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(lĭtho͞oā`nēə), Lithuanian Lietuva, officially Republic of Lithuania, republic (2015 est. pop. 2,932,000), 25,174 sq mi (65,201 sq km), N central Europe. Lithuania borders on the Baltic Sea in the west, Latvia in the north, Belarus in the east and southeast, Poland in the south, and the Kaliningrad oblast (a Russian exclave; formerly East Prussia) in the southwest. VilniusVilnius
, Rus. Vilna, Pol. Wilno, city (1993 pop. 590,100), capital of Lithuania, on the Neris River. It is a rail and highway junction, a commercial and industrial city, and a center of education and the arts.
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 is the capital, largest city, and an important rail and highway center.

Land and People

Lithuania is a flatland, drained by the Nemen River. In addition to the capital, other important cities are KaunasKaunas
, Pol. Kowno, Rus. Kovno, city (1993 pop. 429,000), in Lithuania, on the Neman River. It is a river port and an industrial center with industries producing machinery, chemicals, plastics, and textiles. Over 85% of the population is Lithuanian.
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, KlaipedaKlaipeda
, formerly Memel
, city (1993 pop. 206,400), W Lithuania, on the Baltic Sea, at the entrance to the Courland Lagoon. An ice-free seaport and an industrial center, it has shipyards and industries producing textiles, fertilizers, and wood products.
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 (Memel), and SiauliaiSiauliai
, Ger. Schaulen, Rus. Shavli, city (1993 pop. 147,800), N Lithuania. It is a rail hub and has railroad repair shops. Siauliai is also a major tanning, shoe-manufacturing, and flax-processing center. First known in the 13th cent.
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. About 84% of the population is Lithuanian; there are Polish, Russian, and other minorities. The major religion is Roman Catholicism and there are Russian Orthodox and Lutheran minorities. The Lithuanians speak a Baltic language (see BaltsBalts
, peoples of the east coast of the Baltic Sea. They include the Latvians, the Lithuanians, and the now extinct Old Prussians. Their original home was farther east, but from the 6th cent. they were pushed westward by the Slavs. In the 13th cent.
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), which is the official language; Russian and Polish are also widely spoken.


In the 1990s, Lithuania benefited from its adherence to strict fiscal and monetary policies, as it followed a program of privatization and increased foreign investment. The country also benefited from joining the European Union (2004), but it subsequently was among the nations hardest hit by the 2008–9 global recession, and the government instituted both a stimulus plan and an austerity budget. Dairy farming and stock raising are carried on extensively, and grains, potatoes, sugar beets, flax, and vegetables are grown. Primarily agricultural before 1940, Lithuania has since developed considerable industry, including food processing, shipbuilding, petroleum refining, and the manufacture of machinery and machine tools, metal products, major appliances, electronic components, motors, textiles, and electrical equipment. Minerals, textiles and clothing, machinery, chemicals, wood and wood products, and foodstuffs are exported, while mineral products, machinery, transportation equipment, chemicals, clothing, and metals are imported. Russia, Germany, Poland, and Latvia are the main trading partners.


Lithuania is governed under the constitution of 1992. The president, who is the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president, as is the cabinet. The unicameral Parliament (Seimas) has 141 members; 71 are elected by popular vote and 70 by proportional representation, all for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 10 counties.


Early History to the Nineteenth Century

The pagan Liths, or Lithuanians, may have settled along the Nemen as early as 1500 B.C. In the 13th cent. the Livonian Brothers of the SwordLivonian Brothers of the Sword
or Livonian Knights
, German military and religious order, founded in 1202 by Bishop Albert of Livonia for the purpose of conquest and Christianization in the Baltic lands.
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 and the Teutonic KnightsTeutonic Knights
or Teutonic Order
, German military religious order founded (1190–91) during the siege of Acre in the Third Crusade. It was originally known as the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutons in Jerusalem.
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 conquered the region now comprising Estonia, Latvia, and parts of Lithuania. To protect themselves against the Knights, who pressed them from the north and the south, the Lithuanians formed (13th cent.) a strong unified state.

The grand dukes Gedimin (1316–41) and Olgerd (1345–77) expanded their territories at the expense of the neighboring Russian principalities, which were weakened by the Mongol invasion. Lithuania became one of the largest states of medieval Europe, including all of what is now Belarus, a large part of Ukraine, and sections of European Russia; at its furthest extent it touched the Black Sea. Olgerd's son, Jagiello, became king of Poland in 1386 as Ladislaus IILadislaus II
or Ladislaus Jagiello
, 1350?–1434, king of Poland (1386–1434), grand duke of Lithuania (1378–1401), founder of the Jagiello dynasty.
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 by his marriage with JadwigaJadwiga
, 1374–99, Polish queen (1384–99), daughter of Louis I of Hungary and Poland. To satisfy Polish demands for autonomy at Louis's death, she reigned in Poland and her sister reigned in Hungary.
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, daughter of Louis I of Poland and Hungary. He accepted and introduced Christianity.

The union between Lithuania and Poland had at first the character of an alliance between independent nations. WitowtWitowt
or Witold
, Lithuanian Vytautas, 1350–1430, grand duke of Lithuania (1401–30). In 1382, Witowt, as well as his father, was imprisoned by Ladislaus Jagiello (see Ladislaus II, king of Poland), his cousin, in a dispute over territorial claims
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, a cousin of Ladislaus II, ruled Lithuania independently (1392–1430) and brought it to the height of its power and expansion. In 1410 the Polish-Lithuanian forces severely defeated the Teutonic Knights at TannenbergTannenberg
, Pol. Stębark, village, Warmińsko-Mazurskie prov., NE Poland, near Olsztyn. Formerly in East Prussia, it was transferred (1945) by the Potsdam Conference to Polish administration. Two important battles were fought there.
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 and Novgorod.

After Witowt's death, decline set in. The Belarusians, who had retained their Greek Orthodox faith, inclined toward the rising grand duchy of Moscow. In 1569, hard pressed by the Russians under Ivan IV, Lithuania was joined with Poland by the Union of Lublin to form a commonwealth. The Lithuanian aristocracy and burghers became thoroughly Polonized. By the three successive partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795) Lithuania disappeared as a national unit and passed to Russia.

Modern History

A Lithuanian linguistic and cultural revival began in the 19th cent., inspired largely by the Roman Catholic clergy and accompanied by frequent anti-Russian uprisings. World War I and the consequent collapse of Russia and Germany made Lithuanian independence possible. Proclaimed (Feb., 1918) an independent kingdom under German protection, Lithuania became (Nov., 1918) an independent republic.

It resisted attacks by Bolshevik troops and by volunteer bands of German adventurers, but in 1920 Vilnius was seized by Poland. Lithuania remained technically at war with Poland until 1927. In 1923, Lithuania seized the Memel TerritoryMemel Territory
, Ger. Memelland, name applied to the district (1,092 sq mi/2,828 sq km) of former East Prussia situated on the east coast of the Baltic Sea and the right (northern) bank of the Neman River.
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. The virtual dictatorship (1926–29) of Augustine Voldemaras was succeeded (1929–39) by that of Antanas SmetonaSmetona, Antanas
, 1874–1944, Lithuanian dictator. A lawyer, he became a leader of the Lithuanian autonomists under the czarist regime. He was provisional president (1919–20) of Lithuania when it gained independence. After the military coup (Nov.
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, and an authoritarian constitution on corporative (fascist) lines became effective in 1938.

Vilnius passed to Lithuania after the Soviet-German partition of Poland in 1939, but a German ultimatum forced the restitution of Memel. In 1940 the USSR, which had obtained military bases in Lithuania, occupied the country. After a Soviet-sponsored "election," Lithuania became a constituent republic of the USSR. When Germany invaded Lithuania in June, 1941, there was an insurrection against the Soviets and a provisional government was established, but Germany refused to recognize Lithuanian independence, and the government was disbanded. During the German occupation (1941–44) of Lithuania in World War II, the considerable Jewish minority was largely exterminated. In 1944 the Communist government returned. An anti-Communist guerrilla movement was active in the late 1940s and early 1950s; meanwhile, there were massive deportations of intellectuals and farmers to European Russia, Central Asia, and Siberia. After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, repression eased somewhat, and ethnic Lithuanians became prominent in the Communist elite.

In Mar., 1990, the Lithuanian parliament declared independence from the Soviet Union. Sajudis, a non-Communist coalition, won control of the Lithuanian parliament, and Vytautas Landsbergis became Lithuania's president. The Soviet Union responded with an oil embargo and troop actions in which civilians were killed. A referendum on independence passed in Feb., 1991, and Lithuania's independence was recognized by the Soviet Union on Sept. 6, 1991. In 1992, the Democratic Labor (formerly the Communist) party defeated Sajudis, and Algirdas Brazauskas, a former Communist, was elected president in 1993. Also in 1993, the last Russian troops were withdrawn, and Lithuania signed a free-trade agreement with fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia.

Valdas Adamkus, an emigrant from the United States, was elected president in 1998, but lost in a runoff in 2002 to Liberal Democratic party candidate Rolandas Paksas. Charges of corruption and links to Russian organized crime led the parliament to initiate impeachment proceedings against Paksas in Dec., 2003, and he was narrowly removed from office the following April. Parliament speaker Arturas Paulauskas became acting president. The same month Lithuania joined NATO; both events and others led to tensions with Russia in early 2004. Lithuania also became a member of the European UnionEuropean Union
(EU), name given since the ratification (Nov., 1993) of the Treaty of European Union, or Maastricht Treaty, to the European Community (EC), an economic and political confederation of European nations, and other organizations (with the same member nations)
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 in 2004. The poorest member of the EU, Lithuania experienced significant emigration to other EU nations in subsequent years, especially during the financial crisis of 2008–11.

In new elections in June, 2004, Adamkus won a second term as president, after a runoff. In October former president Paksas was acquitted of leaking state secrets, one of the three charges on which he was impeached. Adamkus was succeeded as president by Dalia GrybauskaiteGrybauskaite, Dalia,
1956–, Lithuanian politician, president of Lithuania (2009–14). A member of the Communist party of the Soviet Union (1983–89) and the Communist party of Lithuania (1989–90), Grybauskaite was a lecturer (1983–90) at the Communist
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, who had been serving as the European Union's budget commissioner and ran as an independent; elected in May, 2009, she became the first woman to hold the presidency. She was reelected in May, 2014. In Jan., 2015, the country adopted the euro. In the May, 2019, presidential election, Gitanas Nauseda, an economist and banker who ran as an independent, was elected to the post.


See A. E. Senn, The Emergence of Modern Lithuania (1959); R. J. Misiunas and R. Taagepera, The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940–1980 (1983); T. Oleszczuk, Political Justice in the Soviet Union: Dissent and Repression in Lithuania (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


Official name: Republic of Lithuania

Capital city: Vilnius

Internet country code: .lt

Flag description: Three equal horizontal bands of yellow (top), green, and red

Geographical description: Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, between Latvia and Russia

Total area: 26,080 sq. mi. (65,200 sq. km.)

Climate: Transitional, between maritime and continental; wet, moderate winters and summers

Nationality: noun: Lithuanian(s); adjective: Lithuanian

Population: 3,575,439 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Lithuanian 84.6%, Polish 6.3%, Russian

5.1%, other or unspecified 4%

Languages spoken: Lithuanian (official) 84.6%, Russian, and Polish

Religions: Roman Catholic 79%, Russian Orthodox 4.1%, Protestant (including Lutheran and Evangelical Christian Baptist) 1.9%, other or unspecified 5.5%, none 9.5%

Legal Holidays:

All Saints' DayNov 1
Assumption DayAug 15
Easter MondayApr 25, 2011; Apr 9, 2012; Apr 1, 2013; Apr 21, 2014; Apr 6, 2015; Mar 28, 2016; Apr 17, 2017; Apr 2, 2018; Apr 22, 2019; Apr 13, 2020; Apr 5, 2021; Apr 18, 2022; Apr 10, 2023
Independence DayFeb 16
Labour DayMay 1
Mothers' DayMay 1, 2011; May 6, 2012; May 5, 2013; May 4, 2014; May 3, 2015; May 1, 2016; May 7, 2017; May 6, 2018; May 5, 2019; May 3, 2020; May 2, 2021; May 1, 2022; May 7, 2023
New Year's DayJan 1
Restoration of Lithuania's StatehoodMar 11
St. John's DayJun 24
State DayJul 6
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a republic in NE Europe, on the Baltic Sea: a grand duchy in medieval times; united with Poland in 1569; occupied by Russia in 1795 and by Germany during World War I; independent Lithuania formed in 1918, but occupied by Soviet troops in 1919 and then by Poland; became a Soviet republic in 1940; unilaterally declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990; recognized as independent in 1991; joined the EU in 2004. Official language: Lithuanian. Religion: Roman Catholic majority. Currency: litas. Capital: Vilnius. Pop.: 3 422 000 (2004 est.). Area: 65 200 sq. km (25 174 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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