Lithuania

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The Republic of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuva; full - Lietuvos Respublika) is a republic in northeastern Europe. One of the three Baltic States along the Baltic Sea, it shares borders with Latvia to the north, Belarus to the southeast, Poland to the south, and the Kaliningrad Oblast (region) of Russia to the southwest.

Lietuvos Respublika
Flag of Lithuania Lithuania: Coat of Arms
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
National motto: Vienybė težydi (Let the unity bloom)
File:LocationLithuania.png
Official language Lithuanian
Capital Vilnius
President Valdas Adamkus
Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas
Chairman or Parliament Artūras Paulauskas
Area
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 122nd
65,303 km²
Negligible
Population
 - Total (July 2005 est.)
 - Density
Ranked 125th
3,412,600
52.5/km²
GDP (PPP)
 - Total (2004)
 
 - GDP/head
Ranked 74th (total)
$22.4 billion
Ranked 49th (per capita)
$6,544
HDI (2003) 0.852 (39th) – high
Independence
 - Declared
 - Recognised
 - Lost
Independence
 - Declared
 - Recognised
From Imperial Russia
16 February 1918
12 July 1920
1940
From Soviet Union
11 March 1990
6 September 1991
Currency Litas (Lt) = 100 Centų (Ct) 3.45Lt = 1€
Time zone
 - in summer
EET (UTC+2)
EEST (UTC+3)
National anthem Tautiška giesmė
Internet TLD .lt
Calling Code 370

Contents

History

Main article: History of Lithuania

First mentioned in a medieval German manuscript, the Quedlinburg Chronicle, on February 14, 1009, Lithuania became a significant state in the Middle Ages. The official crowning of Mindaugas as King of Lithuania in Voruta on July 6, 1253 marked Lithuania's birth, as warring dukes united to support his reign. Later, during Gediminas' conquests, the nation grew into the independent, multi-ethnic Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which joined the lands of modern Belarus and Ukraine. By the 15th century, the Grand Duchy stretched across Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

When Grand Duke Jogaila was crowned King of Poland on February 2, 1386, Lithuania and Poland became unified under one monarch. In 1569, Poland and Lithuania formally merged into a single state called the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This union remained in place until the adoption of the May Constitution of 1791, which abolished all subdivisions of the states and merged them into the Kingdom of Poland. In 1795, this new state was soon dissolved by the third Partition of Poland, which ceded its lands to Russia, Prussia and Austria.

On February 16, 1918, Lithuania re-established its independence in severely limited territories that had been designated Lithuanian, with non-Lithuanian areas of the Grand Duchy that had fallen to the Soviet Union remaining under Soviet control. From the outset, territorial disputes with Poland (over the Vilnius region and the Suvalkai region) and Germany (over the Klaipėda region, German: Memelland) plagued the new nation. During the interwar period, the constitutional capital of Lithuania was Vilnius, although the city itself was then ocupied by Polish (see History of Vilnius for more details). The Lithuanian government at the time was seated in Kaunas, which officially held the status of temporary capital.

In 1940, at the height of World War II, the Soviet Union occuppied and annexed Lithuania in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It later came under German occupation, during which time 90% of Lithuanian Jews were killed, one of the worst death rates of the Holocaust. Ultimately Lithuania fell again to the Soviet Union in 1945.

Fifty years of communist rule ended with the advent of glasnost, and 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 until August 1991 to suppress this secession, including an incident at Vilnius' TV Tower in January 13 night, 1991 that resulted in the death of 13 Lithuanian civilians. The last Russian troops left Lithuania on August 31, 1993 — even earlier than those in East Germany.

File:Lietuva007.jpg
Aušros Vartai Street in Vilnius
File:Lietuva002.jpg
Landscape of Lithuania
File:Lietuva004.jpg
Lake and castle in Trakai

On February 4, 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognize Lithuanian independence, and Sweden the first to open an embassy in the country. The United States of America never recognized the Soviet claim to Lithuania or the other two Baltic republics.

Lithuania joined the United Nations on September 17, 1991. On May 31, 2001, Lithuania 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 November 21, 2002, NATO invited Lithuania to start membership negotiations, and on March 29, 2004, it became a full and equal NATO member. On February 1, 1998, it became an Associate Member of the European Union, and on April 16, 2003, it signed the EU Accession Treaty. 91% of Lithuanians backed EU membership in a referendum held on May 11, 2003 and on May 1, 2004, Lithuania joined the EU.

Politics

Main article: Politics of Lithuania

The Lithuanian head of state is the president, elected directly for a five-year term, maximum two terms consecutively. President also functions as the commander-in-chief and oversees foreign and security policy. The president, on the approval of the parliament (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. Judges the Constitutional Court (Konstitucinis Teismas) for nine year term are appointed by President (three judges), Chairman of 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. About half of the members of this legislative body are elected in single constituencies (71), and the other half (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.

Administrative division

Main article: Administrative division of Lithuania

Lithuania consists of 10 counties (Lithuanian: apskritys, singular - apskritis), each named after their principal city. The counties are subdivided into 60 municipalities (some municipalities are historically called "district municipalities", and thus shortened to "district"; others are called "city municipalities", sometimes shortened to "city", or leaving just the name of city; and some are just simply called "municipalities") (see: List of municipalities of Lithuania). The municipality is the most important unit.

Each municipality has its own elected government. In the past, the election of municipality councils occurred once every three years, but now take place every four years. The council elects the mayor of the municipality and other required personnel (larger municipalities have larger councils and more officials). The municipality councils also appoint elders to the administrative division (small municipalities do not have elderships, though). Taken together, the municipalities consist of over 500 elderships. This administrative division was created in 1994 and modified in 2000. There is currently a proposal that would require mayors and elders to be elected in direct elections by the public.

The whole of Lithuania is partitioned into counties, which are ruled by officials ("Rulers of Apskritis") who are sent by the central government. These officials ensure that the municipalities work according to the laws of Lithuania and the constitution. They do not, however, have substantial powers vested in them, and there has been a proposal to reduce the number of counties because of the small number of municipalities falling under each ruler's jurisdiction.

One proposal is to create a new administrative unit comprised of four lands, the boundaries of which would be determined by the ethnographic regions of Lithuania. Another proposed solution is to expand the counties so that there would be five in all, each based in one of the five largest cities.

Also see: Counties of Lithuania, List of municipalities of Lithuania, Elderships

Geography

Main article: Geography of Lithuania

File:Lietuva001.jpg
Druskininkai

The largest and most populous of the Baltic states, Lithuania has around 99 km of sandy coastline, of which only about 38 km faces the open Baltic Sea. Lithuania's major warm-water port of Klaipėda lies at the narrow mouth of Kuršių marios (Curonian Lagoon), a shallow lagoon extending south to Kaliningrad. The main river, the Nemunas, and some of its tributaries carry international shipping vessels.

Lithuanian landscape is glacially flat, except for morainic hills in the western uplands and eastern highlands that are no higher than 300 m, with the highest point being found at Juozapinės at 292 m. The terrain features numerous lakes, Lake Vištytis) for example, swamps, and a mixed forest zone covers 30% of the country. The climate lies between maritime and continental, with wet, moderate winters and summers. According to some geographers, Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, lies a few kilometres south of the geographical centre of Europe.

Lithuania consists of the following historical and cultural regions:

Also:

Economy

Main article: Economy of Lithuania

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, a 6.6% growth in GDP reflected impressive economic development. Prior to 1998, Lithuania was the Baltic state that conducted the most trade with Russia; however, the 1998 Russian financial crisis forced the country to orient toward the West.

Lithuania has since gained membership of the World Trade Organization, and joined the European Union on May 1, 2004. According to officially published figures, accession to the EU reduced previously high unemployment to 10.6% in 2004, although some argue that this has been prompted by the high rate of emigration from Lithuania that has occurred since it joined the EU. Lithuania has nearly completed the privatization of its large, state-owned utilities. 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 2007, thus becoming one of the first of the new EU members to do so, together with Estonia and Slovenia.

Although Lithuania's economy is undoubtedly growing, many people still live in abject poverty and the situation does not appear to be improving. An urban elite is now highly visible, whilst little seems to have changed for the country's poor. According to a report published by the US Department of State in October 2005, the minimum wage increased in 2005 to $197.50 per month (the first rise since June 1998), well below the poverty threshold. The average wage stands at $458 per month 1. Like other countries in the region (Estonia, Latvia and Russia) Lithuania has also adopted a flat rate of tax rather than a progressive scheme. However, at 33% of income, the tax rate is considerably higher than that of its neighbours and some suggest that this, combined with the very low wages, may be a factor influencing the current trend of mass emigration to Western Europe, something that has been made legally possible as a result of accession to the European Union in 2004 [1]. The Ministry of Labour estimated in 2004 that as many as 360,000 workers may have left the country by the end of that year, a prediction that is now thought to have been broadly accurate. The impact is already evident: in September 2004, the Lithuanian Trucking Association reported a shortage of 3,000-4,000 truck drivers. Large retail stores have also reported some difficulty in filling positions [2].

Demographics

Main article: Demographics of Lithuania

83.5% of the Lithuanian population are ethnic Lithuanians who speak the Lithuanian language (one of two surviving members of the Baltic language group), which is the official language of the state. Several sizable minorities exist, such as Poles (7%), Russians (5%), and Belarusians (1.5%).

Poles are the largest minority, mostly concentrated in southeast Lithuania (the Western Vilnius region). Russians are the second largest minority, concentrated mostly in the cities and comprising a majority in Visaginas; they also constitute a large minority in Vilnius and Klaipėda.

Because of the Soviet occupation, most older people and some members of the younger population still understand Russian. Most schools teach English (sometimes German) as a first foreign language, but students may also study Russian, German, or, in some schools, French. However, there are still some schools that teach Russian as a primary language.

The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, but Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam and Karaism (an ancient offshoot of Judaism represented by a long-standing community in Trakai) also exist as minority religions.

Culture

Main article: Culture of Lithuania

Lithuanians abroad

Miscellaneous topics

External links

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Maps & GIS

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