Lithuania - History
Lithuanians belong to the Baltic group of nations. Their ancestors
moved to the Baltic region about 3000 B.C. from beyond the Volga region
of central Russia. In Roman times, they traded amber with Rome and
around A.D. 900-1000 split into different language groups, namely,
Lithuanians, Prussians, Latvians, Semigallians, and others. The
Prussians were conquered by the Teutonic Knights, and, ironically, the
name "Prussia" was taken over by the conquerors, who destroyed
or assimilated Prussia's original inhabitants. Other groups also died
out or were assimilated by their neighbors. Only the Lithuanians and the
Latvians survived the ravages of history.
Traditions of Lithuanian statehood date from the early Middle Ages.
As a nation, Lithuania emerged about 1230 under the leadership of Duke
Mindaugas. He united Lithuanian tribes to defend themselves against
attacks by the Teutonic Knights, who had conquered the kindred tribes of
Prussia and also parts of present-day Latvia. In 1251 Mindaugas accepted
Latin Christianity, and in 1253 he became king. But his nobles disagreed
with his policy of coexistence with the Teutonic Knights and with his
search for access to western Europe. Mindaugas was killed, the monarchy
was discontinued, and the country reverted to paganism. His successors
looked for expansion toward the Slavic East. At that early stage of
development, Lithuania had to face the historically recurring question
dictated by its geopolitical position--whether to join western or
At the end of the fourteenth century, Lithuania was already a large
empire extending from the Baltic Sea to the shores of the Black Sea.
Grand Duke Jogaila (r. 1377-81 and 1382-92) of the Gediminas Dynasty
faced a problem similar to that faced by Mindaugas 150 years earlier:
whether to look to the East or the West for political and cultural
influences. Under pressure from the Teutonic Knights, Lithuania, a
kingdom of Lithuanians and Slavs, pagans and Orthodox Christians, could
no longer stand alone. Jogaila chose to open links to western Europe and
to defeat the Teutonic Knights, who claimed that their mission was not
to conquer the Lithuanians but to Christianize them. He was offered the
crown of Poland, which he accepted in 1386. In return for the crown,
Jogaila promised to Christianize Lithuania. He and his cousin Vytautas,
who became Lithuania's grand duke, converted Lithuania to Christianity
beginning in 1387. Lithuania was the last pagan country in Europe to
become Christian. The cousins then defeated the Teutonic Knights in the
Battle of Tannenberg in 1410, stopping Germanic expansion to the east.
Attempts by Vytautas to separate Lithuania from Poland (and to secure
his own crown) failed because of the strength of the Polish nobility.
Lithuania continued in a political union with Poland. In 1569 Lithuania
and Poland united into a single state, the Polish-Lithuanian
Commonwealth, whose capital was Kraków, and for the next 226 years
Lithuania shared the fate of Poland. During this period, Lithuania's
political elite was dominated by the Polish nobility and church,
resulting in neglect of the Lithuanian language and introduction of
Polish social and political institutions. It also opened the doors to
Western models in education and culture.
In 1795 an alliance between the Germanic states--Prussia and
Austria--and the Russian Empire ended Poland's independent existence.
Lithuania became a Russian province. Two insurrections, initiated by the
Poles in 1831 and again in 1863, failed to liberate the country. The
Russian Empire eliminated Polish influence on Lithuanians and introduced
Russian social and political institutions. Under tsarist rule,
Lithuanian schools were forbidden, Lithuanian publications in the Latin
script were outlawed, and the Roman Catholic Church was severely
suppressed. However, the restrictive policies failed to extinguish
indigenous cultural institutions and language.
A national awakening in the 1880s, led by the secular and clerical
intelligentsia, produced demands for self-government. In 1905 Lithuania
was the first of the Russian provinces to demand autonomy. Independence
was not granted because the tsar firmly reestablished his rule after the
Revolution of 1905. But the demand, articulated by the elected Grand
Diet of Vilnius, was not abandoned. World War I led to the collapse of
the two empires--the Russian and the German--making it possible for
Lithuania to assert its statehood. Germany's attempt to persuade
Lithuania to become a German protectorate was unsuccessful. On February
16, 1918, Lithuania declared its full independence, and the country
still celebrates that day as its Independence Day.
Lithuania - Independence, 1918-40
During 1918-20 Lithuania successfully fought a war with newly
independent Poland to defend its independence. At the end of 1920,
however, Poland annexed Lithuania's capital city and province of
Vilnius, which it held until World War II. Lithuania refused to have
diplomatic relations with Poland until 1938 on the grounds that Poland
illegally held the Vilnius region. After declaring independence,
Lithuania also fought against the Bermondt-Avalov army, a
German-sponsored group of military adventurers that sought to preserve
German influence in the Baltic region, and against Russia. In November
1918, the Red Army invaded the country but ultimately was repulsed by
the forces of the young Lithuanian government. On July 9, 1920, Soviet
leader Vladimir I. Lenin signed a peace treaty with Lithuania,
"forever" denouncing Russia's claims to the territory and
recognizing the Lithuanian state.
In the early 1920s, Lithuania had a border dispute with Germany. The
city and region of Klaipeda (Memel in German) had been under German rule
for 700 years. Originally inhabited by Lithuanians, it was detached from
Germany in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles and placed under French
administration. In 1923 Lithuanians organized an insurrection and took
over the Klaipeda region.
These conflicts burdened Lithuania's international diplomacy.
Domestically, however, they fed the development of national identity and
cultural awareness, displacing German and Polish influence.
Lithuania's early disorganization caused a delay in its recognition
by Western powers; the last to do so was the United States in 1922.
Washington recognized Lithuania's independence only after it had become
clear that Western intervention in Russia could not restore the Russian
Empire and that the communists were firmly entrenched in Moscow.
Independent Lithuania, led by political leaders mostly in their
thirties or early forties, became a democratic republic with a strong
legislature, a weak executive, a multiparty system, and a proportional
system of representation. Christian Democratic coalitions dominated the
democratic period. However, almost a third of the country was
illiterate, and farmers--87 percent of the population--were conservative
and unfamiliar with democratic processes. In 1926 the Socialist-Populist
coalition government was removed by a military coup. Antanas Smetona, a
former acting president, was elected to the presidency by a rump
parliament. Within three years, he established an authoritarian regime.
Political parties were outlawed and the press censored, but Smetona did
not completely suppress civil rights. Smetona established Tautininkai, a
nationalist political party, which reappeared in the parliament in 1991
after Lithuania regained independence from the Soviet Union.
From 1920 to 1940, independent Lithuania made great strides in nation
building and development. A progressive land reform program was
introduced in 1922, a cooperative movement was organized, and a strong
currency and conservative fiscal management were maintained. Schools and
universities were established (there had been no institutions of higher
education and very few secondary schools under Russian rule), and
illiteracy was substantially reduced. Artists and writers of the period
produced works that have become classics.
Lithuania - The Soviet Republic
On August 23, 1939, Joseph V. Stalin and Adolf Hitler concluded the
notorious Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (also known as the
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). The agreement had a secret protocol that
divided Poland, much of Central Europe, and the Baltic states between
Germany and the Soviet Union. Lithuania, at first assigned to the German
sphere of influence, in September was transferred to the Soviet Union.
In October 1939, the Soviet Union forced on Lithuania a nonaggression
pact that allowed Moscow to garrison 20,000 troops in the country. In
return, the city of Vilnius, now occupied by Soviet troops, was granted
to Lithuania. On June 15, 1940, Lithuania was overrun by the Red Army.
At first a procommunist, so-called people's government was installed,
and elections to a new parliament were organized. The elections were
noncompetitive; a single approved list of candidates was presented to
the voters. The parliament met on July 21, declared Soviet rule, and
"joined" the Soviet Union as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist
Republic on August 6, 1940. The United States and many other countries
refused to recognize the Soviet occupation.
Soviet rule brought about radical political and economic changes and
Stalinist terror, which culminated in deportations to Siberia of more
than 30,000 people on the night of June 14-15, 1941. Germany interrupted
the Stalinist terror by attacking the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The
next day, the Lithuanian Activist Front, an organization of anti-Soviet
resistance groups, revolted against the Soviet occupiers. Partisans took
over the largest cities--Kaunas and Vilnius--and declared restoration of
Lithuanian independence. The Germans replaced the provisional government
with a Lithuanian Vertrauensrat (Council of Trustees), which was headed
by an ethnic Lithuanian, General Petras Kubiliunas, and was given some
autonomy in local affairs.
The Lithuanian leadership went underground. An anti-Nazi resistance
movement developed, publishing underground newspapers, organizing
economic boycotts, and gathering arms. The resistance hoped that after
victory the Western allies would insist on the restoration of Lithuanian
A Soviet-sponsored underground also existed in Lithuania beginning in
1942. It staged military raids against German transportation,
administrative, and economic enterprises. The Soviet forces were aided
by the remnants of the Communist Party of Lithuania, now barely
surviving in the underground.
The nationalist Lithuanian resistance was supported by many
Lithuanian political parties and resistance groups, including the Social
Democrats and a coalition known as the Supreme Committee for the
Liberation of Lithuania, which continued its activities many years after
Lithuania was retaken by the Red Army. In 1943 this resistance
frustrated German efforts at organizing a Lithuanian Schutz-Staffel (SS)
legion. The Nazis responded by arresting Lithuanian nationalists and by
closing universities. Moreover, occupation authorities succeeded, in the
period 1941-44, in recruiting or capturing tens of thousands of people
to work in Germany or to serve in the German military. Many perished in
prisons or concentration camps. The main victims, however, were members
of Lithuania's Jewish community. About 185,000 Jews, or 85 percent of
the community's population, were massacred by Nazi squads, which were
helped by Lithuanian collaborators in a number of localities.
Soviet armies recaptured Lithuania in the summer of 1944, although
Klaipeda did not fall until January 1945. Antanas Snieckus, the
Communist Party of Lithuania leader, returned from Moscow with the other
officials who had fled before the advancing German armies. Lithuania's
full Sovietization, however, was obstructed from 1944 to 1952 by an
armed partisan resistance movement, which cost an estimated 20,000 to
30,000 partisan casualties.
Soviet rule in Lithuania displayed well-known features of communist
rule. The party had a monopoly on power, and the management of the
economy was centralized. The regime collectivized agriculture from 1947
to 1951. Secret police terrorized the society and attempted to transfer
Lithuanian nation-alist loyalties to the communists. Deportations to
Siberia were resumed. Religion was brutally suppressed. One Roman
Catholic bishop was shot, one perished in prison, two died shortly after
release, and two were banished for more than thirty years, leaving only
one in office. Almost one-third of the clergy was deported, although
survivors were allowed to return after Stalin's death in 1953.
Eventually, the training of new priests was essentially stopped.
Institutions of power--the party, the secret police, and the
government--at first were mainly in Russian hands. In the postwar
period, ethnic Lithuanians constituted only 18.4 percent of the
republic's communist party members. Beginning in the 1950s, college
graduates and those who wanted to make careers in economic, cultural, or
political life realized that the Soviet system was not transitory, so
they joined the communist party. The party swelled to a membership of
205,000 by 1989, but most of these members were opportunists, very
different from the few revolutionary fanatics who had administered
Lithuania in the immediate postwar period. Still others joined the party
in the expectation that they would be of better use to the preservation
of Lithuanian traditions, language, and culture in the ranks of the
ruling group. There developed a stratum of communists who wanted to
promote not only Moscow's but also Lithuania's advantage.
Underground resistance never disappeared, although the armed
underground was destroyed. As a movement, resistance was first sparked
by efforts to defend the Roman Catholic Church. After the Soviet
invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which led to increased repression in
the Soviet Union, the dissident movement spread. In the 1970s, Lithuania
had numerous underground publications. The most significant and
regularly published among them was The Chronicle of the Catholic
Church of Lithuania . It was never uncovered by the Soviet secret
police, the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoy
bezopasnosti--KGB), and was published for twenty years. In 1972 a young
student, Romas Kalanta, immolated himself in protest against Soviet
rule. Army units had to be sent in to quell a street rebellion by
students that followed the self-immolation. The Committee for the
Defense of Religious Rights and the Helsinki Watch Committee were
established in the underground. Dissident work brought arrests and
imprisonment. At the same time, the Lithuanian intelligentsia,
especially writers and artists, demanded greater freedom of creative
expression and protection of the Lithuanian language, traditions, and
cultural values from the pressure to Russify that intensified during the
administration of Leonid I. Brezhnev (1964-82).
Lithuania - The Move Toward Independence, 1987-91
The situation did not change until Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power
in 1985. Even then, Lithuania's communist party leadership hesitated to
embrace Gorbachev's program of limited economic reforms under his policy
of perestroika (see Glossary). The death of Petras
Griskevicius, first secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania, in
1987 did little to improve the atmosphere for reform. The new first
secretary, Ringaudas Songaila, was a conservative functionary. But
encouraged by new winds from Moscow, Baltic dissidents began in 1987 to
hold public demonstrations in Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius. In 1988,
against the wishes of Songaila's regime, Lithuanian, engaged in
widespread celebration of the February 16 Independence Day. Lithuanian
intellectuals were pushed into taking more forceful action as well.
Meeting at the Academy of Sciences on June 3, 1988, communist and
noncommunist intellectuals formed "an initiative group" to
organize a movement to support Gorbachev's program of glasnost (see
Glossary), democratization, and perestroika . A council
composed equally of communist party members and nonparty members was
chosen to organize the Lithuanian Reconstruction Movement, which became
known subsequently simply as Sajudis (Movement). The Communist Party of
Lithuania leadership did not like this independent action but, knowing
Gorbachev's limited acceptance of "informal" societies, did
not interfere with the effort.
The movement supported Gorbachev's policies, but at the same time it
promoted Lithuanian national issues such as restoration of the
Lithuanian language as the "official" language. Its demands
included revelations of the truth about the Stalinist years, protection
of the environment, cessation of construction on a third nuclear reactor
at the Ignalina nuclear power plant, and disclosure of secret protocols
of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Sajudis used mass meetings to
advance its goals. At first, party leaders shunned these meetings, but
by mid-1988 their participation became a political necessity. Thus, a
Sajudis rally on June 24, 1988, was attended by Algirdas Brazauskas,
then party secretary for industrial affairs.
In October 1988, Brazauskas was appointed first secretary of the
party to replace Songaila, and Sajudis held its founding conference in
Vilnius. It subsequently elected as its chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, a
professor of musicology who was not a member of the communist party. In
the elections to Moscow's newly authorized Congress of People's Deputies
(see Glossary) in March-May 1989, Sajudis was victorious. From the
communist party, the voters elected only Brazauskas and Vladimiras
Beriozovas, his associate, whom Sajudis did not oppose. From that time,
Brazauskas cooperated fully with Sajudis. Lithuanian sovereignty--as
distinguished from Lithuanian independence, which had been declared on
February 16, 1918--was proclaimed in May 1989, and Lithuania's
incorporation into the Soviet Union was declared illegal. In August a
human chain from Tallinn to Vilnius commemorated the fiftieth
anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. In December
Brazauskas forced the Communist Party of Lithuania to secede from the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to give up its monopoly on
But even the separation of the Communist Party of Lithuania from
Moscow did not save it in the electoral contest for the Supreme Soviet
of the republic in March 1990. In the election, the Communist Party of
Lithuania won only twenty-three of the 141 seats. On March 11, the newly
elected parliament voted unanimously for independence. Brazauskas lost
the election for chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet to
Moscow did not accept the legality of the independence vote, however;
in April 1990, it imposed an economic blockade that lasted for three
months, until the Lithuanian legislature, now known as the Supreme
Council, agreed to a six-month moratorium on its independence
declaration. Later, Moscow obstructed Lithuanian efforts to gain Western
recognition, and on January 13, 1991, attempted to use force to remove
the Lithuanian government in Vilnius and to reestablish Soviet rule.
Although this attempted coup ended in a massacre of civilians--thirteen
died, and hundreds were wounded--by the Soviet army, Lithuania's
determination did not change. Finally, the failure of the August 1991
coup in Moscow permitted Lithuania to regain self-determination and
prompted the international community to recognize it as an independent
state. The United States extended recognition on September 2, and the
Soviet Union did so on September 6. Lithuania was admitted to the United
Nations on September 16, 1991.
Lithuania - Geography
Lithuania is situated on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea.
Lithuania's boundaries have changed several times since 1918, but they
have been stable since 1945. Currently, Lithuania covers an area of
about 65,200 square kilometers. About the size of West Virginia, it is
larger than Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, or Switzerland.
Lithuania's northern neighbor is Latvia. The two countries share a
border that extends 453 kilometers. Lithuania's eastern border with
Belarus is longer, stretching 502 kilometers. The border with Poland on
the south is relatively short, only ninety-one kilometers, but is very
busy because of international traffic. Lithuania also has a
227-kilometer border with Russia. Russian territory adjacent to
Lithuania is Kaliningrad Oblast, which is the northern part of the
former German East Prussia, including the city of Kaliningrad. Finally,
Lithuania has 108 kilometers of Baltic seashore with an ice-free harbor
at Klaipeda. The Baltic coast offers sandy beaches and pine forests and
attracts thousands of vacationers.
Drainage, and Climate
Lithuania - Topography, Drainage, and Climate
Lithuania lies at the edge of the East European Plain. Its landscape
was shaped by the glaciers of the last Ice Age. Lithuania's terrain is
an alternation of moderate lowlands and highlands.The highest elevation
is 297 meters above sea level, found in the eastern part of the republic
and separated from the uplands of the western region of Zemaiciai by the
very fertile plains of the southwestern and central regions. The
landscape is punctuated by 2,833 lakes larger than one hectare and an
additional 1,600 ponds smaller than one hectare. The majority of the
lakes are found in the eastern part of the country. Lithuania also has
758 rivers longer than ten kilometers. The largest river is the Nemunas
(total length 917 kilometers), which originates in Belarus. The other
larger waterways are the Neris (510 kilometers), Venta (346 kilometers),
and Sesupe (298 kilometers) rivers. However, only 600 kilometers of
Lithuania's rivers are navigable.
The country's climate, which ranges between maritime and continental,
is relatively mild. Average temperatures on the coast are 1.6°C in
January and 17.8°C in July. In Vilnius the average temperatures are 2.1°C
in January and 18.1°C in July. Average annual precipitation is 717
millimeters on the coast and 490 millimeters in the eastern part of the
country. The growing season lasts 202 days in the western part of the
country and 169 days in the eastern part.
Once a heavily forested land, Lithuania's territory today consists of
only 28 percent woodlands--mainly pine, spruce, and birch forests. Ash
and oak are very scarce. The forests are rich in mushrooms and berries.
Lithuania - The Environment
Concerned with environmental deterioration, Lithuanian governments
have created several national parks and reservations. The country's
flora and fauna have suffered, however, from an almost fanatical
drainage of land for agricultural use. Environmental problems of a
different nature were created by the development of environmentally
unsafe industries, including the Ignalina nuclear power plant, which
still operates two reactors similar to those at Chornobyl' (Chernobyl'
in Russian), and the chemical and other industries that pollute the air
and empty wastes into rivers and lakes. According to calculations by
experts, about one-third of Lithuanian territory is covered by polluted
air at any given time. Problems exist mainly in the cities, such as
Vilnius, Kaunas, Jonava, Mazeikiai, Elektrenai, and Naujoji Akmene--the
sites of fertilizer and other chemical plants, an oil refinery, power
station, and a cement factory. Water quality also is poor. The city of
Kaunas, with a population of more than 400,000, still has no water
purification plant. Only one-quarter of sewage-contaminated water in the
republic is processed because cleaning facilities are not yet available.
River and lake pollution also is a legacy of Soviet carelessness with
the environment. The Kursiu Marios (Courland Lagoon), for example,
separated from the Baltic Sea by a strip of high dunes and pine forests,
is about 85 percent contaminated. Beaches in the Baltic resorts, such as
the well-known vacation area of Palanga, are frequently closed for
swimming because of contamination. Forests affected by acid rain are
found in the vicinity of Jonava, Mazeikiai, and Elektrenai, which are
the chemical, oil, and power-generation centers.
As a Soviet republic, Lithuania was among the first to introduce
environmental regulations. However, because of Moscow's emphasis on
increasing production and because of numerous local violations,
technological backwardness, and political apathy, serious environmental
problems now exist.
Lithuania - Natural Resources
Lithuania's landscape is pleasing to the eye but modest in natural
resources. The republic has an abundance of limestone, clay, quartz
sand, gypsum sand, and dolomite, which are suitable for making
high-quality cement, glass, and ceramics. There also is an ample supply
of mineral water, but energy sources and industrial materials are all in
short supply. Oil was discovered in Lithuania in the 1950s, but only a
few wells operate, and all that do are located in the western part of
the country. It is estimated that the Baltic Sea shelf and the western
region of Lithuania hold commercially viable amounts of oil, but when
exploited this oil will satisfy only about 20 percent of Lithuania's
annual need for petroleum products for the next twenty years. Lithuania
has a large amount of thermal energy along the Baltic Sea coast,
however, which could be used to heat hundreds of thousands of homes, as
is done in Iceland. In addition, iron ore deposits have been found in
the southern region of Lithuania. But commercial exploitation of these
deposits probably would require strip mining, which is environmentally
unsound. Moreover, exploitation of these resources will depend on
Lithuania's ability to attract capital and technology from abroad.
Lithuania - Society
In 1995 Lithuania had an estimated population of 3,717,000, which was
44,000 fewer people than in 1992. Of the total, females were in the
majority, as in most Central European countries and in Russia. The
population group that has increased most quickly in Lithuania, as in
many other relatively developed countries, consists of senior citizens
and pensioners (those over age sixty) (see fig. 12). For example,
pensioners grew in number from 546,000 to 906,000 between 1970 and 1991.
This group grew from 17.3 percent of the population in 1980 to 19.5
percent in 1992. The zero-to-fifteen-year-old age-group, by comparison,
diminished slightly from 25.2 percent in 1980 to 23.9 in 1992, not as a
result of increased mortality but as a result of a continuing decline in
the birth rate. The group of working-age people (aged sixteen to
fifty-nine for men and fifteen to fifty-four for women) also decreased,
from 57.5 percent to 56.6 percent. The birth rate decreased from 17.6
per 1,000 population in 1970 to 12.5 per 1,000 population in 1993 and
12.0 per 1,000 population in 1994. Mortality increased from 10.5 per
1,000 population in 1980 to 10.9 in 1991 and 12.8 in 1994. Life
expectancy in 1993 was 63.3 years for males and 75.0 years for females,
or an average of 69.1 years. This, too, was on the decline from the peak
years of 1986-87, when the average was 72.5 years (67.9 years for males
and 76.6 years for females). The decrease coincides with the worsening
economic situation and the decline in the quality of health services
during the postindependence economic transition.
The average Lithuanian family is still somewhat larger than families
in the neighboring Baltic states, but it has been declining. The average
family size shrank to 3.2 by 1989. People marry young, but their
marriages are often quickly dissolved. The divorce rate has been
increasing. In 1989, of 9.3 marriages per 1,000 population, there were
3.3 divorces. The highest divorce rate is among ethnic Russians and in
ethnically mixed families. These statistics indicate the existence of
social problems with which society has been ill equipped to deal.
Churches are not allowed to intervene to address these problems, and the
profession of social work is still virtually nonexistent. The
postcommunist government must face the formidable task of developing a
social work sector.
Under Soviet rule, especially in the last decade, one-half or more of
the annual population increase resulted from immigration, primarily from
Russia. But this situation has changed. More people emigrate to former
Soviet republics than arrive from them, and more people leave for the
West than come from there. In 1990 Lithuania's net migration loss to
former Soviet republics was 6,345. Loss to the West includes Jewish
emigration. Gains from the West include returning Americans and
Canadians of Lithuanian descent.
Soviet industrialization brought about fast and sustained urban
development. Annually, almost 1 percent of the rural population has
moved to cities since the early 1950s. In 1939 only 23 percent of the
population lived in cities; in 1992 the urban percentage was 69.
Lithuania has five cities with a population of more than 100,000. The
largest is the capital, Vilnius, established in 1321 (1994 population
584,000); Kaunas, the capital between the two world wars, founded in
1361 (1994 population 424,000); the port city of Klaipeda, established
in 1252 (1994 population 205,000); the center of the electronics
industry, Siauliai, founded in 1236 (1994 population 147,000); and the
city of chemical and automobile parts industries, Panevezys, founded in
1548 (1994 population 132,000).
In 1994, according to official estimates, 81.1 percent of Lithuania's
population consisted of ethnic Lithuanians. The remaining 18.9 percent
was divided among Russians (8.5 percent), Poles (7.0 percent),
Belarusians (1.5 percent), Ukrainians (1.0 percent), and others,
including Jews, Latvians, Tatars, Gypsies, Germans, and Estonians (0.9
percent). Altogether, people of more than 100 nationalities live in
The proportion of the ethnic Lithuanian population--more than 90
percent of whom speak Lithuanian--stayed at 80 percent or a fraction
higher until 1989, when it dropped slightly below 80 percent. The
decrease resulted in fears that a pattern of decline would develop as a
result of increasing Russian immigration, which might endanger the
survival of Lithuania's culture and national identity as it did in
Estonia and Latvia.
The Russian minority consists of old and new immigrants. Many
Russians settled in Lithuania in the nineteenth century or in the early
twentieth century, shortly after the Bolsheviks came to power in Moscow.
Two-thirds of the Russian minority, however, are immigrants--or their
descendants--of the Soviet era, many of whom regard Lithuania as their
homeland. They usually live in larger cities. In Vilnius 20.2 percent of
the population was Russian in 1989. The same year, in Klaipeda, 28.2
percent of the inhabitants were Russians; in Siauliai, 10.5 percent.
Ignalina, where the nuclear power plant is located, had a Russian
majority of 64.2 percent. Less than 10 percent of the population in
Kaunas and the resort towns of Druskininkai, Palanga, or Neringa was
Russian, however. These percentages most likely will decline slightly in
the 1990s because some Russians, finding it difficult to accept that
they live in a "foreign" country, are leaving Lithuania. The
majority of Russians, however, have shown little inclination to leave;
88 percent of those polled in the fall of 1993 described relations
between their group and the ethnic Lithuanian population as good, and
more than 60 percent felt that economic conditions for people like
themselves would be worse in Russia than in Lithuania.
Poles live primarily in the city of Vilnius (18.8 percent of
Vilnius's population in 1989) and in three adjacent rural districts. In
1989 the ethnic Polish population in the Salcininkai district
constituted 79.6 percent; in the rural district of Vilnius, it was 63.5
percent; and in the district of Trakai, it was 23.8 percent. Small
Polish groups also live in a number of other localities. Since the late
1940s, the Polish presence in Lithuania has declined considerably. About
200,000 Poles left Lithuania for Poland in 1946, under an agreement
signed between Warsaw and Vilnius. Afterward, the Polish percentage of
Lithuania's population declined from 8.5 percent in 1959 to 7.0 percent
in 1989, primarily as a result of the influx of Russians. The Polish
population of eastern Lithuania is composed of inhabitants whose
families settled there centuries ago, of immigrants who came from Poland
in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the region was part
of Poland, and of many assimilated Lithuanians and Belarusians.
Jews began settling in Lithuania in the fourteenth century. In time,
Vilnius and some other cities became centers of Jewish learning, and
Vilnius was internationally known as the Jerusalem of the North. Between
the two world wars, Jews developed an active educational and cultural
life. The Jewish community, which did not experience large-scale
persecution until World War II, was almost entirely liquidated during
the Nazi occupation. In 1989 only 12,400 Jews were left in Lithuania,
and emigration after independence had cut their number to an estimated
6,500 by 1994.
For centuries, Vilnius has been an ethnically diverse city.
Historically, the city has served as a cultural center for Lithuanians,
Poles, Jews, and Belorussians. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries, it also was a center of Ukrainian religious and cultural
life. At the turn of the century, the largest minority ethnic group was
Jewish. After World War II, the largest minority ethnic group was
Polish. The population of Vilnius in 1989 was 50.5 percent Lithuanian,
20.2 percent Russian, 18.8 percent Polish, and 5.3 percent Belorussian.
For more recent population estimates, see <"http://worldfacts.us/Lithuania..html">Updated population figures for Lithuania.
<>Language and Culture
Lithuania - Health and Welfare
The Lithuanian constitution of 1992 provides guarantees of social
rights that were earlier provided by the Soviet regime. The constitution
puts special emphasis on the maintenance and care of the family. It
expresses in detail, for example, the guarantee for working mothers to
receive paid leave before and after childbirth (Article 39). The
constitution provides for free public education in all state schools,
including schools of higher education (Article 41). The constitution
forbids forced labor (Article 48); legalizes labor unions and the right
to strike (Articles 50 and 51); guarantees annual paid vacations
(Article 49); and guarantees old-age and disability pensions,
unemployment and sick leave compensation, and support for widows and
families that have lost their head of household, as well as for others
in situations as defined by law (Article 52). Finally, the constitution
guarantees free medical care (Article 53).
All political groups support these guarantees--considered more or
less inviolable--although it is not clear to what extent the government
will be able to fund the promised services during the continuing
economic transition. The amounts of support and the quality of services
have declined from the modest, but always predictable, level first
established in the Soviet period.
The national system of social security consists of programs of social
insurance and social benefits designed to continue the benefits provided
by the Soviet system. Social insurance includes old-age retirement;
survivor and disability pensions; unemployment compensation; pregnancy,
childbirth, and child supplements; certain welfare support; and free
medical care. It is cradle-to-grave insurance. According to a 1990 law,
payments cannot be lower than necessary for a "minimal" living
standard. In 1990 old-age and disability pensions in Lithuania were
slightly more generous than in Estonia and Latvia. The budget for the
program is separate from the national and local budgets. Only military
pensions and some other special pensions are paid from the national
Social insurance is financed, according to a law passed in 1991, from
required payments by workers and employers, from income generated by the
management of state social insurance activities, and from budgetary
supplements by the state if the program threatens to run a deficit. To
be eligible for an old-age pension, a male worker must be at least sixty
years of age and have at least a twenty-five-year record of employment.
A woman must be fifty-five and have a record of twenty years of
employment. This category of recipients includes not only factory and
government workers but also farmers and farm workers.
A program of social benefits is financed by local governments. It
includes support payments for women during pregnancy and childbirth and
for expenses after the child's birth. The program features single
payments for each newly born child, as well as child support for single
parents or families. These latter payments continue up to age limits
established by law. The state also maintains a number of orphanages,
sanatoriums, and old-age homes.
In the medical field, Lithuania has sufficient facilities to fulfill
the guarantee of free medical care. In 1990 the country had more than
14,700 physicians and 2,300 dentists; its ratio of forty-six physicians
and dentists combined per 10,000 inhabitants compared favorably with
that of most advanced countries. In addition, in 1990 Lithuania had more
than 47,000 paramedical personnel, or 127 per 10,000 population and
46,200 hospital beds, or 124 beds per 10,000 population. In the medical
profession, Lithuania's cardiologists are among the most advanced in the
former Soviet Union. In 1987 the first heart transplant operation was
performed at the cardiac surgery clinic of Vilnius University. Hundreds
of kidney transplants have been performed as well. One reasonably
reliable and generally used indicator of the quality of a country's
health services system is infant mortality. In 1990 Lithuania's infant
mortality rate of 10.3 per 1,000 population was among the lowest of the
Soviet republics but higher than that of many West European countries.
Special features of Lithuania's health status are high alcoholism
(191 cases per 100,000 persons), low drug abuse (3.1 cases per 100,000),
and few cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Reported
cases of HIV in 1992 were under 100. The main causes of death are
cardiovascular diseases, cancer, accidents, and respiratory diseases. In
addition to alcoholism, important risk factors for disease are smoking,
a diet high in saturated fat, hypertension, and environmental pollution.
Notwithstanding efficient ambulance service and emergency care,
medical services and facilities in Lithuania suffer from a lack of
equipment, supplies, and drugs, as well as from inertia in the operation
and administration of health services. The system is mainly state owned
and state run. Private medical practice, begun only in the late 1980s,
has not progressed appreciably because of the economic crisis. Since
1989 the government has encouraged church groups and others to enter the
field of welfare services and medicine. The best-known such group is the
Roman Catholic charitable organization Caritas.
Health care expenditures increased from 3.3 percent of the gross
national product (GNP--see Glossary) in 1960 to 4.9 percent of GNP in
1990, but this figure is still low by world standards. Lithuania is
unable to afford investments to improve its health care infrastructure
at this time. Lithuania needs humanitarian assistance from the world
community in importing the most critically needed drugs and vaccines.
Disease prevention needs to be emphasized, especially with regard to
prenatal, pediatric, and dental care. To reduce the occurrence of
prevalent risk factors, the government needs to make fundamental
improvements in public education and health programs.
Lithuania's standard of living in the early 1990s was slightly below
Estonia's and Latvia's but higher than in the rest of the former Soviet
Union. At the end of 1992, the standard of living had declined
substantially, however. Energy shortages caused severe limitations in
heating apartments and providing hot water and electricity. Before the
post-Soviet economic transition, Lithuanians had abundant food supplies
and consumed 3,400 calories a day per capita, compared with 2,805
calories for Finns and 3,454 calories for Swedes. But an average
Lithuanian had only 19.1 square meters of apartment living space (less
in the cities, more in rural areas), which was much less than the 30.5
square meters Finns had in the late 1980s. Housing, moreover, had fewer
amenities than in the Scandinavian countries; 75 percent of Lithuanian
urban housing had running water in 1989, 62 percent had hot water, 74
percent had central heating, 70 percent had flush toilets, and 64
percent had bathing facilities. Formerly low utility rates skyrocketed
in the 1990s. Rents also increased, although by the end of 1992 almost
90 percent of all state-owned housing (there was some privately owned
housing under Soviet rule) had been privatized--bought from the state,
mostly by those who lived there. In 1989 families were well equipped
with radios and televisions (109 and 107 sets, respectively, per 100
families). Most had refrigerators (ninety-one per 100 families), and
many had washing machines (seventy), bicycles (eighty-four), vacuum
cleaners (sixty), sewing machines (forty-eight), and tape re-corders
(forty-four). Every third family had a private automobile (thirty-six
automobiles per 100 families). Detracting from the quality of life,
however, was the increasing rate of violent crime, especially in the
larger cities (see Crime and Law En-forcement, this ch.).
Lithuania - Religion
Traditionally, Lithuania has been a Roman Catholic country. Although
severely affected by Soviet repression, the Roman Catholic Church
remains the dominant and the most influential denomination. However,
Lithuania in the past has had two small but active Protestant
denominations, the Evangelical Reformed (Calvinist) and the Evangelical
Lutheran. In addition, Orthodox Christianity as well as Judaism have
roots at least as old as those of Roman Catholicism. In 1991 a Western
poll found that 69 percent of respondents in Lithuania identified
themselves as Roman Catholics (in 1939 the percentage was 85), 4 percent
identified themselves as Orthodox, and 1 percent professed Evangelical
Christian beliefs. New in this self-identification was a large
category--25 percent--who did not profess any religion. Lithuanian
journalists have also noted that twenty-one out of the 141 new members
of parliament elected in 1992 left out "so help me God" from
the oath when sworn in as deputies.
In 1992 Lithuania's Roman Catholic Church consisted of two
archdioceses (Vilnius and Kaunas) and four dioceses (Kaisiadorys,
Panevezys, Vilkaviskis, and Telsiai). The church is presided over by
Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevicius in Kaunas. For thirty years,
Sladkevicius, then a bishop, was held by Soviet authorities in internal
exile. The church has 688 parishes, two theological seminaries (one
reestablished in 1990), and several con-vents and monasteries. There is
also one Uniate, or Eastern-Rite Catholic, congregation.
The archeparchy (archdiocese) of the Russian Orthodox Church has
forty-five parishes and two monasteries. Archbishop Chrisostom and his
archeparchy are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow. The
Old Believers (see Glossary) have fifty-one congregations. The
Lithuanian Evangelical Lutheran Church under Bishop Jonas Kalvanas has
thirty-three congregations, and the Evangelical Reformed Church
(Calvinist) has eight. Other Christian denominations include Baptists,
Seventh-Day Adventists, and Pentecostals. The non-Christian religious
groups include Jews (two communities), Muslims (four communities),
Krishna followers (two communities), and one Karaite (see Glossary)
Traditionally, most Roman Catholics in Lithuania were either
Lithuanians or Poles, and the Orthodox and Old Believer adherents were
predominantly Russians. This division has not changed, although
currently it is no longer possible to assume religious affiliation on
the basis of ethnic identity. The Calvinist and Evangelical Lutheran
groups are very small--an estimated 15,000 Calvinists and 35,000
Lutherans. The younger Protestant denominations are even smaller but are
intensely active. Generally, Lithuanian society in the 1990s is
secularized, although, as in many postcommunist countries, younger
people are searching for some sort of spiritual fulfillment.
The Roman Catholic Church is the oldest continuously surviving
Lithuanian institution. As such, it has played a dominant role in the
development of Lithuanian society, especially crucial during those long
stretches of time when Lithuanians had no state of their own. At first
highly influenced by the Polish community, the church under Bishop
Motiejus Valancius in the nineteenth century promoted Lithuanian
language and publications, which prepared the country for the national
awakening of the 1880s. Because Russian imperial authorities had
forbidden the publication of Lithuanian books in the Latin alphabet,
Valancius had them printed in German-ruled, Protestant East Prussia and
then smuggled into Lithuania. The bishop also organized a network of
secret Lithuanian schools. In 1918 the church supported the
establishment of Lithuania as an independent and democratic republic.
Years later, it endorsed land reform, and in the 1930s the bishops
opposed and restrained Smetona's authoritarian rule. Under Soviet rule,
the church served as a focal point of resistance and dissident
activities. Its theological outlook, however, has been conservative.
Protestants also have contributed significantly to Lithuania's
cultural development. The first book printed in Lithuanian was a
Lutheran catechism, published by Martynas Mazvydas in East Prussia in
1547. Protestant Lithuanians from this region published the literature
of national awakening. Later, Protestants--both Lutheran and
Calvinist--supplied political leadership out of proportion to their
numbers in the population.
In Lithuania between the two world wars, the Roman Catholic Church
and other denominations had a constitutionally guaranteed monopoly over
registration of marriages, births, and deaths. Religious education in
public schools was compulsory. Although there was no established
religion, all denominations received some state support in rough
proportion to their size. The Soviet authorities totally separated
churches not only from the state but also from individual support. On
June 12, 1990, Lithuania's newly elected independent parliament adopted
an act of restitution of the Roman Catholic Church's condition status
quo ante but promised compensation for the losses suffered under Soviet
rule and pledged cooperation on a parity basis. The constitution of 1992
guarantees "freedom of thought, religion, and conscience" to
all and "recognizes traditional churches and religious
organizations of Lithuania." Other religious organizations have to
pass a test to ensure that their teachings do not "contradict the
law and morality." All recognized churches are guaranteed the
rights of legal persons and can govern themselves without state
interference. Religious teaching in public schools is allowed if parents
desire it. Religious marriage registration also is legally valid, as in
the United States. The government maintains an office of counselor on
Lithuania - Language and Culture
Like Latvian and Old Prussian, the Lithuanian language belongs to the
Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family. The size of the
territory in which Lithuanian was spoken shrank considerably through the
ages. Today it is roughly coterminous with the boundaries of Lithuania
except for some areas of Lithuanian speakers in Poland and Belarus, and
except for the diaspora living in the United States, Canada, Western
Europe, Latin America, Australia, and even Siberia.
The medieval Lithuanian rulers did not develop a written form of the
Lithuanian language. The literary Lithuanian language, based on a
southwestern Lithuanian dialect, came into use during the last quarter
of the nineteenth century, replacing the use of the Samogitian, or
western Lithuanian, dialect. At the beginning of the twentieth century,
the use of Lithuanian was confined mainly to the peasantry, but the
language was revived subsequently. In 1988 it was declared the official
language of Lithuania, as it had been during 1918-40 and the early years
of Soviet rule.
Unlike Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania's cultural development was
affected by Poland rather than Germany. The imperial Russian regime had
an enormous impact on Lithuania from 1795 to 1915, and the Soviet Union
had similar influence from 1940 to 1991. Direct contacts with western
Europe also made significant contributions beginning in the sixteenth
century. Lithuanian nobility in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries
and Lithuanian intellectuals since the turn of the twentieth century
brought back ideas and experiences from Italy, Germany, and France.
Also, between the two world wars independent Lithuania's direct
communication with western Europe affected the development of
educational and religious institutions, the arts and literature,
architecture, and social thought. Lithuania's historical heritage and
the imprint of the Western outlook acquired in the twentieth century
were strong enough to make Soviet citizens feel that by going to
Lithuania they were going abroad, to the West.
Lithuanian folk art, especially woodcarving and weaving, contributed
to the growth of Lithuanian artistic development. Traditionally,
Lithuanian folk artists carved mostly crosses, wayside chapels, and
figures of a sorrowful Christ--very symbolic and characteristic of
Lithuanian crossroads. Under Soviet rule, which outlawed religious
subjects, woodcarvings became sec-ular. Today, Lithuania's roads and
gardens are dotted with wooden crosses, poles, and other carvings.
Among Lithuanian artists, probably the best known is Mikalojus
Ciurlionis (1875-1911), an originator of abstract painting and a
composer whose music became the main subject of study by Professor
Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania's de facto president 1990-92 and a
leader of the independence movement. During the Soviet period,
Lithuanian art was best known for graphic arts and for stained glass
windows, but the most prominent art forms included abstract painting,
sculpture, commercial art, and amber jewelry.
Lithuanian music is as ancient as its art. Folk music has had great
influence on its development, and choral singing--periodically
demonstrated in huge singing festivals--remains extremely popular.
Lithuanian composers write not only choral but also symphonic, ballet,
chamber, and opera music. A conservatory, established in 1933, has
contributed much to the development of musical culture. In addition to
the conservatory, Lithuania supports four higher music schools, three
art schools, two pedagogical music schools, eighty music schools for
children, five symphony orchestras, ensembles for medieval and
contemporary music, and an internationally known string quartet. Many
instrumentalists and soloists are winners of international prizes. Folk
music ensembles also abound.
Opera and ballet are important elements of Lithuania's national
culture. Dancers are trained at the Vilnius School of Choreography and
the Kaunas School of Music, as well as in Russia.
All of these activities were state supported under the Soviet system.
Membership in artistic associations usually assured work in the
profession. All of this now has to be reorganized on a private basis,
and both the state and the artists are struggling to find satisfactory
working arrangements. Many supporters of the arts believe that art
should be state-supported but not state controlled.
The movie industry was established in the late 1940s. Lithuanian
filmmakers released four full-length films in 1989 and five in 1990;
they also released twenty-eight short films, twenty-four newsreels, and
four documentaries. Artistic photography has roots that are older than
the Soviet regime in Lithuania.
Sports are also a prevalent national pastime. Lithuania's most
popular game is basketball, and a few Lithuanians play professionally in
the United States and in European countries. Lithuania's individual
athletes have won Olympic medals and routinely compete in European
Lithuania - Education
The population of Lithuania is highly educated. Virtually all those
in the age-group fifteen to thirty-nine have completed basic schooling.
The average level of education, however, gradually drops for those older
than forty. Large numbers of students attend special schools and schools
of higher education. In 1993 Lithuania had 67.3 students per 1,000
population in universities and other institutions of higher education,
and 46.4 in vocational schools. These numbers compared with 25.9 and
49.0, respectively, for Estonian and Latvian university students and
18.6 and 36.1 for vocational school students. Lithuania had 106
university graduates per 1,000 population. Enrollment rates compared
favorably with those in Western Europe. Lithuania had a literacy rate of
99 percent in 1994.
Schools using Lithuanian as the language of instruction are a product
of the twentieth century. The system of education--primary, secondary,
and higher--was developed between the two world wars. Soviet officials
further expanded it, added adult education, and severely ideologized and
politicized the philosophy of education and the teaching process.
Independent Lithuania has replaced a "Soviet school" with a
"national school" philosophy, although the system still
maintains some Soviet organizational features. Primary and secondary
education together last twelve years. Three types of schools exist:
schools that include grades one to four, those that include grades one
to nine, and those that include grades one to twelve. Schooling begins
at age six. Since 1978 secondary education has been compulsory. In
1993-94 there were 2,317 primary and secondary schools, 108 secondary
specialized institu-tions, and fifteen higher education institutions in
the country. Separate schools exist with Russian or Polish as the
language of instruction.
Lithuania's "flagship" institution of higher learning is
Vilnius University. Others include Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas,
founded by the Lithuanian diaspora of the United States and based on the
American model, and the new university in Klaipeda. Unlike the Soviet
universities, Lithuanian universities are self-governing and have their
autonomy guaranteed by law. The entire system of education is
administered by the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Following Soviet practice, research and teaching functions in
Lithuania are institutionally separated. Research is mainly conducted by
the seventeen institutes of the Academy of Sciences. Altogether, in 1990
forty-six research institutes em-ployed 15,400 scientists. Research is
relatively weak in the humanities and the social sciences. Probably the
most internationally distinguished activity in these fields is the study
of Baltic linguistics under the aegis of the center for such studies in
Vilnius. Studies in probability theory by the faculty of Vilnius
University are internationally known, and important advances have been
made in semiconductor physics and chemistry, biochemistry and genetics,
studies related to various aspects of environmental protection, and
other fields of the natural sciences and technology. Distinguished
advanced research has been carried out in the fields of medicine
(especially in cardiovascular disease) and agriculture. Internationally,
the best recognized Lithuanian contribution is in biotechnology.
Lithuania - Economy
In the early and mid-1990s, Lithuania's economy went through a
dynamic transition from the centralized economy prevalent during Soviet
control of Lithuania to a market-driven economy dominated by private
enterprise and oriented toward trade with Western Europe and North
America. This transition began in 1991, and the volatile first
stage--structural adjustment--was largely complete as of 1994. During
this period, the economy declined precipitously while the Lithuanian
government implemented fundamental economic reforms, including price
reform, privatization, government reform, introduction of the litas
(pl., litai) as the national currency (for value of the litas--see
Glossary), and trade adjustment. Dependence on Russian energy hampered
Lithuania's economy at a crucial time of transformation from the
centralized state-run economy to a free-market system. Industrial
production in Lithuania dropped by 36 percent from December 1992 through
Despite these grim statistics, Prime Minister Adolfas Slezevicius was
determined to adhere strictly to International Monetary Fund (IMF--see
Glossary) recommendations for a speedy transition to a market economy.
Slezevicius maintained that former socialist countries that did not
rapidly reform fared far worse than those that did. The IMF noted that
substantial progress had been achieved in Lithuania between 1992 and
1994 and that, after successfully reducing inflation, the country was
ready to turn its attention to reforming its tax, privatization, social
security, and finance policies.
Economic recovery began at minimal levels in mid-1993 and continued
subsequently as a result of an increase in foreign assistance, loans and
investment, trade, and private-sector employment. Most foreign
investment came from the United States, Russia, Germany, Britain,
Austria, and Poland.
<>Structure of the
Lithuania - Economic Reforms
During the early 1990s, the government launched a comprehensive
program of market-oriented reforms, which included the privatization of
state-owned enterprises, the lifting of price controls, land reform, and
reform of the banking sector. Also, a new national currency, the litas,
was introduced in June 1993.
Privatization occurred at a rapid rate in the 1992-94 period
(especially with respect to farmland, housing, and small enterprises),
and about half of the large and medium-size enterprises scheduled for
privatization were sold through public share offerings. The Law on
Initial Privatization of State Property of the Republic of Lithuania,
passed in early 1991 and amended several times in 1993 (primarily with
regard to land reform and restitution), served as the principal basis
for undertaking privatization. To start the process, the law authorized
the issuance of investment vouchers to residents of Lithuania, to be
used for the purchase of housing or other property. Most housing
property eligible for privatization had been privatized by the end of
1993. Large enterprises also were to be privatized, with priority given
to purchases of shares by employees of those enterprises. The number of
shares that employees had the right to purchase in companies being
privatized was increased in 1993 from 30 percent of total shares to 50
percent. By November 1994, more than 5,000 enterprises, or 80 percent of
the assets earmarked for privatization, had been sold off.
Lithuania sought to regulate privatization of agriculture and to
liquidate collective farms. The 1991 privatization law initiated
agricultural land reform based on the proposition that nationalized land
must be returned while unclaimed land could be sold to prospective
private farms on long-term installment plans. Agricultural privatization
proceeded rapidly; by the middle of 1993, some 83 percent of the
agricultural privatization program had been completed.
Corruption and violence occasionally marred the privatization
process. There were difficulties with auction sales of enterprises
because speculators and organized crime conspired in bidding, bribed
officials, or scared away competition with physical threats.
Nevertheless, by the middle of 1994 the government had privatized state
property worth a total of 489 million litai (35 million litai in cash
and 454 million litai in vouchers and other forms of compensation),
allocating the cash received to national and local privatization funds.
The greatest difficulties in implementing Lithuania's privatization
program were experienced in agriculture because rapid privatization
caused fear and confusion in that sector. The laws provided for the
dismemberment of collective farms but did not definitively ensure their
replacement by at least equally productive private farms or
corporations. The many small private farms that appeared on the
landscape were inefficient. Conflicts frequently arose over title to
land. Many new owners did not intend to cultivate the regained land or
to actively engage in farming, and as a result tens of thousands of
hectares were left fallow. Collective farm managers and their friends
stole or cheaply acquired tractors, cattle, and other property.
Inflation resulted from the lifting of price controls and from the
shortages that resulted from trade disruption around the time of the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Inflation, which was 225 percent in 1991,
increased to 1,100 percent in 1992, fell to 409 percent in 1993, and
dropped further to about 45 percent in 1994. Wages remained stable in
1991 but declined 30 percent in real terms in 1992. Prices increased
several times more than wage and pension raises.
Prime Minister Slezevicius coped with the high rate of inflation by
avoiding the temptation to promise compensation to pensioners and others
whose savings were wiped out by inflation. He also avoided giving in to
demands for increased subsidies and support for utilities and public
transportation, which traditionally had been provided by the central
government. The opposition, led by former Prime Minister Gediminas
Vagnorius, was pressing for compensation to savers and investors, but
the public voted not to support the measure in an August 1994
referendum. By adhering to Lithuania's structural adjustment program,
which had been worked out in cooperation with the IMF, Slezevicius
demonstrated his confidence in the reform process.
Monetary and Fiscal Policy
The litas was introduced as the new national currency on June 25,
1993. It became the sole legal tender in August 1993. The litas has been
stable since then, maintaining a value of 4.0 litai = US$1 since its
Lithuania has made progress in reducing government expenditures to
match government revenues. In March 1990, Lithuania began the difficult
process of eliminating subsidies, introducing new taxes, and
administering a new tax collection system. Personal income taxes,
corporate profit taxes, and a value-added tax (VAT--see Glossary) were
introduced. The personal income tax rate ranges from 18 to 33 percent.
The corporate profit tax rate is 29 percent, with a discounted rate of
24 percent on retained earnings and 10 percent on the earnings of
agricultural enterprises. The VAT is 18 percent, and there are excise
taxes on alcohol, tobacco, petroleum, furniture, jewelry, land, and
other items and transactions. Lithuania has been reluctant to reduce its
high tax burden for fear of fiscal instability, but high taxes have led
to an environment that encourages underreporting and corruption,
stimulating the underground economy.
The budget of the central government ran a deficit throughout the
late 1980s. The amount of the deficit at that time was relatively
small--about 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP--see
Glossary). The central government ran a budget surplus of 3 percent of
GDP in 1991. The budget had a surplus in 1993 but a slight deficit--1
percent of GDP--in 1994.
After independence in 1991, the government began to restructure its
expenditures. Subsidies were reduced from 37 percent of government
expenditures in 1985 to 6 percent in 1992, while expenditures for the
social safety net (social security, welfare, housing, and communal
activities) increased from 15 percent to 32 percent of expenditures over
the same period. These shifts in expenditures are a result of the
central government's assumption of responsibility for the social safety
net from enterprises that had been responsible for them during the
Soviet period. Projected government expenditures in 1995 equaled 26
percent of GDP.
Reform of the Banking Sector
Prime Minister Slezevicius acknowledged that weakness in the banking
sector was one of the most important challenges for his government and,
if not properly supervised, could limit long-term economic growth.
Lithuania needs to do more to live up to this commitment. Despite
several bank failures, the number of banks increased from twenty to
twenty-six from 1992 to 1994.
Significant factors guiding the reform of the banking sector are the
technical advice and assistance of the IMF, which in October 1994
granted Lithuania a three-year US$201 million credit, and the reforms
required for membership in the European Union (EU--see Glossary). The
IMF has blamed the Bank of Lithuania's loose monetary policy in part for
rising inflation. Some Western observers cite the central bank's
institutional weakness and lack of autonomy as the main reasons for its
ineffectiveness. The EU requirements are set forth in a white paper that
describes the sectoral conditions that each prospective member of the EU
must satisfy prior to joining. These requirements touch on every sector
of the economy. Membership in the EU is a primary goal of Lithuania's
domestic and national security policies. The white paper requires an
efficient and open financial market and a banking system that encourages
market-directed capital flows. Member states are required to pass and
implement legislation concerning the soundness of banking institutions.
Lithuania's 1994 reform program included a review of the bank
licensing system, privatization of the three state banks (Savings Bank,
Agricultural Bank, and State Commercial Bank), a review of capital
requirements to ensure compliance with international standards, and the
introduction of new plans for accounts at the Bank of Lithuania and for
commercial banks. The program also called on the government to pass
stronger bankruptcy legislation and to ensure its enforcement.
Lithuania - Structure of the Economy
After the Soviet Union took control of Lithuania's economy, it
developed both light industry and heavy industry to tie Lithuania into
the Soviet system. As a workshop for Moscow's military-industrial
complex, Lithuania reaped significant rewards. Its people enjoyed one of
the highest standards of living in the Soviet Union, similar to those of
Estonia and Latvia. Especially on farms, goods became visibly more
abundant and life grew more comfortable during the early 1970s. The
reason was simple: Brezhnev's regime in Moscow reversed policies of farm
exploitation and began subsidizing farmers instead. But a chronic
shortage of necessities, the poor quality of goods, and the absence of
many services kept the standard of living only at East European
levels--not at those of the West.
During their control of Lithuania, Soviet officials introduced a
mixed industrial-agricultural economy. In 1991 industry produced about
half of GDP; agriculture and trade each supplied about one-quarter.
Lithuania's industrial sector produced 51.3 percent of GNP in 1991,
but industrial production has subsequently experienced declines--by a
reported 50 percent in 1993, for example. The sector employed 38 percent
of the labor force in 1992.
Under Soviet rule, most economic activity was centrally managed from
Moscow; Lithuania managed only 10 percent of its industrial capacity.
Many industrial firms worked for the military. According to President
Algirdas Brazauskas, who for many years had managed Lithuania's
industries as the communist party's secretary for industry, Lithuania
had a leading position as a maker of electronics for military and
civilian use, and it had been a major supplier of specialized military
and industrial technology to the Soviet Union.
In 1985, the year Gorbachev came to power, Lithuania accounted for
just 0.3 percent of the Soviet Union's territory and 1.3 percent of its
population, but it turned out a significant amount of the Soviet Union's
industrial and agricultural products: 22 percent of its electric welding
apparatus, 11.1 percent of its metal-cutting lathes, 2.3 percent of its
mineral fertilizers, 4.8 percent of its alternating current electric
motors, 2.0 percent of its paper, 2.4 percent of its furniture, 5.2
percent of its socks, 3.5 percent of underwear and knitwear, 1.4 percent
of leather footwear, 5.3 percent of household refrigerators, 6.5 percent
of television sets, 3.7 percent of meat, 4.7 percent of butter, 1.8
percent of canned products, and 1.9 percent of sugar.
Lithuania's key industrial sectors include energy (especially
electric power generation), chemicals, machine building, met-al working,
electronics, forestry products, construction materials and cement, food
processing, and textiles (see table 27, Appendix). The country also has
a ship-building capacity, with drydocks in Klaipeda for construction and
repair of ocean-going fishing vessels. It has a large cement works and
an oil-refining plant with an annual capacity of refining 11 million
tons of oil. In the past, both facilities produced largely for export.
Lithuania's electric energy comes from hydroelectric and thermal power
plants fueled by coal and oil in Kaunas, Elektrenai, Mazeikiai, and
Vilnius, as well as a nuclear power plant at Ignalina (see fig. 13).
The agricultural sector contributed 24.0 percent of GDP in 1992 and
employed 19.0 percent of the labor force. Lithuania's agriculture,
efficient by Soviet standards, produced a huge surplus that could not be
consumed domestically. Traditionally, Lithuania grew grain (wheat, rye,
barley, and feed grains), potatoes, flax, and sugar beets, and it
developed dairy farming, meat production, and food processing. About 48
percent of the arable land was used for grain, 41 percent for forage
crops, 5 percent for potatoes, and 3 percent for flax and sugar beets.
Crops accounted for one-third and livestock for two-thirds of the total
value of agricultural output. Lithuanian agriculture, which was
collectivized during the early years of Soviet rule, became relatively
efficient in the late 1950s when Moscow granted the communist leadership
in Vilnius greater control of agricultural policy. Lithuanian farm
workers were 50 percent more productive than the Soviet average but much
less productive than their Western counterparts. Similarly, Lithuanian
crop yields and milk production per cow, although very high by Soviet
standards, ran either equal to or much below the yields obtained by
Western farms. But even in Lithuania, one-third of agricultural
production came from private plots of land and not from collective or
state farms. Nevertheless, Lithuanian agricultural production was high
enough to allow the export of about 50 percent of total output.
Significant reforms were introduced in the early 1990s, particularly
after the restoration of independence, to reestablish private ownership
and management in the agricultural sector. Although Lithuania succeeded
in privatizing more agricultural land than Estonia or Latvia,
agricultural production decreased by more than 50 percent from 1989 to
1994. One problem is that farms were broken up into smallholdings,
averaging 8.8 hectares in size, often not large enough to be
economically viable. A serious drought in 1994 further reduced
agricultural output and cost farmers an estimated 790 million litai in
Energy and Minerals
Lithuania receives more than 87 percent of its electricity from the
Ignalina nuclear power plant. But Lithuania is highly dependent on fuels
imported from Russia, and this energy dependence plagues Lithuania's
industries. The trading relationship is unstable because political
factors determine whether or not the supply will be interrupted. Energy
use in Lithuania is inefficient by world standards, given Lithuania's
level of economic development. In 1991 about one-half of the electricity
produced at the 5,680-megawatt Ignalina nuclear power plant was exported
to Belarus, Latvia, and Kaliningrad Oblast in Russia. But, partly
because of reduced demand in the former Soviet republics and partly for
political reasons, Lithuania's electricity exports declined
substantially from 1991 to 1994.
Lithuania has large processing facilities for oil, which can be
exported to the West through Ventspils (Latvia) or the new Lithuanian
transport and storage facility at Butinge. Butinge is equipped with
modern technology and was constructed by Western firms with funding
provided by international financial institutions. This facility may
allow more intensive utilization of the oil-processing facility at
Mazeikiai, which has an annual capacity of 12 million tons, one of the
largest in the Baltic region. Mazeikiai needs upgrading to operate
With the exception of forests and agricultural land, Lithuania is
poorly endowed with natural resources. It exports some chemical and
petroleum products, but its only significant industrial raw materials
are construction materials, such as clay, limestone, gravel, and sand.
Its peat reserves total about 4 billion cubic meters. There are moderate
oil and gas deposits offshore and on the coast. In 1993 recoverable oil
reserves were estimated at 40 million tons on the coast and 38 million
Lithuania may develop an important tourism industry if investments
are made in its infrastructure to bring facilities up to Western
standards. The resort town of Neringa was famous during the Soviet
period for its excellent seaside climate. But Neringa fears the effects
of too much foreign influence and wants special protection from an
expected onslaught of foreign investors, most of whom come from Germany.
In Vilnius and other cities, there is a shortage of quality hotels.
State-owned hotels, of which there are still many, tend to provide
inferior accommodations and service.
Lithuania - Labor Force
Lithuania had an estimated labor force of 1.9 million in 1994.
Thirty-two percent of workers were employed in industry, 12 percent in
construction, and 18 percent in the agricultural sector. Most of the
remainder worked in a variety of activities in the services sector--14
percent in science, education, and culture; 10 percent in trade and
government; and 7 percent each in health care and in transportation and
Trade-union activities are specifically provided for in the
constitution and are protected by legislation. The Joint Representation
of Lithuanian Independent Trade Unions is an organization of
twenty-three of the twenty-five trade unions and was founded October 22,
1992. Teachers and other government workers not involved in law
enforcement or security work are permitted to join unions. Strikes and
other confrontations between labor and management have occurred but are
limited by the nascent free-enterprise system and the perception that
employment alternatives are limited. Public employees organized strikes
in 1992. Some Lithuanian trade unions are affiliated with international
trade organizations, and organizational assistance has been provided by
Western countries, especially the Nordic countries. Safe employment
practices, regulation of workplace safety, and protection from reprisal
by employers against employees who complain about illegal working
conditions are provided for in the constitution. A minimum wage must be
paid, and child labor is prohibited.
Lithuania - Transportation and Telecommunications
Lithuania's transportation system has great potential, and transit
traffic by rail, road, and ship represents an important part of
Lithuania's future development (see fig. 14). There were about 2,000
kilometers of railroads (1,524-millimeter gauge) in 1994, of which 122
kilometers were electrified.
There were 55,603 kilometers of roads in 1994, of which 42,209
kilometers were asphalted. The road system is good. The country is
crossed by a route from Klaipeda to Minsk via Kaunas and Vilnius. A new
international highway, Via Baltica, will stretch from Tallinn to Warsaw
via Riga and Kaunas.
Lithuania has struggled, however, to develop its national airline,
Lithuanian Airlines. Although an agreement has been reached with
American Airlines, it may not be possible to restructure the company
into a profitable operation because there is excess capacity in the
region. Lithuanian Airlines had one B-737 and sixty-three Soviet-made
aircraft in 1993. The main international airport is in Vilnius. A second
international airport was opened at Siauliai in 1993. In addition to
Lithuanian Airlines, service is provided by Aeroflot, Austrian Airlines,
Drakk Air Lines, Hamburg Airlines, LOT (Polish Airlines), Lufthansa, Malév,
SAS (Scandinavian Airlines), and Swissair. Destinations include
Amsterdam, London, Paris, <"http://worldfacts.us/Denmark-Copenhagen.htm">Copenhagen, Berlin, Frankfurt, and forty-three
cities throughout the former Soviet Union.
Klaipeda is the major coastal point, and Kaunas is the major inland
port. Some 600 kilometers of inland waterways are navigable year round.
Lithuania's merchant fleet consists of forty-four ships, totaling about
323,505 deadweight tons, including twenty-nine cargo vessel, three
railcar carrier vessels, one roll-on/roll-off vessel, and eleven
Lithuania has begun to modernize its telecommunications industry. A
law deregulating certain aspects of telecommunications went into effect
in January 1992. Private investors now have the right to offer
long-distance service to the public, but restrictions on the
participation of foreign capital have slowed this type of activity. Both
telecommunications and transportation will require large investments to
modernize the infrastructure and to reform the enterprises. This sector
is plagued with inefficiencies. Nevertheless, Lithuania's telephone
service is among the most advanced in the former Soviet republics. There
were 240 telephone lines serving 1,000 persons in the early 1990s.
International connections exist via satellite from Vilnius through Oslo
or from Kaunas through Copenhagen.
Lithuania has two television companies and five radio companies. In
1993 some 1.4 million television sets and more than 1.4 million radios
were in use, or one per 2.7 persons. Two national radio programs are
broadcast by the state-owned Leituvos Radijas ir Televizija. Radio
Vilnius broadcasts in Lithuanian and English. There are national,
regional, and minority language television programs.
Lithuania - Foreign Economic Relations
Because of its small domestic market, Lithuania is dependent on trade
to ensure its prosperity. It has made impressive progress since the late
1980s. Imports declined from 61 percent of GDP in 1980 to 23 percent in
1991. Most significant, trade was shifted to Western Europe from the
former Soviet Union. In 1993 three-quarters of Lithuanian exports went
to the other Baltic states and the other former Soviet republics. But
this percentage is projected to drop dramatically so that most exports
will be to the rest of the world by 1996. In the first half of 1994, the
countries of the former Soviet Union accounted for about 53 percent of
Lithuania's trade, and West European markets made up about 47 percent of
Lithuania's trade (see table 28, Appendix). In previous years, trade
with Western markets had made up only about 10 percent of trade.
According to 1994 estimates, exports totaled approximately US$1
billion, up from US$805,014 in 1992, and imports amounted to nearly
US$1.3 billion, up from US$805,776 (see table 29; table 30, Appendix).
Lithuania had an overall negative trade balance of US$267 million in
1994, according to IMF estimates. An estimated surplus of US$63 million
in the services account and a deficit of US$192 million in the current
account resulted in a negative balance of payments overall.
When the Soviet Union imposed an economic blockade on Lithuania in
April 1990, many enterprises nimbly shifted production away from goods
required under central planning (for example, computers for the defense
industry) to consumer goods. These transformations demonstrated the
flexibility of many enterprises under difficult circumstances and set
the stage for economic growth and prosperity.
Tariffs are imposed on a wide range of imported goods, but they are
scheduled to be reduced gradually until 2001, when Lithuania's
free-trade regime will be fully implemented. The lowest tariff schedule
applies to countries with which Lithuania has most-favored-nation
status. These countries, about twenty in number, include the United
States, Canada, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Australia. A slightly
higher tariff schedule applies to goods imported from about twenty
countries with which Lithuania has a free-trade agreement, such as
Estonia, Latvia and the members of the EU. These tariffs are scheduled
to be reduced during the six years following 1995 and will be abolished
for industrial products at the end of that time. The tariffs on food
products imported from the EU are scheduled to be substantially reduced
except for sugar, butter, and oil and for a limited number of other
Imports consist primarily of natural gas, oil, coal, machinery,
chemicals, and light industrial products. Oil and natural gas are
imported from Russia, natural gas is imported from Ukraine, and cotton
and wool are imported from the Central Asian republics of the former
Soviet Union. Lithuania exports primarily machinery, light industrial
products, electronics, food products, and textiles.
On July 18, 1994, Lithuania signed a free-trade agreement with the EU
that went into effect at the beginning of 1995. It calls for a six-year
transition period during which trade barriers will be dismantled. The
agreement grants Lithuania tariff exemptions on industrial goods,
textiles, and agricultural products. Full membership in the EU is a
primary goal of Lithuanian economic policy.
Lithuania did not acknowledge responsibility for any debts of the
Soviet Union. The international community supported its contention that
it should not be responsible for debts incurred while it was
"occupied." International financial institutions, especially
the IMF and the World Bank (see Glossary), issued credits to Lithuania
after independence. Lithuania's total debt, which was about US$38
million at the beginning of 1993, mushroomed to US$500 million by the
end of 1994. Increases in the debt to US$918 million by the end of 1996
are projected. As a percentage of GDP, the debt will rise from 3.6
percent to 10.6 percent by 1997. However, repayment terms are
manageable, and the proceeds of these credits fund needed and productive
investments. The large inflow of foreign credits and investments is
responsible for maintaining living standards at an acceptable level in
the wake of a steep decline in production in 1992 and 1993 and negative
The largest foreign investor is the United States tobacco and food
services company Philip Morris, which purchased the state tobacco
company in Klaipeda for US$25 million in 1993. Foreign investment was
critical in maintaining public support for economic reform during the
first years after independence and resulted in an influx of hard
currency (from foreign assistance, loans, and investment) and increased
activity by the private sector. Most foreign investment came from
Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia, Poland, and Austria (see
table 31, Appendix). Total foreign capital invested in the country was
estimated to be 551 million litai in November 1994. About three-quarters
of the foreign investors were involved in joint ventures.
Lithuania's Law on Foreign Investments, introduced in 1990 and
amended in 1992, guarantees the unrestricted repatriation of all
after-tax profits and reinvested capital. A new draft of this law places
restrictions only on foreign investment in sensitive industries, such as
defense and energy. Foreign investors receive generous profit tax
rebates of up to 70 percent. A draft amendment to the constitution would
lift the prohibition on landownership by foreigners. Nevertheless, in
part because of the growth of organized crime, Lithuania's ability to
attract more foreign investment has been impaired. Neste, the Finnish
oil company that operates twelve gas stations in Lithuania, halted
future investment after an attack, presumably carried out by organized
crime, on a company representative in Klaipeda in October 1994.
Lithuania in 1994 received a number of foreign loans, including ECU10
million (for value of the European currency unit--see Glossary) over
fifteen years from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for reconstruction
of the airport in Vilnius and an ECU14 million loan from the EIB for
reconstruction of the port of Klaipeda. Other foreign loans included a
US$25 million agricultural sector loan from the World Bank, and loans of
ECU22 million and ECU9 million from the European Bank for Reconstruction
and Development (EBRD) and Japan's Export-Import Bank, respectively, for
the modernization of the country's telecommunications system. The EBRD
also disbursed US$6 million in 1993 as part of an ECU36 million energy
infrastructure loan. By February 1994, the World Bank had disbursed
US$45 million of a US$60 million import rehabilitation loan approved in
1992. Lithuania obtained an ECU33 million loan in 1994 from the EBRD to
improve safety at the Ignalina nuclear power plant and a seventeen-year
US$26.4 million loan to refurbish its coal- and oil-fired power plant.
Lithuania - Reform Yields Results
Lithuania experienced initial difficulties with economic reform,
especially with reform of agriculture, because of the government's
insistence that social welfare levels be retained and that privatization
of enterprises would be subject to regulations forbidding the
elimination of jobs and employee services. Mistakes in fiscal policies,
especially those committed by the Bank of Lithuania, and the increase in
energy and other prices by Russia, as well as difficulties with payments
for goods exported from Lithuania, also fueled inflation, promoted a
black market, and emptied the stores. Production decreased. In 1993
industrial production dropped more than 50 percent compared with 1991.
Agricultural production declined by 39 percent. Unemployment, including
partial unemployment, rose from 9,000 to more than 200,000. By the end
of 1992, the lack of heat and shortages of hot water in wintertime were
conspicuous evidence of a deep economic crisis in the land.
Nevertheless, the economic decline was considered to be of a
temporary nature, caused by the difficulties of the transition--common
to former Soviet states--to a free-market economy. The IMF and the World
Bank were satisfied with priva-tization and reform efforts, and the
latter provided a development loan of US$82 million. On a scale of zero
to ten, Germany's Deutsche Bank in 1991 ranked Lithuania's potential for
agricultural production as ten and for industrialization as
approximately eight. Promising sectors for future profitable investment
include building materials, electricity, transportation, and tourism.
Lithuania - Government and Politics
Lithuania is an independent democratic republic. Its new constitution
is that of a presidential democracy with separation of powers and a
system of checks and balances. In some ways, the institutional structure
of the government is similar to that of the United States; however, it
is closer to the system former French president Charles de Gaulle gave
to the Fifth Republic of France--a strong presidency leading a
parliament divided into many factions.
Lithuania - The Constitution
On the same day that Lithuania declared independence on March 11,
1990, its parliament adopted a provisional constitution, called the
"provisional basic law," which established a framework for the
new state's government. The constitution comprehensively listed
guarantees of democratic rights and rules of democratic process, but
basic elements of the Soviet-style government were maintained. Thus,
legislative and executive functions were combined under the leadership
of parliament, and the court system was kept totally dependent on
legislative definitions and appointments. The legislature's
name--Supreme Soviet--also was maintained. Its presidium became the
foremost leadership body, and the chairman of the presidium became the
chief of parliament, of state, and, in effect, of the executive. The
provisional basic law, too, was made relatively easy to change.
Despite its democratization, the Soviet model quickly proved that it
was not suitable for a new, substantively democratic system of
government. It took two years of conflict and frustration, however,
before contending parties agreed to a compro-mise between a
parliamentary system of legislative superiority with a figurehead
president and a very strong presidential system in which the legislature
would be at best coequal with the president.
The constitution was approved by the voters in a referendum on
October 25, 1992. Seventy-five percent of those voting favored the
document. Thus, it was adopted by a solid majority, although the
percentage of voters participating in the referendum was smaller (57
percent) than had been the case in most elections until then.
The constitution of 1992 reflects the institutions and experiences of
the United States, France, and Germany as integrated into Lithuanian
tradition. It also incorporates guarantees of a social safety network
inherited from the Soviet Union. In its introductory provisions, the
document not only places a high value on democracy but also asserts the
right of defense against attempts by force to encroach upon or overthrow
"state independence, territorial integrity, or the constitutional
system" (Article 3). It also disallows division of Lithuanian
territory into any "statelike structures"--an obvious
reference to territorial autonomy as a solution to ethnic minority
problems in the country. Furthermore, the status of Lithuania as an
"independent democratic republic" can be changed only by a
referendum and only if three-fourths of Lithuanian citizens approve it.
Similarly, the first seventeen articles (which define the
characteristics of the state, citizenship, state language, and symbols)
and Articles 147, 148, and 149 (which determine the methods for
constitutional changes or amendments) can be altered only by a
referendum. Article 150 of the constitution forbids Lithuania from
joining the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS--see Glossary).
Finally, the constitution incorporates the declaration of independence
of March 11, 1990.
Fundamental human rights and democratic values, including freedom of
"thought, faith, and conscience," are enshrined in the
constitution, which also guarantees the status of legal person to
religious denominations and allows religious teaching in public schools.
In addition to personal, political, and religious rights, the
constitution secures social rights. As al-ready noted, these include
free medical care, old-age pensions, unemployment compensation, and
support for families and children.
The power to govern is divided between the legislative and executive
branches, with an independent judiciary acting as interpreter of the
constitution and of the branches' jurisdictions, as well as arbiter of
conflicts between them. The constitution clearly acknowledges the danger
of concentration of power in a single person or institution. The
legislature has regained its old name, Seimas, which was used in the
interwar years. The executive consists of a president and a prime
minister with a cabinet, known as the Council of Ministers. The
judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court and subordinate courts (the
Court of Appeals, district courts, and local courts), as well as the
Constitutional Court, which decides on the constitutionality of acts of
the Seimas, the president, and the government.The Office of the
Procurator General is an autono-mous institution of the judiciary.
Creation of special courts, such as administrative or family courts, is
allowed, although establishing courts with "special powers" is
forbidden in peacetime.
The parliament consists of 141 members, seventy elected from party
lists on the basis of proportional representation and seventy-one from
single-member districts. To be seated in the Seimas on the basis of
proportional representation, a party must receive at least 4 percent of
the votes cast. An exception is made for ethnic minority groups,
however, which do not need to pass the 4 percent threshold. The
legislature is elected for four years. Candidates for the legislature
must be at least twenty-five years old. Members of the Seimas may serve
as prime minister or cabinet member, but they may not hold any other
position in either central or local government or in private enterprises
or organizations. The parliament must approve the prime minister, as
well as his or her government and program. It also may force the
government's resignation by rejecting twice in sequence its program or
by expressing no confidence by a majority of legislators in secret
The powers of the legislature are checked by a number of devices:
first, by certain constitutional limitations; second, by the president
as defined under the constitution; and third, by the Constitutional
Court. Articles 64, 131, and 132 of the constitution circumscribe the
ability of the Seimas to control the government, especially the budget.
Article 64 specifies the times of parliamentary sessions. Although
extension is possible, ordinarily the legislature cannot sit longer than
seven months and three days, divided into two sessions. The budget
submitted by the government can be increased by the legislature only if
the latter indicates the sources of financing for additional
expenditures. If the budget is not approved before the start of the
budget year, proposed expenditures cannot be higher than those of the
previous year. Finally, the legislature is not entrusted with making
decisions concerning the basic characteristics of Lithuanian statehood
and democracy. These are left to the citizens by means of referendum.
Similarly, the initiative for making laws is not limited to the
legislature but also belongs to the citizens, who can force the
legislature to consider a law by submitting a petition with 50,000
The powers of the legislature are further checked by those of the
president, who may veto legislation, both ordinary and constitutional,
passed by the legislature. Normally, laws are not promulgated without
the signature of the president. A presidential veto can be overridden,
but only by an absolute majority of the Seimas membership. The president
can also dissolve the parliament if it refuses to approve the
government's budget within sixty days or if it directly votes no
confidence in the government. However, the next elected parliament may
retaliate by calling for an earlier presidential election.
The president is elected directly by the people for a term of five
years and a maximum of two consecutive terms. The president is not,
strictly speaking, the chief of the executive branch or the chief
administrator. The Lithuanians borrowed the French model of the
presidency, then adapted it to their needs. Candidates must be at least
forty years old. To be elected in the first round, 50 percent of the
voters must participate and a candidate must receive more than half of
the total votes cast. If 50 percent of the voters do not participate, a
plurality wins the presidency unless it constitutes less than one-third
of the total vote. If the first round does not produce a president, a
second round is held within two weeks between the two top candidates. A
plurality vote is sufficient to win.
The president is the head of state. The president also selects the
prime minister (with the approval of the Seimas), approves ministerial
candidates, and appoints the commander in chief of the armed
forces--with legislative confirmation. The president resolves basic
foreign policy issues and can confer military and diplomatic ranks,
appoint diplomats without legislative approval, and issue decrees
subject to the legislature's right to later overturn a decree by
Finally, the president has considerable powers to influence the
judicial branch. The president has the right to nominate (and the Seimas
to approve the nomination of) three justices to the Constitutional Court
and all justices to the Supreme Court. The president also appoints, with
legislative approval, judges of the Court of Appeals. However,
legislative confirmation is not required for the appointment or transfer
of judges in local, district, and special courts.
The Constitutional Court checks both the legislative and the
executive branches of government by ruling on whether their legislation
and/or actions are constitutional. The court consists of nine justices
appointed by the legislature, three each from the nominees of the
president, the parliamentary chairman, and the chief justice of the
Supreme Court. The president nominates the chief justice of the
Constitutional Court. Cases for consideration by the Constitutional
Court, however, may be brought only by one-fifth of the membership of
the Seimas, the ordinary courts, or the president of the republic.
Lithuania - Politics
The new system of government became operative with the election of
President Algirdas Brazauskas in February 1993. Brazauskas came from the
Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDLP), successor to the Communist
Party of Lithuania. The Brazauskas government surprised many of its
critics during 1994 by its continued commitment to rapid economic reform
and to Lithuania's independence. Rural interests, which formed the
bedrock of support for the LDLP, were unhappy with the failure to roll
back implementation of the free market in agriculture and with the
breakup of centralized state farms and cooperatives.
Since the declaration of independence, Lithuanian politics have been
stormy, especially the struggle between the former Communist Party of
Lithuania and the movement for independence, Sajudis. On its own, the
Communist Party of Lithuania had won only twenty-three seats out of the
141 seats in the March 1990 parliamentary elections. Sajudis and other
political parties that supported independence had won a majority. In
addition, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) won nine seats;
the Christian Democratic Party of Lithuania (CDPL), two; the Lithuanian
Democratic Party (LDP), two; and the Lithuanian Green Party, four.
Noncommunist parties were in their infancy--small and weak. Seventy
members of parliament did not belong formally to any party, although
virtually all of them were ideologically close to Sajudis.
Parliamentary organization was complicated by the numerous
parliamentary factions, unrelated to party strength or differentiation
in society. Parliamentary factions had no fixed constituencies to which
they were accountable. In 1992 there were nine parliamentary factions
and a nonfaction group consisting of twenty independent deputies. The
largest was the Center faction (eighteen members), followed by the
Moderates (sixteen), the LDLP (twelve), the Liberals (ten), the Poles
(eight), and the Nationalists (nine). The United Sajudis faction had
sixteen members, and the Santara faction of Sajudis had ten.
The weakness of the LDLP was deceptive. This group had lost adherents
in the parliament, but in April 1990, while still known as the Communist
Party of Lithuania, it won approximately 40 percent of the votes--and
offices--in local elections. It was strong in small towns and rural
areas. Later in 1990, these reformist communists adopted a new name and
an essentially social democratic program, gaining a new lease on
In this political landscape, the position of chairman of the
presidium of the Supreme Soviet (de facto president) was won in May 1990
by Vytautas Landsbergis, the president of Sajudis and a professor of
musicology who had never been a member of the Communist Party of
Lithuania. Landsbergis defeated the former leader, Brazauskas, by
two-thirds of the vote. Brazauskas refused to accept the position of
deputy chairman. Kazimiera Prunskiene, an economist, was chosen as prime
minister, whereupon she immediately quit the Communist Party of
Lithuania. Brazauskas agreed to serve as one of the deputy prime
ministers. The other deputy prime minister was Romualdas Ozolas, a
philosopher and former communist who eventually joined the Center
faction in the parliament.
Soon, however, a conflict developed between Landsbergis and
Prunskiene, primarily over Lithuania's response to the 1990 Soviet
blockade. Landsbergis stood firm and defiant. Prunskiene, after visiting
Western leaders, pursued compromise with the Soviet Union, as suggested
by these leaders. In early 1991, Prunskiene took the first radical steps
in economic reform, but the Sajudis forces used that action to unseat
her. A fellow economist, Albertas Simenas, was chosen as her successor,
but he temporarily disappeared during the turmoil created by the Soviet
army, which staged a putsch against the Lithuanian government and on
January 13, 1991, massacred un-armed civilians. Landsbergis summoned the
people to defend the parliament. His heroic determination and leadership
won him further domestic recognition as a national leader and a
favorable international reputation abroad. For a moment, all political
groups united against Soviet aggression. Lithuanians refused to
participate in Gorbachev's referendum on the continuation of a federal
union and instead held their own "national poll," which
confirmed overwhelming support for independence. However, unity did not
In Simenas's absence, Gediminas Vagnorius became prime minister. He
initiated economic reforms and continued the political struggle against
Brazauskas's party that Landsbergis had begun in the spring of 1990.
Vagnorius's efforts frequently were frustrated by the parliament, and
the LDLP formally declared opposition to the government in the fall of
1991. Reform measures, especially in agriculture, were not successful.
His struggle with the leadership of the Bank of Lithuania over the
introduction of a Lithuanian currency, the litas, was unsuccessful
because neither the bank nor a majority in parliament supported his
In the meantime, the strength of the Sajudis group and of the
coalition in parliament that supported Vagnorius was withering. The
leadership of the independence movement, furthermore, was gradually
shifting to more conservative nationalist positions after the third
conference of the movement in December 1991. Anticommunist activities
were facilitated by access to KGB archives, and past collaboration with
the KGB was made a political issue. The atmosphere was not improved by
the ultimately unsuccessful attempts by Sajudis to pass a law that would
temporarily bar from public office certain categories of former
officeholders in the communist party power structure. The attempt
sharpened confrontation between the nationalist and former communist
party forces. Landsbergis sought to strengthen the powers of the
executive branch and his own position by establishing an executive
presidency. But on May 23, 1992, his proposal failed in a referendum.
After several attempts in parliament to remove the unpopular prime
minister in the summer of 1992, Vagnorius had to resign in July, and new
parliamentary elections were agreed upon for October. Aleksandras
Abisala, another Sajudis leader, took over from Vagnorius with the
acquiescence of the opposition. However, neither his attempts to correct
the economic situation nor his conciliatory politics improved Sajudis's
chances in the upcoming elections of October 25, 1992.
Seventeen groups or coalitions ran candidates for the 141 seats of
the new parliament, the Seimas, but some did not muster enough votes for
the 4 percent threshold. Against everyone's expectations--and even to
Brazauskas's own surprise--the LDLP and its satellites won an absolute
majority of seventy-three seats (51 percent). Landsbergis's forces still
hoped for a strong showing of their coalition, but the Sajudis-Santara
coalition succeeded in winning only sixteen seats, including three
contested ones. The Social Democratic representation de-creased to eight
seats, the Christian Democrats increased to ten, and the Center barely
squeaked through with two victories in single-member districts but did
not meet the 4 percent threshold for seats elected by party lists. Three
new groups entered the parliament--the Citizens Charter with ten seats;
Political Prisoners and Exiles with twelve; and the Christian Democratic
Association, a splinter of the Christian Democratic Party with one. One
seat was won by an independent. The Polish minority, however, was able
to win four seats because it was not required to reach the 4 percent
The significance of the parliamentary elections result was threefold:
the nationalist forces of Landsbergis were crushed, the postcommunist
politicians led by Brazauskas made an amazing comeback, and the
political center in the parliament was destroyed. Neither the Center nor
the Liberal faction met the 4 percent threshold for seats elected by
party lists. Political polarization of the country was confirmed: there
was a strong and well-organized left, and there was a weak, shattered,
and splintered right.
The polarization was even more conspicuously demonstrated in the
direct presidential election of February 14, 1993. The Lithuanian
ambassador to the United States, Stasys Lozoraitis, lost to Brazauskas,
who won majorities everywhere except in the urban district of Kaunas.
The final vote was 61.1 percent for Brazauskas and 38.2 percent for
Lozoraitis. Brazauskas was catapulted to office by the rural population.
His majority was increased by the vote from urban districts with Polish
or Russian majorities. Brazauskas won for the same reasons his party
earlier captured the majority in the parliament: economic crisis,
disappointment with Sajudis, dislike of the once very popular
Landsbergis, and, most of all, the electorate's trust in Brazauskas as a
well-known and popular candidate whose campaign succeeded in portraying
the ambassador as a "foreigner" ignorant of Lithuania's
The Western press saw the election as a victory for former communist
party members who would stop reform and return Lithuania to some sort of
association with the former Soviet Union. However, the LDLP was no
longer communist, and, although sympathetic to Russia, it was committed
to Lithuania's independence. The new president stated repeatedly that he
would preserve Lithuania's independence, although Landsbergis, now in
the role of opposition leader, continued to warn of threats to
Lithuania's status as an independent state. Brazauskas resigned as
leader of the LDLP, as required by the constitution.
Shortly after the election, President Brazauskas appointed Raimundas
Rajeckas, a distinguished economist with an academic background, as his
special counsel. Rajeckas had been associated with Harvard and other
Western universities and had served as Brazauskas's campaign manager. He
functioned as a "deputy president." Brazauskas also accepted
the resignation of Prime Minister Bronislovas Lubys and chose as his
successor an economist, Adolfas Slezevicius, president of a private
joint Lithuanian-Norwegian company and former deputy minister of
agriculture for dairy and meat production. Slezevicius continued to
implement Lithuania's political and economic reforms while pursuing an
improved relationship with Russia.
Lithuania - Mass Media
The collapse of the communist system brought about the privatization
of most publishing. Although the government still plays a role in book
publishing, all newspapers and journals are privately owned, usually by
limited stock companies or by private individuals. The number of
periodicals has increased dramatically, and competition is intense.
There are several main dailies. Lietuvos aidas was first
published by the Landsbergis government but is now private, although
editorially it supports Landsbergis and Sajudis. Lietuvos rytas
, an independent daily, leans slightly to the left and is very conscious
of the power and responsibility of the press. It is edited by the former
editor of Komjaunimo tiesa , the largest daily in Lithuania,
and has a circulation of more than 100,000. Tiesa now is the
voice of the Democratic Labor Party after previously being published by
the Communist Party of Lithuania. Respublika , founded and
owned by a prize-winning journalist and former member of the Soviet
Union's Congress of People's Deputies, specializes in
"investigative journalism" and leans to the left.
In 1990 Lithuanian newspaper circulation and book publishing suffered
a decline because of a shortage of paper, a result of the Soviet
economic blockade. In 1989 Lithuanian newspaper circulation per 1,000
inhabitants was 1,223--higher than in Latvia (1,032) but lower than in
Estonia (1,620). Annual circulation of magazines and other periodicals
was eleven copies per inhabitant (compared with twenty-eight in Latvia
and twenty-six in Estonia). Annual book and booklet publication was six
copies per inhabitant (compared with six in Latvia and twelve in
Library statistics indicate that newly published books and current
periodicals are accessible to readers in remote rural areas. Lithuania
had 1,885 libraries in the early 1990s, compared with 1,318 for Latvia
and 629 for Estonia.
Lithuania - Foreign Relations
The course of Lithuania's foreign policy in the 1990s has been more
stable than its domestic politics. This has been demonstrated by the
fact that between March 1990 and November 1992 it had five prime
ministers but only one minister of foreign affairs. Since independence
the cornerstone of Lithuanian foreign policy has been integration with
European security institutions: the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE; until January 1995 known as the Conference
on Security and Cooperation in Europe--see Glos-sary), the Council of
Europe (COE), the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Cooperation
Council (NACC), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and ultimately, the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Lithuania is a member of the
OSCE, the COE, and the NACC and is an associate member of the EU. It
hopes eventually to join the EU, the WTO, and NATO, and progress was
made toward these goals in 1994.
In the beginning, Lithuania's aims were more fundamental. Lithuania's
sole foreign policy concern in 1990 was to gain international
recognition of the restored Lithuanian state. However, efforts directed
at Gorbachev on the one hand and the Western powers on the other hand
bore no fruit. Gorbachev could not afford the political cost of
recognizing Lithuanian independence, nor did he believe in Lithuania's
right to statehood. The West's attitude, according to Egon Bahr, a
German foreign policy expert, was "We'll throw you a life preserver
after you learn how to swim." Gorbachev informally agreed not to
use force, and the West did not push him to permit Lithuanian
However, after the Vilnius massacre of January 13, 1991, which
revealed that Gorbachev had authorized attempts to overthrow Lithuania's
government, Western states broke ranks. The first was Iceland, which
declared that it recognized Lithuania's sovereignty. Iceland had
extended recognition in 1922 and had never reneged on it. Next, Denmark
expressed its commitment to early recognition. Paradoxically, the
greatest appreciation of Lithuania's needs came from Russia. After
learning about the Vilnius massacre, Russian president Boris N. Yeltsin
met with Baltic leaders in Tallinn and expressed solidarity with
Lithuania. This expression gained legal status on July 29, 1991. On that
day, United States President George H.W. Bush signed the Strategic Arms
Reduction Talks (START) treaty with Gorbachev in Moscow, and Yeltsin and
Landsbergis signed a treaty "on the basis of relations"
between the Republic of Lithuania and the Russian Soviet Federated
Socialist Republic. The crucial item of the treaty was Article 1, which
stated that "The High Contracting Parties recognize one another as
full-fledged subjects of international law and as sovereign states
according to their state status as established by the fundamental acts
adopted by the Republic of Lithuania on 11 March 1990 and by the Russian
Soviet Federated Socialist Republic on 12 June 1990." Lithuanians
hastily ratified the treaty on August 19, 1991, the same day as a coup
was carried out by conservative forces in Moscow against Gorbachev. It
was not until January 17, 1992, however, that Russia ratified the
After the coup failed, the international community quickly recognized
the independence of Lithuania and the other Baltic states. In September
1991, President Bush renewed the United States recognition of Lithuania
of 1922 and announced that an ambassador would be sent to Vilnius. The
Soviet Union recognized Lithuania's independence on September 6, 1991.
On the recommendation of the United States and the Soviet Union,
Lithuania was admitted to the United Nations (UN) on September 16. Then
on December 21, the Soviet Union collapsed as a legal entity, and on
December 24 Yeltsin informed UN secretary general Javier Pérez de
Cuellar that the Russian Federation had assumed "all rights and
obligations of the USSR." Thus, Russia still was, for all practical
purposes, the Soviet Union, only under different leadership.
Once Lithuania joined the UN, Landsbergis indicated the next
priorities of Lithuania's foreign policy: to join all accessible
international organizations, and to legally strengthen the status of the
new state while working toward the withdrawal of Russian troops,
regarded by Lithuanians as an occupying force, from Lithuania. The
Russian military strongly opposed this demand, claiming that the troops
had no place to go. The commander of the Baltic Military District
believed the troops would leave only after several years. Russian
foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev suggested a "status of forces"
agreement to legalize the Russian troop presence. In June 1992, the
Baltic Council, a consultative body of Baltic leaders, appealed to the
CSCE, the UN, and the Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Italy,
Japan, Britain, and the United States). The Group of Seven, the CSCE,
and the UN, as well as NATO, counseled the Russians to set a definite
withdrawal date. After protracted negotiations, Russia agreed to
withdraw its troops from Lithuania. An agreement was signed in Moscow on
September 8, 1992, setting the deadline for withdrawal at August 31,
1993, a year earlier than expected.
The withdrawal of Russian troops was completed on time, opening a new
chapter between Russia and Lithuania and encouraging closer economic and
other relations. When Lithuania first declared independence from the
Soviet Union and tried to negotiate its status with the Gorbachev
administration, it did not achieve its goals. But after the dissolution
of the Soviet Union, Moscow and Vilnius tried to put the past behind
them, even though the Soviet Union had imposed an economic blockade and
had used violence to force Lithuania to renounce independence. Although
diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1991,
Russia did not send an ambassador to Lithuania until 1992, and Lithuania
reciprocated only in March 1993. Relations between Vilnius and Moscow
were often unsettled by press reports of violations of Lithuanian
airspace throughout the first half of the 1990s. Despite a desire to
control air traffic within its borders, Lithuania has been unable to
come to an agreement with Russia to regulate air transit. The two
countries did, however, sign an economic cooperation agreement in
Preoccupied with Russia and with the West, Lithuanian policy makers
had somewhat neglected Lithuania's other neighbors, especially Belarus
and Ukraine. Nevertheless, trade with Belarus expanded, and a border
agreement was reached. Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma's
administration was supportive of Lithuanian sovereignty, and the two
countries signed an economic cooperation agreement in February 1994.
Vilnius focused on a rapprochement with Poland, which resulted in a
treaty of cooperation covering various fields, including de-fense, and
providing even for joint maneuvers of their armed forces. The agreement
was signed during a visit to Lithuania by Polish president Lech Walesa
in April 1994 and was ratified by Lithuania in October 1994.
Lithuania seeks closer relations with Scandinavia. The Swedish king
and the Danish queen have visited Lithuania. Close economic ties are
being developed with Norway and Denmark. Denmark cooperates closely with
Lithuania in military affairs and has agreed to train Lithuanian
military units to serve as UN peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia.
In relations with Western Europe and the United States, Lithuania has
two main objectives. The first is economic cooperation and attracting
Western capital to boost Lithuania's economy and to help with the
transition to a free market and democracy. The second objective is to
gain security guarantees so that Lithuania and the other Baltic states
would not be left alone to face any threat from Russia. Vilnius has
pursued these objectives by demonstrating its respect for Western values
and by negotiating bilateral trade agreements, tax treaties, and
consular and other agreements with West European countries and the
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