Recent studies conducted by Baltic sociologists are confirming that a Europe of “two speeds” is not merely a fantasy of some journalists. A few days ago, Lithuanian research center Spinter Tyrimai published a rather disturbing report indicating that every sixth Lithuanian studies English in order to emigrate to another European country that can be found the list of “first speed” ones. It’s also been noted by the people that took part in the above mentioned poll that the absolute majority of the Lithuanian population regards their home state as a “launch pad” for a search of a better life in more prosperous Western European states.
This notion is confirmed by statistics showing that in some sparsely populated areas of Lithuania there are only two to five inhabitants per square kilometer, a population rate that can be found in some deserts. The latest Eurostat report on the situation in Lithuania shows that up to 29% of the inhabitants are living on the verge of poverty, with the situation remaining unchanged for eight consecutive years. At the same time, Lithuania is among the top five states of the EU where people are being employed for meager salaries.The sad reality of this trend is evident in historical records showing an unprecedented drop in the population of this Baltic country, falling from 3.7 million back in 1990 to 2.8 million in 2016. Income inequality and the striking poverty of some Lithuanian residents is only getting worse over time, putting Lithuania on the list of the poorest EU states. A typical resident would pay a third of his monthly salary in a bid to get access to healthcare services.
It’s not surprising that for many years Lithuania has had the largest number of suicide cases in the EU. Therefore, it is quite understandable why Lithuania remains a country that consumes more alcohol than any other, as it’s been stated by the World Health Organization (WHO).A similar situation can be seen in other Eastern European countries, that are being described, according to Der Spiegel, as so-called “second speed EU states.”For instance, after obtaining independence from the Soviet bloc in 1991, the population of yet another Baltic country – Latvia has been diminishing annually with the rate of 23,000 people a year. These frightening figures were unveiled last March by a professor of the University of Latvia, demographer Peteris Zvidriņš who would note that the sad reality is that Latvia loses a small town every two weeks. In raw figures, that is 55 people a day, or 1,650 people a month.Another Latvian demographer, who heads a local office of the International Organization for Migration of the United Nations, Ilmar Mezhs, has recently told Skaties.lv that most of those who are leaving Latvia are not planning to go back. Referring to the forecasts of Eurostat, Mezhs suggested that in sixty years in the place of 2.7 million people who had previously resided in Latvia, one would find less than a million people still dwelling in this country. According to preliminary reports, the country’s population has already been reduced to 1.946 million people.Latvia has been plagued by high mortality rates along with the massive exodus of its people since 1991. According to LTV7, a local media station, the situation in maternity wards across Latvia is critical: low salaries often go hand-in-hand with a shortage of medical personnel, especially young professionals. If the situation is not addressed urgently, as various Latvian media sources report, there will be no qualified doctors left in hospitals.
The problem is that large numbers of people have been living below the poverty line for years with no sign of improvement. This statement was made by the Commissioner for Human Rights in Latvia, Juris Jansons during an address he made in front of the local parliament last March. It’s no wonder then that according to the official records a total of 115,000 people a year in Latvia are suffering from clinical depression, which amounts to every fourteenth resident of the country, and these people need treatment, notes the Latvian information agency LETA.
Latvia has overtaken Estonia in the number of people newly infected with HIV in 2016, thus becoming a leading EU state in this area. This data was presented by the BNS agency along with the Baltic HIV Association with a special reference to the data provided by the epidemiological surveillance authorities.
The terrible conditions that people live in in this Baltic country include the fact that out of all migrants who arrived in Latvia in accordance with the European refugee transfer program, only five people decided to stay in that country, with the remaining refugees fleeing Latvia immediately upon their arrival. Among those who remained there was one family of three people and two more refugees, one of whom would still leave Latvia eventually.
The long list of domestic social problems in the Baltic states has been largely ignored by media engaged in a massive Russophobia campaign promoted by Washington. Yet, local governments are diverting funds from social programs in order to keep buying weapons from “first-tier” EU countries. As for the funds allocated by the so-called Western allies, the most Lithuanian armed forces can do with this kind of money is to purchase outdated M-14 rifles for the light motorized infantry brigade Aukštaitija, as it’s been noted by NATO Commander Lieutenant-General Vytautas Jonas Žukas in April.
According to Latvian media, Latvia can also afford the purchase of second-hand howitzers from Austria, paying 6 million euros up front, according to a deal signed by the Latvian Defense Minister Raymond Bergmanis.
It is unlikely that such used weapons can really be useful for the Baltic states since they’re not going to improve the social situation in these “second-tier” in any way.
Meanwhile, more than a half of Latvian bridges need urgent repairs, but funds are nowhere to be found. According to local authorities, the evaluation of the condition of more than 970 bridges conducted back in 2016 reveals the condition of 35% as bad, 13.1% as very bad, and 16 bridges bearing signs limiting the maximum mass of vehicles. In total, 467 similar engineering structures require urgent attention now.
Rolandas Paksas, the former president of Lithuania and now the European Parliament deputy, summed up the results of the post-Soviet period in the history of the republic in March. In his opinion, nothing has been done in the past twenty-seven years of independence nor has anything been built. Therefore, as Paksas points out, every year there are fewer and fewer people in Lithuania, and the life of those who remain is only becoming more difficult.
Prosperity of the countries of the “second-tier” is now publicly linked by local politicians to the attitude that the United States has towards them. At least, the chairman of the Latvian Sejm Inara Murniece wasn’t ashamed to openly declare as much last April during a meeting with the speaker of the House of Representatives of the US Congress Paul Ryan in Washington.
However, these countries should not forget that the new administration of the White House has repeatedly stated that it does not intend to spend money on the support of its allied states, while bearing in mind these “second-tier” European states are barely clinging to life. So it’s about time for the local government of these states to start paying closer attention to the problems at hand, spending funds to address the most pressing social problems of the populations that elected them in the first place.
Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.