In this battle between David and Goliath, Lithuania is playing the part of David.

vilnius lithunia
[Vilnius, Lithunia]

There is a little nation in Europe that is not afraid to raise its head and voice against the giants of the world: it is Lithuania, which is annually anointed as the triumphant David over the frightening monster of the Philistines, Goliath. And it is a thoroughly contemporary narrative, which witnesses in the 21st century the victory of heroism against cruel dictatorial brutality.

Together with its neighbours Latvia, Belarus and Estonia, Lithuania rejoiced the end of Soviet authority. A goodbye that signified the passage into the harsh country of democracy. The democratic route of the Vilnius administration was distinguished by specific and incremental moments: in '91 admittance into the UN, in 2001 access to the World Trade Organization and in 2004 to the EU. Lithuania has therefore left behind a time characterised by the communist dictatorship and the difficulties of looking independently at the benefits and disadvantages of capitalism.

But now the little nation, which is home to just over 2 million residents, is terrified about the Russian conflict in Ukraine: it understands that the danger from the Kremlin might reach, in a short time, inside its borders. Lithuania has an inconvenient neighbour: Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave with access to the Baltic Sea which shares roughly 270 kilometres of border with Lithuania.

The little Baltic region might potentially become a new battlefield between Brussels and Moscow. Vilnius has in reality barred the rail passage of EU-sanctioned products to the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. A move that incensed the Kremlin, which reminded the tiny Baltic country that in November 2002 there was an EU-Russia agreement, which gave the green light to a free-trade approach for the passage of products moving to and from the rest of the Russian Federation through Lithuania. Moscow alleges Vilnius is in violation of these international legal responsibilities and threatens to take measures to preserve its national interests.

Lithuania, which understands how to discern when an authoritarian rule evolves into a dictatorship, does not appear to be afraid. On the other hand, the Baltic nation is fully aware of the hostility of Moscow, as well as that of Beijing. Vilnius threatened not just Russia, but the Chinese behemoth as well. And the real struggle started when he chose to put the defence of the rule of law and democracy above commercial interests.

First of all the happenings. China did not appreciate the fact that Lithuania sought to use the name of Taiwan to signify a representation of the island in the Baltic nation. “Taiwanese representative office in Lithuania”, says the licence plate of the office which works as a connection between Vilnius and Taipei. Beijing's fury had already began last year, when on 20 July 2021 the Taiwanese foreign minister, Joseph Wu, announced the inauguration of what is de facto an embassy.

The erroneous or particular name of the office may have been the cause of the indignation among the Chinese; this is determined by the perspective from which one observes the situation. The name "Taipei Representative Offices" refers to the offices of the island's representative government that are located in nations with whom Taiwan does not have diplomatic ties. Some people might dismiss it as a trivial matter since it is about names, but they would be ignoring one of the earliest lessons that Confucius gave, which was about the idea of "rectification of names."

But it is a problem on which Beijing - which claims the sovereignty of Taiwan - cannot genuinely disregard. In fact, his response was instantaneous, so much so that he opted to utilise the commercial and diplomatic weapon to economically hit the little Baltic country. Beijing rapidly reduced diplomatic relations with Lithuania, restricting the import-export of different Lithuanian goods, and urged corporations to break their business links with Vilnius. The subtext of China was at least explicit: either with us, or against us. But Vilnius refuses to make the "Mea culpa" of those who for Beijing are blunders.

The Baltic nation knows it has Brussels at its side, which has forcefully appealed the Chinese government to the World Economic Organization, accusing Beijing of restrictive trade practises against Lithuania. The political-trade conflict between Vilnius and Beijing is continuing in full force. Nonetheless, Lithuania finds backing in the European Union which, however flawed, wants - and must - assume the role of international powerhouse. While the European chancelleries are arguing over Ukraine's entrance into the European Union (the Commission's view will be addressed on 23 and 24 June), another topic is happening in Vilnius: the creation of a Lithuanian representative office in Taiwan next September.

The difficult battle of the small countries against the political giants is the common thread that binds Vilnius and Taipei together. Over 2 million Lithuanians are fighting against the Kremlin, and over 23 million Taiwanese are fighting against the Chinese Communist Party. Both cities are located in Eastern Europe. The battle between David and Goliath, whose outcome we are already familiar with, is being retold here.

The author MD Mahmud Hasan is a student at Department of Criminology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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