Returning to The Motherland
The Baltic Diaspora talked of returning once their countries were liberated, and now with the Baltics included in the European Union some of the Diaspora are returning. Some are also returning who have gone West, to see if the grass was greener in other EU countries. Here are different stories about different people, under different circumstances, returning to "The Motherland."
Lithuania: Coming and going
By James Mcgeever
Lithuania has been suffering heavy losses in population numbers since around the time of independence in 1990. Add to this the opportunities offered by EU membership in 2004 and the number of people leaving the country has increased substantially. However, it's as difficult to get statistics on people coming into Lithuania as it is on people going out of Lithuania. Although exact figures on returnees are difficult to come by (the Lithuanian Migration Department cites inadequate recording methods and the absence of political will), the reasons why Lithuanians migrate are primarily of an economic nature. However, what perhaps is not so clear is why Lithuanians return to Lithuania; on which side of the fence is the grass greener?
Vijole Arbas (anglicized from Arbaciauskas) fled Lithuania with her parents just after the end of the second world war and arrived in America when she was 14 years old. Her childhood was spent living within a tight-knit Lithuanian community â€“ all wishing but never expecting independence to come and dreaming of what they would do when if ever it did happen.
Independence did come - a miracle that her parents had prayed for for nearly 50 years â€“ and when it did, Arbas returned to Lithuania in 1990 to teach at Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University, one of a fairly small, at first, ex-pat community all "high on independence," she says.
"I just kind of got stuck here" she says as her reason for staying so long. Arbas's first impressions here were of being 'drained of all knowledge of life in the West' by her students. Although their sense of life in the West was somewhat misconstrued, they were nevertheless all eager to taste that sense of freedom. Arbas felt that she was part of a movement of returnees all keen to quickly install a sense of change in the new independent LT.
In the intervening years Arbas has seen a much stronger sense of personal freedom emerge in Lithuanian people. "People now have a more open recognition of nationhood, history and culture, and they are so happy to show this. There is a vitality to life here now", she says, something that was clearly not evident in the early days of independence.
One criticism that Arbas has is that there are not enough Lithuanians returning, not enough investing money earned in the west over many years in the new economy here. "I don't mind that fact that young people are leaving Lithuania; good! That's what they need to do â€“ but please come back! We need you here to change and breathe new life into our economic and political system".
Figures from the Lithuanian Migration Department for 2005 appear to bear this out with the numbers of Lithuanians leaving three times higher than those returning. From both the Lithuanian Migration Department and the European Network for Migration, statistics support the knowledge that emigrants leaving Lithuania said they would not want to turn their backs on Lithuania permanently, with a significant majority only imagining a temporary stay abroad. The Office of National Statistics in Britain suggests that a significant amount of migration from Britain now is people returning to their homeland â€“ especially those people from new member states. This is some indication that the mass flow of Lithuanians leaving for Western Europe at least is not permanent.
One young person who did return is Kaunas-based Jurga Chomskyte who left Lithuania in 2000 to study a Master's Degree in London. "I always wanted to experience life outside of Kaunas, outside of Lithuania, although I always knew I would return to Kaunas, its something in my blood" she says.
Chomskyte explains the difficulty in adapting to life away from Lithuania: "I felt like an outsider. I remember the immigration controls at the airport on arrival in England questioning me as though I was arriving with the sole intention of wanting to stay for good and of having nothing to offer being there. It proved to be a rude awakening for me."
Jurga met her husband in London â€“ a British citizen she already knew from Lithuania - and after three years she and her new family returned to Lithuania. How did her husband feel about moving from his homeland to Lithuania? "For both of us it was an easy decision to make as we both had experience living in Lithuania. My husband still believes that the overall quality of life is much better in Lithuania than it is in England. Also English is an omnipresent language and culture; our daughter can learn it any time anywhere, but Lithuanian, this is more difficult." Chomskyte notices that Lithuanian society is generally more children-friendly than in England and that it is not so paranoid or politically correct about some social issues. There were also some softer reasons for returning home. "We both missed the feeling of being able to quickly and easily leave a city and be alone with nature. The peace and serenity of a few weeks near the lakes in the country is in unmatched by anything in England ".
Perhaps we are seeing proof that the grass is actually not always so greener on the other side. From an older generation returning with aspirations and high hopes, seeking to install a new sense of thinking and being in a newly independent country; to a younger generation concerned about keeping and passing on Lithuanian language, culture, and history. The Lithuanian government may become a little more concerned about the relatively few people returning when the official population count drops below three million.
Latvia: A family affair
By Larisa Medene
Because of the decline in Latvia's population from people exiting to other EU countries and the low birth rate, the Latvian government wants the Latvian Diaspora to move back. Many foreign born Latvians have flocked back to this newly developing land of opportunity never more so than after Latvia's accession into the EU. Not only are the older generations retiring to Latvia and the young single people looking for excitement and adventure, but a great many families are making the big move. Families are choosing to abandon the security and safety of suburbia, life with a steady income and mortgages and are starting from scratch in this ever changing very European, sometimes unpredictable, country. Whether it is a sense of coming home, experiencing first hand the culture and heritage they grew up with through books, stories, music and get-togethers, to be near family or for the abundance of opportunity, there is a huge network of Expats living here that now call Latvia home. Aussies with their laid back lifestyle, flip flops and sunshine did not come here to take over the world and build empires, they came to bask in the glory of the culture and to offer their skills, knowledge and services.
Four generations of the Brisbane Auliciems family have now relocated back to Latvia. Marianna, her Australian husband Jeremy and their two sons Matiss and Mikus have lived in Riga for six years, her brother is a Major in the Latvian Army, her parents have retired in Saldus, and just recently her 97 year old grandmother has come back to live in the house where she grew up. Marianna left a job as a curator at the Queensland Museum, to raise her children in Riga, immersing them in the Latvian language and culture. Her job now is translating and raising her sons, although she is involved in documenting Latvian history and actively participates in Latvian folk culture. Marianna and Jeremy founded and run a website www.dpalbums.lv dedicated to Latvians in displaced persons camps in Germany after the Second World War. People send in photos and tell their stories in an effort to preserve the past. Another website, www.muzeji.lv is the online Latvian Museum Association information centre, for locals and tourists interested in the culture and history of Latvia. Marianna is also a singer in a Latvian traditional vocal ensemble, "Saucejas" (callers), they are about to release their first CD. Marianna has also sung on a recent CD by the famous Latvian folk group "Ilgi".
Dr. Dainis Rungis, who specializes in plant genetics, and his Canadian Latvian wife Dace, have been living in Riga for over two years. They have two young daughters, Kaiva and Meta and are expecting a third child in December. Both their fathers Juris Rungis from Australia and Zigis Miezitis from Canada have been awarded the Latvian Order of the Three Stars for their dedicated contribution to Latvian folk dancing. Dace's mother, Solveiga Miezitis, has also been awarded the Three Star Medal. Dainis and Dace came here to raise their family and Dainis to work at Latvia's Gene Bank. Dainis is working on plant population genetics to examine the levels of biodiversity in forest and crop species and to apply modern molecular genetic methods to Latvia's selection programs. They really enjoy living here but like many families, they are concerned about their children's education.
Daina and Arnis Gross have been putting off the move to this side of the planet for many years. The couple have a strong sense of heritage which they wanted to pass onto their children, Laila, Olivers and Toms, so in May 2006 they finally made the big move. The couple pioneered the Melbourne-based online network LatBits.com. In 2000 LatBits amalgamated with America's Sveiks.com to bring Latvians the world over closer together with Latviansonline.com, a global Internet meeting place for Latvians and its Diaspora, that offers regular news, current affairs and interviews, forums and more from Latvia and abroad. Arnis is working as the IT Manager for the Baltic region at KPMG, an international audit firm, and Daina is involved with the World Federation of Free Latvians (PBLA) in the education sector. The children's education has been a focal point during the move. There are a good many schools but most are under funded and under staffed. Their two older children have found it a challenge to adjust to a different education system, with a huge emphasis on homework, rote-learning and classes in confined spaces with no playgrounds. Kids then let off excess energy in the classroom, disturbing lessons. Despite this the family has been making the most of their time in Latvia and taking every opportunity to enjoy cultural and sporting activities. The ease of traveling to other European countries, which are right next door, has also been an added bonus.
There are many couples from many countries who have made the big step with their children in tow. Latvia is a beautiful country with so much to offer families. There is somewhere to go everyday, whether it be parks, cultural events, festivals or concerts, there is such a sense of society and a vibrant energy, once you return, it is very hard to contemplate ever going back.
Information, support and even compensation for those considering or have already relocated to Latvia can be found at the Repatriation Division at the office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs,
Estonia: Love of opportunity vs. love of country
By Rachel J. K. Grace
Estonians love Estonia. I've even heard it said that the Irish are flagburners by comparison, though I'm pretty sure that was a joke. Still, those who do move away usually manage to come back at least a few times each year. And those who can move back often do.
Gert Tiivas first left Estonia for the United States in the early 1990s. He spent nearly eight years there, finishing high school and obtaining undergraduate and graduate degrees. He then returned to Estonia after receiving a job offer that led to him becoming the Chief Executive of the Tallinn Stock Exchange. He is now the head of East Capital's Tallinn office and spends most of his time traveling outside of Estonia. His wife, also Estonian, lives in London and spends much of her time travelling for work as well.
Estonia is still Gert's home "psychologically," but he hopes to live in many different parts of the world. "Until recently, I always thought that Estonia is where I want to reside. Now I'm not so sure anymore. I want my children to grow up to be truly open-minded and international."
Not all Estonians are motivated to return to Estonia due to great job offers. More likely, they want to live close to family and friends. Piret Simpson married an Englishman, and the newlyweds decided to live in England. It was only after living in England for several years that the subject of moving to Estonia came up. Piret explains, "We started discussing returning after about five years there as my husband felt that it was not fair that we had had the privilege of living close to his parents for so long and I only saw mine once a year." After seven years of living in England, Piret and her husband moved back to Estonia. Her time in England has certainly proven useful, however, as she is now an English teacher. "I found my vocation in teaching and want to do that for the foreseeable future here in Estonia. So, at the moment, there are no plans for moving anywhere else."
But, they are not ruling out the option.
While Estonia offers parental benefits, good schools, and a progressively-decreasing income tax much more favorable than its Nordic neighbors, it lacks a compelling draw that would encourage Estonians not to move abroad. The liberalized business haven and zero tax on reinvested corporate income have helped bring jobs to Estonia, but the next step is finding a way for its jobs and opportunities to parallel those of western societies. Until Estonia finds its niche, the greatest pull back to Estonia will likely be family and friends.