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LITHUANIA AND BELARUS

Unsurprisingly, as an Honorary Consul of the Republic of Lithuania, I am very connected with the events in Belarus. As all Lithuanians do, as well as the populations of other Central European countries. This is because the history of Lithuania and Belarus have much in common. Not only in recent history, referring to the cruelties in the 20th century in the area of Central Europe where we find now Lithuania, Belarus and adjoining territory. A region heavily terrorized by Hitler and Stalin. Timothy Snyder writes about this barbarism in his book “Bloodlands”. The most impressive book I ever read about this period in Central Europe. 

But the connectedness between people in Belarus and Lithuania has its roots further back in time. One of the biggest countries in Europe from the 16th till the 17th century was the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth. But even before this Commonwealth, Belarus was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

No wonder Lithuanians feel a big solidarity with their cousins in Belarus.


The members of the Union have learned more about this when Ivo van de Wijdeven was keynote speaker on the annual dinner three years ago in Rotterdam. See his book “De rafelranden van Europa”.

I am following the events with the biggest interest. A very dangerous situation in which Putin will try to restore the old sphere of influence and the West is acting very cautiously having in mind the events in the Crimea. 

Journalists and specialists on foreign politics are more qualified to write in more detail about the situation than I am. Therefor I will focus on an item which triggered me seeing the protests. The EU is not playing a role in the protests in Belarus. Main goals are honest elections and reform. Therefor protesters are banning the EU flag in the streets. Rather, we see an abundance of white-red-white flags, small as well as huge. 

Does Belarus have two flags? 

Supporters of the opposition are waving white-red-white flags, which differs very much from the official state banner which is red and green. See pictures.

The white-red-white flag was used in 1918, before Belarus became a Sovjet Republic. After Belarus regained its independence from the Sovjet Union in 1991 the white-red-white flag was reinstated for a couple of years and was official banner until 1995. 

The official state banner (in red and green) was introduced in 1995 after a controversial referendum. It is a modification of the flag which was used when Belarus was part of the Sovjet Union. In Sovjet times the red and green flag also showed the hammer and sickle and red star.

The pattern on the left side is a traditional ornament commonly used in garments and woven cloth use for ceremonial events. You can recognize professional Belarusian sportsmen and women, who are using the same pattern.

The white-red-white flag is used by the opposition as a symbol. The colours are based on the Pahonia coat of arms and an official emblem of the Republic in 1918 and 1991 – 1995.

My colleagues from Lithuania immediately will recognize this emblem, because the Pahonia was originally a symbol of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, of which Belarus was a part. Mrs. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya knew she was very welcome in Lithuania.

Gert Zandsteeg, Honorary Consul of Lithuania, August 2020

A LOCKDOWN IN SPRING by Karin van Rooyen, Honorary Consul of Slovenia / May 2020

May 2020

It was strange and rather ‘eerie’ when, on Thursday 12th March 2020, we all heard that we should stay home because the virus Covid-19 was among us.
Stay home, stay safe became the new keywords. As the Honorary Consul for Slovenia I received a lot of messages of Slovenian citizens wondering if they were able to fly home as all over Europe countries were going into Lockdown. Problems arose for Slovenian citizens in the Netherlands wishing to return home either by car or by plane. Which borders were closed, which were still open?  Direct flights to Ljubljana required at least one stopover and no one could say how long the airlines would still be flying. So the main question was: will I reach home or will I be quarantined in one of the “stop-over” countries.

Like most EU countries Slovenia too suffered from a lack of protective medical equipment, so each time I heard of possibilities, either private (mostly) or government, of 3D printers making masks, shields, goggles or respirators I passed on the information to our Slovenian Ambassador in the Netherlands, H.E. Ms Sanja Štiglic. 

With the lockdown now firmly upon us my husband and I promised ourselves a glass of champagne every day if only to celebrate that we were Corona free and ALIVE!. After two weeks we stopped this indulgence and decided we would do our best to remain healthy by walking and enjoying nature as much as we could. And so the lockdown deepened. We developed a routine working from nine to five, allowing ourselves a long walk during our lunchbreak. As April dawned the weather became so beautiful that the garden began to draw us into pottering around, cutting back hedges, planting seedlings and mowing (lots of mowing) the lawns. The birds sang their daily symphony and were busy nesting. Normally we would have missed their hidden homes, but now we saw how they built their nests in the most unlikely places.

As I work for a museum that was hit pretty badly having to close its doors to 200.000 families and schoolchildren that visit us on a yearly basis. The future of some 54 people working there, the rent, the lack of income forced us to come up with a plan for the post corona period. How to draw back the public? After thinking aloud, talking through the phone or via video, we decided the best thing to do was to renew the whole museum. A venture that would entail intensive fundraising. That said the business plan we wrote in the sunshine of lockdown became a visionary paper combining the audacious to the pragmatic. 

We were now deep in May and still there was no let-up, though newspaper headlines told us that Slovenia was the first country in Europe to formally call an end to its Coronavirus outbreak. 

The month May passed as silently as it had come and now June sees us finally opening up schools, museums, fitness centres and of course restaurants and terraces. A sense of freedom is in the air and the first requests are reaching me of Dutch citizens planning their travels to Slovenia for a holiday. 

What does fill me with sadness is that many Slovenians –  having studied in the Netherlands, married and raising their children here – have decided to return home for good. During the Corona restriction they realised how much they missed their Slovenian family ties. Homesickness got them in the end. With a heavy heart I wave them goodbye as they pack in their belongings and move back home to Ljubljana.

I wish them all well and hope we will meet again. Some day!

We are now online

May 2020

UdC is now online