THE PORTRAIT OF LITHUANIA
Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic States and one of the secret European treasures. The country is proud of the landscape, which was little affected by human activity - clear lakes, old groves and coastal dunes. The capital Vilnius, adorned with the old-town protected by UNESCO combines the breathtaking romance of Baroque architecture and modern 21st century European buildings.
Lithuania successfully defeated German invaders back in 1410 during the Battle of Grunwald. However during the later centuries the country suffered from many foreigners. After the two world wars and the slaughter of the Jewish community, which was one of the largest in Europe, came the oppressive Soviet occupation.
Having regained its independence in 1991 Lithuania aims to revive its national identity. The capital Vilnius is happy to have one of the greatest old-towns in Europe full of baroque masterpieces. Serene locations of natural beauty across the country were turned into protective reserves with many species of plants and animals. Attractive and remarkably quiet villages and towns are meandered by excellent roads. The revived popularity of the folk culture brightens every corner of the country. People carve wooden crosses, wayside shrines, sing folk songs and dance folk dances. The Singing Revolution (1987-1990) marked the beginning of intensified printed and electronic publishing in Lithuanian language, which, by the way, is very close to Sanskrit. At the same Lithuania seeks for a more significant political and cultural role in the expanded European Union.
ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS IDENTITY
Lithuania is the most ethnically solid of all the three Baltic States. The country predominated by agriculture was able to avoid massive immigration of Russians and people of other nationalities that were sent to the factories newly built in the Baltic States by the Soviet government. 3.4 million residents consists of 84 percent Lithuanians and only 5 percent of Russians and 6 percent of Poles. Other ethnic minorities include Belorussians, Ukrainians, as well as some Tatars and Karaites. One can hear Russian and Polish languages in Vilnius, which is the most ethnically diverse city. Despite of the pagan past, Catholic faith is strongly entrenched in Lithuania. This is one of the differences from Estonia and Latvia, where Germans established Lutheranism. The Soviet government did their best to trample religious traditions - turned churches into warehouses, cinemas, art galleries, museums, destroyed their interiors, exiled a number of priests to Siberia, yet all that effort was in vain. Only 10 percent of the residents today do not relate themselves to any religious group. Aside from Catholics, there are Russian Orthodox, Lutheran and Old Believer communities.
After 1991, when Lithuania regained its independence, the country balances between left and right wing governments and does its best to win a strong position in the international arena. The goals of entering NATO and the European Union achieved in 2004 had an enormous significance to the Baltic Region. This meant liberation from the influence of Russia.
Lithuanian economy is one of the most rapidly growing ones in Europe. Dynamic private sector is increasingly penetrating into a variety of industries, such as laser optics, biotechnology, as well as construction and energy. Lithuanian companies working with lasers and biotechnology are classified as the strongest in Europe. The largest company according to turnover in Lithuania is the oil refining company "ORLEN Lietuva". Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant that was built during the Soviet era is now in the process of closing, hoping to build a new nuclear power plant in order to reduce the dependence on Russian energy.
After regaining independence the agriculture was quickly privatized and received considerable grants after the ascension to the European Union. Although the productivity of many farms significantly increased, there were negative implications as well: large areas of land were left to lie waste and villages were left impoverished. On the other hand, rural tourism increased. Many small farms were turned into attractive homesteads offering tourism services and accommodation.
Lithuanians are very proud of the rich cultural life. The importance of art and culture is reflected by countless art galleries in cities and towns. Many interiors are decorated by real paintings and graphic works rather than framed reproductions. Cultural figures, such as M. K. Čiurlionis or the beloved writer and artist Jurga Ivanauskaitė applied their skills in a number of fields of artistic expression. Symphonic and chamber music concerts, as well as classic ballets and operas are performed across the country on a regular basis. One of the most famous drama theatre performances is the dark, post-industrial Hamlet, directed by the renowned theatre director Eimuntas Nekrošius.
Although Lithuania is made famous by various sport representatives, such as the discus thrower Virgilijus Alekna, the trap shooter Daina Gudzinevičiūtė or the swimmer Rūta Meilutytė, basketball is Lithuanians' greatest passion. This was influenced by Arvydas Sabonis, the best Lithuanian basketball player of all times, as well as the Lithuanian basketball team, which has established the name of Lithuania in the map of the world.