Country Facts - Lithuania

Lithuania, officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe. Along with Latvia and Estonia, it is one of the three Baltic States. Lithuania is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea and is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast to the southwest. Across the Baltic Sea lies Denmark and Sweden.

Lithuania has an estimated population of 3.3 million people. Its capital and largest city is Vilnius. Lithuanians are Baltic people. The official language, Lithuanian, is one of the two living languages in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.

Lithuania is a member of the EU, the Council of Europe, a full member of the Schengen Agreement and NATO. It is also a member of the Nordic Investment Bank, and part of Nordic-Baltic cooperation of Northern European countries. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, Lithuania is a country with "very high human development". Lithuania has been among the fastest growing economies in the European Union. On 1st January 2015, Lithuania adopted the euro as the official currency and became the 19th member of the Eurozone.

History

For many 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.

At a time, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe as 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 establishment of a sovereign State of Lithuania. In 1940, Lithuania was occupied first by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end in 1944 and the Germans withdrew, 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 independence, resulting in the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania.

Population

Lithuania is the largest and the most populous of the three Baltic States. Around 84% of the population is made up of Lithuanians. The remaining part consists of Poles (6.6%), Russians (5.8%), Byelorussians (1.2%), and Ukrainians (0.5%). 67% of the population lives in urban areas with the largest being Vilnius. The average life expectancy is 74.9 years.

Geography

Located in Northern Europe, it covers an area of 65,300 sq. km. It is the largest Baltic State. Lithuania borders Latvia to the north, Belarus to the southeast and south, Poland to the southwest and south and Kaliningrad district. It has around 99 km of coastline, which is the shortest among the Baltic Sea countries. Lithuania's major warm-water port, Klaipėda, lies at the narrow mouth of the Curonian Lagoon. The main and largest is the Nemunas River.

Lithuania lies at the edge of North European Plain. Its landscape has been smoothed by the glaciers of the last ice age. Lithuania's terrain is of moderate lowlands and highlands; its highest point is Aukštojas Hill at 294m. The geographical centre of Europe is in Lithuania, 26km north of Vilnius.

Climate

The climate varies between maritime and continental. Considering the suitability to human health and economy, the climate is claimed to be ideal. Average temperatures are −2.5 °C (27.5 °F) in January and 16 °C (61 °F) in July. In Vilnius the average temperatures are −6 °C (21 °F) in January and 17 °C (63 °F) in July. During the summer, 20 °C (68 °F) is common during the day but temperatures can reach as high as 30 or 35 °C (86 or 95 °F). Winters can be very cold. An average of −20 °C (−4 °F) occurs almost every winter. The average annual precipitation is 800 mm (31.5 in) on the coast, 900 mm (35.4 in) in the Samogitia highlands and 600 mm (23.6 in) in the eastern part of the country. Snow occurs every year; it can snow from October to April. In some years sleet can fall in September or May.

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Politics

The government system is a parliamentary democracy. The chief of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. The president is elected for a five year term and serving a maximum of two terms. The current head of state is Dalia Grybauskaité.

Economy

Lithuania holds a stable, diversified, fast-growing and attractive economy with great potentials of development. It has one of the most attractive business and investment climates among the new member countries of the EU. Having the largest economy of the three Baltic States, its GDP per capita is one of the best in the world, standing 70% above the world’s average of 10,500 USD. Lithuania is ranked 24th in the world in the Ease of Doing Business Index prepared by the World Bank Group.

Lifestyle

From culture to cuisine, arts to music and cinema to sports, the Lithuanians carry their own unique identity.

The country is blessed with a rich zest of traditional and modern art. Many art galleries in Vilnius will open your world to a taste of modern and contemporary Lithuanian art.

Lithuanian music is divided into "pop" and "alternative" music. Lithuania also has a long history of folk, popular and classical musical development. Lithuanian folk music is based primarily around polyphonic music played on flutes, zithers and other instruments.

Lithuanian cuisine is generally mild. Potatoes and rye bread are the staple foods and pork is the favorite meat, followed by beef and chicken. The meal most strongly associated with the Lithuanian nation is the Cepelinai, named after Graff von Zeppelin because these potato dumplings are similar in form to the airship he invented. A more Lithuanian name for the meal is "didžkukuliai". Lithuanians like to eat soup before the main dish. Rose-colored šaltibarščiai cold soup dominates over hot soups in summer. Salted herring (Silkė) is another loved appetizer. There are many forms of popular pancakes. Among them are Samogitian pancakes filled with minced meat and the Potato pancakes. Samogitiankastinis (a smetana and soured milk-based sauce to dip potatoes in) is yet another Lithuanian potato meal. Meat-based main courses include karbonadas and šašlykai. Traditional Lithuanian desserts are the šakotis (large circular branching structure similar in taste to German baumkuchen) and žagarėliai (sweet nicely formed cookies).

It is fair to say that Basketball is the ‘second religion’ of Lithuania. One of the strongest forces in the sport, they have won the European title three times. Victories by the Lithuanian National Basketball Team always turn into a nationwide festival as fans pour into streets to celebrate until dawn. Other prominent sports include football and rugby union.

Travel

The proud land of independent Lithuania is fast being recognised as one of Europe's travel hubs. It's a nature-lover's delight. National Parks such as Aukštaitija, Trakai, Žemaitija and Dzūkija offers tranquility and much needed bliss for someone who admires nature.

Lithuania's biggest attraction is its stunning Baltic coastline, especially the unique sliver of white sand known as Curonian Spit. Lonely coastal wetlands lure migrating birds by the tens of thousands while inland, lush forests watch over burnished lakes.

The capital, Vilnius, is a charming territory for artists. Its frayed courtyards, cobbled streets and baroque churches are animated by the vibrant optimistic culture of today.

Remains of the Cold War and Soviet sculptures are memories of a dark recent past, while the Hill of Crosses and Orvydas stone garden resonates the land's enduring faith. Other popular sites include Ninth Fort, Trakai Castle, Gediminas Tower, Old Town of Kaunas, Palanga beach and Nida dunes.

Famous Lithuanians

Marija Gimbutienė (1921 - 1994) – Archaeologist
Simonas Daukantas (1793 - 1864) – Ethnographer
Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas (1932 - 2010) – Former President
Valdas Adamkus (1926 - ) – Former President
Vytautas Landsbergis (1932 - ) – Politician
Jonas Basanavičius (1851 - 1927) – Activist
Andrius Mamontovas (1967 - ) – Musician
Vytautas Kernagis (1951 - 2008) – Musician
Violeta Urmanavičiūtė-Urmana (1961 - ) – Soprano
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875 - 1911) – Composer
Vincas Mykolaitis Putinas (1893 - 1967) – Poet / Writer
Maironis (Jonas Mačiulis) (1862 - 1932) – Poet
Rolandas Kazlas (1969 - ) – Actor/comedian/ Director
Oskaras Koršunovas (1969 - ) – Theatre
Eimuntas Nekrošius (1952 - ) – Theatre
Jonas Mekas (1922 - ) - Filmmaker
Šarūnas Jasikevičius (1976 - ) – Basketball player
Šarūnas Marčiulionis (1964 - ) – Basketball player
Arvydas Sabonis (1964 - ) – Basketball player

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