Lithuania stands up to Lukashenka

In many cities in Lithuania, such as here in Medininkai at the end of August near the Lithuanian-Belarusian border crossing, people take to the streets under the name “Freedom Path”
Image: dpa

Small Lithuania, of all places, sets the tone among its democratically constituted neighbors towards Belarus. The Baltic country is the hope of the protest movement against the dictator.

In the crisis over Belarus and the struggle of a broad protest movement against the Lukashenka regime, it is small Lithuania that sets the tone among its democratically constituted neighbors. Tens of thousands of Lithuanians with a human chain from the capital Vilnius to the Belarusian border demonstrated their support for the opposition at the end of August. And when Aleksandr Lukashenka tightened the screws against the opposition a few days ago, an entire Belarusian university went into exile in Vilnius.

Gerhard Gnauck

Political correspondent for Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania based in Warsaw.

Opposition leader Svetlana Tichanowskaya was brought to Vilnius by the regime under as yet unexplained circumstances after the rigged election, where her children were already and from where she supported the protests against Lukashenka with video messages. Since the beginning of the mass protests in Belarus, Lithuania has consistently demanded that the democratic community of states must act now. It has already taken in several dozen political refugees.


What are we doing in Poland?

MIttenten in the tourist mile, on Zielony Most, the “Green Bridge”, says the fourteen-year-old teenager: “Hey, why is it so perverse here? I don’t actually feel old-fashioned things like that, but it’s cool here. ”Amazing words from a young person who, due to his age, spends most of his time complaining or silent.

A stone’s throw away is the Black Pearl Ship, an historic galleon. Seagulls circle above the Green Gate, which leads to the old town. One hears, typically Poland, just church bells. We are in Gdansk, a city like a doll’s house, just right for a long weekend with the kids. Admittedly, my three children just didn’t want to go to Poland with Papa. And maybe they just reflect a common stance. It can hardly be said otherwise, the relationship of the Germans to their second largest neighboring country is disturbed. A recent study showed that Poles are learning German less and less at school. And in our news there are two main things from Poland: State-sponsored homophobia, which is otherwise only found in religious dictatorships. And constant nagging at the EU, which Poland still wanted to join in 2004.

Search for the tin drum

The Republic of Poland is still a popular destination for us. Poland receives about 19 million tourists a year, about a third are Germans. And a lot connects the two countries. Sometimes it is Günter Grass, born in Gdansk. We get into the so-called Bernsteingasse, the Ulica Mariacka. The yellow stone in the shops everywhere in showcases, the dealers made of amber even build racing cars. But in the middle of it, a cast iron sign says: “Biblioteka”. Books are stacked and lined up on high shelves, an old wooden staircase leads to the upper floor, it looks like “Harry Potter” (and that’s why the children go in with it). Inside, a middle-aged man sits behind the counter. On an old shelf, next to a historical globe: the white and red striped tin drum. “It’s the original,” he claims. “From the film.” And then he pulls one large volume after the other off the shelf and shows old pictures of his Gdansk. “From Günter Grass’s estate,” explains the librarian. He thinks about what might interest the children. The Hevelianum, the children’s museum – unfortunately closed. “Just go for a walk!”

And we do that every day. The old shipyard is in the north of the city, dilapidated and unguarded. The strikes of 1980 began there, the Solidarność union was created around the labor leader Lech Walesa. The historic site can be visited by simply climbing through one of the smashed windows. The children immediately disappeared into the ruins. There are a few information boards for adults. Everything seems highly improvised. Flowers, old photos of the demonstrations on the site, and a picture of the Pope at the time are still hanging on the shipyard gate.

A few steps further, in the Museum of the Second World War, you can put on VR glasses and experience as a resistance fighter how a friend is shot. But then how the Poles courageously kill a few Nazis from the sewage system. I only think about the question of whether it was good to put these glasses on a twelve-year-old. The children want photos next to the real tanks. The museum is not convincing. The world war becomes a dark experience. Get out quickly.

Queues stand for a delicacy

Strolling on the streets of Gdańsk sometimes seems like being in Eckernförde in winter: it is very quiet. The city of 600,000 inhabitants is a sleepy nest. Good for us: one of the central attractions is a children’s carousel. The Karuzela Gdańska has two floors, is eleven meters high and can carry 78 young passengers – on horseback or in gondolas.

A somewhat improvised memorial: Solidarnosc graffito on the Gdańsk shipyard.

And then there is the Pączki. A kind of Polish donut that is sold in a street kiosk. You have to stand in line for a long time, two young bakers knead in the shop window behind glass and repeatedly push gigantic trays into the oven. The particles are sweet and salty, in a number of variations. On the second day, the children can say “Wisnia”, which means: cherry. And anyway, the food: not a day without the milk bar “Neptune”. The classic Mleczny bar is a kind of upscale snack bar in Poland, where the poor eat – and do it well. We eat there every day, sometimes twice. The place is reminiscent of a theater canteen.

The main thing is waffle machine

In the evening it gets very quiet in the city. Anyone who reads “Tripadvisor” and the like comes up with suggestions such as: Kalashnikov shooting without a gun license. Luckily that you are always reserved with children and go to the hotel early. The new Holiday Inn Danzigs is mercilessly modern, with rocking chairs hanging on thick ropes, ideal for hipsters, but none of them are around. The house is one of the old warehouses at the harbor, the historic walls have been integrated into the building. The bar on the top floor offers a view of the entire city. And if you are bored, you can get annoyed by the very weak service all day.

The children don’t care: there is an American waffle machine at the breakfast buffet, a “Golden Malted Waffle Baker”, the dough flows from a large dispenser, a large waffle iron is baking next to it, you serve everything yourself, all kinds of syrup is available. “This is,” the children clarify, “the best hotel in the world.”

Very white, very new: The Holiday Inn in Gdansk.


Belarus does not cancel military parade despite Corona

Dhe leadership in Moscow has long disliked the lax handling of the corona pandemic in neighboring Belarus. The borders to the partner in the “Union state” are closed, flights there, to the annoyance of the Minsk autocrat Alexander Lukashenka. In order to avoid economic losses, he wants to demonstrate normality.

Companies, shops, restaurants and cinemas in Belarus are open. Nevertheless, the situation was “more or less normal,” bragged Lukashenka. According to official data from Thursday, 20,168 people in the country with just under ten million inhabitants have been infected with the corona virus and 116 people have died of Covid-19. However, there are doubts about the information.

Russian President Vladimir Putin found late in the fight against Corona, but authorized his staff to take tough measures. From May 12, more factories in Moscow should be allowed to produce and construction work to continue, but the far-reaching curfew was extended until the end of May.

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Most regions should join that. Russia is a long way from normality and the all-clear: from Wednesday to Thursday, the number of infected people increased by more than 11,000 to now officially 177,160 cases. 1625 people died from Covid-19 – surprisingly few compared to other countries. Anger grows.

End of war parade takes place despite Corona

In this situation, of all things, Lukashenka opens up a delicate front in his ongoing conflict with Putin: that of memory. While Putin, after long hesitation, decided not to hold the parade on Red Square on the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II on May 9, Lukashenka marched in Minsk and invited all heads of state, especially those from countries of the former Soviet Union.

Lukashenka said he had “no basis” to cancel the parade. That is an “emotional, deeply ideological thing”. The parade will be completely “under control” and “strictly organized” and “not affect the health of our people at all”. After all, Lukashenka asked the surviving war veterans, of whom there were a few thousand, not to insist on being taken to the parade as usual.

Lukashenka also announced that he would ask the Russian TV stations to “show our parade to the Russians”; the big Russian channels are seen in Belarus, not the other way around. He admitted that “some” invited presidents may not come “so as not to violate their own restrictions” such as curfews.

However, some Russian parliamentarians had expressed the wish to visit the Minsk parade. “We welcome that. Should they come, ”said Lukashenka and offered to organize flights: a swipe at the Russian cuts in transport links. “We don’t close the doors to our friends and brothers.”

In a telephone call on Tuesday, Lukashenka Putin reported on the preparations for the parade and invited him again to personally visit a Eurasian Economic Union summit scheduled for May 19 in Minsk. Initially, no reaction was received from Putin. As expected, rejection came from the Russian parliament. The World Health Organization (WHO) was concerned about the decision to hold the parade.

Russian correspondent expelled

The deportation of the correspondent of the Russian broadcaster “Pervy Canal” showed how cloudy it looks behind the facade in Belarus: the Minsk Ministry of Foreign Affairs withdrew his accreditation without reason, he had to leave the country on Wednesday. On Wednesday morning, the man had criticized Lukashena’s corona policy in a post. He showed fresh graves, told of Belarusians who no longer have confidence in those in power, of contagions at recent mass events, and quoted a WHO representative who called for distance rules in Belarus.

The normality of Lukashenka, who has ruled since 1994, should include a new confirmation in the presidency in August. Sergei Tichanowskij, a regime-critical YouTube blogger in his early 40s, was arrested on Wednesday; his whereabouts remained unclear at first. After that, a clip appeared on his channel in which Tichanowkij announced a candidacy for the elections and criticized “26 years of dictatorship”. In the evening, dozens of supporters protested in Minsk and two other cities, and 14 people were arrested in the capital.