Back 2020.08.21

Freedom Way to Belarus: Lithuanians Give a Hand to Freedom of Their Neighbours

More than 30 thousand Lithuanians have registered to take part in the human chain to Belarus. This and other initiatives express unambiguous Lithuanian support for freedom and democracy in Belarus. Thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Lithuanians remain conscious of that historical experience. They choose to stand for democratization of post-soviet countries.

This year’s commemoration of the  Baltic Way of 1989 is marked with Belarusian symbols. On Sunday, August 23—the day of the original Baltic Way—more than 30 thousand people of Lithuania are to join hands in the human chain stretching from Lithuanian capital Vilnius to Lithuanian-Belarusian border. The initiative is meant to support Belarusian opposition to the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. The wave of protest has been growing in Belarus since the rigged presidential election of August 9.

“It is wonderful to see such support and unity among the people,” said Andrius Tapinas, the Lithuanian public figure behind the  Freedom Way initiative. “Volunteer organizations, Vilnius City Municipality, the police, the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union, the Lithuanian National Radio and Television joined us on the first day. The support we received expresses the Lithuanian attitude more plainly than any words. We understand the struggle for freedom in Belarus better than anyone else—after all, we were in their shoes a little over 30 years ago.”

He pointed out that due to their own historic experience, Lithuanians traditionally support democracy in the post-soviet countries. At the height of the Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, as well as the illegal annexation of Crimea, both Lithuanian government and volunteer organizations offered material, political and moral support to Ukraine. They did the same for Sakartvelo (Georgia), in light of Russia’s aggression against it in 2008.

Presently, the support for protesters in Belarus is again mounting all across the Lithuanian society. The Lithuanian government has unambiguously sided with the Belarusian society, which refuses to recognize the results of the recent presidential election, that was neither free nor fair. In the meantime, Lithuanian leaders, President Gitanas Nausėda and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis have expressed support to Belarusian society and its leader Svetlana Tsichanouskaja, calling for the international community to do the same, i.e. help stop violence against peaceful protesters and organize the new election.

Lithuanian government, NGO’s and volunteer organizations are also building up material and moral support initiatives. The civic action  Freedom first. Go Belarus! encourages to donate funds for protestors and has been joined by many Lithuanian public figures. Donors may use the special short phone number to donate automatically. The funds go directly to a well established Belarusian human rights organization  Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House. The organization guarantees the proper use of resources, first of all to provide legal and medical help to protesters.

Lithuanian support for Belarus is apparent in spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity as well. The modern dance artist Agnietė Lisičkinaitė has held a special performance  Hands Up. Another dancing event  Dance for Belarus was organized by  Vilnius Night Alliance, an association promoting nightlife activities. The popular singer  Vidas Bareikis announced his intention to donate all income from his upcoming concert. Other artists, influencers and leading public figures also expressed support for Belarusian cause.

These demonstrations of support were met with gratefulness on the part of Belarusian opposition.

“I want to start with “thank you,” – said Anatoli Liabedzka, the former leader of the United Civic Party of Belarus Speaking to Lithuanian parliament. “Thanks to every Lithuanian who has expressed support to Belarus, has gone to the streets or posted messages of support on social media.”

As the regime forces increase the pressure on opposition in Belarus, the parallel with freedom struggle of Baltic nations becomes ever more apparent. On 23rd August, 1989 up to 2 million residents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined hands in an uninterrupted human chain stretching from Vilnius to Tallinn. The action was meant as a commemoration of 50th anniversary of Ribentropp-Molotov pact—the secret agreement of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union dividing influence in Eastern Europe. The Baltic Way became one of the important turning points on the road to Lithuanian independence that was achieved in 1990.

In 2019 the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way was celebrated followed in 2020 by the 30th anniversary of the independent Republic of Lithuania. The Freedom Way to Belarus serves as a reminder that the struggle for freedom and democracy requires continuous effort as no victory is final.

Photo: Antanas Stanevičius