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2021.11.19 08:00

LRT English Newsletter: To talk or not to talk

Justinas Šuliokas, Benas Gerdžiūnas, LRT.lt2021.11.19 08:00

LRT English Newsletter – November 18, 2021.

Lithuania’s leadership has been shaken – and seemingly divided – by the two conversations that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had with Belarus’ strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko this week.

In an interview with the BBC, Lithuania’s president appeared to support Merkel’s move in an attempt to resolve the crisis on the EU’s eastern border. Meanwhile, the foreign minister and prime minister have expressed strong scepticism. The PM has called it “appeasement”, while the foreign minister warned that Lukashenko would use any advances from the EU to boost his legitimacy.

To pour more gasoline on the fire, it appears that the German chancellor had informed the Lithuanian president about the call, but the latter did not pass it on to the foreign minister, who said he learned about it from a tweet. (edited)

TAIWAN REPRESENTATION

After months of waiting, Taiwan finally opened a representation office in Vilnius this week. A source of significant tensions between Lithuania and China, the representation will help deepen economic ties, but will not have a diplomatic status, the Foreign Ministry was quick to note.

COVID RESTRICTIONS CHANGE

As Lithuania starts offering vaccine booster shots, the government has adopted a slew of subtle changes to coronavirus rules. They include:

– in order to get the national immunity certificate, people will have to get the booster shot seven months after their last jab

– no more fabric facemasks – only medical masks and respirators must be worn in all indoor public places

facemasks are also mandatory for children in schools. Twelve-year-olds will also need to get immunity passports for out-of-school activities, a move that has provoked a “barefoot” protest

– even if you have been vaccinated (more than four months ago), you will need to self-isolate and get tested after coming into contact with someone with Covid-19

MIGRANT TO MILITARY CRISIS?

Could the tensions over migrants on Belarus’ border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia escalate into military ones? Poland’s prime minister has said Warsaw is in talks with Vilnius and Riga about asking for NATO consultations under Article 4, should the situation deteriorate. Meanwhile, Russia-Belarus, Latvia and Estonia have called snap military drills near their borders.

LOW BIRTH RATES

Last year, fewer babies were born in Lithuania than in any other year of the last two decades. Some say people were putting off important decisions to have children until the pandemic is over. Others note that birth rates have been steadily declining since before Covid-19 – and mostly because young people of child-bearing age have been leaving the country.

RIFT OVER DRUGS

The ruling coalition came a handful of votes short to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of drugs – not making them legal, but just punishing possession with fines rather than jail time. This – along with same-sex partnership – was a flagship campaign promise for the liberal Freedom Party and the snub may lead to serious tensions in the liberal-conservative coalition. Watch this space.

INTERNATIONAL WORKERS

Certainly, employers appreciate workers with more experience, and having worked abroad should be a perk? Not quite – a survey of Lithuanian employers has found that many are reluctant to hire returning workers. For some, local experience seems more important, while others are afraid that Lithuanian workers with experience of working in other countries could be prone to asking for better conditions or higher pay.

EDITOR'S PICKS

– The EU is set to slap fresh sanctions on Minsk for alleged human trafficking, as a stand-off on the Poland-Belarus border continues. But will they make a difference?

– Lithuanian intelligence services, the military, the police, and the State Border Guard Service use hundreds of drones branded with the DJI logo. Meanwhile, the US and Western Europe say there is growing evidence that the Chinese manufacturer Da-Jiang Innovations is collecting data on critical infrastructure, LRT Investigation Team reports.

– By sending migrants to Poland, Belarus' dictator Alexander Lukashenko was seeking to widen a rift between Warsaw and the EU, believes Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.

– US cybersecurity researchers say they have uncovered evidence that the Belarusian government is linked to a hacking and disinformation campaign against Eastern European NATO members.

– While strolling on a Lithuanian beach, a woman found a curious message in a bottle, purportedly from the captain of a drowned pirate ship. After some research, she located the sender – a 12-year-old girl from Germany.

– Internal divisions in the EU have allowed authoritarian leaders to weaponise migration. Poland and Lithuania were only the next two countries to be hit.

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