Lithuania is a flatland, drained by the Nemen River. In addition to the capital, other important cities are Kaunas, Klaipeda (Memel), and Siauliai. About 84% of the population is Lithuanian; there are Polish, Russian, and other minorities. The major religion is Roman Catholicism and there are Russian Orthodox and Lutheran minorities. The Lithuanians speak a Baltic language (see Balts), which is the official language; Russian and Polish are also widely spoken.
In the 1990s, Lithuania benefited from its adherence to strict fiscal and monetary policies, as it followed a program of privatization and increased foreign investment. The country also benefited from joining the European Union (2004), but it subsequently was among the nations hardest hit by the global recession that began in 2008. Dairy farming and stock raising are carried on extensively, and grains, potatoes, sugar beets, flax, and vegetables are grown. Primarily agricultural before 1940, Lithuania has since developed considerable industry, including food processing, shipbuilding, petroleum refining, and the manufacture of machinery and machine tools, metal products, major appliances, electronic components, motors, textiles, and electrical equipment. Minerals, textiles and clothing, machinery, chemicals, wood and wood products, and foodstuffs are exported, while mineral products, machinery, transportation equipment, chemicals, clothing, and metals are imported. Russia, Germany, Poland, and Latvia are the main trading partners.
Lithuania is governed under the constitution of 1992. The president, who is the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president, as is the cabinet. The unicameral Parliament (Seimas) has 141 members; 71 are elected by popular vote and 70 by proportional representation, all for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 10 counties.
The pagan Liths, or Lithuanians, may have settled along the Nemen as early as 1500 B.C. In the 13th cent. the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and the Teutonic Knights conquered the region now comprising Estonia, Latvia, and parts of Lithuania. To protect themselves against the Knights, who pressed them from the north and the south, the Lithuanians formed (13th cent.) a strong unified state.
The grand dukes Gedimin (1316-41) and Olgerd (1345-77) expanded their territories at the expense of the neighboring Russian principalities, which were weakened by the Mongol invasion. Lithuania became one of the largest states of medieval Europe, including all of what is now Belarus, a large part of Ukraine, and sections of European Russia; at its furthest extent it touched the Black Sea. Olgerd's son, Jagiello, became king of Poland in 1386 as Ladislaus II by his marriage with Jadwiga, daughter of Louis I of Poland and Hungary. He accepted and introduced Christianity.
The union between Lithuania and Poland had at first the character of an alliance between independent nations. Witowt, a cousin of Ladislaus II, ruled Lithuania independently (1392-1430) and brought it to the height of its power and expansion. In 1410 the Polish-Lithuanian forces severely defeated the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg and Novgorod.
After Witowt's death, decline set in. The Belarusians, who had retained their Greek Orthodox faith, inclined toward the rising grand duchy of Moscow. In 1569, hard pressed by the Russians under Ivan IV, Lithuania was joined with Poland by the Union of Lublin to form a commonwealth. The Lithuanian aristocracy and burghers became thoroughly Polonized. By the three successive partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795) Lithuania disappeared as a national unit and passed to Russia.Modern History
A Lithuanian linguistic and cultural revival began in the 19th cent., inspired largely by the Roman Catholic clergy and accompanied by frequent anti-Russian uprisings. World War I and the consequent collapse of Russia and Germany made Lithuanian independence possible. Proclaimed (Feb., 1918) an independent kingdom under German protection, Lithuania became (Nov., 1918) an independent republic.
It resisted attacks by Bolshevik troops and by volunteer bands of German adventurers, but in 1920 Vilnius was seized by Poland. Lithuania remained technically at war with Poland until 1927. In 1923, Lithuania seized the Memel Territory. The virtual dictatorship (1926-29) of Augustine Voldemaras was succeeded (1929-39) by that of Antanas Smetona, and an authoritarian constitution on corporative (fascist) lines became effective in 1938.
Vilnius passed to Lithuania after the Soviet-German partition of Poland in 1939, but a German ultimatum forced the restitution of Memel. In 1940 the USSR, which had obtained military bases in Lithuania, occupied the country. After a Soviet-sponsored "election," Lithuania became a constituent republic of the USSR. When Germany invaded Lithuania in June, 1941, there was an insurrection against the Soviets and a provisional government was established, but Germany refused to recognize Lithuanian independence, and the government was disbanded. During the German occupation (1941-44) of Lithuania in World War II, the considerable Jewish minority was largely exterminated. In 1944 the Communist government returned. An anti-Communist guerrilla movement was active in the late 1940s and early 1950s; meanwhile, there were massive deportations of intellectuals and farmers to European Russia, Central Asia, and Siberia. After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, repression eased somewhat, and ethnic Lithuanians became prominent in the Communist elite.
In Mar., 1990, the Lithuanian parliament declared independence from the Soviet Union. Sajudis, a non-Communist coalition, won control of the Lithuanian parliament, and Vytautas Landsbergis became Lithuania's president. The Soviet Union responded with an oil embargo and troop actions in which civilians were killed. A referendum on independence passed in Feb., 1991, and Lithuania's independence was recognized by the Soviet Union on Sept. 6, 1991. In 1992, the Democratic Labor (formerly the Communist) party defeated Sajudis, and Algirdas Brazauskas, a former Communist, was elected president in 1993. Also in 1993, the last Russian troops were withdrawn, and Lithuania signed a free-trade agreement with fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia.
Valdas Adamkus, an emigrant from the United States, was elected president in 1998, but lost in a runoff in 2002 to Liberal Democratic party candidate Rolandas Paksas. Charges of corruption and links to Russian organized crime led the parliament to initiate impeachment proceedings against Paksas in Dec., 2003, and he was narrowly removed from office the following April. Parliament speaker Arturas Paulauskas became acting president. The same month Lithuania joined NATO; both events and others led to tensions with Russia in early 2004. Lithuania also became a member of the European Union in 2004. In new elections in June, 2004, Adamkus won a second term as president, after a runoff. In October former president Paksas was acquitted of leaking state secrets, one of the three charges on which he was impeached. Adamkus was succeeded as president by Dalia Grybauskaite, who had been serving as the European Union's budget commissioner and ran as an independent; elected in May, 2009, she became the first woman to hold the presidency.
See A. E. Senn, The Emergence of Modern Lithuania (1959); R. J. Misiunas and R. Taagepera, The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940-1980 (1983); T. Oleszczuk, Political Justice in the Soviet Union: Dissent and Repression in Lithuania (1988).
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Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublika) is a country in Eastern, often referred to as Northern Europe or in the Baltic Division. Situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, it shares borders with Latvia to the north, Belarus to the southeast, Poland, and the Russian exclave of the Kaliningrad Oblast to the southwest. Lithuania is a member of NATO and of the European Union. Its population is 3.4 million. Its capital and largest city is Vilnius.
During the 14th century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe: present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia were territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. With the Lublin Union of 1569 Poland and Lithuania formed a new state, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighboring countries systematically dismantled it from 1772 to 1795, with the Russian Empire annexing most of Lithuania's territory. In the wake of the First World War, Lithuania's Act of Independence was signed on February 16, 1918, declaring the re-establishment of a sovereign state. Starting in 1940, Lithuania was occupied first by the Soviet Union then Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end in 1944 and the Nazis retreated, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania. On March 11, 1990, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare its renewed independence.
Present-day Lithuania has one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union. Lithuania became a full member of the Schengen Agreement on 21 December 2007. In 2009, Lithuania will celebrate the millennium of its name.
The first written mention of Lithuania is found in a medieval German manuscript, the Quedlinburg Chronicle, on 14 February 1009. The Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas in 1236, and neighbouring countries referred to it as "the state of Lithuania". The official coronation of Mindaugas as King of Lithuania was on July 6, 1253, and the official recognition of Lithuanian statehood as the Kingdom of Lithuania.
During the early period of Vytautas the Great (1316–1430), the state occupied the territories of present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. By the end of the fourteenth century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, and was also the only remaining pagan state. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania stretched across a substantial part of Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Lithuanian nobility, city dwellers and peasants accepted Christianity in 1386, following Poland's offer of its crown to Jogaila, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Grand Duke Jogaila was crowned King of Poland on February 2, 1386. Lithuania and Poland were joined into a personal union, as both countries were ruled by the same Gediminas branch, the Jagiellon dynasty.
In 1401, the formal union was dissolved as a result of disputes over legal terminology, and Vytautas, the cousin of Jogaila, became the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Thanks to close cooperation, the armies of Poland and Lithuania achieved a great victory over the Teutonic Knights in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald, one of the largest battles of mediaeval Europe.
A royal crown had been bestowed upon Vytautas in 1429 by Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, but Polish magnates prevented his coronation by seizing the crown as it was being brought to him. New attempts were made to send a crown, but a month later Vytautas died as the result of an accident. As a result of the growing centralised power of the Grand Principality of Moscow, in 1569, Lithuania and Poland formally united into a single state called the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. As a member of the Commonwealth, Lithuania retained its institutions, including a separate army, currency and statutory law which was digested in three Statutes of Lithuania. In 1795, the joint state was dissolved by the third Partition of the Commonwealth, which forfeited its lands to Russia, Prussia and Austria, under duress. Over ninety percent of Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire and the remainder into Prussia.
After a century of occupation, Lithuania re-established its independence on February 16, 1918. The official government from July through November 1918 was quickly replaced by a republican government. From the outset, the newly independent Lithuania's foreign policy was dominated by territorial disputes with Poland (over the Vilnius region and the Suvalkai region) and with Germany (over the Klaipėda region or Memelland). Most obviously, the Lithuanian constitution designated Vilnius as the nation's capital, even though the city itself lay within Polish territory as a result of a general election. At the time, Poles and Jews made up a majority of the population of Vilnius, with a small Lithuanian minority of only 0.8%. In 1920 the capital was relocated to Kaunas, which was officially designated the provisional capital of Lithuania. (See History of Vilnius for more details.)
In June 1940, around the beginning of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Lithuania in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. A year later it came under German occupation. After the retreat of the German armed forces (Wehrmacht), Lithuania was reoccupied by the Soviet Union in 1944.
From 1944 to 1952 approximately 100,000 Lithuanians participated in partisan fights against the Soviet system and the Red Army. More than twenty thousand partisans ("forest brothers") were killed in those battles and many more were arrested and deported to Siberian GULAGs. Lithuanian historians view this period as a war of independence against the Soviet Union.
During the Soviet and Nazi occupations between 1940 and 1944, Lithuania lost over 780,000 residents. Among them were around 190,000 Lithuanian Jews (91% of the pre-war Jewish community), one of the highest total mortality rates of the Holocaust. An estimated 120,000 to 300,000 were killed by Soviets or exiled to Siberia, while others had been sent to German forced labour camps or chose to emigrate to western countries.
Forty-six years of Soviet occupation ended with the advent of perestroika and glasnost in the late 1980s. Lithuania, led by Sąjūdis, 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 to suppress this secession. The Red Army attacked the Vilnius TV Tower on the night of January 13, 1991, an act that resulted in the death of 13 Lithuanian civilians. The last Red Army troops left Lithuania on August 31, 1993 — even earlier than they departed from East Germany.
On February 4, 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognize Lithuanian independence. Sweden was the first to open an embassy in the country. The United States of America never recognized the Soviet claim to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Russia currently refuses to recognize the occupation of Lithuania, claiming that Lithuanians decided to join the Soviet Union voluntarily, although Russia signed a treaty with Lithuania before the disintegration of the USSR which acknowledged Lithuania's forced loss of sovereignty at the hands of the Soviets, thereby recognizing the occupation.
Lithuania joined the United Nations on September 17, 1991, and on May 31, 2001, it 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 March 29, 2004, it became a NATO member, and on May 1, 2004, Lithuania joined the European Union.
Since Lithuania declared independence on March 11, 1990, it has maintained strong democratic traditions. In the first general elections after the independence on October 25, 1992, 56.75% of the total number of voters supported the new constitution. There were heavy debates concerning the constitution, especially the role of the president. Drawing from the interwar experiences, many different proposals were made ranging from a strong parliamentary government to a presidential system similar to the one in the United States. A separate referendum was held on May 23, 1992 to gauge public opinion on the matter and 41% of all the eligible voters supported the restoration of the President of Lithuania. Eventually a semi-presidential system was agreed upon.
The Lithuanian head of state is the President, elected directly for a five-year term, serving a maximum of two consecutive terms. The post of president is largely ceremonial; main policy functions however include foreign affairs and national security policy. The president is also the military commander-in-chief. The President, with the approval of the parliamentary body, the Seimas, also appoints the prime minister and on the latter's nomination, appoints the rest of the cabinet, as well as a number of other top civil servants and the judges for all courts. The judges of the Constitutional Court (Konstitucinis Teismas), who serve nine-year terms, are appointed by the President (three judges), the Chairman of the Seimas (three judges) and the Chairman of the Supreme Court (three judges). The unicameral Lithuanian parliament, the Seimas, has 141 members who are elected to four-year terms. 71 of the members of this legislative body are elected in single constituencies, and the other 70 are elected in a nationwide vote by proportional representation. A party must receive at least 5% of the national vote to be represented in the Seimas.
The current administrative division was established in 1994 and modified in 2000 to meet the requirements of the European Union. Lithuania has a three-tier administrative division: the country is divided into 10 counties (Lithuanian: singular — apskritis, plural — apskritys) that are further subdivided into 60 municipalities (Lithuanian: singular — savivaldybė, plural — savivaldybės) which consist of over 500 elderates (Lithuanian: singular — seniūnija, plural — seniūnijos).
Lithuania is situated in Northern Europe. It has around 99 kilometres (61.5 mi) of sandy coastline, of which only about 38 kilometres (24 mi) face the open Baltic Sea and which is the shortest among the 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 main river, the Neman River, and some of its tributaries carry international shipping vessels.
The Lithuanian landscape has been smoothed by glaciers. The highest areas are the moraines in the western uplands and eastern highlands, none of which are higher than 300 metres (1,000 ft) above sea level, with the maximum elevation being Aukštojas Hill at 294 metres (964 ft). The terrain features numerous lakes, Lake Vištytis for example, and wetlands; a mixed forest zone covers nearly 33% of the country. The climate lies between maritime and continental, with wet, moderate winters and summers. According to one geographical computation method, Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, lies only a few kilometres south of the geographical centre of Europe.
Phytogeographically, Lithuania is shared between the Central European and Eastern European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Lithuania can be subdivided into two ecoregions: the Central European mixed forests and Sarmatic mixed forests.
Lithuania consists of the following historical and cultural regions:
In 2003, before joining the European Union, Lithuania had the highest economic growth rate amongst all candidate and member countries, reaching 8.8% in the third quarter. In 2004 — 7.3%; 2005 — 7.6%; 2006 — 7.4%; 2007 — 8.8%, 2008 Q1 — 7.0% growth in GDP reflects the impressive economic development. Most of the trade Lithuania conducts is within the European Union.
It is a member of the World Trade Organization, and the European Union. By UN classification, Lithuania is a country with a high average income. The country boasts a well developed modern infrastructure of railways, airports and four-lane highways. It has almost full employment, with an unemployment rate of only 2.9%. According to officially published figures, EU membership fuelled a booming economy, increased outsourcing into the country, and boosted the tourism sector. The litas, the national currency, has been pegged 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, 2010. There is gradual but consistent shift towards a knowledge-based economy with special emphasis on biotechnology (industrial and diagnostic) – because major biotechnology producers in the Baltic countries are concentrated in Lithuania – as well as laser equipment. Also mechatronics and information technology (IT) are seen as prospective knowledge-based economy directions in Lithuania.
Like other countries in the region (Estonia, Latvia) Lithuania also has a flat tax rate rather than a progressive scheme. Lithuanian income levels still lag behind the rest of the older EU members, with per capita GDP in 2007 at 60% of the EU average. Lower wages may have been a factor that in 2004 influenced the trend of emigration to wealthier EU countries, something that has been made legally possible as a result of accession to the European Union. In 2006, income tax was reduced to 27% and a reduction to 24% was made in October 2007. Income tax reduction and 19.1% annual wage growth is starting to make an impact with some emigrants gradually beginning to come back. The latest official data show emigration in early 2006 to be 30% lower than the previous year, with 3,483 people leaving in four months.
Corporate tax rate is 15%, one of the lowest in the European Union. The government offers special incentives for investments into the high-technology sectors and high value-added products.
Lithuania has the highest rating of Baltic states in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality of life index.
Vilnius University is one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe and the largest university in Lithuania. Kaunas University of Technology is the largest technical university in the Baltic States and the second largest university in Lithuania. Other universities include Kaunas University of Medicine, Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Vytautas Magnus University, and Mykolas Romeris University.
Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant is a Soviet-era nuclear station. Unit #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, supplied about 70% of Lithuania's electrical demand. Unit #2 is tentatively scheduled for closure in 2009. Proposals have been made to construct another nuclear power plant in Lithuania.
Poles are the largest minority, concentrated in southeast Lithuania (the Vilnius region). Russians are the second largest minority, concentrated mostly in two cities. They constitute sizeable minorities in Vilnius (14%) and Klaipėda (28%), and a majority in the town of Visaginas (52%). About 3,000 Roma live in Lithuania, mostly in Vilnius, Kaunas, and Panevėžys; their organizations are supported by the National Minority and Emigration Department.
Most Lithuanian schools teach English as a first foreign language, but students may also study German, or, in some schools, French. Schools where Russian and Polish are the primary languages of education exist in the areas populated by these minorities.
Lithuania leads all countries in its suicide rate, 42.1 per 100,000 persons, according to World Health Organization statistics as of 2007. Lithuania is followed by Belarus (36.8) and the Russian Federation (36.2). The other Baltic states, Latvia (25.7) and Estonia (21.4), are in 9th and 13th place, respectively. The problem is most acute among middle-aged men and is growing most rapidly in rural areas.
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In 2005 79% of Lithuanians belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. The Church has been the majority denomination since the Christianisation of Lithuania in the end of fourteenth century and beginning of fifteenth century. Some priests actively led the resistance against the Communist regime (symbolised by the Hill of Crosses). Church attendance has increased since the end of the Soviet Union and the country has a high level of religious practice.
In the 16th century, Protestantism started to spread from Western Europe. A united reformed church organization in Lithuania's church province can be counted from the year 1557 at the Synod in Vilnius on December 14th of that year. From that year the Synod met regularly forming all the church provinces of The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, at first from two and later growing to six districts and representative district synods. The abbreviated name for the church is in Latin, Unitas Lithuaniae or in Polish, Jednota Litewska (Lithuanian church provincial union). It sent its representatives to the General Polish/Lithuanian Synods; however in its administration it was in fact a self-governing Church. The first Superintendent was Simonas Zacijus (Szymon Zacjusz, approx 1507-1591). In 1565 the anti- Trinitarian Lithuanian Brotherhood who rejected the learning of the Trinity separated from UL. The UL parish network covered nearly all of The Grand Duchy. Its district centers were Vilnius, Kedainai, Biržai, Slucke, Kojdanove and Zabludove later Izabeline.
In the first half of 20th century Lutheran Protestant church had around 200,000 members, 9% of total population, although Lutheranism has declined since 1945. Small Protestant communities are dispersed throughout the northern and western parts of the country. Various Protestant churches have established missions in Lithuania since 1990. 4.9% are Eastern Orthodox (mainly among the Russian minority), 1.9% are Protestant and 9.5% have no religion. The country also has minority communities of Judaism, Islam, and Karaism which make up another 1.6% of the population. According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005, 12% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force" , 36% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 49% of Lithuanian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".