True Lithuania

Lithuanians

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 heartland of 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.

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

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