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2021.08.18 08:00

Colonial and Nazi crimes: How Lukashenko exploits migrants to smear Lithuania and Europe

Andrius Balčiūnas, LRT.lt2021.08.18 08:00

Alexander Lukashenko has invoked colonialism and Nazi crimes to rally support against Lithuania and the West. His efforts may find an audience internally, as well as in the Middle East.

Speaking to Sky News Arabia in late July, Alexander Lukashenko claimed that "the European Union, Western Europe, first of all, are colonial states," adding that "the relationship of the United States of America with European countries is that of a metropole with subordinate colonies".

According to the Belarusian strongman leader, it is the US that is orchestrating opposition to his regime, while European leaders merely follow Washington's orders.

Such statements may resonate with the anti-US sentiment in the Middle East, wary of Washington’s interference in their internal politics. Lukashenko has also insisted that Belarus was guarding EU borders from irregular migrants.

“Lukashenko has repeatedly used the migrant card in order to trump up the importance and relevance of his regime in the region,” according to independent analyst Anna Baraban.

Invoking Nazi crimes

Meanwhile, Lukashenko has not wasted opportunities to lay the blame on the EU. By creating “a hotbed of monstrous tension”, the Europeans are “all taking us closer to World War Three”, he told Sky News Arabia.

Belarus’ illegitimate leader also said Lithuania’s treatment of migrants and anti-Belarus policy were akin to Nazism.

“This is Nazism, only the Nazis acted that way. I cannot say what is going on in the minds of the Lithuanian president and foreign minister. But, in my opinion, they are losing it,” Nikolai Shchekin from the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus saud in support Lukashenko.

Analysts backing the regime have suggested taking Lithuania to the European Court of Human Rights over alleged human rights violations.

Belarusian representatives have brought alleged crimes by Western countries to the UN Human Rights Council in the past. Moreover, the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance of post-Soviet countries, has plans to form its own human rights council.

Moreover, pro-regime Belarusian analyst Alexei Dzermant has suggested that the migration crisis can set off a change of government in Lithuania, as “spontaneous rallies are staged in places where refugees are accommodated”.

“The EU and the USA have made it clear that Lithuania's migrant problem is none of their business,” said Dzermant.

Contrary to his assertion, the EU funds Lithuania’s effort to deal with the situation and has deployed Frontex border guards to the country to help monitor the Belarusian border.

The response of the Belarusian public to the migration crisis, meanwhile, varies greatly, according analyst Baraban.

Part of the population is aware that Lukashenko is using the crisis as a political provocation, but avoid condemning the leader for fear of repression, according to her.

“The second group is quite passive and does not even know about this situation. Finally, the third group, represented mainly by Lukashenko’s supporters, believes his discourse, as well as the narratives of the state propaganda, and thinks that the West is fully responsible for this crisis,” said Baraban.

The crackdown on independent Belarusian news agencies has grown more severe as the regime carries out raids and detentions against journalists.

Lukashenko also refers to the West as Nazis to fuel Belarusians’ patriotism with references to World War Two.

“It is possible that in the absence of other information sources, the active spreading of propaganda materials about the migration crisis and the ‘inhumane attitude’ to migrants in Lithuania was meant to convert more people into supporters of the regime,” said Baraban. “However, there was not a single proof of the efficiency of this maneuver.”

Relied from sanctions

“No matter the reason, provoking a migration crisis seems to be a bold and quite ill-considered move: the Belarusian regime loses money and remnants of its reputation, gaining nothing either on the international or domestic fronts,” said Baraban.

Lukashenko’s rhetoric suggests that Minsk is looking to negotiate a sanctions relief with the West.

Belarus has “Russian support in the whole hybrid operation, which the EU needs to take into consideration when designing its complex and common response to the crisis”, said Pavel Havliček, a research fellow at the Association for International Affairs (AMO) Research Centre in the Czech Republic.

“The ultimate goal of the Lukashenko regime is its own survival and [...] to keep some maneuvering space vis-a-vis Moscow,” Havliček added.

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