Dienstag, 9. Oktober 2012

Lithuania: same face, changing masks

by Aistė Valiauskaitė 

Imagine 2.5 million people (1 million of them were Lithuanians) holding hands and  making human chain for 600 km across 3 countries. This happened August 23, 1989, in  Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. This event, called The Baltic Way, has become the symbol of  solidarity and patriotism. January 13, 1991, after almost a year of the independence of Lithuania, thousands of  unarmed people went to protect the key places of the country, when Soviet Military tried to take over Lithuania again. were killed fighting for their homeland. 2001-2011, more than 400 thousand Lithuanians have emigrated and today, 70 % are ready to emigrate. 

Foreign treasures 

“Every day I get involved in life in the UK more and more and this weakens the link  to Lithuania. Also, nobody is waiting for me there”, says Vitalijus, 24, who moved to London last summer. Vitalijus has graduated from college in Lithuania with BA in Business Administration. He did not see any perspectives in homeland, thus left the country and now is working as a  salesman. The more important thing for him is possibility to follow his passion in the free time. Almost every weekend he and his friends travel to different part of the UK to look for  underground treasures with metal detectors and later sell them. The main goal of Vitalijus is  to start digging business in London, which would make it easier to ride a hobby. Vitalijus is  sure that he could not do it in Lithuania: “Current government is corrupted and there are little  possibilities to start a business. You must have connections and money.” 

He adds another reason for leaving – the ratio between prices and salaries is unreasonable. “Sooner or later life in Lithuania will change, but I will be too old to care”, says Vitalijus. He is one of statistical emigrants “The portrait of typical Lithuanian emigrant is 20-29 year old, mostly single and leaving for the United Kingdom. Ireland, Germany and  Scandinavian countries are also among popular choices.”, said the Deputy of Director General  of Statistics Lithuania Dalia Ambrozaitienė in her report. 

Lithuania is the leading country in net emigration in European Union. According to  official statistics, the country has lost around 400 thousand people in a decade because of emigration. Statistics Lithuania has stated that in one decade (from 2001 to 2011) citizens‘number has decreased in 13 %. Reasons for leaving are mostly economic. As Ambrozaitienė says, “Comparing to other EU countries, we are third in the unemployment. Unemployment rates are only higher in  Spain and Latvia”. She adds that only Bulgarians and Romanians earn less than Lithuanians.

Emigration leads Lithuania to even deeper decline. As it is said in the study, written by  Civil Society Institute in 2005, about the reasons of emigration from Lithuania, country loses  the money that it has invested in the education of the person, country also loses specialists, demographic conditions are getting worse”. Even if people emigrate for a short time, social  security insurance financing is decreasing.

Another negative factor is lack of specialists. We could think that if more people are  leaving, there are more places for others to work, but actually emigration causes brain drain. “If we are not capable of stopping emigration with some social and economic means, and we  are not able to compensate for specialists who emigrate, we will have to bring professionals  from other countries. This will cause new cultural and political problems”, as it is stated in  Civil Society Institute report.

The head of Budget and Finance commitee office of Seimas of the Republic of  Lithuania Gediminas Morkūnas says that social problems are the sore points of emigration. He thinks that Lithuanians made the decision to join the EU too fast as, in his believes, the  country was not ready for the change in 2004. 

Not all bad 

In 2011 only, 54 thousand has left the country. “Delightful thing is increasing immigration. We can see that in 2011 almost 16 thousands came back to Lithuania, 14 thousands of them are Lithuanians. This is very nice. We hope that it will continue that way.”, says Ambrozaitienė. According to Lithuanian bank balance data, almost 5 % of Lithuania‘s GDP came  from transferred money from foreign countries. That made up more than 4 billion litas (more than 1,15 bilion euros).

“I believe that young people are interested in studying and working abroad because of  different culture. Why not? The mobility is increasing, thus leaving is not that negative. I think that young people use opportunities to see how life works elsewhere in the world. They  will come back later”, believes Ambrozaitienė. 

Morkūnas believes that transferred money come back to the country in other ways.“As emigrants send money to their family, these families require less from the government”,  he says. He gives The Jew Diaspora as an example. Morkūnas thinks that if Lithuanians are as united as Jews and would do a lot for their country while in emigration, Lithuania could be even wealthier. The question is if emigrants will transfer that much money in the future. Moreover, he says if people would not have left during crisis, the unemployment in the country would be at least double at the moment. By leaving, emigrants have partly saved the country from deeper crisis. 

The value of values 

Justinas is 24, he has finished his BA studies in Lithuania, took a gap year and now he is planning to leave to study MA in a foreign country. He simply feels bored in this home country. “I cannot imagine not having any links to Lithuania, my family is here. However, I  do not feel any connection so Lithuania as geographical place. I do not approve of what neo-nazis say that we must not leave what our brothers Lithuanians have created with their own blood”, Justinas says. 

He adds: “I know that in the age of Enlightment word “patriot” meant being faithful to  your home country. Now here has a very radical-right meaning “chauvinist”, I do not want to be called that. Also patriotism here only applies to the ethnic majority, you cannot be considered patriot if you are a Jew, Polish or gay. You cannot be cosmopolitan in Lithuania”- Justinas believes that there is very interesting situation in Lithuania as his generation 90 had to create values and mentality from scratch and others who lived in Soviet Union all their 91 lives had to start changing them 20 years ago.

The dean of faculty of Communication of Vilnius University Andrius Vaišnys does not think that Lithuanians succeeded in changing anything: “I believe we still have Soviet mentality with negative, awry, artificial and untruthful adaptation for situation. In theory, Lithuania is democratic, but the feeling is different. All the decisions are determined as 96 arrangements. Demagogy is in the political and academic areas. Values are only the shield where other things are hidden” . 

Independence = poverty? 

What brought to think about the decline of values were the results of the research about emigration. People asked to choose between independence of the state and economic  welfare. 70 % chose the latter. Ignas Zokas, director of public opinion research company, which has conducted the research says: “People want to live well today and have normal living conditions. I think, this shows one of the reasons of emigration that first of all a person wants to create welfare for oneself and the family”. As he explained, it was not clarified what the terms independence of the state and economic welfare mean, because the company was only looking for an overview of the situation.

The question itself is stated strangely – if economic wellness and state independence are given as opposition, it means that being independent equals being poor. “I think that question like that would not be asked if we had any values”, says Vaišnys. In his opinion, people who were patriots 20 years ago did not succeed in placing their belief into actions. Government was not in control of the situation but people believed that they were, so Lithuanians started taking loans, buying obligations and now are in debt. There were tons of businesses which fooled the society, as well as, new control sector, which did not protect the society. “This has happened during the first year of our Independence and it still is the same”, says Vaišnys.

Judicial cases are only distrained and delayed. In Vaišnys opinion, the best proof of it is that Lithuania did not manage to investigate the case of January 13, when Soviet forces tried to occupy the country after its Independence has been restored. “This means that the country does not have any self – respect and all the government does is talk about it”, explains Vaišnys. 

Leaving without identity  

58 % would like to keep Lithuanian identity alive in the foreign country, even less percent of that is youth. Vaišnys explains this phenomenon: “Young people leave not because of economy or because they enjoy picking strawberries abroad, or for better education. Reasons are hidden in human relations”. He says that students in university are very passive, there are only few persons who suggest ideas and are involved in university life. “Student has to say that university is me. I feel that attitude very rarely”, says Vaišnys. He believes it is again because of the lack of values.

Students see other problems in Lithuanian study system. Jovaras, 23, has dropped out  of university in Lithuania and moved to the UK to study BA in communications there. “I left because I was disappointed and I believe that I will have more possibilities after studies abroad”, he says. Jovaras thinks that the most important difference is how lectures treat students – abroad they are equal, in Lithuania professors feel that they have much more authority. Also, in his opinion, study programmes in Lithuania are old fashioned, “everything  is about 5 years late, that is horrible, especially in the field of communications”. Jovaras is not involved in any Lithuanian community in the foreign country, but he reads news, listens to radio podcasts from this motherland daily. He is absolutely sure that he will come back to live in Lithuania as it is the only place he can imagine himself and he loves the country very much.

If the current emigration tendencies continue, by 2050, there will be only 2 million Lithuanians left (now there are 3 million). However, the greater problem might be the values and Lithuanian identity. If the country has 2 millions of people without some strong common values, it does not make sense to call them nation even if they all live in the same geographical place. However, values have to be built overtime, it is possible that 22 years of Independence is not enough to built a stable country from what was left by 5 decades of occupation. Everybody keeps repeating the phrase “only time will show what is going to happen”, but at this stage it may be the only option.

Some decades ago Lithuania was absolutely changed by Soviet Union. Mentality of Soviet man is still quite alive in the minds of Lithuanians. From 2 decades ago the country had to start changing to completely different direction – to the West. Lithuania is caught in between West and East – cannot get further from the East and still cannot reach the West. And Lithuanians try to hurry up and by leaving to the Western countries and if they come back, they might bring a bit of the West back home. 

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