Lithuania -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of Lithuania
Capital City: Vilnius
Languages: Lithuanian, Polish, Russian
Official Currency: Litas
Religions: Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, others
Population: 3 575 439 (2008)
Land Area: 65 200 sq km
Landforms: Flat lowlands cover the west, while bogs, small lakes and the rolling hills of the Baltic Highlands are east and southeast.
Land Divisions: 44 regions and 11 municipalities
Lithuania -- History --
First mentioned in a medieval German manuscript, the Quedlinburg Chronicle, on February 14, 1009, Lithuania became a significant state in the Middle Ages. The official crowning of Mindaugas as King of Lithuania on July 6, 1253 marked Lithuania's birth, as warring dukes united to support his reign. Later during the early years of the Gediminid dynasty (1316 - 1430), the nation grew into an independent, multi-ethnic Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which incorporated the lands of modern Belarus and Ukraine. By the 15th century, the Grand Duchy stretched across Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
When Grand Duke Jogaila was crowned King of Poland on February 2, 1386, Lithuania and Poland joined in a personal union, as both countries were ruled by the same Jagiellon dynasty. In 1569, Poland and Lithuania formally merged into a single state called the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This union remained in place until the adoption of the May Constitution of 1791, which abolished all subdivisions of the states and merged them into the Kingdom of Poland. In 1795, this new state was soon dissolved by the third Partition of Poland, which ceded its lands to Russia, Prussia and Austria. Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire.
On February 16, 1918, Lithuania re-established its independence. From the outset, territorial disputes with Poland (over the Vilnius region and the Suvalkai region) and Germany (over the Klaipeda region, German: Memelland) preoccupied the foreign policy of the new nation. During the interwar period, the constitutional capital was Vilnius, although the city itself was within the borders of Poland (see History of Vilnius for more details). The Lithuanian government at the time was seated in Kaunas, which officially held the status of temporary capital.
In 1940, at the beginning of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Lithuania in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It later came under German occupation, during which time 90% of Lithuanian Jews were killed, one of the worst death rates of the Holocaust. With the retreat of the Germans, Lithuania was reoccupied by the Soviet Union in 1945.
Fifty years of communist rule ended with the advent of glasnost, and Lithuania, led by Sajudis, an anti-communist and anti-Soviet independence movement, proclaimed its renewed independence on March 11, 1990. Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to do so, though Soviet forces unsuccessfully tried until August 1991 to suppress this secession, including an incident at Vilnius' TV Tower in January 13 night, 1991 that resulted in the death of 13 Lithuanian civilians. The last Russian troops left Lithuania on August 31, 1993 — even earlier than those in East Germany.
On February 4, 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognize Lithuanian independence, and Sweden the first to open an embassy in the country. The United States of America never recognized the Soviet claim to Lithuania or to the other two Baltic republics.
Lithuania joined the United Nations on September 17, 1991. On May 31, 2001, Lithuania became the 141st member of the World Trade Organization. Since 1988, Lithuania has sought closer ties with the West, and so on January 4, 1994, it became the first of the Baltic States to apply for NATO membership. On November 21, 2002, NATO invited Lithuania to start membership negotiations, and on March 29, 2004, it became a full and equal NATO member. On February 1, 1998, it became an Associate Member of the European Union, and on April 16, 2003, it signed the EU Accession Treaty. 91% of Lithuanians backed EU membership in a referendum held on May 11, 2003 and on May 1, 2004, Lithuania joined the EU.
Lithuania -- Economy --
Lithuania had a primarily agricultural economy before 1940. In the next 50 years Lithuania was fully integrated into the Soviet system. The switch to a market economy in the early 1990s was abrupt and difficult. The rapid reestablishment of trade relationships following independence sent the Lithuanian economy into depression. The gross domestic product (GDP) decreased sharply every year until 1994. Agricultural production dropped, while price deregulation and higher costs for imported energy produced massive inflation. Yet by the mid-1990s, Lithuania ranked among the better performing economies of those transitioning from the old Soviet system to a free market. By the early years of the 21st century the economy was more than 80 percent privatized.
Livestock breeding and dairy farming are the dominant agricultural activities in Lithuania. The principal crops are potatoes, grains such as barley and wheat, and sugar beets. The cutting and processing of timber is an important economic activity. The Lithuanian commercial fishing fleet catches mackerel, sardine, and herring.
The most important products manufactured in Lithuania, based on total value, are processed foods, petroleum products, textiles, clothing, and beverages. Lithuania has a well-developed system for generating power, allowing it to export electricity.
Prior to 1998, Lithuania was the Baltic state that conducted the most trade with Russia; however, the 1998 Russian financial crisis forced the country to orient toward the West. Nevertheless, Russia remains the main trading partner for both imports and exports. Other leading buyers of Lithuanian goods are Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Poland. The countries supplying imports include Germany, Poland, Italy, Denmark, and France. The leading exports are textiles, transportation equipment, mineral fuels and metals, and consumer goods; the leading imports include mineral products, machinery, and vehicles. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia established a Baltic free trade area for agricultural goods in the late 1990s.
Lithuania is a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). In May 1, 2004 the country officially joined the European Union, along with fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia.
Prior to joining the European Union, Lithuania had the highest economic growth rate amongst all candidate and member countries, reaching 8.8% in the third quarter. Lithuania’s GDP in 2003 was $18.2 billion, the largest of the Baltic States. Industry, which began expanding after the initial contraction following independence, contributed 34 percent of GDP. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing together produced 7 percent. The broad services sector, which includes trade and financial activities, produced 59 percent. In 2004, a 6.6% growth in GDP reflected impressive economic development. The GDP for 2005(July estimated) is $14,198 per capita putting in on 49th position.
According to officially published figures, accession to the EU reduced previously high unemployment to 10.6% in 2004, although some argue that this has been prompted by the high rate of emigration from Lithuania that has occurred since it joined the EU. Lithuania has nearly completed the privatization of its large, state-owned utilities. The litas, the national currency since 1993, has been linked to the euro since February 2, 2002 at the rate of EUR 1.00 = LTL 3.4528, and Lithuania is expected to switch to the Euro on January 1, 2007, thus becoming one of the first of the new EU members to do so, together with Estonia and Slovenia.
Although Lithuania's economy is undoubtedly growing, many people still live in abject poverty and the situation does not appear to be improving. An urban elite is now highly visible, whilst little seems to have changed for the country's poor. According to a report published by the US Department of State in June 2005, the minimum wage has not changed since June 1998 and stands at $107.50 per month, well below the poverty threshold. The average wage stands at $336.8 per month.
Lithuania -- Culture --
Due to Lithuania’s specific geographical position, Lithuanian culture has developed under the glow of wars. Nevertheless, archaeologists’ findings attest to the fact that pagan Lithuanian culture was part of the culture of all the Baltic tribes. Lithuanian culture is noted for its vibrant oral tradition, consisting of folktales, legends, proverbs, and ancient songs.
The country’s national literature began with the poem Metai (“The Seasons”), by Lutheran pastor Kristijonas Donelaitis, written in the 18th century. Previous writings in Lithuanian were religious reproductions. Simonas Daukantas (1793-1864) produced the first history book in Lithuanian, and also published folklore collections. His work deeply influenced those who led the Lithuanian national movement in the 1800s. For the last four decades of the 19th century printing in the Lithuanian language was banned.
After World War I, when Lithuania’s independence was restored, Lithuanian national culture underwent a state of its intensive resurrection. A number of new names in culture became well-known in Lithuania and beyond its borders. Outstanding figures of the modern period of Lithuanian literature include the poet and dramatist Jonas Maciulis; usually known by his pen name, Maironis (Voices of Spring) and Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas, whose three-volume novel In the Shadows of Altars (1933) can be read as an allegory of 20th-century Lithuanian society. One of the principal post-World War II writers is the poet and playwright Justinas Marcinkevicius, who used a dramatic trilogy to present an original interpretation of the interaction between the individual and society in Lithuanian history.
It may sound paradoxically, but during the Red period Lithuanian culture got richer, its cultural corn-bins got filled by excellent poets S.Geda, M.Martinaitis; theatres lacked no plays and audience.
Contemporary Lithuanian writers include the playwright Kazys Saja and the poets Tomas Venclova, and Judita Vaiciunaite.
A significant name in the Lithuanian culture is Mikalojus K. Ciurlionis (1875-1911) – a composer and painter. One of his best known pieces of music is the symphony In the Forest.
Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevicius (1753-1798) was the chief architect of Vilnius during the 18th century, rebuilding much of what was destroyed earlier by fire and war. Among his best architectural works are the Town Hall, the Presidential Palace and the rebuilt Cathedral.
It is worth mentioning that Lithuanian culture has never been isolated. As early as in the 14th century, at the initiative of Duke Gediminas, the first official contact with Central and East European cultures took place: Lithuania opened its door wide to European artists and craftsmen. A strong effect on Lithuanian culture had the Jewish. Over the coming centuries, Lithuania became an important center of Jewish culture and learning. Vilnius became known as the Jerusalem of the North. During the German occupation in the 1940s great Jewish libraries and synagogues were destroyed, ending a centuries-old cultural link.
The melodiousness and the lyric character of Lithuanian folk songs are an endless source of inspiration for musicians, composers and performers. The achievements of Lithuanian musicians have received international acclaim. Classical works, rock and jazz intermingle and enrich one another. Various festivals are held annually - the well acclaimed traveling festival of classical music “Musical Autumn”, the Vilnius Festival, choir festivals, the jazz festivals in Kaunas, Vilnius and Klaipeda. Other cultural events include ballet and opera performances.
During the centuries theatre has become Lithuania’s cultural priority. Elements of theatre can be traced to the oldest times. The tendency towards symbolic reproduction of the reality is still alive today: Lithuania can boast of a number of prominent theatre directors, actors, professional and amateur theatres. Lithuanian theatres are well known abroad and they never lack the attention of their audiences.
Lithuania has several major museums, including the National Museum of Lithuania (founded in 1855) and the Lithuanian Art Museum (1940), both located in Vilnius. Other museums include Vilnius Castle Museum, Pushkin Memorial Museum, KGB Museum, Jewish Museum and Genocide Museum.
Lithuania is a member of UNESCO. It joined UNESCO on 7 October 1991. Properties inscribed in the World Heritage List are: Curonian Spit (2000), Kernave Archeological Site (Cultural Reserve of Kernave) (2004), Struve Geodetic Arc (2005) and Vilnius Historic Centre (1994).
Lithuania -- Political system, law and government --
Lithuania is an independent democratic presidential republic. The foundations of the political and social system are enforced by the Fundamental Law (the Constitution) of the Republic of Lithuania adopted on October 25, 1992, which also establishes the rights, freedoms and obligations of citizens. State power in Lithuania is exercised by the President of the Republic, the Government and the Court.
According to Lithuanian constitution the president is the head of state. The Lithuanian president is elected by direct popular vote for a term of five years and may serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. The President of the Republic considers major political problems of foreign and home affairs, appoints and dismisses state officials provided by the Constitution and other laws, proclaims state of emergency, approves and publishes the laws adopted by the Seimas or returns them with remarks for reconsidering, performs other duties specified in the Constitution. The president formally appoints a prime minister, the head of government, who must be approved by parliament, and on a latter nomination appoints the rest of the Cabinet as well as a number of other top civil servants and judges. Members of the council of ministers are nominated by the prime minister.
The highest legislative authority in Lithuania is the Seimas, or parliament, a single-chamber body composed of 141 members elected to four-year terms. The Seimas have the power to adopt the Constitution and amend it, to adopt laws, to consider drafts on the programme produced by the Government and to approve it, to control the activities of the Government, to approve the budget of the Government, to establish the state institutions provided by the law, to appoint and to dismiss chairpersons of the state institutions, to settle other issues pertaining to state power.
Seventy-one seats in the Seimas are determined by direct popular vote, while the remaining seats are allocated on a proportional basis to each party that receives at least 5 percent of the national vote. All citizens age 18 and older may vote.
Lithuania’s judicial system consists of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and district and local courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court. Its judges are appointed by the Seimas on the recommendation of the president. The Seimas also appoints the members of the Constitutional Court. The president appoints all other judges, with appointments to the Court of Appeal subject to approval by the Seimas.
During the Soviet period, Lithuania had no armed forces separate from those of the Soviet Union. Lithuania’s defense forces now include an army of 11,600, a paramilitary border guard, and a volunteer home guard reserve. The country also has a small navy (710 members) and air force (1,200 members). Men are conscripted for 12 months beginning at age 18.
Lithuania is a member of the United Nations (UN) and the Council of Europe. The country became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004. Lithuania’s relations with its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, are loosely coordinated through the Baltic Assembly, a consultative intergovernmental body.