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Sunday 18.03.2018 | Name days: Ilona, Adelīna

Lithuania President exhorts mayors to be more proactive in tackling devastating emigration

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

A research by the Lithuanian bureau of the International Organization for Migration (LBIOM) introduced to all the mayors and a couple dozen editors-in-chief of national and regional newspapers in the Presidential Palace Wednesday makes the same conclusion: emigration is Lithuania’s biggest scourge – the view is shared by the President’s Office and the Lithuanian population alike.

However, the country has not until now drawn up an effective plan to stem the decamping. Furthermore, with new émigrés receiving wide support at their new homes abroad, Lithuania has not so far set up a single organization tasked with helping those who come back, although much has been talked about it.

Due to the gaps in the policy, the municipalities are mostly preoccupied with keeping their current dwellers than attempting to return those who already left, the research showed.

«We can say definitely that the municipalities feel having lost their battle over their departed residents. They feel whatever they do is way too little compared what the Western countries can offer them. There’s understanding that the state, not the municipalities has to address the problem (of emigration),» said Audra Sipavičenė, head of the LBIOM.

The survey is the first of the type during the 27 years of independent Lithuania.

The stats put the number of Lithuanian population at 3.7 million inhabitants in 1990 and it was thought to be at ca 2.85 million in 2017. However, authorities unofficially say the number of 2.5 is more realistic.

If such decamping continues, the country’s population will thin from the current 2.8 million to 2.4 million inhabitants in 2030 and can hit the mark of 2 million in 2040, according Eurostat, the EU statistics agency. In 2017, over 54 000 departures were registered and the number was around 50 000 in 2016.

On a brighter side, the number of returning migrants over last year‘s 11 months was up by two thousand persons, year-on-year, noted Sipavičienė.

Of 60 Lithuanian municipalities, 44 participated in the research. Only a handful Lithuanian municipalities, including Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga, boasted last year positive net migration rates, i.e. had more comebacks than departures.

«It is honour and big recognition of our municipality‘s policies that net migration saldo was positive in Palanga last year and in the years before.  Palanga residents appreciate not only the opportunity of living in proximity to the sea, but also the ecology, the decreasing heating and water prices as well as the availability of kindergartens,» Šarūnas Vaitkus, mayor of Palanga, told BNN.

President Dalia Grybauskaitė mentioned Tauragė and Alytus municipalities as the ones doing a good job with the returning of emigrants.

Although many local municipalities can offer a variety of jobs with the wage ranging from 450 to 700 euros, at the wage level, they cannot compete with the Western countries, where the average wage and the standards of living are significantly higher, the meeting participants accentuated.

According to the research, 59 per cent of the municipalities rather keep residents who stay here than try to initiate or ease the return of those who already left. Meanwhile, only a mere 21 per cent attempt to attract the leavers. Notably, not from over the borders, but the larger Lithuanian cities to which migration from smaller towns has increased over the couple of last years.

The research also clearly pointed to the shortcomings of the municipalities‘ policies on emigrants’ return.

The majority of the municipalities do not have a mechanism as to how keep in touch with émigrés. The most pointed to their official municipal website as the only means to maintain relations with their former residents.  Importantly, none has a concrete plan of action in case of many current emigrants’ simultaneous comeback.

The LBIOM head emphasised paradox that, now, for new emigrants, it is a whole lot easier to integrate in local communities abroad than to reintegrate into life when back in Lithuania.

Among the proposals as to how ease integration of Lithuanians upon their return from emigration was the idea of assigning a municipal official to deal with the comebackers. President Dalia Grybauskaitė also emphasised the shortcomings of the top-down approach in the two-hour meeting.

«There should be the reverse approach – the bottom-up, when the local municipalities and communities come forward with initiatives. Namely the municipalities are responsible for providing lodging and different services, not the state…When I happen to meet different mayors when travelling throughout the country, I often hear them asking me what the authority in Vilnius does (in solving emigration). However, the experience and concrete success stories show that only the bottom-up approach works,» the head-of-state accentuated.

Grybauskaitė also brought up anew the topic of emotional atmosphere in the country.

«Sometimes, not the salary matters to most (i.e. those who make up mind to come back), but the way they will be met and treated upon return here. Will the bureaucrat speak to him or her in a formal way, in a despising manner or sympathetically and showing eagerness to help,» Grybauskaitė said.

Mindaugas Kubilius, philosopher and partner of «Glade», a consultancy, has also discerned recently negative emotional mood in the state among the main reasons of devastating emigration.

«Many people just do not believe that Lithuania can provide them a future…The statements that Lithuania’s economy is growing fastest in the entire European Union do not resonate among the most citizens,» he accentuated in a recent event.

According to Kubilius, Lithuanians‘ self-esteem has shrunk from 62.7 per cent in 2008 to 42.7 per cent in 2016.

«As a result, we have more people who feel more unhappy today,» he concluded.

Last year, the president initiated the campaign Choose Lithuania, which focuses on people returning from emigration.

Officially, around 1 million has left Lithuania since the restoration of independence in 1990. Disturbingly, ca 90 young Lithuanians have said in a recent poll they would rather live in a developed Western state than in their homeland, Lithuania, provided they get a job according their specialty of studies.

«Unfortunately, the statistics regarding emigration is merciless: exodus continues and we can hardly expect some consolation in the near future. We can perhaps just hope that, sooner or later, there will be no Lithuanians willing or able to decamp – due to age, first of all,» Žilvinas Šilėnas, president of Lithuania’s Free Market Institute (LFMI) told BNN recently. «It goes without saying, this bodes nothing good to state of Lithuania.»

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