23 August 2019. A human chain under the slogan “The Baltic Way, Its’ Us” in Vilnius. From Catalan separatists to pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, the human chain supports the Baltic states which gained their independence in 1992. (PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP)

Lithuania today has more than 2 million inhabitants. Formerly the Soviet Republic, proclaimed on July 21, 1940 and united with the USSR on August 3, 1940, the country has been a member of the European Union since 2004, but also a staunch ally of the United States within NATO, Janusian face of this state of the European Union.

Its history dates back to the middle of the 13th century with the unification of the Lithuanian tribes of the Baltic regions of Mindaugas, King of Lithuania, in order to fight against the Teutonic knights and the sword-bearers who came to Christianize them. Like its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania has acquired a certain reputation for one of its national treasures, amber.

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The Lithuanian population is made up not only of ethnic Lithuanians for 83.5%, but also of Latvians, Tatars and Germans; Other national minorities also form Lithuania, Poles 6.7%, Russians 6.3%, Belarusians 1.2% and Ukrainians 0.7%. The Lithuanian economy suffered from the 2008 crisis, but as of 2010, growth returned with a positive figure of 3% until the Covid-19 pandemic. 186,278 Covid-19 cases confirmed for 2,927 deaths, these are the figures for the epidemic in Lithuania today.

Lithuania has experienced a significant increase in public spending, due to the health crisis. This is the reason why its economy is expected to experience a sharp slowdown – 1.5% of GDP for 2020.

In 1992, Lithuania adopted by referendum a constitution establishing parliamentary democracy. These are two economists who are at the head of the country today, the President of the Republic, with limited powers, Gitanas Nauséda, and Ingrida Simonyte, Prime Minister, close to the Christian Democrats.

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In 1995, Lithuania submitted its candidacy for the European Union, and following the referendum of 10 and 11 March 2003, 90% of Lithuanian votes were in favor of membership. On May 1, 2004, Lithuania became a member state of the European Union, along with nine other states. Finally, Lithuania joined the euro zone on January 1, 2015.

Lithuania is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Soviet military crackdown on the country’s independence movements this year. On January 11, 1991, Soviet tanks entered Lithuania in order to prevent the country from asserting its independence, proclaimed in March 1990. Soviet troops then took control of several public buildings in Vilnius, an assault was carried out against the communication tower audiovisual. There were then 14 dead and 50,000 Lithuanians mobilized against the soldiery, triggering a mass demonstration in the capital.

As for the Soviet troops, they left the country on January 13, 1991 and the USSR fell on December 26, 1991. In memory of those bloody days, forget-me-not (in Greek: “Do not forget me”) became the symbol of resistance to Soviet troops. In 2019, a ten-year long-running trial convicted some 60 senior Soviet officials in absentia for crimes against humanity involved in the repression of the bloody days of January 1991.

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Since its independence, Lithuania has pursued a policy of mistrust with regard to Russia, as well as with Belarus, Russia’s military ally. So she built a fence nearly 50 kilometers long between the European Union and Russia. It is not uncommon for Lithuania, like the other two Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, to regularly take a stand against Russia in the Council of Europe.

If Lithuania is called “the other country of storks”, let us not forget Alsace, the density of pairs of storks is highest in Europe, wintering in central or southern Africa. This bird is one of the symbols of Lithuania. So Lithuanians are a bit like storks, as our guest, concert pianist Muza Rubackyté, explained to us.

Lithuanians, for economic reasons, tend to divide the labor market of EU member states. That’s why Brexit has hit them so hard. But as Muza Rubackyté reported, they are coming back to their country for the holiday season. So the Lithuanian proverb concerning storks must contain some truth: “Where there is a nest of storks, one inevitably meets honest people…”

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Book by Muza Rubackyté: Born under a piano, Ovadia editions.
Latest CD: Muza Ruckyté performs Leopold Godowsky