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Migrant workers in Lithuania: we need workers, uninvited guests

Гастарбайтеры в Литве: нужные работники, незваные гости

Migrant workers from Belarus and Ukraine to fill gaps in the Lithuanian labour market, resulting from the outflow of Lithuanians abroad. But in a country they don’t like worrying about national identity.

“Me on the balcony of the wounded alien! And next door belching smoke! Help!” The caller in the Lithuanian emergency services almost screamed in horror. The arrived police and ambulance found inside the apartment dead. Another man with stab wounds were on the neighboring balcony. The apartment is on the third floor of nine-storey residential house in Kaunas was on fire.

Soon, the police managed to detain the suspect – he was a Builder of Ukraine. As it turned out, at a party with fellow countrymen had a quarrel over money ended in bloodshed, murder and, finally, setting fire to the apartment – a clumsy attempt to conceal the crime. In little Lithuania incidents of this kind happen very rarely, so that this crime has attracted the attention of the media and the public, and also became the occasion for discussion about migrant workers, the future of the country and its identity.

At the time when Lithuania in 1991 seceded from the Soviet Union, there lived 3.7 million people. Today, the population has decreased by almost 2.8 million inhabitants and its population continues to fall. Since Lithuania’s accession to the EU in 2004, its citizens – as, indeed, the population of neighboring Baltic States – EN masse flocked to find work in more prosperous countries, mainly in the UK, Norway and Germany. According to some sociologists and demographers, by 2050 Lithuania will be only two million inhabitants.

Legal and illegal migrant workers in Lithuania

Local businesses – mostly companies engaged in the field of construction, logistics, and retail chains have started to employ residents of Ukraine and Belarus. The number of migrant workers from Ukraine increased in 2014: Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Peninsula of Crimea and the Russian intervention in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has led almost to the collapse of the Ukrainian economy. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians went to work abroad.

Lithuania is attractive for the Ukrainians due to many factors. It is close, there is still a saying in Russian, and after the transition in 2015 to the Euro, the country is experiencing economic recovery. The Lithuanian government is one of the staunchest supporters of Ukraine in the international arena. 2017 Ukrainians can travel to Lithuania and other Schengen countries without a visa and work permit the Lithuanian consulates can be obtained without much fuss and in most cases free of charge.

According to the Ministry of internal Affairs of Lithuania, the number of Ukrainians with a temporary residence permit in the country in the first half of this year increased by more than 50 percent compared with the 2017 year. The number of citizens of Belarus increased by 20 percent, the Russians 8 percent. However, in absolute terms these numbers remain small: in Lithuania legally live a little over 54 thousand foreigners, but their presence is becoming more noticeable. In parallel with the legal migration is gradually increasing and the number of those working “black”.

38-year-old Jaroslav is a professional masseuse. He regularly arrives in Vilnius from Kiev ostensibly as a tourist, in fact – to work: even working illegally, he gets in Lithuania much more than would be earned at home. “Look, – says Yaroslav. – Depending on the level of the salon hour massage here can cost up to 70 euros. I take an hour of work 20 and sometimes 10 euros – and for me it is good money”. According to Kiev, it makes up for the lack of specialists on the market, which arose after his Lithuanian colleagues went to look for work in other EU countries. Ideally, Jaroslav would like to access in Lithuania, your own massage and to work legally.

The point of no return for Lithuanians?

But mostly the people of Ukraine and Belarus work in Lithuania legally. “I pay my workers for 4.50 euros per hour and they are ready to work 10-12 hours a day, – says 42-year-old Alexander, who leads the team of builders of Ukraine. At home they will never earn that kind of money”. This is what is considered a problem by some residents of Lithuania.

“Migrant workers bring down prices in the labour market. They work where could work Lithuanians, so our citizens have to go to Stavanger or Manchester – indicates Laurynas Kasciunas, Deputy of the Lithuanian Parliament from the center-right opposition party “Union of Fatherland – Christian Democrats of Lithuania”. – The Lithuanian government should support the family, to ensure that the population grew due to the increase in the birth rate, and to persuade to return of those who left.”

“There are no official data confirming that the Ukrainians and Belarusians take jobs away from the Lithuanians,” argues the doctor of philosophy of Vilnius University and a former Deputy Minister of science and education neria Putinite. Many in the country think she’s too liberal views on migration. “The Lithuanians started to move to other EU countries 15 years ago, immediately after the country’s accession to the EU. At that time, there has not been the Ukrainians,” she recalls.

The talk of some politicians about the fact that the Lithuanian immigrants will soon return home, is nothing more than illusion, self-deception, I’m sure Putinite. “Our government should pay more attention to the successful integration of migrants: to improve language learning for foreigners, to provide scholarships for Ukrainian and Belarusian students so they can study in Lithuania”, – said the Professor of Vilnius University. But, in her words, Lithuanians are not particularly interested in increasing the number of foreigners in the country.

This way of thinking is inherent not only Lithuania but also other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the history of which is associated with repression, resistance and survival. “Our people have lived through Polonization after in 1596, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania United with the Polish Kingdom – explains the sociologist Vladas Gaidis, Director of the Center for the study of public opinion and market research Vilmorus. – Then Lithuania was ruled by Russian Empire conducted in XIX-XX centuries a policy of Russification. After that was the Soviet Union with mass executions and deportations. All this has led to the fact that modern Lithuanians jealously defend their national identity and statehood”.

Lithuanian nationalists have no chance. Yet?

The migration crisis of 2015-2016, which is painfully experienced by many European countries is almost not affected Lithuania and did not affect the results of the last parliamentary elections in 2016. Extremely the right Union, Lithuanian nationalists could not even come close to the four percent threshold, the overcoming of which is necessary for getting parties in the Parliament. The winner of the elections become moderate eurosceptics of “Union of farmers and “green” Lithuania”, promising citizens the prosperity and increase in wages. In 2015 the Lithuanian government has accepted several hundred refugees, mostly from the Middle East, but they stayed in the country for a while.

And MP Kasciunas conservative and liberal Professor Putinaite, and sociologist Gaidis believe that a significant inflow in Lithuania are migrants from States outside of Europe stir up nationalist sentiment in the country. But they agree that such changes unlikely threaten Lithuania in the near future.

“Migrants from the Middle East and Africa believe that life in Lithuania is difficult – frankly said one of the officials of the Ministry of internal Affairs of Lithuania in an interview with DW. Coldly, the amount of social assistance is minimal, there are no national fraternities or relatives, national restaurants with familiar food a little. Who wants to stay here?”.

At the moment, this means that the issue of migration in Lithuania is the subject of fierce debate. But if more Lithuanians in search of a better life will move to more developed European countries, this topic, in the end, will occupy a Central place in the political debate. Lithuanian society is forced to face the problems of migration and national identity, not especially relevant today.

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