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Ī is for Īrija

Okay, this one is a stretch. But for this tricky letter of the Latvian alphabet and the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge, it’s all I’ve got.

“Īrija” is Latvian for “Ireland”. In this series, I have already mentioned a number of Irish connections to Latvian history, in terms of Irish-Russian military commanders. But today, I am going to talk about Ireland differently – as a location for the migrants of today.

Between 2000 and 2010, just over 45,000 Latvians registered for Irish identification numbers, more than 9,000 in 2005 alone. This means that around 2% of Latvia’s population moved to Ireland in ten years. That’s a significant amount for a peacetime population movement. When you consider that thousands of Latvians have also moved to places like the UK and Germany, the number of people leaving the country becomes downright alarming. This is not a phenomenon relegated to Latvia – thousands of young people from Eastern Europe have moved to Western Europe in the time since their countries joined the European Union in 2004 (2007 for Romania and Bulgaria). This brain drain is a serious concern for most Eastern European countries.

Besides the immediate loss of its young people, there could be serious implications for the future of the countries and their people – I have already heard about young Latvians who have moved to Ireland, married locals (or even other Latvians) and are raising their children without the Latvian language or culture. The promise of higher wages is the biggest lure – the wages in Latvia and other Eastern European countries just cannot compete with the promises of the West.

Now, the global recession has done one positive thing – it appears to be, at least in part, reversing these migrations. I have read articles about young Poles returning home to Poland due to job shortages in the UK and Ireland. I wonder if the same is happening in Latvia? There are those of us from Latvian diaspora communities in the West who are moving “back” to Latvia, but when considering the tide flowing in the other direction, we’re just a drop in the bucket.

Are you a young Latvian who has moved to Western Europe? Do you plan to return to a life in Latvia at some point? Share your story here!

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