Lithuania is a republic in northeastern Europe. The country is located on the Baltic Sea and is the southernmost of the three Baltic states. The country has state borders with Latvia in the north, Belarus in the east and south and Poland in the south, as well as with Russia’s Kaliningrad district in the southwest.
Lithuania became a major power in Europe in the 1300s. At the end of the 1300s, Lithuania joined forces with Poland in a union, with Poland gradually becoming the leader. Most of the ancient Lithuanian lands came under Russia when Poland was divided in the late 18th century. The national movement broke through relatively late among the Baltic Lithuanians, and was a reality only in the 1880s. The focal point was the Lithuanian language. After World War I, the Republic of Lithuania was established and was a democracy until a fascist-inspired coup in 1926.
After World War II, Lithuania became the Soviet Republic, the only one in the Soviet Union with a Roman Catholic majority in the population. Lithuania avoided the large influx of citizens from other Soviet republics, which Latvia and Estonia experienced. Lithuania was one of the Soviet republics where the desire for secession from the Soviet Union stood strongest in the late 1980s.
In September 1991, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of Lithuania. In 2004, the country joined the EU and NATO.
The national anthem is “Tautiška giesmė”, which means “National Anthem”, and opens with the words “Lietuva, Tėvyne mūsų” or “Lithuania – Our Fatherland”.
Geography and environment
Lithuania is located on the eastern European plain, which starts at the Ural Mountains. On the coast of Lithuania goes the Baltic land ridge, which is made up of a wide range of moraine oxen. The main river is Nemunas, which originates in Belarus, flows through Kaunas and forms the border between Lithuania and Russia. Almost all of Lithuania is the Moraine country from the Weichselist era. The coast is a single long sandy beach. In the southern parts of the country there are many small lakes, and lakes make up 1.5 per cent of the area in Lithuania. The altitudes in the southeast are part of the Belarusian heights. Here are the country’s two highest points, the Aukštasis kalnas (the Aukštoja mountain) and the Juozapinė kalnas (the mountain of Joseph); both at 294 meters above sea level.
The French Institute Géographique National has calculated Europe’s centerpiece to be located in the small village of Purnuškės just north of Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.
Lithuania has a moderate inland climate with average temperatures in January between –3 and –7 ° C and July temperatures of 17–18 ° C. At Kaunas, the Nemunas river is frozen for 2-3 months. The rainfall varies from 550 millimeters in the east to 700 millimeters in the west. The port city of Klaipėda on the Baltic Sea is ice-free.
People and society
Ethnic Lithuanians make up 84 percent of the population, while 6.6 percent consider themselves Poles, 5.8 percent as Russians and 1.8 percent as Belarusians. Other groups are Tatars and Karaites. Most citizens can communicate in both Lithuanian and Russian, but 82 percent consider Lithuanian as their mother tongue, 8 percent Russian, 5.6 percent Polish and 4.9 unspecified.
The Lithuanian language is Indo-European and, together with the Latvian and the regional language, Latvian is the Baltic language group. Of the living Indo-European languages, Lithuanian has retained the clearest commonalities with Proto- Indo-European, and it has many parallels to Sanskrit.
Roman Catholic Christianity dominates with 77 percent support. Four percent are Russian Orthodox and one percent old believers. Different Protestant directions also constitute around one percent. Muslims, Jews and Karaites together make up just under one percent. A little over 16 percent “don’t know” or “unspecified” answer the question of religious affiliation.
With 2.4 million (2017) in Lithuania, ethnic Lithuanians are far more numerous than Estonians, which is 0.9 million in Estonia and Latvians, which are 1.2 million in Latvia. Throughout the Soviet period, the proportion of Lithuanians in the Republic was around 80 percent, while the proportion of Estonians in Estonia and Latvians in Latvia gradually decreased due to immigration from other Soviet republics. The last couple of decades there has been a massive emigration from the Baltic countries. One of five inhabitants of Lithuania has left the country after independence in 1991.
Largest cities are Vilnius with 536,000, Kaunas with 307,000 and Klaipėda with 159,000 inhabitants (2018).
Of the country’s inhabitants, 67.7 per cent live in cities (2018). Life expectancy at birth is 80.8 years for women and 69.9 years for men (2018).
State and politics
Lithuania is a semi-presidential republic. The government must have the support of the National Assembly, and the president is directly elected.
The National Assembly is called Seimas and has one chamber. The 141 representatives are elected for four years. 71 of the representatives are elected as direct mandates in constituencies, while 70 representatives are elected on national lists of proportional elections. The threshold limit is five per cent for parties and seven per cent for electoral unions. With a two-thirds majority, Seimas can amend the constitution.
The President of Lithuania takes precedence over the foreign minister in shaping the country’s foreign policy and can veto laws passed by Seimas. The president is elected for five years.
Lithuania has an official language – Lithuanian. The country has neither ratified nor signed the European Pact for Regional or Minority Languages. In eastern Lithuania, where there is a Polish population majority in many places, street signs in Polish are not allowed. Polish and Russian citizens of Lithuania must “Lithuanian” their names in public documents.
Lithuania joined the UN at independence in 1991. The country is also a member of most of the UN’s special organizations, including the World Bank, among others by the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and the Council of Europe. The Baltic Republics have formed their own Baltic Council. Lithuania joined NATO and the EU in 2004 ( Schengen cooperation since 2007).
Political life in Lithuania is characterized by relatively many parties with equal support. Social democracy, national conservatism and various forms of populism are the main directions. Agrarian and liberal parties are also asserting themselves.
Economy and business
When Lithuania became the Soviet Republic in 1940, the country had little industry but an agriculture capable of exporting. In the years following World War II, industry was rapidly built, infrastructure developed and educational institutions established, but the country struggled with the inefficiencies of the Soviet economic system. In 1990, gross domestic product (GDP) in Lithuania was USD 8591, while for the Soviet Union as a whole it was USD 6871.
Lithuania had a strong growth economy in the 2000s until the crisis in 2008. Between 2000 and 2008, GDP increased by 77 per cent. The financial crisis in 2008-2009 caused Lithuania’s GDP to fall dramatically by 14.7 per cent in 2009. The massive labor migration since joining the EU in 2004 has created problems with access to professionals.
Lithuania’s industry is important for both jobs and exports. Food processing and the furniture industry are major industries. Lithuania has succeeded in attracting some IT companies. The largest company in terms of turnover is Orlen Lietuva, which operates the Baltic’s only oil refinery (in Mažeikiai). The largest employer is the hypermarket chain Maxima with over 17,000 employees.
3.3 per cent of GDP is from agriculture, 28.5 per cent from industry and 68.3 per cent from services (2017). Agriculture employs 9.1 per cent of the unemployed, industry 25.2 per cent and services 65.8 per cent (2015).
Lithuania received the euro on 1 January 2015 to replace litas, which had been the currency since 1993.