Nearly 60 persons—students from the European Humanities University (EHU) and other Vilnius-based universities, EHU alumni and faculty, along with representatives of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the European External Action Service, the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and EU member states—discussed the effectiveness of EU restrictive measures (sanctions), particularly against Belarus, and ways to support Belarusian civil society. The discussion—part of Lithuania's EU Presidency agenda—took place on EHU's campus in Vilnius.
Participants debated the effectiveness of restrictive measures imposed on Belarus, whether these and additional sanctions can be productive, respect for the human rights of those whom sanctions target, and the extent to which Belarusian society is aware of the sanctions.
Lithuania's Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Andrius Krivas emphasized that sanctions against Belarus are targeted and not directed against ordinary citizens. They are a signal to those whose human rights are being violated by the regime that they are not forgotten and that human rights violations are unacceptable, said the Vice-Minister.
Mindaugas Silkauskas, minister-advisor at the Permanent Representation of Lithuania to the EU, stressed that there are no general economic sanctions directed against Belarus—only sanctions targeting particular companies and individuals who are deemed to be close to the regime.
Participants suggested there should be more historical analysis of the impact sanctions have had on authoritarian regimes in order to draw proper conclusions about their effectiveness. During the discussion the point was also made that sanctions are not merely a punitive mechanism. Their removal can be used as a “carrot” to encourage governments that take steps in the proper direction.
Suggestions made by participants included increasing consultation with Belarusian civil society when deliberating on sanctions and lowering EU visa costs in order to increase European engagement with ordinary Belarusians.
Strengthening the EU’s Eastern Partnership program, which includes engagement with countries in the EU's eastern border region, is among the priorities of the Lithuanian EU Presidency, which began on July 1 of this year.