Migrant crossings: escalation in Lithuania?

So many refugees have arrived in Lithuania since Alexander Lukashenka decided to stop preventing migration flows in protest at EU sanctions that Vilnius has declared a state of emergency and massively increased border patrols. The influx has triggered protests in the country. Now Lithuania, its neighbouring countries and the EU must come up with a far-sighted, intelligent response, journalists urge.

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LRT (LT) /

This is an opportunity for our country

Lithuania now has a unique opportunity to prove its humanity, says Dainius Pūras, head of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, in LRT:

“It is in our hands whether this process becomes Lithuania's success or failure story. ... For many years Lithuania was a tolerant country, but in the Holocaust our country collapsed morally and went along with the extermination of the Jews. In addition, there were the decades of the Soviet experiment, which demoralised Lithuanian society. I see a historic opportunity to really recover as a society. ... If we dehumanise the newcomers to Lithuania, we risk dehumanising ourselves along with them. But if we support them, we also support our society.”

Latvijas Avīze (LV) /

The next route is across Latvia

Latvijas avīze warns Latvia of a shift in the migration crisis:

“In the summer of 2015 Hungary built a fence on its borders with Serbia and Croatia because thousands of refugees were pouring into Europe via Turkey. ... There is no doubt that Lithuania will also build a fence on its border with Belarus. And it goes without saying that the refugees will then seek out the sole remaining open route to Europe - across the Belarusian border with Latvia. How will the inhabitants of the sparsely populated border region react when not hundreds and not thousands, but tens of thousands of refugees come to Latvia? ... Will they remain calm or flee to the west of the country? Or will they call on the great power in the east to defend them?”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

West must show solidarity

Eesti Päevaleht calls for more support for Lithuania:

“The Lukashenka regime's attack is very targeted. Even though everything points to the Iraqis being used as a weapon, people cannot be treated en masse. Each individual's asylum application must be examined separately, because some of these people may really need protection. ... We see that European solidarity is more important than ever. Today it is Lithuania that needs help, but later on it may be Estonia. ... A powerful demonstration of Western solidarity is what is really needed. Perhaps Article 4 of the Nato Treaty will soon have to be invoked to help Lithuania. Lukashenka and his backers must not win this dispute.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Boomerang from Vilnius

Gazeta Wyborcza sees sending the asylum seekers back to Belarus as a clever move:

“Lukashenka wants to continue the game with the migrants in order to provoke a profound crisis in Lithuania - and thus in the entire European Union. ... But if Vilnius is consistent and sends the migrants back despite Lukashenka's threats, the wave of returning refugees will become a major problem for Lukashenka to deal with. Now he will have to take in the 'tourists' who are fascinated by the 'civilisation and culture' of his country, house them in camps and keep them occupied. Some of them will probably try their luck in Russia, which is easily accessible from Belarus. And the Kremlin, which is afraid of Islamists, won't like that.”

Neatkarīgā (LV) /

Just sending blankets is cowardly

Neatkarīgā criticises Brussels:

“There is a possibility that the EU will continue to sleep, sucking its paw like a bear in hibernation. Instead of introducing sanctions against Lukashenka's regime so that he regrets the operation involving the refugees from Baghdad, it may continue with its cowardly behaviour and just send tents and blankets to Lithuania so that the refugees don't freeze to death. Lukashenka is counting on such a reaction. We can only hope that Lukashenka will not be proven right.”

Delfi (LT) /

Only the military can help now

Commenting in Delfi, columnist Andrius Užkalnis calls for the army to take the lead:

“Officers forecast, plan and check information before resorting to armed operations. The politicians just put out fires and act chaotically - exactly as we are seeing now. The problem is that civilians and people in government who have no specific military training often don't know the answers to the questions because they don't even come up with the questions. ... People in uniforms who are qualified and think systematically would really help us in this chaos, so that in spring we still have our Lithuania and not a battlefield full of refugee tents, fire and partisans in the forests.”

LRT (LT) /

Poland supporting scaremongering

Polish journalist Karol Wilczyńsk comments in Lrt that the situation in Lithuania is reminiscent of the refugee crisis of 2015 and Poland's reaction to it:

“The fact is that in Lithuania - as in many EU countries in 2015 - many politicians started a scaremongering campaign. One difference now is that they're also getting support from abroad, especially from Poland. The PiS was successful with a similar campaign in Poland in 2015.”

Ukrajinska Prawda (UA) /

Things could blow up any moment now

Maria Avdeeva of the Ukrainian organisation European Expert Association and Yuri Panchenko, editor of Ukrayinska Pravda, warn how explosive the situation is:

“The Belarusian border police have already declared that Lithuania is turning migrants back to Belarus, threatening them with violence, and Lukashenka had threatened the EU by stating that armed migrants could appear at the border as well. Lithuania in turn has declared it will send everyone back who entered the country illegally. In such a situation, a provocation or artificially organised armed clashes could occur on the border at any time.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Vilnius's backbone is admirable

Lithuania's clear stance towards its autocratic neighbours not only deserves support but is highly commendable, La Repubblica writes:

“For some time now, Vilnius's diplomacy has been the most progressive in Europe in the confrontations with the regimes of Putin and Lukashenko. Growing numbers of Russian dissidents live in Vilnius, and its geographical location between the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus is of strategic importance for the Atlantic alliance in terms of guarding the borders of the new "Iron Curtain". Lithuania has granted Svetlana Tikhanovskaya [the opposition politician who fled into exile] the diplomatic status of an "official guest" and is willing to recognise a Belarusian government in exile in Vilnius in the event that the opposition leader decides to appoint one.”

Vzglyad (RU) /

One step further than Erdoğan

Wsgljad considers the situation to be a dangerous precedent for political coercion using guided streams of refugees:

“Turkish President Erdoğan, who weaponised a wave of refugees, was a pioneer in this regard. And he mostly got what he wanted: Europe began to pay its way out of the situation and agreed to a deal with Ankara. ... However, Turkey was already a transit country. ... Lukashenka has gone further: he organised and stimulated this crisis. If the EU does not find an effective way to fight back or even makes concessions, then the method of using migrants as a weapon will be recognised as successful. Which means that it will become part of other interested countries' political arsenals.”

Delfi (LT) /

Racism ignored for too long

Commenting in Delfi, the head of the Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, Jūratė Juškaitė, is not surprised by the protests:

“For a long time people said that since there were no black people in Lithuania, there was no racism. ... Last summer there was a wave of indignation when mainly young people in Vilnius organised a Black Lives Matter protest to show solidarity with black people who experienced excessive police violence. ... For years people have turned a blind eye to racism and the lacking acceptance of people who are different. The issue was considered marginal even though several surveys have clearly shown that we need to talk about it much more in our society. A few cultural and educational projects were organised to show that something was being done, and then quickly shelved - and that was that.”

LRT (LT) /

Government only has itself to blame for protests

Vilnius is deciding what happens to the refugees without consulting the people, LRT criticises:

“Unfortunately, the government ignored Lukashenka's statements about the migrants for a long time and did not prepare for this situation. This is why decisions are now being made at the last second, without consultation with the municipalities. ... The clearest example: the situation in Dieveniškės. It's really hard to understand why this municipality didn't know about the plan for a fortnight and only found out from the media that the migrants were to be accommodated there. Even more absurd was the behaviour of the officials, who arrived in this small town with a heavy police escort and were probably meant to appear scary. And they call that dialogue. Of course people get angry. This is not about racism, but about the arrogance of the government.”

Vzglyad (RU) /

Lukashenka skillfully trolling the Baltics

Commenting in Vsglyad, Latvian journalist Yuri Alexeyev voices admiration for how skilfully Lukashenka is destabilising the neighbouring countries with the migrant transit:

“Latvians look at what is happening [in Lithuania] with horror. Latvia also has a 200-kilometre-long border with Belarus, but it's further away from Poland than Lithuania's is. That't protecting them for now. For now. 'Batka' [Lukashenka] is a Jack of all trades. Or as today's youth would put it: a 'level 80 troll'. Modern geopolitics is all about constant, blatant trolling. Batka plays by their rules and wins. According to the principle: You have smashed and Maidanised everything for me here - but in return I will organise a Maidan for you that will make your eyes pop.”