Lithuania

Recent History

In World War I Lithuania was occupied by German forces. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Germany allowed Lithuania to elect its own officials, who in February 1918 declared independence. In December that year, Communists in Lithuania established a government, and the Bolsheviks invaded from Russia.

In 1919 the Russian army was driven from most of Lithuania. A peace treaty was signed, and Russia recognized Lithuania’s sovereignty over Vilnius. But Poland, which had been seeking to recover territory lost during the 18th century, seeized the city, after which Kaunas became the capital of Lithuania.

From 1920 Lithuania was independent until, as a result of the 1939 pact between the Nazis and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), it was invaded by Soviet forces. During World War II, the USSR lost possession of Lithuania for a short time, but by 1944 it had re-established firm control.

Thousands of armed partisan fighters, known as the “Forest Brothers”, continued their fight for national sovereignty, but during Stalin’s regime Lithuania suffered reepression and mass deportations. Relations were less confrontational after the 1950s, but Lithuanians never gave up their goal of independence. In 1990 the country was one of the first republics to declare independence from the USSR, which was by then too un

nstable to force Lithuania back into the Union. Many countries quickly recognized Lithuania’s sovereignty, as did Russia and other former Soviet republics after the break-up of the USSR in 1991.

The Lithuanian government, led by members of a political coalition called Saj?dis, embarked on a radical programme to reform the economy and other social structures, but progress was slow and painful. In national elections held in 1992, voters rejected the Saj?dis leadership in favour of former Communists, who had formed a new political party advocating slower reform and closer ties with neighbouring countries, especially Russia. The new government pledged to remain committed to democracy, but slowed privatization and other reform measures to soften the impact of political and social change. In August 19993 all remaining Russian troops withdrew from Lithuania, leaving the people free to concentrate on building a stable and prosperous country.

Economy

There was rapid industrialization after World War II, and by 1991 industry accounted for 43 per cent of Lithuania’s gross domestic product (GDP), and agriculture for about 28 per cent. The country makes precision machinery and spare parts, processed foods, and light industrial products. The main exports are machinery and parts, meat and dairy products, and consumer goods. Lithuania has very few na
atural resources, so the country depends heavily on imported raw materials. Imports include oil and gas, chemicals, metals, and equipment. Output declined after independence, because traditional supply arrangements were interrupted, but Lithuania is seeking ties with Western governments and neighbouring countries to increase revenue, foreign investment, and productivity.

After independence, the Sajūdis government introduced a radical reform programme involving privatization and price liberalization. As in all former Communist countries that are moving towards a market economy, the initial results were rising inflation and falling living standards. By 1994, however, there were signs of recovery. The national currency is the litas.

Some facts about Lithuania

Official Name Republic of Lithuania

Capital Vilnius

Area 65,200 square kilometers

25,174 square miles

Major cities (Population) Vilnius 598,000 (1990 estimate)

Kaunas 434,000 (1992 estimate)

Klaipeda 208,000 (1992 estimate)

Population 3,700,000 (1995 estimate)

Population growth rate -0.1 per cent (1990-1995 average)

Population density 57 persons per square kilometre

147.6 persons per square mile (1995 estimate)

Urbanization Per cent urban 72.1 per cent (1995 estimate)

Per cent rural 27.9 per cent (1995 estimate)

Life Expectancy Total 70 years (1995 estimate)

Female 76 years (1995 estimate)

Male 65 years (1995 estimate)

Ethnic Divisions Lithuanian 80.0 per cent

Russian 8.6 per cent

Polish 7.7 per cent

Belarusian 1.5 per cent

Ukrainian 1.2 per cent

Other 1.0 per cent

Languages Lithuanian, the official language, is one of the oldest Indo-European languages still in everyday use. It

t belongs to the Baltic language group along with Latvian and some extinct languages such as Yatvangian and Old Prussian. Its rules of grammar are similar to those of Sanskrit and Homeric Greek. The formation of Standard Lithuanian was not completed until the 19th century because Polish (and sometimes other languages) had been used as the state language from the 13th century onwards. By the 17th century the Lithuanian language survived only among rural peasants because urban dwellers spoke Polish. After 1795, when Lithuania and Poland ceased to exist, Russian was introduced and encouraged among Lithuanians. When Lithuanian was later revived, four main dialects evolved out of the many that had existed before. As a result of the period of Soviet domination, about 80 per cent of Lithuanians can speak Russian. Many are now learning English.

Religions
Mostly Roman Catholic; Lutheran, other Protestant, Muslim, Jewish

Most Lithuanians belong to the Roman Catholic Church, which is regaining influence in the country. Under Soviet domination, organized religion was repressed and many churches closed. Since 1990, Christians of many different sects, as well as Jews and Muslims, have been free to practice their religion in Lithuania.

Traditions

Catholic Wedding

The average family has one or two children; larger families are un

nusual. The father is generally the head of the family, but both parents take part in raising their children and both may work outside the home. In cities, most people live in flats, but single-family homes are more common in rural areas. Many people in urban areas own or rent small gardens on the outskirts of cities in which to relax and grow food.

Lithuanians usually marry while in their 20s, but some couples wait until they have more financial security. Because of a housing shortage, most young couples live with their parents during the first years of marriage and may rely on them for financial support for some time. It is becoming more popular to live together before, or instead of, getting married. It is a legal requirement that marriages be performed at a city hall, but many couples now also have a church ceremony.

Weddings in rural areas may be quite elaborate, and traditional customs are enjoying resurgence in popularity. One of these requires the groom’s friends and the “matchmaker” to buy, with confectionery and whisky, the bride and groom’s way through a succession of “ropes” of flowers that block the way home from the ceremony, the last of which usually stretches across the gate of the couple’s home. Parents meet the newlyweds at the door with bread, salt, and wine glasses filled with water. Many customs surround the two-day wedding celebration, including the mock punishment of the “matchmaker” for convincing the bride to marry the groom.

Diet and Eating

Lithuanian cuisine has been influenced by many cultures. Traditional specialities include smoked sausage, various cheeses, cepelinai (meat cooked inside a ball of potato dough, served with a special sauce), and vedarai (cooked potatoes and sausage stuffed into pig intestines). The main meal usually includes soup. Lithuania produces a range of dairy products as well as fruit (apples, pears, plums, and strawberries) and vegetables (carrots, cabbage, peas, beetroots). Tea, milk, and coffee are the most common drinks.

Lithuanians eat with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. People usually eat three meals each day. Breakfast is between 7 AM and 9 AM, the main meal between 1 PM and 3 PM, and a lighter meal between 6 PM and 8 PM. In rural areas, meals are eaten earlier (in some cases considerably earlier) than in urban areas. For the midday meal most people either go home or eat at worksite cafeterias. In restaurants, the waiter is asked for the bill, which is paid at the table. Toasts are often made during meals, whether guests are present or not.

Socializing

It is customary when greeting for men to shake hands, but women are less likely to do so. A handshake is nearly always used in professional contacts. When introducing a man, one uses Ponas (“Mr.”) before the last name; for a woman, the term is Ponia (“Mrs.”) or Panele (“Miss”). A person’s professional title is also used before the last name when applicable. Good friends may kiss cheeks. Adults do not use first names with each other until invited to do so, but young people are called by their first names. The most common terms for greeting are Labas diena (“Good day”), Labas rytas (“Good morning”), Labas vakaras (“Good evening”), Labas (“Hello”), and Sveikas or Sveiki (both mean “How do you do?” but “Sveiki” is more casual).

Much socializing in Lithuania takes place in the home. Punctuality is expected, and it is customary to bring an odd number of fresh flowers for even a brief visit; the flowers should be unwrapped before being presented. Dinner guests often bring flowers and wine. Impromptu visits, even between friends and neighbours, are not very common, although unexpected visitors are usually made welcome. When invited for a meal, it is impolite to leave food on the plate because it may suggest that one has not enjoyed one’s meal.

Recreation

Popular sports include basketball, soccer, rowing, volleyball, cycling, tennis, and skiing. Families enjoy camping, and those who live near the coast take pleasure in going to the beach. Other popular leisure activities include watching television, visiting, and gardening. Cultural events are usually well attended, especially if they involve national dance and song.

Holidays and Celebrations

The official public holidays of Lithuania include New Year’s Day (1 January), the Restoration of the Lithuanian State (16 February), Mother’s Day (first Sunday in May), Easter Monday, the Anniversary of the Coronation of Grand Duke Mindaugas of Lithuania (6 July), the National Day of Hope and Mourning, also known as All Souls’ Day (1 November), and Christmas (25–26 December). Various local festivals are held throughout the year.

The Kankliai Are Playing, Playing

The Kankliai Are Playing, Playing (Skamba, Skamba Kankliai) is a folk festival that takes place in the narrow, winding streets and ancient courtyards of old Vilnius. The title refers to the kankles, an ancient stringed instrument that was on the verge of extinction until rescued by enthusiasts. Highlights of the festival are the singing groups from Dzukija, the Uzgavenes from Zemaitija, with their fantastic carved masks, and the folk-art fair.

Vilnius Jazz Festival

Vilnius has a lively jazz scene with several jazz clubs in permanent residence. The city is also home to the long-established Vilnius Jazz Festival, a leading contemporary and avant-garde jazz gathering that has become one of the more innovative in eastern Europe. Held over a weekend in early autumn, the festival is a showcase for the most original and experimental of musicians.

International Street Theatre Festival

For four days during the International Street Theatre Festival, the squares and courtyards of Vilnius pulsate with the sound and music of a bizarre assembly of performers from all over Europe. The gathering of artistes includes street theatre troupes, puppeteers, comics, drummers, folk musicians, and flag-throwers. Concerts held in Vingis Park and hot-air balloon rides are some of the ancillary events.

Music

Like many nations of Europe, Lithuania cultivates classical and popular music styles while maintaining a rich folk-music tradition. The capital, Vilnius, has been a centre for musical learning and performance since the 1600s. Lithuania was not immune to the 19th-century nationalist movements that caused many to look to their roots in regional folk-music styles and absorb these into classical music. During the early years of independence, from 1919 until 1940, there was also much interest in promoting national styles in amateur choruses and orchestras and through folk-song research. During the Soviet era, such activities were supported by the state to spread Communist ideologies.

Although the themes in folk music tend to focus on calenderer and life-cycle events, many songs are an expression of historical struggles for independence. There are also work songs, as well as a genre of funeral laments. A common aesthetic practice in performance is subtly to embellish the melody on each repeated stanza. A very old type of choral singing is known as sutartinй. This rapidly vanishing genre is often sung with nonsense phrases thought to represent a form of an archaic language. These are most often sung while dancing, and mostly by women. Interestingly, the melodies may also be transferred to instruments such as the skudu№iai, a set of tuned pipes of different lengths, which are played usually one to three per person in interlocking parts. A set of five ragai (wooden trumpets) may also be used. A 5- to 10-string trapezoidal plucked zither called the kantele may also be used for these songs, or in other song accompaniment. The name suggests connections to the Finnish kantele, which has become a national symbol in that country.

On the other hand, we are able to see, that for the mean time there are many new and popular music bands in Lithuania, as they are the following: Delfinai, Geltona, Žas, Mango, G&G Sindikatas and so on.

Education

Children are required to attend primary school for 9 years (1995), and they may continue with secondary school for three years. Education is provided free at all levels. There are 16 institutions of higher education, including Vilnius University, the University of Vytautas Magnus, and Vilnius Technical University. Exam results determine the relatively few students who earn placement. General education schools offer an optional course in religion. Schools are open on Sundays for Jews, Karaites (a group descended from the Tatars of the 14th century), and other religious minorities. Ethnic minorities have the right to be taught in schools that use their language; Russian and Polish are the basic languages of instruction in more than 300 schools.

Major cities

Vilnius

As far as Vilnius is concerned it is the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius is the largest city in the Republic and a cultural and industrial center. There are currently about 585 thousand people living in Vilnius. The city stretches along the broad valleys of the Neris and Vilnia Rivers. There are magnificent baroque churches, cobbled streets, bright flower stalls, and traditional restaurants in Vilnius. The best example of the flamboyant baroque style, imported by Jesuits at the end of the 16th century, is the Church of St Peter and St Paul. Vilnius also has a neoclassical cathedral and the splendid Aušros Vart (gates of dawn) with a 17th-century Roman Catholic chapel. Other attractions include the Vilnius University, the castle ruins, the former KGB headquarters (now the KGB Museum), and the Jewish Museum—before World War II more than 40 percent of the population of Vilnius were Jews. A short distance from Vilnius is Trakai, the former capital of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy. Here you can find a restored castle, housing the Trakai Historical Museum, in a picturesque lakeside setting.

Kaunas

Kaunas is situated in the valley of two longest rivers of Lithuania, the Nemunas and the Neris and was first mentioned in an old manuscript of 1361. Now Kaunas has over 400 thousand inhabitants. A wealth of historic sights and a vibrant atmosphere make Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, a popular stopoff for tourists. Near the town hall, built in 1542, and the baroque Jesuit monastery, is a square lined with late Gothic and renaissance houses, including the gabled Perknas House and the church of Vytautas. Overlooking River Nemunas are the remains of Kaunas Castle, dating from the 14th century. The stunning neo-Byzantine church of St Michael the Archangel was built to serve the Russian military garrison in Tsarist times. A funicular railway takes visitors up to Zaliakalnis (green hill), which offers a wonderful panorama of the city.

Klaipėda

Klaipda is a popular seaside resort on the west coast of Lithuania. Formerly known as Memel, it was once part of Germany, and it still draws large numbers of German tourists today. Parts of the old town survive intact, notably the elegant theatre—a favourite of Wagner’s—and the 18th-century artisans’ quarter. The chief attraction, however, is Smiltyn with its windswept dunes and sandy beaches, a short boat ride across the Kursi Lagoon. Also there is a maritime museum and aquarium.

Information for tourists

Before you leave

All travellers are advised to take out comprehensive travel insurance. Make sure it covers all the countries you will be visiting and any sports in which you intend to participate. Ensure your policy covers the cost of ambulances and medical evacuation. Foreign visitors are entitled to free emergency treatment, but have to pay for other medical services.

Vehicle documents

To drive in Lithuania, you will need an International Driving Permit, obtainable from the driver licensing authority, motoring organizations, or other designated authority in your country of residence. Ask your motor vehicle insurance companies to confirm what insurance documents are necessary and whether additional insurance is required.
Rules of the road

Always carry your full valid driving license and International Driving Permit, vehicle registration documents, and insurance documents with you in the car. Traffic drives on the right in Lithuania. The driver and front-seat passengers must wear seat belts. It is an offence to drive after drinking any alcohol.
Parking

In car parks, you buy a ticket from a booth or machine and display it behind the windscreen. For safety, use a guarded car park whenever possible (most large hotels have one).
Notes and coins
The official monetary unit is the litas (LTL or Lt). There are 100 cents in a litas. Notes are issued in denominations of 100Lt, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1. Coins are issued in denominations of 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cents. Notes of 500 litas and 1,000 litas are expected to be issued shortly.
How to pay
Travelers cheques are the safest way to carry money, and you should buy these in your own country before you leave. However, they are not generally accepted in restaurants and shops. All major credit cards are accepted in large hotels, shops, restaurants, and petrol stations.
Business and opening hours
Office hours are generally 09.00 to 18.00 Monday to Friday. Shops are generally open from 09.00 to 18.00 or 20.00 Monday to Friday, and from 10.00 to 16.00 on Saturday and Sunday. Many shops and offices close at lunchtime. Most museums are generally open from 11.00 to 18.00 and are closed on Monday or Tuesday.

Lithuania

The fact is well known that Lithuania is a small piece of land at the Baltis Sea in the geographical center of Europe.Lithuania is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus on the east and south, and Poland and Kaliningrad Province—part of Russia—on the southwest. The Baltic Sea borders the west coast. Lithuania consists of a low-lying plain broken by low hills in the west and south. The country has many lakes and rivers. The Nyoman is the most extensive river system in the country. Marshes and swamps are prevalent, especially in the north and west, although half of all original wetlands have been drained.

The climate is dominated by marine influences, but conditions are more variable in the eastern part of the republic. In the west, summers are cooler and winters are milder. Average annual precipitation ranges from less than 600 millimetres (about 24 inches) per year in the centre of the country to more than 850 millimetres (about 33 inches) per year in the west.

Industrial centres and large towns in Lithuania have severely polluted the air, and there is a lack of technology and equipment to treat emissions. To counter the urban air pollution, the government has banned the use of leaded gas. Lithuania is also struggling to upgrade its sewage-treatment plants because more than one-third of the country’s surface water is contaminated with bacteria. Agricultural run-off is also contributing to the pollution of many of the country’s rivers.

Places in interest

The Trakai National Park

This park was designated in 1992 to embrace the historical city of Trakai, the forests, lakes and villages. The total area of the park is 8 thousand kilometers. The most significant historic monument is the Island Castle, on lake Galves, which was built in the 14th century to fend off German knights. The Gothic castle is an impressive example of Lithuanian fortress architecture. From the tower of the castle you can see the shores of the lake, surrounding it like a green wreath. Shining white on the bank opposite of the town is a mansion which was built by the aristocratic Tiškevičius family in the late 19th century. The castle now houses a valuable ethnological museum. In summer, chamber music concerts are held every Sunday in the representation hall.

Žemaitija National Park

Žemaitija National Park was founded in 1991. It is in the north western part of Lithuania,
about 45 km to east from the Baltic sea. Valleys, bushes, cultivated soil make up the rest of the area. The main aims of the park are to preserve the lake Plateliai system and the nature, to take care of cultural values in Žemaičių Kalvarija,Plateliai and other places, to restore the destroyed ones, to make better conditions for endangered species of flora and fauna, to develop tourism. In the park visitors can have a good rest and spend the holidays or weekend in the fresh air, play sports and games, ride a horse, go by water bikes, windsurfings and yachts, hike and take part in tourist trips by cars.

Stelmužė

Stelmužė, a small village located right in the north-eastern corner of Lithuania, is home to the largest oak in the country.With a circumference of 11 meters, the tree stands 23 meters high. It is believed that the oak tree is nearly 200 years old. Although it now needs to be cared for to protect it from disease, the tree is still standing strong.

A unique museum of stones

The town of Mosėdis is famous for a museum of field stones, which is unique in the whole world. The museum occupies a 10 hectare area and contains a total of 2500 stones in its indoor and open- air expositions. Starting in May and running till October, the museum is opened for visitors every day from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. The office of the museum’s administration and a booking office are housed in the old watermill. In its cellar is a café opened every day from noon till 11 p.m. The café is attractive for its original hall and for its obsolete but still operating mill mechanisms.

Vilnius

It goes with the territory, that in case you are going to show Lithuania to foreigner; you must show him the capital of Lithuania. Sitting at the top of Gedimino hill are the ruins of the Upper Fortress. The 14th – 16th century Gothic castle is both an architectural and historical monument. The bottom floors now house a small museum, where you can learn about the history of Vilnius and see displays of archeological findings. A narrow spiral staircase leads you to the top of the tower and a breathtaking view of Vilnius. Be sure to take in the from all directions – opposite of the city, illuminating like a vision, is Hill of Three Crosses. Your eye will naturally be drawn to the classical elegance of Vilnius Catedral, which sits in the middle of Cathedral Square.

Neringa

The fact is well known that Neringa is home to the longest street in the country. While visiting Neringa, be sure to note the unique old architecture of the Sea – coast region. There are old fishermen houses in each of the four settlements. As a rule, the houses are partitioned into two parts – one for the family and one for guests. You have a chanse to choose to stay in traditional family house or in luxurious hotels. It’s no mater who, is the visitor, there he can take relaxing and fun-filled holiday.

Referatas

„Something about Lithuania“

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