Moral Economy and Social Remittances of Lithuanian-Americans Diaspora (Re)migrants

Vytis Ciubrinskas (Vytautas Magnus University)

The core of transnational diasporas is in its ‘responsive relationality,’ which binds diasporas and non-migrants together economically, emotionally and morally. These ties could be scrutinized by applying the concept of moral economy, which points to enactments of dignity, pride, responsibility and reciprocity (Hepner 2024). In the case of diaspora, it is related to homeland that is often portrayed as ‘moral destination’ of belonging with the ultimate goal of return.

By drawing on ethnographic materials, in-depth interviews and life-histories, I discuss (re)migration of Lithuanian-American diaspora embedded in the end of WWII exile and its second—foreign born—generation. The main concern is how the relational responsibilities and moral economy of (re)migrants are enacted in transmitting social capital and sharing resources in the form of social remittances as ‘agents of change’ (Grabowska 2017).

The temporal and permanent (re)migration to Lithuania in the late 1980s and early 1990s was motivated by the ‘type of consciousness’ (van Reenan 1990) modelled by the World Lithuanian Community and the Lithuanian Charter as ‘moral constitution’ of DP, forged into homeland nationalism (Glick Schiller 2005). It was a loaded transition of resourceful compatriots taking material and social remittances (knowledge, experience, philanthropy, initiatives) to the homeland. A rather common response by first-generation diaspora returnees to the question “Why did you re-migrate?” was: “I wanted to employ my experience and know-how, and to give-back.” (Arunas)

One of the most remarkable examples of ‘giving back’ was the re-establishment of Vytautas Magnus University in 1988 with the direct participation of the diaspora returnees. Among the second generation of American-born diaspora Lithuanians, it was widely accepted that the new Lithuania presented a chance to work and help out(Kelly 2000). Their experience of living in the free Western world was used as a source of social capital and natural knowledge of the basic principles of democracy taken to the post-communist country as social remittances to combat the informal economy and corruption; in particular in the form of blat in social networks of mutually beneficial relationships, often involving illegality,as an economy of favours (Ledeneva 1998).

The presentation exemplifies a variety of social remittances transmitted and enacted by diaspora (re)migration fueled by the moral imperative of homeland nationalism and human capital, remitting democracy and development to the new post-socialist Lithuania. Here remitting is asserted as both moral responsibility and a sense of civic commitment.