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2021.07.09 08:00

LRT English Newsletter: Fighting sanctions with migrants

Benas Gerdžiūnas, Justinas Šuliokas, LRT.lt2021.07.09 08:00

LRT English Newsletter – July 9, 2021.

Lithuania has declared an emergency over irregular migration. With the EU’s Frontex officers and the Lithuanians deploying to the border with Belarus, the situation isn’t looking too good. But what do we know? The increase is notable – from a mere 100 irregular migrants detained annually over the past several years, the number has grown to some 100 people arriving per day, mostly Kurds from Iraq.

Officials are saying that Lukashenko’s regime is complicit in facilitating the transfers, but the exact involvement remains unclear. What we do know, however, is that tourist visas for Iraqi citizens to Belarus – and the accompanying flights from Baghdad to Minsk – have only become available this year. But more on that next week. With many Iraqi citizens heading out from Istanbul, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis also hopes to get Turkey’s help in identifying and returning the people, as well as receiving the know-how from Greek officials.

Meanwhile, critics including the speaker of the parliament, Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, have pointed out the seeming hypocrisy in Lithuania’s plea for assistance from the EU. Just six years ago, the country pretended to close its eyes to the refugee crisis unfolding in Greece, Italy, and elsewhere. Now, Čmilyte-Nielsen wrote on Facebook, “we have become those requesting support”.

NOT QUIET ON THE EASTERN FRONT

The tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions over the past year culminated when Minsk ordered all but one Lithuanian embassy worker to leave Belarus; Vilnius responded in kind. This means that, essentially, all diplomatic relations between Belarus and Lithuania and the Baltic states are close to non-existent, marking a low point since the post-election protests against the regime began last year.

Just a few days prior, Lithuania designated Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and her team as the Democratic Representation of Belarus in Lithuania, with Minsk naming the move as one of the reasons for the expulsion. But despite the title, Tikhanovskaya and her team will not be considered a diplomatic representation with its usual rights and privileges.

The expulsions are also part of a broader tussle between Lithuania and Belarus, not least the border issues discussed earlier. Economic sanctions remain a cornerstone to challenge the regime, with one of its main lifeline running through Lithuania – namely, Belaruskali and its exports via Klaipėda. Although the potash fertiliser giant was sanctioned, loopholes remain unaddressed, while the severity of the blow has also been questioned.

UKRAINE IN VILNIUS

A conference on reforms in Ukraine kicked off in Vilnius on Wednesday, with Lithuanian and Ukrainian presidents as well as the EU’s representatives taking part. During a news conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky outlined the country's EU aspirations, with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal expressing hope for a membership in the EU and NATO in five to ten years.

CORONA ECONOMY

With some 40,000 vacancies across the country, the representatives of employers are trading blows on who – or what – is to blame. Businesses claim that the 212-euro allowance, introduced during the pandemic and equivalent to a third of the minimum wage, is too generous and discourages people from work. Labour representatives, meanwhile, say the same pay for mounting workloads is one of the reasons why.

GET JABBED?

From not enough vaccines to nowhere to store the leftover jabs. With the pace of Covid-19 vaccination plateauing, as in many countries elsewhere, Lithuania is now starting to run out of space to store them. So, why not get jabbed? You can find all the information you need here.

EDITOR’S PICKS:

– A live news conference of Spanish and Lithuanian leaders was interrupted when the NATO air policing mission had to scramble jets to confront unidentified aircraft. All of it caught on tape.

– A man in Lithuania has announced plans to sue Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, for damages over the bloody crackdown in Vilnius in January 1991.

– Several dozen intelligence officers have left Lithuania's State Security Department (VSD) this year amid an ongoing reorganisation of the country's intelligence institutions. Among those to leave is a whistleblower who had informed in 2019 about the allegedly illegal checks carried out on people close to the then presidential candidate Gitanas Nausėda.

– On July 6, Lithuania celebrated the State Day, commemorating the coronation of the nation's first and only King Mindaugas in 1253. Little is known about the ceremony, least of all its exact date.

– For the first time since becoming an independent country in 1990, Lithuania will not have its national men's basketball team play in the Olympics. Sad.

– Hungary has attracted criticism from the EU and some officials in Lithuania for passing a law that will arguably limit information about LGBTQ+ people. But Lithuania has had a similar law for 11 years.

– After the Battle of Khotyn (1673) against the Ottomans in today’s Ukraine, the commanders of the Lithuanian army are believed to have brought some Turkish coffee back to Vilnius, marking the early roots of the coffee culture in the country. So what happened after?

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Written by Benas Gerdžiūnas
Edited by Justinas Šuliokas

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