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One frontier, two worlds: Crossing from Lithuania into Belarus

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The city of Vilnius as seen from the Vilnius Castle Complex (photo © Olgacov / dreamstime.com).


Borders have faded in modern Europe. Most travellers take Schengen freedoms for granted. But there are still rare instances of countries (like the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom) which maintain formalities. Join us a journey across the outer frontier of the European Union as we travel from Lithuania into Belarus.

The 180-km road journey from Vilnius to Minsk follows the E28 highway. Those who suppose that Lithuania’s landscape is entirely two-dimensional are in for a surprise. The road climbs steadily as it heads south-east from Vilnius, crossing the Medininkai Hills on the way to the border, which is just 35 kilometres from the Lithuanian capital. The country’s highest point, Aukstojas Hill, lies just to the south of the main road.

The fortified castle at Medininkai village, just short of the border, is a reminder of the strategic importance of this range of low hills. The border itself has been fiercely contested, most recently in 1991. Several Lithuanian border posts were attacked by Soviet armed police in the first seven months of that year as Moscow challenged the legitimacy of newly independent Lithuania. In late January 1991, Soviet police set fire to the new Lithuanian border post at Medininkai. Six months later, they were back, creating havoc in the early hours of a summer morning. Seven Lithuanian border guards were assassinated. Their fate is recalled in a simple memorial with seven crosses on the Lithuanian side of the frontier. The actual building where the massacre took place is also preserved at the border itself, a poignant memorial to a dark episode in recent European history.

Today, the frontier post is peaceful, with Lithuanian and Belarusian officials managing a steady flow of vehicles on both sides of the border.