It is extinct on the campus of the European Humanities University (EHU) in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Students get online lessons because of corona. On the outside wall of the university, the Lithuanian, European and Belarusian flag float side by side. Brotherly, despite the tense relationship between Lithuania and the rest of the EU with Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
“ We are a university in exile,” says Maksimas Milta, spokesman for the EHU. “A Belarusian university in Lithuania.” In 2004, the university closed its doors in Minsk under the order of Lukashenko. The Belarusian President did not like the critical attitude taught by the students.
In Vilnius, one hundred and seventy kilometres west of Minsk, the university was welcome. “Thanks to the generous contributions from Lithuania, the European Union and the Swedish government, we still exist,” says Milta. At the university there are almost 700 students, more than 95 percent of them are Belarusian.
Like students, the spokesman is shocked by developments in Belarus:
One of the students is 23-year-old Russian Sofia Sapega. Last Sunday, she was arrested with her friend Roman Protasevich at Minsk Airport. Sapega studies international and European law at the EHU. “In a few weeks, she will have to defend her thesis,” says Tsimofey Mishuevich, president of the university‘s student union.
But the chance that she can actually do that seems nil. “She’s in a KGB prison in Minsk. That‘s all we know now,” says Milta. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus has not changed the name of the secret service. “Of course, we use all our diplomatic channels in Brussels and Washington to exert maximum pressure to get her and Roman free. We put everything on everything, but so far without results. ‘
“Border with Belarus is only 30 kilometers farther”
According to Mishuevich, many students are in shock. “It‘s all this is about now, everyone is engaged in the kidnapping of Sofia, but also with their own safety.” Belarusian students thought they were safe in Lithuania until last Sunday, now they have lost any illusion about it. “We know that the Belarusian security services are most likely working here, keeping an eye on us,” says Mishuevich. “The border with Belarus is only 30 kilometers away, students are terrified. Sofia is one of us, we feel like we can all be next.”
“ Of course we are upset,” says Maksimas Milta. “But it also unites us. It’s not the first time we‘ve had to deal with this kind of setbacks, it won’t be the last time.” According to Milta, two other students and two former students from the university are stuck in Minsk, along with another 420 political prisoners: “We are resilient and know that we must sustain. One day, the terrible regime of Lukashenko will come to an end.”