Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
The statisticians claim that, every day, 120 Lithuanians hop onto Scandinavia and Western Europe-bound planes in search of a better life. This month, Lithuania is likely to reach an ominous and heart-wrenching milestone with the country‘s émigré number expected to go over one million. To calm down the naysayers, the estimate is unofficial.
Politician cast doubt
The report initially aired by alfa.lt, a Lithuanian news website, has thundered through other media outlets, reminding that exodus is nowhere to come to a halt.
Yet the news caught many Lithuanian politicians off guard and wondering.
«Is the report you‘re referring to substantiated by official data?» asked Jurgis Razma, a Conservative MP before adding, «That emigration is big is evident just taking a criss-cross road trip through our provinces, but I believe the scope would be more tangible economically- and noticeable with a plain eye- if the number was the one you say,»the parliamentarian expressed his doubt to BNN.
Worrisomely, with the Lithuanian economy more buoyant recently, the emigration numbers are not declining. On the contrary, the decamping has peaked this year before relatively slowing down in the two previous years.
Alarmingly, of all the year‘s emigrants, half were in the age group of 19-35, which signals adverse social and labour fallout for Lithuania in years to come.
Emigration is top priority
Lithuania‘s new Cabinet comprising of the Peasants and Green Union (LVŽS) and Social Democrats has put emigration harnessing on top of its priority list, but Razma, the MP, has many doubts.
«Indeed, the «peasants» have talked a lot about emigration and possible ways how to rein it in. But I haven‘t heard anything that would raise my eye-brows: «Hey, this will work!» I fear that globalisation and an opportunity to earn moreover the Lithuanian borderswill remain the crucial factor,» the lawmaker insisted.
To the remark that the world is more increasingly dealing with a reverse process- deglobalisation, Razma replied that neither Brexit nor other possible exits from the European Union mean that the moving of people will come to an abrupt end.
«I‘d rather hope that not the exits but our own economic developments and accomplishments would prompt Lithuanian to come back,» Razma underscored.
Youth wants decent wages
This can be difficult as many Lithuanians in the United Kingdom, for example, have hunkered down in Lithuanians- teeming communities, meaning they do not need to learn English and worry about integration.
Well, the situation might however change should the Teresa May-led British government enforce stringent anti-immigration policies.
Having acknowledged that his own daughter lives in the UK, Razma hopes it will not happen.
«The country does need skilled foreign workforce,» he said.
Yet, with the emigration pundits effectively agreeing on emigration being Lithuania‘s issue No1, fellow citizens pack up and leave.
Alfa.lt talked to some emigrants, asking them what would keep them at home. Here‘re some of the vivacious accounts.
29-year-old Andrius did come back to visit his family and friends before Christmas, but is about to bid them farewell soon.
«I am not planning to come back for good. It‘s hard to start your own business here. In that regard, it is much easier in England. Franky speaking, I‘d like to return to Lithuanian whenever, but, now, I just don‘t see myself returning as I am working on my future in the UK,» he admitted.
Gerda, another Lithuanian emigrant, shared a similar story.
«I‘ve been living in the United Kingdom for five years now. I left for it to earn some money. But now, having there a boyfriend and job, I am not willing to change anything in my new life,» she said.
Mind-blowing upbringing costs
These are just two accounts but they do echo multiple others out there. Having provided its people education, healthcare and social benefits, Lithuania just cannot count on the citizens‘ payback and commitments.
«It is estimated that to raise a person in Lithuania until his or her adolescence costs around 60 thousand euros. So, if the number of Lithuanian emigrants reaches soon one million, it means the state has invested in vain 60 billion euros. Note, the state‘s debt is around 17 billion euros to date,» Dainius Paukštė, an emigration expert pointed.
Behind high emigration is not only relative poverty, social seclusion, regional development contrasts, but also the adoption of euro and disappointment in Lithuania as a state.
And last but not least has been Brexit and the looming possibility of other member states’ pullouts from the bloc. Some experts speculate that, fearing of possible immigration restrictions by the UK government, some Lithuanians, who until now were delaying emigration plans indefinitely, now are resorting to it as the last chance to emigrate to the UK.
PM is unabashed
Against the backdrop, the new Prime Minister, Saulius Skvernelis‘ resolve to reverse things for better may seem futile and a colossal task, however, the PM, former police chief, is undaunted.
He has already promised to pass dual citizenship law, give a boost to Lithuanian economy and, notably, even provide young families state support in obtaining own home.
«Third of our citizens ended up being in poverty, which forced them to leave. I emphasise: forced them to leave. If we do not tackle the issue radically, if we do not create conditions to work and earn, the process will be irreversible. Our government will do whatever it can and more to put brakes on it and create a Lithuania, where most will want to stay,» Skvernelis has said.
Mayor fears of calamitous impact
Approached by BNN, Vytautas Grubliauskas, mayor of Klaipėda, Lithuania’s seaport city, did acknowledge that emigration has been severely plaguing the city.
«However, there are a lot more Lithuanian towns and cities where the plight is much worse. We do all we can to keep Klaipėdians and create a city that is a sought-after place to live and work. Statistically, the wages in Klaipeda are significantly higher than elsewhere and so are the job possibilities,» the mayor underlined.
Referred to the possibility that emigration will claim one-millionth Lithuanian this month, Grubliauskas confessed he finds it hard «to grasp».
«If it‘s indeed true, some very immediate actions are required to be taken. Otherwise the process can have a calamitous impact on the state and its future,» the mayor pondered.
It is thought that Klaipeda has lost third of its population since the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1990.