These are the lists of the most important facts about Lithuania one should know to truly understand the country.
*100 icons of Lithuanian culture. The top 100 essentially Lithuanian things and concepts that either exist only in Lithuania, were invented in Lithuania or became unusually influential there.
*20 key moments in Lithuanian history. The dates that turned the tides of Lithuanian history.
*Top 10 European Union influences. Since 2004 Lithuania joined the European Union which has tremendously impacted the life for Lithuanians. In case you wonder how the country would look without this membership, these are top 10 differences.
The following are the 20 dates that "turned the tides" in Lithuanian history. Some had strengthened Lithuania, others sent it into a decline.
They are listed chronologically:
1009 - First mention of name "Lithuania" in writing. A murder of a missionary St. Bruno at likely Lithuanian pagan hands is recorded by a German scribe. "Irrelevant barbarian land" became known as the "final pagan piece of Europe" in Catholic European minds. Sporadic attempts to Christianise the Balts thus turned into a massive onslaught of crusading knights.
1253 - Coronation of king Mindaugas. Mindaugas became the first king of Lithuania recognized as such by the other nations. While the theories that credit him with the establishment of Lithuanian state may be too far-fetched (that likely happened beforehand), his rule solidified Lithuania so it was never conquered by the Crusaders (unlike all the other Baltic lands) and instead went in a rapid expansion drive.
1385 - Union of Krėva. Under this treaty Lithuanians adopted Christianity, kicking off much of the European support for the anti-Lithuanian crusades. Furthermore, Lithuanian leaders also became Polish kings as the countries established a long-lasting alliance.
1410 - Žalgiris (Grunewald) battle. Joint Lithuanian-Polish forces defeated the Teutonic Knights, signifying the power of Lithuania that now stretched from Baltic to the Black sea (the largest medieval European state).
1503 - Lithuanian-Moscow truce. Lithuania ceded almost 1/3rd of its territory to Muscovy as it lost the first war to that rapidly strengthening power. While the alienated lands were geographically and culturally distant, this was the beginning of the "Russian menace" that continued to haunt Lithuania ever since.
1569 - Union of Lublin. Lithuania and Poland merged into a single massive Commonwealth, restoring invincibility for another century. This came at a heavy price, however: Lithuania became secondary-in-status to Poland (to which it also ceded entire Ukraine). Therefore the Lithuanian nobility increasingly adopted Polish language and customs.
1655 - The Deluge. Poland-Lithuania have been overran by Russian and Swedish forces. Vilnius was sacked for the first time in history. While the Commonwealth was liberated by 1660 it became plagued by internal conflicts and regular foreign interventions, never to become a great power again.
1795 - 3rd Partition of Poland-Lithuania. European superpowers (Russia, Prussia, Austria) completed the dismemberment Poland-Lithuania with most of Lithuania falling under Russian yoke. All subsequent attempts to restore Poland-Lithuania failed, with Russia tightening its grip every time.
1864 - Lithuanian language ban. Russian Empire banned Lithuanian language and persecuted Catholic faith, hoping to Russify the land. The measures proved counter-productive as they made Lithuanians to respect their language, spurring Lithuanian National Revival that sought to establish a Lithuanian state independent of both Russia and Poland.
1915 - German occupation of Lithuania. Germany conquered Lithuania in World War 1 from a rapidly weakening Russian Empire. Its less oppressive and more mercantilist approach raised Lithuanian expectations for freedom.
1918 - Declaration of independence. National Revival culminated in independence declaration that restored a fully sovereign Lithuanian country for the first time since 1569. The country achieved a remarkable prosperity in the subsequent decades.
1920 - Polish occupation of Vilnius region. Breaching the previous Treaty of Suwalki Polish troops captured Vilnius region of Lithuania, which was later annexed to Poland. The subsequent international dispute over Vilnius (1920-1939) put the final nail in the coffin of a "united Polish-Lithuanian nation" idea.
1923 - Klaipėda Revolt. Lithuanians deposed the League of Nations rule in Klaipėda Region and joined it to Lithuania. For the first time since the 1200s, Lithuania-proper was unified with a part of Lithuania Minor and Lithuania acquired a major port. Foreign nations ceased to treat Lithuania as a weak temporary statelet and offered diplomatic recognitions.
1940 - Soviet occupation of Lithuania. The Soviet Union occupied Lithuania and soon launched a genocide. The most terrible treatment since The Deluge made Lithuanians seek help anywhere they could expect it, including Germany.
1941 - Nazi German occupation of Lithuania. Lithuanians declared independence from Soviet rule, but Nazi German army occupied Lithuania nevertheless and extinguished all forms of self-rule. While the Germans did not reinstate Soviet Genocide and discrimination, they launched a genocide of their own (Holocaust).
1944 - Soviet re-occupation of Lithuania. As Soviet armies forced out the Germans, the Soviet mass murders, exiles, discrimination re-emerged while Lithuanian forests were engulfed by guerilla war. Entire Lithuania Minor was wiped out in Genocide. Lithuania was effectively sentenced to 46 more years of occupation, the failed socialist economic policies dragging its economy decades behind the West.
1989 - Baltic Way. Millions of Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians stood hand-in-hand showing their unity in the face of the Soviet regime and making the return of freedom seem increasingly probable.
1990 - Restoration of independence. Lithuania becomes the first Soviet-ruled Republic to declare independence, triggering a rapid decline of the Union as a whole.
1991 - January events. Hundreds of thousands of armless Lithuanians used their bodies to cover key institutions from invading Soviet/Russian tanks, effectively saving independence and earning its first diplomatic recognitions. Lithuania launched swift transformation into a free market democratic state.
2004 - Joining the European Union. Lithuania ceded parts of its sovereignty to this international organization that has been gradually integrating into a federation-like structure. Lithuanian laws became subordinated to European Union directives and regulations, border controls were abolished and Lithuania lost ~20% of population to emigration.
In 2004 Lithuania joined the European Union. When visiting Lithuania today some may ask how would Lithuania look had it remained fully independent? Here are 10 most visible (not only the most important) things that would certainly be different if not for the European Union membership:
1.Massive emigration. The European Union offered a hassle-free way for Lithuanian citizens to live and work anywhere in Western Europe, earning higher wages. Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians, primarily the youth, used the opportunity and never returned to Lithuania. Lithuanian population declined by ~20% after 2004, numbers unheard of outside of war-ravaged lands. In comparison, between years 1989 and 2001, the total numbers of ethnic Lithuanians and non-Soviet minorities only declined by 3%, even though the economic conditions were worse. If not for European Union membership, Lithuanian cities and towns would have more people, especially more youth.
2.Euro currency adopted. In 2015 Euro (EUR) replaced the Lithuanian national currency Litas (LTL). On the one hand, this meant less need to exchange money for tourists as well as cheaper bank transfers. On the other hand, Lithuania lost its ability to conduct its own monetary policy and one of the key national symbols has been removed from people's purses. Lithuania also became obliged to help Euro-using countries in trouble. If not for European Union membership, Lithuania would still use its own currency Litas.
3.European law supremacy. In the European Union the European treaties, regulations, directives and European Court precedents take precedence over the Lithuanian local laws. This means that, for example, a regulation drafted by European authorities contradicting a Lithuanian law effectively "cancels" that Lithuanian law for good. As such, increasing parts of Lithuanian law system is drafted in the European Union authorities. If not for the European Union membership, all Lithuanian laws would be drafted locally save for International treaties signed by the Lithuanian government.
4.Immigration. Before 2004 hearing a non-tourist speaking in any other language than either Lithuanian, Polish or Russian, or seeing a non-White person used to be extremely rare, even in Vilnius. European Union mandated that people from other EU member states would be allowed to freely live and work in Lithuania, as well as conduct business, own land and vote in some elections, increasing their population share. Starting from 2015 European Union also requested Lithuania to accept large numbers of illegal migrants from Africa and the Middle East who were seeking to move to Western Europe. Coupled with the emigration, it means that locals are replaced by immigrants to some extent. However, immigration to Lithuania is currently much lower than the emigration. If not for European Union membership, much fewer Westerners, Asians and Africans would live in Lithuania.
5.Ignalina NPP closed. In order to join EU Lithuania was requested to close down its Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. This plant had the most powerful reactors in the world and provided Lithuania with 83% of its electricity, making it the "most nuclear nation in the world". Ignalina NPP closure led to billions of direct closure costs (partly funded by the EU) as well as massive indirect costs as Lithuania became dependent on Russia and more polluting Elektrėnai Power Plant to satisfy its energy needs. Electricity prices went up, while Visaginas city (where Ignalina NPP was located) lost 25% of the population and had its average age increase from ~31 to ~39 years. If not for European Union membership, Lithuania would still cover all its energy needs by producing cheap electricity in Ignalina NPP while Visaginas would be a nuclear city.
6.Schengen zone is an area largely overlapping the European Union where there is no border control and a single "Schengen visa" is issued. The list of nationalities able to travel visa-free changed somewhat as Lithuania joined the Schengen Zone. While EU membership is not required to be Schengen Zone member, in the case of Lithuania both decisions have been made concurrently. If not the Schengen Zone membership traveling between Lithuania and countries like Latvia/Poland would require crossing customs control, even if quick. However, for nationalities outside Schengen Zone getting Lithuanian visa would still be easier and cheaper, and vice-versa.
7.Lithuanian female surnames, previously unique in the world for having different versions for married and unmarried persons, had an option created for them to no longer show marital status applying the European Union directives on "indirect discrimination". If not for European Union membership, ethnic Lithuanian female citizens of Lithuania with surnames ending in something else than "-ienė", "-utė", "-ūtė", "-aitė" or "-ytė" would likely have surnames ending one of these ways.
8.License plates of Lithuania-registered cars had Lithuanian flag replaced by European Union flag. Unlike United States (or many other federations) where every state may produce its own license plates, European Union mandates that all license plates have to use a similar Design with a European Union flag on them. If not for European Union membership, every Lithuanian license plate would still bear a Lithuanian tricolor rather than a European Union flag.
9.Stands with European Union flags now have been built in thousands of Lithuanian localities and roadsides. The owner of every project that was partly funded through the European Union is obliged to erect such a stand at its location to advertise EU initiatives. However, all these projects have also received funds from Lithuanian, municipal and/or private budgets, and the European Union itself is actually funded by the taxpayers of all its member-states, including Lithuanians (if not EU membership the same money would go into national and municipal coffers). Nevertheless if not for European Union membership it is likely that different projects would have been funded and different initiatives undertaken, as the goals would then be set locally rather than on the European level.
10.English trademarks have largely displaced Lithuanian trademarks since 2004, especially so in the main cities. Not only have more foreign companies entered Lithuanian market but even many Lithuanian companies have established new businesses under English names or changed the longstanding Lithuanian brands into new English-named ones. English trademarks are seen to be better understood by Westerners, which was made more important by the common EU goods and labor markets. While there is a political will to safeguard Lithuanian language in local trademarks, European Union law does not permit this and it takes supremacy. If not for European Union membership a larger share of local businesses would be named in the Lithuanian language.
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