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2021.10.15 08:00

LRT English Newsletter: Third wave hits bad

Benas Gerdžiūnas, LRT.lt2021.10.15 08:00

LRT English Newsletter – October 15, 2021.

The third wave – although we have lost count how many dips and spikes we’ve had over the past months – has struck Lithuania. On Thursday, the country reported the highest daily count of new Covid-19 cases since December 2020. If you remember, the situation then was truly grim – the hospital staff were falling ill and space for patients was running out.

Now, Lithuania is again the worst affected country in the European Union and hospitals are filling up. Medics and the authorities are calling again for everyone to get vaccinated, with a 100-euro bonus incentive being rolled out for the country’s seniors.

'CHILDREN STUCK IN FORESTS’

The rhetoric in Brussels is slowly changing after previously largely endorsing Lithuania’s pushback and migrant detention policies. The European Commission has summoned the Baltic and Polish envoys to discuss worrying reports of “children stuck in forests” on the border with Belarus. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has also said that Lithuania’s pushback policy is “illegal”. The country’s officials, however, maintain that the current policies are in line with national law, which was updated in August in response to the “hybrid aggression” from Belarus.

Meanwhile, EU’s border agency Frontex has reported potential human rights violations, including “collective expulsions”. As of now, the agency has no plans to withdraw from its mission, Lithuanian authorities say. Frontex had previously cancelled its operation in Hungary.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said Belarus should be the focus of criticism, as it is the one organising this mess. Footage from Belarus being shared widely on social media shows migrants sleeping on the streets, being taken to the border, and crowding the Minsk airport.

But Lithuanian authorities are trying to balance security with human rights, according to the interior ministry, which has proposed a set of new laws that would relax detention conditions and give (some) refugees the right to work as they await their asylum decision.

ECONOMY IN FOCUS

We’ve had a flurry of economic news over the past week. Crucially, the cabinet has approved the budget package, with the national deficit estimated to go down in 2022.

Here are some other key takeaways:
– the government is set to subsidise energy bills for households
– the defence spending is to go up to 2.05 percent of GDP
– the minimum wage is set to rise to 730 euros (before tax).

And there are no austerity measures coming your way, according to the finance minister. In other (Minsk related) economic news, the Lithuanian Railways had to suspend a 60-million-euro project due to sanctions. Poland’s oil giant Orlen, meanwhile, is set to invest 641 million euros into its refinery in Lithuania.

SURVIVING MINSK

Here’s a new interactive LRT documentary about Belarusian exiles in Vilnius. What had begun as a temporary escape is increasingly looking to be a permanent flux. In this new reality, many have found themselves enduring survivors' guilt and learning to cope with traumatic flashbacks. Part one, Borders, is now out.

POLISH-EU SPAT ‘IRRELEVANT’ TO LITHUANIA?

So how close is Poland to leaving the EU? Not very likely, it seems. How important is the rule-of-law spat to Lithuania? Also not very much, according to President Nausėda. Is the situation pleasant? Also no, PM Šimonytė said.

EDITOR’S PICKS:

Checking the Telegram app got a lot more dangerous in Belarus.

– What can music do for the ethnic dilemmas in the Baltics?

– A unique Gulag postcard written by a Lithuanian deportee is now part of UNESCO heritage.

– Lithuania’s utopian urban planning legacy from the Soviet era – have a read.

– A fan of Einstein? Then you will like this new mural in Vilnius.

– And do you like cars? Because we do, and you can find a bunch of cool ones here.

– Or are you a fan of Rolex watches? This guy got you covered – if you’re looking for Rolex-like knives, that is.


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Written by Benas Gerdžiūnas

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