Border Protests in Lithuania and Poland

Exiled Belarusians have launched a multiday protest on their homeland’s border with Lithuania and Poland, calling on the European Union to impose harsh sanctions against the regime of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Demonstrators gathered at two border crossings on June 5, demanding the EU slap “strong and effective sanctions” against Lukashenko’s regime. They are also calling on Belarusian authorities to open land borders for citizens of Belarus and the release of hundreds of political prisoners.

Pavel Latushko, the head of the National Anti-Crisis Management, said the opposition is concerned the EU will not take real steps to punish Lukashenko’s regime. “We can’t wait for Lukashenko’s regime to commit another crime – it’s time to move to action,” said Latushko, a former Belarusian diplomat who joined opposition forces last year. The dual actions are being held at the Babrouniki-Berastavitsa checkpoint on the Poland–Belarus border and the Medininkai crossing with Lithuania.

For the first three days, demonstrators plan to hold rallies and tell passersby about the situation in Belarus, organizers said. If hard-hitting sanctions promised by the EU are not adopted in the three days, the participants are going to block the road to the border crossing.

Earlier this week, Belarusian authorities temporarily banned most of its citizens from crossing the border, citing the Covid-19 pandemic, a move the opposition says is a further step to limit freedoms.

The border protests come a day after an EU ban on Belarusian carriers using the bloc’s airports and airspace came into effect. The EU imposed the ban in response to Minsk’s forced diversion of a passenger flight last month and the arrest of a dissent journalist. The flight incident and arrest of opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich on May 23 and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, caused an international uproar.

In response to the flight diversion and ongoing human rights abuses, the United States and European Union are coordinating a fresh round of targeted sanctions against key members of the Belarusian government and entities.

Currently residing in Lithuania, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whom the opposition believes was the true winner of the election, has repeatedly called for the West to impose harsh sanctions on the Lukashenko regime.

News from LRT.lt, RFE/RL

Belarusians hold border protests in Lithuania and Poland (Photo by  B. Gerdžiūnas, LRT.lt)