth rate, the Czech Republic will be at the bottom among the candidate states. For 2004, IMF estimates Latvia’s growth in GDP at 6%, Lithuania’s at 5.7% and Estonia’s at 5.2%. IMF officials noted that Latvia’s progress was due to strict macroeconomic policy and consistent structural reforms.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania Sign European Union Accession Treaty on Joining EU
The New York Times reports (4/17/03) that at a ceremony at the foot of the Acropolis in the ancient Agora in Greece at a special EU summit on April 16, the leaders of the Baltic nations and seven other countries signed Accession Treaties to join the European Union. The Accession Treaty includes general conditions for the ten countries to join the EU. It concludes an eight year European integration process for the Baltic nations. The new members will immediately take their seats as observers in the regular meeting that sets EU policy, but will formally join the EU on May 1, 2004, pending ratification of the treaties by referendums and parliament votes.
Lithuanian Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Entry Into European Union
Lithuania became the first Baltic country to approve entry into the EU when voters overwhelmingly backed the move in a two day referendum, reports The New York Times (5/12/03). According to election officials, 64% of the nation’s 2.7 million registered voters cast ballots—exceeding the required 50%. Ninety percent of those voting supported Lithuania’s membership in EU. Lithuania’s staunchly pro-EU leaders called the referendum a turning point is Lithuania’s history. “This day is as important as the day Lithuania declared independence,” said Vytenis Andriukaitis, Parliament’s deputy speaker. The Lithuanian vote also provides an important boost for pro-EU forces ahead of September votes in Latvia and Estonia.
President George Bush Signs NATO Enlargement Protocols
In the afternoon on the same day the Senate approved NATO enlargement, President Bush signed the treaty protocols in a “lavish” ceremony at the White House, according to the Los Angeles Times (5/9/03). The President praised the seven countries as “examples of the power and appeal of liberty” and as steady allies of the United States. “America has always considered them friends, and we will always be proud to call them allies…They have proven themselves to be allies by their actions. And now it is time to make them allies by Treaty,” stated the President. Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said the new members would be both “active and effective” providers and “consumers” of security. All seven nations signed a letter last February that pledged support for the U.S. war on Iraq.
Senate Unanimously Ratifies Baltic Membership in NATO
On May 8, the Senate overwhelmingly by a vote of 96 to 0, ratified the expansion of NATO to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (AP 5/08/03).The unanimous vote contrasted with the heated debate that surrounded the last round of enlargement five year ago, when the Senate vote was 80-19 to add Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. The United States is the third NATO country to ratify the enlargement. The other two countries are Canada and Norway. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN): Opening the Senate debate on the enlargement, Senator Lugar, Chairman of the SFRC stated: “This is historic for these seven countries, vital in continuing to strengthen the North Atlantic alliance and central to U.S. security and relationship in the world.” He observed that, “The achievement of Europe, whole, free and at peace” will likely be remembered as the greatest legacy of American foreign policy in the 20th century, reported The Washington Times (5/09/03). Senator George Voinovich (R-OH): “These countries already make significant contributions that strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship. They have acted as de facto allies, and I believe they will make important contributions as members of the NATO Alliance.”Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) Cochairman of the Senate Baltic Caucus: “Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have worked hard to become market economies. The fact they want so much to be a part of NATO is affirmation of great hope and great optimism for Europe. I am glad we stood by these countries during the dark hours of Soviet occupation.”Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) Cochairman of the Senate Baltic Caucus: “As Co-Chair of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, I would be remiss to not express particularly ardent support for the accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to NATO. Through working with groups like the Baltic American Freedom League, the U.S.-Baltic Foundation and the Joint Baltic American National Committee, I have first-hand knowledge of the large grassroots public support across the U.S. for inclusion of these noble nations in NATO. These organizations deserve recognition for their decades of work to help liberate and secure the future of Baltics.” Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ): “We are striking a blow for freedom here today.” Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) Cochairman of the House Baltic Caucus: “I know that many have suffered and persevered in order to see the fulfillment of the emerging democracies of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia be brought fully into NATO. Congratulations to the freedom fighters who fought Soviet occupation and to the current leaders who are bringing the Baltic nations into the mainstream of Europe” (John Shimkus Ltr to BAFL 5/8/03).