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Russians harassed at home for their opinions or work are finding a safe haven in Lithuania reports AFP.
Since 2014, more than 30 Russian dissidents, including journalists, have received asylum in the pro-Western Baltic state. Others have sought asylum in Latvia and Estonia – both NATO and EU members along with Lithuania.
Lithuania has made it clear that it is willing to offer protection to Russians willing to take on the authorities through leading demonstrations or writing critically about corruption and other issues.
"One of the principles [of our relationship with Russia] is to support civil society there," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP. "Lithuania is a place where they [Russians] can feel safe and we are proud of it."
Opinions such of those have convinced asylum seekers that their cases will receive a fair shake. Another AFP article writes of Dmitry Bukhenkov, a historian who took part in many anti-Kremlin demonstrations. He was detained for a year for allegedly fighting with police during a protest against the reelection of President Vladimir Putin in 2012, a charge he denies.
"I chose Lithuania for two reasons: the clear anti-Putin orientation of its leaders and the fact that 50 to 60 percent of Lithuanians understand Russian," he said. Bukhenkov gained political asylum in June.
The language issue is crucial for many of the newcomers as a relatively large ethnic Russian community lives in the country, forming about 6 percent of the total population of 2.9 million. Though many members of this minority, a remnant of the decades Lithuania spent as part of the Soviet Union, are pro-Putin, recent arrivals do not experience the language barrier that they would elsewhere in the European Union.
Some of those who have landed in Lithuania have decided not to keep a low profile, but to continue their activities against the regime back home, reports DW. That includes forming an NGO called the European Russian Movement, which coordinates protests and welcomes new dissidents. According to DW, Russian state media have accused the group and other exiles for pushing for regime change in Moscow.
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