One of the “horror stories” for the Baltic region since its accession into the EU in 2014 has been possible inflow of migrants from Asia and Africa. The key concern of the Balts in recent years was that those “savages” might flood their region and ruin their national mentality. And now this possibility seems to be coming true as having pulled down the stability in Libya and Syria (just like Samson pulled the temple down on his own head), the EU is now facing a surge of refugees and the need to settle them somewhere.
And it was probably here that they in Brussels remembered the three tiny Baltic republics, where the greater part of the population is still white-skinned. “This is not right!” - that’s what they probably said.
One of the key problems of the Baltic states is demography: their populations keep shrinking. Today, Latvia has fewer than 2,000,000 residents against 2,700,000 in the early 1990s. According to the UN, by 2050 Estonia will have just 1,233,000 residents – 100,000 fewer than today. In Lithuania, the population has dropped from 3,700,000 in the early 1990s to just 3,000,000 today. In Riga in early 2014 there were 701,000 residents, today, there are just 688,000.
The key cause is emigration. History professor from Vilnius University Ludas Truska even compares it with the plague that depopulated Lithuania in early 1800s.
“I don’t blame those emigrating from the country. I would probably do the same if I were in their shoes. But what will be our future if this continues? There is one scenario: we’ll have to let Chinese and Arabs in so they could earn money for our pensions,” Truska says.
Who will be the population of the Baltic region in the future? Latvian demographer Ilmars Mezs assumes that in some 100 years most of the people living in Latvia will wonder why it is called so. “By that time Latvians will make up just 10% of the population.”
And who will be the remaining 90%? We don’t think that they will speak Russian as today such people are emigrating even more actively than Latvians are. The last census registered a growth in the share of Latvians from 57.7% to 52.1%.
So, most probably, the rest will be Turks, Africans and Arabs. In 2012, José Angel Oropeza from the International Organization for Migration said that in the following 30-40 years developing countries would not be able to provide job to all of their workers. As a result, as many 1,300,000 people there will be forced to seek jobs in Europe. And part of them may well go to Lithuania.
So, no surprise that many of the Balts are very much afraid of finally becoming personages from an ethnographic museum. Consequently, their reaction to any such hints is always very categorical. For example, some four years ago the Latvians were outranged by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom’s interview to Diena, where she urged them to show solidarity with the other EU nations concerning refugees from Libya.
Dread of immigrants
The most pragmatic Balts realize that they will not be able to build a wall around their region. Latvian economist Raita Karnite warns that in a few years Latvia will be short of labor force and will be forced to open its border for immigrants. “This is absolutely inevitable as we will still have to pay taxes, wages and pensions.” Economist Ainar Komarovskis has one more argument: “The EU is no longer able to receive all migrants from Libya, Egypt and Tunisia and has asked its members to help it in the matter. In Latvia some NGOs are already organizing workshops urging Latvians to be tolerant to immigrants, while European commissioners are secretly persuading our authorities to populate our vast territory with every ragtag and bobtail.”
According to well-known public activist Alexander Gaponenko, if nothing changes, Latvia may turn into an African country. “They will send here ethnic workers from France or Germany as both the French and the Germans have reviewed their multi-culture policies and have decided to get rid of Arabs and Turks, who are not showing any wish to assimilate. So, now they may build some Volkswagen or Renault factories in Rezekne or Daugavpils for some 100,000 Arabs or Turks, who will live and work there. They may even help Latvia to support those people. They can easily force us to do this in any case - just because we owe them 7 billion EUR,” Gaponenko said in 2011.
Some Balts are worried about the future of the whole European Union. “In some 20 years, Western Europe will face serious conflicts between aborigines and immigrants from Asia and Africa. The influence of Muslims in the West is quickly growing. In some 10 years in France, Denmark, Belgium and the United Kingdom, Muslims will gain serious influence in local governments and parliaments. Aborigines will try to stop them and this will trigger a series of bloody conflicts,” says former Latvian MP Janis Lagzdins.
Until recently few Africans or Asians wished to live in the Baltic region as they simply can’t live there. “They can’t learn local languages and can’t get used to local colds. They can’t find a normal job. Nor do they know where they can look for it. They just get a refugee status and some 256 EUR a month for just one year and then they are left to themselves,” says expert Alvis Skenders.
“Occupation” as the last trump
Some apocalyptical forecasts are coming true: this year the Europeans were shocked by the death of a group of refugees who tried to get to Europe through the Mediterranean. In 2014 alone, 180,000 people got to Europe illegally. The main question is how the Europeans are going to settle the 625,920 migrants that are already in the EU and have already applied for a refugee status. Their plans to settle just 50,000 refugees a year will hardly come true as this year alone they may see the inflow of as many as 200,000 refugees.
“This is a huge problem. Today Europe is facing a real surge from Africa and the Middle East but not only. Lots of people are coming from the Balkans and Asia,” says Latvian Foreign Ministry's State Secretary Andrejs Pildegovic.
In the meantime, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere says that it is unfair that refugees are received by just 4-5 EU states, while poorly populated nations like Latvia and Lithuania might have settled part of them in their territories.
On Apr 23, the EU Council suggested obliging each EU members state to receive a specific number of migrants. On May 11, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker added that a country’s quota should depend on its GDP, population and unemployment rate. Latvian parliamentarian Latvia Artis Pabriks urged the EU to impose a small quota on his country as it already has lots of Soviet-time immigrants. Pabriks’s proposal was supported by all of his Latvian and Estonian colleagues.
Later, co-chair of the radical National Bloc Janis Dombrava said that during the times of the Soviet occupation, Latvia was colonized. As a result, today it has quite a big percentage of non-Latvians and therefore it cannot receive more immigrants. Parliamentary Secretary of Latvia’s Interior Ministry Evika Silina said that Latvia is not ready to join the new quota system as the Soviet occupation reduced the share of Latvians in the country to just 60%.
For the Baltic political elites “occupation” serves as a magic card. “Bitter occupation legacy” is their excuse for almost any problem they now have. But there are people who are not going to accept it. Human rights activist Yelizaveta Krivtsova says that the argument that Latvia cannot receive refugees because of its ethnic makeup goes beyond any reason: “When people reject humanism for ethnic reasons, this is called racism, isn’t it?”
How they twist the arms for the sake of “solidarity”
Ordinary Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians share the concerns of their authorities. Even though many of them have seen with their own eyes Asian or African neighborhoods in Western Europe, they do not want to see them at home. When it comes to the Russian-speaking community, most of them become spiteful: “You didn’t want to live side by side with Russians, so, now you will have to integrate with Africans and Arabs and they will quickly improve your genetic map!”
Generally, the Balts are more compliant but this time they have rebelled. Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said that the Latvians did not support the refugee quotas. She supports solidarity among the EU nations but solidarity can be different. She said that Latvia was not ready to receive a lot of refugees and could afford sending just one motor boat and one helicopter for border protection in the Mediterranean.
The security police appeared with own jumpscare: “The experience of some European countries has shown that many immigrants find it difficult to integrate into host societies and are vulnerable to influence by Islamic terrorist groups. All this may result in growing radical moods in society.” It was a response to the European Commission’s suggestion that Latvia should receive 737 refugees. The concerns of the Latvian authorities are not groundless: following Norway’s decision to receive 2,000 Syrians this year and 3,000 people a year during the next two years, the local special services reported that 5-10 people out of each 1,000 are related to the ISIL or Al-Nusra Front.
The Europeans reacted by reproaching the Latvians. European Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks (who is Latvian) urged Latvia to show solidarity as it inadmissible that Italy and a couple of other EU members receive all the refugees coming to Europe. “What will we do if some day in future we face a surge of refugees? I think we will also call for solidarity,” Muiznieks said. Vice President of the European Commission Franz Timmerman added that solidarity implied responsibility, so, all those needing shelter must have a chance to get it in Europe.
Let’s change Africans for Ukrainians or Chinese
Pressured by big bosses, Straujuma has given in and has begun to haggle. She said that the 6,000 EUR the European Commission will pay per settled refugee is not enough. She said that without external support Latvia can afford settling no more than 50 refugees. One more thing Straujuma is concerned about is that the refugees must not be settled in one place.
Journalist Baiba Lulle suggests receiving refugees from Ukraine. “It would be wise on our part to first receive refugees from neighboring countries. Today, we can hardly develop our economy on our own. Last year alone we lost 15,400 people. We are facing growing emigration and dropping birth rate. So, our economy needs immigrants. But they must be of high quality,” Lulle says.
Demographer Ilmar Mezs supports her point of view: “Most of African immigrants can just graze livestock, build clay houses, fish and hunt. But we don’t have such vacancies in Latvia, do we? Ukrainians or Chinese are a different story. We already have hundreds of Chinese having restaurants and some other businesses. And what are the locals doing? They are watching and evaluating. This does not mean that in the next few years we will have a whole Asian neighborhood in Riga. This will take decades,” Mezs says.
The EU leaders have not yet determined the quotas. The Baltic state may be obliged to receive 200-7,000 refugees a year. According to AFP, this initiative may take force till the end of this year. And what consequences will it have for the Baltic nations? I don’t think they will be good.
This is what Latvian publicist Mikhail Gubin says in one of his sarcastic articles: “This is inevitable: Turkish at schools, kebabs and kalians, halal shops... We already have halal meat factories. So, one day we will come into a shop and see a department of Islamic goods. The other day we will enter a beauty salon and see a special hall for Muslim women. In the evening we will switch on our TV sets and see a mayor inaugurating a mosque. And nobody will be surprised to know that Turkish is already a must...”
Let’s hope things will actually go as peaceful as this...
Vyacheslav Samoylov, EADaily analyst for the Baltic region