Lithuania is a country going to join the EU in May 2004. Many young people are going to universities these days, but the truth is that many of them are thinking about moving to other countries in Europe or America after graduation. In general, youth is becoming more educated on different topics and more active in participating in national and international events.
In Lithuania there are many youth NGOs and youth activities are being developed very actively. In my opinion Lithuania is very strong with many active people with initiative to work towards a better situation, even if sometimes things go badly because of the lack of experience or financial matters. Anyhow, Lithuania has developed a youth policy and there is one major national youth coordinating body and one significant union of students. The council of Lithuanian youth organisations (Lietuvos Jaunimo Organizaciju Taryba: LiJOT) was founded in 1992 and has 28 affiliated national and local youth organisations in Lithuania. It is affiliated to the European Youth Forum.
In Lithuania young people are experiencing the transition in their own special way. They have enormous opportunities, but even greater challenges at the very beginning of their adult life. They have the future in their own hands, which for some youth is an ideal situation, while for many others it is too challenging, regardless of their age and status in society. The chances that young people have for success depends both on the attitudes of society and on youth oriented policies in education, employment and human rights. Opportunities for young people today are opportunities for all members of society tomorrow. However, the problem is that the opportunities are not equal for all youths and the disparities constitute the main challenge. What are the most important problems for young people today? Today in Lithuania young people are more liberal, socially mobile and receptive to change than people over 30 years old. According to the survey data, 60% of people under 30 support the market economy. However, the economic and social polarisation of society determines the increasing differentiation in young people and conflict between generations. Many young people think that they are not so well integrated in society. They often feel ignored or unprepared to compete on the labour market. What is striking though is that young people in many cases do not seem to be so interested in changing this social alienation. So for example, according to the survey carried out in 2000, more than half of the young people did not know about any organisation established specifically for them. The major concerns for young people in Lithuania are identified as unemployment and job security. Youth unemployment is becoming a key issue. According to the Labour Exchange, in 2001, on average, every fourth person registered with the Labour Exchange was under 29, with a total unemployment rate of 12%. According to the labour force survey however, the actual unemployment level among young people is twice as high as the registered one. The job situation is difficult both for highly skilled, educated youth and for those who do not have even vocational training. Today in Lithuania, skill intensive industry produces only 3.5% of the GDP. In the European Union this indicator is between 15 and 18% while the proportion of scientists, research and development personnel and students is similar in Lithuania and in the European Union. Therefore, one of the main barriers for young people in the labour market is the very low demand for highly skilled labour.
Youth in Lithuania is mostly rather passive and is not rich and enthusiastic enough to join youth organisations and be socially active. About 16% of young people in my country belong to at least one youth organisation. The situation is difficult because of well-known problems like unemployment, drugs, alcoholism and expensive studies. However there are a lot of good possibilities to express oneself in different kinds of youth activities. As a representative of an organisation which unites practically all youth organisations in Vilnius city, I can notice that these organisations get more and more well-managed and organised, possess more international contacts, and the qualifications of the members are getting better. This is why I am quite optimistic about youth in my country and believe that the democratic and European future of Lithuania will help every young person here to live a better life. We also boast one of the best structures of youth policy in Europe, having the umbrella union with a national scope and several umbrella unions on the regional level, representing the interests of all other organisations on the national and regional levels.
In my opinion, Lithuanian youth is divided into two parts. One part is able to get the best education, work, get health care and develop their personalities. Another part of Lithuanian youth cannot get university degrees, good social care and other things because they are mostly from asocial families. That is why it is very important to work with such socially unkept persons from their childhood and encourage them to reach something good in their lives.
In our country young people are very active. Most of them are members of some youth organisations, and many of them join Lithuanian Scouting. What is more important is that our government and these organisations are always working with projects against alcohol, smoking and drugs. The most important problem in our country is poverty, which is why some young people are made to stay in streets. Every year about 15,000 students join universities and are able to start their work in youth organisations in order to improve. Also, Lithuanians are very interested in projects with other countries and this leads to a broader horizon of knowledge. To finish, there is the Council of Lithuanian Youth Organisations LiJOT which has 49 members, other organisations and Lithuanian Scouting. LiJOT helps others to deal with the most important problems and initiates many useful projects.
In Lithuania the situation of young people is very difficult. Most young people graduate from universities but cannot find jobs in Lithuania. For these reasons young people are forced to leave their native country and to look for low-paid jobs in richer countries of Western Europe. Mass emigration of young people makes the future of Lithuania very sad. The government of Lithuania does not know how to solve this kind of problem.
In the last decade Lithuania and its young citizens have experienced many changes ‘“ the first steps of independence of the country, the EU pre-accession and accession, changes in the education system and so on. As a result we now have a dynamic, goal-orientated society with an active non-governmental sector. EU accession has opened new opportunities for young people to study and work abroad, fostered intercultural contacts and exchanges. Most of our youngsters now understand that their future depends mostly on education and personal effort to look for opportunities and to use them. I would say that youngsters are the most active group nowadays in Lithuania and they are pushing our country into the road of innovation. They were the first to promote the EU referendum. They are eager to study and to get ready for the tough and competitive world we live in. Nevertheless, young citizens are the most vulnerable social group in society. Being young means that you have to find time for studies, family and friends, and also to work at the same time since social conditions are not secured to a sufficient level. In unemployment and strikes young people are first as well. All in all, it is a great feeling to be young and to be young in Lithuania. And I believe that young people can contribute and do contribute to the fast development of our country.
I am from Panevezys, the 5th biggest city of Lithuania (which has 130,000 inhabitants) and work with 3 youth organisations. We write and implement youth projects regarding youth initiatives and youth exchanges. Besides that, I am a volunteer in Panevezys county NGOs Information and Support Centre, which concentrates on working with youth from the periphery. What I see today is that young people want to be active, but they are afraid of taking any responsibilities, to work hard and voluntarily, to take some risks. The youths of the city are too spoiled, but we work in order to see the different kinds of life. We include handicapped youth and youth having fewer possibilities both economic and social, and have trainings about how to help them. Youths in the periphery do not have the same possibilities and qualified leaders or advisers. In the periphery we have many more youths who come from socially-supported families, and their understanding of the world is very narrow and simple. They lack money for elementary living – food, clothes, school items, etc. I am happy that today we still have ‘˜crazy’ and sincere youth workers who are oriented towards enhancing the quality of projects without financial gain. We were the first to start working with the Euro-Med Programme in Lithuania (and all Baltic states), and we are proud to share our experience with those who are just thinking about that. I personally like the technique of direct communication in all that I do during international youth projects, because this kind of relationship inspires others and myself to think of the ideas which would help old friends and partners to meet again for common learning and the creation of new prospects.