True Lithuania

Lifestyle in Lithuania: Introduction

Like in many countries, Lithuanians spend much of their free time eating, watching TV, reading and enjoying music. Most men also like to follow sports while women generally prefer fashion.

Despite the rapid advances of foreign cuisines in restaurants, Lithuanians still prefer their own Lithuanian cuisine at home. Most Lithuanian women and some men know how to prepare its key dishes well.

On average, Lithuanians spend 3,5 hours per day at a TV screen. This makes key actors and TV personalities to be household names. Lithuanians watch mostly local TV shows, mostly foreign movies (although Lithuanian cinema made a comeback) and both foreign and local TV series. Cinemas are less popular, but theater is glorified as a great art.

Literature is somewhat getting replaced by internet as a reading material. Also, much of the Lithuanian "classics" tends to have little appeal to youth as they were written in very different eras of turbulent Lithuanian history. However, this ability to convey the quickly-forgotten past makes Lithuanian literature a must-read in schools.

Music in Lithuania is divided into "pop", "alternative", "folk" and "classical" sections. The first three have popular Lithuanian bands and musicians, but English and Russian music are very popular as well.

Of all pastimes, sport is the one most local. Lithuanians love to watch how their own sportsmen defend their "national glory" - but tend to care little about foreign sportsmen even when they are much better. While sport is more popular among men, many women also follow the key events.

Lithuanian fashion trends largely imitates that of the West, although some women subcultures prefers a more glitzy style.

For Lithuanian cultural and societal norms, see the article "Society in Lithuania".

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Cinema and TV in Lithuania

Lithuania’s cinemas are well suited to foreigners. All the movies (except some children ones) are shown in the original language with Lithuanian subtitles. In some cases, English or Russian subtitles are also available. This is especially true in cinema festivals that regularly shine in Lithuania’s cities. The most famous among those is Vilnius film festival “Kino pavasaris” that takes place every spring in Vilnius and travels around some other cities afterward. There are several newer ones, such as Kaunas Cinema Festival. The festival websites usually list languages and subtitles of particular flicks.

Traditional multiplex cinemas that mostly screen Hollywood production belong to several chains: Forum Cinemas, Atlantis Cinemas, Multikino. Almost every one of these cinemas is located in a modern shopping mall. Only in Vilnius, there is a multiplex cinema “Forum Cinemas Vingis” which is located in a separate building in the New Town. Only the five largest cities of Lithuania (Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai and Panevėžys) have at least one modern cinema. Lithuanians are not avid cinema-goers and attempts to open private movie theaters in the smaller towns have failed.

Then there are “non-commercial” cinemas. The term “non-commercial” here is a marketing catchphrase because most of the movies shown there are made with having profit in mind, some even Hollywood production. However, the repertoire of these cinemas largely differs from the mainstream multiplexes with an emphasis European and less famous movies shown. Old movies also get screenings there. The quality of both video and sound is usually low but tickets also cost somewhat less. Such cinemas include Pasaka and Skalvija in Vilnius.

Lithuanian film industry has made a spectacular comeback in the 2010s. There is no Villywood but at least one Lithuanian movie is screened in cinemas at any given time, many with English subtitles. Lithuanian movie industry looked at Hollywood for inspiration and is now able to make profits through lower budgets and some state funding (but this does not mean bad quality). By 2014 Lithuanian movies captured 23% of the local box office, surpassing the European average.

The Lithuanian cinema comeback was preceded by TV series comeback in the 2000s, mostly telenovelas aimed at women. Despite their local success, both Lithuanian TV series and movies have failed to attract global audiences so far. While Oscars, Golden Globes, and Palme d'Ors are still out of reach the local "Sidabrinė gervė" (Silver crane) award gained prominence.

The current situation is a great improvement since the 1990s when Lithuanian cinema was limited to rare state-funded arthouse movies which used to have a very limited screening even in Lithuania itself.

Before that there were Lithuanian-language Soviet flicks (1950s-1980s) that are still regarded with nostalgic overtones by the older generation. Most of these are soaked in propaganda, however, such as “Niekas nenorėjo mirti” (“Nobody Wanted to Die”) where the Lithuanian resistants against the Soviet occupation are portrayed to kill innocent children in cold blood. The very first scenes of this movie include denunciation of religion by the main character – an honest communist (a complete antithesis to the villain Lithuanian freedom fighters).

Arguably the most famous Lithuanian movie character, Tadas Blinda was popularized by a 1973 Lithuanian-language Soviet film (left) and re-adopted for a 2011 prequel (right). The style and morals of the two films are all different, however: a Robin Hood-like fighter against the rich in the Soviet film Tadas Blinda is portrayed as more of a National Revival figure in the prequel. Ironically, the real-life Tadas Blinda was simply a 19th-century thief.

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Theater, Opera and Ballet in Lithuania

Some Lithuanian theatre-goers used to proclaim that Lithuanian theater directors are better known abroad than at home. This sentence marks both the quality of Lithuanian theater and the supposed lack of appreciation for it in Lithuania itself. This was always an exaggeration but the Lithuanian directors like Eimuntas Nekrošius, Oskaras Koršunovas or Rimas Tuminas are indeed regular guests at world class theater festivals. Yet they are also greatly enjoyed by the Lithuanian public with some plays getting sold out weeks or months in advance.

Theater tickets are cheaper in Lithuania than in the West. However, the performances are not aimed at tourists as all plays are in Lithuanian language (with the exception of the Russian repertoire of Vilnius Russian Drama Theater). If that doesn’t detract you there are many theaters in all the major cities. Some of the main state-sponsored ones are the Nacionalinis dramos teatras, Jaunimo teatras, Mažasis teatras (all in Vilnius), Kauno dramos teatras (Kaunas), Klaipėdos dramos teatras (Klaipėda), Šiaulių dramos teatras (Šiauliai), Juozo Miltinio dramos teatras (Panevėžys). In Vilnius, there is also a commercial Domino theater which offers a repertoire of lighthearted comedies.

However, all of the above are merely a pinnacle of Lithuania’s theater world as there are many small troupes, some of which have their own premises while others perform in a different hall every time. In summer theaters travel around the country and show plays in resort towns such as Palanga.

Opera and ballet are more accessible to foreigners. Operas are now always presented in the original language with Lithuanian subtitles. Operettas, on the other hand, are presented in the translated form. The ticket costs are not expensive by western standards. The plays are less innovative than some of those at drama theaters and consist of the classics sometimes adorned with modern decorations. There is a single opera and ballet theater in Lithuania (in Vilnius). Additionally, the “Bohemiečiai” troupe presents its irregular performances of operas and musicals sometimes. In Kaunas, Klaipėda and Panevėžys there are so-called “Musical theatres” (Lithuanian: muzikinis teatras). Their repertoire also holds more international appeal than that of drama theaters.

Historically, the Lithuanian theater developed relatively late. Before the 19th century, the rare local performances were not in Lithuanian language and catered to linguistic minorities which then dominated the high society. In 1864 the ruling Russian Empire banned Lithuanian language altogether. This didn't stop the subsequent National Revival. Among many popular illegal institutions that developed in Lithuanian-speaking villages were so-called "barn theaters", which offered amateur-yet-emphatic clandestine Lithuanian performances.

Lithuania established its professional national theater after independence (1918). During the totalitarian Soviet occupation (1940-1990) theater became even more popular as its directors dared to subtly criticize the government (the ephemeral nature of performances made them harder to censor than other media). That role was however lost after independence was restored (1990). It took a decade before theater found its new role and regained popularity locally.

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Lithuanian Cuisine

Lithuanian cuisine is generally mild. Potatoes and rye bread are the staple foods and pork are the favorite meat, followed by beef and chicken. Seaside areas have traditional fish recipes but most other seafood is considered inedible.

Most famous Lithuanian meals

The meal most strongly associated with the Lithuanian nation is the Cepelinai, named after Graff von Zeppelin because these potato dumplings are similar in form to airship he invented. A more Lithuanian name for the meal is "didžkukuliai". Foreigners sometimes find the meal hard for their stomachs but it is very popular among Lithuanians. It is also one of the cheapest meals of its size you may get in Lithuanian restaurants. Making cepelinai yourself would take hours, however.

Cepelinai with traditional spirgučiai sauce. These cepelinai are filled with meat, but various other versions exist, including vegetarian. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There are other popular local foods. Lithuanians like to eat soups (usually served with traditional black rye bread or potatoes) before the main dish. Rose-colored šaltibarščiai cold soup dominates over hot soups in summer. Salted herring (Silkė) is another loved appetizer, most commonly served with potatoes, vegetables, and bread.

Šaltibarščiai cold soup served with potatoes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There are many forms of popular pancakes, among them the Samogitian pancakes (Žemaičių blynai) filled with minced meat and the Potato pancakes (Bulviniai blynai) made of (you guessed it right) potatoes (vegetarian). Kugelis is similar to potato pancakes but has a more bloated form. Samogitian kastinis (a smetana and soured milk-based sauce to dip potatoes in) is yet another Lithuanian potato meal.

Potato pancakes (left) and Samogitian pancakes (right) served with sour cream (one of the traditional sauce options). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Meat-based main courses include karbonadas (a pork steak that should be loved by everybody, save for vegetarians) and šašlykai (grilled fat meat). More exotic are the Vėdarai (stuffed pig's intestines) and Skilandis (stuffed pig's stomach). Few parts of a pig would be considered inedible in Lithuania.

Karbonadas pork dish. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Traditional Lithuanian desserts are the šakotis (large circular branching structure similar in taste to German Baumkuchen) and žagarėliai (sweet nicely formed cookies). They are common during festivities, e.g. weddings, and may be bought at shops, but are rarely available at restaurants.

Lithuanians eat their major meals at midday (11:30-13:30). This meal may be translated as "dinner" even though it is earlier than Western dinner. Breakfast is light (e.g. self-made sandwich). Supper may be both light or elaborate.

Lithuanian regional and minority cuisine

Some of the Lithuanian meals are shared with Polish and other neighboring cuisines. Koldūnai (a.k.a. virtiniai) dumplings of unleavened dough originated in Russia whereas the Kiev chicken cutlet (Kijevo kotletas) is likely Ukrainian but both are now widely served in Lithuania.

There are some regional variations of Lithuanian cuisine, with mushroom-based dishes hailing from forested Dzūkija, dough-based dishes from Aukštaitija, potato-based dishes from Samogitia and meat-based dishes from Sudovia. However today this is mostly historical as many of the dishes are available everywhere.

Kastinis is the most famous Samogitian meal consisting of potato with a sour milk and smetana sauce. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The cuisine of the centuries-old Turkic minorities has also been adopted by the mainstream society, especially the Karaim kibinas (kibin) and Tatar čeburekas, both fast food pastries filled with meat.

Karaim kibins are pastries filled with meat. Specialized restaurants may have some 20 filling options (from pork to game). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Gourmet nobility cuisine with its preference for the game and expensive desserts lost popularity under the Soviet occupation. In some restaurants, these old recipes are revived, however.

Lithuanian seasonal meals and beverages

Some of the most famous Lithuanian meals are related to specific Christian holidays. Kūčiukai, a kind of hard bread, are widely eaten in Advent period before Christmas. Easter has a tradition of dying eggs (called margučiai) which is seen as an art. During Užgavėnės one just has to eat pancakes.

Beer is the most common alcoholic beverage with many Lithuanians considering their beer to be among world's best. Over 90% of all beer sold in Lithuania are local brands. In addition to the main trademarks (Utenos, Kalnapilis, Švyturys, Volfas-Engelman) traditional local beers are regaining popularity (even major players have been launching their own "craft beer" line-ups).

Centuries of Russian and Soviet rule brought vodka to Lithuania, but it is now more commonly associated with the poor. There is no tradition to drink wine in Lithuania and grapes are not cultivated. However in recent decades wine became more popular due to western influence (especially among the rich).

The traditional soft drink is the mildly alcoholic gira, but Western soft drinks now prevail.

Fruits, berries, and mushrooms are widely available in summer-autumn as people bring them from their gardens, forage in the forests or buy at markets and makeshift roadside stalls. Apples, strawberries, and blueberries are among the most popular. They are mostly eaten plain or squeezed into unmixed juice. These days all fruits may be acquired year-round but with Lithuania being so far north seasonal and out-of-season prices differ greatly.

See also: Restaurants in Lithuania

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Sports in Lithuania: Introduction

Lithuanians are in awe with sports and especially their professional sportsmen. Should you get into a conversation with Lithuanian men you are likely to hear them claiming that for such a small country with a mediocre economy the achievements in sports are indeed spectacular.

Since the restoration of independence in 1990 Lithuanians manage to score medals in every Summer Olympics. The most successful sportsmen are eagerly greeted by fans in the airports when they return. While such celebrations are the most massive for main sports, the players of less popular disciplines (such as wrestling or pentathlon), also get their fair share of public attention if they succeed. So much so that after five medals (two gold) scored in Sydney Olympics (2000) a street in Vilnius was renamed "Olimpiečių" (Olympians).

The welcome back ceremony for Lithuanian Olympic athlete Rūta Meilutytė after her gold in 100 m breaststroke at London 2012. Vilnius, Rotušės (City Hal) square. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Basketball is the national sport. It is frequently referred to in press and conversations as the “Second religion of Lithuania”. Basketball is also the only one of the world’s main sports where Lithuania is certainly a Great Power. With three medals in Olympic Games, three European Champions titles, a constant place in the Top 10 of the FIBA national team ranking this “Great Power” title is certainly no joke.

Other popular team sports include football (soccer), ice hockey and rugby (in that order). Lithuanians are weak in all these, so their fans typically watch foreign matches.

Numerous Lithuanians express support by putting on national flags on their cars during the major sport (primarily basketball) events where Lithuanians participate. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Formula 1 is also popular to follow, and mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions periodically held in the main arenas gained their popularity in the early 90s when TV started airing Japanese puroresu shows.

Despite the popularity of sports relatively few fans visit arenas or stadiums (watching games on TV is more popular). With the exception of major events, even the basketball and football matches are played in front of merely several hundred or a thousand live spectators.

"Major events" that attract larger attendances include Euroleague basketball, Žalgiris vs. Lietuvos Rytas basketball derbies, national basketball team games, football games where locals play against famous foreign opponents and various major international tournaments (of any sport) if they are held in Lithuania.

Lithuanian National basketball team friendly match against Greece in Lithuania's largest Kaunas arena. A bunch of such matches is played every summer to prepare for international tournaments. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The people of the main cities (especially Vilnius and Kaunas) have many local sports franchises to follow. Most prefer basketball, with football being the second choice. In the towns, however, the options are more limited and their inhabitants usually support the most powerful local team. So there are "basketball towns" and "football towns", an "ice hockey town", a "motoball town" and a "handball town".

Virtually all the athletes representing Lithuania are Lithuanian citizens-by-birth as the 10-year-long process of acquiring Lithuanian nationality has no shortcuts for sportsmen. Moreover, most Lithuanians see the countries that naturalize foreign players to be cheating, while the athletes who switch citizenship for financial or career opportunities may be regarded as traitors. This does not apply to club sports where nationality is not required - however even there the numbers of so-called "legionnaires" (foreign players) are comparatively low.

Lithuanian Sports museum in Kaunas Old Town is a repository for Lithuanian sports memorabilia (medals, cups, etc.).

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Music in Lithuania: bands, genres, radio stations, festivals

Lithuanian music scene is quite neatly divided into so-called "pop music" and "alternative music".

Lithuanian pop music

Popmusic is the more popular one, but mocked by the fans of alternative latter for its lame lyrics, little musical value and recorded performances. Typically the run-off-a-mill bands of pretty blonde girls made famous by various reality TV shows or professional producing companies or, are ones made fun of the most.

Nevertheless, these ephemeral bands never lasting more than some 6 years are only one side of Lithuania's pop music. On the other side are well-known singers with their decades-spanning careers. Called "estrada singers", the top veteran stars are the late Stasys Povilaitis and Edmundas Kučinskas (both loved by older people).

There is also a "middle ground" of singers who augment their pop music careers by acting in musicals or performing more serious songs. Arguably the most famous such performer is Marijus Mikutavičius who somehow always manages to unite the nation with his anthems for basketball, hapiness, and other positive things. The divides between followers of various genres sometimes disappear while listening to his "Trys milijonai" song created for 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, but as popular today as it was a decade ago.

Marijus Mikutavičius (center), Mantas Jankavičius and Mia in a Eurobasket 2011 anthem videoclip.

The radio stations play primarily pop music. The best radio stations to hear Lithuanian pop music are "Pūkas" and "Lietus" (the first programs solely this genre whereas the later also plays foreign music). Additionally, Lithuanian pop music may be heard in live performances at various gigs and cafes in Palanga resort at summer.

While there are various local music awards Eurovision song contest is the true centerpoint of Lithuanian pop music year and generates the most publicity. Many musicians enter the qualification stage for public relations alone. The contest itself has a sport-like following where the Lithuanian band is supported like some national team. Lithuanians never won the contest, however (unlike Latvians and Estonians). The expansion of the contest makes it harder for nations without millions-strong diaspora communities to win.

Lithuania has a constant stream of its own popular musical TV contests,however, eagerly joined by most pop singers to boost their careers.

Lithuanian "alternative music"

The Lithuanian alternative music covers many genres. A fan usually follows one or more genres, although (s)he may still prefer other genres over pop music. As its audience is smaller and more divided, "Alternative music" gigs generally take place in smaller venues than leading pop music.

One exception is the immensely popular summer festivals. These festivals are usually dedicated to particular genres, e.g. metal, gothic, rock or electronic, and include both local and foreign music of these genres. They take place either in cities or certain country areas. Some famous annual festivals: “Mėnuo juodaragis“ (neo-folk / neo-pagan), “Galapagai“ (rock), “Visagino kantri” (country music, always held in Visaginas), “Tamsta muzika“ (various genres, primarily alternative), "Yaga" (raggae, dub, electric), "Akacijų alėja" (sung poetry).

Pagan metal band Obtest performs for a small audience in Vilnius Book Fair. Like a part of alternative bands, it combines ethnic heritage ideas with Western genres. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A significant portion of Lithuania’s alternative musicians follows the so-called sung poetry (dainuojamoji poezija) genre. This usually involves a single musician singing solo with a single instrument. As in poetry, it is the lyrics that are most important rather than the melody (therefore sung poetry is difficult to understand for someone who does not speak Lithuanian).

Another style enjoying greater popularity in Lithuania than elsewhere is the neo-folk that combines centuries-old songs with modern musical motives (rock, metal, etc.).

Folk and classical music

Real folk music is seen to be a major part of Lithuanian culture, kept alive by mostly amateur bands and choirs. Quadriennial UNESCO-inscribed state-funded festivals Dainų šventė (Song festival) are the ultimate folksong choir experience, but annual "Ant rubežiaus" (Šiauliai), "Skamba skamba kankliai" (Vilnius) are more frequent and varied alternatives. Folk music is in a way detached from both pop music and alternative music and is more commonly enjoyed by older people. Before 20th century every folk song was meant to be sung doing a different task, polyphonic "sutartinės" being the most famous.

A band in folk costumes performs in Vilnius during the traditional Skamba skamba kankliai folk music festival in late May. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Classical music and opera, another separate category, is also preferred primarily by mature population and is found in opera theaters, philharmonias and musical theaters, usually performed in the original language. Regarded as "the most intellectual music", classical music bands are commonly largely funded by the state.

Foreign music in Lithuania

While the above mentioned two radio stations ("Pūkas" and "Lietus") play Lithuanian music, this is rather an exception than a rule. Most radio stations (e.g. "Radiocentras", "M-1") play solely or primarily English music. These are the same hits you would hear anywhere in the Western world. Since late 1990s world-famous bands visit Lithuania on their world tours. Many Lithuanians do not listen to Lithuanian music altogether, opting for the Western one instead.

The third category of music popular in Lithuania is also non-local, but neither it is music you would hear in the West. This is Russian music. It is mostly listened to by ethnic Russians, but also enjoyed by a part of the non-Russian working class. Less impressively it continues to be popular among criminals and thugs. You are much more likely to hear a Russian song in Vilnius public transport eagerly listened by the drivers than either Lithuanian or Western one. Entire radio stations are dedicated to them. "Russkoe Radio" plays solely Russian pop music (their hosts also speak Russian) whereas "A2" plays a mix of Russian and Lithuanian pop music and employs Lithuanian-speaking hosts. Most of the Russian music is imported from Russia rather than locally created.

See also: Popular Lithuanian songs: old and new

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Lithuanian Art and Literature

Art and literature of Lithuania have been defined by multiple alternating periods of persecution an freedom. There may be no world famous names among the Lithuanian art creators but their works well-represent the rapidly shifting Lithuanian situation. Moreover, some would say a few Lithuanian authors failed to reach worldwide fame solely because all the political and military upheavals precluded it.

History of Lithuanian Art and Literature

Folklore, folk traditions and mythology are the roots of Lithuanian art. Folk art tradition continued longer in Lithuania than in many Western countries and for a long time, it was the sole truly Lithuanian art. As such, it still inspires many people today.

In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth era Lithuanian and Polish art were hard to distinguish as there was a widespread Polish-Lithuanian diglossia with Polish used as the literary language. However, at the same time a Lithuanian language literary tradition was developing in Lithuania Minor (East Prussia).

1795 Russian Imperial occupation of Lithuania eventually led to heavy persecutions and ban on Lithuanian literature. Yet this also triggered the National Revival which made Lithuanian a popular literary language all over the country. Lithuanian books used to be illegally imported from Lithuania Minor.

By 1904 the czar was forced to moderate his policies and in 1918 Lithuania became independent. Lithuanian art and literature flourished in this interwar era.

It all ended in 1940 when the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania. Heavy censorship was introduced, many artists and writers murdered or imprisoned. Only pro-Soviet literature continued to be published while art was restricted to Socialist realist guidelines. Every author had to "pay his dues" to the regime by creating some propaganda works. Meanwhile, the censorship reached absurd proportions. Pre-Soviet and foreign art and literature were also censored (some of it banned).

As an alternative to the Soviet art (which has been partly stripped of creativity), new forms of art were developed by refugee Lithuanian artists and writers in the West (mainly the USA). The so-called "landed" generation was followed by the "landless" (those who grew up abroad). Their creations followed worldwide trends (with an additional overarching theme of longing for the lost homeland). They had been banned in the Soviet Union but their illegal imports were endlessly copied by a samisztad press.

With the 1990 independence restoration, the Lithuanian art and literature once again reunited and became free of forced ideology. By 1990s the "exodus literature" (as the creations of Lithuanian Americans became known as) was adopted into school curriculums while in 2000s Lithuania also rediscovered Fluxus movement.

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