Dancing storks and murky deals

Have you met  Ivartito, the dancing stork?  He’s the new mascot for the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup to be hosted by Lithuania. Yes, it’s the first time I hear about futsal too (it’s football played on a hard court indoors), but the mascot introduced this week is very cute – and his somewhat Spanish-sounding name must be a Lithuanian inside joke, meaning something along the lines of Goal-ito.

BALTIC BUBBLE DEAD AND BURIED

The Baltic travel bubble burst a few weeks ago, when Latvia imposed self-quarantine on travellers from Estonia, but now it’s truly over as Lithuanians  cannot travel to the neighbouring country freely   either.

This has the borderland businesses  fearing that they will be particularly affected  .

SECOND WAVE

Lithuania has been reporting significantly higher numbers of new coronavirus cases. The daily increase of infections hit a new high last Saturday, with  99 cases  , and crossed into the three-digit zone with  138 cases on Thursday  .

It doesn’t seem, however, that the government is planning any tough new measures. The health minister has said that most of the new cases are from around three towns, which have stepped up rules for events and schooling, but a  national lockdown would be unjustifiable  .

However, employers have been advised to let their workers  do their jobs from home   and there will not be any  city festivals or harvest fairs   this year, the prime minister said.

PLAYING SAFE

Seven companies are close to trialing coronavirus vaccines and  Lithuania has decided to make purchase deals with all of them  . While it is unlikely that all will prove viable – hence the need to agree with more than one – Lithuania may end up paying for more than it needs. It’s a risk worth taking, the government says, and has committed up to 125 million euros for the purchase.

DRAMA AND FARCE IN BELARUS

Lithuania does not recognise Alexander Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus even after his clandestine inauguration ceremony on Wednesday, according to the MFA. His main rival in the election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, claimed from Vilnius that  Lukashenko’s ceremony was a farce and effectively meant his resignation  , while Lithuania’s Belarusian community  held a protest outside the Minsk embassy  .

As protests and crackdowns in the neighbouring country continue, Lithuania has  granted humanitarian entry to 262 Belarusians   – 69 of them have already arrived. Meanwhile, Vilnius continues  advocating for a new election   and President  Nausėda dedicated a good deal of his UNGA address to Belarus  .

Most ordinary Lithuanians  support the government’s tough stance on Lukashenko  , a survey has shown, even if some of their  elected representatives seem to be more ambivalent  .

The resulting tensions between Vilnius and Minsk have  encumbered business   across the border, as Belarus customs  stepped up checks  .

FINCEN LEAKS AND THE BALTICS

The FinCEN files, a trove of leaked documents about suspicious bank transactions, gave a glimpse of money flows to and from the Baltics,  including Lithuania  . While investigative reports based on the leaks keep coming,  Latvia’s banks seem to be among the biggest offenders  , servicing  Russian tycoons   and  Ukrainian oligarchs  , according to investigations by Re:Baltica.

NEO-NAZI JAILED

A 21-year-old neo-Nazi, who attempted to blow up a home-made bomb outside a Western Union office in Vilnius,  was handed a 28-month prison sentence  . The judges said the youth, who affiliates himself with the extremist Feuerkrieg Division, regretted his action and there was no evidence he actually wanted to kill anyone.

FIRST LADY PROBLEMS

Lithuania’s first lady has  come under fire for her statements about women. Critics say she inadvertently blamed female teachers for the problems in the education system, while the president came out in her defence with a strongly-worded Facebook post.  EDITORS’ PICKS:

– Even if you cannot vote in Lithuania’s general elections next month, here’s a  summary of what’s on offer  .

– What’s it like working for a government-owned newspaper in an authoritarian country?  LRT English interviewed   award-winning photographer Tatsiana Tkachova who quit her job at the Belarusian Zvyazda newspaper when the editors refused to cover the protests unfolding outside.

– Events in Belarus have shown that authoritarian regimes can be quite fragile and collapse after one inadvertent mistake,  says journalist Zhanna Nemtsova  , daughter of the killed Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov. He previously compared Lukashenko to Gadaffi, she said.

– There’s been a veritable construction boom of fountains in Lithuania –  but has it gone too far  ?

– Lithuania is standing up for what Europe should, says German Ambassador Matthias Sonn in an  interview with LRT.lt  .

LRT.LT

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