#Voices – a project by LRT English looking at important, controversial, or overlooked topics from the perspective of Lithuanian diaspora or expats in the country. In this installment, we speak with Brits in Lithuania hours before Brexit.
“It's almost like having a carpet pulled under your feet”
It’s quite sad, because I met my wife 15 years ago here in Lithuania [and] we got married [14 years ago to ] at the time when we could live and work anywhere in Europe, it's almost like having a carpet pulled under your feet, it looks like it might end up putting a restriction on us.
I’m hoping to find some sort of employment in Lithuania over the coming months, if I don't, maybe [I will] need to look at options to go back to the UK and split my time between here and there.
Some of the government websites [in Lithuania say] that the status of any British national wouldn’t change, but [it’s unclear] what happens after December 2020. And that's the problem, the lack of information.
[My daughter] is only 13 at the moment, she doesn’t really know what she wants to do [as it’s] a bit early and a lot would depend on how Brexit will turn out for the UK, or perhaps if it will have a very detrimental effect on the EU.
[...] If there’s no full agreement in place by the end of 2020, that could be very problematic for most British nationals that live in Europe and perhaps even some European citizens that live in the UK.
My wife is a doctor at Santariškės [hospital in Vilnius], as it stands at the moment all this uncertainty, [I'm unsure if she] would want to move if I find better employment perspectives in the UK.
I know a lot of people are saying that nothing will change, but no one really knows for sure so stay on the side of caution.
Being cautious [means] to have a back-up plan if my status here in Lithuania would change, or was forced to change one way or another, or going back to the UK, if there is a UK in a few years time.
A lot of people [in Scotland] are beginning to have second thoughts about remaining part of the UK.
“I think people’s views towards Britain have changed”
The thing that really stings is the lack of voting rights. People who have lived away from the UK for more than 15 years lose the right to vote. Many people could not voice their opinion on an issue that directly affects them.
As I am not a Lithuanian citizen, I can currently vote in local and EU elections. I don’t have the right to vote in parliamentary or presidential elections. In the 21st century, I have no right to vote for the politicians that will make decisions that affect my life. I pay taxes here and feel I make a positive contribution to society, but I have no voice.
I teach a course on British Culture at Vilnius University. It’s hard not to view everything through the prism of Brexit. I think people’s views towards Britain have changed.
My colleagues are supportive and recognise that the referendum split society. I used to be proud of our acceptance of others and tolerance, but I have seen many ugly attitudes surface during the campaign.
The way politicians (on both sides) have behaved has been far from exemplary. So I think Brexit is forcing us to examine who we are and what we stand for. I can only hope that things will work out and the country of my birth can come together and reunite with a common purpose. The growth in societal divisions is one of the most painful things to watch from afar.
Overall, I still feel bereaved, bitter, and angry. I can’t help but wallow in this deep sadness. But I’m still British, and I’m still part of the EU in my adopted country, so despite these negative feelings, my hope for the future and sense of humour remain intact.
The uncertainty surrounding Brexit has been the worst thing to live with. I am really deeply sad that we are leaving the EU, I don’t like the way the campaigns were run, but at least we can move forward now decisions have finally been made. For businesses and people trying to plan their lives, uncertainty is disconcerting.
“We are hoping to plan the move for next year, which Brexit will certainly affect”
One of the main reasons for me wanting to move [to Lithuania] is to learn the language, so that I can communicate better with my wife's family members who do not speak English.
I have visited Lithuania numerous times now over the last four years and each time I visit, I like the culture, people, food and beer, more and more each time. I think the lifestyle [...] to start a family would be better than in London, for many reasons. There are subtle cultural differences in attitude between the UK and Lithuania (to the latter's favour), and I would like my wife to be closer to her friends and family, too.
The Baltic states are likely to have a growing and a diverse economy over the coming years and decades and it would be great to be a part of that.
We are hoping to plan the move for next year, which Brexit will certainly affect. Especially in regards to the settled status. If my wife lives abroad for more than two years, then this is affected.
Matt chose to stay anonymous due to the sensitive nature of his wife's work.
“I’m a little bit worried to fly back and arrive as non-EU citizen for the first time”
I’m flying back to Lithuania tomorrow on my British passport, and I don't even know what the situation will be.
Which desk will i have to go to, do I need a visa. I’m a little bit worried to fly back and arrive as non-EU citizen for the first time.
When I left Lithuania two weeks ago, I was still an EU citizen, and it feels like I’ve now been stripped of the citizenship.
Brexit as a whole is almost a bit of a suicide for Britain, not even necessarily economically or politically, but culturally. At the moment, we have the ability to travel cheaply and freely around 27 countries to live and work and meet people, and now we won't have the ability to do so.
It’s a very nationalistic point of view that made us vote to leave the EU, now it will be made worse [as] we won't have our horizons broadened by having us travel through all these countries freely.
If I continue living in Lithuania and if my family wants to come visit, will they need visas, or will the increased price have me more isolated from the family?
“I've definitely had friendships and relationships with family members break down due to this situation.”
Nobody is entirely sure at this point as to what lies in the future. The current situation is not very different from how it was six years ago when I first moved here to Lithuania. In terms of residence permits, at least.
I've definitely had friendships and relationships with family members break down due to this situation. When you're a person who has moved their life to another country, you understand the necessity for freedom of movement and freedom of choice, which is something that has greatly benefited myself, along with the people I hold close.
In terms of Brexit affecting my relationships with Lithuanian friends or colleagues, no, it hasn't made a difference at all. I'm very openly pro-EU and usually surround myself with people that think likewise.
Sure, when I meet people for the first time, usually their second or third question after ‘why did you come to Lithuania?’ is ‘what do you make of Brexit’ – something that obviously wasn't a topic back in 2014–15.
Looking forward, my residence permit is up for renewal in the latter stages of this year, so it will be interesting to see what, if any, changes happen in that time.
Other #Voices installments:
– Expats in Lithuania faced with Kafkaesque shuffles in Migration Department corridors
– Iranian in Lithuania: ‘people are tired of this daily pressure’
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