By Viktar Korbut
The document is now undergoing parliamentary ratification and could be ready later this year, coming into force in early 2012. The agreement was signed by the foreign ministers of our states on October 20th, 2010, during a visit by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite to Minsk. From June 1st, it will become even easier to reach Vilnius from Minsk, with a train taking just three hours.
According to the Lithuanian Transport and Communications Ministry, two trains operate on the Minsk-Vilnius route at present. From June 1st, one shall reduce its travel time by 51 minutes, while the other — by 60 minutes. The saving is the result of fewer stops within Belarus (only three, of short duration). Moreover, customs clearance is to be cut by 10 minutes at the checkpoints of Gudogai and Kena. Last year, trains connecting these two destinations carried about 40,000 passengers. The route is being further updated technologically, with EU funding applied for to improve speeds. The plan was initiated in April 2010, when our prime ministers met.
The simplification of the border regime and acceleration of trains should allow Belarusians to visit Lithuania more often, while encouraging Lithuanians to travel to Lake Naroch (featuring the largest Belarusian resort). This year, a new excursion route is to be launched, with kayak and canoe travel offered from Myadel to Naroch, along the lakes of Myastro and Naroch.
The route consists of several short trips, with stops. As a result, tourists will be able to visit the ruins of Myadel Castle, the Mother of God of the Scapular Roman Catholic Church, a Muslim cemetery, an ancient settlement and places connected with WW1 and 2.
A state programme is now being realised, focusing on the development of resorts around Lake Naroch, running from 2011-2015. About $100m is to be spent on this major project over the coming five years. As the Chairman of the Myadel District Executive Committee, Alexander Danilenko, says, “We’ll grant serious preferences to investors.”
Last year alone, the Myadel District was visited by around 120,000 people and it is expected that, by 2015, tourism-related revenue in the area should rise 2.5-3-fold. Its unique landscapes and well-developed infrastructure should definitely attract tourists from neighbouring Lithuania. Agro-ecotourism is also gaining special attention in the district. Belarus’ Deputy Prime Minister, Anatoly Tozik, believes that Belarusian villages and their wonderful scenery are unique. “A special lifestyle has been preserved, with wonderful people living here,” he says. “They can make our country attractive to international tourism. Additionally, tourism should show that Belarus is not a young state. Its history is no ‘poorer’ than that of neighbouring states, dating back over a thousand years.”
Lithuanians are likely to be attracted by fortresses not far from Naroch: such as of Krevo and Golshany. In the late 14th century, an agreement was signed to unite Poland and Lithuania, in Krevo; meanwhile, Golshany was founded by a noble Lithuanian family.
Guests from Vilnius will be able to learn more about Belarus and its districts as soon as the Lithuanian Parliament approves the agreement; it was signed in late 2010 in Minsk and is already being co-ordinated with the neighbouring state’s Government.