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2021.08.13 08:00

LRT English Newsletter: Capitol Hill vibes

Justinas Šuliokas, Benas Gerdžiūnas, LRT.lt2021.08.13 08:00

LRT English Newsletter – August 13, 2021

Comparisons to the Capitol Hill riot were not out of place in Vilnius last Tuesday when a protest outside the Lithuanian parliament, Seimas, turned into a brawl and clashes with the police.

Around 5,000 people reportedly attended the rally against the government’s planned pandemic measures differentiating between those with immunity and the unvaccinated. Calling the policy “discrimination”, the protesters erected a gallows for perceived “traitors” and some even compared it to the Nazi treatment of Jews, eliciting condemnation from the local Jewish community and several foreign embassies.

But things turned really nasty at night, when several hundred remaining protesters surrounded the building, trapping MPs inside and throwing stones at police officers.

Eventually, riot police used tear gas – rioters themselves exploded several sound bombs – and dispersed the remaining crowd at around 02:00. Eighteen officers were injured, a few requiring surgical attention, and 26 rioters were detained.

The protest was organised by some of the same people behind the infamous Family Defence March last May. Another rally is planned for September 10, but Vilnius authorities have said they are revoking all permits hitherto issued and will consider them anew, in consultation with the police.

MANDATORY PASSPORTS

Despite the brawl, and amid growing Covid-19 infections, the government adopted the decision to make a slew of services accessible only to people with immunity. Shopping malls, beauty salons, cafes and restaurants, indoor events will require “opportunity passports” as of mid-September. Initially, public transport and non-essential medical services were also to be included, but were crossed out.

The rules come into force on September 13 – enough time, says the government, to get vaccinated.

CHINA STRIKES BACK

China dropped a (proverbial) bomb this week, announcing it was recalling its ambassador from Vilnius and suggesting that Lithuania do the same.

While relations between Vilnius and Beijing have been tensing up for the last couple of years, the straw that broke the dragon’s back was Lithuania’s decision to open a Taiwanese representation office – and actually call it “Taiwanese”.

A US Department of State spokesman tweeted a message of support for Lithuania. Meanwhile, the foreign minister called the row a “misunderstanding” and pledged to try to get the Chinese ambassador to return to Vilnius.

MIGRANTS STRANDED ON THE BORDER

Lithuanian officers have been turning back irregular migrants trying to cross into the country for Belarus. A human rights monitor observing the action described how migrants were being driven towards the Lithuanian border by Belarusian officers, but would not be allowed to cross into Lithuania.

Relatively few asylum seekers were admitted into the country this week, most of the migrants getting pushed back at the border. However, Belarus would not let them return to Minsk and fly back home, according to Lithuania’s foreign minister. Latvia and Poland, too, have reported a rise in irregular crossings from Belarus.

ONE YEAR OF PROTEST IN BELARUS

It’s been one year since the rigged presidential election triggered mass protests in Belarus, with a corresponding crackdown on the opposition. While the country’s strongman Alexander Lukashenko keeps sticking to power, Belarus has changed dramatically over this year.

Relations between Vilnius and Minsk remain virtually non-existent. While Lukashenko has hinted at resuming a dialogue – without “preconditions” – Lithuania’s foreign minister retorted that only a free and fair election would be acceptable. Economic relations are also coming to a halt, with Belarusian potash transit – handled by Lithuania’s railways and Klaipėda port – likely to come to a halt by the end of the year.

DRY OLYMPICS

Lithuania won one silver medal at the Tokyo Games, the country’s worst performance since Atlanta 1996 (when the men's basketball team brought home bronze). While the nation cheered Laura Asadauskaitė’s win in modern pentathlon, the Olympics drew home the poor condition of sports – “we hit rock bottom”, said the minister of education and sport.

STRIKING COURIERS

Platform economy and its attendant problems are being felt in Lithuania – this week, couriers organised a warning strike to protest changes to the compensation policy by the Finnish food delivery app Wolt. The changes were implemented without any consultation with them, the couriers say, and will cut their incomes. Meanwhile, the company maintains the new policy will make compensation fairer and increase orders.

DIPLOMATIC LEAKS

A hacker claims to have stolen a large batch of classified documents from Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry, some of it allegedly containing quite explosive material. As of Thursday evening, the ministry has only reported an attempted cyber attack.

EDITORS’ PICKS

– Even as the Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading in Lithuania, some people are still unconvinced they need to get vaccinated – and misinformation on social media further fuels the distrust.

– As the world becomes more open to unconventional flavours, chefs in Lithuania this summer introduce a vast selection of bizarre natural ice cream varieties. How about moose antlers?

– Housing rents more than doubled in Lithuania over the last decade, according to Eurostat, the second-biggest rise in the EU. Real estate agents expect them to go up even further.

– Lithuania has received humanitarian aid from 11 EU countries to help deal with the recent influx of migrants. Local businesses and residents have joined the efforts as well, donating food and clothing to migrant camps.

– Although Lithuania said it would grant asylum to Afghan translators and interpreters that helped its troops, ongoing administrative delays mean that the country is “racing against time” amid threats by the Taliban.

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Written by Justinas Šuliokas
Edited by Benas Gerdžiūnas

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