It is a land of fertile central plains separated by hilly uplands that are ancient glacial deposits.
Lithuania's major environmental issues include contamination of soil and groundwater with petroleum products and chemicals at military bases.
Lithuanian lands were united under Mindaugas in 1236. Over the next century, through alliances and conquest, Lithuania extended its territory to include most of present-day Belarus and Ukraine. By the end of the 14th century Lithuania was the largest state in Europe.
An alliance with Poland in 1386 led the two countries into a union through the person of a common ruler. In 1569, Lithuania and Poland formally united into a single dual state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This entity survived until 1795 when its remnants were partitioned by surrounding countries.
Lithuania regained its independence following World War I but was annexed by the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US and many other countries.
On 11 March 1990, Lithuania became the first of the Soviet republics to declare its independence, but Moscow did not recognize this proclamation until September of 1991 (following the abortive coup in Moscow).
The last Russian troops withdrew in 1993. Lithuania subsequently restructured its economy for integration into Western European institutions; it joined both NATO and the European Union in the spring of 2004.
The largest and most populous of the Baltic states, Lithuania is situated on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, in northeastern Europe. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the southeast, Poland to the southwest, and Kaliningrad, a territory of Russia, to the west. It has 60 miles of sandy coastline, of which only 24 miles face the open Baltic Sea. Lithuania's major warm-water port of Klaipeda lies at the narrow mouth of Kursiu Gulf, a shallow lagoon extending south to Kaliningrad. The Nemunas River and some of its tributaries are used for internal shipping. Situated between the 54th and 56th latitudes and the 20th and 27th longitudes, Lithuania is glacially flat, except for the hills (of no more than 300 meters) in the western and eastern highlands. The terrain is marked by numerous small lakes and swamps, and a mixed forest zone covers 30% of the country. According to some geographers, Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, lies at the geographical center of Europe.
Location: Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, between Latvia and Russia
Geographic Coordinates: 56 00 N, 24 00 E
Area: 65,300 sq km(land: 62,680 sq km; water: 2,620 sq km)
Land Boundaries: 1,574 km (Belarus 680 km, Latvia 576 km, Poland 91 km, Russia (Kaliningrad) 227 km)
- Lithuania and Russia committed to demarcating their boundary in 2006 in accordance with the land and maritime treaty ratified by Russia in May 2003 and by Lithuania in 1999;
- Lithuania operates a simplified transit regime for Russian nationals traveling from the Kaliningrad coastal exclave into Russia, while still conforming, as a EU member state having an external border with a non-EU member, to strict Schengen border rules;
- boundary demarcated with Latvia and Lithuania;
- as of January 2007, ground demarcation of the boundary with Belarus was complete and mapped with final ratification documents in preparation
Coastline: 90 km
Maritime Claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
Terrain: lowland, many scattered small lakes, fertile soil. The highest point is Aukstojas (294 m).
Climate: transitional, between maritime and continental; wet, moderate winters and summers
Ecology and Biodiversity
The ecoregions of Lithuania consist chiefly of two main forest types: Sarmatic mixed forests (1) occupy portions of northern Lithuania, and Central European mixed forests (2). Smaller areas of specialty plant communities can also be found within Lithuania including peat bog conifer forests and coastal grasslands.
Source: World Wildlife Fund
People and Society
Population: 3,525,761 (July 2012 est.)
Lithuanians are neither Slavic nor Germanic, although the union with Poland and the colonization by Germans and Russians has influenced the culture and religious beliefs of Lithuania. This highly literate society places strong emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. Most Lithuanians and ethnic Poles belong to the Roman Catholic Church; the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest non-Catholic denomination.
In spite of several border changes, Soviet deportations, a massacre of its Jewish population, and German and Polish repatriations, the population of Lithuania has maintained a fairly stable percentage of ethnic Lithuanians (from 79.3% in 1959 to 83.9% in 2011). Lithuania's citizenship law and constitution meet international and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) standards, guaranteeing universal human and civil rights.
The Lithuanian language still retains the original sound system and morphological peculiarities of the prototypal Indo-European tongue and, therefore, is fascinating for linguistic study. Between 400 and 600 AD, the Lithuanian and Latvian languages split from the Eastern Baltic (Prussian) language group, which subsequently became extinct. The first known written Lithuanian text dates from a hymnal translation in 1545. Written with the Latin alphabet, Lithuanian has been the official language of Lithuania since 1989. While Lithuania was a member of the U.S.S.R., Russian was the official language; many Lithuanians speak Russian as a second language. The resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian or Polish as a first language.
Ethnic Groups: Lithuanian 84%, Polish 6.1%, Russian 4.9%, Belarusian 1.1%, other or unspecified 3.9% (2009)
0-14 years: 13.8% (male 250,146/female 236,984)
15-64 years: 69.7% (male 1,211,707/female 1,254,195)
65 years and over: 16.5% (male 201,358/female 381,157) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: -0.278% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 9.34 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 11.4 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: -0.73 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 75.55 years
male: 70.72 years
female: 80.66 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 1.27 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: Lithuanian (official) 82%, Russian 8%, Polish 5.6%, other and unspecified 4.4% (2001 census)
Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): 99.6% (2001 census)
Urbanization: 67% of total population (2010) declining at an annual rate of change of 0.5% (2010-15 est.)
Between the 7th and 2nd centuries BC, Baltic tribes established themselves on what is presently known as Lithuanian territory. These tribes were made up of a distinct Indo-European ethnic group whose descendents are the present-day Lithuanian and Latvian nations. The name of Lithuania, however, did not appear in European records until 1009 AD, when it was mentioned in the German manuscript Annals of Quedlinburg. During the period 1236-1263, Duke Mindaugas united the various Baltic tribes and established the state of Lithuania, which was better able to resist the eastward expansion of the Teutonic Knights. In 1253, Mindaugas embraced Christianity for political reasons and accepted the crown from the Pope of Rome, becoming the first and only king in Lithuanian history.
After the assassination of Mindaugas and the ensuing civil war, Grand Duke Gediminas took control of Lithuania. He reigned from 1316 to 1341, during which the long-term expansion of Lithuania into the lands of the eastern Slavs began. He founded the modern capital city of Vilnius and started the Gediminas dynasty, which ruled Lithuania until 1572.
By the end of the 14th century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. In 1386, Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania was crowned the King of Poland, which intensified Lithuania's economic and cultural development and oriented it toward the West. It was at this time that the people of Lithuania embraced Christianity.
In 1401, the formal union between Poland and Lithuania was dissolved. While Jogaila remained the King of Poland, his cousin Grand Duke Vytautas became the ruler of Lithuania. In 1410, the armies of Poland and Lithuania together defeated the Teutonic Order in the Battle of Grunewald, the biggest battle of medieval Europe.
The 16th century witnessed a number of wars against the growing Russian state over the Slavic lands ruled by Lithuania. Needing an ally in those wars, Lithuania again united with Poland through The Union of Lublin in 1569. As a member of this Commonwealth, Lithuania retained its sovereignty and its institutions, including a separate army and currency. In 1795, the joint state was dissolved by the third Partition of the Commonwealth, which forfeited its lands to Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Over 90% of Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire and the remainder into Prussia. Attempts to restore independence in the uprisings of 1794, 1830-31, and 1863 were suppressed and followed by a tightened police regime and increasing Russification, including the 1864 ban on printing Lithuanian books in traditional Latin characters.
A market economy slowly developed with the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Lithuanian farmers grew stronger, and an increase in the number of intellectuals of peasant origin led to the growth of a Lithuanian national movement. In German-ruled East Prussia, also called Lithuania Minor, or Kaliningrad, Lithuanian publications were printed in large numbers and then smuggled into Russian-ruled Lithuania. The ban on the Lithuanian press was lifted in 1904.
During World War I, the German Army occupied Lithuania, and the occupation administration allowed a Lithuanian conference to convene in Vilnius in September 1917. The conference adopted a resolution demanding the restoration of an independent Lithuanian state and elected the Lithuanian Council. On February 16, 1918, the council declared Lithuania's independence. The Seimas (Parliament) of Lithuania adopted a constitution on August 1, 1922 and declared Lithuania a parliamentary republic.
The interwar period of independence gave birth to the development of Lithuanian press, literature, music, arts, and theater as well as a comprehensive system of education with Lithuanian as the language of instruction. However, territorial disputes with Poland (over the Vilnius region and the Suvalkai region) and with Germany (over the Klaipeda region) preoccupied the foreign policy of the new state. During the interwar period, the constitutional capital was Vilnius, although the city itself was annexed by Poland from 1920 to 1939. During this period the Lithuanian Government was relocated to Kaunas, which officially held the status of temporary capital.
The German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939 first pulled Lithuania into the German sphere of influence and then brought it under Soviet domination. Soviet pressure and a complicated international situation forced Lithuania to sign an agreement with the U.S.S.R. on October 10, 1939. By means of this agreement, Lithuania was given back the city of Vilnius and the part of the Vilnius region seized by the Red Army during the Soviet-Polish war; in return, some 20,000 Soviet soldiers were deployed in Lithuania. On August 3, 1940, Lithuania was proclaimed a Soviet Socialist Republic. Totalitarian rule was established, Sovietization of the economy and culture began, and Lithuanian state employees and public figures were arrested and exiled to Russia. During the mass deportation campaign of June 14-18, 1941, about 12,600 people were deported to Siberia without investigation or trial, 3,600 people were imprisoned, and more than 1,000 were killed.
Between 1940 and 1954, under the Nazi and then Soviet occupations, Lithuania lost over 780,000 residents. In World War II, German occupiers sent Lithuanians to forced labor camps in Germany. Almost 200,000, or 91%, of Lithuanian Jews were killed, one of the worst death rates of the Holocaust. After the retreat of the Wehrmacht in 1944, Lithuania was re-occupied by the Soviet Union, and an estimated 120,000 to 300,000 Lithuanians were either killed or deported to Siberia and other remote parts of the Soviet Union. Conversely, Soviet authorities encouraged the immigration to Lithuania of other Soviet workers, especially Russians, as a way of integrating Lithuania into the U.S.S.R.
With the advent of perestroika and glasnost, Gorbachev's programs of social and political reforms in the late 1980s, communist rule eroded. Lithuania, led by Sajudis, an anti-communist and anti-Soviet independence movement, proclaimed its renewed independence on March 11, 1990--the first Soviet republic to do so. The Lithuanian Supreme Soviet formed a new Cabinet of Ministers and adopted the Provisional Fundamental Law of the State with a number of by-laws. In response, on the night of January 13, 1991, the Red Army attacked the Vilnius TV Tower, killing 14 civilians and injuring 700. Soviet forces, however, were unsuccessful in suppressing Lithuania's secession.
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 never recognized the Soviet claim to Lithuania and views the present Lithuanian Government as the legal continuation of the interwar republic. In July 2007, Lithuania celebrated the 85th anniversary of continuous diplomatic relations with the United States. Lithuania joined the United Nations on September 17, 1991.
Despite Lithuania's achievement of complete independence, sizable numbers of Russian forces remained on its territory. Withdrawal of those forces was one of Lithuania's top foreign policy priorities. On August 31, 1993, Lithuania and Russia signed an agreement whereby the last Red Army troops left the country.
On May 31, 2001, Lithuania became the 141st member of the World Trade Organization. Desiring closer ties with the West, Lithuania became the first of the Baltic states to apply for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and on March 29, 2004, it joined the Alliance. On May 1 of the same year, Lithuania also joined the European Union (EU).
Lithuania has been a staunch U.S. ally, contributing to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, Lithuania has led a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghor province since 2005, and has deployed Lithuanian Special Operation Forces to southern Afghanistan to operate under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In Iraq, Lithuania had an infantry platoon serving in Multinational Division Center near Al Kut until July 2008; five trainers currently serve in the NATO Training Mission-Iraq in Baghdad. Lithuania has also participated in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Similarly, Lithuania is a strong supporter of U.S. objectives in the area of democracy promotion. In 2009 Lithuania assumed the chairmanship of the Community of Democracies. Making this a high priority for its foreign policy, Lithuania has provided development assistance and advice to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and other Caucasus states. Lithuania also actively supports democratization efforts in Belarus. As a result of the broader global financial crisis, the Lithuanian economy in 2009 experienced its worst recession since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. After experiencing a boom in growth sparked by Lithuania’s 2004 accession to the European Union, Lithuania’s GDP contracted by 15% in 2009. To stabilize the economy, the government that took power in December 2008 approved a U.S. $2.3 billion stimulus plan as well as a fiscal austerity package that cut spending and raised taxes to shore up finances. This was followed by several more rounds of budget cuts throughout 2009, and the 2010 government budget started to cut into Lithuania’s social benefit programs. Lithuania’s GDP grew slightly in 2010, while economic growth in 2011 is expected to be 5%-6%.
Government Type: parliamentary democracy
Lithuania is a multi-party, parliamentary democracy. The president, who is elected directly for 5 years, is head of state and commander in chief overseeing foreign and security policy. The president nominates the prime minister and his cabinet and a number of other top civil servants. The Seimas, a unicameral parliament, has 141 members that are elected for a 4-year term. About half of the members are elected in single constituencies (71), and the other half (70) are elected in a nationwide vote by party lists. A party must receive at least 5% of the national vote to be represented in the Seimas.
For the first 9 years of its post-Soviet independence, voters in Lithuania shifted from right to left and back again, swinging between the Conservatives, led by Vytautas Landsbergis (now headed by Andrius Kubilius), and the Labor (former Communist) Party, led by former President Algirdas Brazauskas. This pattern was broken in the October 2000 elections, when the Liberal Union and New Union parties won the most votes and were able to form a centrist ruling coalition with minor partners. President Valdas Adamkus played a key role in bringing the new centrist parties together. The leader of the center-left New Union Party (also known as the Social Liberal Party), Arturas Paulauskas, became the Chairman of the Seimas, and the leader of the Liberal Union Party, Rolandas Paksas, became Prime Minister. The new coalition was fragile from the outset, as the Liberal Union was pro-business and right of center, while the New Union had a populist and leftist orientation. The government collapsed within 7 months and, in July 2001, the center-left New Union Party forged an alliance with the left-wing Social Democratic Party and formed a new cabinet under former President Algirdas Brazauskas.
The new government tightened budgetary discipline, supported market reforms, and passed the legislation required to ensure entry into the European Union. Several years of solid economic growth helped to consolidate the government's popularity, despite discontent within two of its core constituencies--unskilled urban workers and farmers--who had expected more generous funding of social and agricultural programs. The government remained firmly in control, and by mid-2004 it was the longest-serving administration since the recovery of independence.
Capital: Vilnius - 546,000 (2009)
Administrative divisions: 10 counties (apskritys, singular - apskritis);
Independence Date: 11 March 1990 (declared); 6 September 1991 (recognized by the Soviet Union)
Notable earlier dates:
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Legal System: civil law system; legislative acts can be appealed to the constitutional court. Lithuania has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; but accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction.
Total Renewable Water Resources: 24.5 cu km (2005)
Freshwater Withdrawal: 3.33 cu km/yr (78% domestic, 15% industrial, 7% agricultural)
Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal:
Agricultural products: grain, potatoes, sugar beets, flax, vegetables; beef, milk, eggs; fish
Irrigated Land: 13.4 sq km (2008)
Natural Resources: peat, arable land, amber
In the second half of the 20th century, the Lithuanian economy underwent fundamental transformations. The Soviet occupation of 1940 brought Lithuania intensive industrialization and economic integration into the U.S.S.R., although the level of technology and state concern for environmental, health, and labor issues lagged far behind Western standards. Urbanization increased from 39% in 1959 to 68% in 1989. From 1949 to 1952 the Soviets abolished private ownership in agriculture, establishing collective and state farms. Production declined and did not reach pre-war levels until the early 1960s. The intensification of agricultural production through intense chemical use and mechanization eventually doubled production but created additional ecological problems.
The disadvantages of a centrally planned economy became evident after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, when Lithuania began its transition to a market economy. Owing to the availability of inexpensive natural resources, the industrial sector had become excessively energy intensive, inefficient in its utilization of resources, and incapable of manufacturing internationally competitive products. More than 90% of Lithuania's trade was with the rest of the U.S.S.R., which supplied Lithuanian industry with raw materials for production and a market for its outputs. The need to sever these trading links and to reduce the inefficient industrial sector led to serious economic difficulties.
The process of privatization and the development of new companies slowly moved Lithuania from a command economy toward a free market. By 1998, the economy had survived the early years of uncertainty and several setbacks, including a banking crisis, and seemed poised for solid growth. However, the collapse of the Russian ruble in August 1998 shocked the economy into negative growth and forced the reorientation of trade from Russia toward the West. In 1997, exports to former Soviet states were 45% of total Lithuanian exports. In 2006, exports to the East (the Commonwealth of Independent States--CIS) were only 21% of the total, while exports to the EU-25 were 63%, and to the United States, 4.3%.
By mid-2010, Lithuania had accumulated foreign direct investments (FDI) of $13.7 billion, with U.S. investments amounting to $356 million, or 2.7% of FDI. The current account deficit in the second quarter of 2010 was 3.6% of GDP. Lithuania has privatized nearly all formerly state-owned enterprises. More than 79% of the economy's output is generated by the private sector. The share of employees in the private sector exceeds 65%. The Government of Lithuania completed banking sector privatization in 2001, with 89% of this sector controlled by foreign--mainly Scandinavian--capital. Lithuanian Railways and Lithuanian Post are the only remaining state-owned companies that may be offered for privatization in the near future.
The transportation infrastructure inherited from the Soviet period is adequate and has been generally well maintained since independence. Lithuania has one ice-free seaport with ferry services to German, Swedish, and Danish ports. There are operating commercial airports with scheduled international services at Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipeda, though air connections contracted in 2009 with the bankruptcy of national carrier FlyLAL. The road system is good. Telecommunications have improved greatly since independence as a result of heavy investment.
After joining the EU in 2004, Lithuania saw its economy boom, reaching a record 8.9% GDP growth in 2007. Strong growth continued through much of 2008, but a weak fourth quarter, as financial stress spread through Europe, slowed growth to 3.0% for the year. In 2009, the global financial crisis hit the Lithuanian economy hard: the economy shrank by 15%, unemployment climbed to 13.7%, and salaries fell by 12.3%, the worst performance since comparable records began in 1995. Growing unemployment and lower income contributed to some limited social unrest in early 2009. That same year the government approved heavy budget cuts and passed a $2.3 billion stimulus plan.
In 2009, the government launched a high-profile campaign, led by Prime Minister Kubilius, to attract foreign investment and to develop export markets, and the government's steadfast commitment to broad economic reforms has been vital in Lithuania's quick recovery from a deep recession - GDP grew 1.3% in 2010 and jumped 5.8% in 2011, making Lithuania one of the fastest growing economies in the EU. However, unemployment - at 15.6% in 2011 - remains stubbornly high. Lithuania in 2011 also began to unbundle its energy networks in order to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.
Lithuania pegged its national currency--the litas--to the euro on February 2, 2002 at the rate of LTL 3.4528 to EUR 1. The initial target date for Lithuania to adopt the euro, January 1, 2007, was postponed due to the high inflation rate of 2006. The government and most private analysts predict that euro adoption is unlikely until 2014 at the earliest. The government has been able to finance its budget deficit through private sector credit, thus avoiding the need to adopt an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program.
Despite Lithuania's Europena Union accession, Lithuania's trade with its Central and Eastern European neighbors, and Russia in particular, accounts for a growing percentage of total trade.
Privatization of the large, state-owned utilities is nearly complete.
GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $61.3 billion (2011 est.)
GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $43.2 billion (2011 est.)
GDP- per capita (PPP): $18,700 (2011 est.)
GDP- composition by sector:
services: 68.8% (2011 est.)
Industries: metal-cutting machine tools, electric motors, television sets, refrigerators and freezers, petroleum refining, shipbuilding (small ships), furniture making, textiles, food processing, fertilizers, agricultural machinery, optical equipment, electronic components, computers, amber jewelry
Currency: Litai (LTL)