Lithuania (UK and US: i/ˌlɪθuːˈeɪniə/, Lithuanian: Lietuva [lʲɪɛtʊˈvɐ]), officially the Republic of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Respublika), is a country in Northern Europe. One of the three Baltic states, it is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast (a Russian exclave) to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 2.9 million people as of 2015[update], and its capital and largest city is Vilnius. Lithuanians are a Baltic people. The official language, Lithuanian, along with Latvian, is one of only two living languages in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.
For centuries, the southeastern shores of the Baltic Sea were inhabited by various Baltic tribes. In the 1230s, the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, the King of Lithuania, and the first unified Lithuanian state, the Kingdom of Lithuania, was created on 6 July 1253. During the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe; present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia were the territories of the Grand Duchy. With the Lublin Union of 1569, Lithuania and Poland formed a voluntary two-state union, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighboring countries systematically dismantled it from 1772–95, with the Russian Empire annexing most of Lithuania's territory.
As World War I neared its end, Lithuania's Act of Independence was signed on 16 February 1918, declaring the founding of the modern Republic of Lithuania. In the midst of the Second World War, Lithuania was first occupied by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end and the Germans retreated, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania. On 11 March 1990, a year before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare itself independent, resulting in the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania.
Lithuania is a member of the European Union, the Council of Europe, a full member of the Eurozone, Schengen Agreement and NATO. It is also a member of the Nordic Investment Bank, and part of Nordic-Baltic cooperation of Northern European countries. The United Nations Human Development Index lists Lithuania as a "very high human development" country. Lithuania has been among the fastest growing economies in the European Union and is ranked 21st in the world in the Ease of Doing Business Index.
The first people settled in the territory of Lithuania after the last glacial period in the 10th millennium BC. Over a millennium, the Indo-Europeans, who arrived in the 3rd – 2nd millennium BC, mixed with the local population and formed various Baltic tribes. The first written mention of Lithuania is found in a medieval German manuscript, the Annals of Quedlinburg, in an entry dated 9 March 1009.
Initially inhabited by fragmented Baltic tribes, in the 1230s the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, who was crowned as King of Lithuania on 6 July 1253. After his assassination in 1263, pagan Lithuania was a target of the Christian crusades of the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Order. Despite the devastating century-long struggle with the Orders, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania expanded rapidly, overtaking former Slavic principalities of Kievan Rus'.
By the end of the 14th century, Lithuania was one of the largest countries in Europe and included present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. The geopolitical situation between the west and the east determined the multicultural and multi-confessional character of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The ruling elite practised religious tolerance and Chancery Slavonic language was used as an auxiliary language to the Latin for official documents.
In 1385, the Grand Duke Jogaila accepted Poland's offer to become its king. Jogaila embarked on gradual Christianization of Lithuania and established a personal union between Poland and Lithuania. It implied that Lithuania, the fiercely independent land, was one of the last pagan areas of Europe to adopt Christianity.
After two civil wars, Vytautas the Great became the Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1392. During his reign, Lithuania reached the peak of its territorial expansion, centralization of the state began, and the Lithuanian nobility became increasingly prominent in state politics. In the great Battle of the Vorskla River in 1399, the combined forces of Tokhtamysh and Vytautas were defeated by the Mongols. Thanks to close cooperation, the armies of Lithuania and Poland achieved a great victory over the Teutonic Knights in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald, one of the largest battles of medieval Europe.
After the deaths of Jogaila and Vytautas, the Lithuanian nobility attempted to break the union between Poland and Lithuania, independently selecting Grand Dukes from the Jagiellon dynasty. But, at the end of the 15th century, Lithuania was forced to seek a closer alliance with Poland when the growing power of the Grand Duchy of Moscow threatened Lithuania's Russian principalities and sparked the Muscovite–Lithuanian Wars and the Livonian War.
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was created in 1569. As a member of the Commonwealth, Lithuania retained its institutions, including a separate army, currency, and statutory laws. Eventually Polonization affected all aspects of Lithuanian life: politics, language, culture, and national identity. From the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries, culture, arts, and education flourished, fueled by the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. From 1573, the Kings of Poland and Grand Dukes of Lithuania were elected by the nobility, who were granted ever increasing Golden Liberties. These liberties, especially the liberum veto, led to anarchy and the eventual dissolution of the state.
During the Northern Wars (1655–1661), the Lithuanian territory and economy were devastated by the Swedish army. Before it could fully recover, Lithuania was ravaged during the Great Northern War (1700–1721). The war, a plague, and a famine caused the deaths of approximately 40% of the country's population. Foreign powers, especially Russia, became dominant in the domestic politics of the Commonwealth. Numerous factions among the nobility used the Golden Liberties to prevent any reforms. Eventually, the Commonwealth was partitioned in 1772, 1792, and 1795 by the Russian Empire, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria.
The largest area of Lithuanian territory became part of the Russian Empire. After unsuccessful uprisings in 1831 and 1863, the Tsarist authorities implemented a number of Russification policies. They banned the Lithuanian press, closed cultural and educational institutions, and made Lithuania part of a new administrative region called Northwestern Krai. The Russification failed owing to an extensive network of book smugglers and secret Lithuanian home schooling.
After the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), when German diplomats assigned what were seen as Russian spoils of war to Turkey, the relationship between Russia and the German Empire became complicated. The Russian Empire resumed the construction of fortresses at its western borders for defence against a potential invasion from Germany in the West. On 7 July 1879 the Russian Emperor Alexander II approved of a proposal from the Russian military leadership to build the largest "first-class" defensive structure in the entire state – the 65 km2 (25 sq mi) Kaunas Fortress. Large numbers of Lithuanians went to the United States in 1867–1868 after a famine. A Lithuanian National Revival laid the foundations of the modern Lithuanian nation and independent Lithuania.
20th and 21st centuries
During World War I, the Council of Lithuania (Lietuvos Taryba) declared the independence of Lithuania and the re-establishment of the Lithuanian State on 16 February 1918. Lithuania's foreign policy was dominated by territorial disputes with Poland and Germany. The Vilnius Region and Vilnius, the historical capital of Lithuania (and so designated in the Constitution of Lithuania), were seized by the Polish army during Żeligowski's Mutiny in October 1920 and incorporated two years later into Poland. For 19 years, Kaunas became the temporary capital of Lithuania. The Polish control over Vilnius was greatly resented by Lithuania; there were no diplomatic relations between the two states for most of the period between the two World Wars.
Acquired during the Klaipėda Revolt of 1923, the Klaipėda Region (German: Memelland) was ceded to Nazi Germany after a German ultimatum of March 1939. During the interwar period, the domestic affairs of Lithuania were controlled by the authoritarian President Antanas Smetona and his party, the Lithuanian Nationalist Union, which came to power after the Lithuanian coup d'état of 1926.1939–1941
The Soviet Union returned Vilnius to Lithuania after the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland in September 1939. In June 1940, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Lithuania in accordance to the secret protocols of Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The occupation was followed by mass arrests and deportations with Lithuania having 34,000 citizens removed. According to a Lithuanian government official, this was the start of a planned removal of 700,000 from Lithuania.:481941–1944
A year later, the Soviet Union was attacked by Nazi Germany, leading to the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. The Germans and their collaborators:54–56 immediately began to round up and murder civilians, including intellectuals, army officers, Romani people and Jews. By 1 December 1941, over 120,000 Lithuanian Jews, or 91–95% of Lithuania's pre-war Jewish community, had been killed.:110
10 of the 25 Lithuanian police battalions, working with the Nazi Einsatzkommando, were involved in the mass killings and are thought to have executed 78,000 people.:148
Lithuanian partisans did exist, but few supported the communists. Lithuanian army soldiers, who had been assigned to the 29th Rifle Corps of the Red Army, deserted or surrendered to the Germans in June 1941, resulting in the unit being disbanded in August 1941.1944–1991
After the retreat of the German armed forces, the Soviets reestablished the annexation of Lithuania in 1944. Under border changes promulgated at the Potsdam Conference of 1945, the former German Memelland, with its Baltic port Memel (Lithuanian: Klaipėda), was again transferred to Lithuania, which was now referred to as the Lithuanian SSR. Most of Memelland's German residents had fled the area in the final months of World War II.
As part of their program of nationalisation, collectivization and general sovietization of everyday life, the Soviets deported large numbers of Lithuanians to Siberia. From 1944 to 1952, approximately 100,000 Lithuanian partisans fought a guerrilla war against the Soviet system. An estimated 30,000 partisans and their supporters were killed; many more were arrested and deported to Siberian gulags. It is estimated that during World War II and the subsequent Soviet annexation, Lithuania lost 780,000 people.
The advent of perestroika and glasnost in the late 1980s allowed the establishment of Sąjūdis, an anti-Communist independence movement. After a landslide victory in elections to the Supreme Soviet, members of Sąjūdis proclaimed Lithuania's independence on 11 March 1990, making Lithuania the first Soviet republic to do so. The Soviet Union attempted to suppress the secession by imposing an economic blockade. On the night of 13 January 1991, Soviet troops attacked the Vilnius TV Tower, killing 14 Lithuanian civilians and wounding 600 others. On 31 July 1991, Soviet paramilitaries killed seven Lithuanian border guards on the Belarusian border in what became known as the Medininkai Massacre.
On 4 February 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognise Lithuania's independence. After the Soviet August Coup, independent Lithuania received wide official recognition, and joined the United Nations on 17 September 1991.1991–present
The last Russian troops left Lithuania on 31 August 1993, even earlier than they departed from East Germany. Lithuania, seeking closer ties with the West, applied for NATO membership in 1994. After a transition from a planned economy to a free market, Lithuania became a full member of NATO and the European Union in the spring of 2004 and a member of the Schengen Agreement on 21 December 2007.
Lithuania is located in Northern Europe and covers an area of 65,200 km2 (25,200 sq mi). It lies between latitudes 53° and 57° N, and mostly between longitudes 21° and 27° E (part of the Curonian Spit lies west of 21°). It has around 99 kilometres (61.5 mi) of sandy coastline, only about 38 kilometres (24 mi) of which face the open Baltic Sea, less than the other two Baltic Sea countries. The rest of the coast is sheltered by the Curonian sand peninsula. Lithuania's major warm-water port, Klaipėda, lies at the narrow mouth of the Curonian Lagoon (Lithuanian: Kuršių marios), a shallow lagoon extending south to Kaliningrad. The country's main and largest river, the Nemunas River, and some of its tributaries carry international shipping.
Lithuania lies at the edge of the North European Plain. Its landscape was smoothed by the glaciers of the last ice age, and is a combination of moderate lowlands and highlands. Its highest point is Aukštojas Hill at 294 metres (965 ft) in the eastern part of the country. The terrain features numerous lakes (Lake Vištytis, for example) and wetlands, and a mixed forest zone covers over 33% of the country.
After a re-estimation of the boundaries of the continent of Europe in 1989, Jean-George Affholder, a scientist at the Institut Géographique National (French National Geographic Institute), determined that the geographic centre of Europe was in Lithuania, at 54°54′N 25°19′E / 54.900°N 25.317°E / 54.900; 25.317 (Purnuškės (centre of gravity)), 26 kilometres (16 mi) north of Lithuania's capital city of Vilnius. Affholder accomplished this by calculating the centre of gravity of the geometrical figure of Europe.
According to the Speedtest.net website, as of 30 October 2011 Lithuania ranks first in the world by the internet upload speed and download speed, schools and corporations ignored. The high speeds are largely due to Lithuania having the EU's and Europe's most available FTTH network. According to a yearly study published by the FTTH Council Europe in 2013, the country has connected 100% of households to the FTTH network. 31% of these households are subscribers to this network at the time of publishing. Lithuania has thus Europe's most available fibre network and also has the highest FTTH penetration. Sweden has the next highest FTTH penetration with 23%.
The country boasts a well-developed modern infrastructure of railways, airports and four-lane highways. Lithuania has an extensive network of motorways. The best known motorways are A1, connecting Vilnius with Klaipėda via Kaunas, as well as A2, connecting Vilnius and Panevėžys. One of the most used is the European route E67 highway running from Warsaw to Tallinn, via Kaunas and Riga.
The Port of Klaipėda is the only commercial port in Lithuania. In a record year for the port, in 2011 45.5 million tons of cargo were handled (including Būtingė oil terminal figures), making it one of the biggest in the Baltic Sea.
Vilnius International Airport is the largest airport. It served 3.8 million passengers in 2016. Other international airports include Kaunas International Airport, Palanga International Airport and Šiauliai International Airport.
Lithuania received its first railway connection in the middle of the 19th century, when the Warsaw – Saint Petersburg Railway was constructed. It included a stretch from Daugavpils via Vilnius and Kaunas to Virbalis. The first and only still operating in the Baltic states Kaunas Railway Tunnel was completed in 1860. Lithuanian Railways' main network consists of 1,762 km (1,095 mi) of 1,520 mm (4 ft 11.8 in) broad gauge railway of which 122 km (76 mi) are electrified. They also operate 115 km (71 mi) of standard gauge lines. The Trans-European standard gauge Rail Baltica railway, linking Helsinki–Tallinn–Riga–Kaunas–Warsaw and continuing on to Berlin is under construction.
Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant was a Soviet-era nuclear station. Unit No. 1 was closed in December 2004, as a condition of Lithuania's entry into the European Union; the plant is similar to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in its lack of a robust containment structure. The remaining unit, as of 2006[update], supplied about 70% of Lithuania's electrical demand. Unit No. 2 was closed down on 31 December 2009. Proposals have been made to construct another – Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania. However, a non-binding referendum held in October 2012 clouded the prospects for the Visaginas project, as 63% of voters said no to a new nuclear power plant.
The country's main primary source of electrical power is Elektrėnai Power Plant. Other primary sources of Lithuania's electrical power are Kruonis Pumped Storage Plant and Kaunas Hydroelectric Power Plant. Kruonis Pumped Storage Plant is the only in the Baltic states power plant to be used for regulation of the power system's operation with generating capacity of 900 MW for at least 12 hours. As of 2015[update], 66% of electrical power was imported.
The Lithuanian language (lietuvių kalba) is the official state language of Lithuania and is recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union. There are about 2.96 million native Lithuanian speakers in Lithuania and about 0.2 million abroad.
Lithuanian is a Baltic language, closely related to Latvian, although they are not mutually intelligible. It is written in an adapted version of the Roman script. Lithuanian is believed to be the linguistically most conservative living Indo-European tongue, retaining many features of Proto Indo-European.
Arts and museums
The Lithuanian Art Museum was founded in 1933 and is the largest museum of art conservation and display in Lithuania. Among other important museums is the Palanga Amber Museum, where amber pieces comprise a major part of the collection.
Perhaps the most renowned figure in Lithuania's art community was the composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911), an internationally renowned musician. The 2420 Čiurlionis asteroid, identified in 1975, honors his achievements. The M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum, as well as the only military museum in Lithuania, Vytautas the Great War Museum, are located in Kaunas.
Lithuanian folk music belongs to Baltic music branch which is connected with neolithic corded ware culture. Two instrument cultures meet in the areas inhabited by Lithuanians: stringed (kanklių) and wind instrument cultures. Lithuanian folk music is archaic, mostly used for ritual purposes, containing elements of paganism faith. There are three ancient styles of singing in Lithuania connected with ethnographical regions: monophony, heterophony and polyphony. Folk song genres: Sutartinės, Wedding Songs, War-Historical Time Songs, Calendar Cycle and Ritual Songs and Work Songs.
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis is the most renowned Lithuanian painter and composer. During his short life he created about 200 pieces of music. His works have had profound influence on modern Lithuanian culture. His symphonic poems In the Forest (Miške) and The Sea (Jūra) were performed only posthumously. Čiurlionis contributed to symbolism and art nouveau and was representative of the fin de siècle epoch. He has been considered[by whom?] one of the pioneers of abstract art in Europe.
Vytautas Miškinis (born 1954) is a professor, composer and choir director of the famous Lithuanian boys' choir Ąžuoliukas. He is very popular in Lithuania and abroad. He has written over 400 secular and about 160 religious works.
In Lithuania, choral music is very important. Vilnius is the only city with three choirs laureates (Brevis, Jauna Muzika and Chamber Choir of the Conservatoire) at the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing. There is a long-standing tradition of the Lithuanian Song and Dance Festival (Dainų Šventė). The first one took place in Kaunas in 1924. Since 1990, the festival has been organised every four years and summons roughly 30,000 singers and folk dancers of various professional levels and age groups from across the country. In 2008, Lithuanian Song and Dance Festival together with its Latvian and Estonian versions was inscribed as UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Marijonas Mikutavičius is famous for creating unofficial Lithuania sport anthem "Trys milijonai" (English: Three million).
Lithuanian cuisine features the products suited to the cool and moist northern climate of Lithuania: barley, potatoes, rye, beets, greens, berries, and mushrooms are locally grown, and dairy products are one of its specialties. Since it shares its climate and agricultural practices with Northern Europe, Lithuanian cuisine has some similarities to Scandinavian cuisine. Nevertheless, it has its own distinguishing features, which were formed by a variety of influences during the country's long and difficult history.
Because of their common heritage, Lithuanians, Poles, and Ashkenazi Jews share many dishes and beverages. Namely, similar versions of: dumplings (koldūnai, kreplach or pierogi), doughnuts spurgos or (pączki), and blynai crêpes (blintzes). German traditions also influenced Lithuanian cuisine, introducing pork and potato dishes, such as potato pudding (kugelis or kugel) and potato sausages (vėdarai), as well as the baroque tree cake known as Šakotis. The most exotic of all the influences is Eastern (Karaite) cuisine, and the dishes kibinai and čeburekai are popular in Lithuania. Torte Napoleon was introduced during Napoleon's passage through Lithuania in the 19th century.
The following are links to international rankings of Lithuania from selected research institutes and foundations including economic output and various composite indices.