VIEWPOINT: I want you back - no strings attached

Take note – story published 7 years ago

LSM's Lauris Veips takes a brief look at an initiative by a state body aiming to lure emigre Latvians back home. 

"I want you back," says a recently launched initiative by the Latvian Institute, a body tasked with promoting Latvia's image abroad.

The campaign invites people to take to social media and tell their emigrated relatives and friends that they're always welcome to return to Latvia. 

However, you could argue that saying "I want you back" sounds a lot like words uttered at the low point of a failed and potentially abusive relationship, with the dumped party begging tearfully for the other to return at any price.

When I had you to myself, I didn't want you around...

To start, the appeal, well-intended as it may be, calling people to return on purely emotional terms might be careless towards those who've left.

For example, at the top of the government, PM Māris Kučinskis commented on the initiative to Latvian Radio, and urged caution by saying that it's a great responsibility to ask someone to come back.

Kučinskis drew from his own experience and said that back in 2000 he had advised someone in doubt to return to Latvia. She did just that, subsequently encountering a multitude of difficulties that she might have avoided, should she have made the decision on her own.

Another problem with the appeal is that only the most deluded lover would beg for someone to come back without showing any evidence of having changed for the better - or at least serious intent to do so.

The final point concerns the fact that the initiative appears to aim to lessen the stigma of having "gone where the grass is greener" supposedly leaving less mobile compatriots behind to "fend for themselves".

That is actually laudable, but the problem ultimately stems from attitudes here in Latvia.

It should then be recognized that leaving to live elsewhere is not bad or evil or morally questionable. It seems perverse to trumpet the benefits of the EU's labor laws while adopting a sneering attitude to those who take advantage of them.

Admittedly, it is tragic if people are all but forced to make that choice due to poverty or unemployment, and it's regrettable that parts of Latvia have all but emptied out thanks to that equation of desperation.

But all of this is not meant to say there are no reasons to return. 

Things are changing in Latvia, slowly but surely for the better:

* Unemployment has halved from its peak in 2010. (It's still at a high 9.9%, though, according to Eurostat data for March 2016.)

* First in Latvia, not last in Rome - as so many people have left, competition for jobs in several sectors is low. Swift career advancement in some industries is likelier here than elsewhere in Europe.

People are becoming more tolerant. There were hundreds more counter-protesters than participants at the first gay pride event in Riga more than ten years ago. Last year the tables were utterly turned. And by the same token, those that did protest exercised their democratic right to do so in a generally responsible manner, avoiding the use of projectiles.

* Things are looking up. With huge infrastructure projects like Rail Baltica slated to be finished by 2024, demand for construction workers should skyrocket and the country will become better connected as the project concludes.

* Doing business is easier - Latvia is the world's 22nd easiest place in which to do business, up from 30th place in 2008, according to the World Bank. It's now easier than ever to start your own business here - perhaps instead of looking for a job you could even create a few?

* Latvia actually wants you back - In addition to an initiative luring young Latvians that live abroad to return and work in the government sector, Latvia has created a one-stop website acting as a road map to people who are considering to return. 

With that in mind, perhaps the "I want you back" camapign should have a subtitle: "I've changed, perhaps we can have a talk so you can see how?"

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