Good opportunities arise for neighbours to meet more often
The ambassadors of our two countries announced the agreement recently, after exchanging official notifications in Vitebsk. From next year, over 250,000 Latvians and Belarusians will be able to cross the border without the usual visa requirements.
A third of all families in Belarusian Braslav, located 45km from Daugavpils, have relatives in Latvia. In Soviet times, young residents of the district centre would also study at institutes in the Latvian town. It was also more convenient to find a job there than in Minsk or Vitebsk, as the route to Daugavpils is five times shorter. After the collapse of the USSR, some families remained in Latvia, leaving loved ones divided by the border. Nadezhda Yurkevich, a teacher at the Braslav gymnasium, visits Daugavpils monthly to see her 60 year old father. She receives a visa free of charge for the purpose, but has to visit the Latvian Consulate in Vitebsk twice, travelling over a thousand kilometres.
“As a child, I spent each summer with my aunt in a remote village near Daugavpils,” recollects Svetlana Matskevich, a colleague of Nadezhda. “We spent whole days with my cousins by the river. However, after Belarus and Latvia became sovereign states, we’ve met only two times. We still want to see each other often and hope that the agreement entering into force will promote this.”
“The agreement aims to benefit people,” notes the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Latvia, H.E. Mr. Alexander Gerasimenko. “Just one visit to the Consulate is enough to receive permission, costing 20 Euros. Pensioners, those with disabilities and children under 18 receive it free of charge.”
Belarusian diplomats are working on similar agreements with Lithuania and Poland. According to Alexander Ostrovsky, the Head of the Foreign Ministry’s Chief Consular Department, Warsaw has taken recent steps to hinder work in this direction. However, Vilnius is keen to move forward.