Where Would I Be Without Immigration?
Life in Lithuania
Whenever I get asked where my heritage is from, I usually tell them England and Scotland, as that is where my maternal roots originate. Although, what most people are surprised to hear is that my paternal roots are actually from Lithuania. Lithuania is a country in the southernmost of Europe's Baltic states, which borders Poland, Latvia, and Belarus.
Map of Lithuania
In 1935, my great grandmother Petronėlė Tekorytė immigrated to Toronto, Ontario from Vilnius, Lithuania. Just after World War I, her parents died and her half sister took over their land, and kicked her off. At this time, there was a large amount of poverty in Lithuania, and with little money, Petronėlė chose to come to Canada for a better life. Her brother was already here, and had arranged for her to marry his friend, also a Lithuanian immigrant, named Bronus Ukelis. It was a tough transition for my great grandmother coming to Canada, as she knew little English and didn't have much education. As a result, she had to start working right away as a seamstress in Toronto in order to make a living.
My great grandmother's immigration record in Lithuanian
Around the 1940s to 1990s, Lithuania was under Soviet rule, which made life difficult for many. Soviet Lithuania was isolated from the non-Soviet world in terms of travel restrictions, not allowing Lithuanians to practice their Catholic religion, as well as economic crisis. If my great grandmother did not immigrate to Canada, clearly, at that time my life in Lithuania would not be ideal. If my family was living there at that time, our religion would not be supported under the Soviet rule, as many Roman Catholic churches as well as monasteries were closed. As well, our financial situation would not be ideal, as the economy was poor and there were many economic hardships during this time.
If I were a teen living in Lithuania today, however, the living and working conditions would be reasonably better compared to life under Soviet rule. To begin, in terms of rights and freedoms, Lithuanian residents may travel freely within the country and internationally, and generally enjoy economic freedom. As well, men and women have the same legal rights, (although women generally earn less than men per hour worked). However, Discrimination against ethnic minorities, who comprise about 16 percent of the population (2), remains a problem. For example, the Polish minority has demanded the right to spell their names in their original form and to use bilingual location signs in areas with large Polish populations. However, Lithuanian law indicates that public signs must be written only in Lithuanian. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law and is largely upheld in practice. However, nine traditional religious communities, including the Roman Catholic Church, enjoy certain government benefits, including annual subsidies, that are not granted to other groups.
With regards to healthcare, Lithuania provides free state-funded healthcare to all citizens and registered long-term residents. Private healthcare is also available in the country. The standard of healthcare in Lithuania needs investment, but medical staff are well qualified. Health centres only provide outpatient care, but do offer a wide variety of specialist services. Medical services provided by health centres include, general practice, maternity care, child health care, and dental care. They also provide emergency medical aid as well as laboratory, radiology, and other diagnostic services. Also, hospitals and clinics exist in all major towns and cities throughout the country. Patients are admitted to hospital either through the emergency department or through a referral from a doctor or specialist. Once a patient is admitted, treatment is controlled by the hospital doctors. However, the conditions in some hospitals in Lithuania are poor, but the standard of care is good.
In Lithuania, education is set up very similar to how we go to school in Canada. Generally, it follows a regular elementary and secondary school system. Education is organized in 4 main cycles: pre-school education (until age 5 or 6), pre-primary education (1 year, between age 5-7), primary education (4 years, between age 6-11), basic education (6 years, between age 10-17), and upper secondary education (two years, between age 16-19). As a result, not much in terms of education would have changed from my life here in Canada, besides language.
Although rights and freedoms, healthcare, and education are adequate, the employment and economic potential in Lithuania is one of the lowest in the European Union. Economic development is affected by low living standards (in 2011, the poverty and social exclusion rate was above 30 percent) and minimum wages (€ 290 per month, (or $422 Canadian)) (1). This resulted in a high emigration rate, and reduced attractiveness of the Lithuanian labour market and in turn, encourages emigration (the emigration rate in Lithuania has been one of the highest in the European Union since 2000) (1) and risk of poverty trap. Therefore the high unemployment rate in adults and youth have promoted more emigration as the total number of Lithuanian residents fell from 3.5 million in 2001 to 3 million by the beginning of 2012 (15 percent) (1).
In conclusion, overly, I believe my life in Canada would be reasonably better than if I were a Lithuanian citizen. Although healthcare, education, and rights and freedoms are sufficient, the unemployment and economic status in Lithuania are quite poor which would prove difficult if I were to find a job and make a living. As a result, I am grateful my great grandmother immigrated to Canada to better her life, as I know it has also bettered mine and my family's.
Vilnius, Capital City of Lithuania
European Parliament. Economic and Scientific Policy. Social and Employment Situation in Lithuania. By B. Gruzevskis and Igna Blaziene. Rept. no. IP/A/EMPL/NT/2013-02. Brussels: n.p., 2013. Print.
“Freedom in Lithuania.” Freedom House. N.p., 2015. Web. 30 May 2016. <https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2015/lithuania>.
“Healthcare in Lithuania.” Europe-cites. N.p., 2004. Web. 30 May 2016. <http://europe-cities.com/destinations/lithuania/health/>.
Ukelis, Stella, and Aldona Mason. Telephone interview. 26 May 2016.
Pictures: 1. http://www.ucsj.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/lithuania.jpg
2. (personal picture, immigration record)