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. Today it is designated "Historic flag" and is increasingly used alongside (or even instead of) the national flag in many places.

The modern Lithuanian national 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.

Flags as they appear in the main hall of the Lithuanian government. Lithuanian and European Union flags stand side-by-side while the table hosts the flags of all the member states. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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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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Banned and controversial symbols

Lithuania's turbulent history of occupations, genocides, and wars led to some symbols being considered controversial in Lithuania or even officially banned.

Banned symbols

Firstly, the communist and Soviet symbols are banned in Lithuania. Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and suffered genocide under its rule and while this regime continued, it has forced the communist symbols upon Lithuanians. Lithuanian tricolor, emblem, and anthem were all replaced by new ones, rich in Soviet communist symbols. Currently, all such symbols are banned, and they include the hammer and sickle, the five-pointed red star, the official symbols of the Soviet Union, the official symbols of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. As neither of those symbols has ever been used for any other purpose than to promote communism, there is no "mainstream" excuse for their use outside of films or teaching materials. These symbols, however, may still be seen on some Soviet monuments to Soviet soldiers. Generally, these are the only Soviet monuments that were (albeit controversially) not demolished in Lithuania with an excuse that they glorify simple soldiers who just followed orders rather than decided to occupy Lithuania and kill Lithuanians by themselves.

Secondly, the Nazi symbols are banned in Lithuania due to Nazi Germany having murdered most of the Lithuania's Jews. There is mainly one such banned symbol: the swastika. However, only the Nazi swastika is banned (i.e. swastika within a red circle or when used in Nazi contexts). That's because in Lithuania, the swastika was widely used before the Nazi occupation and the birth of Nazism (akin to how it is still used in India, for example). The swastika can be seen on some pre-1930s Lithuanian sculptures, book covers, prehistoric Baltic jewelry. To those who know little about local culture even such uses of swastika may evoke similarities to Nazism, however many locals seek to reclaim swastika as it was used before WW2. While the swastika that was used historically is quite similar to the Nazi swastika (save for the red circle), to stay on the safe side, most modern users of swastika tend to stylize it more (e.g. have straight lines replaced by curved lines).

Nazi salute is regarded to be another Nazi symbol, however, only in Nazi contexts. This interpretation tends to be more relaxed than in the UK and some other Western countries. Lithuania was baffled when Lithuanian basketball fans were arrested during the London 2012 Olympics for "performing a Nazi salute" when a similar gesture is often used to welcome players into the Lithuanian arenas and is not seen as any different in this context from raising two arms, for example.

Despite the Communist and Nazi symbols being currently banned, this ban is controversial in itself. In the libertarian 1990s, no symbols were banned in Lithuania; significant numbers of people believe that a freedom of speech would require waiving the bans. However, as only some very small fringe organizations and dark-tourism-souvenir salesmen would actually use the symbols, the issue stays out of the mainstream attention and doesn't go beyond some articles in the media.

Controversial symbols

In addition to the banned symbols, there are some that are not banned, yet controversial. The most famous among those is the St. George strip, regarded by to be a symbol of Russian Imperialism. It is sometimes used by Russian nationalists to decorate their cars or clothes. This symbol gained both popularity and controversy after the 2015 Russian invasion of Ukraine when it became commonly used by those who supported the invasion. Whoever wears the St. George strip is often regarded to be a traitor by ethnic Lithuanians.

The Rainbow flag, used by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations in the West, is also controversial in Lithuania. While some people in Lithuania consider homosexual relations to be unnatural, many others who object to the Rainbow flag actually accept gayness. However, unlike in the West, where LGBT was a grassroots movement, in Lithuania this movement is generally top-to-down, funded and supported by various Western institutions that raise controversial demands (such as prosecuting their critics for "hate speech" or firing them from jobs). As such, to some, the Rainbow flag came to symbolize the curbs on the freedom of speech in Lithuania, imposition of foreign values upon Lithuania or simply shifting too much attention to issues that are regarded as "comparatively less important in Lithuania" due to the fact that Lithuania faces many other unique problems related to its Soviet past (more poverty, the Russian threat, the world-leading suicide and alcoholism rates, etc.).

Satanist symbols, such as the upside down cross, are also controversial. They are used by some subcultures yet they are heavily criticized by the Christian churches and seen as a proof of a "dangerous cult membership" by many less-religious people as well. After all, some of the most publicized uses of the Satanist symbols involves vandalism in the cemeteries.

Also on the borderline of what's acceptable is the slogan Lietuva lietuviams (Lithuania for the Lithuanians) as some outsiders tend to interpret this slogan as suggesting an expulsion of non-Lithuanians from Lithuania. However, in reality, this slogan has gained popularity during the occupations of Lithuania and generally meant that the people of Lithuania (rather than any foreign powers) should make the political decisions in Lithuania. Today some say that the slogan is dated and should not be shouted during the independence day parades; others claim that it either has a historic meaning or current meaning of protest against transferring more and more powers from the democratically-elected Lithuanian parliament to the European Union institutions.

In general, due to less "political correctness" and a more homogenous society, there tend to be fewer controversial symbols, words, and other things in Lithuania than in the Western countries (and those that are controversial are often controversial only when used in particular contexts).

The Lithuanian Ministry of Defense is adorned by this symbol representing Tatar (Asian) eyes since the 1990s. In most Western countries, such racial-features-inspired symbol would be politically incorrect. In Lithuania, however, this is a respectful nod to the local Tatar community, which had played an important role in the Medieval defense of Lithuania (the street where the Ministry of Defense stands is also named after the Tatars). Such use of racial features would only be controversial in Lithuania if it would be done for derogatory purposes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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