True Lithuania


Lithuanians (85% of Lithuania's population) are among the European ethnicities living in their current location for the longest, their forefathers having arrived 2000 BC at the latest. However, the story of Lithuanian nation is that of extreme odds against them and spectacular revivals.

First major threat were the Crusaders as Lithuanians were the largest remaining pagan nation in Europe. Lithuanians successfully defended their lands in alliance with Poland (15th century) but still adopted Christianity. Lithuanians thus avoided the Germanization that assimilated the Prussian culture after Crusader conquest.

The next threat to Lithuanians came peacefully from the Polish culture. Poland became the center of new Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Lithuanian-speakers were more and more relegated to peasantry whereas the nobility adopted Polish language and ways of life.

The end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth brought little hope as the new ruler – Russian Empire - banned Lithuanian language altogether. It was however under these harsh conditions that the Lithuanian national revival started, giving birth to an independent Lithuanian nation-state in 1918.

After a brief period of freedom the Soviet occupation began. Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians were exiled to Siberia by the Soviets, including women and small children (many never to return, some not even surviving the initial "journey" in cattle trains). Additional hundreds of thousands were simply killed in this Stalin-led genocide. Vast formerly Lithuanian areas were completely Russified with both the population and placenames replaced (especially in Lithuania Minor).

This history forged the Lithuanian ethnic group. Having suffered a great loss of life and culture at hands of foreign nations, Lithuanians seek that this plight would be acknowledged by the world.

Most Lithuanians would mention these among their key historical facts: the defiance of Christian crusaders (13rd-15th centuries), the book smugglers (1863-1904), the Soviet occupation and genocide (1940-1941, 1944-1990) and the non-violent successful freedom struggle, epitomized in the 1989 Baltic Way human chain

Stereotypically, Lithuanians are considered (and consider themselves) to be envious. Another common belief among Lithuanian men is that the Lithuanian women are among the prettiest in the world, while Lithuanian beer and Lithuanian basketball are among the world's best. Lithuanian folk songs and the art of cross-making are recognized by UNESCO.

Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage whereas Lithuanian cuisine includes the famous potato dumplings cepelinai, various meat, bread and potato dishes.

Genetically Lithuanians are the most similar to Latvians, Estonians, and Finns, all four nations sharing the same dominant DNA haplogroup (N1c). They have fair skin, more than 80% have light-colored eyes and many have light-colored hair (a stereotypical Lithuanian is thus blue-eyed blonde, even though such people are a minority). Lithuanians are among the tallest peoples of the world (this maybe explains their affinity for basketball).

Lithuania and some surrounding areas in modern-day Russia, Poland, Belarus, and Latvia are the traditional heartlands of the Lithuanian nation (with some 2,8 million Lithuanians living in the area). However, the emigration has been rampant since the 19th century. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, Brazilians and Argentines have Lithuanian ancestry, while post-1990s trends of emigration lead primarily to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway and Spain.

It is difficult to say how many Lithuanians live in these countries as many people of Lithuanian heritage there are intermixed and no longer consider themselves Lithuanians nor follow the Lithuanian culture. If considering only those for whom being Lithuanian is more than just family history, there may be ~600 000 Lithuanians in the USA and Canada, ~500 000 in Western Europe, ~50 000 in the former Soviet Union (excluding Latvia and Belarus), ~25 000 in Latin America, ~10 000 in Australia. As the emigration to Western Europe was more recent, Lithuanians there tend to speak Lithuanian and still keep contacts many relatives in Lithuania, while the young Lithuanian-Americans, Lithuanian-Australians or Lithuanians from the former Soviet Union often do not.

Cepelinai meal, folk songs, Lithuanian basketball and the art of cross making are among the most potent symbols of the Lithuanian nation. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Dear sir my people are polish Lithuanian we are nobility without title
    In northwest poland and lithuania bylostak area even though our name sounds more polish my other family are german czech and italian

  2. A few things are wrong about this article. It completely omits the major participation of Lithuanians in killing Jews during the Holocaust. Before the Nazis even entered the then capital, Kaunas, the Lithuanians were already rounding up Jews and killing them in the town square by swinging metal bars at the heads and bodies while on-lookers cheered with one Lithuanian climbed on the pile of bodies and played the Lithuanian national anthem while the crowd sang the song.

    On a completely lighter note, I do agree that Lithuanian women are the prettiest in the entire word. However, Lithuanian beer sucks big time. Yes, the basketball is very good, but I really don’t give a rat’s ass about it. Lithuanian folk songs and the art of cross-making could be dismissed as being dull and boring. As far as Lithuanian cuisine is concerned, the infamous potato dumplings cepelinai are just that – infamous. They’re nasty globs. Best is the Lithuanian bread and the cold beet soup! YUM!

    • This is a very short (11-paragraph-long) introduction to Lithuanians and what makes them different from other ethnic groups.

      The anti-Lithuanian canard you mention (regarding the „Nazi Lithuanians“) is thoroughly analyzed here:

      The full story of ethnic relations in Lithuania over the centuries (without either downplaying something or taking something out of context) is analyzed in a book-long article here:

      Clearly, neither the anti-Lithuanian canards, nor any (in)famous Lithuanian criminals, nor the entire history of ethnic relations in Lithuania is possibly explained in a short introduction to Lithuanians as an ethnic group (but all these issues are indeed mentioned in the other parts of the website).

      As for other things you mention, this short introduction mentioned them based on their popularity and worldwide recognition (e.g. cross-crafting is recognized by UNESCO as world heritage), rather than a subjective appeal, which, naturally, varies from one person to another.

  3. What the fuck is wrong with you?

  4. The incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something (opinion?) that feels to them like knowledge. David Dunnings, Professor, Cornell U.

    Excellent piece. Great summary, well written about the Lithuanian heritage. Also a great website I visit often researching family background and history. I hope to visit Vilkaviskis again next summer.
    JAV Lietuvis

  5. My great uncle was named Juozas Patrikonis and he lived in a house in Scotland with Antony Ziamajtis. I think my uncle and Antony were from Miraslavas, Lithuania. You name looks like Antony’s. Are you from that area?

    • His original surname must have been Žemaitis. However, this is a popular surname all over Lithuania. My family does not come from that area.

  6. My great grandparents emigrated from Lithuania to Scotland, early in the last century. They did so to work in the mines there. After a few short years, they emigrated to just south of Pittsburgh, Pa. where my grandmother was born. Thank you for your article, as it has been difficult for me to learn much of this part of my heritage. I often wondered why I am the only blond haired, blue eyed, six footer plus in the entire family. Thanks to you, now I know!

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