The issuance of temporary residence permits to some 2,000 Belarusians has been suspended in Lithuania which is causing concern for everyone here, Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya says.
She and other Belarusian opposition representatives have called on Lithuanian politicians not to introduce new restrictions and not to build an Iron Curtain between the two countries.
“The issuance of temporary residence permits in Lithuania has been suspended for about 2,000 Belarusians. Of course, this is a matter of great concern for us as we do not know each individual case, but most of these people cannot return to Belarus because they will be persecuted or imprisoned there,” Tsikhanouskaya told reporters at the Seimas after a meeting with Lithuanian politicians.
“Moreover, we don’t know the reasons for the suspension. Even in my office, where we really have people who are at risk of being targeted by the regime, most of them have had questions about the extension of their permits,” she said.
On par with Russians
Based in Vilnius since the 2020 presidential election in Belarus, Tsikhanouskaya on Thursday asked Lithuanian politicians not to impose new restrictions on Belarusian citizens living in Lithuania, and instead focus on supporters of the Lukashenko regime.
“We understand the security concern and we are ready to help to identify agents and proponents of the regime. You have to close the loopholes in the European sanctions and stop the funding of the regime’s repressions and the war in Ukraine,” the Belarusian opposition leader said.
She said her office could help the Lithuanian special services to check Belarusians applying for residence permits in Lithuania because it has its own database.
The constant threat of expulsion or loss of residence permits demoralizes Belarusians, she said.
Now based in Poland, Vital Rymasheuski, a co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, rejected claims that Belarusians pose a threat to Lithuania’s national security.
“Today, Belarusians are a people without a state as our government does not represent our interests. Today, we feel like the Jews once did when they had no state,” he said. “Please, don’t build an Iron Curtain, there is not a single state that can overcome the enemy by building a Chinese Wall. (… People who are fighting the regime need support,” he said.
For his part, Anatoli Liabedzka, an adviser to Tsikhanouskaya, argued that Lithuanians traveling to Belarus could also pose a threat to national security.
“I was in a hairdresser’s and I was talking to some Lithuanian women, and they told me how they had gone to Belarus, how wonderful it was, how great the roads were, how cheap the vodka was. When I asked how they got there, it turned out that many buses from Lithuanian tourist agencies take people to Belarus every Sunday. (…) Maybe there is a national security problem here?” he asked.
Amendments have recently been registered in the Lithuanian Seimas, proposing to tighten restrictions on Belarusian citizens living in Lithuania. The amendments would but Belarusian nationals on par with on Russian citizens in terms of sanctions, meaning that Lithuanian would also stop accepting their applications for temporary residence permits through external service providers abroad. Also Belarusian nationals would be required to pass a Lithuanian language exam in order to renew their residence permits, and they would also be subject to other additional sanctions.
The amendments were drafted in response to Lithuanian intelligence reports on the increase in Belarusian special intelligence services and threats to national security due to the growing number incoming of foreigners.
Speaking with reporters today, Audronius Azubalis, one of the Lithuanian MPs behind the mentioned amendments, said he had asked the Belarusian opposition to state in writing which of the proposed norms were of concern for them. In his words, most of the incoming Belarusian nationals Belarus are economic migrants, and some of them are vulnerable to the influence of the Belarusian special services.
After the meeting at the Seimas, Tsikhanouskaya also called for an end to political discussions on Litvinism as it doesn’t have support in the Belarusian society.
“Let’s leave the topic to historians and let’s make it clear that Lithuanian territory, Lithuanian history belongs to Lithuanian people, period,” the Belarusian opposition leader said.
She also proposed drawing up and publishing a joint document on this ideology questioning Lithuania’s historical autonomy.
Lithuanian intelligence identifies Litvinism as a radical branch of Belarusian nationalism, and the activities of its representatives may increase inter-ethnic tensions, although they do not pose a real threat to Lithuania’s sovereignty.
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