True Lithuania

Is Lithuania extremely poor / third world?

The average Lithuanian is richer than the average person in countries where 85% of the world's population live. Lithuania has the same array of goods and services available that you'd expect in any rich country (shopping malls, trademarks, IT infrastructure, hotels, etc.). In some ways, such as broadband internet speed, Lithuania actually leads the world.

Countries richer than Lithuania are green in this map while those poorer than Lithuania are red (rated by GNP (PPP) per capita, 2017, source: CIA World Factbook / World Bank). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Why so many people believe Lithuania is third world?

In ~1990, the poorness of Lithuania was not entirely a misconception. Back then, the Soviet-ravaged Lithuanian economy lagged behind the West by an order of magnitude.

However, a lot has changed since then as Lithuania has been swiftly closing the gap. The gap has not been entirely closed and Lithuania is still poorer than most of Western Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia or Japan. However, the difference is no longer truly visible to an outsider, except, perhaps, for a few particular fields.

In the rapidly-developing countries such as those of Central/Eastern Europe, foreign conceptions are often slower to change than the reality.

By the way, even back under the Soviet occupation, Lithuania was not as "third world" as some people may imagine it. While the Soviet system effectively made nearly everyone extremely poor in terms of goods and consumer services (for instance, having a car was a kind of luxury, foreign travels hardly possible, Vilnius had just ~10 restaurants in total and the shop shelves nearly empty), the Soviet system still managed to retain a better-than-the-world-average healthcare and education, leading to a nearly universal literacy (comparable to that of the West), for example, and no malnutrition. Despite the Soviet policy of redistributing much of the Lithuanian products to Russia, Lithuania was the richest of the so-called Republics of the Soviet Union (except for Russia itself). Of course, compared to the West, that was little but it was not as bad as in many of the contemporary third world countries.

Lithuania closing the gap with the West economically. In 1995, Lithuania's GNP per capita made up only 21,69% of the Finnish GNP per capita. It rose to 72,81% by the year 2017

Lithuania closing the gap with the West economically after the liberation from the Soviet Union. In 1995, Lithuania's GNP per capita made up only 21,69% of the Finnish GNP per capita. It rose to 72,81% by the year 2017

Is the "Third-World-Lithuania" myth insulting to Lithuanians?

To most Lithuanians, the belief that Lithuania is poor is not insulting.

In fact, most Lithuanians themselves still hold a belief that, compared to the rest of the world, Lithuania is much poorer than it really is. The fact that most of Lithuanian emigrants and travelers tend to go to the few richer countries or the "bastions of luxury" within the poorer countries (e.g. the Egyptian seaside resorts), and only a few actually see poverty in the foreign countries, tends to enforce this opinion.

However, the belief that Lithuania is "third world", as Lithuania was shown in a few Western-made movies (with malnourished people living in slums, etc.), may be regarded to be insulting as it is simply so far on the negative side of the truth.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Lithuania is not a third world country…I went in 2002 and it was a beautiful place to visit relatives…The homes were beautiful, restaurants great, lovely cobblestone streets, wonderful clothing worn by the people….what would you expect from a country that was under Soviet-Nazis -Soviet rule for 100 years of oppression….Lithuania now has 5 or 6 female engineers, foreign countries opening new companies in Lt. and everything is modern men in suits and ties…..women in suits or dresses looking so handsome….Long live Lithuania for their strength to suffer so much disasters and get through it..Lithuania forever free!
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