U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Lithuania, June 1997
Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.
Official Name: Republic of Lithuania
Area: 65,200 sq. km. (26,080 sq. miles); about the size of West
Cities: Capital--Vilnius (pop. 592,500); Kaunas (430,000); Klaipeda
(206,000); Siauliai (148,000); Panevezys (129,000).
Terrain: Lithuania's fertile, central lowland plains are separated by
hilly uplands created by glacial drift. 758 rivers (many are navigable)
and 2,833 lakes cover the landscape. The coastline is 99 km (62 miles)
long. Land use--49.1% arable land, 22.2% meadows and pastures, 16.3%
forest and woodland, 12.4% other.
Climate: With four distinct seasons, the climate is humid continental,
with a moderating maritime influence from the Baltic Sea. January
temperatures average -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit); July,
17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit). Annual precipitation
averages 54-93 centimeters (21-37 in.).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Lithuanian(s).
Population: 3.75 million, 146 people/sq. mile.
Growth rate: -0.4%. Birth rate--13/1,000. Death rate--11/1,000.
Migration rate--4 migrants/1,000. Urban dwellers--68%. Density--56
people/sq km (1989). Divorce rate--33% (1989).
Ethnic groups: Lithuanian 80.6%, Russians 8.7%, Poles 7%, Belarusians
1.6%, Ukrainians 1.1%. Religions: Catholic (80%), Lutheran/Calvinist
(10%), Jewish (7%), Orthodox (3%).
State language: Lithuanian. A minority speak Russian and Polish.
Education: Years compulsory--9. 60% of the adult population has
completed secondary education, and 11% have completed higher education.
Attendance--640,000 students at 2,326 schools, plus 55,300 university
students at 15 universities and institutes of higher education.
Health: Infant mortality rate--18/1,000. Life expectancy--66 years male,
Work force: 1.6 million: Industry--33%, Science, education, culture--
14%. Construction--13%. Agriculture, forestry--8%. Health care--7%.
Transportation/communications--7%. Trade and government--10%. Other--8%.
Type: parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: On October 25, 1992 Lithuanians ratified a new
constitution, which officially was signed on November 6 that year.
Branches: Executive--popularly elected President (Chief of State); Prime
Minister (Head of Government). Legislative--seimas (Parliament--141
members, 4-year term). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Administrative regions: 11 cities, 44 rural districts.
Principal political parties/coalitions: Party Faction Leader Strength
Homeland Union/Conservatives Andrius Kubilius 70 seats; Christian
Democrats Algis Uzdavinys 16 seats; Center Union Romualdas Ozolas; 13
seats Democratic Labor Party Gediminas Kirkilas 12 seats; Social
Democrats Aloyzas Sakalas 12 seats; Democratic Party Saulius Peceliunas
02 seats; Independent candidates 12 seats; vacant 04 seats
Suffrage: 18 years, universal
Central government budget: $1.1 billion (education 20%, public
order/safety 9%, social services 8%, defense 3%)
Public holidays. Lithuanian businesses and institutions, as well as the
U.S. Embassy, will be closed on the following holidays: January 1,
January 6 (Epiphany), January 13 (Defenders of Freedom Day), February 16
(Lithuanian Statehood Day), Good Friday, Easter Monday, first Sunday in
May (Mother's Day), July 6 (Mindaugas Coronation Day), August 15
(Assumption Day), November 1 (All Saints Day), December 25-26
Flag: horizontal tricolor: yellow, green, red.
GDP: $5.6 billion. 1996 GDP growth: 3.6%.
Average annual wages: $2,322.
1996 Inflation: 13.1%.
Natural resources: peat, potential for exploiting moderate oil and gas
deposits offshore and on the coast.
Manufacturing: 25% of GNP (technological instruments, energy, textiles,
and footwear, machinery and spare parts, chemicals, food processing,
wood/paper/pulp products), trade 17%, transportation 12%, construction
9%, energy 6% (nuclear-powered RBMK electrical plant),
Agriculture/forestry 9%: cattle, dairy products, cereals, potatoes),
Cultivable land--1.36 million ha, of which 60% arable, 18% meadow, 13%
Trade: Exports--$3 billion: minerals/energy 12%, machinery/electronics
11%, chemicals 12%, textiles 15%. Major partners--Russia 23.8%, Germany
15.7%, Belarus 10.1%, Latvia 9.3%, Ukraine 7.7%, United Kingdom 3.4%,
Poland 3.2%. Imports--$3.9 billion: minerals/energy 25%,
machinery/electronics 17%, chemicals 9%, textiles 10%. Major partners--
Russia 29%, Germany 16%, Poland 4%, United Kingdom 3%, Ukraine 3%,
Belarus 2%, Latvia 2%.
Official exchange rate: 4 litai (Lt) = $1.00.
The largest and most populous of the Baltic states, Lithuania is a
generally maritime country with 60 miles of sandy coastline, of which
only 24 miles face the open Baltic Sea. Lithuania's major warm-water
port of Klaipeda lies at the narrow mouth of Kursiu Gulf, a shallow
lagoon extending south to Kaliningrad. The Nemunas River and its dense
network of tributaries connect the major inland cities and serve as a
great asset to internal shipping. Between 56.27 and 53.54 latitude and
20.56 and 26.51 longitude, Lithuania is glacially flat, except for
morainic hills in the western uplands and eastern highlands no higher
than 300 meters. The terrain is marked by numerous small lakes and
swamps, and a mixed forest zone covers 28% of the country. The growing
season lasts 169 days in the east and 202 days in the west, with most
farmland consisting of sandy- or clay loam soils. Limestone, clay, sand
and gravel are Lithuania's primary natural resources, but the coastal
shelf offers perhaps 10 million barrels' worth of oil deposits, and the
southeast could provide high yields of iron ore and granite. Lithuania's
capital, Vilnius, lies at the geographical center of Europe.
Border changes initiated by the U.S.S.R. from 1939-1945 have delayed a
formal border agreement between Lithuania and Belarus, although a
functional border exists based upon Soviet demarcations. The borders
with Latvia, Poland and the Kaliningrad district are mutually
The name "Lietuva," or Lithuania, might be derived from the word
"lietava," for a small river, or "lietus," meaning rain (or land of
rain). Lithuanian still retains the original sound system and
morphological peculiarities of the prototypal Indo-European tongue and
therefore is fascinating for linguistical study. Between 400-600 AD, the
Lithuanian and Latvian languages split from the Eastern Baltic
(Prussian) language group, which subsequently became extinct. The first
known written Lithuanian text dates from a hymnal translation in 1545.
Written with the Latin alphabet, Lithuanian has been the official
language of Lithuania again since 1989. The Soviet era had imposed the
official use of Russian, so most Lithuanians speak Russian as a second
language while the resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian as
a first language.
Lithuanians are neither Slavic nor Germanic, although the union with
Poland and Germanic colonization and settlement left cultural and
religious influences. This highly literate society places strong
emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. Most
Lithuanians and ethnic Poles belong to the Roman Catholic Church, but a
sizable minority are Russian Orthodox.
Enduring several border changes, Soviet deportations, a massacre of its
Jewish population, and postwar German and Polish repatriations,
Lithuania has maintained a fairly stable percentage of ethnic
Lithuanians (from 84% in 1923 to 80% in 1993). Lithuania's citizenship
law and constitution meet international and OSCE standards, guaranteeing
universal human and civil rights.
The earliest evidence of inhabitants in present-day Lithuania dates back
to 10,000 BC. Between 3,000-2,000 BC, the cord-ware culture people
spread over a vast region of Eastern Europe, between the Baltic Sea and
the Vistula River in the west and the Moscow-Kursk line in the east.
Merging with the indigenous population, they gave rise to the Balts, a
distinct Indo-European ethnic group whose descendants are the present-
day Lithuanian and Latvian nations and the now extinct Prussians.
The first written mention of Lithuania occurs in A.D. 1009, although
many centuries earlier the Roman historian Tacitus referred to the
Lithuanians as excellent farmers. Spurred by the expansion into the
Baltic lands of the Germanic monastic military orders (the Order of the
Knights of the Sword and the Teutonic Order) Duke Mindaugas united the
lands inhabited by the Lithuanians, the Samogitians, Yotvingians and
Couranians into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) in the 1230s and 40s.
In 1251 Mindaugas adopted Catholicism and was crowned King of Lithuania
on July 6, 1253; a decade later, civil war erupted upon his
assassination until a ruler named Vitenis defeated the Teutonic Knights
and restored order.
From 1316-41 Vitenis' brother and successor, Grand Duke Gediminas,
expanded the empire as far as Kiev against the Tartars and Russians. He
twice attempted to adopt Christianity in order to end the GDL's
political and cultural isolation from Western Europe. To that purpose,
he invited knights, merchants and artisans to settle in Lithuania and
wrote letters to Pope John XXII and European cities maintaining that the
Teutonic Order's purpose was to conquer lands rather than spread
Christianity. Gediminas' dynasty ruled the GDL until 1572. In the 1300s
through the early 1400s, the Lithuanian state expanded eastward. During
the rule of Grand Duke Algirdas (1345-77), Lithuania almost doubled in
size and achieved major victories over the Teutonic and Livonian Orders
at the Battles of Saule (1236) and Durbe (1260). However, backed by the
Pope and the Catholic West European countries, the Orders continued
their aggression which greatly intensified in the second half of the
14th century. During the period Algirdas' brother, Kestutis (Grand Duke
in 1381-82) distinguished himself as the leader of the struggle against
the Teutonic Order. The ongoing struggle precipitated the 1385 Kreva
Union signed by the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila (ruled in 1377-81
and 1382-92) and the Queen of Poland Jadwyga. Jogaila (Jagiello) married
Jadwyga in 1386 and became the King of Poland. One of the conditions of
the union was Lithuania's conversion to Christianity (1387) which
intensified Lithuania's economic and cultural development, orienting it
towards the West. The conversion invalidated the claims by the Teutonic
Order and temporarily halted its wars against Lithuania.
Lithuania's independence under the union with Poland was restored by
Grand Duke Vytautas. During his rule (1392-1430) the GDL turned into one
of the largest states in Europe, encompassing present-day Belarus, most
of Ukraine and the Smolensk region of western Russia. Led by Jogaila and
Vytautas, the united Polish-Lithuanian army defeated the Teutonic Order
in the Battle of Tannenberg (Gruenwald or Zalgiras) in 1410, terminating
the medieval Germanic drive eastward.
The 16th century witnessed a number of wars against the growing Russian
state over the Slavic lands ruled by the GDL. Coupled with the need for
an ally in those wars, the wish of the middle and petty gentry to obtain
more rights already granted to the Polish feudal lords drew Lithuania
closer to Poland. The Union of Lublin in 1569 united Poland and
Lithuania into a commonwealth in which the highest power belonged to the
Sejm of the nobility and its elected King who was also the Grand Duke of
Lithuania. Mid-16th century land reform strengthened serfdom and yet
promoted the development of agriculture owing to the introduction of a
regular three-field rotation system.
The 16th century saw a more rapid development of agriculture, growth of
towns, spread of ideas of humanism and the Reformation, book printing,
the emergence of Vilnius University in 1579 and the Lithuanian Codes of
Law (the Statutes of Lithuania) which stimulated the development of
culture both in Lithuania and in neighboring countries.
The rising domination of the big magnates, the 16-18th century wars
against Russia and Sweden over Livonia, Ukraine and Byelorussia weakened
the Polish-Lithuanian Republic. The end of the 18th century witnessed
three divisions of the Commonwealth by Russia, Prussia and Austria; in
1795 most of Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. Attempts to
restore independence in the uprisings of 1794, 1830-31 and 1863 were
suppressed and followed by a tightened police regime, increasing
Russification, the closure of Vilnius University in 1832 and the 1864
ban on the printing of Lithuanian books in traditional Roman characters.
Because of his proclamation of liberation and self-rule, many
Lithuanians gratefully volunteered for the French Army when Napoleon
occupied Kaunas in 1812 during the fateful invasion of Russia. After the
war, Russia imposed extra taxes on Catholic landowners and enserfed an
increasing number of peasants. A market economy slowly developed with
the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Lithuanian farmers grew stronger,
contributing to an increase in the number of intellectuals of peasant
origin which led to the growth of a Lithuanian national movement. In
German-ruled Lithuania Minor (Konigsberg or Kaliningrad), Lithuanian
publications were printed in large numbers and then smuggled into
Russian-ruled Lithuania. The most outstanding leaders of the national
liberation movement were J. Basanavicius and V. Kudirka. The ban on the
Lithuanian press finally was lifted in 1904.
During WW I, the German army occupied Lithuania in 1915, and the
occupation administration allowed a Lithuanian Conference to convene in
Vilnius in September 1917. The Conference adopted a resolution demanding
the restoration of an independent Lithuanian state and elected the
Lithuanian Council, a standing body chaired by Antanas Smetona. On
February 16, 1918, the Council declared Lithuania's independence. 1919-
20 witnessed Lithuania's War for Independence against three factions:
the Red Army, which in 1919 controlled territory ruled by a Bolshevist
government headed by V. Kapsukas; the Polish army; and the Bermondt
army, composed of Russian and German troops under the command of the
Germans. Lithuania failed to regain the Polish-occupied Vilnius region.
In the Moscow Treaty of July 12, 1920, Russia recognized Lithuanian
independence and renounced all previous claims to it. The Seimas
(parliament) of Lithuania adopted a constitution on August 1, 1922,
declaring Lithuania a parliamentary republic, and in 1923 Lithuania
annexed the Klaipeda region, the northern part of Lithuania Minor. By
then, most countries had recognized Lithuanian independence. After a
military coup on December 17, 1926, Nationalist party leader Antanas
Smetona became President and gradually introduced an authoritarian
Lithuania's borders posed its major foreign policy problem. Poland's
occupation (1920) and annexation (1922) of the Vilnius region strained
bilateral relations, and in March 1939 Germany forced Lithuania to
surrender the Klaipeda region (the Nurnberg trials declared the treaty
null and void). Radical land reform in 1922 considerably reduced the
number of estates, promoted the growth of small and middle farms and
boosted agricultural production and exports, especially livestock. In
particular, light industry and agriculture successfully adjusted to the
new market situation and developed new structures.
The inter-war period gave birth to a comprehensive system of education
with Lithuanian as the language of instruction and the development of
the press, literature, music, arts and theater. On August 23, 1939, the
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact pulled Lithuania first into German influence
until the Soviet-German agreement of September 28, 1939 brought
Lithuania under Soviet domination. Soviet pressure and a complicated
international situation forced Lithuania to sign an agreement with the
U.S.S.R. on October 10, 1939, by which Lithuania was given back the city
of Vilnius and the part of Vilnius region seized by the Red Army during
the Soviet-Polish war; in return, some 20,000 Soviet soldiers were
deployed in Lithuania.
On June 14, 1940 the Soviet Government issued an ultimatum to Lithuania,
demanding the formation of a new Lithuanian government and permission to
station additional Red Army troops. Lithuania succumbed to the Soviet
demand, and 100,000 Soviet troops moved into the country the next day.
Arriving in Kaunas, the Soviet government's special envoy began
implementing the plan for Lithuania's incorporation into the U.S.S.R. On
June 17 the alleged People's Government, headed by J. Paleckis, was
formed; rump parliamentary elections one month later were held,
whereupon Lithuania was proclaimed a Soviet Socialist Republic on August
Totalitarian rule was established, Sovietization of the economy and
culture began, and Lithuanian state employees and public figures were
arrested and exiled to Russia. During the mass deportation campaign of
June 14-18, 1941 about 7,439 families (12,600 people) were deported to
Siberia without investigation or trial; 3,600 people were imprisoned and
over 1,000 massacred.
Lithuanian revolt against the U.S.S.R. soon followed the outbreak of the
war against Germany in 1941. Via Radio Kaunas on June 23, the rebels
declared the restoration of Lithuania's independence and actively
operated a Provisional Government, without German recognition, from June
24 to August 5. Lithuania became part of the German occupational
administrative unit of Ostland. People were repressed and taken to
forced labor camps in Germany. The Nazis and local collaborators
deprived Lithuanian Jews of their civil rights and massacred about
200,000 of them. Together with Soviet partisans, supporters of
independence put up a resistance movement to deflect Nazi recruitment of
Lithuanians to the German army.
Forcing the Germans out of Lithuania by 1944, the Red Army reestablished
control, and Sovietization continued with the arrival of Communist party
leaders to create a local party administration. The mass deportation
campaigns of 1941-52 exiled 29,923 families to Siberia and other remote
parts of the Soviet Union. Official statistics state that over 120,000
people were deported from Lithuania during this period, while Lithuanian
sources estimate the number of political prisoners and deportees at
300,000. In response to these events, an estimated several ten thousand
resistance fighters participated in unsuccessful guerrilla warfare
against the Soviet regime from 1944-53. As a measure for integration and
industrial development, Soviet authorities encouraged immigration of
other Soviet workers, especially Russians.
Until mid-1988, all political, economical and cultural life was
controlled by the Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP). First Secretary
Antanas Snieckus ruled the LCP from 1940-74. The LCP, in turn, was
responsible to the Communist party of the U.S.S.R. In 1947 Lithuanians
comprised only 18% of total party membership in 1947 and continued to
represent a minority until 1958; by 1986, they made up 70% of the
party's 197,000-strong body. During the Khrushchev thaw in the 1950s,
the leadership of the LCP acquired limited independence in decision-
The political and economic crisis that began in the U.S.S.R. in the mid-
1980s also affected Lithuania, and Lithuanians as well as other Balts
offered active support to Gorbachev's program of social and political
reforms. Under the leadership of intellectuals, the Lithuanian reform
movement Sajudis was formed in mid-1988 and declared a program of
democratic and national rights, winning nation-wide popularity. On
Sajudis' demand, the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet passed constitutional
amendments on the supremacy of Lithuanian laws over Soviet legislation,
annulled the 1940 decisions on proclaiming Lithuania a part of the
U.S.S.R., legalized a multi-party system and adopted a number of other
important decisions. A large number of LCP members also supported the
ideas of Sajudis, and with Sajudis support, Algirdas Brazauskas was
elected First Secretary of the Central Committee of the LCP in 1988. In
December 1989, the Brazauskas-led LCP split from the CPSU and became an
independent party, renaming itself in 1990 the Lithuanian Democratic
In 1990, Sajudis-backed candidates won the elections to the Lithuanian
Supreme Soviet. On March 11, 1990, its chairman Vytautas Landsbergis
proclaimed the restoration of Lithuanian independence, formed a new
Cabinet of Ministers headed by Kazimiera Prunskiene, and adopted the
Provisional Fundamental Law of the state and a number of by-laws. The
U.S.S.R. demanded to revoke the act and began employing political and
economic sanctions against Lithuania as well as demonstrating military
force. On January 10, 1991, U.S.S.R. authorities seized the central
publishing house and other premises in Vilnius and unsuccessfully
attempted to overthrow the elected government by sponsoring a local
"National Salvation Committee." Three days later the Soviets forcibly
took over the TV tower, killing 14 civilians and injuring 700. During
the national plebiscite on February 9, 91% of those who took part in the
voting (76% of all eligible voters) voted in favor of an independent,
democratic Lithuania. Led by the tenacious Landsbergis, Lithuania's
leadership continued to seek Western diplomatic recognition of its
independence. Soviet military-security forces continued forced
conscription, occasional seizure of buildings, attacking customs posts,
and sometimes killing customs and police officials.
During the August 19 coup against Gorbachev, Soviet military troops took
over several communications and other government facilities in Vilnius
and other cities, but returned to their barracks when the coup failed.
The Lithuanian government banned the Communist Party and ordered
confiscation of its property.
Despite Lithuania's achievement of complete independence, sizable
numbers of Russian forces remained on its territory. Withdrawal of those
forces was one of Lithuania's top foreign policy priorities. Lithuania
and Russia signed an agreement on September 8, 1992 calling for Russian
troop withdrawals by August 31, 1993, which now have been completed in
full, despite unresolved issues such as Lithuania's compensation claims.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
For over a year after independence, political life was fettered by an
unclear delineation of powers between parliament and government.
Political polarization increased, and name recognition played a much
more significant role in politics than party affiliation. Sajudis
remained part of an unofficial ruling coalition with two other
politically right-wing parties, but rivalries were heightened by
personally divisive political attacks and bureaucratic gridlock.
In an effort to reduce the size and recalcitrance of a government
bureaucracy allegedly impeding reform, in April 1992 then-Prime Minister
Vagnorius unsuccessfully attempted to enact a measure permitting the
dismissal of former Communist party members and of those unwilling to
enforce government decrees.
Two deputies and a minister unsuccessfully tendered resignations in
support of Vagnorius, but the rest of the cabinet wrote a letter to
Chairman Landsbergis complaining of Vagnorius' confrontational governing
style. Vagnorius unsuccessfully submitted his resignation in May. When a
referendum in May to establish a permanent French-style office of
president failed, Landsbergis also threatened to resign. Right-wing
members of parliament boycotted legislative sessions to stall attempts
to form a quorum and successfully forestalled Vagnorius' resignation
until June, when a quorum passed a no-confidence motion. Landsbergis
then chose Aleksandras Abisala as Prime Minister.
A constitution was approved by 53% of eligible voters (85% of those who
actually voted) in an October 1992 referendum. The results of the
October 25 and November 15 runoff elections handed the Democratic Labor
Party (LDDP) headed by former Communist Party boss Algirdas Brazauskas a
plurality of votes and a clear majority of parliamentary seats.
February, 1993 presidential elections gave Brazauskas victory over a
non-LDDP coalition led by independent candidate Stasys Lozoraitis,
Lithuania's former ambassador to the U.S. Economic mismanagement and
collapse, fueled by chronic energy shortages and political factionalism,
played a decisive role in the election results.
Since then, the Lithuanian Government has worked steadily to improve
relations with its neighbors and to implement necessary Western reforms.
In August 1994, the Government, backed by the IMF, lobbied the public
successfully to defeat a populist referendum backed by its own far left-
wing as well as the opposition which called for the indexation of
peoples' savings. However, LDDP candidates took a beating at the hands
of the opposition in nationwide municipal elections held in March, 1995.
Public perception that the government was not doing enough to promote
prosperity and to combat corruption and organized crime again were
Caused primarily by a lack of supervision and regulation over the
banking sector, a long-simmering financial crisis boiled over in
December 1995, leading to the resignation in February of Adolfas
Slezevicius as Prime Minister and LDDP Chairman. The new LDDP Prime
Minister, Mindaugas Stankevicius, instigated an IMF-backed,
comprehensive banking sector bailout plan.
These measures were not enough to persuade voters in the October 25 and
November 10, 1996 rounds of parliamentary elections. The Landsbergis-led
Conservative Party gained 70 out of 141 seats, and another 16 seats went
to its coalition partner, the Christian Democrats. The new coalition
established a new government in early December and won a significant
majority in nationwide municipal elections held in March 1997.
Presidential elections are scheduled for December 21, 1997.
The seimas (parliament), a unicameral legislative body, is the highest
organ of state authority. It initiates and approves legislation
sponsored by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has full
responsibility and control over his cabinet.
Key Government Officials
Prime Minister--Gediminas Vagnorius
Foreign Affairs--Algirdas Saudargas
Trade and Industry--Laima Andrikiene
Admin. Reforms, Local Rule--Kestutis Skrebys
Construction/City Planning--Algis Caplikas
Education and Science--Zigmas Zinkevicius
Social Security and Labor--Irena Degutiene
Seimas Chairman--Vytautas Landsbergis
Lithuania maintains an embassy in the United States at 2622 16th Street,
Washington DC 20009 [tel: (202)234-5860].
The Soviet era brought Lithuania intensive industrialization and
economic integration into the U.S.S.R., although the level of technology
and State concern for environmental, health and labor issues sagged far
behind Western standards. Urbanization increased from 39% in 1959 to 68%
in 1989. From 1949-52 the Soviets abolished private ownership in
agriculture, establishing collective and state farms. Production
declined and did not reach pre-war levels until the early 1960s. The
intensification of agricultural production through intense chemical use
and mechanization eventually doubled production but created additional
Industry is Lithuania's largest economic sector. It is being privatized
and most small firms are now under private ownership. Large industries,
accounting for the bulk of Lithuania's capital investment, are still
mainly under state control. Food-processing and light industries
dominate but furniture, footwear, and textile manufacturing are
important. Machine industries (tools, motors, computers, consumer
durables) account for over one-third of the industrial work force but
generally suffers from outdated plant and equipment. In agriculture,
Lithuania produces for export cattle, hogs and poultry. The principal
crops are wheat, feedgrains and rye. Farm production has dropped as a
result of difficulties with agricultural privatization and poor weather.
The transportation infrastructure is adequate. Lithuania has one ice-
free seaport with ferry services to German ports. There are operating
commercial airports with scheduled international services at Vilnius and
Kaunas. The road system is good but border crossings may be difficult
due to inadequate border facilities at checkpoints with Poland.
Telecommunications have improved greatly since independence as a result
of heavy investment. The banking/financial sector is weak but improving.
Lithuania recorded a $369 million trade deficit in 1994. Its main
trading partners are countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU) and
Central Europe, and the main categories of imported products are energy,
vehicles for transport and machinery. Exports consist mainly of
machinery and food products.
Trade with Western countries increased from 8% of the total in 1992 to
over 24% in 1994. In 1996, exports to European countries accounted for
94.3%, and exports to countries of the EU stood at 33.4% of Lithuania's
Although gross national product (GNP) accounts comparable to Western
figures are not yet fully available, real GDP has been declining since
1990 and finally broke even in 1994. Inflation is also high due to price
deregulation and higher costs of imported energy and other inputs from
the traditional suppliers in the FSU. The spread of private sector
activity, not always reflected in national accounts statistics, is
creating productive jobs and boosting consumer spending. Approximately
50% of Lithuanian workers are in the private sector, which accounts for
half of Lithuania's GNP. The introduction in summer 1993 of a stable
national currency backed by a currency board and pegged to the U.S.
dollar has stimulated investment.
The government focuses its efforts on stabilizing the economy, taking
measures to secure supplies of energy and other vital inputs, providing
a social safety net to alleviate the worst consequences of the economic
depression and combating economic crime. It has enacted legislation
providing a reasonably transparent and favorable regulatory regime for
In 1996, Lithuania exported $34 million in goods to the U.S. and
imported $63 million. In 1994, the Government privatized 70% of its
state property, and to date has registered 5,300 foreign/joint ventures,
whose authorized capital exceeds $400 million. Philip Morris is a major
investor. As of January 1997, American companies have invested over $166
million (over 24% of total foreign direct investment) in Lithuania.
Over 139,000 enterprises now exist in Lithuania. State companies are now
authorized to sell up to 50% of their shares for hard currency without
cabinet approval, and many of over twenty commercial banks offer a full
range of international banking services. Monthly inflation in 1996 was
about 1%. In acceding to its European Union Association Agreement, the
Government removed some restrictions on foreign ownership of land.
Lithuania's defense system is based upon the Swedish-Finnish concept of
a "total," rapid response force composed of a mobilization base and a
small group of career professionals. The defense ministry is responsible
for combat forces, border control, customs, civil defense, search/rescue
and intelligence operations. The "Iron Wolf" Brigade consists of eight
battalions of about 200 men each. The "SKAT," or home guard, consists of
over 50-60 units varying in size from company to platoon strength.
Perhaps the most prestigious arm of the military, SKAT was born during
Lithuania's struggle to regain independence in the early 1990's and
consists entirely of volunteers. The 500-man navy and coast guard use
patrol boats and former Russian corvettes and frigates for coastal
surveillance; the 800-man air force operates 20-30 helicopters and 35-45
planes used mostly for reconnaissance and border patrol. There is a
mandatory one-year active-duty draft period, and alternative service for
conscientious objectors is available.
The 5,400 border guards fall under the Interior Ministry's supervision
and are responsible for border protection, passport and customs duties,
and share responsibility with the navy for smuggling/drug trafficking
interdiction. A special security department handles VIP protection and
Lithuania became a member of the United Nations on September 18, 1991
and is a signatory to a number of its organizations and other
international agreements. It also is a member of the Organization on
Security and Cooperation in Europe, the North Atlantic Coordinating
Council and the Council of Europe. Lithuania is unaffiliated directly
with any political alliance but welcomes membership in NATO, EU, WTO,
OECD, and other Western organizations.
Lithuania maintains embassies in the United States, Sweden, Finland, the
Vatican, Belgium, Denmark, the EC, France, Germany, Poland, the United
Kingdom, and Venezuela. It also operates missions in Estonia, Latvia,
Russia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Ukraine, and in New York City, to the
United Nations and a Consulate. Honorary consuls are located in
Argentina, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Korea, Greece, Norway, the
Philippines, and in the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago.
Lithuania's liberal "zero-option" citizenship law has substantially
erased tensions with its neighbors. Lithuania's suspension of two
strongly ethnic Polish district councils on charges of blocking reform
or disloyalty during the August 1991 coup had cooled relations with
Poland, but bilateral cooperation has markedly increased with the
holding of elections in those districts and the signing of a bilateral
Friendship Treaty in 1994. A similar agreement has been signed with
Belarus in 1995.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Lithuania on
July 28, 1922. U.S. representation accredited to Lithuania served from
the legation in Riga, Latvia until May 31, 1930, when a legation in
Kaunas was established. The Soviet invasion forced the closure of
Legation Kaunas on September 5, 1940, but Lithuanian representation in
the United States has continued uninterrupted for over seventy years.
The U.S. never recognized the forcible incorporation of Lithuania into
the U.S.S.R., and views the present Government of Lithuania as a legal
continuation of the interwar republic. Lithuania has enjoyed Most-
Favored-Nation (MFN) treatment with the U.S. since December, 1991.
Through 1996, the U.S. has committed over $100 million to Lithuania's
economic and political transformation and to address humanitarian needs.
In 1994, the U.S. and Lithuania signed an agreement of bilateral trade
and intellectual property protection, and in 1997 a bilateral investment
Customs: Lithuania does not require visas for American, Canadian or
British citizens. Visitors are encouraged to register at the U.S.
Embassy. Polish border crossings have expanded and improved, but one can
expect major delays.
Duty-exempt items include humanitarian aid, foreign currency and
securities, goods and valuables unsuitable for consumption, and items
temporarily imported and re-exported without "reworking or processing."
Besides internationally banned or regulated items requiring special
permission, import duties and restrictions are imposed on alcohol (40-
100%), tobacco and sugar (30%), foodstuffs and metals (5%). Exports
subject to duties are lumber, leather hides (10-15%) and metals (5%).
Climate and clothing: Vilnius's climate is temperately continental, with
seasons of almost equal length. Summers are pleasant, but winters inland
are very cold and snowy.
Health: Medical care does not meet Western standards, facing a shortage
of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics and
antibiotics. Take along your own personal medication. Sometimes heat and
hot water are unavailable because of the occasional disruption of energy
supplies. Raw fruits and vegetables are safe to eat, but avoid drinking
unpasteurized milk and tapwater.
Transportation: SAS, LOT, Malev, Swissair, Austrian Air, Lithuanian
Airlines and Lufthansa provide service between Vilnius Airport and
European cities. Two trains depart daily for Warsaw without crossing
into Belarus, but take 12 hours. A bus line connects Warsaw, Vilnius,
Riga and Tallinn. Bus and taxi services within the capital and its
environs are good. Taxis are inexpensive and available at stands or may
be ordered by phone. Rental cars are available. Gasoline prices are at
Telecommunications: Improved telephone and telegraph services are
readily available at standard international rates. Vilnius is 7 hours
ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Work week: 40 hours. Offices are open 9am - 6pm on weekdays, and
factories open/close two hours earlier. Food shops are open Monday-
Saturday from 8am - 8pm, while other shops open two hours later. Stores
and shops are closed on Sunday.
Tourist attractions: Over 550,000 tourists visited Lithuania in 1989. As
Europe's geographic epicenter, Vilnius is the leading attraction,
featuring beautiful baroque churches and estates, 16 museums, fortress
towers, and historic medieval castles nearby in Trakai and Medininkai.
The seaside resorts of Palanga and Kursiu Nerija are famous for clean
beaches and natural sand dunes. Ethnographic parks and museums depicting
Lithuanian life through the centuries abound, as do scenic national
preserves. Historic churches and castles dating to Lithuania's Great
Power era are also readily accessible.
Currency, Weights and Measures: The national currency, the litas, is
convertible with major Western monies. Major credit cards can be used
primarily at large banks and Western hotels in Vilnius, but traveler's
checks are not accepted everywhere. Lithuania uses the metric system.
Crime: By U.S. standards, Lithuania has a low rate of violent crime.
However, the introduction of a market-oriented economy has resulted in
an increase in street crime, especially at night near major hotels and
restaurants frequented by foreigners. Take the same precautions as in
any major American city. Penalties for possession, use and dealing in
illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail
sentences and fines.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--James W. Swihart
Deputy Chief of Mission--John Stepanchuk
Political/Economic Officer--Jonathan Moore
Administrative Officer--Susan Page
Consular Officer--Debra Heien
AID Director--Ron Greenberg
Public Affairs Officer--Lisa Helling
Defense Attache--Lt.Col. Ralph Rhea (USA)
The U.S. Embassy in Lithuania is located at Akmenu 6, 2600 Vilnius
[tel/fax: (370) 670-6083/4].
Return to Europe Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage