The first settlers of Lithuania arrived in approximately 12, 000 B. C. In 3,000–2,500 B. C., the Indo-European Balts came to live here. Between the 5th and 8th centuries tribal groupings formed in the western territories: Prussians, Yotvingians, Curronians, Zemgalians, Lithuanians and Latgallians. In the 10th c. the pagan Baltic tribes became the target of the missions of the Catholic Europe. In 1009, the name of Lithuania was mentioned for the first time in the written account of the mission of St. Bruno.
In the Middle Ages, Lithuania had already had its state: the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Magnus Ducatus Lithuaniae). It is generally accepted that the state of Lithuania found its way into the world maps, following the coronation of Mindaugas, ruler of the consolidated Lithuania, on 6 July 1253. The Papal Bull granted the State with the highest title of the monarchy, which meant that Lithuania was recognized by and accepted into the family of the Western Europe as an equal member of the political system. With the official adoption of Christianity in 1387, Lithuania chose to follow the Western path of development: the following period saw the spread of the written language, schools were opened, Lithuanian students travelled to study to European universities.
Lithuanians won one more important victory in the Battle of Žalgiris (Grünwald) in 1410 when in alliance with the Kingdom of Poland defeated the Order of Teutonic Knights. After the battle, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania reached the peak of its power, with its territory stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea and from Poland to Smolensk, thus emerging as an important political power in Eastern and Central Europe. The success of the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was essentially based on ethnic and religious tolerance towards those who were traditionally considered potential enemies.
The Lithuanian Statutes having served as the legal framework testify to the fact that it was as early as the 16th century that Lithuania became an integral part of the Western Europe. The legal thought reached further heights at the end of the 18th century when a Constitution was adopted on 3 May 1791. It was the first constitution in Europe (preceding the French Constitution), and the second in the world.
The beginnings of higher education in Lithuania go back to 1579, the year of founding of Vilnius University. Its foundation was the most significant event in the cultural life of the 16th century Lithuanian Grand Duchy bearing high political importance. Vilnius University was the first higher education school not only in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but in the whole Eastern Europe.
Book smuggling - the 19th century phenomenon - emerged as resistance to the repressive actions of tsarist Russia authorities against the Lithuanian Catholic Church consisting of the ban of Lithuanian prayer books and the imposition of Russian Orthodox faith. Book smuggling activities involved the printing of books, mostly in the then Prussia, Lithuania Minor and America, carrying them illegally through the border and their distribution. Though the participants of book smuggling were mostly ordinary peasants, this cultural movement, which is considered to be a part of Lithuanian national movement, paved the way for the restoration of Lithuania‘s independence in 1918 and, as a means of preserving national identity, has retained importance until this day. Thus, book smuggling is often regarded to be Lithuania’s historical phenomenon of the 19th century. In 2004, the UNESCO characterized book smuggling as a unique and unprecedented phenomenon in the world.
On 16 February 1918, 20 courageous, determined and trusted representatives of the Lithuanian nation signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania “re-establishing an independent state, based on democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital city, severing all previous links with other states.” Having withstood the fight for independence against Bolsheviks and Polish invaders, Lithuania sealed its parliamentary democracy in the Constituent Assembly (Steigiamasis Seimas) in 1920. The historical tragic flight by Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, who were among the first in the world to fly a propeller plane over the Atlantic (from the US to Europe) in 1933, became a national symbol of patriotism. The principles of the civic society, cultural values and farming foundations rooted in during this period helped Lithuania to survive the Soviet occupation and subsequently served as ideological basis for the restoration of the independence.
On 15 June 1940 the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania and from 14 June 1941 started mass deportations of the Lithuanian population to remote areas of the Soviet Union. Yet we have survived these hardships: we endured occupations, first by the Soviets, then by the Nazi Germany. Many Lithuanians joined partisan groups to fight for Lithuania's independence. The period of partisan fights is one of the most dramatic and tragic events in Lithuania‘s history.
The Initiative Group of Sąjūdis (Lithuanian Reform Movement), established in June 1988, inspired us with faith and hope: the independence movement Sąjūdis soon spread into the whole of Lithuania. On 23 August 1989, we joined our hands to form a human chain stretching 650 kilometres across Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn to mark the 50th anniversary of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a result of which Lithuania lost its independence. The Baltic Way was a symbolic action that separated the Baltic States from the Soviet Union and by which our people expressed their will to be free. We did not have to wait long. On 11 March 1990, the independent State of Lithuania was re-established. However, our people’s will was opposed by the Soviet Union authorities which, on 13 January 1991, sent to Vilnius their well trained and heavily armed paratrooper units. But even under the threat of violence we responded to the Soviet Union's aggression peacefully – without arms, singing songs and with an endless faith in our victory. That is why these events are commonly referred to as the Singing Revolution. This was the third time in history that Lithuania started an epoch of autonomous life.
Historically Lithuania was always a bridge between East and West, a neighbor country of biggest aggressors and a battlefield for them competing for sphere of influence. The geographical location never let Lithuania to distance from the main European events and this is not surprising as it is the real scientifically agreed geographical center of Europe. The location caused many problems and disasters to Lithuanians, on the other hand, nowadays the nation can be proud to be official owners of this important European spot. If you were to draw lines on a map of Europe to connect Gibraltar with the northern part of the Ural Mountains, Scotland with the Caucasus Mountains, and the southern Greek islands with Norway’s north, almost all of them would intersect in Lithuania, where the geographical centre of Europe is located. In 1989, the French National Geographic Institute carried out calculations which determined that the geographical centre of Europe is located at 54°55’N 25°19’E – some 26 km to the north of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
Lithuania is situated at the same geographical latitude as southern Sweden, Denmark and Scotland to its west, and at the same geographical longitude as Finland to its north and Romania, Bulgaria and Greece to its south. Lithuania is at a crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe, between Germany and Russia. Though Lithuania is the geographical centre of Europe (and Kaunas was a Hansa city), it is often considered part of Eastern rather than Central Europe. This is due to the country’s geopolitical situation more than to its geographical one, for in the 19th and 20th centuries, Lithuania was occupied and annexed by its eastern neighbour more than once. After Lithuania regained its independence, the United Nations attributed it to the group of Northern European countries in 1992. Geographically, Lithuania is a country of Northern Europe, given this classification under the UN’s geographical distribution of world regions and states.
Lithuania's terrain is an alternation of moderate lowlands and highlands. The landscape is punctuated by 2,833 lakes larger than 10,000 m² and 1,600 smaller ponds. Lithuania also has 758 rivers longer than ten kilometres. Lithuania's territory today consists of over 30 percent woodlands—primarily pine, spruce, and birch forests. Ash and oak are very scarce. The forests are rich in mushrooms and berries, as well as a variety of plants. Lithuania has a humid continental climate with four distinct seasons, and a moderating maritime influence from the Baltic Sea.
In the beginning of 2019, there were 2.79 million inhabitants in Lithuania, 86.8 per cent among them Lithuanian nationals, 5.6 per cent – Polish, 4.5 per cent – Russian. In Lithuania, there are around 58 thousand foreigners who live here with a residence permit.
The official language - Lithuanian. It is the most conservative living Indo-European language. Lithuanian is a Baltic language, one of the two Baltic languages that are currently in use (the other one is Latvian). The Lithuanian language is a mother tongue to more than 80% of residents of Lithuania. However, 78,5 per cent of all Lithuanians , alongside their own language, were proficient in one or more foreign languages. The most commonly spoken foreign language in Lithuania is Russian – spoken by 63 per cent of inhabitants. However, a constantly expanding group of Lithuanians (especially young people) know English, French, German or Spanish.
79 per cent of Lithuanians identify themselves as Catholics, 4.1 per cent – as Orthodox (according to the Statistics department data of 2011). There are also other religious community in Lithuania (Evangelical, Muslim, Jew, Karaite and other).
Since 1 January 2015 the national currency of Lithuania is Euro. Timezone: UTC +2.
Antanas Gustaitis developed the first monoplane, ANBO I, in 1925, making Lithuania famous for this worldwide; and today, Lithuanians develop LituanicaSAT satellites at the space technology company NanoAvionics.
Laser systems developed and manufactured by Lithuanians are used by NATO soldiers; components produced in the country help develop quantum computers; and scientists of the world have already used DNA scissors technology developed by Lithuanians. Meanwhile, NASA engineers and researchers show great interest in human brain diagnostics and monitoring technologies being developed at the Health Telematics Science Institute at Kaunas University of Technology.
Talented young Lithuanians have made big strides in the Internet arena by developing world-famous mobile applications that help people edit their photos, find their way round town and even train their dogs. Artists also use technological innovation in their creations: have you ever heard the musical sounds created by Internet users browsing on a 4G network?Laser systems developed and manufactured by Lithuanians are used by NATO soldiers; components produced in the country help develop quantum computers; and scientists of the world have already used DNA scissors technology developed by Lithuanians. Meanwhile, NASA engineers and researchers show great interest in human brain diagnostics and monitoring technologies being developed at the Health Telematics Science Institute at Kaunas University of Technology. Talented young Lithuanians have made big strides in the Internet arena by developing world-famous mobile applications that help people edit their photos, find their way round town and even train their dogs. Artists also use technological innovation in their creations: have you ever heard the musical sounds created by Internet users browsing on a 4G network?
Lithuania is among the top ten countries (OECED data) with the most open markets for services trade together with Latvia, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic.
Lithuania is one of the leaders in the EU in terms on the development of renewable resources.
From the world’s most powerful laser through to the extra-resistant glass in over 4.5 billion smartphones, Lithuanian innovation is impacting research and product development globally. Companies are currently assembling international-quality research teams here at highly competitive costs, and there is strong and committed governmental support for R&D. Lithuania has jumped 8 places in the European Innovation Scoreboard and now ranks ahead of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Spain.
Lithuania’s greatest asset is its talent: country‘s population has EU-leading higher education levels. And, as a small country with strong business-academy links, international investors are playing a key role in shaping courses in order to nurture exactly the talent they need. And going forward, the government is committed to further growing STEM education. It’s thanks to this focus on talent that Lithuania’s scientific research institutions rank 2nd in the CEE region.
Lithuanians are a reserved people with respect for tradition. Though they may seem aloof during initial meetings, Lithuanians are very warm and welcoming. Once they become familiar with someone, they tend to open up quite a bit. The most common greeting for friends and acquaintances is the handshake, with direct eye contact and a smile. When invited into a Lithuanian person’s home, people often bring wine, flowers or sweets to the hostess. Take note that bringing an odd number of flowers to your hostess is culturally preferable; even numbers of flowers are typically used at memorial services and funerals.
Lithuania is home to a number of public holidays and festivals. As a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Lithuania celebrates all the major Christian holidays. The traditional Christmas Eve feast consists of 12 vegetarian dishes, meat being saved for Christmas Day. Lithuanians commemorate their independence and restoration of their independence in February and March. You will enjoy participating in the many annual festivals including the Kaunas International Jazz Festival, the week-long Life Theatre Festival in Vilnius, the Vilnius Summer Music Festival and the Vilnius City Masks Festival.
Lithuanian cuisine is heavily influenced by German, Polish and Scandinavian cooking techniques. Dishes often include pork, smoked meats, cabbage, beets and potatoes. Traditional Lithuanian drinks include beers and mead.
Basketball is the most popular sport in Lithuania (the second religion). The country’s national team won the Bronze Medal in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics. In the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics, Lithuabian team finished fourth. Other sports like rugby and football (soccer) are growing in popularity throughout the country. Citizens also love to paraglide, windsurf and sail on the coast of the Baltic Sea.
Lithuanians are patriotic, they treasure their national heritage and customs. Lithuanians and their descendants dispersed throughout the world, strive to keep their Lithuanian culture, language, art, songs and dance, customs and traditions alive amongst their families, organizations, and communities. During the Lithuanian Song Festival, Lithuanians from all over the country and the Lithuanian diaspora come to Vilnius to sing Lithuanian songs together. The Festival spans over a week, but the final "Day of the Songs" when ~50 000 of the participants march into the purpose-built grandstand in Vilnius Vingis Park for a mass performance is undoubtedly the magical pinnacle of the event. Lithuanian Song Festivals are taking place since 1924 and became a major part of the Lithuanian cultural identity. They are state sponsored and governed by a special law. Together with similar Latvian and Estonian Song Festivals, the Lithuanian Song Festivals have been inscribed into the UNESCO list of immaterial world heritage.
In Lithuania there is a high level of interest in various aspects of cultural life. In spite of modern influences, Lithuanian folklore continues to be a significant part of national heritage. Lithuanian songs and a remarkable collection of fairy tales, legends, proverbs, and aphorisms have roots deep in a language and culture that are among the oldest in Europe.