Magazine article Management Today

Lithuania: Will Vladimir Make an Unwelcome Return to the Baltic?

Magazine article Management Today

Lithuania: Will Vladimir Make an Unwelcome Return to the Baltic?

Article excerpt

Few nations are more concerned about the Ukrainian crisis than booming Lithuania. And no wonder - a resurgent Russia could seriously threaten its hard-won recovery.

Globalisation being what it is, one shouldn't be surprised to find a factory in the middle of a field outside Ariogala in rural Lithuania housing looms rattling out the luridly patterned fabric that you sit on in London Underground trains. But the Huddersfield-based British textile manufacturer Camira set up shop here in 2006 and now has 200 employees, most of whom appear happy to toil for EUR515 - pounds 368 - a month. The two female bosses, Ingrid and Marina, run a tight ship and are keen to expand.

Down the road in a trendy office within the huge Kaunas basketball stadium, the Leeds-based CallCredit, a rival to Experian, has a 'shared services' centre that employs 117 crucial young tech things who scoot around the break-out areas and are content to do so for an average of EUR700 (pounds 500) a month. The UK has invested a total of EUR203m in the country.

Things have been going well for Lithuanians recently. The great crash of 2008 hit them exceptionally hard and caused a brief exodus of even highly qualified talent looking to make ends meet abroad. At least one Lithuanian with a PhD in biochemistry appeared in the London suburbs, touting for business as a handyman.

But they took the austerity pill and have been rewarded with predicted GDP growth of around 3% this year. They adopted the euro on 1 January and appear to be one of the few nations happy to have it. Of the population of three million, 93% has completed secondary or higher education - claimed to be the highest figure in Europe. And 47% of 24 to 29 year-olds have a degree and most speak pretty serviceable English.

While not quite up there with its fellow Baltic state high-tech haven 'e-Estonia', birthplace of Skype, Lithuania has got 25,000 IT professionals ready and waiting for some UK investment to come their way. Barclays has a tech centre in Vilnius that employs 1,200 souls working round the clock. Naturally, Nigel Farage would have you believe we are swamped with sponging Lithuanian unworthies in the UK. Indeed 5% of the country's GDP comes from remittances sent home, a third of these from the UK. The Wizz Air flight from Luton to Vilnius was jam-packed both ways with not a Brit stag-weekender in sight. But many Lithuanians now return home from abroad to start their own businesses - it takes only three days to set up a company here.

There is, however, someone who wants to spoil the whole Baltic party The bear on the border is stirring. Last year's annexation of Crimea and Russian-inspired conflict in Ukraine has deeply unsettled the Lithuanians. They are a people who have felt the hand of history too often on their shoulder and have been occupied twice - by the Germans and the Russians - within the past 70 years. The Germans marched in in 1941 and began the Holocaust. (The population of Vilnius was 45% Jewish in 1917 but by 1945 Lithuanian Jewry had, with the undoubted active assistance of some locals, been reduced from 210,000 to 15,000.)

The lessons of history are raw here. A tour of the Vilnius HQ used by the Gestapo and then the KGB from 1945 to 1991 is a deeply sobering experience. The Museum of Genocide and Resistance contains cells in which prisoners were forced to stand naked on a raised metal plate until they broke and fell into freezing water. …

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