For more than 30 years since Latvia’s independence, the natural population growth has been negative, and the number of permanent residents has been declining. In 2021 alone, the country will lose more than 17,000 people. Local sociologists warn that if no solution to the problem is found, Latvia may only have 20 years of “life”. In the 1990s, Latvia, which had regained its independence, enjoyed unprecedented social stability and sound economic development, but faced a crisis of continued population decline. This protracted war without gunpowder is behind the deep-seated problems that are difficult to solve and the irresistible torrent of the times.
The population continues to decline and may “disappear” in 20 years
Latvia is located in northeastern Europe and is known as the “Three Baltic States” together with Estonia and Lithuania.
This country with a land area of only 64,600 square kilometers is slightly smaller than Ningxia, China, but its forest coverage rate is as high as 50%, acting as the “lung of Europe”. The Daugava River, which originates from the Valdai hills, passes through the capital Riga and flows into the Gulf of Riga on the Baltic Sea. Under the impact of the surging river for thousands of years, Riga, which is located at the mouth of the sea, has become a veritable ice-free port. It was once a traffic hub connecting the south and north, the middle and the east of Europe, known as “the crossroads of Europe” and “the heart of the Baltic Sea”. The beautiful environment is enviable. During the Soviet period, when Russians immigrated to the three Baltic countries, Riga was the first choice.
It is hard to imagine that such a country with pleasant scenery is now suffering from a crisis of sharp population decline. Since Latvia regained its independence in 1991, Latvia thought that the days of “living and working” would lead to a continuous increase in population numbers. Instead, the population has been steadily declining.
According to statistics, since 1991, Latvia has reduced its population by nearly 30%. In 2011, the population decreased by 200,000. The headlines in Latvia’s newspapers kept warning that the population problem was “a matter of life and death”, said the government’s demography adviser Imantus Paronineks.
Located in the southeast of Latvia, the Latgail district on the border with Russia is the most serious and obvious area in Latvia’s population crisis. Its population has decreased more than the rest of the country. The small town of Vivetovani in the Latgail district is a town that has lost a third of its population in 30 years. Because the residents are pitifully small, it maintains a surprisingly clean and original appearance: the 18th-century twin-towered white church in the town is dazzling, and the streets are spotless; the surrounding villages, abandoned houses dotted with fields, spread along the road, Soviet-era factories and office buildings crumbling. The local economy, once based on sprawling collective farms and large industrial factories, nearly collapsed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The town is a three-hour drive from the capital, Riga, and just over an hour from the Russian border. According to local memories, in the late 1970s, there were more than 1,200 students in the high school in the town, and the line outside the store was very long, all the way to the end of the street. However, the school in the town now has only more than 400 students.
The sudden outbreak of the new crown epidemic has made things worse and has had a great impact on Latvia’s demographic structure. In 2021, the trend of low birth rate and high death rate in Latvia has intensified.
This year, Latvia’s population death rate significantly exceeded the birth rate, and the death rate was twice the birth rate – 172,000 more deaths than births, which is the largest natural negative population growth indicator in Latvia since 1995. According to statistics from the World Population Review, Latvia’s population growth rate is -1.02%, ranking third from the bottom in terms of population growth rate among countries in the world.
Latvia’s official population was 1.896 million at the end of last year, but the actual figure is likely to be much lower. More and more local young people and skilled workers choose to leave the country and immigrate to other countries, which poses a huge threat to Latvia’s future social and economic development. The Latvian Ministry of Economy also predicts that by 2040, the number of Latvians may drop to 1.72 million.
Latvia “abandoned” as people walk to heights
For Latvia, no matter how hard it tries to develop, it is still unable to compete with the more powerful developed countries around it. This may be one of the reasons that directly or indirectly lead to a sharp drop in population.
Looking back at history, Latvia has also tried its best to develop its economy after independence. After joining the European Union in 2004, it became “brothers” with many established capitalist countries, and relied on its strength to obtain a brilliant report card. In the business report released by the World Bank Group, Latvia ranked 21st in the ease of doing business; in the “Human Development Index” released by the United Nations Development Program, it ranked 39th, which belongs to the country with a very high level of human development; in 2019 , Latvia’s per capita GDP ranks 50th in the world, among the ranks of developed countries; in 2021, Latvia’s GDP will reach 32.9 billion euros, and its per capita GDP will reach 17,459 euros. Latvia also has one of the highest per capita education levels in the EU and one of the highest GDP growth rates in the EU.
However, behind the dazzling glamor of Latvia, it seems that it will never be able to escape the reality of individuals being “abandoned”.
In the 30 years after the country’s independence, Latvia has experienced three major traumas: the first time, in the early days of independence, it was controlled by the Soviet Union, the products could not find export channels and were unsalable, and the country’s economy declined; the second time, the international financial crisis in 2008, Latvia The trade economy has been hit hard, and the GDP has shrunk, so it can only turn around with 7.5 billion euros in international emergency aid loans; for the third time, the new crown epidemic has a greater impact on the economy. Latvia’s economy has fallen by 2 to 3 percentage points every month. unemployment. In addition, the capital Riga has concentrated 48% of the country’s population and accounts for 66% of the country’s GDP. Other regions are in the predicament of high unemployment and poverty, and their economic development is extremely uneven. One Riga cannot accommodate the dreams of young people, nor can it accommodate too many unemployed floating population. People can only choose to go abroad.
Especially after the financial crisis, “immigration” has become the norm in Latvia. Just as the Nobel laureate Kluman concluded, after 2008, severe economic recessions occurred in small countries located on the periphery of Europe, which is similar to the experiences of South America and Asia in the past. “Among them, Latvia is a new generation of Argentina.”
”Borders are open and information about life in other EU countries is at your fingertips. This encourages our young people to go to better places such as the UK, Ireland or Germany.” Latvian journalist Aleksandr Rube confronts his country’s problems head-on in his reporting. The United Nations also issued a report in 2018 stating that since Latvia joined the European Union in 2004, its population has decreased by nearly 1/5 in just 14 years. This also confirms previous polls: 1/3 of Latvians plan to go abroad In terms of life, the United States, Germany and Spain are the three countries where young people most want to immigrate.
The immigration epidemic has brought a “domino effect” to Latvia.
A large number of young people immigrated, leaving a large number of old people in Latvia, which led to problems such as “high mortality and severe aging”. In 2020, Latvia’s population over the age of 65 has reached 20.5% of the total population. Moreover, Latvia’s high rate of male death rates due to “car driving, alcoholism and accidents at the workplace” certainly adds fuel to the “high death rate” fire.
Moreover, most of Latvia’s emigration is in the young workforce, which means that its birth rate is getting worse. What is even more frustrating is that in Latvia, there are “more women than men”, and the ratio is seriously unbalanced. Women can’t find their own husbands, let alone talk about giving birth to the next generation.
Latvia’s main commodities, food, fruits, etc. are mainly imported. However, due to the impact of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, prices have risen. The low vegetable prices in the picture on the right were already a few years ago.
The European Parliament issued a report in July 2021 stating that Latvia has the highest sex ratio in Europe. As of January 2020, the male-to-female sex ratio in Europe is 104.7, or 104.7 women for every 100 men, but Latvia has a staggering 117.3. Therefore, this also gives people the impression that “on the streets of Latvia, you see more women than men”.
Rescue the population crisis and the common issues faced by mankind
A “depopulation” means a shrinking workforce, a shortage of critical, skilled workers, an aging population, and enormous pressure on pensions, health care, and social services. How to deal with this crisis is indeed a bit difficult for Latvia. Because they personally ruined the most direct way of “immigrant immigration”, and simply pinned their hopes on the return of their own people, which seems a bit whimsical.
Historically, there was a time when foreign immigrants made Latvia’s population reach its peak in the century, that is, the population reached 2.7 million in 1990, and the population that filled the peak came from war immigrants from the Soviet Union. Judging from the data, from before World War II to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in Latvia, the population and proportion of the local Latvians have declined, while the population and proportion of the Russians have increased, and the total population has also increased.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Latvian legislation stipulated that foreigners had to pass an exam to become citizens. The content of the exam is many and the topics are obscure, including Latvian language, history, constitution and so on. Many Russians voluntarily gave up and left in large numbers because they had no citizenship or were excluded, and the population of Latvia also plummeted. Today, although the number of Latvians is declining, the proportion has increased to 62.2%.
Today, both the government and the locals are very repulsive of immigrants, and even affect the national character. The culture of the self-deprecating country is becoming more and more introverted, as was the case with the “I am an introvert” book fair launched by the Latvian Literary Association in 2018.
In Latvia, the foreign labor market is very small, and the government strictly controls the import of foreign labor personnel. In April 2016, the Latvian Parliament passed the amendment to the Immigration Law, tightening the investment immigration policy again. For example, “unfriendly policies” such as the threshold of 250,000 euros for buying a house in exchange for immigrants, and the strengthening of tax management for investment immigrants have discouraged immigrants from coming. Even if the employer wants to hire foreign workers, he still needs to apply to the Immigration Bureau. When there is a job vacancy, the employer must first publish the recruitment notice in the local newspaper. If there is no suitable candidate from the country within one month, he can apply to hire foreigners. When applying, the employer also needs to provide various materials and certificates for the foreigner to engage in the occupation.
The “inward immigration” channel is blocked, but the “outward immigration” channel is unimpeded. Latvia can only try its best to increase the birth rate through various preferential measures and encourage more than 300,000 Latvians living abroad to return home.
In order to encourage fertility, in 2016, Latvia established the “Population Affairs Center” to ensure that the government prioritizes “improving population, family and social security”. In 2021, the Children and Family Policy Department of the Ministry of Welfare will issue the “2021-2027 Guidelines for Children, Adolescents and Families”, proposing measures such as increasing financial support for raising children and improving the level of care institutions outside the home. In Latvia, families with one child receive €25 a month, families with two children receive €100 a month, families with three children receive €225, and families with three or more children are eligible for up to €12,000 Subsidies to help buy a house. The state also issues preferential family cards for these families, and they can get great discounts on going to shops and museums, using public transportation, etc.
In 2018, Latvia launched a program aimed at attracting migrants back to the country in an effort to bring migrants back home. The program is run by regional reimmigration coordinators who provide advice on business relocation, employment, housing, child care, schools and housing, and provide cash benefits. These policies did attract some people back at the beginning, some stayed, and some left.
”Young people want to work in technology, innovation, but here there are only forestry, turf, gravel. So many people follow the money.” Ivars Econiux, president of the Viutini District Council Association Ikaunieks, “Short-term contracts in Northern Europe usually provide basic accommodation, and the remuneration is three to five times that of Latvia.”
As in Latvia, many Central and Eastern European countries that joined the EU after 2004, such as Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria and other countries are also facing similar problems of population decline, and the direct cause is basically population outflow. From 1990 to 2017, the population of the 15 old EU member states increased by 12%, but since 2004, the population of the 13 newly joined member states has decreased by 7%. It is estimated that there are at least 15 million to 18 million citizens of Central and Eastern Europe living in Western Europe today. To alleviate this problem, these countries have introduced several incentives. However, compared with industrialized countries such as Germany, France, and Italy, Eastern European countries have a lower degree of industrialization and a poorer investment environment, and no matter how good the incentives are, they cannot impress those who have already left.
Looking at the world, crises also exist. More and more demographers believe that by the end of the 21st century, the global population may return to the current population and decline steadily. Unless there is a large influx of immigrants, 183 of the world’s 195 countries will fall below the threshold of replacement rates to maintain population levels, and more than 20 countries include Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Poland , the population will be cut in half. This phenomenon has also been described by demographers as “one of the most shocking global changes in history”.
Maybe one day, it will be like the French “Le Monde” wrote: “The library is empty, the stadium and the swimming pool have long been closed. We will remember the era when the smoke billowed over the city. It is true that there is pollution. But there are also many job opportunities.”