Opinion: There’s room in Lithuania for 5 million people

Romas Sadauskas-Kvietkevičius, I. Sadauskienės nuotr.

The recent days have been all about the migrant crisis in Europe. The fact that unknown dark-skinned people from faraway lands whose language and culture are little known to the average person, have been pushing into Europe in masses is in itself an easy subject that the doters on their voters can use as a scary bedtime story. They rush to proclaim themselves the single saviour who will not let the invading hordes into our country or at least not into their constituency.

“They’ll have to rape me before I’ll agree to take in those, as you say, refugees,” was what Valdemaras Valkiūnas, the mayor of Biržai, said.

Do you think “rape” and “refugees” used in the same sentence was an accident?

The people who put their signatures under the call for referendum on banning sale of land to foreigners and nodded in agreement to tales tales about aliens desecrating Lithuania’s holy land have not disappeared anywhere.

Word after word fell into the well-prepared soil in their heads and sprouted thorns of fear and hatred. It rose like hedgerow and obfuscated the broader view of the world. And no barbed wire fence will be able to protect their country and especially their constituency from the processes of migration from East to West and from South to North that have been going on for decades.

One hundred or one thousand refugees is just a droplet from the wave of migration of nations that will flood us as soon as Lithuania catches up with Europe when it comes to salaries. Xenophobes could offer their voters an immigration reduction programme that would envisage scaring away investors, dragging down average and minimum wage and dismantling welfare system.

If living in Lithuania is going to be worse than in those countries the migrants are fleeing, then they couldn’t be forced to live here. All I ask is that those politicians who constantly proclaim themselves custodians of ethnic purity be the first to take a vow of poverty, starting with Rolandas Paksas who on Saturday called for “prevention of the threat to Lithuanian identity” and finishing with the yet-to-be-raped mayor of Biržai.

And if you do not wish to choose to live in poverty, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that it’s highly likely that in 15 to 20 years Lithuania might be home to 4 or 5 million people living admirably together. Not only will the capital become a vibrant multinational city, but big and hard-working families from Africa and the Middle East will be living in the apartment blocks of stagnant provincial towns where the old people are gradually dying off and whose children and grandchildren have settled successfully in Great Britain and Norway. These will be hard-working families, because the welfare system in Lithuania is not and for a long time probably never will be generous enough to entice benefit-hunters.

We’re already a hospitable, friendly country that is open to the experiences of people from other countries and so cultural, linguistic and religious diversity will bring about much less misapprehensions than the instigators of discord try to depict. I hear stories of a mother in a Dzūkija village generously agreeing to have over for the holidays her emigrant children, her dark-skinned grandchildren and sons and daughters-in-law of other faiths. How glad she is that Mohammed won’t stagger off to some beer-on-tap dive, that Bhakti won’t raise her voice to the family elders, even if at the table they refuse another serving of cepeliniai with pork gravy she so insistently offers.

Lithuanians of the 20th century very quickly adapted to norms forced upon them by one or other occupant and in emigration they’ve shown an exceptional ability to integrate. And so that’s why when the time comes here in Lithuania, when we become a minority, first in the big cities and then in the entire country, it will not be difficult for us to adapt.

Instead of wasting time discussing events that we cannot either stop or change, we now have to plan the future of our country, bearing in mind that ten or perhaps hundreds of millions of people from Asia and Africa have already decided to take the long journey to Europe. No borders, seas or politicians’ decisions will stop them. The conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Libya only accelerate what was happening before and what’s happening now, even if the fires of war there are somehow extinguished. If today it seems to us that the minarets of mosques will defile the skyline of Vilnius, just imagine what a pagan in the Middle Ages could’ve thought of the church steeples so admired by today’s visitors to the capital city.

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