Even though Turkish migrant Halaf Kacmaz has been living in Vilnius for the past five years, working, paying taxes, and speaking Lithuanian, he resents that, unlike other migrants, he also needs to take a national Lithuanian language exam as well as an exam on the basics of the Constitution, Arūnas Dumalakas wrote in Lrytas.lt.
“This is the entrance to Lithuania. If I pass the exams, I will stay. If not – I will have to leave,” the 39-year-old H. Kacmaz said Thursday.
The barber speaks with his clientele in Lithuanian, however, to be allowed to remain in Vilnius he is asked to know how to write in Lithuanian as well and know the Constitution.
H. Kacmaz poured out his dissatisfaction: asylum-seekers often do not know a single word in Lithuanian but gain permanent residence. In addition, the state pays them 200 – 300 euros in welfare.
Meanwhile, H. Kacmaz earns his living through a trade, which he began learning when he was six years old, and pays taxes while working 10 hours a day.
However, the biggest problem is the fact that H. Kacmaz cannot find a Turkish teacher who could teach him more Lithuanian. The situation was made worse by the quarantine.
There were no more spaces in Vilnius
His temporary residence permit to live in Lithuania expires in two months. If he does not pass the exams, he will not have another chance. This is because the national language and the basics of the Constitution exams for foreigners are only offered a few times a year.
“If I don’t pass it – I’m only going to be a Turkish tourist in Vilnius,” smiled the barber, who serves many clients. If he is lucky, he will be eligible to apply for permanent residence in Lithuania. The results of the exams will be clear next week.
Besides, it was not easy to find a place to take the exam – even before the quarantine, Vilnius did not have any available spaces for the exams, even though they were only scheduled for July 2nd. The examiners suggested trying Nemenčinė (Vilnius region) or Trakai. H. Kacmaz chose the latter.
The Turk admitted that his current temporary residency permit to live in Lithuania does not give him the right to rent an apartment, nor does it allow him to lease items. Such a life has become tiring.
Recited historical facts
H. Kacmaz understands everything in Lithuanian that has to do with cutting hair or trimming beards. And not only that. One can speak with him in Lithuanian about a wide range of topics, however, writing is a struggle.
The barber recalled that Tatars, the ancestors of the Turks, were already in Lithuania in 1397 when the Grand Duke Vytautas founded the first Tatar settlement.
“After all, the Turkish nation was formed from nomadic Turkic cattle breeders. And the Tatars’ ancestors were also from Turkic tribes,” H. Kacmaz said.
It is said that Tatars brought cucumbers, onions, and kibinai to Lithuania. Lithuanians today forget that cabbage rolls, dumplings, and chebureki are only eaten because these foods were brought in by the Tatars.
Turkic peoples are also the ancestors of the Karaites, who have a community in Trakai where H. Kacmaz took his exams.
“We are connected by old bonds, it’s just that some want there to be as few as possible,” H. Kacmaz smiled.
Unable to find a teacher
H. Kacmaz admitted that his problem is that he does not know either English or Russian. He said that it is enough to know only Turkish in the capital city Istanbul where he hails from.
It is a city with a population of 15 million people and unlike the resorts of Alanya, Kemer or Marmaris, where almost every citizen works in the tourism sector and cannot escape knowing a foreign language.
While searching for someone to teach him more Lithuanian, the Turk found teachers who spoke a wide variety of languages, but not Turkish.
He found three lecturers working in Vilnius University who knew Turkish, but they either refused to teach H. Kacmaz or the lesson time offered was unsuitable.
“I work during the day, and during the evenings, no one wants to be pestered by lessons with a foreigner,” the newcomer sighed.
Even though Vilnius citizens get the impression that the capital has a lot of Turks who live here permanently, according to H. Kacmaz there are only about fifty of them. There are a lot of Turkish students, but they only stay in Vilnius for a couple of months.
Many foreigners work
H. Kacmaz was invited to Vilnius by a Turk who had been living in Vilnius for the past 17 years because one of the barbershops was looking for a barber. The newcomer stated that he was not disappointed by the peaceful city, which seemed like an oasis of silence after the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.
H. Kacmaz was the first Turkish barber in Vilnius. Now, another two Turks, three Columbians, two Azerbaijanis, and one worker from Mexico, Syria, and Libya work in his three barbershops.
H. Kacmaz visits his native Turkey one or two times each year.
All of his brothers and sisters have started families, his mother died a couple of years ago, leaving only his father.
“I’m lonely.” H. Kacmaz knows this Lithuanian word too. He does not have a family yet.
Shaving beards with knives
H. Kacmaz started working in a barbershop as a child. He said he could not boast that the barbers gave him the tools right away. At first, as a child, he only swept the floor and tidied up the shop. At the age of eight, he became a barber’s aide.
H. Kacmaz’s older brother also became a barber, even though both his father and grandfather earned their living with a different trade as long-distance drivers.
When asked about the barbershops in Vilnius, H. Kacmaz told us the biggest difference: Lithuanian barbers do not know how to shave with knives. “I’ve seen more mistakes, but it’s difficult to explain to someone who is not a barber,” the Turk said.
Coming from a country that cherishes the old traditions of barbers, H. Kacmaz now receives praise from his clients, who say that their hairstyle and beards match their faces.
Has not tested the bitter cold
“When it’s forty degrees in Turkey, I say that it’s a cause for celebration. If such temperatures stay long in Turkey, it’s considered a good year,” H. Kacmaz stated in the heat of the sunshine.
To him, the Lithuanian climate seems humid, so the heat is different. When the temperature reaches thirty degrees, it feels like fifty to the Turk.
The Turk has also not been tested by the bitter cold in Vilnius, as moderate, snow-free winters have prevailed in the last couple of years.
The number has grown significantly
According to Gintautas Dulskas from the National Centre of Exams (NEC), the number of people wanting to take the first category national language knowledge exams has grown significantly this year: 97 candidates took the language exam in Vilnius on Thursday, while 90 took the basics of the Constitution exam. In Trakai, the numbers were 16 and 11, respectively.
These exams are required for those who want to gain permanent residency in Lithuania.
The national language exam is also mandatory for workers in qualifying jobs – such as taxi and bus drivers and security guards.
However, Vilnius residents have come into contact with Ukrainian or Belarusian taxi drivers who don’t know a single word in Lithuanian.
This week, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Syrians, Russians, Azerbaijanis, Moldovans, Indians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Vietnamese, Iranians, French, and Spaniards took the exams in Vilnius, while newcomers from Turkey, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan took exams in Trakai.
G. Dulskas said that in Trakai, the exams were mostly taken by immigrant family members, all of whom were men.
The NEC representative noted that the number of foreigners taking the exams has increased by about five times this year. The newcomers want to stay, live, and work here, and a greater number of them have started families here.
When asked why they want to stay in Lithuania, almost everyone responds that life is calm here, and that they do not live with fear.
Certificates were sold
A couple of weeks ago suspicion arose over the Vilnius centre for the National language and basics of the Constitution exams. A corruption scheme had operated here that made it possible for foreigners to live in Lithuania illegally.
The prosecutor of the Organized Crime and Corruption Investigation Division of the Vilnius Regional Prosecutor’s Office drafted an indictment and referred to the court allegations of possible corruption-related crimes that made it possible for foreigners to fraudulently pass the Lithuanian language proficiency and basics of the Constitution exams. Six individuals have been implicated: former chairman of the Vilnius exam qualification commission Aušra Mažonienė and five others.
The former chairman is accused of allowing foreigners to pass exams with the help of intermediary test-takers.
During the pre-trial investigation, enough evidence was gathered to confirm that foreigners had been able to purchase certifications without taking the exams.
These certifications are required to apply for permanent residency with the Migration Department.