DRUSKININKAI/VILNIUS – Staff at Belorus, a Belarusian-owned spa in Lithuania hit by EU sanctions against the Minsk regime, staged a symbolic protest on Tuesday to demand help from the central government.
Participants placed dozens of candles at the fence of the Belorus complex in the southern Lithuanian spa of Druskininkai and hung placards on the fence, reading "What will you do with 400 unemployed people?", "Why are people of Lithuania subjected to sanctions?", "President, protect Lithuanian people who elected you" and "Swedbank! Do you have too many customers?"
Near the entrance, they set up an installation featuring wheelchairs for children treated in the sanatorium and placards with children's photos, saying "These are our patients. Who will help them?"
Because of the ban on gatherings, participants in cars drove in circles around the spa complex in a funeral-like procession.
Vladislavas Saruckis, chairman of the spa's work council, said the protest was staged "to protect our jobs".
"We are concerned about what we hear in the news and read on information portals," he told reporters. "We don't know what tomorrow holds for us."
Last week, Belorus' managers and employees wrote to President Gitanas Nauseda, the government and the Seimas, asking the authorities to look at whether the EU sanctions were legally applied to the spa and provide clarity on its future.
The parliament is currently debating amendments to allow paying special benefits to Belorus' employees who decide to leave their jobs. However, some of the spa's staff and opposition politicians doubt the effectiveness of such a measure.
"We are not satisfied with the current version," Saruckis said. "We are protesting against the adoption of amendments to the current law."
"We hope that our government will form a commission that will include representatives from our sanatorium and the right answers will be found. We want our jobs to be preserved," he added.
Inga, a 57-year-old woman who works as a cosmetologist at the health center, said she was skeptical about the help offered by the state.
"I am skeptical about the state aid. It's not sincere," she said, adding that she wanted the spa to continue operating as before and maintain jobs.
"It's terrible to have another 400 people out of job in Druskininkai," the woman said.
Arunas Lekavicius, head of Solidarumas, a Southern Lithuanian trade union, said the sanctions were ineffective.
"In the trade union's opinion, this is shooting oneself in the foot, because we are sacrificing our employees. You know what unemployment is in Druskininkai," he told reporters.
Lekavicius said he was also asking Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya for help in getting the EU sanctions reviewed.
"Belarusian children are treated in this sanatorium," he noted. "Our request to her, as the opposition leader, is to ask the European Commission to review the sanctions."
Swedbank froze Belorus' accounts after the EU imposed sanctions against the Main Economic Office (GHU) at the Belarusian president's administration.
GHU operates under the Office of the President of Belarus, the founder of the spa which has the status of a limited liability public legal entity in Lithuania.
By way of exception, the spa was allowed to pay salaries to its employees, most of whom are Lithuanian citizens. Almost 400 people did not receive their December pay after the accounts were frozen.
The freeze on Belorus' bank accounts marks the first time in Lithuania's history that a company operating in the country has been subjected to international sanctions.