Lituanie Lithuania

 
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  • Accession to the EU: 2004
  • Accession to the Council of Europe: 1993
  • Surface area: 65 300 km2
  • Population: 3,32 million (Eurostat-January 2010)
  • Capital city: Vilnius (580 000 inhabitants)
  • Official languages: Lithuanian
  • Listen to Lithuanian
  • Main religion: Catholic
  • Currency: Litas
  • Political system: Republic
  • Head of state: Dalia Grybauskaité, president since 2009
  • Head of government: Algirdas Butkevicius, new Lithuanian Prime Minister since November 22nd, 2012
  • International code: + 370
  • National holiday: February 16
  • The Lithuanian members of the European Parliament
 

History

 
Université de Vilnius
University of Vilnius
©Lithuanian State Department of Tourism
 
Lithuanian history is characterised by a strong desire for national independence and a strong cultural identity. Powerful States have always had ambitions to conquer this region, which is a natural crossroads on the edge of the Baltic Sea. Founded in the 13th century, Lithuania began its territorial expansion from the 14th century onwards, with the country being one of the most powerful States in Central Europe at this time. Incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland in 1569, Lithuania had to contend with successive attacks from its neighbours and ongoing warfare, which considerably weakened the country until its annexation by the Russian Empire in 1795. From then on, the country has been in a constant struggle to recover lost independence, particuarly in the 20th century.
 
  • 1915 Germany occupies the country during the First World War.
  • 1918 Lithuania proclaims its independence. It is only recognised by Russia in 1920, following a war of independence.
  • 1940 The country is invaded by Soviet troops during the Second World War. Lithuania becomes a federated Republic within the USSR. This period of Soviet rule is interrupted only during the three-year period of German occupation.
  • 1988 The reforms initiated by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union (with his policy of Glasnost), led to a reawakening of Lithuanian national consciousness. The Sajudis movement leads a struggle for independence.
 
  • 1991 Proclamation of Lithuanian independence.
  • 2004 Lithuania joins NATO and the European Union.
  • 2004 The outgoing left-wing government reaches an agreement with the Labour Party of the Russian-born billionaire Viktor Uspaskich (the winner of the parliamentary elections in October) to form a coalition. The former Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas heads the new coalition government.
  • 2006 M. Gediminas Kirkilas is nominated for prime minister after a governmental crisis.
  • 2008 Andrius Kubilius (Conservative) becomes Head of a coalition-government.
  • 2009 Dalia Grybauskaitė becomes Head of state.
 
 

Vilnius

 
Vilnius
Vue to Vilnius
©Lithuanian State Department of Tourism
 
Vilnius is located in the southeast of Lithuania, not far from the Byelorussian and Polish borders. As the national capital, Vilnius is also a major communications hub. The city is home to the country’s main institutions, including the national parliaments, the Seimas. The town’s history dates back to the 10th century and bears witness to the political upheavals of this region. Lithuania’s capital was Polish in the 16th century, and Russian in the 18th century, before suffering successive occupations by Germany, Poland, and the USSR in the 20th century. The Lithuanian capital is a religious center and the seat of the Catholic archdiocese, but it is also a cultural and artistic center. Since 1579, the city has had a university, which was founded by the Jesuits and is famous the world over. The old town includes a number of architectural treasures, such as Saint Stanislas Cathedral (14th century), and the baroque church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in addition to its Gothic and Renaissance style buildings. As a result of these buildings, the town was included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List from 1994 onwards.
 

Amber

 
Ambre
Amber
 
The Lithuanian Baltic coast is rich in what has become known as "the light of the world" or "the tears of the seabirds": amber. Thirty million years ago, the sea covered the conifer forests of the Baltic lands. The resin (capturing the insects and plants in the process) became fossilised, thereby conserving traces of the distant past. After several million years, this resin turned into amber. This mineral is a great asset for the Baltic coast. It represents a precious heritage for Lithuania which, over the centuries, was the starting point for a number of “amber routes,” crossing Poland and Germany to reach the Mediterranean and sometimes reaching as far as China. The Lithuanians are masters in crafting amber and use it in particular to fashion superb items of jewellery. The biggest amber museum is also located in Lithuania. Situated in Palanga, it features permanent displays of almost 4,500 amber items. More than 7 million people have already visited the Palanga Museum, demonstrating people’s continuing fascination with amber today.
 

Storks

 
Cigogne
©Dumoulin/Alsace Region, Stork
 
No, Alsace is not the only region for storks in Europe! The white stork, found in Lithuania, is a bird which is both admired and protected. As the jewel in the crown of the Lithuanian ecosystem, the stork enjoys the marshland, and the 3,000 lakes and 700 waterways of this Baltic Republic. The birds can be seen gliding with their two-meter wingspan through the Lithuanian skies, or admired along the small country lanes. The relatively cold weather in winter forces them to migrate to Central and Southern Africa, but they are back again in summer, taking up their favourite positions on the rooftops of Lithuania’s many churches. This is the country in Europe with the highest density of stork pairs. According to an old Lithuanian saying, wherever you find a nest of storks, the people are honest. The stork has been the national bird since 1973, and it is the symbol of Lithuania.
 

Did you know?

 
Migrating Birds
15 million migrating birds stop each year on the Curonian peninsula on Lithuania’s Baltic coast.
 
The alphabet
The Lithuanian alphabet, comprised of 32 letters, 7 cases and 5 groups of declensions, make Lithuanian a linguistic treasure, and one of the oldest languages in the Indo-European group.
 
The Hill of Crosses
On the Hill of Crosses in the center of the country, visitors will find crosses of iron and wood of all sizes, in memory of the many repressions endured by Catholics under the Tsarist and Soviet regimes. This site subsequently became a symbol of national resistance.