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Time to make tracks: Eastern Europe’s youth are packing their bags

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The latest sociological poll of the Baltijos tyrimai company showed that more than half of Lithuania’s youth want leave their homeland. Similar results has shown up in sociological studies in Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Ukraine. And the scale of actual emigration shows that Eastern Europe cannot compete for human resources in an open border and united market environment.

The total percentage of emigration doesn’t seem to be catastrophic with only 20% of Lithuania’s population wanting to leave - just every fifth. What’s more troubling is how this correlates to demographics: the younger the age groups go - the emigration desires get higher. 40% of young men and women between 20 and 29 want to leave Lithuania, which is double the numbers of overall population. In the youngest age group (15-19) we find that 56% of respondents do not see their future in Lithuania.

In other words, the overwhelming majority of Lithuanian citizens entering adult life do not see said life within their country.

It might serve as a cold comfort to Lithuanian patriots is that their youth is not alone in their “time to ditch this joint” attitude. This is widespread throughout Eastern Europe. The overwhelming majority of young people in Poland, Latvia and Estonia see their future in the West. “64% of young Poles think the only chance for a future is work and life abroad” says professor Krystyna Iglicka, rector of the Lazarski University in Warsaw. In Lithuania 76% of the population considers emigration the biggest threat to the country’s future. Meanwhile in Estonia, judging by the recent Ministry of Culture poll every second citizen is ready to emigrate.

It’s pretty showing that young Ukrainians share the young Lithuanians’ “packing mood” because 56% of them would like to leave Ukraine, the same number as in Lithuania. In this contextt, Ukraine is a typical Eastern European country and the coming Vilnius Summit will likely make it official. This is why Ukrainian youth is one of the groups interested in associating with the European Union. “Associating” to the Ukrainian youth and middle class is now practically synonymous with non-visa travel over Europe as a minimum and at maximum – an opportunity to ditch the Ukrainian motherland.

So does Vilnius understand that in their desperate attempt to integrate Ukraine into the European Union, the Lithuanian government is actually backstabbing young Lithuanians by creating more competition in West Europe’s unqualified and low-paid labor market?

Talks of emigration are a sorry endeavor on its own. Obviously, no one wants to leave a prosperous country filled with social optimism. However, aside from emigration moods there is also actual emigration. According to the spring poll of Levada Center 22% of Russian population want to leave Russia (39% of Russians younger than 25 and 32% Russians aged 25-40), but according to the same poll, less than 1% actually take action on emigrating.

But in “New Europe” emigration is not a dream or a shout of protest, it’s a cruel reality.

“According to sociologist Charles Woolfson during Lithuania’s years of independence it has already lost 18% of its able population and the “evacuation” process continues. During the postwar years of Soviet “occupation” Lithuania’s population grew one million from 2,7 to 3,7 million people. And mostly through natural population growth. And during the time of its independence Lithuania lost 616,000 people. Nothing of the like has ever been seen in Lithuanian history, be it war times or peace times” said professor of Department European Studies of the Saint-Petersburg University, Nikolai Mezhevich in an analytical report made by group of experts.

A true Lithuanian patriot cringes at this comparison of the better Soviet times to the modern ones, but the problem is that Lithuanian experts repeat the Russian experts conclusions. The president of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists Robertas Dargis when speaking at a conference of European migration experts in Vilnius on the 5th of November said that in the good ol’ times Lithuania had 3,6 million people living in it, now it is believed that in 2021 there will be only 2,6 million.

The businessman linked Lithuanian emigration with the government’s failed efforts in decreasing structural unemployment. “Because global competition grows and markets which are exported by the EU are similar to, say for example, the manufacturing industry, profitability is around only 2,6%” said Robertas Dargis.

The head of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists admitted that the united European market has made the Lithuanian industry unable to compete, does not allow it to be export-oriented, created unemployment and, as a result, massive emigration.

The same situation is happening in other Eastern European countries. Even Poland can’t quite fight this trend – emigration is rising for a third year straight and has already gone over 2,1 million people. If we return these people to their historical homelands, it would only be worse – the economies were hit by the EU market and there are no work places for such number of people in Eastern Europe now. So it means unemployment will reach Portugal’s and Greece’s levels. And all these countries are “doing a favor” to Ukraine by leading it into EU?

We would be gravely simplifying things if we said that in the new Free World with a global economy and open borders only commodities compete with one another. Whole countries compete, but not for territories like in the old times of empires and war, but for people and their work.

And in this regard the main conclusion from the post-socialist history for if not all Eastern Europe, but the Baltic states for sure, is that they are losing global competition.

Перевод статьи: Павел Шамшиев.

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