True Lithuania

Symbols of Lithuania (Anthem, Flag, Coat of Arms)

Lithuanian coat of arms, known as the Vytis, depicts a mounted soldier with raised sword on a red field. Dating back to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania it is among the Europe's oldest emblems. Atypically its source is Grand duke's seal rather than a dynastic coat of arms.

As the Grand Duchy spanned far beyond modern Lithuania the Vytis inspired many other symbols. Between 1991 and 1994 it (in a slightly different form) served as the coat of arms of Belarus and it is also included in some municipal and regional coats of arms in Poland.

A flag with Vytis had also been used in the Grand Duchy but today it is designated "Historic flag" and is masted only in a few historically important places.

Modern Lithuanian flag is a 20th-century creation. As the reestablished Lithuanian state (1918) was a republic a tricolor design was adopted. Since the French Revolution (1789) most European republics used similar flags.

Lithuanian coat of arms (left) and the tricolor flag (right).

Lithuanian anthem "Tautiška giesmė" (National hymn) has been created in 1898 by Vincas Kudirka, one of the heroes of Lithuanian National Revival (adopted in 1920). It is notable for having each verse to follow a different melody and therefore should never be shortened (trimming the anthem in some sports events triggers discontent). A peculiar tradition calls every Lithuanian to sing the anthem on July 6th.

Tautiška giesmė
by Vincas KudirkaLietuva, Tėvyne mūsų,
Tu didvyrių žeme,
Iš praeities Tavo sūnūs
Te stiprybę semia.

Tegul Tavo vaikai eina
Vien takais dorybės,
Tegul dirba Tavo naudai
Ir žmonių gėrybei.

Tegul saulė Lietuvoj
Tamsumas prašalina,
Ir šviesa, ir tiesa
Mūs žingsnius telydi.

Tegul meilė Lietuvos
Dega mūsų širdyse,
Vardan tos Lietuvos
Vienybė težydi!

National hymn
English translation ©Augustinas Žemaitis.Lithuania, our homeland,
Land of great heroes!
May your sons draw their strength
From the past.

May your children follow
Only paths of virtue,
May them work for your benefit
And the good of human beings.

May the sun over Lithuania
Spread the darknesses away
May both light and truth
Guide our steps.

May the love of Lithuania
Burn in our hearts.
In the name of this Lithuania
Let unity blossom.

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Other symbols strongly associated with Lithuania are the Columns of Gediminas (or Pillars of Gediminas) and the Cross of Vytis (a.k.a. Cross of Jogaila), both named after medieval Lithuanian rulers. They are repeatedly used in many other symbols. For instance Cross of Vytis forms a part of Lithuanian Coat of Arms and the air force ensign whereas the Pillars of Gediminas were used for the trademark of Eurobasket 2011 event held in Lithuania and political party symbols.

In Dzūkija where there is a strong presence of Polish speakers ethnic Lithuanians traditionally erect crosses of Vytis instead of traditional crosses in churchyards and roadsides to signify their ethnicity.

Cross of Vytis and Pillars of Gediminas in their typical forms (left) and their modern uses: a churchyard cross of Vytis in Dzūkija and the Pillars of Gediminas as architectural elements in Kaunas (on the Officer's club and a bridge). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Other things and practices held as "national" by significant parts of society (none of these - except for language - are enshrined in law so that's purely traditional):

National bird: White stork (ciconia ciconia)
National tree: Oak
National flower: Rue
National language: Lithuanian
National religion: Roman Catholicism
National sport: Basketball
National meal: Cepelinai (a.k.a. Didžkukuliai)
National alcoholic beverage: Beer
National "mineral" (jewelry): Amber
National saints: St. Casimir and St. George

Bird/tree/flower are based on their prevalence in folklore. Sport/religion/language are the most popular ones, followed by the majority of the population. Meal/beverage/mineral are based on popular opinion. Saints are recognized by the Catholic church.

A band in national clothes performs folk music. Lithuanian folk costume consists of plain white elements and colorful patterns (stripes, tiles, etc.) and cover all the body except for palms and head. Women wear skirts and men wear trousers. Currently, the national clothes are used only in folk art performances, historical re-enactments and (by some people) during national holidays. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Common abbreviations (country codes) for Lithuania are LT and LTU.

As Lithuania became a member state of the European Union and NATO, the European Union flag is waving near nearly every Lithuanian government institution or embassy next to the Lithuanian flag, while the NATO flag is waiving at some institutions.

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Regional and city symbols of Lithuania

To many Lithuanians the city they come from is the most important part of their regional identity. Therefore city symbols are very popular and city coats of arms are also used for official purposes.

Lithuanian city coats of arms (emblems)

City and town emblems are the best known local symbols of Lithuania. Nearly every urban location has its own, while the coats of arms of municipal capitals are also used by municipal authorities (for example, they adorn the uniforms of local policemen).

A map of Lithuania with all the city and town arms depicted on it. Such maps or posters are relatively popular, symbolizing the unity and diversity of Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Largely banned by Russian Imperial (1795-1915) and then Soviet (1940-1990) overlords the Lithuanian town heraldry resurged in the 1990s as people drew inspiration from the past. Oldest and largest cities re-adopted their pre-18th-century coats of arms. Smaller towns and villages never had their emblems, therefore they launched an arms-creating spree. The process is tightly regulated by the State Heraldry commission which allows only conservative designs with no post-1800 inventions depicted. Therefore, for example, the railway hub town of Kaišiadorys had to adopt a coat of arms with rectangular horses (rather than trains).

With hundreds official arms now available only the main city ones are well known Lithuania-wide:
* Vilnius coat of arms - St. Cristopher with baby Jesus.
* Kaunas coat of arms - aurochs with a cross on its head.
* Klaipėda coat of arms - stylized German castle.
* Šiauliai coat of arms - a black bear, an ox and a Divine Providence symbol.
* Panevėžys coat of arms - a Medieval defensive tower.

Coats of arms (emblems) of Lithuania's largest cities.

Other well-known but unofficial symbols of cities:

Abbreviations used in netspeak, in most cases the first three consonants of city name: Vilnius - VLN, Kaunas - KNS, Klaipėda - KLP, Panevėžys - PNV

Nicknames which are used interchangeably with city names even by media: Vilnius is nicknamed "The capital", Kaunas - "Temporary capital", Klaipėda - "Port city", Šiauliai - "Sun city", Panevėžys - "Lithuanian Chicago", Palanga - "Summer capital".

Some cities also have unofficial anthems of varying local popularity.

Regional symbols of Lithuania

While Lithuania has five regions, only two of them have historic symbols.

Prior to World War 2 and the subsequent Soviet genocide there were actually two Lithuanias. Current Catholic Lithuania-proper had sister Lutheran Lithuania Minor which had been ruled by German states throughout most of its post-medieval history. Lithuania Minor had its own symbols which predated modern Lithuanian ones: a tricolor flag dating to 1660 and an anthem by Georg Sauerwein "Lietuvininkais mes esam gimę" ("Lietuvininks we are born" 1879). Much of the region was Russified and the symbols became rare even in its Lithuanian-controlled rump.

The most widely used regional flag today is the irregularly shaped Samogitian "bear flag". It represents the long-autonomous region of Western Lithuania which has a unique dialect. A few people even claim Samogitians to be a separate ethnicity but there is no separatism and none of the Lithuanian regional symbols have any negative connotations.

Flags of Samogitia (left) and Lithuania Minor (right).

Mythological symbols

Many Lithuanian locations have legends associated with them and the legendary people and creatures are recognized as local symbols, having sculptures built for them.

First and foremost among those is the Iron Wolf, the symbol of Vilnius. According to a local legend, the city was established by Grand Duke Gediminas after he dreamt of Iron Wolf and his seer interpreted this as a request to build a new capital.

Iron Wolf statue on top of Vilnius train station. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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