Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The emigration problems of Lithuania

Emigration is a problem that has plagued Lithuania at various times in its history, and it's become a particularly vexing problem since the country regained independence about 20 years ago.  Here are some articles from the past several months talking about that situation.

In "Lietuvos gyventoju skaicius pernai mazejo sparciausiai ES" (Population of Lithuania decreasing most rapidly in EU), Lina Laurinaityte writes that the benefit of the money emigrants send to Lithuania is overvalued and that the decreasing birthrate and increasing mortality threaten to cause new social and economic problems.

"Those who leave are active in business and brave.  That is needed by the country, for the political sphere and for non-governmental organisations", Buguslavas Gruzevskis, a director at the Social Research Centre, said.

"The number of children is decreasing and many children who remain are like orphans with living parents. [...]  What that means is that a significant amount of new social problems will arise in the next 10-15 years", Rasa Alisauskiene, director-general of Baltic Research, said.

In "Emigracijos prognoze siu metu pabaigai - 90 tukst. isvykusiuju" (Emigration forecast for end of year - 90,000 emigrants), which was written in September 2010, the scale of emigration is looked into.  According to data from the government, 58,328 people declared their emigration between 1 January 2010 and 31 August 2010.  The article goes on to say, however, that the data concerning the amount of people leaving is being warped by a new law requiring inhabitants to pay monthly premiums into the government-run health system.  Because of that law, many more people were registering the fact that they had left the country, and many of those had been abroad for a significant amount of time.

Dainius Paukste, vice director at the Department of Migration, stated that the image of Lithuania was being formed by emigrants.  "The people leaving our country, whether we like it or not, help to form an image for the world that Lithuania is a country of unhappy people.  This advertisement seems free now (though everyone knows that the only free cheese is moldy cheese), but in the future we may get a horrible bill for it", he said.

"Demografine katastrofa: Lietuvoje jau nera ne 3 mln zmoniu" (Demographic catastrophe: no longer 3 million people in Lithuania), was written on 9 May 2011, right after the recent census was completed.  Preliminary data suggested that there were no longer 3 million people in Lithuania, but additional data has led the Department of Statistics to report that there are just over 3 million.  There's actually little information in the article but there is a video accompanying the article that contains several interesting facts.  It is stated that when Lithuania regained independence about 20 years ago there were 3.7 million inhabitants.  According to the most optimistic forecasts now, by 2050 there will be only 2.5 million people.  Prof Stankuniene, a demographer, states that the problem is threefold, with the increasing mortality rate and decreasing birth rate adding to the problems caused by runaway emigration.  In the past, I've heard her say that the biggest problems were actually the mortality and birth rate.

Over the past several months, I've also read several other articles talking about this problem.  Besides facts and figures, the authors usually discuss why so many people are leaving, what can be done about the problem, and why the government is doing so little (or nothing) to combat the problem.  After all, population has decreased about 19 per cent (the same as if 62.3 million US citizens left the U.S.A.).  And best case scenario, another 16.7 per cent of the population will disappear.  You would think that supporting families, creating jobs, and improving healthcare would be priorities for the government.  They aren't, though.

If things go on as they are, Lithuania will certainly disappear as a political entity in the future.  Possible ways to fix things would be a balanced policy of immigration, liberalising labour laws to attract blue-collar workers, and providing more support for education and research and development to attract the brains to help move the country forward in those spheres.  I've read that Lithuania has the strictest immigration laws in the EU.  From my personal experience with the government/Department of Migration here, I've never felt welcome.  I've heard the same story from friends from other countries.  Now that Lithuania is a member of the EU, things have changed for citizens of other EU countries.  If you're not from the EU, however, things have actually got worse.  And to all that can be added the propensity that many Lithuanians have for being racist/xenophobic.  In my experience, the foreigners who live here, especially those with families, tend to be better "citizens" than the majority of Lithuanians.  Unless the government begins to make us feel welcome and safe and protected by the law, many of us will eventually leave the country and take our children.  I know that I consider it my duty to make sure that my children will be able to leave Lithuania when they are old enough.


Anonymous said...

You should read this too :

Martyna said...

Yes this problem is huge, but nobody is doing anything about that .