Ever heard of Lithuania? Something about its great beers, even greater basketball or weird traditions? Its amber, linen or the Hill of Crosses? If the answer is no, this article will give you a short brief on the country and what you may get from it, even if you decide not to visit. It’s a good chance you already have something from Lithuania at home… without even knowing it!
Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe with a little more than 3 million inhabitants. Most of them are ethnic Lithuanians – a nation which has experienced a lot of highs and lows during its history. Currently Lithuania is a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and is experiencing probably the most stable and prosperous period in its history.
Geographically, Lithuania is situated on the east shore of the Baltic Sea, with Latvia to the north, Poland and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the southwest and Belarus to the southeast. The country’s land consists mainly of lowlands with a lot of lakes, rivers and forests. These features together with a mild climate made Lithuania’s soil perfect for agriculture, which was the main sector of the country’s economy until the mid-20th century.
Lithuanians as a people emerged in around 2000 BC, when the Baltic tribes formed in the area of the modern-day country. The first reference to the name of Lithuania (Litua) came in 1009 AD in the annals of the monastery of Quedlinburg. In 1253, the tribes that were living in the Lithuanian territory were united under the rule of Mindaugas, who became the first and only Lithuanian king. Paganism was prominent in the Lithuanian lands up until the 14th century, when the country was christened, the last one to do so in Europe. At that point in history Lithuania was also the largest country in Europe, stretching from the Baltic Sea down to the Black Sea. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of dark moments in the history of Lithuania as well. The country was occupied by various countries, mostly the Russian Empire and the USSR, during most of the 19th and the 20th centuries, with a short period of independence in 1918-1940. Lithuania finally regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990 and is a completely sovereign country ever since.
The prominence of agriculture, the periods of Paganism and Christianity and the rich history with a lot of ups and downs – all these aspects have left a very deep mark in Lithuanian heritage. So, now that we know what kind of a country Lithuania is, let’s review what ties to the country you might have yourself.
First of all, think about your friends, neighbours, acquaintances – any people you know – if you can’t pronounce their names without breaking your tongue, there’s a good chance some of them are Lithuanians. There are more than 1.5 million ethnic Lithuanians living outside the country, most of them in the English speaking countries like the USA, the UK and Ireland.
Basketball might not be as interesting as football, but it still is one of the world’s top sports, and Lithuania has made some significant contributions to the sport. If you like basketball, names like Sabonis, Marciulionis, Ilgauskas or Kleiza should ring a bell, and guess what – they’re all Lithuanians! Basketball is known as the country’s second religion and pretty much every child’s dream is to become a basketball player. This pays off, as Lithuania became European basketball champions in 1937, 1939 and 2003. The most recent achievements of Lithuanian basketball are the bronze medals in the 2010 World championships and the privilege to organise the 2011 European basketball championship in Lithuania.
Do you like beer? If basketball is Lithuania’s second religion, beer might as well be the third. All kinds of beers are made in Lithuania with some beer brewing traditions coming from the middle ages. Whether you like your beer light or dark, small or strong, Lithuanian beer brewers have a lot to offer. Probably the most famous Lithuanian beer is the Svyturys Extra, a dortmunder that is available in a lot of countries throughout the world.
If you don’t know any Lithuanians and don’t like basketball or beer, look around your home. If you have some amber jewellery, it could be found on Lithuanian shores – around 80% of the world’s amber is found near the Baltic Sea. Lithuanian craftsmen and jewellers are well known for producing all kinds of decorations from amber and it had a significant part in the country’s exports since the times of the Roman Empire. If you wear linen clothes, use linen towels or decorate your home with linen tablecloths, they also might be genuine Lithuanian ones. “For a very long time, linen was a fabric used for clothing and decoration mostly by peasants – the poorest and the most numerous class in Lithuanian society. Ironically, in our days not everyone can afford linen clothes, but they are still appreciated for their durability, quality and naturalness. It’s a good thing that Lithuanian linen weaving traditions are still very much alive and kicking.” – says Jurate Stanisauskiene, owner of the only children-oriented Lithuanian linen e-store LinenKids.com.
In conclusion, Lithuania is a very small country, but it has a very long and interesting history. Becoming more modern every day, the country still cherishes its traditions – both the ones that came from a thousand years ago and the ones that formed much more recently. You should consider visiting Lithuania, but if you don’t have time to do so or just don’t want to, feel free to visit all kinds of Lithuanian webshops on the internet. This way you can get a tiny part of Lithuania and its history and traditions yourself – I bet you’ll love it!