|Physical map of Lithuania - source|
Lithuania is situated in northern Europe. It has around 99 kilometres (61.5 miles) of sandy coastline, of which only about 38 kilometres (24 miles) face the open Baltic Sea. 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 taller 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 30% of the country. The climate is between maritime and continental, with wet, moderate winters and summers. According to one geographical computation method, Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, lies only a few kilometers south of the geographical centre of Europe.
Lithuania consists of the following historical and cultural regions:
Aukštaitija — literally, the "Highlands"
Samogitia (Lithuanian: Žemaitija) — literally, the "Lowlands"
Dzūkija (Lithuanian: Dzūkija or Dainava)
Sudovia (Lithuanian: Sūduva or Suvalkija)
Lithuania Minor also known as "Prussian Lithuania" — (Lithuanian: Mažoji Lietuva or Prūsų Lietuva). Region was part of the Prussia since Middle Ages until 1945. Most of it today is part of Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast).
The population of Lithuania stands at 3.36 million, 84.6% of whom are ethnic Lithuanians who speak the Lithuanian language (one of the two surviving members of the Baltic language group), which is the official language of the country. Several sizable minorities exist, such as Poles (6.3%), Russians (5.1%), and Belarusians (1.1%).
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.
In 2003, prior to 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 Q3 — 10.8% 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 1 January 2010. There is gradual but consistent shift towards knowledge based economy with special emphasis on biotechnology (industrial and diagnostic), because in Lithuania there are concentrated major biotech producers in the Baltic countries, as well as laser equipment.
|Laser - source|
Like other countries in the region (Estonia, Latvia) Lithuania also has a flat tax rate rather than a progressive tax 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 of 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 the country.
The first 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 the Gediminids (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 union, as both countries were ruled by the same Gediminids 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, the largest battle in medieval Europe.
|Battle of Grunwald - source|
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. A new crown was ordered from Germany and another date set for the coronation, 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 contained in three statutes of Lithuania.
|The location of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth - source|
In 1795, the Commonwealth was dissolved and partitioned into three parts to Russia, Prussia and Austria, under duress. Over ninety percent of Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire and the remainder into Prussia.
Many Jews fled Lithuania following persecution and followed opportunities that lay overseas.
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 Polish invasion. At the time, Poles and Jews made up a majority of the population of Vilnius, with a small Lithuanian minority of only 1%. 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 re-occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944.
From 1944–1952 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 (91% of pre-Second World War community) of Lithuanian Jews, 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 labor camps and/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.
|The memorial of the victims near TV tower - source|
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 the Russia signed a treaty with Lithuania prior to 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.
|Lithuania History - source|
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.
|Seimas - source|
Head of state: Dalia Grybauskaite - President, Head of Government: Andrius Kubilius (TS-LKD) - Prime Minister, Governing parties: TS-LKD, TPP, LRLS, LiCS
Last national elections: 2008
Last European Parliament election June 2009 See: • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Parliament_election,_2009_(Lithuania) • http://www.europarl.europa.eu/parliament/archive/elections2009/en/lithuania_en.html
Counties and municipalities
Lithuania is subdivided into ten counties and sixty municipalities.
Counties of Lithuania, Municipalities of Lithuania, and Elderships of Lithuania
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).
|Map showing municipalities and counties in Lithuania - source|
The counties are ruled by county governors (Lithuanian: apskrities viršininkas) appointed by the central government. They ensure that the municipalities adhere to the laws of Lithuania and the constitution. County government oversees local governments and their implementation of the national laws, programs, and policies.
Municipalities are the most important units. Some municipalities are historically called "district municipalities", and thus are often shortened to "district"; others are called "city municipalities", sometimes shortened to "city." Each municipality has its own elected government. In the past, the election of municipality councils occurred once every three years, but it now takes place every four years. The council elects the mayor of the municipality and other required personnel. The municipality councils also appoint elders to govern the elderates. There is currently a proposal for direct election of mayors and elders, however that would require an amendment to the constitution.
Elderates are the smallest units and they do not play a role in national politics. They were created so that people could receive necessary services close to their homes; for example, in rural areas the elderates register births and deaths. They are most active in the social sector: they identify needy individuals or families and distribute welfare or organize other forms of relief.
The current system of administrative division receives frequent criticism for being too bureaucratic and ineffective. Significant complaints have been made about the number of counties, since they do not have much power. One proposal is to create four lands, a new administrative unit, the boundaries of which would be determined by the ethnographic regions of Lithuania. The benefit would be that the lands would follow natural boundaries, rather than being defined by bureaucrats or politicians. Another of the proposed solutions involves reducing the number of counties so that there would be five in total, each based in one of the five largest cities with populations of over 100,000. Others complain that elderates have no real power and receive too little attention; they could potentially become local initiative communities which could tackle many rural problems.
In 2005, 79% of Lithuanians belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has been the majority denomination since the introduction of Christianity to Lithuania in the end of fourteenth century. Some priests actively led the resistance against the Communist regime (symbolized by the Hill of Crosses). After independence was regained, the Catholic Church leads resistance against socialism and liberalism, especially in ethical questions. Church attendance has increased since the end of the Soviet occupation and the country has so far maintained a fairly high level of religious practice.
In the 16th century, Lutheranism started to spread from neighboring Livonia and East Prussia. 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, 49% of Lithuanian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", 36% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 12% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force".
- Lithuanians prefer face-to-face meetings, as they need to build relationships of mutual understanding.
- They prefer to turn business relationships into friendships.
- Accept offers of hospitality and reciprocate, as this is the sign of a true friend.
- Once a friendship has developed, Lithuanians are willing to discuss business.
- It is important to make your initial contact with a high-ranking person who is in a position to make a decision.
- In many ways this is still a hierarchical culture, so showing respect and deference to people of authority is recommended.
- Although they are industrious and hard working, most Lithuanians are very modest. Those people who boast and brag, are deemed arrogant.
- At the same time, Lithuanians are impressed by titles of authority and advanced university degrees, so it is a good idea to let them know your status within your company.
- Lithuanians speak softly.
- They are not particularly emotive speakers.
- They do not touch others while speaking and can appear standoffish and reserved upon the initial meeting.
- It is important that you do not display anger, even if frustrated by the excessive bureaucracy.
- They do not interrupt others while they are speaking, and patiently wait for their turn.
- Many Lithuanian companies adhere to a hierarchical structure. In such cases, senior-level businessmen only speak with people of their same rank.
- More junior members of a team should not address a senior-ranking Lithuanian businessperson directly, as it is seen as a breach of etiquette.
- Appointments are necessary and should be scheduled 2 to 3 weeks in advance.
Send a list of people who will be attending and their titles, so that Lithuanians can assemble a team of people at similar level.
- Confirm any meeting when you arrive, and again, a day before a meeting. Meetings are sometimes cancelled on short notice.
- Punctuality is important, so arrive on time.
- Meetings are formal.
- There will be a period of small-talk while your colleagues get to know you and decide if you are the type of person with whom they wish to enter into a business relationship.
- Business moves slowly due to the bureaucratic nature of society.
- Be prepared to meet with several lower levels of people before getting to the actual decision maker.
- Lithuanians often use time as a tactic, especially if they know that you have a deadline. Be cautious about letting your business colleagues know that you are under time pressure or they will delay even more.
- Lithuanians will not be rushed into making a deal. They must think it is in their best interest before agreeing.
- Meetings often conclude with a summary of the discussion and a toast to future dealings.
The historic city of Vilnius (founded in 1323) is the capital of Lithuania. The Vilnius’ Old Town is the biggest in Europe and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike Riga and Tallinn in the other Baltic Republics, Vilnius is not of Germanic origin, although like these other cities it has a large old quarter which is gradually being restored. Almost all major European architectural styles are represented, although ultimately it was the Baroque which came to dominate. Any itinerary of the city should include the historic University of Vilnius, which was granted its charter in 1579, the Golden Age in the city’s history. The university is among the oldest in Central Europe and has a distinctly Renaissance feel with its inner courtyards and arcades.
|The Vilnus´ Old Town - source|
Known as the ’city of museums’, it boasts, amongst others, the Devil Museum and a memorial to those who suffered during the Nazi occupation. The most famous museum is dedicated to the works of the Lithuanian painter Ciurlionis. Kaunas also has three theaters, some 11th-century castle ruins and the old City Hall among its attractions.
|State Musical Theatre - source|
Other places of interest in Lithuania include the small riverside spa resort of Druskininkai, situated 135km (84 miles) from Vilnius, and the small town of Rumsiskes, 80km (50 miles) from Vilnius and 20km (12.5 miles) from Kaunas, with its open-air museum of wooden architecture exhibiting farmhouses from all the various regions of the country. Five strange grassy mounds mark Lithuania’s ancient capital at Kernave, another UNESCO World Heritage site.
|Druskininkai - source|
Popular seaside resorts include Palanga and Kursiu Nerija (with the settlements of Nida and Juodkrante), which are famous for their clean white sand beaches, natural sand dunes and pine forests. Palanga also boasts the Amber Museum-Gallery (website: www.ambergallery.lt) and an interesting botanical park. Nida is the last village on the Lithuanian half of the spit surrounded by endless stretches of clean white sand. A lighthouse from 1874 can be visited here, as can the Thomas Mann Cultural Center, situated in the house where the German writer spent his holidays between 1930 and 1932. There is the award winning Park of Soviet Sculptures at Gruto Parkas, which reminds visitors of some of Lithuania’s grim past.
Since 1991, the official language of Lithuania is the Baltic language of Lithuanian, a language closely related to Latvian. More than 80% of the country’s 3.8m population speaks Lithuanian as their first language. Minority languages include Belarusian (1.5%), Polish (7.7%), Russian (8%). Others, most notably Ukrainian and Yiddish make up a further 2.1%.