The coronavirus pandemic has affected Lithuania’s tourism sector, but are local resorts doomed without Russian and Belarusian tourists, as claimed by a Russian-language website?
The Russian-language news website EADaily ran a story this month, entitled ‘Lithuania’s tourism sector frozen without Russians and Belarusians’, describing the ostensible woes of Lithuanian resorts without foreign tourists.
Fake quotes “It’s a pity, we have no Russians or Belarusians yet,” the spokeswoman for the municipality of Neringa, Sandra Vaišvilaitė, is quoted in the story.
It also gives a quote attributed to Neringa Mayor Darius Jasaitis, saying that Neringa, the municipality covering Lithuania’s Curonian Spit, was planning to double the environmental fee for entering tourists.
“Even 60 euros is little money for those who plan to relax luxuriously,” Jasaitis allegedly says, adding that “if we talk about guests from Russia and Belarus, for them it’s not money at all”.
The story also gives statistics, attributed to Statistics Lithuania, comparing Belarusian and Russian visitors, who allegedly spend between 800 and 1,000 euros per week on the Lithuanian coast, to stingy locals who make do with their own food and a weekly holiday budget of 120–400 euros.
EADaily is a news website covering the “Eurasian region” and headquartered in Moscow. It has nearly 91,000 followers on Facebook.
The author of the story is identified as Renata Reingoldienė, but website’s bio page uses a stock photo. Reingoldienė is also credited as the author of stories on rubaltic.lt, a website that was named a propaganda channel by Lithuania’s State Security Department.
Neringa municipality spokeswoman Vaišvilaitė told LRT.lt that the quotes attributed to herself and the mayor did not come from them.
“We, people at the municipality, were surprised by the story, the information in it is misleading and definitely did not come from our lips,” she told LRT.lt.
Nor did Mayor Jasaitis say anything to the media about doubling the environmental fee or Russian and Belarusian tourists, according to Vaišvilaitė.
“The mayor has specified that he did not communicate with Russian media representatives at all lately,” she said.
Statistics Lithuania also told LRT.lt that it did not publish data about how much Russians, Lithuanians or Belarusians spend in Lithuania’s coastal resorts.
“We calculate tourists’ expenditure for the country as a whole. Statistics Lithuania does not publish data on spending by tourists in individual municipalities,” Statistics Lithuania spokeswoman Birutė Stolytė told LRT.lt.
Neringa municipality charges a 30-euro environmental fee on cars entering the Curonian Spit in the summer season, between June 20 and August 20. During the rest of the year, the fee is 5 euros per car.
The rest of the story on EADaily is based on information from other sources: a story about coronavirus effects on the Lithuanian tourism sector by Delfi.lt and a study by Creditreform Lietuva about business conditions in Lithuania’s resort towns.
Lukas Andriukaitis, an associate director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, says the story did not gain much traction on social media, but it feeds into a narrative propagated by the Russian government.
In this narrative, the Baltic states are presented as dependant on Russia and on the brink on economic collapse.
“This topic is mostly aimed at the domestic audience,” according to Andriukaitis. “They’re trying to convince that the European Union is not interested in the Baltic states as a tourist region.”
Propaganda / fake news. The Russian-language story on EADaily attributes false quotes to the mayor of Neringa and the municipality’s spokeswoman. While it takes the rest of its material from Lithuanian publications about the coronavirus effects on businesses, the story is aimed at furthering the Russian government’s propaganda line that the Baltic states are dependent on Russia.