VILNIUS - Although the official number of Lithuanians who have migrated abroad during the last years stands at some 300,000, the unofficial figure is three times higher, and the state needs to draw up a strategy for maintaining a strong relationship with this contingent, participants at a conference said this week.
At the conference 's Lithuania's New Emigration: Possible Solutions 's many recent emigres claimed they wanted support from authorities to preserve their Lithuanian identity and to feel welcome at home.
"We want to know that it is us that are welcome, not just our money," Mindaugas Maciulevicius, a representative of the Lithuanian business people's club in Ireland said. In his words, the unofficial number of Lithuanian emigrants living in Ireland is around 100,000.
Ireland and Great Britain have Lithuanian Sunday schools, Lithuanian newspapers. However, Maciulevicius said they would not be able to preserve Lithuanian identity without some support from the government.
Antanas Valionis, head of the Foreign Ministry, which organized the conference, said, "The dialog between the new wave of emigration and the homeland, however, has not yet started."
Zivile Ilgunaite, a representative of the Lithuanian Union in Great Britain, sounded the warning bell. "Steps to preserve Lithuania's identity have to be taken now as in five years it will be too late," she said, adding that London alone may have a population of some 150,000-200,000 Lithuanian emigrants.
Emigres said that the new emigrants are unwilling to return home, fearing that their income will be taxed again.
Speaking at the conference, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas claimed that with the rate of employment and salaries growing in Lithuania, the emigre flow would decrease. He quoted prewar historian Adolfas Sapoka, who had said that emigration was necessary for the economy to function normally.
The PM also refused to accept the unofficial emigration figures. In his words, the official figure of people that emigrated from the country in 2003-2004 was as little as 26,000. He admitted, however, that the unemployment rate in Lithuania was decreasing, in part, as a result of emigration.
The Civil Society Institute, which prepared a study on Lithuanian emigration several months ago, claimed that, as a nation, Lithuanians have the highest tendency for emigration among the EU newcomers.