Monday, November 30, 2009

Chinese Stalk Estonian Businesses

Estonia's daily Äripäev reports Chinese businessmen are stalking Estonian companies for good buys in the logistics and transport sectors. According to the newspaper, the Chinese have offered Estonian businessman Anatoli Kanajev 100 million euros for his holdings in Transiidikeskus which operates the port of Muuga. Kanajev, spotted exiting his weekly Kung Fu lesson and getting into his Chery QQ3, did not offer comment.
Recently, the Economist reported that Chinese businessmen were considering acquiring Estonian Air from SAS. Sources close to the Livonian Chronicle say that once the Chinese actually flew with Estonian Air they quickly lost interest. "You know how Hitler said that he didn't have to attack Russia, that if he waited long enough the vodka would do the work for him?" said LC's source. "Well, that's about how the Chinese feel about Estonian Air. The longer they wait, the cheaper it's going to get."

Güllüoglu: Free Food If You Can Pronounce It

Güllüoglu, a Turkish baklava and cafe chain, has opened a store in Tallinn, and customers are already having fun trying to pronounce it. "I called Ekspress Hotline to ask for the shop's number," said a British resident of Tallinn, "and when I said güllüoglu, the operator hung up on me." In Estonian, the name means "sweaty gonads."
"This is a classic example of misnaming a product," says advertising expert Linnart Linnunina, "much like the Americans calling a car Nova, which meant 'doesn't go' in Spanish." Other Estonians were also skeptical of the restaurant's chances for success. Sirje Potisepp, head of the Estonian Association of Food Producers, welcomed the restaurant but expressed skepticism. "The taste of Turkish sweets is very strange for Estonians," she said in the business daily, Äripäev. Estonians are known to favor less exotic foods such as dried fish, plain white bread, and milk soup.

Latvia Brings Back Debtors Prisons

The Latvian Saeima will review its 2010 state budget bill today. According to the bill, Latvians' personal income tax rate will increase from 23 percent to 280 percent. the government's social partners have criticized the budget, but the PM's office defends it citing the overwhelming success of debtors prisons in Dickensian England. "Also given the fact the CIA took all its Al Qaeda prisoners away in the middle of the night, we now have plenty of unused cell space for those unable to pay taxes," said Edgars Lazo, the Saeima's spokesman for budget issues. "We didn't hike taxes willy nilly. This is thought through with Latvian-like precision."

Meet a Murderer: Belarus Takes Tourism Lead

According to the departments of statistics, Baltic regional tourism is down 20 to 26 % with the exception of Belarus, whose tourism is up 23%. Experts attribute the rise mainly to cheap hookers but also credit the dig-your-own-amber campaign developed by President Lukashenko himself.
Lukashenko has modeled his scheme on kibbutz-style labor programs and advertised it in upscale western magazines as a "tough-love program for overconfident youth." Thousands of upper-middle class youth are sent to Belarus by their parents each week, where they toil alongside the Belarusian criminal class in the mines. "I met a murderer this morning!" said David Jones, child of an American gynecologist from Cincinnati, Ohio. "And I found that aside from him having killed his entire family, the two of us really weren't that different."
Belarus, who campaigns in international corridors as the "fourth Baltic state," is more and more taking the lead in progressive tourism development. Watch the LC for frequent updates.

Balts Compete for Christmas Tourists

Tallinn's Christmas market officially opened yesterday, and its plan is to aggressively vie for regional tourism business. Mayor Edgar Savisaar personally launched the "The Cheers for the Foreign Guy" campaign at yesterday's opening ceremony by scouring the crowd himself. "Are you foreign personage?" asked the mayor in a heavy accent, and then led the crowd in a hip-hip-hurrah cheer once he'd found a Pekka, a visiting Finn from Tampere.
"The idea," says city spokesman Veiko Võtmed, "is not to be dicks. See?" Võtmed flashed a colorful button on his lapel which read Don't Be a Dick. "It's kind of our mantra, our internal slogan, and it was developed by some American consultants."
Similar tourism courses are taking place in Riga where locals are taught that if they must beat or bludgeon foreigners, they should do so while holding a New York City telephone book against the victim. "This way the damage doesn't show externally," said a smiling city spokesman. "No bruises. No nothing!"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Obama and Ilves: the Reality of Presidential Life

The White House confirmed that President Obama had a face-to-face encounter with two reality show candidates, Tareq Salahi and his wife Michaele, who snuck into the White House last Tuesday night to join invited guests for a dinner.
In Estonia this week, Estonia's TV3 announced it had signed a contract to produce a reality show at the Kadriorg residence of Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. The show's scenario calls for 50 college-aged Estonian girls to move into the presidential palace and live alongside the president and his wife, Evelin. "Whether the girls will borrow from Evelin's amazing collection of designer dresses is something nobody knows yet," shrieked a very excited TV3 spokesperson, Triin Chuchufrei. "Will they go roller blading with the first lady? Will the president teach them about Nietzsche? These are exciting questions which no one can answer!" Ms. Chuchufrei noted that this would be the "best Estonian reality show, ever" with possibly the highest budget ever. Sources close to the network confirm the record budget and believe it could exceed 500 Estonian kroons.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The "Heart" of the Baltics?

It was a year and a half in the making, but "Lithuania: the Heart of the Baltics" has finally arrived. The slogan will be carved on a heart-shaped piece of amber and used to welcome the world to Lithuania. "The slogan is simple and clear," its creator Marius Jovaisa explained.
The real story, of course, "is somewhat less clear," said a Lithuanian government source speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The amber was mined by sweaty, shirtless men in a Kaliningrad quarry and smuggled over the border in the bottom of a cabbage truck. And Lithuania, geographically speaking, isn't the heart of the Baltics, but the ass or the feet." The source saw neither as a problem, however, adding that in a recent international study, only Lithuanian schoolchildren were able to find Lithuania on a world map.

Balts Buy Belarus

After a joint session of the Baltic states' economics ministers, the three small nations have agreed to pool their funds and buy Belarus. "We've become so dependent on it in a way," said Lithuania minister Mikas Hedacabbacius. "Every schoolboy knows to get consumers your product has to be cheaper or better. We once were cheaper and now we're not."
The ministers admit the Baltic states are not producing much of superior quality, either, which is one reason many of its producers have turned to Belarus to exploit the still-cheap labor there. "Our software companies are using Belarussian code writers to stay competitive," said Estonian minister Igor Odavpill. "Our furniture makers are operating there. Even Belarussian hookers are providing better thrills for half the money."
The ministers' deal, struck at the eleventh hour after intense negotiations, will grant Belarussian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko EU citizenship, use of a gardener's cottage in Marbella, and the choice of any used Opel off the lot at Tulika Takso. "He's content," said Hedacabbacius of Lukashenko. "As part of the deal he remains captain of the Belarussian national hockey team." An unnamed Belarussian source said Lukashenko was briefly torn between choosing the Opel or a lifetime supply of Estonian girls, but went for the old car noting "it would probably be easier to start."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Epidemic of Silence Reaches Estonia

It seems no one is speaking in Estonia. Medical advisers canvassing the country trying to understand the extent of the threat say it is widespread, but no one is talking about it. Asked whether this epidemic is really just a national trait, a Health Ministry spokesman replied, “No comment.” EU scientists are scheduled to arrive next week to assist in studying the epidemic, provided they are able to find an airline servicing Tallinn.

Ilves Discusses Economic Plight

Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves met yesterday with the representatives of major banks in Estonia and discussed economic conditions. Vahur Kraft from Nordea Pank, Aivar Rehe from Sampo Pank, Priit Perens from Swedbank Estonia and Ahti Asmann from SEB Estonia participated in the meeting. Among other issues, they gave the head of state an overview of the current situation on the loans market and of developments in Estonia. Reportedly, during the interview, Ilves applied for a loan to build a garage to store his Ski Doo Magic ski boat and turkey fryer, but was turned down.

For Lithuania, the World

Now that Lithuania's national carrier FlyLAL is bankrupt, AirBaltic plans to exploit the vacuum by expanding rapidly in that market. CEO Bertolt Flick says five new direct routes from Vilnius will be launched. The airline also plans to offer flexible payment terms for Lithuanian passengers to get them back in the habit of flying.
A special building is under construction just outside the Vilnius airport's main terminal where Lithuanian passengers may trade potatoes, eggs, cucumbers, and other produce from their gardens for airline tickets. Seasonally, chanterelle mushrooms, blueberries, and moose pelts will also be accepted. "It's nothing unusual in Lithuania," said an unnamed airline spokesman. "In the Soviet times you could buy a car or house with blueberries." The produce will be sold directly to Lithuania's VP Market, who will export the items throughout the region. "This will, once again, in a very unique way, put Lithuania back on the world map!" proclaimed Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

Estonian Air Scores Football Contract

Estonian Air has inked a deal with the Estonian Football Association to make EA the association's official carrier. "Cooperation with Estonian Air is important for us because it allows us to travel directly from Tallinn as a football family," said Aivar Pohlak, President of the Estonian Football Association.
Other contenders to carry the football family were Eurolines, Hansabuss, and an Estonian named Toivo who owns three Cessna 150s. Insiders say Eurolines made its bid by delivering the tender documents in a bus with papier mache wings attached to the side. Hansabuss pushed its free-coffee-onboard offering, and Toivo offered to find two more pilots as soon as possible. Estonian Air celebrated its victory with a bottle of Vana Tallinn smashed across the nosecone of its fleet's pride and joy, a Saab 340A.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

British Tourists Down 70% in Estonia

Estonia's tourism from Britain is down 69.2 percent in the second quarter versus year ago reports the UK statistics office. Some attribute the decline to the economic recession starting earlier in the UK than elsewhere.
In the same time period, however, British tourism is up 500 percent in Riga. British travel consultant Nigel Tufnel attributes this to Riga having more large objects to pee on, which he notes is "very popular among the younger British crowd." Tufnel notes that Tallinn has recently erected a 16-meter high freedom cross in order to compete with Riga. "To pee on that, though, you've got to walk up about two dozen steps," which he believes is a strategic disadvantage when compared to Latvia's freedom monument. "In Latvia you need to pee and the thing is just right there." Tufnel speculates Tallinn's monument might appeal more to high-altitude or "extreme urinators," an offshoot sport derived from parkour,

Riga for Christmas?

Riga's promotional campaign to lure visitors to Riga as a Christmas holiday destination have been delayed, and advertisements due to appear on Swedish websites did not appear as scheduled. Tourism experts believe the delay may be due to the lack of a clear vision and not due to lack of punctuality on the part of Latvians. "The campaign will be running by Christmas Eve, I guarantee it," says Ainars Dingleberry, chairman of Frens of Riga (sic), the coalition of local businessmen who have led the campaign to improve Riga's image abroad and attract a better quality tourist.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Viva la Lietuva

LONDON. Lithuania's economic growth will remain "sluggish" for at least three years, Moody's Investors Service said. The country's Baa1 government bond ratings reflect its “high institutional strength, its rising government debt, and its ongoing battle with cholesterol," Moody's said in a sovereign credit report on Lithuania today. Kenneth Orchard, Vice President of Moody's, said "Lithuania's economy has long rested on its rich diet of pork fat, cepelinis, and bacon wrapped banana desserts. This has been damaged by the crisis, and growth is unlikely to return in the foreseeable future.
The problem is one of digestion,” said Orchard. In places like Spain, they have ‘vegetables,’ which come from the Latin ‘vegetabilis,’ meaning ‘things you eat that don’t make you fat,’ he said. “Lithuanian doesn’t even have a word for ‘vegetable,’ which has both macroeconomic and gastrointestinal consequences. For this reason,” said Orchard, “we recommend that Lithuania annex itself to Spain. Spanish vegetables would help Lithuania’s economy and its GI tract. Add some flamenco dancing and sangria, and half the population of the UK would relocate, or at least visit more often.”

Swedbank: “No Bonus 4 U”

The Scandinavian banking group "Swedbank" decided to pay bonuses for 2009's results only to those bank units that operated profitably, BBN reports. This means that the Baltic subsidiaries will receive nothing. Bo Swenson, Swedbank’s Chief Financial Officer, said “Our Baltic business has not developed exactly according to plan. We’ve lost 55 billion Euros, 85% of our loan portfolio is not performing, and we are the laughing stock of the Baltic banking world. So the board has instituted some radical changes. For example, in Estonia from now on, all managers will wear orange neckties. In Latvia, we have turned over the bank to a guy named Dan, who once read an entire book about finance. He is assisted by an electrician, who can also read. And we've placed the Lithuanian credit committee in detox.” Swenson continued, “We remain committed to our team. We’re proud of them, and of their decision making abilities. This is why all managers are still allowed to select their own ringtones, and the hot lunch choices in our cafeterias remain as challenging as they’ve ever been.”

New US Ambassador to Estonia

The US Senate appointed Michael C. Polt as the new US Ambassador to Estonia last Friday. Polt is a career diplomat whose last post was Serbia, and he is known widely in Europe for the aggressive game of Buzkashi he plays. A spokesman for Polt said he was unsure whether Buzkashi was played in Estonia, "but surely," he noted, "the Estonians ride around on horseback and fire Kalashnikovs in the air like other post-Soviet peoples. Or is that the Latvians that do that?" The spokesman noted Mr. Polt has adapted well in all his assignments.

Estonia First in Euro Race

European Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told Austria's Profil magazine that it's realistic only one member state could adopt the euro in 2011. "And it's Estonia," the commissioner said. "The other Baltic states are completely backwards, all full of knuckle-dragging politicians and mouth-breathing electorates." Almunia, who is said to have an Estonian grandfather, noted that he also praised Estonia to the World Bank.
Note: Translation from the German done by LC staff members.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Russian Deputy PM throws dolly out the pram

TALLINN, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov visited Tallinn yesterday to see the basketball match between BC Kalev/Cramo and Moscow CSKA at the Saku Arena. When asked about his visit in an interview with ETV after the match, Ivanov said “I am an official on a sufficiently high level, but I only came here for a few hours to watch a basketball match. As for our political and economic relations – things were going better until just today. I arrived in a very positive mood, ready to clap my Estonian comrades on the back. But now I am of the opinion that the relations will not improve in near future,” said Ivanov darkly, noting that Estonians probably know the reason for that and understand it well. Estonian team BC Kalev/Cramo beat Moscow CSKA 98-15.

Lithuanian Airports For Rent

Over ten months of this year, the number of passengers traveling through Lithuania's airports stood at 16,000, a decrease of 2,930 % year on year. According to Jonas Ksisniglasskvuicius, director of Lithuanian Department of Statistics, the majority of passengers seemed to have simply stopped coming. Of the few that couldn’t avoid the Vilnius airport, 15.9% were from the United Kingdom, “but they were drunk and thought they were in Liverpool, so it doesn’t really count,” said Ksisniglasskvuicius. 12.8% of passengers were from Latvia, 10% from Germany, and 8.4% from Ireland. The remaining 52.9% arrived on U.S. government planes, according to Ksisniglasskvuicius. “We were unable to determine their countries of origin, as they had all accidentally forgotten their passports, and most were hooded and unable to speak. The U.S. government officials traveling with them explained that this was just an elaborate game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ with government interns. At least someone is able to have fun in the Vilnius airport,” said Ksisniglasskvuicius.

Hotel Turnover Down 30 Percent

The Estonian Association of Hotels and Restaurants says hotel turnover is down 30 percent over the past nine months and will fall further in the fourth quarter.
"But this has nothing to do with the city being overbuilt with hotels," says organization spokesman Tanel Tuba. "So what if Tallinn has almost twice the hotel rooms Helsinki has with only a fraction of their economy. We're Estonia, and the usual rules just don't apply to us." Tuba demonstrated his point by leaping in the air for several seconds longer than would be possible in Helsinki. "See, even gravity is different here." Tuba then demonstrated the superiority of the Tallinn market by paying two euros for a coffee at a substandard restaurant.

Tallsinki Tunnel Progress Made

The Euregio company says ship traffic between Tallinn and Helsinki is only a partial solution for cargo movement and is campaigning to begin a profitability study for the Tallinn-Helsinki railway tunnel in the fall. This is pending support funds from Europe, which may be delayed due to other project applications before it in the queue, including the Tallinn-Stockholm bridge and what the EU terms the "impossible dream" of a Tallinn-Riga rail connection.
Despite indefinite funding, Euregio is moving ahead, and hotdog sales rights on both ends of the Tallsinki Tunnel have been sold to Estonian businessman, Alexander Kofkin.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Record Cruisers Invade Tallinn

The Port of Tallinn reported 416,000 cruise passengers in summer 2009--ten times higher than the previous summer's numbers and a record for the port. Visitors arrived in 310 cruise ships operated by 44 different cruise travel companies with passengers from 150 different countries. The roughly half-million visitors bought nearly the same number of bottles of Vana Tallinn liqueur, though most refused to drink it after removing the cap. Many reported giving it to grandchildren for use as glue in the assembly of model boats and airplanes.

CIA Black Site in Lithuania?

Allegations flew Wednesday that a Lithuanian horseback riding school served as a CIA front for the interrogation of Al-Qaeda suspects. Up to eight suspects at a time were kept at the facility claimed ABC News, citing unnamed Lithuanian government officials.
Lithuanian lawmakers launched an inquiry earlier this month, interviewing numerous horses at the facility, as well as waterboarding a dozen teenage riders clad in shumaghs and dish-dash-ahs who previously claimed their interest in the facility was strictly equestrian.

Riga's Finest Embrace Tourist Beat

Latvia's first Tourism Police Squad members have started patrolling streets of Riga. Officials say the TPs are dressed like other law enforcement officers but have better foreign language skills. Training videos released to the press show the TPs have worked hard to master perfectly polite phrases like "Freeze, or I'll splatter your brains all over the attractive Jugendstil building behind you" and "Just leave five lats on the dashboard and walk away." Officers have also been trained to whistle "Theme from Shaft" while they walk their beats.
Municipality police statistics show that while every day a foreigner gets into trouble in Riga - cheated in taxis and nightclubs - it is always the fault of the tourist himself. Brawls in Riga involving tourists, in particular minorities, are also the fault of the tourists themselves. Studies show one tourist in two enters Riga with clear plans to urinate on the Freedom Monument or in other well-known public spaces.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Finnair's Loss, Estonian Air's Gain

The Finnair pilots' strike ended Tuesday, and the airline today announced it will partially restore route traffic to Tallinn. Finnair's Baltic sales director Pekka Pakka Puolokakka said the full schedule will be restored Friday.
Estonian Air enjoyed gains from Finnair's strike, reporting full occupancy in its fleet of Cessna 150s which make three flights a week along the 90-kilometer Tallinn-Helsinki route.

All that Glitters...

Brigadier General Lawrence D. Nicholson, the chief of the U.S. Navy's Second Brigade awarded medals of achievement and NATO mission medals to members of Estonia's Estocoy-E infantry company which ended its service in Afghanistan. "Some say all you'll get out of Afghanistan is some shrapnel in your ass," noted the general. "But that's not true. You also get the thanks of the American government plus this nifty medal."
Estonian General Rihard Relv presented General Nicholson with Estonia's thanks in the form of a Cross pen and pencil set and gold-embossed certificate suitable for framing.

Corruption Up in Latvia?

Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index has released this years results with Latvia moving half a point downward. Last year, Latvia scored 5 of 10 (ten being a "very transparent" country) and this year moved a half point toward "very corrupt" with a 4.5, attributed, some newspapers claim, to increased bribes paid by businessmen to win government procurements.
In the interest of full disclosure, in order to obtain funding for this website, the Livonian Chronicle sent travel gift certificates valued at 2,000 lats each to every member of the Latvian Seima. Communications Ministry officials each received a Cross pen/pencil desk set, with some of lower pay grade receiving a certificate suitable for framing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How (Bad) Am I Doing?

VILNIUS. Only 8.8 percent of Lithuanians see the current government's work in a positive light, a new poll has revealed. has conducted the poll, which shows that 29% of Lithuanians believe “my dog would do a better job governing,” while 23% say the current government would “provide more stability as boat anchors." Approximately 78.6 percent of Lithuania's population consider the Cabinet’s work as “for shit,” while another 42.3 percent of the respondents say they “give up and will annex themselves to Poland." Just 0.6 percent of citizens (approximately 13) see the actions of the Cabinet as "rather fine", but according to, they appear to be the Cabinet members themselves.

Military Menage a Trois

Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine are to set up a three-nation military brigade, in a drive to boost Ukraine's ties with NATO, Warsaw said Monday. Defense Ministers for all three countries will sign an accord at NATO's Brussels headquarters next week. The three-way brigade will be known in army-speak as LITPOLUKRBRIG.
Stanislav Koscielski, a Polish Defense Ministry representative and spokesman for the new brigade said “We have worked hard on this. Competition has been especially fierce for naming the brigade.” He continued, “the Lithuanians suggested the brigade be called KLSZWMRSYSKJANECEK, which is Polish for ‘apple.’ Ukrainian forces lobbied hard for UPYOURSCOMMIEBASTRDS. But after long discussion, we adopted LITPOLUKRBRIG, which spelled backwards is the name of my grandmother’s heart medication.”

Latvia on Sale

In the run up to Latvia’s Independence Day several chain stores, including Maxima and Rimi, will launch campaigns offering Latvia-produced goods for lower prices. “We are proud of our Latvian heritage,” said Rimtautis Kestutis, Maxima Latvia general manager. He continued, “and I am excited to announce our "Independence Day Komplekt," which includes the best of Latvia, for only LVL 19.99." Pressed for what this komplekt will contain, Kestutis said "Booze, mostly. But also tinned fish, fiberglass, and high caliber rifle ammunition."

Finnair Strike Confounds Estonians

The strike of Finnish carrier Finnair has grounded hundreds of Estonian passengers. The airline will refund ticket purchases, but passengers will be out hotel- and rental car expenses, and travel insurance does not cover airline strikes. Estonian passengers have expressed disappointment in their own fashion. "I am furious," said passenger Markus Moorits. “I’ve been planning a trip to be all by myself, and now I will have to do that right here in the airport.”
Estonian Air has retaliated by cancelling its flights to Helsinki. Said Jaanus Lehtimaki, Estonian Air spokesman, “We’ve been preparing for this move from the moment passengers stopped flying with us three years ago. Let’s just see how confounded the Finns are!” Questioned about Estonian Air’s retaliatory gesture, Finnair’s CEO Heikki Nikkunen, said “the Estonians have a jet? I mean, a real one?”

Latvia Parties Dig in Sofa Cushions for Additional 60 MM

The 2010 state budget must be reduced by an additional 55-60 million lats according to PM Valdis Dombrovskis. Since the sofa cushions of the Seima are unlikely to produce more than half this amount, politicians say excise- and personal income taxes will likely be raised.
"It doesn't matter a bit," said a parliament member who requested anonymity. "My wife is already trading our summer apples for meat from a neighbor. My son is trapping beaver on the Daugava, and I've gone back to smoking Belamore Kanals. Latvians will make ends meet." The parliamentarian conceded things were not too different than in Soviet times, "where those Estonian bastards always seemed to be doing a little better."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bring us your dead

Latvian Cemeteries Council chairman Vilnis Bituminieks yesterday offered ‘cemetery tourism’ to Latvia, according to Cas. Said Bituminieks, "Tourists are attracted by famous people, whether they’re live or dead." Cas opines that the idea has merit. It writes that many European cities boast graves of the famous and historically important. Unfortunately, it says, Riga isn’t one of them. Instead, it suggests Riga offer to buy the remains of stars, harlets and politicians from countries where they are noteworthy, and then bury them under the Saiema (Latvia's parliament) building, where little of interest happens now anyway.

10,200,000 Estonians Out of Work

According to Statistics Estonia, the unemployment rate rose to 1146% in 2009, which is the largest number of unemployed since the restoration of independence in Estonia. According to the Estonian Labor Force Survey, currently there are 10,200,000 unemployed people, which is several times larger than the entire population of the country. But the good news is that the increase in unemployment has stopped.
“Sure, it’s good news.” said Eero Sepp, formerly the director of the Estonian Labor Force Survey, “But it only stopped because there’s nobody left to be unemployed. Shit, the government’s imported nine million Uzbekistanis just to fill the unemployed positions.” Eep Pihlakas, former assistant director of Statistics Estonia, agreed. Said Pihlakas, “Our data show there are only 13 jobs left in Estonia, all at Hesburger, and nobody wants to work there.”

Meet Mr. Euro

Although the Baltic premiers have agreed a joint action plan for the introduction of the euro, the Baltic countries will be unable to introduce the euro simultaneously. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said at a meeting with the Estonian parliament’s Finance Committee last week, that Estonia’s 2010 budget must ensure accession to the euro zone in 2011. According to Janis Blumenthals, analyst with SEB Enskilda, Latvia “has a little work yet to do,” and could introduce the euro in 2041 at the earliest. Lithuania on the other hand, has abandoned plans to introduce the Euro. Vindaugas Symkus, spokesman for Lithuanian Central Bank, said “Introduce the Euro? To whom? If the Euro hasn’t already been properly introduced to all Lithuanians, why should it be our job to do it? It’s just silly. We’re the central bank, not a bunch of party organizers for crissakes.”

Greased Lightning

The Latvia-1 four-man bobsled team, piloted by Janis Minins, finished second in this season's first Bobsled World Cup event in Park City, Utah, in the United States on Sunday. Said Minins in a press conference after the race "Shit, that was fast."

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Swine Flew

As the number of H1N1 cases in Latvia surges, vaccines against the swine flu are not available yet. The Health Ministry has begun estimating how many vaccines could be needed, and at what price. Asked in an interview with Neatkariga Rita Avize why he's waited so long to react, the Acting Director of the Infectious Diseases Center Andzejs Johansson answered “this epidemic caught us off guard. We thought it was a fun joke. But it's not. Fun, I mean. But we work fast, and will have estimates already in February, and the vaccine could be here by June.” When asked if that would be soon enough to help Latvian patients, Johansson said “No." In response to the question what Latvians should do until then, Johansson said, "I recommend you put garlic cloves up your nose, 100g of vodka in your throat, and a dead cat around your neck.” When asked if this recipe was sanctioned by the World Health Organization, Johansson said,"WHO?"

Big Fat Dummies

The Wall Street Journal has christened the Nord Stream project, initiated by energy companies in Russia and Germany, the "Molotov-Ribbentrop Pipeline," given the exclusionary agreement between Moscow and Berlin.
Vladimir Krazovksi, spokesman for Nordstream, responded by labeling the WSJ a bunch of “big fat, yellow bellied nincompoop hacks.” Asked to comment on this accusation, Chip Jones, WSJ correspondent said “Are not.”

Estonia declares war, hic

A month-long campaign about alcohol organized by the Estonian Health Institute and focused on people aged 25-45 asks “How much do you drink?”. Some experts say the campaign is misguided. “It should be ‘how much CAN you drink,’ not ‘do you drink,’ " says Ulo Suureots, Director of the Department of Alcohol at the Ministry of Economy. Ivo Vaikesalu, President of Estonian Brewer’s Association agrees. “It should be ‘can,’ as in ‘cans of beer.’ "
According to Eurostat, the average Estonian drinks 12 liters of pure alcohol per week, along with five bottles of vodka, and 40 bottles of beer. This is twice as much as is considered possible by the World Health Organization and gives Estonia the 2nd position in total consumption worldwide after Russia, which has 187 million more drinkers. The campaign, financed by the Estonian Social Fund, will be launched next week by the Miller Girls, who will pass out brochures, along with free beer samples in bars across Estonia. Asked whether an alcohol awareness campaign should cooperate with breweries, Ulo Suureots said “it’s the only way we could afford to carry out the campaign. And anyway, beer’s not really alcohol.”

Whose Tree Is It?

Tallinn's Christmas Market was featured among Europe's top 20 in The TimesOnline overview of European Christmas markets. While the newspaper provided no rankings, some Tallinners were quick to claim the paper rated them first, since their listing appeared first in the article. "What else could they mean?" asked Taavi Tikkud, spokesman for the Tallinn Hotel Association. "We were first in the article, and first is first. Isn't it?"
The article also noted Tallinn claimed to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, dating from 1441, but failed to mention Riga also claims that honor. "This is just another example of how the world discriminates against Latvia," said city councilman Edgars Lazo. "The crafty Estonians take credit for everything." Lazo named another age-old, unresolved dispute: whether Walter Zapf--Minox spy camera inventor--was Estonian or Latvian.

PR lesson no. 214

Gustavo Dudamel, "the Dude," or "the next Leonard Bernstein," as he's known to Americans, was named music director of the L.A. Philharmonic. Why couldn't Anu Tali have had the job? He's Venezuelan. She's Estonian. (Americans have heard of neither.) He's got Chavez. She's got Ilves. (Americans have heard of neither.) He's got hair. She's got hair. (Americans like both.)
The Livonian Chronicle suggests Estonia begin work immediately to restore Tali's rightful place on the throne.
(Dudamel click thru for NY Times registered users only.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cops Threaten Doughnut Industry

Amendments to the Administrative Code approved Monday provide that the Latvian police will be actually be authorized to impose fines by attaching a ticket to an illegally parked car. The new strategy is thought to improve the current situation where drivers do not approach their car if a policeman is there, waiting instead until he goes away. Under the current situation, Riga Municipality had 9,600 officers bivouacked around the city, collecting a total of $4.25 per day in parking fines.
According to Axels Bertrams, president of the local Doughnut Retailers' Trade Association, these officers consume 400 kilos of doughnuts and 790 liters of coffee daily. "Parking tickets will kill Latvia's doughnut industry." says Bertrams. Instead, Bertrams - who claims to own seven cars parked permanently throughout town center - the doughnut, coffee and automobile retailers' associations will band together and fight this measure. Their campaign will feature the catchy slogan, "Buy another car. Park it where you like. Eat doughnuts."

Something's Fishy in Estonia

Estonia hopes to exchange its cod quota for a sprat- and Baltic herring quota at Estonian-Latvian fishing talks due to begin Wednesday. Russian demand for sprat and Baltic herring is up, and there has been a lack of these fishes in the market. Estonia would like to increase its quota by trading to Latvia its quota on cod, which cannot be filled in any case, according to Tiit Kobakabene, Director of the Fish Department of Estonian Environment Ministry.
According to Kobakabene, cod cannot be caught because they are smart fish. "They see us coming," he says. "Latvian sprats on the other hand, practically jump into your boat." Kobakabene hopes that by making the exchange in the dark, the Latvians might not know what they've traded for. "Last year," he said, "we received Latvia's salmon quota certificates for a Mercedes hood ornament and three magic beans." When asked to comment, Latvian officials deny that actual magic beans changed hands in the swap a year ago, which took place in a dimly lit corridor of the Latvian Seamen Center.

A Presidential Breakfast

The President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves and his Latvian colleague met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Berlin Sunday. The meeting, proposed by Clinton, was held at the Brandenburg Gate restaurant at the Berlin Hilton. President Ilves had sardines on whole wheat toast, and Zatlers ordered kasha with a side of sliced kiwis. Secretary Clinton enjoyed a large stack of pancakes, four eggs over easy, a side of bacon and sausage links, and a glass of fresh squeezed organic orange juice. At a news conference later, Clinton explained how she ordered jelly filled donuts, or “Berliners” for all three for dessert, saying, "to paraphrase JFK, Wir sind Berliner, ha ha ha."
President Ilves explained that “Secretary Clinton was being ironical, because JFK had once famously said ‘ich bin ein Berliner’, which means ‘I am a jelly filled donut.’" "Of course, he didn’t mean to say that” added President Zatlers, adding “what he wanted to say was completely different, and that is what makes international diplomacy so important.” Secretary Clinton paid for breakfast.

State Revenue Office No Longer Joyful Place

Latvijas Avize reports that, according to anonymous sources, the Latvian State Revenue Service has been in a state of chaos since the recent dismissal of General Manager Janis Ozolins. This apparently makes some wistful for pre-crisis good old days. Haralds Berzins, a mid level manager in the State Revenue Service said, “We used to have fun with our job. Sure, we had to collect taxes and all that, but we did it with a sense of humor. For example, every year we would host seminars on funny subjects like Tax Evasion, Offshore Bank Accounts, and the perennial favorite, ‘The Best Lies To Tell During An Audit.’ Nobody took these seriously. At least, I don’t think they did,” said Berzins. When asked if these ‘seminars’ might have contributed to the director’s dismissal, Berzins answered, “Has he been dismissed?”

Estonia Makes World Top 10

The business portal EconomyWatch predicts that only six countries will have even deeper economic decline than Estonia next year, writes EPL Online. The portal predicts that Estonia’s GDP will next year fall by 1,045 percent. The deepest decline will hit the economies of Ireland and Lithuania – whose economies will fall by three million percent. Other countries which are predicted to have a faster decline than Estonia are Equatorial Guinea, Latvia and a bantu village in a remote corner of Swaziland. “Thank goodness we beat Zimbabwe” said a government spokesman.

Eurolines Unlocks Toilet, Turnover Up

In Q3 2009, route traffic turnover of the Eurolines Lux Express grew 16.4 percent, reports Äripäev, though the company's revenue fell 26 percent. "We attribute the traffic increase to finally unlocking the bathroom on the Riga-Vilnius route," said Eurolines spokesman Priit Rumaljalg. "Passengers miss, we clean, and we've determined increase in revenue is directly related to the amount of urine puddles on the floor." Year on year, the company's traffic has increased 23 percent.
On the horizon is competition for Eurolines. The adult entertainment club, Mister X, plans a Tallinn-Riga route for the spring. Mister X already runs a bus for short routes in Tallinn. "We think we know what businessmen want," says Gianni Gianakonis, spokesman for the club. "And it's not free coffee."

Banks Upping Loan Interest

Banks have lately been trying to find a way to increase borrowers’ monthly interest payments, according to Diena. For instance, many who took out mortgage loans from Swedbank have been informed that their loan interest payments would increase due to new debts they may have acquired or because of insufficient money transfers to their bank accounts in Swedbank, or because they failed to send a Christmas card to their loan officer.
Said Henrik Pikksalu of Swedbank’s consumer credit division, “We keep track. The gloves have come off. I’m raising interest rates right across my portfolio for any reason at all. One customer’s rates were increased, and then he made a smart-aleck remark I didn’t like, so I jacked his rates up another 5%. The message here is, ‘Don’t look us directly in the eye, or you’ll wish you hadn’t.’ ”

Latvia PM's Battle Royale

People's Party Chairman Andris Skele will start his campaign for next year's elections today, and Ainars Slesers' campaign (Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way) will get underway on Saturday, reports Diena. The battle will soon be joined by Aivars Lembergs (Union of Greens and Farmers). The three candidates have distinct platforms, with Skele touting his record as a successful businessman: “I have amassed an enormous food-based conglomerate of former state owned enterprises, while also acting as the Minister of Agriculture."
"This is multi tasking," adds Skele, "and it proves I am capable of managing Latvia’s problems, while not neglecting the growing needs of my personal businesses.” Lembergs’ campaign has dispensed with platforms, promising instead to pay each voter LVL 20 to vote for him. “I am the businessman,” is his campaign slogan. Ainars Slesers, asked to summarize his platform, responded simply, “I am the Jesus Christ. Vote for me.”

Lithuanian Hotel Chain to Rule Estonia

The Lithuanian-based Europa Group Hotels plans to enter the Estonian market. "Since our activity on Latvian and Lithuanian markets has been successful until the present, we have set our aim at opening a hotel also in Tallinn in order to offer opportunities of accommodation to our clients in all the Baltic countries," said Romunderias Barauskacavicius, Europa Group's Director of Northward Development.
"That makes a hell of a lot of sense for a Lithuanian," said a spokesman for Estonia's George Bernard Shaw Gastronomic and Luxury Hotel Society. "Tallinn has almost twice as many hotel rooms as Helsinki with only half its population. What we definitely need is a Lithuanian-owned hotel." Barauskacavicius added that people are being trained for the expansion and upgrading courses are held. "Many of our people have already learned to say 'hello' in Estonian." Barauskacavicius noted it was his plan to have the only Baltic-owned hotel in Estonia whose staff greet clients. "This week, our staff is studying 'thank you,' though I understand it's not really used in Estonia."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Estonian Economy like Sweater in Hot Dryer

Estonia's economy shrank between 15 percent and 16 percent in the Q3 vs. YAG, the Finance Ministry's economics department said. Gross domestic product shrank 16.1 percent in Q2, the third-deepest recession in the European Union. "Think of our country's economy as your favorite Kihnu Island sweater inside a really hot clothes dryer," Andres Sarv, the ministry's junior deputy head of economic analysis told Bloomberg News. "And it's getting hotter and hotter in there and soon there's not going to be much left of that sweater, and then all hell is going to break loose when mother finds out."

Mad Car Disease

The Latvian paper Telegraf has analyzed the impact that the economic crisis has had on the car market in Latvia and concluded that Latvia exports large numbers of "very little used good quality cars." What remains in Latvia, are very old cars in a bad condition, that are dangerous to their drivers and all other cars on the roads as well.
According to the article, the drivers are fine, but it’s the cars that cause the record breaking number of accidents, fatalities, and alcohol-influenced shenanigans. BMW and older model Audis are among the most suspect for hooliganism on the highway. Fords are less temperamental, and are safe, as long as they are regularly washed, and fuzzy dice aren’t hung from the rearview mirror. Telegraf recommends prohibiting export of older Volvos, which are associated with literature, tweed jackets, and equestrian sport.

Riga: A Hard Place to Leave

The Riga Tourism Development Office plans to spend 898,000 lats (approx. 170 EUR) on the "Live Rīga" campaign, aimed at attracting tourists who have not yet experienced credit card fraud, and it will be launched in November 23 in Estonia, Russia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Germany. The message of the campaign will be that Riga is great place to come, but it is hard to leave. Riga councilman Edgars Lazo notes that this slogan has basis in fact, since so many foreigners have been physically prohibited from leaving bars until paying exorbitant checks. "It's something we're already known for," said Lazo, "so we're just dialing it up a bit."
Also Riga will be presented as place where the Christmas tree was born, though Tallinn, Estonia, also makes this claim. "What's it really matter whose tree it is," said Lazo. "We open a manhole in the town square, stick the thing in there. It's a tree for Chrissake."

Bertolt Flick, the CEO of the national carier airBaltic, promises each tourist will leave hundreds of hard currency units in Latvia.

Vilnius Hangs in There
Not wanting to be left out of the Baltic Tourism Club for Kids, the City of Vilnius has announced that as of 1 December, passenger fee for all regular flights will amount to just LTL 4 throughout the year, compared with LTL 10.35 in Riga, LTL 31.74 in Tallinn and LTL 55.2 in Warsaw. The new pricing strategy, the city believes, will make Vilnius the cheapest airport for new flights in Eastern and Northern Europe. "We were also going to start a program where you get a small toy each time you fly," said
Gintaras Sheivaloticius. "You know, like in a Happy Meal. But focus group respondents were more interested in free hookers." Unable to provide prostitutes under Lithuanian law, city spokesman promised "sultry stewardesses on every single flight."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Estonia to Attract Russians

Estonian Air to Attract Russians
Estonian Air announced two marketing campaigns to attract Russian tourists to Estonia. The first, an ad campaign targeting the more intellectual population of St. Petersburg, is organized by Enterprise Estonia and encourages Russians enjoy a "short-term occupation" of Estonia. A second campaign targeting Russia-at-large is managed by the Tallinn City Tourist Office and uses the promise "We Have Hot Running Water." Special attention in the ads is paid to Estonia's paved roads, year-round electricity, and abundant hard-currency stores.

Latvia to Sell Latvian Products

In a burst of unbridled inspiration, the City of Riga announced a new store for local products will be built at the intersection of Elizabetes-, Birznieka-Upisa-, and Satekles streets with a total project cost estimated at EUR 3.5 million. "For Latvia this store will be somewhat unique," said councilman Edgars Lazo, "in that it will sell Latvian goods." The ten-square-meter shop is slated to carry champagne, chocolate, Latvia's famous naughty knickers, and a wide selection of vodka, and Black Balzam.
The construction of the new store will start within the month. Heikki Jussjärvi, the Finnish project architect, emphasizes the importance of quality in this venture. “Latvians are patriots, and demand quality. Because the products on display will be of top quality, so must the building be. The German brick, Finnish roof, Swedish insulation, Danish lighting – are all quality. Polish bricklayers, Bulgarian hole diggers, and Czech engineers are already on site. An Estonian interior designer will recreate the Latvian country feel so beloved of Latvians. A Lithuanian company will provide the furnishings." Project financing is from Dresdner bank.

Baltic PMs to Proceed with Euro Introduction
The three prime ministers of the Baltic States agreed at a meeting in Vilnius today that the three nations should strive to achieve the introduction of the euro as soon as possible, as it would positively contribute to sustainable economic development. The leaders did not let pundits' skepticism about their ability to meet the rigorous financial criteria go unaddressed. "Should we fail to meet the Maastricht criteria," said Estonian PM Andrus Ansip, "we are prepared to fall back on the barter system."
As a show of readiness for that outcome, Lithuania's Andrius Kubilius traded a live chicken for a handful of blue beads from Latvia's Valdis Dombrovskis in front of television cameras.

Caterpillar Invades Russia

Caterpillar opened its first factory in the town of Tosno, Leningrad Oblast. The new factory's production is large fabricated components for construction machines. Most of the company's products will be exported to Caterpillar assembling factories in Europe. Caterpillar employs over 400 employees in its Tosno facility. "We require 200 employees to show up every day at the plant," says a company spokesman. "So we played the odds and hired 400."

Biological Time for Latvia?

Sept. 28, not this year. Prime Minister Andris Berzins believes that a time keeping system should be found that would comply with the biological clock of Latvia's residents. "Certainly, a reasonable time keeping regime must be found that would comply with our biological clock," the premier said in an interview on the Latvian State Radio today.

The premier has assigned economy and transport ministers to coordinate viewpoints on changes in daylight saving time. When the ministers will have prepared their proposals they will be reviewed by the Cabinet of Ministers.

"I personally believe that evening comes a bit too early, while in the morning we wake up a bit too late," said the premier. "Of course," he continued, "it could be the beer."
The premier reminded however that the decision against changing the time had been adopted at the Baltic Ministers Council. Should Latvia wish to amend its clocks, it must say about that before doing so, besides the issue also needs to be coordinated with the other Baltic states. He said "We couldn't just go and change the time without telling anyone. They would still be getting up late, and who would make my coffee then? We will continue to give this issue some thought, including the possibility of buying a timer for the coffee."

"Of course, we will coordinate the issues and review them very carefully. Anyone who has anything to say for that matter is welcome to send letters to either the Ministry of Economy or Ministry of Transport, so that the community's viewpoint is clear," said the premier. "But don't call me too early."

Is Belarus Baltic?

On 4-5 November in Belarus, Lithuania's Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Evaldas Ignatavicius took part in the 12th Minsk Forum "Belarus and Eastern Partnership." His speech, "The Council of the Baltic Sea States & The Role of Belarus and Perspectives for Activities," received a four-hour standing ovation. Selections from the speech:

“Unfortunately, my information indicates Belarus is not technically located on the Baltic Sea, making the whole idea moot. We could just as soon invite Mongolia to join our Council of the Baltic Sea States, and what sense would that make?” “No,” the Vice-Minister continued, “we would be the laughing stock of the world of international associations, which we can’t even contemplate. Were Belarus to occupy Kaliningrad, for example, then an associate level membership could be on offer. Failing that,” he concluded, “Belarus should apply to the Caspian Sea Council, which is desperate for new members and opens its doors to any country whose leader is not a tyrant, religious zealot or overly hairy. I believe Belarus may qualify.”