For those of you who don’t know anything about Lithuania (and that is most people!), here is some information to get you situated.

Where is Lithuania?

Lithuania is located in north east Europe on the Baltic Sea between Poland, Belorus, Russia and Latvia.

Map of Europe

A Bit of History

The medieval Lithuanian empire was the largest in Europe in the 14th century.  In 1569, Lithuania formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with (you guessed it!) Poland.  In 1772, the Commonwealth was carved up by its neighbors Austria, Prussia and Russia.  Lithuania became part of the Russian empire where it remained until 1917.

With the demise of the Russian empire as a result of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Lithuania became an independent country, albeit without its historic capital Vilnius which became part of Poland after the Polish army occupied it in 1920.  Like most of the new eastern European countries of the time, Lithuania soon had an authoritarian government and didn’t fare well in the world-wide Great Depression of the 1930s.  But it did establish a parliament, schools, and other institutions that solidified Lithuanian national identity and its existence as an independent country.

In 1940, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuanian and annexed the entire country into the USSR.  The occupation was part of a secret protocol between the USSR and Nazi Germany that divided up Poland and the Baltic countries.  Eighteen months later, Nazi Germany invaded Lithuania as part of its attack on the Soviet Union.  Lithuania was under Nazi occupation until 1944 when the Soveit army returned.  The occupations forces were not kind to Lithuania — the Soviets deported over 20,000 people to Lithuania and the Nazis wiped out 90% of the thriving pre-war Jewish community.

Lithuania remained a part of the Soviet Union until its demise in 1991.  However, beginning in 1988, the Lithuanian popular front Sajudis was actively involved in promoting reform in Soviet Lithuania and ultimately independence from the Soviet Union.  Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare independence (March 1990).  The “Singing Revolution” in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union.

Since becoming an independent country again, Lithuania has worked to establish a parliamentary democracy and a free-market economy.  It hasn’t been easy but Lithuania has made a lot of progress in the past 16 years.  In 1994, Lithuania became a member of NATO and in 2004 it became a member of the European Union.

Want to know more?

Okay, as an academic, I can’t advise depending on Wikipedia as your primary source of historical information, but the article on Lithuania is pretty good.

Suggested books written for a non-academic audience (for those who really want to know more):

Lithuania: Stepping Westward by Thomas Lane (Routledge, 2002)

The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia Lithuania and the Path to Independence by Anatol Lieven (Yale University Press, 1993)

The Baltic States: Years of Independence, 1940-1990 by Romuald Misiunas and Rein Taagepera (University of California Pres, 1993)

Lithuania Awakening by Alfred Erich Seen (University of California Press, 1990)