The Republic of Lithuania as it is officially called is part of Northern Europe and the largest of the three Baltic States. It was the largest country in Europe in the 14th century, called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and comprise Ukraine, present-day Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia as well as parts of Russia, Poland, Moldova and Estonia. Poland and Lithuania became one state under the Lublin Union of 1569 and called it the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which lasted for two centuries. Wars with neighboring countries dismantled the union in clashes from 1772 to 1795 with Russia emerging as victor and annexing most parts of Lithuania. Lithuania gained independence from Russia on March 11, 1990.
Lithuania became a full member of NATO and the European Union in the early part of 2004. It is a member of the Council of Europe, which promotes cooperation and agreement on legal standards, democratic development, human rights, cultural cooperation and the rule of law. It is also a full member of the Schengen Agreement. Lithuania has its first woman president, Dalia Grybauskaite who won the elections on May 2009.
:: Background of Lithuania ::
Lithuania has a rich but turbulent history, peppered with internal strifes, border wars and periods of major territorial expansion. The earliest record about Lithuania was in 1009 A.D. There was expansion of the lands on the Baltic region during that time because of the Order of the Knights of the Sword and the Teutonic Order so Duke Mindaugas formed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania consisting of the lands occupied by Lithuanians – Samogitians, Couranians and Yotvingians. The Duchy lasted from 1230 to 1240. Duke Mindaugas converted to Catholicism in 1251 and on July 6, 1253, he was crowned as Lithuania’s King. He was assassinated ten years later causing civil war to erupt until another ruler by the name of Vytenis restored order by defeating the knights of the Teutonic Order.
In this Country Profile
The expansion of the Lithuanian empire continued from 1316 to 1341 under the leadership of Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, the brother and successor of Vytenis. It extended up to Kiev, defeating the Russians and the Tatars (Tartars). But the Grand Duchy was isolated from the West and the Grand Duke tried to embrace Christianity to revert the situation and invited merchants, artisans and knights to relocate to Lithuania. He even sent appeals to Pope John XXII as well as to other European cities explaining that the aim of the Teutonic Order was conquering lands instead of spreading Christianity. By the time of Grand Duke Algirdas’ rule in1345 to 1377, the size of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was almost doubled. Queen Jadwyga of Poland and Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania signed the Kreva Union of 1385 and oriented the economic as well as the cultural development of Lithuania westward.
Lithuania enjoyed independence with Poland, and by the time Grand Duke Vytautas ruled in 1392 up to 1430, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania has become among the largest countries in Europe and together with Jogaila commanded the Battle of Tannenberg and defeated the members and followers of the Teutonic Order. Russia was starting to become a power to be reckoned with and gaining ground on the lands under the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, prompting the country to align with Poland. Soon after the Poland-Lithuania Pact (Union of Lublin) was signed in 1569, turning Lithuania and Poland into one nation under a king. At that time, the Grand Duke of Lithuania was also the king that ruled the new nation. Land reform was introduced in the 16th century and agriculture boomed. New towns sprouted; there was book printing, humanism and reformation. Culture was developed not only in Lithuania but also in neighboring countries. The Vilnius University was formed in 1579. The Statutes of Lithuania was created during that time.
War with Sweden and Russia diminished the Polish-Lithuanian nation and by year 1795 a large part of Lithuania was already occupied by Russia. There were civil uprisings in an attempt to gain independence in 1794, 1830 to 1831 and again in 1863 but Russia prevailed. In 1832 the Vilnius University was closed and by 1864 a ban was put on using traditional Latin characters when printing Lithuanian books.
The growing number of intellectuals from the provinces brought about the emergence of a national movement that worked for the liberation of Lithuania from Russia. In Lithuania Minor or the German-ruled East Prussia, publications for Lithuania were being printed and smuggled to parts of Lithuania still under Russian rule. Finally the ban on book publication was lifted in 1904. Some of the most prominent leaders of this liberation movement include V. Kudirka and J. Basanavicius.
Lithuania was under the German rule in 1915 during WWI. In 1917 they were allowed to formally hold a meeting in Vilnius. That meeting resulted in the election of a ruling body with Antanas Smetona as chairman. The council declared Lithuanian independence on February 16, 1918 and fought the War of Independence from 1919 to 1920 against the Polish and Russian armies as well as the combined German and Russian soldiers led by General Bermondt. The Treaty of Moscow in 1920 caused Russia to renounce all claims to Lithuania and recognized its independence. The parliament assumed a constitution in 1922, declared the county as a republic with a parliamentary system of government. It added the region of Klaipeda in 1923. Towards the end of 1926, Antanas Smetona, leader of the Nationalist Party staged a coup led by the military and became the president.
Still, peace did not reign in Lithuania. Poland occupied the country in 1920 and annexed Vilnius in 1922. Germany pressured Lithuania to cede the region of Klaipeda in March 1939 although the period also brought about the development of small to medium-sized farms that improved production of agricultural products and exportation of livestock. Agriculture and light industries flourished and conformed with the new consumers.
There were other positives brought about by the inter-war. An extensive educational system was born and Lithuanian was the medium of instruction. Literature, music, theater, arts and the press were also developed. Russia and Germany took turns in trying to control Lithuania until an agreement signed by Lithuania and the USSR in 1939 saw the return of Vilnius to Lithuania in exchange for 20,000 Russian soldiers to be deployed in the country. However, Russia did not stop there. It demanded that Lithuania form a new government and requested an increase of Russian army troops. Powerless, Lithuania had no choice but to grant the request, with 10,000 additional Russian soldiers brought to the country and Lithuania proclaimed as a Soviet Socialist Republic. Lithuanians working for the state and prominent personalities were arrested then expatriated to Russia; almost 7,500 families were sent to Siberia; more than a thousand people were massacred and almost 4,000 people were imprisoned.
Rebels revolted against the oppression of USSR but another force threatened them in 1941 – Germany. For a brief period, much of Lithuania went under the control of the Germans and the people were again oppressed and were forced to work in German labor camps. Their rights as Lithuanians were removed and as many as 200,000 were massacred. Soviet partisans collaborated with independence supporters to prevent the men from getting recruited by the Germans. They were driven out of Lithuania by the Russian army in 1944. Lithuania continued to be under Russian rule until around the middle of 1988. The Communist Party of Lithuania was still in power until the economic and political crisis in the USSR also had a great impact on Lithuania. The Sajudis, a reform movement in Lithuania was formed, led by intellectuals who were anti-communists. Their program for national and democratic rights became popular across the nation and a multiple party system was instituted. The annexation of Lithuania to the USSR was annulled and Algirdas Brazaukas was elected as Lithuanian Communist Party’s First Secretary of the Central Committee in 1988 before splitting from the Central Committee. The Democratic Labor Party of Lithuania was formed by Algirdas Brazaukas in 1990.
The candidates backed by the Sajudis won the elections in the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet in 1990 and Vytautas Landsbergis, it chairman, adopted the Provisional Fundamental Law of the State. He proclaimed the restoration of the independence of Lithuania, prompting the USSR to retaliate by trying to overturn the government. There were many casualties during that round of hostilities. When the coup on Gorbachev in 1991 failed, the Communist Party was banned by Lithuania and their properties seized. While a sizeable number of troops remained in Lithuania, the tireless supporters of independence finally won and an agreement was signed by Russia and Lithuania on September 8, 1992 for the complete withdrawal of Russian troops by end of August 1993.
Ruling parties changed hands between the Conservatives led by Vytautas Landbergis and the Algirdas Brazaukas-led Labor Party from 1991 to mid-2000. New political parties New Union and Liberal Union broke the deadlock. Arthur Paulauskus of the center-left New Union became Chairman of the Seimas while the Liberal Party collapsed after 7 months. New Union Party and the left-wing Social Democratic Party formed a new cabinet under Algirdas Brazaukas with financial discipline as their main focus. Currently, Lithuania is a semi-presidential republic with Dalia Grybauskaite as President and Andrius Kubilius as Prime Minister. Irena Degutiene is the Seimas Speaker.
:: Geography of Lithuania ::
Lithuania is one of the three states located in the Baltic Sea. Located in the southernmost part, it is the state with the largest population and also the largest in size. It is bounded on the north by Latvia, on the southeast by Belarus and the southwest by Poland. Its western part shares border with Kaliningrad Oblast, a territory of Russia.
Lithuania is the southernmost of the three Baltic States – and the largest and most populous of them. Lithuania was the first occupied Soviet republic to break free from the Soviet Union and restore its sovereignty via the declaration of independence on 11 March 1990. Its capital city is Vilnius.
Situated in Northern Europe, Lithuania lies between 53° and 57° North latitudes and 21° and 27° East longitudes. In some calculations and the only one recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, the village of Purnuškes, 26 kilometer north of the capital city, Vilnius is the location of the geographical center of Europe. A marker, a white granite column on top of a crown of stars was erected at the exact point.
Lithuania has a total landmass of 65,300 square kilometers, of which 62,680 square kilometers is land and 2,620 square kilometers is water. In comparative area size it is just slightly larger than West Virginia. It has a short sandy coastline that extends for 99 kilometers with only 38 kilometers facing the open Baltic Sea. The Curonian sand peninsula shelters the rest of the shoreline. The sand peninsula called the Curonian Spit is a thin and slightly curved sand dune spit, separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea, with the majority or 52 kilometers belonging to Lithuania and 46 kilometers can be found in Kaliningrad Oblast. The territorial sea belonging to Lithuania extends to 12 nautical miles.
Lithuania enjoys a transitional climate that varies between maritime and continental climates. The country has cool summers and warm winters, with precipitation equally distributed throughout the year, so there may be times when the county experiences wet and moderate summers and winters, with fixed periods for snow fall. Average temperature along the coast is around 1.6° C or 35° F in January. In July the temperature can be around 64°F (17.8°C). Inland, in Vilnius, the average temperature is 36°F (2.1°C) in January and about 18.1°C or 65° F in summer.
Lithuania is predominantly a flat country, with undulating plains and lowlands. The highest point is Aukštojas, a hill that is almost 294 meters high. About 4% of Lithuania is covered by inland water, with 2,833 lakes and 1,600 ponds in the southern and northern parts of the country. There are also 758 rivers traversing the country. The shortest river is 10 kilometers long while the largest is the Nemunas River, which originates from Belarus, The World Bank data states that 34% of the total land area of Lithuania is still covered by forests and woodlands with pine, spruce and birch, although oak and ash forests are already scarce.
The lowest point in Lithuania is the Baltic Sea. Aukštojas is the highest point. It is a hill that was officially measured in 2004 to be 293.54 meters high. It was higher than the previously designated highest point, Juozapine Hill which was only 292.7 meters. Aukštojas is approximately 24 kilometers southeast of the capital city. It was named after an ancient deity believed to be the creator of the world according to Lithuanian mythology.
Lithuania is abundant in dolomite, clay, quartz sand, gypsum sand and limestone that are applicable for manufacturing glass, ceramics and high-quality cement. The country is also rich in mineral water but lacks sources of industrial materials and energy. There are oil deposits in Lithuania but these are not enough for commercial exploration as it will only satisfy about 20% of what Lithuania needs. Thermal energy along the Baltic Sea coast is abundant. There are also iron ore deposits although this is not explored since it will require strip mining, which is harmful to the environment. It will need huge foreign investments for mining and thermal energy utilization. Amber or gintaras, the national gem of Lithuania is found on the shores of the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon and some can be collected on the shores, particularly after a storm. Amber found in Lithuania vary in color tones from yellow to dark brown. There are also some that are bluish, greenish and reddish amber although these are becoming rarer.
According to the World Bank figures, the total arable land in Lithuania has been drastically lowered to 29.3% (2007) from the high 40s in 2001. Only 0.5% of the land is planted with permanent crops. Poor land management contributes to the problem, with the number of derelict land parcels increasing. Meadowland and pastures are being turned into scrubland and former land areas used for farming are now being used for the construction of residential and recreation areas.
Lithuania is very lucky as there are no natural hazards threatening the country.
Current environmental issues affecting Lithuania are the contamination of its groundwater and soil with the chemicals and petroleum products coming from the military bases around the region.
In terms of international environmental agreements Lithuania is involved in:
• Air Pollution
• Air Pollution-Sulphur 85
• Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds
• Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides
• Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants
• Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
• Air Pollution-Sulphur 94
• Climate Change
• Endangered Species
• Law of the Sea
• Environmental Modification
• Ozone Layer Protection
• Hazardous Wastes
• Ship Pollution
The country has already signed, but has not formally sanctioned any of the selected agreements.
:: People of Lithuania ::
According to July 2011 estimates, the current population of Lithuania is 3,535,547, broken down into 13.8% aged 0-14 years, equivalent to 350,146 males and 236,984 females. Those aged 15-64 comprise 69.7% of the population, broken down into 1.211,707 males and 1,254,195 females. The older generation 65 years and over comprise 16.5%, with 381,157 females and 201.358 males.
The median age is 40.1 years, with the males averaging 37.5 years and females averaging 42.7 years, according to 2011 estimates. Lithuania has a low population growth, with the 2011 estimate placed at -0.276%. It is also estimated that the birth rate for 2011 is only 9.29 births for every 1,000 population and a death rate of 11.33 per 1,000 population. The net migration is also very low, placed at -0.72 migrants per 1,000 population.
The sex ratio slightly favors the males with 0.89 males for every female for the total population. At birth, there is 1.057 male for every female born. In the under 15 years of age the data is almost the same, with 1.06 male; 0.96 males for the 15-64 year old bracket and 0.53 males for every female in the 65 years and over bracket.
Infant Mortality Rate
The 2011 estimates for infant mortality rate show that there are about 6.27 deaths for every 1,000 live births. The infant mortality rate is higher with the males, with 7.49 deaths for every 1,000 live births compared to only 4.99 deaths for every 1,000 females born.
Life Expectancy at Birth
Of the total population, the 2011 estimate for life expectancy at birth is placed at 75.34 years, broken down into 70.48 for the males and 80.48 for females. The fertility rate is estimated at 1.25 children born for every woman of child-bearing age for 2011.
HIV/AIDS is not that prevalent in Lithuania. According to a survey done in 2009, there is only 0.1% prevalence of HIV/AIDS in adults, with 1,200 people living with HIV/AIDS and less than 100 deaths caused by HIV/AIDS.
The people of Lithuania are called Lithuanians, which is used both as a noun and as an adjective. In terms of ethnicity, 84% of the population is Lithuanian and the rest broken down into 6.1% Polish, 4.9% Russian, 1.1% Belarusian and 3.9% of unspecified ethnicity, based on 2009 data.
Seventy-nine percent of the Lithuanian population is Catholic. This is followed by Russian Orthodox with 4.1%. Protestants, including the Evangelical Christian Baptists and the Lutherans comprise 1.9%, while 5.5% follow another or an unspecified religion and the rest or 9.5% do not follow any religion, according to the census done in 2001.
Lithuanian, the official language in the country is spoken by 82% of the population. Russian is next and is spoken by about 8% while Polish is spoken by 5.6% of the population. The rest of the population or 4.4% did not specify what language they speak, according to the 2001 census.
Literacy is very high in Lithuania, with 99.6% of the population, male and female aged 15 and over able to read and write, according to the 2001 census. In the 2008 data, students spend an average of 16 years in school, with the females spending more time getting an education at 17 years compared to males who only spend an average of 15 years.
:: References ::