We spend so much time and devote nearly exclusive attention to what’s going on in the US that we are unaware of what is happening in much of the rest of the world. Latvia is one of the small Baltic States that stand between Russia and Europe.
There’s lots happening elsewhere and events in distant places have great meaning and portend much for the future. We should pay attention.
Latvia, a disappearing nation
Since it joined the EU, the country has lost one-fifth of its population.
From Politico: By GORDON F. SANDER , 1/5/18
RIGA — Atis Sjanits has an unusual remit for an ambassador. The Latvian diplomat is not responsible for relations with another nation — but with his own country’s diaspora.
Sjanits’ job is to respond to the exodus triggered by Latvia’s accession to the EU. Since joining the bloc, nearly a fifth of the nation has left to work in more affluent EU nations: The U.K., Ireland, Germany.
In 2000, Latvia’s population stood at 2.38 million. At the start of this year, it was 1.95 million. No other country has had a more precipitous fall in population — 18.2 percent according to U.N. statistics. Only Latvia’s similarly fast-shriveling neighbor, Lithuania, with a 17.5 percent decrease, and Georgia, with a 17.2 percent drop, come close.
“The reality is that we are losing people — fast,” Sjanits said in an interview in his spare office at the imposing foreign ministry building in the capital.
To be sure, economic migration is not the only reason for the country’s declining population. The small Baltic republic’s comparatively low birth rate and high mortality rate are also contributing factors.
The end result, said Sjanits, is nothing less than a threat to the viability of the Latvian state. Put another way, not enough future soldiers — or taxpayers — are being born.
“Latvia is already a country with low population density,” said Otto Ozols, a prominent journalist and television commentator. “At this rate, in 50 years or so, Latvia may cease to be a nation.”
“It’s five minutes to midnight for us,” he said.
The impact of Latvia’s population crisis is severest, and most evident, in its poorest region, Latgale, in the country’s southeast corner bordering Russia. The average monthly wage in Latvia is €670 a month. In Latgale, people generally earn about half that. “Wages here are a joke,” said Aleksandr Rube, a journalist with Latgales Laiks, a regional newspaper. “Is it any wonder that people want to leave?”
Some young people move to the capital, Riga — whose population of 640,000 is actually slightly on the increase after a long decline. But most simply leave the country. Blocks of empty buildings near the center of the regional capital Daugavpils give the city a sense of partial abandonment.
“It’s just too easy,” said Rube. “Borders are open, information about life in other EU states is available and everyone is doing it. So, off our young people go to England or Ireland or Germany.”
Generally, they don’t return — except to visit.
“I don’t want to come back,” said Irina Sivakova, 22, who left for England several years ago and was in town visiting her sister. “The situation here is too bad.” Asked about the impact of Brexit on how she’s been treated in the country, however, she acknowledged that “a lot of Brits don’t like us.”
People like Sivakova are the despair of Vladislavs Stankevics, the sturdily optimistic head of economic development for Latgale. “There are jobs here,” he insisted in his office in an old Soviet era walk-up in the center. “Basically, everyone who is willing to work has a real chance to stay and work.”