Are Lithuanians no longer attracted to life in Scandinavia?

A happy Lithuanian child
A happy Lithuanian child/ Fotolia photo

In recent years, we have observed a pleasing phenomenon – more and more Lithuanians living abroad are packing their bags and returning home.  Over the last three years, 58,868 Lithuanians have returned to Lithuania, which is 17,000 more than those who left. The annual diaspora surveys carried out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that the potential is not yet exhausted – as many as 72% of Lithuanians abroad plan to return sooner or later.

Are Scandinavian advantages fading?

High living standards, attractive wages and good social protection have long tempted Lithuanians to seek a better life in the Nordic countries. After Brexit in 2020, it was predicted that Lithuanians would continue their search for a better life in Scandinavia, but this has not happened. Last year alone, 1 546 people left Norway, 564 left Denmark, and a smaller number – 461 left Sweden. 

Migration experts believe that the situation has changed not abroad but in Lithuania. According to Edita Urbanovič, head of the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) I Choose Lithuania project, Lithuanians are weighing up the cost of living: “Most Lithuanians left at the height of the crisis in 2008. If we look back, the gap between the salaries and what you can afford living in Norway and Lithuania was really big. Now the situation has changed significantly – there is no longer a fourfold difference in salaries; you can earn money here too.”

Norway is just a temporary stop for many

Norway is a popular choice for seasonal work among Lithuanians. Many of those who arrive without knowing Norwegian work in the construction, transport and industrial sectors. Once they arrive, they realise that they may have to work long hours to earn more money. “Our start in Norway was difficult at the beginning; we lived worse than in Lithuania. At that time, every Swedish Krone was expensive, and we had to save money,” says Tomas Jurgeliūnas, who spent 13 years in Norway.  

The emphasis on high salaries in Scandinavia often overlooks other aspects, such as the cost of rent, insurance, transport and other necessities of life. In Norway, for example, unlike in Lithuania, you also have to pay every time you visit the doctor. In Norway, if you want to rent your own apartment or room, you have to pay a significant amount of your savings upfront – deposits for renting are up to 3 months’ rent, and you are often asked to pay for the current month as well, so newcomers can be asked to pay thousands of euros upfront.

Due to the high cost of services in Norway, many Lithuanians not only visit their relatives when they come home for holidays but also seek out doctors, cosmetologists, hairdressers and other specialists. Food prices have risen considerably recently, with the price of groceries in Norway rising by about 20% in one year. “For a family of four, we spend an average of EUR 2,000 per month on food alone,” says T. Jurgeliūnas about the price increases in Norway.

Highest taxes and happiest people?

Similar prices prevail in Denmark, which has repeatedly won the title of the happiest country. Urbanovič, who went to Denmark for a summer job but ended up living there for six years, has managed to figure out the Danish formula for happiness. “Danes don’t drive better cars or wear nicer clothes. Most of them live in rented accommodation all their lives. Although they earn higher salaries, they pay some of the highest taxes in Europe. And their secret is simple – the ability to enjoy the small pleasures of everyday life and the realisation that happiness is not in the amount of money you earn.”  

Sooner or later, once you have tasted the bread of an emigrant, you realise that no matter how favourable the economic situation in a foreign country, no matter how cosy the cultural environment is, it will never replace the feeling of being at home and connected to loved ones.  “Yes, the Scandinavian countries are wonderful, with beautiful nature, positive people, great working conditions and social security. But they are not and will never be our countries, where we will always be foreigners and where homesickness and longing for relatives and friends will be a constant torment. We stopped lying to ourselves and asked ourselves where we really wanted to build our future, and the answer was Lithuania,” says Ieva Pociuvienė, who recently returned.

Living in a Lithuanian bubble

Although Sweden offers immigrants every opportunity to help them integrate into society, it is only personal values and attitudes towards maintaining one’s own identity that determines the success of integration. Most Swedish Lithuanians see themselves as immigrants, living in another country but maintaining ties with their home country. Participation in the community life of Swedish Lithuanians, meetings with Lithuanian visitors, and celebrations of important Lithuanian holidays contributes to the desire of Lithuanians living here to maintain their Lithuanian identity.  

Daiva Rauktytė, who shares her emigration story, says: “From the first days in Sweden, I tried to learn the language and look for friends among the locals. I was surprised to find that Lithuanians living in their own bubble: communicating only with each other when necessary, looking for Lithuanian doctors, Lithuanian goods etc. I wanted to integrate, and I made new friends, but I soon realised that Sweden was not going to be home after all. The Swedish bureaucracy also made things very difficult. When I come back, I sometimes long for that Scandinavian simplicity – they don’t flaunt things or how much they earn. But in Lithuania, I feel at home – unlike abroad, I can always invite a friend over for a glass of wine and talk about everything. These things are more important than any money.”

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