National Census to reveal the true picture in emigration-plagued Lithuania

  • 2011-04-20
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

KLAIPEDA - A catchy Lithuanian song by popular singer Mikutavicius says in the refrain: “There are three million of us Lithuanians.” However, many joke that after the national Census is over, by the beginning of May, these words will have to be scratched out and replaced by a new number – one much smaller, maybe two million, or even less. The spearheads of the census – the population survey – expect the enumeration data, among other things, will reveal the real scope of ongoing emigration, while some economists admonish that they may reshape the national policies in terms of economic planning and resourcing.

While Lithuania is determined to enumerate its residents at a cost of nearly 9 million euros, other EU countries opted for more cost-conscious population surveys. For example, Germany will survey only one-tenth of its population, while the majority of European countries will simply generalize already available data from state Resident Registry institutions. Lithuania’s Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, chose the same method for the national census as did the Lithuanians – enumeration. “So far, our Resident Registry and other data systems are not so well arranged to let us do this without the national enumeration. Also, we could not avoid hiring enumerators, as, for most people, it would be too difficult, or impossible, to fill out the census’ questionnaires,” Birute Stolyte, chief specialist of the public relations division at the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, acknowledged to The Baltic Times.

The national census in Lithuania comprises two stages. The first stage - e-Census – conducted from March 1-16, is over, having enumerated 1,038,700 residents in the country. This makes up 32 percent of the total population, as, according to the Residents Registry’s data, there were 3,235,200 dwellers in Lithuania as of March 1, 2011. However, the number is very far from being accurate, as it does not take into account the staggering emigration level in Lithuania. It is a common practice in Lithuania that the majority of people who leave the country do so without reporting it to local immigration divisions due to a very simple reason: they do not want to lose their social benefits. Some experts already warn that the results of the enumeration, in the electronic stage, are very alarming – even the biggest skeptics did not dare to foresee that so few Lithuanians are left in the country.

From April 5, the Census’ second stage has been under way, and will last until May 9. The 5,899 enumerators employed for the mission will go to those houses in which residents have not participated in the electronic population survey. Also, those that have given presumably imprecise data about themselves and their dwelling places, or have missed some questions, will be visited.

Stolyte noted that, over the first Census week, when dwellings have been visited by enumerators, or individuals have been coming to Census divisions themselves, 417,000 persons and 185,000 dwellings have been enumerated. Together with those who successfully participated in the e-Census, about 45 percent of the total population of Lithuania has already been enumerated, estimating that, as of March 1, 2011, the population of Lithuania totaled 3,235,200. So far, residents have been most actively enumerated in Jonava and Kupiskis districts and Pagegiai (26 percent), Varena and Klaipeda districts (25 percent), Ukmerge and Silale districts and Kazlu Ruda (24 percent). It is estimated that about 160,000 persons had connected to the Census system, but filled in the Census questionnaire incompletely or incorrectly. For example, some did not enumerate all the occupants of the dwelling, or indicated incorrect relationships between them, etc. In addition, by the second week of the second stage, 58,000 persons have filled in the Census questionnaire correctly but did not confirm that all the residents of the dwelling had been enumerated. Moreover, in some e-questionnaires, an incorrect or incomplete address was indicated. For these reasons, enumerators have to visit the dwellings of such individuals.

Enumerators also will visit the dwellings whose addresses (street, house, apartment number) are not registered in the Address Register, irrespective of whether the occupants of such dwellings enumerated themselves, or were enumerated electronically.

Of nearly 9 million euros allocated for the purpose, nearly half of this will go for the salaries of the enumerator army, each being paid 2 litas (0.58 euros) per filled-out questionnaire. In addition, the flock of 159 heads of enumeration divisions at local municipalities, and 986 enumeration instructors, will slice off their part from the Census budget.

“Once the second enumeration stage is over, the collected data will be processed in the Statistics Department. From July 1, approximately 60 new specialists, hired to scan the paper questionnaires, verify and code them, will be employed in the Department. By the end of the year, I hope we will be able to see the real picture of Lithuania. The enumeration will specify the population number and will reveal the real emigration scope. Most importantly, the Census will reveal the precise information as to what kind of people we are and how we live. Besides such demographic data as resident’s age, sex, family status and profession will be shown. Its results will reflect our demographical behavior in regards to migration, family creation and child bearing, as well as social activities when it comes to education and occupation. It will reveal the trends regarding ethno- culture, faiths, also territorial distribution, household composition and income sources. In addition, along with the indicators, the state will get the necessary information regarding one of the most important life quality indicators – housing.

Altogether this will let us draw a very detailed demographic, social and economic picture of the population for the concrete moment. The national portrait is necessary to solve the current tasks and project the future,” the chief specialist of the public relations division at the Lithuanian Department of Statistics emphasized. She says that the enumeration cost per capita is 9 litas, while this number is 50 litas in Estonia and approximately 14.5 litas in Latvia. Altogether, over 7,000 workers will be assigned for the task. According to UN recommendations, such censuses should be carried out every ten years.
However, despite the costly pursuit, so far the enumeration encounters a good deal of indifference, avoidance or utter hostility towards the flock of enumerators. Perhaps this could not have been avoided, as the trial census carried out last year revealed that 13 percent of the sampled dwellers intended to refuse to take part in the Census, while 25 percent of inhabitants were not found at home, crippling the enumeration efforts.

“I live alone, therefore, I will be afraid to let the enumerators in. I do not care whether I risk some fines – with thousands of swindlers robbing elderly people, it is better to keep the door shut,” Bronislava, a resident in the Kaunas region, called randomly by The Baltic Times, confessed bluntly. No doubt, there are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of frightened residents who stick with the reasoning: my home is my castle, and I decide whom I want to see in it. Though the enumerators were given special green and grey-colored bags with the inscription “Enumeration 2011,” neither the bags, nor the enumerators’ special ID cards, often help to convince crime-wary seniors to let the enumerators in. The enumeration stories, ranging from a comedic rendezvous to dangerous encounters, have been lavishly exploded by national and regional media lately. The daily Lietuvos Rytas ran a front-cover story “The Enumerators’ Adventures include Furious Dogs and Senior Men Falling in Love” last Saturday.

A young female enumerator in the Kaisiadorys region was stunned to find that her elderly neighbor, while she was filling out the questionnaire, fell in love with her. “I could not get out from his house for several hours, as the pensioner kept answering my questions in an extremely detailed manner. He made me taste several dishes that he had prepared especially for the visit. When I finally lost my patience and told him I could not waste so much time for one person, it turned out that the old man had secretly locked the door. Then he knelt down and confessed to have fallen in love with me,” the shocked, married enumerator said, revealing her story.

Another Census worker was petrified by two big growling dogs while carrying out her mission. “As I merely moved a bit, they would start growling as if ready to jump on me. When I asked the owners to take the dogs away, they told me bluntly that they would not do that, as they kept the hounds to scare away robbers,” an enumerator from Kaunas said, describing her scary encounter.

Quite often, seniors, before answering the questions of the questionnaire, demand to be allowed to take pictures of their enumerators. “It will be the proof to the police in case you turn out to be a swindler,” mistrustful people argue.
Nevertheless, there are many more stories in which the Statistics Department’s employees were met politely and matter-of-factly. Stolyte warns that avoiding the provision of the required data, or providing deliberately false information, results in the imposition of administrative responsibility and a fine, from 500 to 1,000 litas.