True Lithuania

Society of Lithuania: Introduction

Lithuania is a cohesive society of 3 million people with no serious internal conflicts. The local Baltic culture has been influenced by both the West and the East.

Lithuanians are quite introverted and speak little to people they don't know. The nuclear family is the most important (further relatives and childhood friends may be far away due to migration). Own home is a kind of shrine for a Lithuanian, both as a secure location and for self-expression. Modern fashions are largely inspired by the West but the restrictive Soviet past (and the post-Soviet freedom) left its marks. Lithuanian virtues, ethics, and morale includes Christian, Soviet and Western influences. The same can be said about etiquette as well; Lithuanians plan their time in advance and are relatively cold tempered, but both are not the extremes.

The importance of social classes is negligible and there are few districts or institutions exclusively for "the rich" or "the poor"; save for a few extreme cases they intermingle. However, the age-related expectations for a person to fulfill some roles tend to be more stringent than in the West, coinciding with a great generational divide.

Once *the* definition of a person, religion lost some of its importance under the Soviet atheist regime. Roman Catholic (~85,9%) practices and holidays are generally considered mainstream, while Russian Orthodox (~4,6%) is the most visible minority. Interfaith relations are cordial; religious (93,2%) vs. irreligious (6,8%) may pose a bigger divide.

Religion has been replaced by ethno-linguistic groups as the most prominent self-identification even before the Soviet occupation. Lithuanians are the majority (85%). Prime minorities are the conservative Poles (6,65%) and mostly urban Russians/Russophones (8%).

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Socio-economic groups of Lithuania

In the Lithuanian society, class divisions are low-key. Members of very different affluence levels more usually than not live in the same neighborhoods, buy at the same shopping malls and send their children to the same public (rather than private) schools. Complex history, where classes were frequently shuffled by various occupational forces, played a part in this.

Ignas Staškevičius (left), one of the richest people in Lithuania, working as a salesman for his publishing house during Vilnius Book Fair. Even the largest Lithuanian businesses tend to be (micro)managed by their owners. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The influential elite of Lithuania consists of several very different groups. The first group is that of the so-called "Soviet nomenclature". To the dismay of 1990s independence activists, many of these remained in powerful positions, continuing their old practice of conformism with whoever is in power and reciprocal cronyism. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of them have switched their ideals to pro-European Union (as this is where the new winds are blowing). Slow lustration meant that unlike in some other ex-communist countries the people of Lithuania were not informed on who served totalitarian institutions during the Soviet occupation. The former "nomenclature" is typically reluctant to show off its wealth as this would attract unwanted attention and questions.

After independence, the Soviet "nomenclature" was joined in the competition for political power by the former independence activists (mainly libertarian or conservative intellectuals).

A former independence activist shows the underground printing press her family used to circumvent Soviet censorship. Many families have such stories of resistance, suffering or quiet defiance to tell. Those who collaborated however usually keep silent. The division is noticeable and even the young are sometimes evaluated by their parents' occupation-era deeds. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In vying for economic power, the "nomenclature" was in some sectors outcompeted by 1990s self-made men who established retail, import/export and other businesses in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as privatized those Soviet "businesses" that the "nomenclature" didn't want. As the new opportunities were most eagerly grabbed by people in their 20s and 30s the Lithuanian millionaire community of the era was younger than in many other countries. In the early 1990s people were eager to put their newly acquired wealth into large suburban homes and expensive cars, but with time this trend diminished, although a constant and stable group of Lithuania's rich "elite" publicizes their endeavours in socialite magazines.

Despite the relatively similar class lifestyles, there is some resentment against businessmen, rooted both in the Soviet propaganda ("trade=theft") and the significance of "turncoat Soviet nomenclature" among the rich. The recent 2000s high-tech entrepreneurs are respected more.

With high streets and malls dominated by chain stores, the small businessmen largely stick to marketplaces and fairs, although online retail/services gain popularity among younger starters.

The relative lack of labour-intensive industries means that there are few industrial workers in Lithuania. Labor unions are generally weaker than in western Europe and they suffer a certain image problem as a part of society associates them with the former Soviet regime (when the state was both the only true employer and the real power behind the puppet labor unions). Businessman, on the other hand, are sceptical of the labor unions because of the situations when their leaders mobilize the unions for their own personal gain rather than that of the workers.

Traditional intellectuals may be considered another class that consists of teachers, doctors, scientists, and classical artists. Loyal intellectuals were supported by the Soviet regime, moreover, their jobs used to be the most prestigious ones as they offered access to various other people. This access was more important than money in the Soviet society where many goods could have been obtained only through personal relations with someone responsible for distribution. After independence, the education and healthcare remained public rather than private (leading to mediocre salaries) while classical art failed to attract enough customers to be commercially viable. Therefore some intellectuals, while deeply critical of the Soviet totalitarianism, believe that the current system is treating them unfairly. However, it may be so that a significant part of this group has failed to adapt, with (for example) universities still choosing which research projects to undertake based on personal relations with the scientists, which impedes the will of private companies to fund these projects.

Another significant force in the society is the peasantry. Some 12% of the workforce is in agriculture, but this is diminishing as agriculture turns into another form of business, partly funded by the European Union money and impossible without sacrificing the workforce numbers for technology and economies of scale. Emotional peasant protests against government policies and roadblocks by farming equipment of the 1990s are therefore a thing of the past, replaced by other forms of lobbying.

Historical classes, such as the nobility, are completely meaningless, as they were stripped of their final benefits some 100 years ago. Subsequently, the Soviets completely destroyed their culture and remaining landholdings.

A certain underclass, so-called asocial people, lives on benefits and criminal activity. Many of them are dependent on alcohol, some on drugs. Among the criminals, there is their own division into castes, largely inherited from the Russian and Soviet prison system.

While the post-independence generations (born ~1990 and later) that are now entering the elite lack the Soviet experiences that forged the divisions in the Lithuanian society, they often still align themselves with those older groups, often depending on their upbringing, ethnicity, the circle of friends and more. Still, another part of the post-independence population associates themselves with social groups common in the West instead (this is more common among those who studied or lived in the West).

Moreover, the internet and favorable tax initiatives also allowed foreign multinationals (banks, IT companies) to establish their back-offices in Lithuania in the 2010s or at least to outsource some of their work. This gave birth to a new social "class" in Lithuania: the employees and contractors of foreign multinationals, who typically earn salaries that are three-to-ten times larger than a Lithuanian average. They enjoy Western living standards and massive conspicuous consumption, something that was previously possible only for the owners of medium and large businesses. They make the bulk of customers for places such as recently-bludgeoned uber-expensive restaurants and prestige-car dealerships. However, these people live nearly exclusively in the largest cities (and their suburbs), as there are no foreign investments or interests elsewhere. Most of them are in tehir 20s-30s, as lack of knowledge of English precludes the earlier generations from reaping the benefits of foreign multinationals.

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Age groups and genders in Lithuania

The Soviet clichés imposed on every age group had a person's life neatly divided into distinct "age bands", each with its own duties. For example, playing board games, watching animation and drinking refreshing drinks had been only acceptable to children, only adults were permitted to eat at restaurants, while the seniors were expected to stay at home (garden) and help rear grandchildren. Many watched with disbelief as President Valdas Adamkus (a Lithuanian-American) drank Coca Cola in the 1990s - "is he still a child?" question lingered.

This mindset still limits senior citizen's lifestyle. For example, unlike in the West, it is uncommon for retired citizens to travel abroad as many consider themselves to be too old and unhealthy for this. The fact that most senior Lithuanians spent their youths without many things that were already commonly available in the West (e.g. personal cars, dining out, bank cards) also influences their lack of will/ability to use them today.

Moreover, the former Soviet policies made the retired Lithuanians rather poor. There have been no pension funds in Lithuania, meaning that the current workforce (rapidly decreasing due to emigration) is forced to pay the pensions to the entire retiree population (23% of all citizens). The old age pension is therefore relatively small but even this puts a great strain on the economy, pushing the state to borrow money at high costs.

Perhaps due to lack of safety during their lifetimes, most retirees are saving a large share of their incomes (in their home rather than in the mistrusted banks). This further reduces the actual disposable incomes of the retirees and leads to sad stories when these savings are stolen by con-artists specializing at this.

Students in Vilnius

Elderly poeple stop to buy press after the Holy mass. Much of the Lithuanian elderly are not using internet or computers. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

While the elderly are customarily respected (e.g. by yielding them a seat in public transport), more often than not they are somewhat "written off" by the society. Their wisdom, acquired in life conditions extremely different from the ones today (i.e. under the Soviet occupation), is seen as no longer useful.

The youth is generally more westernized than their parent or grandparent generations and the old social divisions give way to the new ones that are common in the Western Europe. The common way to grow up is to attend a kindergarten, attend a school 7 to 18 y/o and then immediately seek university education (up to Master's degree). Of these, only the school is compulsory. Most people start to seek job only after completing their studies; prior to that, they commit their free time to "being students" instead (partying, etc.), save for an occasional summer job (if one follows the massive study programs rigorously (s)he'll have very little free time anyway). While the rigid "first education, then job" sequence dates back to the Soviet age-band clichés, parts of them have changed: back then universities were reserved only for the most capable while army conscription and vocational education were for the rest.

Students in Vilnius

Students leave Vilnius University campus. Nearly all students in Lithuanian universities join them immediately after school and a strong majority are female. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Adults aged 25 to 55 are the bulk of society and the major taxpayers. They generally live on their own and decide independently (including selecting a husband/wife). The late 20s to early 30s are popular ages for the wedding and having children. "Official marriage" these days both comes later and feels more optional than under the Soviet occupation when somebody unmarried at 25 used to be considered a likely lifelong bachelor(ette) by peers. While many still meet their serious partners in the early 20s, many prefer some career before the wedding. The psychological definition of a "young person" has also widened: it now generally covers much of the 30s whereas before independence 30s was held to be "middle age" and even parties/discos for "those over 30" used to be separate.

Women are prominent in Lithuanian public life. According to the World Bank, Lithuania is the only country in Europe to regularly have more women than men in its workforce (50,5% in 2012). Currently, the percentage is at 49,9% but it is still larger than that for any single European or Western country.

51% of the Lithuanian researchers are also female. Female suffrage dates to the very first democratic elections in Lithuania (Great Seimas of Vilnius, 1905), while the 1926 presidential elections already had two female candidates (out of four).

Students in Vilnius

Key female participants of the Lithuanian national revival: Sofija Čiurlionienė, Gabrielė Petkevičaitė (a politician who presided over the first session of independent Lithuania's parliament and was a presidential candidate in 1926) and Žemaitė (a writer).

However, while most Lithuanian women work, there is still a popular belief that it is a duty of a man to provide for the family. In such families, only the husband is expected to do a serious career while the wife often selects the most interesting job instead, giving much less regard to the salary. Because of this, Lithuanian men on average earn more than the women, although this gap is smaller than in most other European countries. Moreover, the situation is changing, as increasingly many women opt to do serious careers, whereas increasingly many men seek to have more interesting jobs even if they pay less. This is especially true for those under 40 and even more so for those under 30.

The women are customarily respected by allowing them to pass a door first.

Read more: Generations in Lithuania

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Personal and family relations in Lithuania

The basis of Lithuanian nation is the nuclear family. The number of kids has been decreasing recently; today a family of four (two parents and two children) is the social norm. It is now acceptable for couples to forego marriage (see: marriage traditions).

Lithuanian language has a multitude of words to describe obscure family relations (e.g. "kaliboba" - 4th husband, "dieveris" - husband's brother, "laigonas" - wife's brother). This signifies the importance a wider family once had but today these words are largely forgotten. Under the Soviet occupation, it was common to relocate people - therefore now relatives rarely live nearby and meet only on special occasions if at all.

Housing shortage under the Soviet occupation meant that three generations typically had to share the same apartment. This changed now and adult children usually move out (although may still be supported financially), largely breaking free from parental control.

Husband and wife usually share the income with the wife spending more. Student children are given limited allowances on family money. A family may also give money and other support to their parents and a few other relatives in dire straits.

It is regarded to be dishonourable if one's parents are in poverty when that person is relatively wealthy. Moreover, it is considered equally dishonourable to put the parents into any senior facility, which are low-quality in Lithuania. However, regardless of how rich someone is, he is not expected to share very much of it with his parents: he is just expected to keep them above the poverty line and to enable them living on their own.

Lithuanian child parenting styles and values vary greatly from family to family, and libertarian laws respect this. Any state intervention into child-rearing (which is common in the West) is generally frowned upon.

While a part of youth has a dissenting opinion, having sex is commonly held to be an important commitment and faithfulness is valued. The average number of lifetime sexual partners is less than 3. Teen pregnancy, abortion and STD rates in Lithuania are all considerably lower than those of the two other Baltic States.

Some urban Lithuanian keep cats and dogs which they treat as a "junior family member". Villagers, on the other hand, more often regard their pets more like farm animals limiting their time inside homes and expecting utility rather than cuteness (i.e. mice-eating cats and security dogs).

After the family, an average Lithuanian spends much of his remaining free time with friends. "Friends" include select relatives, select workmates, a few (former) classmates and (former) university mates. Friendships are generally within the same age group and more-often-than-not the same gender.

Male friends tend to limit touching each other to handshakes while for female friends hugs and kisses are acceptable. Younger people treat seniors (older by 10+ years) more formally than otherwise expected, whereas older people treat younger ones less formally.

Social differences do not preclude friendships but boss-employee or teacher-student friendships are rare as hierarchy prevails in most institutions. Deliberations have now become more fashionable but it is still usually up to the leader to individually decide whether to take the advice of his/her subordinates. This decision-making hierarchy, however, does not mean inequality of working conditions.

Lithuanians almost never talk to strangers, except for "designated areas" such as nightclubs and internet forums. They keep a high degree of formality towards acquaintances (e.g. co-workers who are not friends) and service personnel. It may be considered untactful to display emotions or (to a lesser extent) political-philosophical opinions to anyone but one's friends.

In Lithuanian villages, the "everybody knows everybody else" tenet still holds true. In cities, however, the neighbour relations essentially have been destroyed by the centrally-planned Soviet urbanization (when very different people used to be moved into the same neighbourhoods). Average urban Lithuanian knows very little about those who live next door even for years. Not saying "hello" to one's neighbour is not considered rude. This is somewhat changing in post-independence housing developments where more similar people (in age, salary, education) acquire apartments.

Typical large Soviet residentials in Klaipėda. Nearly every such building houses both rich businessmen and poor pensioners, Lithuanians and Russians, hard workers and alcohol-addicted social security recipients. At one time even the acting Prime Minister lived in such apartment. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

On the other hand, many keep relations with people far away as a massive emigration led to virtually everybody having some relatives and childhood friends abroad (until 2004, mostly in the USA but now mostly in Western Europe). They come back for holidays and cheaper medicine and may send remittances. Some locals see emigrants as traitors, however, believing them to have sacrificed the needs of their small nation and families for personal material gain. Such views are usually held about the ones who assimilate into the foreign cultures and have no plans to return or perpetuate Lituanity abroad.

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Home and away: Lithuanian public/personal space

A large modern detached family house is the coveted accommodation to many (a popular saying goes that "Every Lithuanian has to plant a tree, raise a child and build a house"). In Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda, however, a non-Soviet apartment can also be a status symbol. The majority lives in Soviet apartments (cities) or old detached homes (villages).

Nearly every family owns its home, 90%+ without any bank credits attached. Rental is considered acceptable only for students and expatriates. A tenant is typically not seen as a permanent resident but more as somebody staying in a long-term hotel "until he/she could get his own apartment". Most homes are even self-designed (at least the interiors).

Types of Lithuanian family homes

On average every Lithuanian has 26,2 m2 of living space. 36% live in detached homes, 63% live in apartments (the division is 15%-85% in cities/towns and 80%-20% in villages).

All Lithuanian single-family detached homes can be roughly divided into 4 main types:

Dwelling type Common locations Common features Percentage of total dwellings
Pre-WW2 detached homes (-1945) Villages, town centers, former city suburbs The traditional dwelling. Usually wooden, lacking indoor WC and sewerage. 7,8%
Soviet detached homes (1945-1990) Villages, town suburbs The "mainstream" dwelling of a Soviet countryside. Small and of dubious building quality, their brick or prefab walls and modern amenities still seemed an improvement to many. 21%
1990s detached homes City suburbs Large-to-enormous, self-designed brick homes that people rushed to build "for generations" when they were finally able to earn money with the advent of capitalism. New technologies, ideas, and movement made many of these homes obsolescent, however. 2,5%
2000s detached homes City suburbs, towns In 2000s more Western ideas (styles, layouts, materials) reached the detached home construction 3,1%

The four main types of detached homes in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

All Lithuanian apartments may be roughly divided into these 5 types:

Dwelling type Common locations Common features Percentage of total dwellings
Pre-WW2 apartments (-1945) City downtowns Brick buildings of pretty architecture from the ages gone-by. Every apartment is unique and most are expensive, but a lack of parking space and the "building aging problems" make them a dream home only to some Lithuanians. 5,8%
Early Soviet apartments (1945-1960) City downtowns Dating to the Stalin's campaign of rebuilding downtowns in his own grandeur these apartments have especially high ceilings and are semi-prestigious due to their central locations. WC and bath are in a single room. 3,6%
Soviet apartments (1960-1990) City Soviet micro-districts, towns Still the "mainstream" accommodation in cities. Prefab, badly insulated, unprestigious, cramped. All buildings and apartments designed the same way and many still have the same furniture. Very different people live next door leaving no place for a true community. 46,8%
Soviet dormitories (1945-1990) City Soviet micro-districts The crampiest form of Soviet accommodations where every family has a single room and must share toilets and kitchen with an entire floor. After independence people used to allocate part of their room for amenities thus effectively making dormitories into apartment blocks. Note: today it is also common among out-of-city students to rent large apartments and use them as dormitories. 1%
Post-independence apartments (1990-) Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda Despite a rapidly falling population residential construction boomed after independence as the economic growth permitted many to acquire new better quality apartments. These are preferred by young families leaving multi-generational homes 7,7%

The four main types of Lithuanian apartments. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

As the Soviet occupation ended, most of the people lived in the late-Soviet apartments (in cities) or Soviet detached homes (in villages), with some living in earlier buildings which were generally in a rather bad state of repair as they were little renovated during the Soviet occupation (and thus not considered more prestigious than the low-quality Soviet buildings).

In the 1990s-2010s those who were able to afford it generally either built their own detached homes in the city suburbs, or moved to the now-prestigious city downtowns, depending on preference. In downtowns, they either moved to newly built buildings or to the pre-WW2 buildings, which they helped to renovate.

Young people who were leaving their parent's place in 2000s-2010s typically took housing credits to acquire newly-built apartments in the new city districts that were cheaper than downtown apartments but of better build quality than Soviet apartments.

The late-Soviet bulk of cities thus was left inhabitted by older-than-average population, as well as out-of-city students who rent apartments and rooms attracted by low price. Pre-WW2 apartments, on the other hand, gentrified greatly but, in addition to the richer-than-average new apartment owners, nearly every one of them also has some "old owners" who refuse to sell their homes even for large prices offered (real estate tax breaks for such people allow them to continue living where they often spent all their lives). These historic buildings are also popular for rental-to-foreigners (e.g. AirBnB).

Lithuanian home culture and etiquette

A great care is taken to keep the home tidy and comfortable. It is not entirely a personal space, however, and guests are commonly invited (removing shoes is a must). Guests may be given a home-prepared dish (see: Lithuanian cuisine).

This cherished "home" ends abruptly at the front door (front gate) - the staircases/public yards may be dirty and derelict. In the Soviet apartment blocks, this has been a necessity as the inhabitants are simply too different to agree on common rules. In modern housing developments, there is more respect for common good.

Lithuanians are especially attached to the location. A popular Lithuanian expression "[he is] so sad as if he sold his land" implies that even a willful transfer of one's real estate has traditionally been a sorrowful event. To this day many spend entire lives (or at least entire adulthood) in a single home. Even when buying a new apartment most prefer improving size/quality but not the neighborhood (this helps city districts to remain socially heterogeneous). However, the historical fondness of location has found its limits: many (especially the youth) "improve status" by moving from towns to cities, from non-capital cities to Vilnius, from city apartments to suburban houses or emigrating abroad. While Lithuanians used to build homes "for generations" until 1990s today they increasingly take the new mobility into account.

A typical staircase in a Lithuania's Soviet apartment block. While the doors are new and cared-for, everything what is outside, even the personal mailboxes (top left), is pretty derelict. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In villages, most people own some crops or cattle, even if they have other jobs. Urban relatives may come to help in harvests. "Going to the village" and "Where is your village?" are common expressions among middle-aged urban Lithuanians, showing that fairly recently ~80% of Lithuanians were rural and, as a local proverb goes, [nearly everyone is] "the 3rd generation from a plow". Lithuanian villages are, however, aging swiftly and today's urban kids may already lack "their village". Some reestablish the connection to nature by buying an abandoned farm or visiting "village tourism" sites in summer to enjoy a sauna, swim in a lake.

A car is a kind of obligatory "home away from home" and well cared for (Lithuania is among the global leaders by car ownership rates). Intra-city public transport is thus used mainly by the poor and those unable to drive. Used prestigious cars are preferred to new(er) small ones.

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Lithuanian daily and annual routine

Most Lithuanians live, work or study in cities and therefore their daily routines are quite similar. Time is generally important to Lithuanians so they schedule many of their activities in advance.

The usual day of a Lithuanian: home and work

Most Lithuanians work from 8:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday, with a break at 12:00-13:00. This schedule is especially strict in most national and municipal institutions but may be more flexible at private companies.

Separate office rooms for 1-4 people each are the most common office arrangement. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The commute is short as most people both live and work in the same city/town, so most could wake up at 06:30 or 07:00, eat a quick breakfast and drive to their 8:00 jobs (public transportation is slower and generally limited to the poor and those unable to drive).

The mid-day (~12:00) meal is sometimes translated as "dinner" rather than "lunch" as it is the primary meal of the day. It is enjoyed by taking up special offers at restaurants near the workplace, reheating meal taken from home or (in smaller towns) going back home. Shorter coffee or cigarette breaks may also be taken if there is less work.

An average Lithuanian can be home after work ~18:00 devoting the evening to his hobbies, household chores or TV. The supper is then prepared and eaten, more commonly by a wife, whereas the husband is expected to do repairs and physical work needed at home. This traditional reliance on do-it-yourself has somewhat withered as post-independence economic boom made eating out and hiring professional help much more affordable. Still, being good at the chores of the respective sex is considered honorable. Full-time servants or nannies are rare even among the rich.

Evening rush hour in Vilnius in January. Short winter days mean that Lithuanians leave homes before sunrise and come back after sunset. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

If the family has kids and the school is far away they may drive them in the morning. However, usually kids are enrolled into the nearest one and walk or use public transport to there on their own from a very young age (~8 years old), which is generally safe. The lessons start at 8:00 and may end at 12:00 to 15:30 depending on a day and schoolyear (older kids have more lessons). In any case children usually come back home earlier than parents unless they go out somewhere. In the evenings, kids are expected to do extensive homework.

University student schedule is similar to that of school students although the lecture times are less regular.

The youngest kids usually spend the entire daytime at kindergartens where they are driven in the morning and taken as parents are going home from work (unless there are grandparents or hired nannies to look after them).

The schedules are different for those who work evening shifts or long shifts alternating with prolonged leisure periods (e.g. in supermarkets). Night shifts are less common since most labor-intensive factories have closed down. Peasants also have unique schedules dependent on the annual cycle of seasons.

Weekends (Saturdays and Sundays) are free for most workers and students.

Walking around parks without a particular goal is a popular weekend activity in summer. In winter such strolls are mostly confined to shopping malls, where far from every visitor buys much. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian vacation and travel habits

The Lithuanian Labor code gives 1 month of annual paid holidays, 2 weeks of which must be consecutive. Lithuanians usually spend these times in the garden, countryside, visiting relatives, on the seaside, traveling abroad, prolonged partying or simply at home.

After independence (and scrapped Soviet travel limitations) an annual or more frequent foreign travels became a norm. Middle-aged and small-town people prefer regularly coming back for holidays in the same Turkish or Egyptian resorts. Young generation increasingly travels independently. Still, Lithuanians love their own beaches and the local resorts get extremely crowded in summer weekends (even if nearly everyone agrees that they have far too little sun). Some now own a house or apartment at the seaside.

Crowded beach in Palanga resort on a hot and sunny summer day. Short coastline and sea-worshipping vacation culture mean many sunbathers per beach kilometer. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Alternatively, some city dwellers hold a strip of suburban farmland ("garden") and may spend free summer time at their homes/sheds there. Foraging, fishing, and sports activities are popular seasonal hobbies as well. Some other pastimes, such as alpine skiing or scuba diving, usually require a vacation abroad. Binge drinking is a far less glamorous weekend/vacation activity, its popularity considered a societal problem.

Families with children tend to adapt their out-of-home vacations to the children schoolyear, which starts invariably on September 1st and ends (summer holiday begins) at late May to late June, depending on school and pupil's age. There are also Winter school holidays (December 24th-January 6th) and Spring school holidays (a week before or after Catholic Easter), in some schools also Autumn school holidays (variable). Universities generally follow a similar pattern with the Autumn and Spring semesters ending in January and June respectively (when the exams take place).

Students begin their school year in formal attire and flowers for teachers on September 1st. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

It is not uncommon to have foreign holidays by taking children from school for some time, in general, the family freedom to decide upon child's upbringing is respected in Lithuania more than in some Western societies.

Lithuania is among the world leaders in the number of public holidays. Most of them lack popular celebration traditions and are thus considered as short vacations (especially when joined with a weekend). A few holidays, however, are nearly universally celebrated at hometown with family or a wider circle of relatives. These are Christmas (including Kūčios) and to a lesser extent Easter, Vėlinės. Most also celebrate their birthday though that celebration may be moved by 1-2 weeks for convenience.

Summer is the traditional time for vacations and the only time when local seaside or countryside holidays are feasible. Foreign travels, however, made such vacations possible anytime. In spite of this, climate still frames the Lithuanian yearly routine: cold winter weather brings nearly all activities indoors while massive heating bills strip poor-to-middle-class families of much of their disposable income.

See also: Holidays / Celebrations in Lithuania.

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Lithuanian ethics, virtues, and morale

Lithuanian ethics and morale have been largely formed by alternating periods of self-rule and foreign regimes (each of them spreading its own ideology, in many cases by force). The prime lasting external influences are Christian (14th-19th centuries), Soviet (1940-1990) and Western European (post-2004).

Business, work, and financial ethics

For centuries Lithuanians had to work hard to achieve prosperity in an unwelcome climate and this respect for hard work remains. Workers at private companies work faithfully and school requirements are massive. Strikes are rare and overtimes are done if needed. Laziness is frowned upon. Employees also often perform tasks that are not included in their job title.

The Soviet system where results would not be rewarded created a very different work morale in state-owned and municipal institutions, many of which are still infamous for procrastination and corruption. This declines as the Soviet generation is replaced by a post-Soviet one.

Caring about the future is another virtue and many families save large sums of money "for a black day" (as a popular saying goes). Living on credit is frowned upon and may be seen as a form of dangerous addiction comparable to compulsive gambling (why pay interest when one can save up instead?). The way Americans use up their credit limits is completely alien to most Lithuanians.

In business circles, however, credits are the main source of funding as issuing shares is even less welcome in Lithuanian psyche. Most Lithuanians feel the need to have something "their own" and dislike to share or to be controlled. To be merely a CEO responsible to hundreds of other shareholders is seen just as a career mid-point before starting a family-owned business (even if it won't ever grow that large). In ~75% of the Lithuanian companies, CEOs are also the main shareholders. The boards also typically consist of company owners. As such, the personal values/opinions of the key shareholders may outweigh financial gain in decision-making. As businesses commonly double as a mean of self-expression, franchises are not popular.

Own home is also cherished and individualized. The native neighborhood, native city, and native region are respected as a part of personal identity. The Family is seen by many to be above all at its importance (and the inspiration for many long-term decisions).

Loyalty to the employer is less common, however: some may spend decades at a single company out of convenience, but others (especially the youth) switch jobs if a better offer is available (especially in the same city). Salaries are the prime motivation to stay or leave. Lithuanians tend to see little value in what isn't "immediate money", making schemes such as share ownership and pension contributions nearly non-existent. History-inspired fears of revolutions, legal/taxation changes, economic collapses (that would wipe out the promised benefits) may contribute to this. "Perks" (health insurance, sports club memberships), even if available, are derided as wasteful by many employees ("let us choose ourselves where to spend our money"). Work events are often limited to annual parties (e.g. Christmas). One reason for all this is that Lithuanian lifestyles depend relatively little on social status and especially much on things like the generation. Therefore the fact that people share a job doesn't help much to find a non-monetary benefit or activity the majority of them would enjoy.

Prestigious jobs are those that give either money or admiration. However, the perception of economic benefits is slower to change than market realities, meaning some of the best-paying professions are not (yet) very prestigious (e.g. programmer) while some oversupplied ones still are (e.g. lawyer). The aforementioned "admiration" may come both with fame (e.g. model, sportsman) or gratitude (e.g. doctor). Businessman and (especially) politician jobs have a mixed image as the benefits there come with heavy risks and a perceived need for some immoral decisions. All-in-all, white-collar jobs are seen as far more prestigious the current "university generation" often regards blue-collar jobs as "below them". Many consider a degree in humanities and social sciences to be a "generic degree" that improves access to any white-collar job. Therefore the "door-opening" prestigious specialties are often selected by students instead of the ones more related to the jobs available.

After death, the inheritance is usually split among children, who are expected to "continue the family path" by living in the same home and doing the same business (if the parents had any). The law supports such disposition of wealth by waiving inheritance tax for family members. Many key Lithuanian decisions (business, home improvement, wealth accumulation) are thus made taking into account further generations. However, massive emigration means that some children break with parents' "ways of life" regardless.

Law and morale

Many Lithuanians feel more fear/disdain towards governmental institutions than trust/respect. These attitudes partly date to Soviet occupation, when the laws were immoral and the government was alien. Avoiding authorities used to be the best practice and cheating them was considered honorable. Even if the government is now freely elected, many laws are followed only when strictly enforced.

This protest painting of rats devoiring a Lithuanian flag represents the way many Lithuanians feel about the governmental institutions (rats). It was painted in a public campaign against upholding certain court decision in a child custody case, perceived to be immoral (the doll represents the child).

Most Lithuanians are genuinely tolerant towards offenses that cause no direct harm. Decades of absurdly strict Soviet regime made them especially libertarian-minded. State regulation in many spheres (e.g. parenting, traffic regulations, "hate speech", taxation) is widely considered to be excessive or wrong. As such, those who report such violations tend to be blamed by many peers as "skundikas" (the same pejorative that was used for people who informed the KGB on government critics).

Litigation is thus mostly limited to major property disputes and heavy injuries. People are expected to "get over" simple "emotional distress" or at least limit their "retaliation" to appropriate negative feedback, otherwise, they may be seen by peers as either weak or profiteering. After all, many Lithuanians suffered far worse fates under the Soviet occupation than could happen to anybody today.

In a real trouble Lithuanians do help, but firstly they should be able to judge that the trouble is real. For instance, many Lithuanians would neither stop nor report a streetfight because they would assume both parties want to fight. Therefore somebody in need of help should clearly indicate it. Even after deciding that something needs to be done some Lithuanians would prefer direct action or personal acquaintance networks over the distrusted authorities.

The rift between people and state authorities is furthered by corruption, cronyism, and embezzlement at the latter. Culturally foreign to Lithuanians, these practices are seen to be a Soviet import which permeated the society so much that it is sometimes impossible to do without them (e.g. if one competitor bribes a corrupt licensing agency and the other doesn't, his business may be hampered). Back under Soviet occupation personal gain at the expense of government used to be condoned by peers (at the time the government controlled the whole economy, including factories, shops, agriculture, and services, meaning most property crimes would have actually been "against the government"). The "old system" has lost this "moral ground" with independence, but it is too convenient for those benefiting from it to be wilfully abandoned.

The younger generation tends to have more trust in state authorities and law (confidence in police experienced the largest gradual opinion poll gains).

Lithuanian confidence in institutions in years 2000 and 2015. In the post-Soviet 1990s, newly-free non-governmental behemoths such as the media and the church were commonly seen as chivalrous fighters for justice, while the directly-elected president used to be the only hope many saw in the government. The generational change increased confidence in low-level non-political agencies, but the institutions that make the key or final decisions remain mistrusted, undermining confidence in system-as-a-whole. Media lost much of its confidence with the rise of political/business influence and tabloids. Sources: Lietuvos žinios, Vilmorus.

Westernization of the law itself (especially after 2004 EU membership) however had its drawbacks on societal cohesion. While some changes were well-received and the economic reform spurred growth, the Western-style social restrictions have gained little popularity outside parts of "the elite". They ushered the end of the 1990s libertarian Lithuania and increased the number of voices claiming "We have made our stand on January 13th, 1991, to end restrictions rather than replace the old restrictions by new ones".

Charity and help

Many Lithuanians would proudly note that their nation is far less materialistic than the West. However, there are less "mass campaigns" for/against a cause in Lithuania as "advertised goodness" is often suspected of being insincere or even fraudulent. The majority of Lithuanian "good deeds" are instead done personally or clandestinely towards less well-off relatives and friends. Donating to the church (which then supports the needy) is popular among the religious.

The TV-station-led charity programs (asking for SMS donations) are a relatively new phenomenon but already a well-entrenched one, probably helped by a historically massive Lithuanian trust in media. Responsible buying has been also slowly gaining ground.

Bedų turgus (Market of misfortunes), one of the popular TV projects that are collecting charity. Here people may offer their 'misfortune' for others to cover it by money.

Many "foreign troubles" however are less acute or non-existent in Lithuania, leading to less local attention towards them (these include terrorism, surveillance, racism, religious intolerance, global warming, gender inequality). Russian imperialism is considered to be a/the key global menace and compassion/charity towards its victims is a popular activity. Orphan(age)s and sick children are favorite local recipients of help.

Lithuanian non-materialism is not limited to helping those poorer than themselves. Often, Lithuanians do not expect a reward when rendering a service to people they personally know, regardless of their financial position (even if such services are his/her job, e.g. it is possible that a barber would cut his/her relatives, friends, and neighbors for free). These attitudes probably date to the Soviet economic system, when the "official services" were scarce and inefficient, leading people to "help each other" with what they could instead.

However, Lithuanians do cherish and safeguard the property they already own. Among the middle-aged and older people this may go to such lenghts as not using it as frequently as a person would want so the property (e.g. a piece of clothing) would serve longer. Even among the youth the Western concept that it is better not to resist a mugging is often regarded as laughable: a Lithuanian is expected to honorably defend his/her property from the criminals even if that poses some risk to one's health. Yet again, all this is related to the Soviet experience, when many things were effectively irreplaceable as they were not available in shops.

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Lithuanian etiquette – meetings and presents

In order to avoid misunderstandings, a foreigner dealing with Lithuanians should learn Lithuanian etiquette, especially on time management, gift-giving, and conversation topics. While not every Lithuanian will stick to the etiquette described below, it is better to adhere to it to be "on the safe side". Also, understanding the Lithuanian behavioral norms helps to better understand what to expect from Lithuanians and why, and what their expectations are.

Lithuanian time management and meeting arrangements

Lithuanians follow their day-time schedules quite rigorously. It is impolite to be late at business meetings or other work-time events. One should call or text in case he/she plans to be late 5 minutes or more. If one arrives before the agreed time, however, he/she should expect to wait.

Blue-collar help (repairmen, handymen) tend to adhere to job schedules less strictly (coming 30 or even 90 minutes late without notifying) even though this may be frowned upon by their clients. If timing is especially important this should be repeated several times when ordering blue-collar services.

In the evenings and weekends, the schedule is a bit more relaxed for everybody. Most leisure events (e.g. theater performances) begin ~15 minutes late in Lithuania. Likewise, it is not inappropriate to be ~15 minutes late when invited to somebody's home after work. Any more than that would also require a polite call or text message, however. Furthermore, arriving up to ~15 minutes before the agreed time is also usually ok - meaning that one should always aim to arrive on time and the +/-15 minutes window is only the "grace period" in case the traveling time is miscalculated.

Save for a few rush hours in Vilnius the traffic in Lithuania is generally quite predictable, so it is not a good excuse for being late. If one doesn't calculate the time needed to drive to a destination that is his/her problem.

In case one doesn't plan to show up at all, or plans to show up at a significantly different time, (s)he should inform about that as early as possible, preferably at least a day in advance.

Most Lithuanian parties are open-ended and it is polite for hosts to try persuading guests to stay until morning or sleep over. Guests leave at different hours, and it is polite for the final guests to turn down invitations to stay even longer (unless they are good friends of the host).

In the main cities, meetings should be generally pre-arranged and even good friends do not just "pop up" at somebody's home or office. However, the smaller the town the more likely it is that somebody would stop by without notifying in advance.

Presents and gifts

The main occasions to give presents in Lithuania:
*Birthday. Those invited to a party give presents while co-workers (even if uninvited) may give symbolic gifts (e.g. flowers) during the birthday or the nearest workday. In return, the person whose birthday it is buys meals, drinks, and cakes at the party. The presents may be more expensive during jubilees (30, 40, 50 and such).
*Christmas. In families, everyone gives a present to everyone else (except for kids who just receive, believing it was from Christmas Grandfather, i.e. Santa Claus). "Present exchanges" are common in schools and workplaces whereby everybody is expected to buy a single present of a certain value and select its recipient through a lottery. Some companies buy Christmas presents for all employees as well as business partners (actually distributed before Christmas).
*Wedding. Presents of utility are usually given but increasingly this is replaced by giving an envelope with money inside. Usually, some of the guests are invited to the evening party while others are invited to the ceremony alone; the latter are expected to bring smaller presents.

Generally, the present is decided by the person giving it, there are no present lists. Asking to gift money during major events such as the wedding is, however, acceptable.

Under the Soviet occupation, there were much more "presents", most of which were not symbolic but meant for utility. This "gifting culture" was created by public shortages coupled with privileged access to certain particular goods many people enjoyed (e.g. a TV factory worker may have been able to "appropriate" numerous TV-sets while even getting a single TV-set may have posed a problem to many others). Most of such "presents" were bribes in reality as they used to be given expecting something in return (usually a favor related to recipient's job or goods accessible to him/her).

The remnants of the "Soviet gifting culture" are still entrenched in Lithuania (albeit declining). The following are its remaining instances when either money or useful things are gifted:
*Presents to public healthcare workers given before or after a taxpayer-funded procedure. They are illegal as they lead to preferential treatment of those who give better "presents" as well as extortion-like practices on behalf of some doctors in case a "smaller than usual" present is given. The "present"/bribe is typically money for major procedures and alcohol/sweets for smaller ones.

Adverts against corruption in the Vilnius clinics. The signs, aimed both at doctors and patients and available on many cabinet doors, declare: 'Do you want to show gratitude to the doctor? Please [just] say THANK YOU', 'The best gratitude to your doctor is your smile' and 'I follow the Hippocratic Oath, therefore I avoid patient disinformation and corruption'. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

*Presents to public school teachers by parents/students. Less frowned upon than presents to doctors but also controversial as they may lead to preferential treatment of some pupils.
*Lauktuvės - presents (not souvenirs) distributed when returning from a foreign country (or by foreigners when they visit Lithuanian friends and relatives). This dates back to Soviet times when the stock at Lithuanian stores used to be pitiful. The few who were lucky enough to go abroad were thus expected to bring something back for their relatives and friends (e.g. clothing or electronics). Right now nearly everything could be bought in Lithuania and such expectations are limited to small towns and older people, or when the person visiting/returning to Lithuania is considerably more affluent.

Tips were not part of the Soviet system and while the tradition has been adopted after independence, it is not universal and limited to restaurant waiters/waitresses.

Who pays in Lithuania?

The regular (though perhaps not the most common) situation in Lithuania is that a person pays for himself/herself for the expenses he/she had during a meeting (mainly food). When some bill is being paid, everyone should at least insist on pay his/her own share one time ("his own share" may be either his own actual expenses that day, or at least, for convenience, the total price divided by the number of people, when every person's share is roughly similar).

There are, however, exceptions, where a person may or should also insist on paying for others. In many of these situations it is also polite to turn down the suggestion first time at least, and in some cases turn down altogether. Such exceptions are:

*A host (or "inviter") often offers to pay for the guests, at least for the expenses they incur while being together (except for personal purchases of the "visitor").

*A richer person (especially a relative) often offers to pay for poorer persons. This regularly conflicts with the "host pays" rule when a poorer relative hosts richer relatives, leading to arguments where each side insists to pay. Eventually, if no side retreats after a couple of exchanges, each side pays for its own expenses or (more likely) one side pays the bill with the other side promising to pay the whole bill the next time (although the next time the same argument is likely to begin again).

*A man often offers to pay for the female. However, if the female accepts this, the man is likely to believe this was a date.

*Relatives and friends never expect payment for services they provided when these services are labor-intensive but have little direct costs. One exception may be when such services are their personal business but even then payment is often not expected: e.g. if somebody owns a hotel, he will most likely allow his relatives and friends to stay for free. And even if he/she doesn't do business in that field, Lithuanians are very likely to offer such services, with invites to stay overnight, offers to drive someone somewhere, making somebody a meal being more common in Lithuania than in the West. This likely dates to the Soviet occupation, when many services were scarce or extremely low in quality (e.g. hotels, restaurants, public transport) so people were "relying on each other's help". Offering to pay for such services (at least when the person providing them has no regular business in that field) would be seen as weird. However, when there are larger direct costs involved (e.g. fuel when somebody drives another person to another city), it is polite to suggest to cover one's share of these costs (or the entire costs in situations where e.g. the service-provider drove somewhere solely for the benefit of the service-receiver).

*If one has received any "free services" (e.g. home food, accommodation, free tour) it is polite for him/her to offer to pay for the service-provider somewhere, e.g. for a meal during a meeting. It is even better to eventually return the favor by providing other similar-value free services, effectively making this a barter (e.g. if one stays at somebody's home, he/she is expected to invite that somebody to one's own home). It is even common for relatives and friends to effectively have elaborate trust-based unspoken open-ended exchanges of services this way (e.g. a lawyer's office may indefinitely provide free legal services for a doctor, while that doctor's clinic may provide free medical services when the lawyer needs).

In any case, it is impolite to overuse somebody's generosity. For example, it is not polite for the guest to order expensive meals in a restaurant when the host pays, especially when the host is not that rich and couldn't regularly eat such meals himself/herself (in Lithuania, prices and salaries are lower than in the West, therefore even when something may seem cheap for a Westerner, it may seem expensive to a Lithuanian).

It is also not polite to frequently or massively use somebody's favors when you don't want or couldn't do any favors of similar type or at least of similar "market value" to that person yourself. In such cases, it is polite to turn down the favors offered even when you'd want to use them.

It is never polite to request or visibly expect another person to pay for your share of the bill (unless this would have been agreed upon before).

If somebody begins to "freeload" (allowing/asking others to pay for him/her without providing anything in return, when, in his/her position, he/she should pay for himself/herself), rarely would anyone tell him/her to stop directly. However, the generosity offered to him/her would lower over time and, when these are family or friend relations, there may be gossip behind the "offender's" back.

Conversation topics in Lithuania

Most dialogues in Lithuania take place in the Lithuanian language. But most international conversations are held in either English or Russian (translator into these two languages is usually brought in by those who need translation from any other language).

Business conversations in Lithuania stick to the point and small-talk is minimal unless they are in evening context or not everybody has arrived yet. Silence is rare and one may be left without saying his/her opinion if (s)he would wait until all the others cease talking. Interrupting is thus not entirely unacceptable, though it should be avoided if it's possible to make your point otherwise. While this makes Lithuanians hotter-tempered than northern Europeans, they are colder-tempered than southern Europeans and handshakes are the only acceptable touches in official contexts. Yelling is not acceptable during business conversations or negotiations and doing so will get one a negative image.

A foreigner conversing with Lithuanians always has one additional small-talk topic: his experiences and questions about Lithuania. Being a small nation Lithuanians are unused to their language, history, and customs being widely known. As such, they tend to genuinely admire when a visitor learns Lithuanian words, the taste of cepelinai, their main basketball victories/players, and key historical facts. Mastering the history is also important to avoid inadvertent insults. If you could remember just a single sentence about the Lithuanian history, this should be it: "Lithuanians never were Russians nor Slavs, they were under a brutal Russian yoke".

A foreigner who lives in Lithuania is, however, expected to be fluent in Lithuanian and not criticize the Lithuanian beliefs and way of life. Such protectiveness was forged by past foreign-led regimes whose numerous immigrants/settlers used to deride Lithuanian customs as inferior, more than once threatening to assimilate Lithuania as a whole. While nearly-miraculous subsequent comebacks saved the Lithuanian culture every time, Lithuanians remain wary of another similar peril arising. That said, a foreigner who *does* learn about Lithuanian ways and helps to protect them will earn the same respect for his own ways.

People of Lithuania first and foremost identify themselves by ethnicity. Ethnicity (of you and your forefathers) is another acceptable topic for a small-talk (including racial features, surname origins). Religion, on the other hand, is usually kept private (a habit forged under the Soviet occupation when being religious could have led to persecutions by the regime whereas being irreligious could have earned accusations of collaboration from fellow Lithuanians). Political views and emotionally charged personal issues are avoided as well unless talking to a friend.

Lithuanian jokes ("anecdotes") have very few limits. Many are based on stereotypes: each ethnicity, gender, occupation and even anthropomorphic animals have stereotypes associated with them. These jokes are not meant to insult: everybody understands that they are laughing at stereotypical characters rather than at any real person, even if that real person has the same ethnicity or gender. In many cases, jokes are created by people of the group the jokes target, and Lithuanian ethnicity itself has a fair share of negative stereotypes associated with it in jokes.

Privacy in Lithuania is valued less than in the West though more than in some Asian countries. Lithuania now has legislation protecting privacy, however, all of it was actually imposed on Lithuania by the European Union. Before the EU membership, it was common, for example, for doctors to talk about patient's diagnosis with patient's relatives or friends (without patient's permission). Culturally this is still often seen as acceptible. Likewise, some direct questions that would seem intrusive in the West may seem acceptable in Lithuania.

Other Lithuanian etiquette norms

See the articles on:
Lithuanian home and public/personal space etiquette
Age and gender-related cultural norms
Personal relations etiquette
Clothing etiquette
Lithuanian daily and annual routine
Lithuanian cuisine
Restaurants in Lithuania (and related etiquette)

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Lithuanian Fashion

The mainstream attire of urban Lithuanians increasingly replicates that of the Western Europe and it is acquired in the same franchises (opened ~2000s).

The richest go to Milan and Paris to shop, while the small town "elite" visits the main cities and famous local designers. The less well off shop at marketplaces and used clothing stores (where a good suit may be bought for less than 1 Euro if you know when to visit).

Seasonal clothing in Lithuania

Major summer/winter temperature differences mean that Lithuanian street fashion is highly seasonal.

Summer clothing can be skimpy but it should still cover upper thighs and torso. Anything less than that is acceptable only for swimming and sunbathing. Being naked/topless is only common in nudist beaches/saunas, many of which are gender-segregated.

Spring/Autumn clothing is warmer, hands and face remaining the sole uncovered portions of the skin.

During winter Lithuanians throw in many layers of clothes to combat the frost: furs, scarfs, gloves, caps, socks... Most of these warmest clothes are removed while in heated interiors (at some institutions this is even mandatory), showing the usual Spring/Autumn clothing underneath.

Seasonal street clothing in Lithuania

Seasonal street clothing in Lithuania: from winter (left) to the hottest summer days (right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Main clothing subcultures in Lithuania

Parallel to the Western fashion trends, Lithuania has a more glitzy female fashion (more colors, shorter skirts, higher heels, more make-up), somewhat more popular in smaller towns and among the ethnic minorities. It dates to the 1990s when people were hungry for colors, glitz and less conservativeness (denied to them for decades by the Soviet regime). Even many male businessmen preferred red suits in the 1990s (unlike the female fashion, this has since died out).

People considering themselves to be more fashionable (i.e. imitating the West more closely) tend to denounce such "over-the-top" clothing as "Gariūnai fashion" (after the Gariūnai market in Vilnius suburbs where most Lithuanians started their businesses - and used to acquire clothing - back in the 1990s). A female that dresses that way is known as fyfa, usually a pejorative. The male "style-counterpart" of a fyfa is forsas or marozas. They emphasize their masculinity by extensive use of sportswear, even for a simple walk or a night out (prestigious nightclubs ban this). Muscles and cars are also parts of their image.

Fyfa and forsas may be considered a subculture with an Eastern European flavor. Other parts of Lithuanian youth have embraced Western subcultures since the 1990s, each with its own clothing aesthetics, preferred musical styles, and festivals. They include goths, hippies, punks, "metallists", "street culture" (hip hop), skinheads, ultras, hipsters and LGBT.

Street fashion in Lithuania

Youth street styles for an April Sunday casual stroll. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Fashion under the Soviet occupation

Modern glitz likely would have not become so popular if not the decades of clothing limitations under the Soviet occupation (1945-1990). Make-up for female school students and long hair for males used to be banned, for example.

Furthermore, there used to be a constant shortage of goods, including good clothes. There have been merely a few designs readily available (all conservative) - therefore most people of the same age dressed similarly. To avoid this, most women used to knit and sew extensively well until the 1990s. Additionally, the few people privileged enough to be allowed abroad (especially to the non-communist states) used to shop there for their relatives (or buy goods for illegal resale).

Lithuanian factory workers in 1977


This image of Lithuanian workers made to watch a speech by Leonid Brezhnev in 1977 also shows the uniformness and bluntness of clothing at the time.

Older women may still dress in Soviet-style clothes or knit/sew but these practices are much less common after the advent of independent Lithuania and the free market.

Formal vs. informal clothing in Lithuania

Under the Soviet occupation, formal attire was required on many occasions, e.g. in theaters and restaurants, for students during all exams. New generations have largely adopted Western practices and there are fewer suits in streets. In fact, strict dress codes are less common in Lithuania today than in the West.

A lawyer in Lithuania dressed for work. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A folk costume is acceptable as formal attire under the Lithuanian etiquette. Such usage grew in popularity in the 1930s (women in full folk costume, men with folk strip replacing their tie) but has been since extinguished by the Soviet occupation. Today the folk costume usage is limited to folk singing and similar events. Prior to the 20th century, the folk costumes were used by most Lithuanian peasants; they are characterized by white shirt under a colorful jacket (exact patterns depending on region). Women wear long patterned skirts (shorter for folk dances), men use trousers. Women also cover their hair with scarfs.

Performing folk music in folk costumes (left) vs. attending a wedding at a church where formal attire predominates (right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Uniforms are uncommon: few schools have them and many jobs that tend to be uniformed elsewhere (e.g. bus driver) allow workers to dress freely.

Lithuanian clothing and fashion industry

Lithuania used to be a powerhouse of clothing manufacturing. However, the lack of radical overhaul of models after independence created an image problem ("outdated local clothing" vs. "modern foreign clothing"), while Asia could not be outcompeted in costs, leading to the industry's decline in the 2000s.

On the other hand, a Lithuanian haute-couture scene developed and some designers reached some fame beyond Lithuanian borders. "Mados infekcija" is the regular fashion festival for young talents.

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Generations in Lithuania

The Western-style generations (Baby Boomer, X, Y, Z, etc.) could hardly be applied to Lithuania (or Eastern Europe), as the historical events in Lithuania were very different from those in the Western world, with just a few exceptions.

This article helps to classify the generations of ethnic Lithuanians (who made up ~80% population of Lithuania). While, of course, every person is unique and there are exceptions to all generalizations, this helps to understand the rather massive generational divide that exists in Lithuania.

Interwar generation (born 1910s-1930s)

Childhood Youth Late years Differences
They were the only generation to grow up in independent interwar Lithuania (1918-1940). The newly-free nation (both schools and parents) passionately educated its children as patriots and good Roman Catholics (effectively a state religion, considered inalienable part of Lithuanian culture), imbibing this generation with patriotism, national romanticism, and religiosity. While they were raised to build free Lithuania even greater, the interwar generation was forced to witness its tragic demise and suffer World War 2, Soviet occupation and Stalinist Genocide. Avoiding persecution for their beliefs, many have fled to the West, others fought in forests as guerrillas against the Soviet regime. Many were murdered or expelled to Siberia, often for obscure reasons (e.g. being a Boy Scout or owning a Lithuanian flag). The interwar generation thus learned to hide their political views and opinions, some even collaborated with the occupational authorities in hopes (sometimes vain) of ensuring their own survival. They taught their children of the importance of religion and patriotism. Those who survived the Stalinist Genocide were generally officially exonerated (and allowed to return to Lithuania, if exiled) as the Soviet regime dropped the genocide from its agenda after Stalin's death. The occupation remained harsh, however, and having lost their most productive years to the persecutions, as well as still being considered disloyal, Lithuanians of the Interwar generation would often spend their lives underemployed, having not been able to complete higher studies even where their talents should have allowed it. As the independence of Lithuania approached, however (~1990), the participation and encouragement of the Interwar generation was instrumental in legitimizing the "new Lithuania" as a direct continuation of the old interwar Lithuania. Some people of the Interwar generation spoke positively about independence again after a long fear-induced silence. The part of the Interwar generation which fled to the West revitalized Lithuanian communities there (also constructed new Lithuanian churches and clubs) and spent the Cold War campaigning for Western support of Lithuanian independence. Their support has also been crucial after independence was achieved, as some of them returned to Lithuania to help modernize it after the Soviet neglect. COMPARED TO THE PEERS IN THE WEST the Lithuanian interwar generation is...
*More patriotic and religious (due to Lithuania being a new country during their childhood, as well as the need to defend the nation and religion).
*Less daring to voice their opinions, often avoiding politics altogether (due to the Soviet Genocide experienced in their youths).
*Suffered much more persecutions.

As cars were rare in the Lithuanian villages (where most of the interwar generation lived) until the 1990s, horses remained a transport of choice for many people of the interwar generation throughout their lifes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Genocide generation (born 1930s-1950s)

Childhood Youth Late years Differences
They spent their childhood during World War 2 or the Soviet Genocide. Tens of thousands of them were born or grew up in refugee camps outside Lithuania, where their parents fled. Tens of thousands were born in Siberia or Central Asia, where they were expelled by Soviets. Those who spent their childhood in Lithuania also grew in fear, as persecutions and guerilla warfare raged across Lithuania. Parents instilled them with religiousness and patriotism and many spent their childhoods believing the occupation would soon end. A disproportionate number of the Genocide generation died as children due to the Soviet Genocide (often unable to survive the exile to cold Siberia), such decline making the "baby boom" that characterized the Western world an unknown term in Lithuania. As the hopes of Lithuania's freedom did not materialize, Genocide generation faced significant pressures to conform from the surroundings. Those remaining in Lithuania generally caught up the idea that not sticking out of the crowd was beneficial for survival. Outwardly, they lived lives similar to those of many other Soviet citizens, learning Russian, receiving politically-loaded education, marrying early, watching Russian cinema, often moving to Soviet micro-districts in the cities. Some got addicted to alcohol. In families, however, they tried to continue the Lithuanian and Christian tradition, although, having grown up under occupation and heavy censorship, they already understood somewhat less of it than their parents did. On the other hand, those who were born to Lithuanian displaced persons in the West became known as the "Landless generation", and many of them came to love Lithuania as their homeland even though some have not visited it until late adulthood due to the Soviet occupation. That's the ideas Interwar generation Lithuanian parents and diaspora Lithuanian schools instilled in them. Being 40-50 at the time of Lithuanian independence, the Genocide generation has initially welcomed the freedom, yet economically it was arguably greatly disadvantaged by it. Having spent the entire youth under occupation, they found it hard to adapt to the new system, where once-unknown things like searching for a job, marketing, investment and modern technologies swiftly became essential. As they retired from the workforce, the Genocide generation became recipients of quite meager pensions as the broken pension system was inherited from the Soviet era. While such pensions previously guaranteed a lifestyle like that of everybody else (i.e. equally poor), in independent Lithuania where some became rich and others middle class, the pensions could only afford a lower class lifestyle. Therefore, people of Genocide generation often came to view independence as "well-intentioned but mismanaged", or "hijacked by oligarchs". They often have cheap, "traditional" hobbies related to their village background, such as gardening, mushroom picking; they also often help rear grandchildren. COMPARED TO THE WESTERNERS OF SAME AGE, most Lithuanians of the Genocide generation...
*Do not have a driving license, never travel abroad and never tried many other forms of Western entertainment (as all that was inaccessible in their youth and middle age, making them unused to it all).
*Have most likely spent their childhood or even their entire youth in a village, exile location or a refugee camp.
*Do not understand the inner workings of capitalism.
*Spend very little (e.g. just for food and home) and save up the rest of income for "that black day" which seems to be likely due to the turbulent history of their lifetimes.
*Are much poorer (the wealth gap is greater than between the later generations).
In the case of the "Landless generation" born abroad, they are more similar to the people of the nations where they grew up, however, they have a much greater sense of the importance of ethnic roots than most locals there.

Religious events, such as the Hill of Crosses festival shown here, are mostly attended by the Genocide Generation. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Soviet generation (born 1950s-1970s)

Childhood Youth Late years Differences
They grew up surrounded by propaganda about the "nearly perfect" Soviet society which permeated the TV, school programs and everywhere else. While censorship and discrimination were still prevalent as the occupation continued, the Soviet Genocide was no longer visible (and not described in any school books). Parents would often fear to convey the truth about the prosperity of pre-occupation Lithuania or the cruelty of Soviet Genocide to them, or had somewhat limited knowledge themselves. As such, information the Soviet generation received about these things in their childhood was often limited. That said, parents and (especially) grandparents would arrange the main Christian rites of passage and traditional holidays for the families, continuing some traditions. At the same time, the Soviet generation Lithuanians have inevitably adopted many Soviet practices. They came to love Soviet animation (essentially the only one available at their childhood), they learned to speak the Russian language at near-native levels due to its prevalence in the society of their childhood (as well as many mandatory lessons). Most of them moved to towns and cities (if they were not already born there), making this the first mostly-urban Lithuanian generation. In these locations (e.g. universities), where they lived away from parents, they got a first-hand experience of the Soviet society full of corruption, limitations, and cronyism that was far from the declared ideals. This made them especially critical of the Soviet system. However, the Soviet system seemed too invincible and too dangerous to them to attempt changing it, so instead they have built networks of discrete dissent, e.g. "hiking clubs" that would walk to various historically important locations in their expeditions, or people clandestinely sharing Western rock musical records. By the late 1980s, as the Soviet regime became softer, they voiced these opinions aloud, doing the heavy lifting for independence. After independence was restored, they gave vocal support for a swift dismantlement of regulations. They became the new elite of Lithuania as they were still young and able to adapt to massive changes and use up the new opportunities, eagerly establishing businesses and launching the Lithuanian capitalism. In the 1990s, the newly-reborn Lithuania had most of its millionaires and many politicians in their 20s or 30s, who established an unprecedented level of freedom of speech and conscience (after the Soviet experience, any censorship, self-censorship or political correctness seemed "sacrilegious" to them, and suddenly a society of state-supported taboos was replaced by a society where no ideas were too radical to propose). While the Soviet generation was less religious than the previous ones, it often viewed the church quite positively as an institution of dissent against the Soviet regime (some have joined many new religions and denominations that sprung up in the 1990s). Also, the Soviet generation led rather conservative lifestyles similar to those of their parents, marrying and having kids early and often spending entire adulthood in a single home (even after independence, when earnings would have permitted a change). However, after independence brought in the freedoms, this conservativeness became less pronounced, as a larger percentage of the Soviet generation divorced or had no children than any of the previous generations. As they aged, the Soviet generation retained the "elite of the society" position they have earned in the 1990s. Even the poorer among them eventually belatedly experienced various "joys" once inaccessible to most in the Soviet Union, such as foreign travels or owning a car. However, even though the Soviet generation became familiar with many Western practices, most of them spoke too little English (or any other Western languages) to regularly use Western media or converse with Westerners. This made them somewhat detached from the Western world, which they nevertheless idealized as a bastion of economic freedom and free speech. After Lithuania joined the European Union (2004), many people of the Soviet generation emigrated westwards, especially to the UK, Ireland, Spain, and Norway, experiencing the West firsthand for the first time (many became disillusioned, but most still preferred higher salaries there to the "homeness" of free Lithuania, therefore they never returned). COMPARED TO THE WESTERNERS OF SAME AGE, most Lithuanians of the Soviet generation...
*Believe in a market economy and consider leftist beliefs to be dated, utopian and wrong (due to childhood and youth experiences in the leftist Soviet Union and its economic backwardness).
*Gained first access to Western amenities, such as a private car and foreign travels, much later (in their 30s-50s, rather than childhood or 20s) and see them as somewhat less important in their lives or even deride some of them as childish (especially the PC games and fast food).
*Save up instead of taking credit.
*Believe in free speech and are especially wary of ideology-based politics.
*Are much more reluctant to change their home within Lithuania, yet are more eager to emigrate abroad.
*Always owned private apartments without any bank credits attached (due to the policy of 1990 allowing a nearly free privatization of state property).
*Have a great knowledge of the Russian culture and popular culture (movies, music, etc.) and often less knowledge of the Western culture (especially pre-1990s). They often speak little English.
*Had a much more tame protest in their youths (as anything more serious would have cost them careers, freedom or even lives). To a Soviet-generation Lithuanian, 1968 protests of the West may seem as unexplainable rampage (the situation was not that bad, was it?), while to the Westerners, the protest of Soviet-generation Lithuanians would seem as not a protest at all.
*Became the elite of Lithuania much earlier than it would be expected elsewhere, with some ministers and many self-made millionaires of 1990s in their late 20s and early 30s.
*Less religious, but also less eager to declare themselves "atheists" or "agnostics".
*Married and had children earlier.
*Feel less comfortable abroad (at least non-emigrants) and are more likely to choose package holidays rather than independent travel.

Independence generation (born 1970s-1990s)

Childhood Youth Differences
Independence generation grew up as the Soviet Union gradually opened up and then totally collapsed, giving way to libertarian Lithuania. As such, they were the first generation to get childhood exposure to many of the once-obscure details of foreign cultures, such as Latin American soap operas, fast food, anime, Mickey Mouse and hip hop. Still lacking direct contacts to the West or traveling experience, such exposure, was, however, limited to what was available on Lithuanian media at the time, and thus some foreign trends became disproportionally influential while the others remained largely unknown. They were also the first generation to get childhood (or more likely teenage) exposure to computers, which were nearly non-existent in the Soviet Union as that country lagged at least 10 years behind technologically. What's more, the Independence generation grew up in the time when many ideas competed against each other in Lithuania, and nothing seemed "too radical to discuss" anymore. Anarchism to racism, non-traditional sexuality to religious cults, patriotism to Lithuania-bashing: all these ideas had some vocal supporters and detractors among both teenagers and their parents and became considered normal to exist. Imbibed in libertarianism, it was rare for teachers to scold their students for an opinion, clothing style or symbols used (when that happened, that was always a personal opinion of a teacher rather than an official disciplinary action: teachers too enjoyed a rather massive freedom of speech). Every opinion could have existed, yet no opinion could have been "official" or "politically correct" in schools (either for students or teachers). Growing in such unprecedented atmosphere of freedom the Independence generation became especially critically thinking. The old Soviet traits such as Russian language or Russian movies lost their monopoly, but they too remained as options for the Independence generation. Many other cultural monopolies were challenged as well, as many subcultures were imported from the west. While the respect for traditional authorities (parents, schoolteachers) also started to seem more optional, they still largely remained. Independence generation brought the plurality of lifestyles into their adulthood, marrying and having children at various ages (or not doing that at all), "importing" even more hobbies. Often they would align with some particular causes, and suppression of other causes did not seem to be as taboo to some as it was a decade or two ago. Still, rightist economic beliefs remained prevalent among the generation. As Lithuanian economy has already matured and most of it was under the control of Soviet generation, Independence generation sought its own niches inspired by the West, especially in the e-businesses where their childhood experiences with the computers helped lots. When they reached adulthood, most Lithuanians of the Independence generation spoke English and only a half spoke Russian; however, typically they spoke both languages worse than the previous generation spoke Russian, as the exposure to them was often limited to school and video games. COMPARED TO THE WESTERNERS OF SAME AGE, most Lithuanians of the Independence generation...
*More libertarian minded (supportive of the free market).
*More likely to hate political correctness and prefer critical evaluation of all thoughts.
*Less able to speak English or other foreign languages.
*Likely to know some Western cultural tenets (e.g. movies, TV series), but not others, depending on what was popularized by the Lithuanian media during their childhood and teenage years.

Opinion-based volunteer groups often have the bulk of membership from the independence generation, as they grew up at the time when they could freely develop their opinions, such as environmentalism, nationalism, pro-Europeanism, feminism, and others. In this image, the patriotically-minded National Youth Organization is celebrating the Lithuanian independence day in a non-state-sponsored grassroots parade. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

European generation (born 1990s-2010s)

Childhood Differences
They grew up as Lithuania integrated into the European Union. By this time, the libertarian atmosphere dissipated and state (or EU) sponsored adverts promoting various lifestyles and discouraging other viewpoints became common (even if still less so than in the West). Among the many tenets promoted by the EU are children's rights, leading to the popular belief among the elder generations that "Children [of the European generation] know their rights, but not their duties". In particular, issues such as bullying, lack of interest in education, disrespect of parents/teachers (even open insults) seem to be more common in the European generation than in the previous generations (while these generations were children/teenagers). This is usually attributed to the inability of parents and (especially) the schools to discipline misbehaving children. European generation is also the first generation to lack a meaningful direct contact with the Interwar generation. This way they were unable to learn about key nation-forming events such as interwar independence, World War 2 or Soviet Genocide from the primary "living" sources. As such, there came external initiatives to (re)form their collective memory. The European generation also became the first one to have massive childhood exposure to the English language, mainly through modern technologies. At the time of their earliest memories already their families likely had a PC and cell phone or knew someone who had. The economic conditions in Lithuania came closer to those of the Western world. All this meant that the difference between these children and their age-peers in the West ("Generation Z") was smaller than between any two previous generations, however, it still existed. Likewise, the differences between ethnic Lithuanians and the ethnic minorities within this generation are much less pronounced than in the earlier generations as they all grew up in a rather uniform post-Soviet society. Furthermore, the particular Lithuanian-Westerner differences have shifted: while the previous generations grew up as far more home-bound than their Westerner counterparts (never traveling, for instance), the European generation is less home-bound than its Western counterparts (due to having more emigrant relatives); while the previous generations grew in a more culturally divisive environment than their Western counterparts, the European generation grew in a less culturally divisive environment than their Western counterparts (as the Soviet occupation ended and the ethnic cohesion increased, while few new immigrants came to Lithuania). COMPARED TO THE WESTERNERS OF SAME AGE, most people of Lithuania of the European generation...
*Are less attached to their home or homeland (due to the emigrant parents or other relatives most of them have).
*Are nearly all born in Lithuania (immigration to Lithuania was especially low during their childhood years, thus there are nearly no people of this generation who live in Lithuania yet are not born there or not born to Lithuanian citizen parents).
*Care far less about the "class", ethnic, gender or racial differences (as their upbringing depended little on the ethnicity or class and such differences were much less pronounced in Lithuania than in the Western world at the time).
*Are more pro-Western-integration (as Lithuania suffered no immigrant-related crime and other problems of cultural globalization during their childhood).

Unlike the previous generations, the European generation has adopted Western musical and other styles. Their preferences have relatively little difference from their peers in the West.

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Dating in Lithuania

In Lithuania, dating is less accentuated than in some Western societies, as the number of lifetime partners (including sexual partners) is much lower among the Lithuanians. However, with no "arranged marriages", Lithuania has more dating than most Eastern societies.

The majority of Lithuanian couples and families are formed through a rather slow relationship transformation from that of classmates, co-workers, friends or otherwise into that of a boyfriend and girlfriend. However, there is also an active "dating scene" where casual relations are practiced.

Dating practices in Lithuania

Traditionally, nightclubs were the most popular place to purposefully seek for a person to date, especially for one night stands and short-term affairs. However, the majority of families in Lithuania are made by people who met their spouse somewhere in their lives, e.g. school, university or workplace.

Recently, dating somebody met online became a common practice. In the 2000s, this was still something acceptable just to some people, while by 2010s most of the youth (and some middle-aged people) have accepted it as a possible alternative. Initially, the meetings would be arranged through Lithuanian "friend-finding" websites, which were somewhat out-competed by "Tinder" in the mid-2010s. Unlike in some Western countries, such services are often dominated by those seeking long-term or "serious" relationships rather than casual sex (for that, there are special websites).

With a lifetime average of just 3 sexual partners, the majority of Lithuanians actually spend their lives outside the "dating scene" altogether. So much so, that the concept "(s)he is dating somebody" had no translation into the Lithuanian language until some 2000s, when the journalists who translated English articles about the American film and music stars came up with a direct translation susitikinėti su kuo nors.

For those who do date, it is common for a man to pay for the woman during a date. However, the prevalence of such practice decreases as the seriousness of the woman increases. Women who are into one-night stands far more often accept (or even demand) such arrangements (and also gifts) than women who are into serious relationships.

In some cases, this "payment for a woman" is a thinly-veiled form of prostitution. In Lithuanian dating websites, one may find women profiles where sex is listed among the interests and "gifts", "richness" or "sponsorship" are among the preferred "qualities" of a man. Often, the "price" such women expect is high and, on the higher tiers, may include demands for gifted cars and expensive jewelry. The women who effectively "sell themselves" long-term this way, are known in Lithuanian as "barracudas", usually a derogatory term. Their boyfriends (and sometimes even husbands) are, typically, rich men who seek a pretty (and often younger) girl beside them. Foreigners are a common target of the barracudas as well, as they are believed to have wages high enough to satisfy their tastes.

If a long-term relationship is a goal and "barracudas" are to be avoided, it may be advisable to avoid the situation where a man pays for a woman altogether.

Foreigner dating in Lithuania

Lithuanian men like to say that Lithuanian girls are the prettiest in the world. Indeed their looks are not that far away from the Hollywood-inspired global ideal: their skin is fair and merely a few are overweight. Furthermore, a significant part of Lithuanian girls and younger women follow the so-called fyfa style that emphasizes their femininity (high heels, heavy makeup even for Saturday shopping).

All this together made Lithuania a popular destination for foreign men to seek dates.

That said, it is no longer the early 1990s when many Lithuanian girls believed every foreigner to be rich and famous. There have been many sad public stories about Lithuanian girls who discovered something very different than they expected after moving abroad (suffering abuse and losing their children after divorce due to laws preferring local citizens in custody battles). While a stereotype of "fiery southerner" (e.g. an Italian or a Spaniard) may have prevailed among Lithuanian women in the 1990s, currently such sad stories have likely outweighed it.

Furthermore, Lithuania itself is now richer (even if lagging behind the West somewhat) thus a British or American working-class salary no longer seems to be miraculous to the Lithuanian girls.

If one would like to date a Lithuanian girl for the aforementioned stereotypes, he would perhaps have more luck somewhere further east instead, where economic conditions are worse (e.g. Ukraine).

For foreign women, dating a Lithuanian man may often be difficult. The expectations for a female beauty, dressing style and attention to girlfriend's looks a "regular" Lithuanian man would have may be unattainable for somebody overweight or unwilling to regularly dress up. Likewise, to a Western girl, some of the qualities some Lithuanian guys are so proud to possess may seem rather dull. Their "great cars" will likely be "just regular" by the Western standards and the same would go for their salaries. While the overprotectiveness could get to the nerve of a Western girl.

For such reasons, the couples with a foreign man and a Lithuanian woman are much more common than those with a foreign woman and a Lithuanian man.

Of course, all these are just stereotypes that only work for some half of the population (however, this half is disproportionately represented in the dating scene, for example, nightclubs and "Tinder"). If one's expectations and qualities are different from the stereotypes, finding a right person may be harder, although, if you do, the probability of a successful long-term relationship is higher.

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Myths about Lithuania

Regular foreigners, foreign media, foreign politicians, and even foreign researchers often encounter and unwillingly spread some misconceptions about Lithuania.

Some of these misconceptions have their roots in subtle language and cultural differences, others come either from biased sources of information (e.g. Soviet propaganda) or superficial sources of information (e.g. TV shows), and yet others might have been true in the past but are no longer so. All of them tend to get repeated even by many reputable people, therefore it is often impossible to discover that something is a myth just by checking your sources.

Here we have collected the top 10 negative myths about Lithuania foreigners often have. We try to also analyze how each of these myths came into being.

Note: many of these myths may be insulting to Lithuanians or even regarded to be a manifestation of anti-Lithuanian hatred. Therefore, if you have Lithuanian friends or business contacts, please avoid mentioning them.

"Lithuania is / was Russia"

THE TRUTH: Lithuania is not and was not Russia. During the 1940-1941 and 1944-1990 periods, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. This occupation was contrary to international law and not recognized by most democratic countries.

Even under the official explanation of the Soviet Union, however, Lithuania was never part of Russia. Rather, the Soviet Union, according to its own law, consisted of 15 Republics, one of which was Lithuania and another of which was Russia.

In reality, these Republics had little power, and the power over the Soviet Union rested in Russia's hands. Still, however, being "part of Russia" and "being ruled by Russia" are two different things, just as neither Ireland nor India were ever parts of England, despite once being ruled from England.

WHY THE MYTH? Many people outside the region know little about the Central/Eastern European history. In these areas, "Soviet Union" and "Russia" (as well as "Soviets" and "Russians") were often used as synonyms, while the unique situation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia as occupied independent countries (rather than parts of the Soviet Union) was overshadowed by the global picture of the Cold War. Now, even the Cold War is history, and so people often simplify and forget things even more.

INSULTING? To most Lithuanians, the notion that "Lithuania was Russia" is greatly insulting for a number of reasons. Firstly, such notion implies that Lithuania was somehow rightfully or willingly part of Russia, and only then decided to be a separate nation, which is not the case, as Lithuanians considered themselves a separate nation long before occupied by the Soviet Union.

Also, this misconception incorrectly implies that Lithuanians are related to Russians (or even descended from Russians) [see "Lithuanians are similar to the Russians" myth to know more why it is insulting]

"Lithuanians are similar to the Russians"

THE TRUTH: Lithuanians are different from the Russians on most key traits that define ethnicity. Lithuanians have their own Lithuanian language and they write using Latin script, not Cyrillic. Lithuanians are not even Slavs - together with Latvians, Lithuanians are Balts. Lithuanians are not Orthodox - they are mostly Roman Catholic.

While both the Russian and Lithuanian nations were ruled by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, the statuses of them were greatly different, as Russians were the dominant nation while Lithuanians the nation under Russian domination (i.e. the relationship was similar to that between the Western nations and their conquered African and Asian colonies).

Currently, Lithuanians are orienting themselves westwards (EU, NATO) whereas Russia is creating its own Eurasian Union.

Lithuanians and Russians both are whites and (Indo-)Europeans, but that is about it.

WHY THE MYTH? Throughout the Cold War, it was common in the West to refer to "Soviets" as Russians in popular contexts (in the sports commentary, press, etc.) and many Westerners, therefore, still see the former Soviet Union as nearly all-Russian or all-Slavic.

However, by 1989, only 51% of the inhabitants of the Soviet-Union-held areas were actually Russians, even if they were the leading ethnicity. The rest of the Soviet Union was composed of extremely different ethnicities of multiple languages (Slavic, Turkic, Baltic, Fino-Ugric, Kartvelian...), faiths (Islam, Buddhism, Christianity...), races (European and Asian). In fact, the Soviet Union collapsed precisely because most of the people in the nations that achieved independence (including the Lithuanians) were extremely different from the Russians.

Ethnic map of the Soviet Union. Only the territories in red had Russian majority or plurality

Ethnic map of the Soviet Union. Only the territories in red had Russian majority or plurality and even that majority/pliurality in many areas was artificially created through planned population resettlement during the Soviet era itself

INSULTING? To an outsider, it may seem that such a genuine mistake as to consider Lithuanians to be similar to their neighbors Russians should not be insulting. Indeed, if somebody would call a Lithuanian to be a Swede, a Czech or a Latvian, likely no Lithuanian would feel insulted.

However, to be called a Russian is insulting to many Lithuanians, because of history wherein the Russian Empire and the Russian-led Soviet Union have occupied Lithuania, persecuted Lithuanians and, under Stalin, perpetrated their genocide. When they are considered Russians, Lithuanians often feel that their freedom is negated and their past history is erased. After all, if not the past occupations, they would likely not be mixed up with Russians by so many foreigners. Moreover, some of the past persecutions were done by the Russians precisely on the pseudo-historic basis that Lithuanians were simply "Polonized Russians": namely, in the 19th century, the Lithuanian language was banned in Lithuania by the ruling Russians in order to "restore the Russian origins" of Lithuanians.

Based on the historical relations between these two nations, mixing up Lithuanians and Russians is similar to mixing up Jews and Arabs, or Indians and Pakistanis.

"Lithuania has (willingly) joined the Soviet Union / Lithuanians were communists"

THE TRUTH: Lithuania was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 using coercion and the presence of the military force.

In 1939, the Soviet Union presented an ultimatum to Lithuania requiring Lithuania to permit Soviet troops into its territory. The number of the Soviet troops required to accept was larger than the number of soldiers of the Lithuanian army. Understanding that resistance was futile (at the time the Soviet Union cooperated with Nazi Germany and had recently defeated Poland), Lithuania accepted the ultimatum. Lithuania briefly remained independent but the Soviet troops within its territory effectively made it impossible to defend its territory. In 1940 they were used as a pressure tool to depose the government of Lithuania. The president of Lithuania fled to the USA.

Soon after the occupation, Soviets began expulsions and mass murders of various Lithuanian population groups.

Had Lithuania rejected the ultimatum of 1939, it would have faced a certain war against the Soviet Union. Finland rejected a similar ultimatum in 1939, resulting in Winter War. Latvia and Estonia accepted similar ultimatums.

In Lithuania, communism was never popular. Even in theory, it couldn't have been, as Lithuania was an agricultural country with few industrial workers and Maoism was not yet born. Furthermore, Lithuanian already had been redistributed from the nobility to peasants during the 1920s land reform. This meant that the regular Lithuanian peasants (rather than some aristocrats who inherited their lands) were the primary target for Soviet nationalization-of-most-property and mass-persecution campaigns.

While there were Lithuanians who joined the Soviet communist party after the occupation began to seem undefeatable, most of those people simply did it for gains in influence and material conditions (membership in the Communist party was beneficial for a career in Soviet-occupied Lithuania).

Moreover, once the possibility of restoring Lithuania became real (~1989), even the Lithuanian members of the Soviet Communist Party severed their ties with the Soviet Communist Party and created a separate Lithuanian Communist Party, which soon renamed itself Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party and abandoned any relations with communism or dictatorship.

WHY THE MYTH? This myth rests entirely in the Soviet propaganda which sought to promote the Soviet Union as peacefully unified.

Soviet historians worked hard in order to find communist Lithuanians in the history of early 20th century Lithuania. These once-barely-known figures were suddenly elevated to the status of martyrs and representatives of the "real opinions" of the whole Lithuanian nation by the Soviet propaganda after the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. Supposedly, the existence of a few Lithuanian communists before the Soviet occupation proved that Lithuania wanted communism and to be a part of the Soviet Union.

INSULTING? Very much so. Communism always was and still is a real anathema to most Lithuanians, a system responsible for their country being economically ravaged. The Soviet occupation resulted in hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian deaths (see "Soviet Union has liberated Lithuania" myth) and this was something most Lithuanians foresighted but simply had no means to resist, being a small nation.

"Lithuania supported the Nazi Germany during WW2"

THE TRUTH: Lithuania never did fight World War 2 on the Axis side. Adolf Hitler has offered Lithuania to do that in 1939 and invade Poland together, which Lithuania has refused, despite the deep-rooted Lithuanian-Polish conflict over Vilnius.

Even before that, Nazism was regarded in Lithuania to be a dangerous foreign ideology. While there had been nearly no ethnically Lithuanian Nazis, Nazism was becoming increasingly popular among the Lithuania's German minority in the 1930s, leading to a government crackdown on the Nazi organizations in 1935. This was the first anti-Nazi trial in Europe after Hitler's rise. For that, Lithuania paid a heavy price: in addition to a German economic boycott, Hitler even had Lithuanian sportsmen banned from Berlin Olympics in 1936.

During the World War 2, Lithuania has declared its neutrality. However, this neutrality was not honored by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, who proceeded to partition Central/Eastern Europe according to their own Ribbentrop-Molotov pact (in 1939, Nazi Germany annexed Klaipėda Region; in 1940, Soviet Union annexed the rest of Lithuania).

Nazi Germany has occupied entire Lithuania in 1941. While it sought to enlist Lithuanians to their cause, no prominent Lithuanian figures have ever joined it. Unlike in Latvia and Estonia, Germans were unable to erect a local SS legion in Lithuania due to Lithuanian soldiers fleeing en masse after they have learned the German plans for them. Lithuania also became the 2nd country in the world and 1st in Central/Eastern Europe by the number of righteous-among-nations people per capita (i.e. Yed-Vashem-recognized non-Jews who saved Jews from the Holocaust).

Weapons and symbolics confiscated from a German Nazi cell in Klaipėda after the 1935 Lithuanian crackdown on the local German Nazis

WHY THE MYTH? The major source for this misconception is Soviet propaganda. In order to excuse their domination of the Eastern/Central Europe and the occupation of Lithuania, they sought to portray everyone who fought against them as Nazis ("fascists"), including all the Lithuanian pro-freedom activists. In the Soviet historiography, "fascist" was a catch-all term used for many non-communists, including pre-Soviet Lithuanian leaders, Lithuanian guerillas, Lithuanian emigre. Interestingly, even the entire post-war West Germany was called fascist, and the Berlin wall was known as "Anti-fascist wall".

Furthermore, Soviets sought to present Eastern Front to have been the same as the Western Front where the "rightful side" (Allies) has defeated the "wrongful side" (Axis). The Eastern Front reality was extremely different, however.
*In Western Front, Axis was represented by a genocidal totalitarian regime (Nazi Germany) while the Allies were represented by democratic nations (Britain, France, the Netherlands, etc.) who fought for their own independence.
*In the Eastern Front, on the other hand, both the Axis and the Allies were represented by genocidal totalitarian regimes (Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, respectively), and these regimes both (in full collaboration until 1941) were invading and partitioning the independent countries in-between, among them Lithuania, Poland, Finland, and others. These nations were essentially a third force in the war and they tried as best as they could to stand against the overwhelming foreign forces. Obviously, any attempt to fight both powers at one time would have ended in quick defeat, therefore, some of them tried to save their own independence (and thus their own people from genocides) by making various low-scale agreements with one totalitarian regime or the other.

Lithuanians murdered by the Soviets in Rainiai massacre, one of the brutal mass murders in World War 2 Lithuania. Out of the at least 73 bodies, only 27 could be identified due to mutilations. Prior to death, the victims were tortured: their genitals severed and put into their mouths, eyes picked out, bones crushed, skin burned by hot water and acid, they suffered electrocution. The victims were recently arrested by the Soviets for such 'crimes' as participating in the Boy Scout movement or owning a Lithuanian flag.

The claims about "fascist" Lithuanians also sometimes point to the real Lithuanian collaborators with the Nazi German regime and make a logical fallacy claiming that the fact that such collaborators existed somehow implies that Lithuania or the Lithuanian nation supported them. However, all these stories are entirely taken out of context and they invariably fail to mention that:
*In every Nazi-occupied land and, in fact, in every occupied land during any war there were some collaborators with the enemy forces.
*Likewise, there were some Lithuanians who collaborated with the Soviets (and that also happened in every Soviet-occupied land).
*Neither collaborators with Nazi Germany nor collaborators with the Soviets had any official or popular support from any Lithuanian institutions or organizations, which were nearly all banned by both occupational regimes.

By the same "logic" that says that "Lithuanians supported Nazi Germany because there were collaborators with Nazi Germany" it would be equally possible to "prove" that any occupied nation has supported any occupying regime (and, in fact, such arguments are indeed regularly used in any pro-occupation propaganda). Furthermore, it would be equally possible to "prove" that countries like Sweden, USA, Australia, Germany supported the Islamic State - simply because significant numbers of their citizens were fighting for the Islamic State.

In order to artificially increase the number of supposed collaborators, the anti-Lithuanian propagandists and those who inadvertently cite them sometimes lump June (1941) anti-Soviet mutineers together with the Nazi collaborators. The June mutineers deposed the Soviet Union occupational regime hoping that Nazi Germany would recognize Lithuanian independence or at worst significant autonomy. Their plot failed - Nazi Germany has occupied Lithuania just as the Soviet Union did and many mutineers ended up in German concentration camps. The only argument in favor of June mutineers being Nazi collaborators is based on the fallacy of undistributed middle: "The June mutineers fought the Soviet Union. The Nazis fought the Soviet Union. This means the June mutineers must have been Nazis". However, here we remind that in the Eastern Front, World War 2 was fought between three sides, not two. June mutineers, just like the Republic of Lithuania before them and Lithuanian guerillas after World War 2, represented that third side (independent Lithuania). Clearly, they had very different goals from the Nazi German goals; in fact, their goals of free Lithuania seemed dangerous enough to Nazi Germany to get them locked up.

INSULTING? Yes. Firstly, these claims are wrong and they show either the claimants' ignorance about the history of Central and Eastern Europe. Secondly, they purport that Lithuanians had no real desire for independence but instead wanted to fight for Nazi Germans who were actually their enemies throughout the period (at best, many Lithuanians may have considered them "2nd enemy after the Soviets", see the "Soviet Union liberated Lithuania" myth). Thirdly and most importantly such claims misattribute the World War 2 crimes in Lithuania on Lithuanians themselves, who (together with the neighboring nations) were actually one of the biggest victims of the World War 2 era.

The facts speak for themselves: 32% of the area's ethnic Lithuanians were murdered, expelled or forced to flee (almost a million people). The entire region of Lithuania Minor was ethnically cleansed with some 130 000 Lithuanians killed there alone (and this was just a minority of all the murdered Lithuanians). Most of those who were killed or persecuted supported independent Lithuania, free from the totalitarian invaders; many fought for it actively, many others performed clandestine actions such as disseminating anti-occupational press or hiding Jews from the Holocaust.

Yet there are foreign commentators who forget all this, instead focusing on comparatively few collaborators (who were considered traitors or criminals by most of their peers) and claiming these collaborators somehow represented all Lithuania(ns). To add more hurt, they mix up these collaborators with genuine freedom fighters. Who wouldn't feel insulted?

"Lithuania is extremely poor / third world"

THE TRUTH: 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 (GNP per capita 2017) are green in this map while those poorer than Lithuania are red. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

WHY THE MYTH? 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.

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 support 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).

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

INSULTING? 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.

"Soviet occupation in Lithuania had its bright sides"

THE TRUTH: Soviet occupation has dragged Lithuanian economy and human rights decades behind Western Europe and perpetrated genocide (see "Soviet Union has liberated Lithuania", "Lithuania is third world" myths). While you may write the bright sides you believe the Soviet Union had in the comments of this article - and, who knows, maybe we'll find some minor ones, so far, there is no bright side of the Soviet Union known to us (compared to the non-communist world of the same era).

WHY THE MYTH? Interestingly some older Lithuanians themselves are often as responsible for this myth as the Russians. While the Russians have an obvious goal of perpetuating this myth (claiming that the Soviet/Russian rule was not as bad as it was), for Lithuanians the reasons are mostly emotional. For them, the Soviet occupation era was their youth. The Soviet products, even if inferior to the global standards, have deep emotional impact to them. This is especially true for the generation born in the Soviet Union after the Soviet Genocide (1940-1953) as they did not see nor know about the free pre-Soviet Lithuania nor the worst crimes of the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, some Lithuanians are unable to counter-argument a common Russian argument that "Many roads, factories, homes and more were built in the Soviet Lithuania". While it is true, three other facts are equally true:
*It was Lithuanians themselves who built these things under the Soviet occupation. Whatever was built using materials imported from other Soviet Republics or by people from other Soviet Republics was more than offset by the contribution the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was forced to make in developing other Republics. In total, Lithuania was a net contributor rather than a net recipient in the Soviet economy.
*In the capitalist countries of the era far more roads, factories and homes were built and in a far better quality. Had Lithuania been not occupied by the Soviet Union, its economy would have advanced far more as every single capitalist economy of Europe was far in advance of every single communist economy of Europe by 1990, when the communist systems collapsed due to their economic backwardness.
*Many of the things built in Lithuania under the Soviet occupation were built for the Soviet Union rather than for Lithuania (for example, Cold War military factories). They provided no benefit to the people of Lithuania and folded quickly soon after the Soviet Union collapsed.

It is important that, as Soviet occupation was so long, to understand its results they should not only be compared to pre-occupation Lithuania but also to the non-communist contemporary world. It is obvious that in 1990 all the world was more developed than in 1930 simply due to the technologic progress, so the Soviet Union made some progress as well. However, that progress in the communist world was much slower.

The often-foreigner-made claims that the Soviet Union made Lithuania egalitarian are also wrong, arising from the fact that claimants typically don't know that while the salaries may have differed little, the Soviet system was far from egalitarian as there were other means to ensure that some people eventually get far more privilleges.

The Soviets also did not advance women rights in Lithuania, as is sometimes wrongfully claimed in foreign media: women rights already quite advanced in 1940 (in comparison to contemporary Western Europe): for instance, the female suffrage was granted in 1905 and 1926 presidential elections of Lithuania already had an equal number of male and female candidates (two each). In fact, in Soviet society female role was more limited than in many contemporary Western countries and the entire Soviet political elite was male.

INSULTING? To many Lithuanians yes. However, some other Lithuanians themselves believe and repeat this tenet.

"Lithuanians are racists / nazis"

THE TRUTH: Lithuanians are far more often self-conscious and self-bashing than self-glorifying, being conscious of their country because of its perceived poorness compared to the West. Even the moderate nationalist parties (e.g. Tautininkai) have failed to enter the parliament, whereas the far-right National Democratic party had to disband itself due to low membership (compare that to the West). Neo-nazi opinions have no support whatsoever in the wider society and are considered radical even by the moderate nationalists.

Lithuanians are neither against Jews (in fact, there is now a great resurgence of interest in Litvak culture) nor they are against Russians (as an ethnicity). Russian culture, music, TV and other events are popular among ethnic Lithuanians as well (at least among the older generations that were universally taught Russian in schools).

That said, Lithuanians are often wary of the Russian politics (due to the history), especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the popular notion is that politics and culture should be separated.

WHY THE MYTH? This misconception seems to have several different sources.

The first is biased Russian media. It tends to put a heavy emphasis on extremely rare acts of hooliganism (e.g. a one-time smearing of a Russian consulate in black paint by vandals) by claiming that such acts prove some general trends or enjoy widespread support in Lithuania. Furthermore, it tends to show regular popular patriotic events in Lithuania (for example, grassroots independence day parades) as being racist or Nazi or Russophobic in nature. Western media often inadvertently picks up this narrative, because some Western journalists are still not evaluating the Russian media critically enough and use it as a possible source, despite it being especially biased.

Independence day parade in Vilnius with people carrying Lithuanian flags (2012). By the Russian media and the foreign media that recited it the same parade has been declared to have been fascist. Among the main arguements was that some fascists used to participate in the independence day parades some years ago. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The second reason for the misconception is cultural differences. Lithuanians don't have the notion of "political correctness" that exist in the West.

So, while any real instances of racism undoubtedly get universally condemned by Lithuanians (e.g. attacks or persecutions based on race or ethnicity), Lithuanians would not see something that is simply politically incorrect in the West as racism at all. For example, in Lithuania, it is acceptable to talk about one's racial features or ethnicity and this does not cause an insult.

To many Lithuanians, the Western political correctness often seems to be inexplicable, akin to the "blasphemy rules" in the fundamentalist societies. Why is it acceptable in the West, for instance, to talk (or even joke) about someone's blonde hair or height, but not his/her skin color or "Asian eyes" - even if all of those actually are inherited traits? Why is simply noticing something that is plainly visible so frowned upon? Moreover, how could, in a free society, saying something that is neither damaging nor dangerous to anybody make a person lose his career, as so often happens in the West?

During Užgavėnės carnival, Lithuanians traditionally dress as "somebody else": animal or a person of different gender, ethnicity or social class, all of which are traditionally represented by masks (in this image, however, most people uses just clothing and wigs). While cross-dressing is also acceptable in the West, dressing as somebody of a different ethnicity is frowned upon there due to political correctness, especially when there is an attempt to change one's racial features. Some Westerners who know little about the Lithuanian traditions thus have attacked Užgavėnės traditions in their media. The primary targets are typically those who dress as Jews or (to a lesser extent) Gypsies. To Lithuanians, this is all baffling: why is it ok for a man to dress as a woman and even as a Hungarian but not as a Jew? ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A lot of these cultural differences could likely be explained by a different history. In the West, colonialism, slavery, and racial genocides are a historical fact. That likely made the Westerners to fear the history repeating itself to such extent, that instead of targeting the "actual problems" such as discrimination (regardless of what group is discriminated against) or persecution (regardless of what group is persecuted), they began targeting the division of the society by certain traits (that were often a basis for such persecution) as unwelcome on itself, apparently seeking its disappearance through a forced silence.

In Lithuania, however, there was never a racial (rather than ethnic/religious) persecution, nor did Lithuania had any extra-European colonies or was involved in the slave trade, nor did Lithuania had significant minorities of the other races. To Lithuanians, therefore, skin color is just another physical trait of a person, like his/her height or hair color. Naturally, when rare, it may attract attention, in the same fashion an especially tall height would, for example.

INSULTING? In addition to the obvious reason for being insulting (no non-Nazi would like to be called a Nazi), such allegations are regarded by most Lithuanians as dangerous. In the case of Ukraine, Russia has used similar baseless allegations in its propaganda to turn its people and many people in foreign countries against Ukraine.

In order to prevent other countries or its own people from questioning its motives, Russia regularly accuses its targets of either Nazism or terrorism, as both of these are two are despised worldwide and may seem a genuine reason for an invasion to somebody who knows few real facts about the area.

"Soviet Union has liberated Lithuania / Soviet Union was better than the Nazi Germany"

THE TRUTH: The Soviet Union was just another foreign occupational regime for Lithuania and the Central/Eastern Europe. Moreover, the Soviet Union was worse than Nazi Germany on nearly all counts. It killed more people than Nazi Germany did both in Lithuania and Eastern Europe as a whole. It persecuted most local ethnic groups far more, banning many things that stayed unbanned during the Nazi occupation (such as the Lithuanian flag, for example). It was responsible for genocides of at least 14 nations and it Russified the entire Lithuania Minor region, killing some 300 thousand people in that region alone. During the Holodomor in Ukraine alone, more Ukrainians were killed (7+ million) than Jews during the entire Holocaust by Nazi Germany, for example.

The Soviet Union also had no legal right to Lithuania (see "Lithuania was Russia" above) and so in no way, its re-occupation of Lithuania in 1944 (when Soviets have recaptured Lithuania from Nazi Germany) could be seen as liberation legally either.

Statistics of people lost to Lithuania 1940-1959, both per event and per perpetrator. The tables are compiled consulting multiple sources (turmoil and subsequent propaganda made the exact figures impossible to find out, so approximations vary somewhat per source. Moreover the boundaries of Lithuania switched multiple times in the era). The per-event table lists the murdered and the refugees/deportees in separate rows where possible; where impossible they are put together and the approximate share of those killed is provided instead (most/many/some).

WHY THE MYTH: Firstly, while the Soviet Union was worse than Nazi Germany in "nearly all counts" and to most Central/Eastern European ethnicities, to some ethnicities the Soviet Union was actually a much better (or less evil) regime. Among such ethnicities were the Russians, whose culture and language had a privileged status in the Soviet Union. Among such ethnicities were the Jews, who suffered an ethnic genocide under Nazi Germany but not under the Soviet Union (where Jewish communists were generally accepted by their Russian peers by contemporary standards and were able to attain influence).

The historians and columnists from these ethnicities that were treated better by the Soviets than by Nazis often write on the matter from their own ethnic standpoint. They regard the Soviet invasion of Lithuania in 1944 to be liberation because it seemed to be a change for the better *for their own group* (yet a change to the worse for most others).

The "Soviet liberation of Lithuania" was also part of the official Soviet historiography that is still often followed in Russia. This historiography is/was written in such a way that Russia(ns) would be always shown in a positive light.

Throughout the entire Cold War, Lithuanians and other Central/Eastern European countries were effectively silenced, any real historic research banned in there (people declaring facts contradicting the official Soviet thought were even put into mental asylums). On the other hand, Soviet Union, even if mistrusted in the West, had an influence, while most surviving Jews have also remained in (or eventually moved to) that "free side of the Iron Curtain", allowing themselves to be heard in the free world.

The Lithuanian and Central European voices were limited to much smaller emigres, often targetted by the Soviet Union, and so they had only a limited role in writing the history of their own nations, making the notion that "The Soviet Union liberated Lithuania" sometimes still repeated by the Western media and historians, and the notion that "The Soviet Union was better than the Nazi Germany" even more common.

INSULTING? Both claims are especially insulting to Lithuanians and other nations of the region, as they implicitly regard a Lithuanian, Latvian or Ukrainian life (more of which were lost due to the Soviet Union actions) to be less important than a Russian, a Jewish or a Westerner life (more of which were lost due to the Nazi German actions).

Moreover, any notion that "The Soviet Union has liberated Lithuania" is seen as dangerous in that it legitimizes the Soviet (and now Russian) control of the area, and whitewashes its presence in Lithuania. Because in order for the Soviet Union to liberate Lithuania in 1944, Lithuania must have been rightfully Soviet prior to the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation, so the claims that the Soviet Union liberated Lithuania automatically recognize the Soviet 1940-1941 occupation of Lithuania as legitimate.

In Eastern Europe, World War 2 was not a two-sided conflict but at least three-sided conflict, and both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were invaders in Lithuania and other countries of the region (see "Lithuania supported the Nazi Germany during WW2" above).

"Lithuania is unsafe"

THE TRUTH: Lithuania is, statistically, at least as safe crime-wise as the USA is. One difference is that in Lithuania there are no safe or unsafe districts, with the crime being evenly spread. Therefore, one doesn't have to worry about staying in a bad district. However, at the same time, none of the districts are safe enough to leave a car with valuables on the open inside, for example (but, with increasing migration of criminals to the West, the same can also be said about the Western societies).

Aside from criminal dangers, Lithuania has much fewer dangers than most Western countries. There was never a deadly terrorist attack in the entire Lithuanian history, for instance. Lithuania also lacks any natural calamities: earthquakes, tornadoes, strong hurricanes, and volcanos do not happen there. While some people from outside the region fear to visit Lithuania due to the perception that Central/Eastern Europe is under a perennial war threat, in fact, the last act of war on Lithuania happened on 1991.

WHY THE MYTH? The lack of knowledge about the Eastern/Central Europe, the association of it with political strife that happened there during the lifetimes of most people and still happens in some places (e.g. Ukraine) makes some Westerners subconsciously believe the entire region is unsafe. However, each country should be evaluated individually for the situation there nowadays.

The fact that there are criminals from Central/Eastern Europe who emigrated to the West may also contribute to the misconception. After the Central/Eastern European countries joined the European Union and the borders were opened, the emigration was massive and possibly a disproportionate number of emigrants were criminals as, for criminals, richer Western countries provided far greater criminal-earnings opportunities, no notoriety-in-Lithuania effects, better prison conditions and more. Such "exodus of criminals" likely made Lithuania even safer (crime rates decreased significantly since independence), although at the same time it strengthened the myth of unsafe Lithuania.

INSULTING? More inconvenient than insulting: Lithuanians want foreigners to visit their country and invest there; such myths harm those possibilities.

"Lithuania is a new country / nation"

THE TRUTH: Lithuania was established at least in the 13th century, making it much older than all the American countries and many European countries. In the 15th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was Europe's largest country.

Moreover, the Lithuanian culture is indigenous and it predominates in the area for at least 4000 years, which is much longer than many other current cultural majorities not only in Australia (~200 years) or America (~500 years), but also Europe, where such cultures as Spanish or the French had formed only some 2000 years ago.

Establishment an expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th-14th centuries, superimposed on modern European state boundaries. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

WHY THE MYTH? Lithuania has recently suffered a long period of occupations and foreign domination. It has regained independence most recently in 1990. This makes some foreigners believe that this was the first time Lithuania came into being as a separate country. However, this is far from the truth. There were two earlier periods Lithuania existed. The first one went on for centuries until 1795, when the Grand Duchy was conquered by the Russian Empire. Still, Lithuanians sought to restore the Grand Duchy and revolted multiple times. Eventually, Lithuanians restored a much smaller state. Even this Republic of Lithuania is, however, already 100 years old, as it was established in 1918 and continuously existed since then according to the international law, despite being occupied in 1940-1990 (see the above misconception "Lithuania was Russia" for explanation).

INSULTING? Depends on the exact claim. Some claims, e.g. claim that the Lithuanian nation was established in 1990, may seem somewhat insulting but, in general, this is not a major faux-pas unless coupled with "Lithuanians were Russians" or similar tenets (see above).

"Lithuanians are unwilling to regard minorities as Lithuanians"

THE TRUTH: Every citizen of Lithuania is regarded as a citizen of Lithuania by every other citizen of Lithuania, regardless of his/her origins or religious beliefs. There is simply no movement in Lithuania, popular or unpopular, that would seek to strip minorities of their citizenship.

However, the word "Lithuanian" in English essentially has two separate meanings. The first meaning is "A citizen of Lithuania" (nationality) and another is "Ethnic Lithuanian" (ethnicity). People of numerous ethnicities do live in Lithuania. Ethnic Lithuanians form a majority (~85%), but the ethnic minorities are also proud of their cultures. They neither consider themselves to be ethnic Lithuanians nor seek to be considered ethnic Lithuanians. In Lithuania, there is even an option to request the ethnicity to be written next to nationality on a Lithuanian passport, which people of the ethnic minorities often do (in total, more than half of Lithuania's citizens ask their ethnicity to be included in their passports). In the Lithuanian censae, people are also asked about their ethnicity (instead of their ancestry or race).

Ethnic map of Lithuania. The minorities are largely concentrated in the east. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

While the word "Lithuanian" describes both the nationality and ethnicity in English, in Lithuanian language the situation is more complex. In the passports, the nationality is written as "Lietuvos", while ethnicity (if Lithuanian) as "Lietuvis" (in the regular speech today, however "Lietuvis" is also sometimes used for nationality due to the influence of the English language).

Labeling somebody who is not an ethnic Lithuanian to be an ethnic Lithuanian may be controversial both among the ethnic Lithuanians and the minority in question.

Historically, the ethnic Lithuanians are indigenous to Lithuania. Some of those who self-identify as Poles and Latvians possibly also are. The other communities have moved in from elsewhere during the 14th-21st centuries. Interethnic marriages were very uncommon before the 20th century and currently, an offspring often chooses one of the parent ethnicities.

WHY THE MYTH? In addition to the linguistic issues, ethnicity on itself is a concept difficult to understand to the Americans and Australians, because most do not have it, having descended from people of various immigrant ethnicities.

However, the notion of ethnicities is an extremely popular form of identification in Central/Eastern Europe, Asia and elsewhere where the populations are still mainly indigenous.

It is difficult to precisely define what ethnicity is, as it typically may include any number of such traits like native language, culture, religion, race, ancestry, self-identification and more. Which traits are included in the definition, depends on the particular ethnicity.

Even though mostly hereditary, ethnicity is not "race" as it is often invisible. Ethnicity is not "ancestry", as people of the same ethnicity may come from different countries. Ethnicity is not an "immigrant background", unless you'd count somebody whose forefathers arrived 200 or 400 years ago as having an immigrant background. While ethnicities may have their own "typical religions", one who converts out of them is not regarded to have lost its ethnicity (in this fashion, the majority of Lithuania's self-identifying ethnic Jews actually are non-Jews by faith, something baffling to the foreign Jews to whom being a Jew is mainly about religion).

By the way, in America and Australia, ethnic self-identification is popular in one particular group: the native indigenous populations. There, ethnicities are defined as "tribes" or "nations" (e.g. Cherokee, Navajo, Anangu). A non-Navajo who moves into Navajo territory is not to be considered a Navajo (nor, in most cases, he/she would seek to be recognized as a Navajo) - however, this does not mean that he/she would be unwelcome there. Likewise, referring to a non-Native-American as a Native American would be controversial.

Just like the Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians are proud of their indigenous heritage and many most still consider themselves part of the original Nation/Tribe despite of moving away from the "Homeland" (at the same time still being Americans or Australians), so does many European and Asian people, most of whom are indigenous to the continents, consider themselves to be part of their ethnic Nation as well as of their political nation.

INSULTING? Yes. Firstly, such claims are insulting because they make Lithuanians look unwelcoming when this is clearly not the case.

Secondly, claims that the Western divisions of society into groups (e.g. into nationalities, races, religions, and ancestries) are acceptable, whereas the divisions less popular in the West (e.g. into ethnicities) "should be abandoned everywhere", seem to convey the idea that the Lithuanian (and Central/Eastern European or Asian, in general) culture is somehow inferior to that of the West.

"Grand Duchy of Lithuania was not anyhow related to Lithuanians"

THE TRUTH: Grand Duchy of Lithuania was established by the ethnic Lithuanian (Baltic) leaders hailing from the Lithuanian ethnic lands. Later, however, the country expanded into Slavic and even Muslim lands. At its peak, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania did control lands well beyond ethnic Lithuania and, at the time, just 30% of its people were ethnic Lithuanians.

However, ethnic Lithuanian dynasties were still the ruling elite. While ethnic Lithuanians were pagan, so were the leaders and the entire Grand Duchy was considered pagan. After the leaders converted to Catholicism, so did the ethnic Lithuanians and so the entire Grand Duchy became considered to be Catholic. The plurality or majority of the Grand Duchy inhabitants may have been Orthodox Slavs both for some time before and after the official conversion of Lithuanians (and the Lithuanian leaders) - yet, the Grand Duchy was never considered Orthodox.

However, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was not a nation-state in the modern sense. It did not seek to impose the Lithuanian language, religion, customs, or culture on its non-Lithuanian inhabitants. On the contrary, if the dukes would move from Lithuanian lands to rule the non-Lithuanian lands, they would commonly adopt the local language and religion. Even the written language of the Grand Duke's court was chosen by convenience: East Slavic and Latin languages were initially used, to be replaced by Polish later as the importance of Poland has increased.

WHY THE MYTH? The myth of a non-Lithuanian Grand Duchy of Lithuania rests precisely on the fact that it was not a nation-state, making it easy for the historians of other countries to emphasize those traits of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that were more related to their ethnicities than to the Lithuanian ethnicity, thus claiming the entire Grand Duchy of Lithuania effectively was "their country".

Such claims are common in Belarus and Poland, mainly in the ethnicity-centered view on history that seeks to promote their ethnic history as more glorious and important.

For example, some Belarusians claim, that because an East Slavic language was used for writing by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania court, most of the Grand Duchy's nobility or even people in its main areas must have also spoken it natively. Moreover, as modern-day Belarus formed the bulk of Grand Duchy's East Slavic lands, that East Slavic language must have been Old Belarusian. On the top of these, such authors claim that ethnic Lithuanians must have inhabited a much smaller land at the time, likely just Samogitia, and were merely a minor group in the Belarusian-led-and-ruled Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Such claims are, however, easily rebutted by the studies of placenames. In fact, Lithuanians did inhabit a somewhat larger area at the time than they do today, as parts of modern-day Belarus have Lithuanian-originated village names.

In fact, all the written-language-based claims about the Grand Duchy's demography are based on "exporting" the modern-day nation-state idea to a much-different Medieval era. Unlike today, in the Medieval era, it was very rare for the main spoken language to also be the written language. Most of Western Europe, for example, wrote in Latin but nobody spoke it natively. After all, only a few people could write at all at the time, and the leaders of the Grand Duchy themselves were illiterate. The written language used to be learned by the scribes together with the writing itself.

In conclusion, as Grand Duchy of Lithuania was not a "nation-state", it cannot be fully attributed to any single ethnicity in the way some later empires could have been, making this point moot.

INSULTING? These claims tend to be more funny than insulting to the general Lithuanian society as they don't expect the claims to be taken seriously. Typically, Polish claims tend to be disliked more as they are more widespread in the world than the Belarusian claims that are known little beyond Belarus.

"Lithuania was Polish"

THE TRUTH: Poland and Lithuania had a joint country between the years 1569 and 1795 (known as Poland-Lithuania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or the Republic of Both Nations). However, Poland and Lithuania were separate entities within that state in the same fashion as Austria and Hungary were in Austria-Hungary or England and Scotland are in Great Britain. No part of modern-day Lithuania was part of the Poland entity; the boundaries of the Lithuanian entity went far beyond the boundaries of modern-day Lithuania.

However, in the whole Poland-Lithuania Polish language became the lingua franca of the elite. Thus, as the centuries passed, the Lithuanian nobility and the people around capital Vilnius increasingly used Polish even when speaking among themselves. Peasants, on the other hand, remained Lithuanian-speaking and they formed the population majority. The situation seemed to be similar to that in Ireland, where the English language replaced Irish Gaelic (although in Ireland the linguistic shift eventually went much further).

That said, in Lithuania, there was much bilingualism and diglossia with many people, including the nobles, spoke both Polish and Lithuanian and switched the language depending on circumstances. At one time, it was shameful to be a Lithuanian speaker (Lithuanian was a "peasant tongue"), so they accentuated their acquired Polish cultural traits. Since the 19th century, it became somewhat fashionable to speak Lithuanian. Only in the 20th century did the Polish and Lithuanian nations finally separated completely and most of those who considered themselves both Poles and Lithuanians then adopting a single ethnicity with even siblings sometimes choosing different ethnicities.

So, Lithuania and Vilnius had many people who spoke Polish, however, most of these people were indigenous and of Lithuanian origins. There was little actual Polish immigration into Lithuania before the 20th century.

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at its highest territorial extent (1616-1657) superimposed on modern European state boundaries. Poland and Lithuania entities are shown separately. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

WHY THE MYTH? Outsiders often tend to oversimplify history. Instead of its full name (Poland-Lithuania or the Republic of Both Nations), outsiders often call the 1569-1795 joint Polish-Lithuanian state to have been just "Poland".

Furthermore, outsiders (and even many local researchers) have a difficult time understanding that the subtle-but-major difference that censae before the 1920s and 1940s asked just for the "native language" while censae after that asked for "ethnicity". They often lump both censae leading to false claims that in 1933 under one percent of Vilnius inhabitants were ethnic Lithuanians, for example (in reality, less than 1% said Lithuanian was their native tongue; however, they were allowed to choose just a single tongue and Polish was still the prestige language in Vilnius of the era).

INSULTING? It is insulting to some people, especially older ones who still have the collective memory of Polish-Lithuanian conflict over Vilnius region (1920-1940). However, as the Polish and Lithuanian relations are now much better and the historic conflict fades away, it is usually not seen as insulting as the claims that Lithuania was Russian. The Polish-language-domination era that was once thought by Lithuanians to have been a real dark age for their nation is now also being rediscovered in a more neutral light. Still, that doesn't make the claims that Lithuanians were Polish any more real.

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