2021.10.20 08:00

‘Government called us terrorists’ – Belarusian firms find home in Lithuania

Augustinas Šemelis, LRT TV, LRT.lt2021.10.20 08:00

More than half of Belarusian IT firms have left the country due to repressions following last year’s disputed presidential election. Lithuania is their third favourite relocation destination after Poland and Ukraine.

Since 2020, around 30 Belarusian companies have fully or partially relocated to Lithuania. A number of additional firms are considering doing so.

“There are around 80 firms that either have already relocated [to Lithuania] or are in a process of relocation,” said Lithuanian Economy Minister Aušrinė Armonaitė.

One of such companies is the Belarusian start-up centre Imaguru. The centre was founded seven years ago and quickly became the largest one in the country.

Imaguru openly supported pro-democracy protests that broke out after the presidential election in August 2020. For this, the Belarusian security services searched the start-up centre.

During the searches, all workers “were lined up against the wall with their hands raised”, said Imaguru’s founder Tania.

The Belarusian election monitoring platform Golos is another company currently operating from Lithuania. During the 2020 presidential election, it contrasted the official results, which awarded Lukashenko a landslide victory, with reality.

“More than half a million voters sent us pictures of their ballot papers. As such, we were able to prove electoral fraud,” said Pavel, the founder of Golos.

Now, Golos continues its work in Vilnius. It has amassed over half a million users who are using the platform despite possible repressions.

“Today, we are bigger than most Belarusian media organisations,” Pavel said. “The head of the Belarusian Election Commission called us terrorists, while Lukashenko mentioned us in his annual speech, urging people not to use our platform.”

The last straw in the decision to move out from Belarus was a call from Pavel’s friend with ties to Belarusian law enforcement.

“He told me: [the security services] are interested in you, I recommend you leave the country immediately. This is what I did,” Pavel said.

According to the Belarusian man, he chose to move Golos to Lithuania because he already knew the country.

“I have previously visited Lithuania and had a good impression of this country,” he said. “Now that I have spent a year here, the impression is even better.”

According to Enterprise Lithuania, the government's export promotion agency, 18 Belarusian start-ups have applied for relocation to Lithuania since August 2020.

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