“Deserted Lithuania relies on refugees” was the headline over this picture from the Sunday Times last weekend.
The story told of Vilius Leveris‘s problems in recruiting staff for his new upmarket barbers’ shop in Vilnius and how he had to resort to recruiting at a refugee hostel when no locals came forward.
In the last 4 years he has taken on 12 staff from Turkey, Libya, Syria, Morocco and Colombia. He even went to Iran to recruit. He said “I couldn’t find anyone here. Even getting a wet shave is a completely new thing. Now if a refugee who was a barber at home arrives in Lithuania, the refugee centre calls me at once.”
Vilius’s experience is the result of the depopulation of the country with people leaving to earn more money elsewhere. Average earnings in Lithuania are £166 a week compared to just over £500 in the UK. Vilius says 50% of his university colleagues have left the country, which he finds sad and demoralising at times.
The Sunday Times report mentions other business people who have trouble recruiting and keeping locals, whether in Pizzerias or chicken processing factories, and the problems of finding craftsmen.
The country’s population has declined from 3 million a decade ago, when I first started visiting, to 2.6 million today. Half of the emigrants have gone to Britain. (Although there are many people in Britain who claim to be Lithuanian who can’t speak a word of the language – strange that!). It’s thought some might return after Brexit and the fall in the value of the pound.
The exodus has now become an issue in parliament and has seen a rise in support for the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union (LVZS) which accuses the government of not doing enough to stem migration.
A protest party which had one MP now has 54 of the 141 seats in parliament after last week’s elections. A big shock but perhaps inevitable after grumblings about the way the old coalition worked – not so well!