‘EU reacts dividedly and inadequately to Belarusian protests’

The European Union’s response to developments in Belarus is ‘divided, deficient and inefficient’. That is what the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius says in a conversation with New Hour. According to him, Europe is leaving the initiative with Russia. “If we really say that European values are important, then we have to respond.”

Lithuania has given visas to at least fifty Belarusians in recent weeks. The best known is opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya. She received a visa earlier this year and brought her children to safety in July. Under pressure she left for Vilnius shortly after the elections. New Hour spoke extensively with Tichanovskaya on Monday.

Meanwhile, several employees of Tichanovskaya have also come to Vilnius to lead the resistance from the Lithuanian capital. Minister Linkevicius: “We do not intervene, but we help those who are in danger. We have a special interest. Belarus is thirty kilometres from our capital. That is also the external border of the European Union.”

Dj’s stuck around turning opposition song

The two DJs who played the opposition’s battle song at a government meeting also fled to Vilnius. That battle song comes from the 80’s and is by rock legend Viktor Tsoj.

The song is called I want change. “Our hearts demand change. Our eyes demand change. In our laughter and in our tears and the pulse of our veins: change! We wait for change!”

Lately this song was played at numerous anti-government demonstrations. The two dj’s were sentenced to ten days imprisonment, but even after that they were interrogated by the security services, says dj Kirill Galanov.

“After all the violence on the streets, people realize: it may not have been your friend or your son, or even you. But that was just a coincidence. It could have happened to you too,” says Kirill Galanov. In prison, Galanov witnessed the mistreatment of men who were arrested during the post-election demonstrations.

“People were beaten so hard that I was surprised they could still walk,” says Galanov. “Not because they disobeyed, because they were on their knees, their heads bent and their hands against the wall.”

Entry ban for Lukashenko

Minister Linas Linkevicius calls the demonstrators “extremely courageous people”. Because Europe still hasn’t made a final decision on the sanctions, the three Baltic countries already announced earlier this week an entry ban against high Belarusian leaders, including President Lukashenko.

In a reaction Aleksandr Lukashenko said that he is considering countermeasures. “He reacts desperate and sometimes not logical,” says Minister Linas Linkevicius. “But he must be careful. Things are going very bad economically in Belarus. We’ll see what he does, but we won’t change our position.”

In Lithuania they follow developments closely, yet Linas Linkevicius was also surprised by the mass resistance. “In the past the protests were never great, there were dissidents, but they were not organized.”

Russia sided with Alexander Lukashenko in the conflict. Linkevicius is critical of Russia’s position, he says. “Russia plays a negative role. They’re not managing the problem, they’re creating it and they’re becoming party to the conflict.”

According to the minister, Europe does not know how to respond to that. “Europe is not consistent. We react very vehemently, but very quickly we get back to business as usual. That’s wrong, because if they pursue an aggressive foreign policy and the price is not high, then they repeat it”

The minister refers to the conflicts in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, where Russia has intervened militarily. “They’re continuing because they think we’ll be divided, not boldly – as usual. That our measures will be inadequate and ineffective in enforcing change. And so far those assumptions have proved correct.”

He emphasizes that the protest in Belarus is not directed against Russia at all. “I believe this movement could be good for Russia. And these people will remember who supported it. You have to take them seriously, they’re not drunks.”