The Baltic States … a refuge for beleaguered opponents | International news


Belarus’ neighbors in the European Union have turned into a haven for dissidents demanding democracy after the wave of repression they are facing in their country, the latest of which is the presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who found refuge in Lithuania.

Tikhanovskaya confirmed that she had taken the “difficult decision” to flee to Lithuania after the disputed presidential elections, in which the opposition declared victory over President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with the hand again since 1994.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius announced her arrival in his country Tuesday, stressing on Wednesday that “her spirits are high” and she will issue a statement in the “near future.”

NATO member Lithuania, which was also under the rule of the former Soviet Union, gathers a 680 km long border with its southern neighbor, Belarus, and has long been a haven for opposition activists from Russia and Belarus.

The Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, is only 170 km from Minsk, which makes it a “convenient geographical location” for democracy activists in Belarus, according to a political analyst from Vilnius University, Lorinas Gonavicius, to France Press.

The city houses the headquarters of the Belarusian Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, as well as a European Union-funded Belarusian University, the European Humanities University, which Lukashenko closed in 2004.

Political immigrants
“We are helping to spread the information from here because the Belarusian authorities control the internet,” Sabina Aliyeva, an 18-year-old opposition activist who heads the European University Student Union, told France Press.

Vadzim Velaita, a 37-year-old journalist and political analyst, who hails from Belarus but lives in Lithuania notes that this country was “a very natural destination for Belarusians looking for a safe place away from Belarus.”

He added, “If people want to leave Belarus for political reasons, they often go to Lithuania or Poland,” explaining that “after several elections in which we were subjected to repression in Belarus, we witnessed the influx of political immigrants into Lithuania to avoid political persecution.”

However, with the demonstrations that followed Sunday’s vote and are still continuing, Aliyeva said that many young Belarusians who have settled in Lithuania are returning to their country.

“They want to help,” she added, explaining that her family asked her to stay away.

Government in exile
Lithuania and Latvia, which also has borders with Belarus, have offered to take in political refugees.

Lithuania and Poland requested an emergency summit of the European Union on Belarus, while Poland offered to mediate in any dialogue between the opposition and Lukashenko.

Warsaw Mayor Raval Trajovsky said that any political refugee arriving in the city would receive support, calling for a show of “solidarity” with them.

There are about 28,000 Belarusians in Poland, and the country received 37 asylum applications from Belarusians in 2019.

Lithuania receives about 20 thousand Belarusians and has granted asylum to about 55 of them since 2011, while the authorities are now preparing to receive new applications.

And Lithuanian Interior Minister Rita Tanasuniye said that “a plan of measures has been prepared, in case the number of Belarusian citizens seeking asylum in Lithuania increases.”

And Victoria Androkovic, a Belarusian who lives in Lithuania and was also an activist in the democratic movement, asserts that the Baltic country may receive a kind of Belarusian government in exile headed by Tikhanovskaya.

And considered that Tikhanovskaya would turn into a “symbol of freedom” for Belarusians, even from outside her country, adding that “she is the legitimate president.”


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