Residents of the Belarusian towns of Grodno, Oshmiany and Braslav, bordering Lithuania, will soon be able to visit Vilnius without a visa. Meanwhile, Lithuanians will be able to visit bordering Belarusian regions. It remains to be seen when the European Union will reduce the price of a Shengen visa — or, even, cancel fees for Belarusians. Summer is ahead, when thoughts turn to foreign trips. Viktor Yankovenko, the Director of the Tourism Department of the Ministry of Sport and Tourism, explains that the situation could change before too long
The Ministry of Sport and Tourism awaits a decision from the government regarding the creation of a 50 km visa-free zone between Belarus and Lithuania. Residents of those regions within 50 km of the border would be able to visit each other without limitation for stays of up to 90 days. Not all Lithuanians and Belarusians would be eligible, only those with permanent registration.
How would residents of border districts be distinguished from the rest?
They would register their residency within the zone, receiving special cards for such travel (national documents wouldn’t be stamped).
How many people from Belarus and Lithuania would benefit?
Around 800 000 Lithuanians and 600 000 Belarusians. Grodno, Oshmiany and Lithuanian Vilnius are located within the 50 km zone, so their residents would be able to visit each other without visas.
What about Minsk citizens?
No. Minsk is too far from the border. Meanwhile, those residents of the Belarusian zone would not be able to exceed the 50 km zone within Lithuania.
As Lithuania is a member of the EU, we need a European visa to go there. Can we expect a fall in price for Belarusians seeking Shengen visas?
The Ministry of Sport and Tourism has been trying to have fees waived for EU residents travelling to Belarus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other institutions are still looking into this issue. It would be a pragmatic step, since it would raise the number of foreign tourists visiting our country, bringing cash receipts into the budget. Of course, much needs to be considered. If we make advances to the EU, it must do the same. The EU is yet to clarify its position regarding visa fee waivers. It hasn’t officially changed yet and the EU’s attitude to our initiatives is reserved. We hope that once Belarus joins the ‘Eastern Partnership’ programme, the cost of visas for our people will be equal to that charged for Russians and Ukrainians (down from 60 to 35 Euros). Unexpected decisions may be reached, even more advantageous for us.