Estonian Economy Minister in hot water over insulting Lithuanians

20.01.2014, 13:24

Estonian Minister of Economic Affairs Juhan Parts is in the middle of a diplomatic row, after Wall Street Journal published a blog posting where Parts was quoted as saying that certain Lithuanian government members were “fools”.

Parts has used the Estonian word “jobud” to describe the Lithuanian government for recent demands made on Rail Baltic, the joint infrastructure project to connect the Baltics to the European rail system.

According to Parts, such demands are slowing down the progress and are putting the whole venture at risk.

In the blog posting, Parts said that there were fools in the Lithuanian government who were under the influence of Lithuanian Railways and are wasting time.

Parts already apologized on Sunday, but the damage had already been done.
Parts was referring to the statement made by Lithuanian Transport Minister Rimantas Sinkeviičius earlier last week that the route linking the Baltics to the European rail system must run through the capital Vilnius, far to the east of the main route, or the while project is off.

Following the publication of the interview, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius told his Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius to summon the Estonian ambassador for an explanation.

Lithuanian government also said that the statement of Parts was undiplomatic and that Lithuania is expecting explanations.

At home, Parts's comments drew censure from Prime Andrus Ansip as well, who called the use of language "inappropriate" and said that he hoped that it will not become fatal for the whole venture.

"I apologize to my Lithuanian colleague for the misunderstanding. Regrettably the outcome of a long telephone conversation about the current status of Rail Baltic and questions that need to be resolved was a blog entry whose maliciousness I found disappointing," Parts told ERR.

Parts refers to the fact that WSJ itself may have fueled the row because in the original posting it had translated the word “jobud” as “idiots”. Later, on Saturday, WSJ ran a clarification in which Parts was further quoted as saying that a better translation of the Estonian word would have been "fools."

Parts has recently drawn criticism also domestically for not apologizing for the problems that the transition to state-owned domestic rail passenger service has caused to passengers. The most recent gaffe of Parts has also fuelled calls from the opposition Centre Party that he should resign.

Marko Mihkelson who is chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and fellow party member of Parts, said that while Parts’ statement was regrettable, it points to a bigger problem, ie lack of cooperation between the three Baltic countries.
“Rail Baltic is a strategically important project that is again testing the actual cooperation capacity of the three Baltic states,” Mihkelson said.

Mihkelson added that the list of projects in which Baltic cooperation has been stalling includes the Ignalina nuclear power plant project, NATO air policing mission, reforming the Baltic Assembly and building a regional LNG terminal.

Rail Baltic, expected to cost around 4 billion euros, stands to get 85 percent of the funding from the EU.