Lithuania (in Lithuanian, Lietuva), officially Republic of Lithuania, republic in north-eastern Europe, bounded on the north by Latvia; on the east and south by Belarus; on the south-east by Poland and the Kaliningrad oblast, Russia; and on the west by the Baltic Sea. With Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania is one of the Baltic republics. Lithuania has an area of about 65,300 sq km (25,200 sq mi). Vilnius, the capital and largest city of Lithuania, is in the south-eastern part of the country.
II LAND AND RESOURCES
Lithuania consists of a low-lying plain broken by low hills in the west and south. Almost the entire territory of the country is less than 200 m (about 655 ft) in elevation. The Baltic coast in the west is fringed by sand dunes running south from the border with Latvia to Klaipėda, where the Kurši Marios lagoon is almost completely cut off from the sea by the Kurši Nerija, a sand-spit 100 km (62 mi) long. The central lowlands running north to south give way to the higher ground of the Baltic Highlands in the eastern and south-eastern part of the country. Mount Juoapinė (292 m/958 ft) in the south-eastern highlands is the highest point.
A Rivers and Lakes
Lithuania contains many lakes and rivers, 22 of which have a total length of 100 km (about 60 mi) or more. Many of the larger lakes are in the east and south-east of the country. The most extensive of these is the Nemunas (Neman), a major river that supplies the country with hydroelectric power. The main tributaries of the Nemunas are the Myarkis, Nevėžis, Dubysa, Jūra, Minija, and Šešupė. Many of the rivers are slow and meandering and drain into the Baltic. Marshes and swamps are prevalent, especially in the north and west, although half of all original wetlands have been drained.
The climate is dominated by marine influences, but conditions are more variable in the eastern portion of the republic. In the west summers are cooler, and winters are milder. Average annual precipitation ranges from less than 600 mm (about 20 in) per year in the centre of the country to more than 850 mm (about 35 in) per year in the west.
C Natural Resources
Lithuania is the largest of the Baltic States and more than 25 per cent of the land is forested. Soils range from sands to heavy clays; loamy and sandy soils predominate in the north-west; loamy peats in the central region; and sandy soils predominate in the south-east. Swamp and marshlands account for about 7 per cent of the land area. The limited mineral resources include limestone, sand, clay, gravel, peat, and dolomite, and small reserves of oil and gas. During the Soviet era environmental degradation was a cost of economic expansion around the Akmene cement works and the Jonava fertilizer plant.
D Plants and Animals
Western maritime regions are fringed by pine forests and the sand dunes support the growth of wild rye and bushy vegetation; spruce is common in the hilly eastern areas. Forests containing oak, birch, black alder, and aspen are a feature of the central region, that gives way to more pine forests in the south of the country. These habitats support a diverse range of wildlife that includes: foxes, wolves, badgers, boars, elk, deer, beavers, minks, white storks, and many varieties of waterfowl.
E Environmental Concerns
Like many countries of the former USSR, Lithuania has significant environmental problems related to pollution. Despite the growth of the country’s environmental awareness since its independence from the USSR in 1991, a lack of technology, equipment, and funds make it difficult to adequately treat industrial emissions and to replace old equipment. Emissions from motor vehicles contribute significantly to air pollution. Industrial centres such as Vilnius and Kaunas, with their power stations, fertilizer plants, and cement plants, have also contributed to the severe contamination of the air. Air pollution has resulted in acid rain, which further degrades water and soil quality.
Lithuania is struggling to upgrade its sewage treatment plants, because much of the country’s surface water is contaminated with bacteria. Agricultural run-off from fertilizers and pesticides also contributes to the pollution of the country’s groundwater and many of its rivers. Contamination of rivers, in turn, pollutes the coastal areas into which the rivers empty. Lithuania depends almost entirely on nuclear power for electricity. The Ignalina nuclear plant supplies electricity to Lithuania and to some neighbouring countries. Constructed in the 1980s, the plant poses a considerable environmental threat; its reactors are of the same design as those at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which in 1986 suffered the worst nuclear disaster in history. One reactor is set for closure in 2005 with the second being decommissioned in 2009.
During the 1990s Lithuania focused on rebuilding its economy, but the country has been able to effect some environmental change as well. Environmental regulations passed in the early 1990s called for reduced pollution and a more effective monitoring system for environmental issues. These regulations also sought to end the government secrecy about environmental issues that characterized the Soviet era. Lithuania has ratified agreements protecting biodiversity, the ozone layer, and wetlands. It is also party to international treaties concerning climate change and ship pollution.
constitute more than 80 per cent of the country’s population. The proportion of Lithuanians increased in the first years after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, as Lithuanians immigrated from other parts of the USSR and abroad, and ethnic minorities, especially Slavs, left Lithuania in large numbers.
A Population Characteristics
According to official estimates, Russians account for about 8 per cent, and Poles for 7 per cent of the total population , which is 3,584,836 (2004 estimate). Other minorities include Ukrainians, Jews, and Belorussians.
Lithuania is highly urbanized, with about 69 per cent of the population living in urban areas. In contrast to most other republics of the former USSR, Lithuania is not dominated by a single urban centre. Population density is 55 people per sq km (142 per sq mi). Life expectancy in 2004 was 70 years.
B Political Divisions
For administrative purposes the country is divided into ten counties (apskritys): Alytus; Kaunas; Klaipėda; Marijampolė; Panevėžys; Šiauliai; Tauragė; Teliai; Utena; and Vilnius; and 60 municipalities.
C Principal Cities
Vilnius, the capital, is the largest city, with a population of 543,000 (2001); the country contains other medium-to-large cities, such as Kaunas, population 381,300 (2001), and the seaport Klaipėda, 194,400 (2001).
Roman Catholics form the majority of the population: some 80 per cent of the population adhere to the faith. Other faiths practised in Lithuania include the Orthodox Church, Evangelical Lutheranism, Judaism, and Islam.
Lithuanian, from the Baltic subfamily of Indo-European languages, is the official language and is spoken by the majority of the population. Karaim, an Altaic language, and Baltic Romani, an Indo-Iranian language, are spoken by small minorities. Russian and English tend to be used by Lithuanians as second languages.
Reforms in the education system began in the late 1980s before independence. Under the 1992 constitution education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16, and is provided free of charge. Lithuanian is the principal language of instruction but Russian, Belorussian, Polish, and Yiddish are used as the languages of instruction in schools serving those communities; in 1996-1997 about 14 per cent of pupils attended schools for ethnic minorities. In the same year about 58,700 students attended 14 institutes with university status, including Vilnius University (1579), one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe. Other important institutions include Kaunas University of Medicine (1920) and Kaunas University of Technology (1922); Vytautas Magnus University (1922); Klaipéda University (1991); Šiauliai University (1948); and Vilnius Academy of Arts (1793). Education was allocated 6.5 per cent of total spending in 1998–1999.
The cultural traditions of Lithuania that have been passed down are among the oldest in Europe, and they continue to enjoy a high level of interest and support. Folk art has a distinctive style that is widely expressed in ceramics, woodcarving, and textiles. The Vilnius drawing school, founded in the mid-19th century, had great influence on the tradition of fine art. Musical traditions are thought to have been emerging before the 13th century in the folk music of the Baltic peoples. Subsequent alliances with Poland and Russia have contributed to a rich musical heritage, which is celebrated in festivals of dance and music held throughout the country each summer.
Although agriculture dominated the Lithuanian economy before Soviet annexation in 1940, industry has become the leading sector of the economy. Industry accounted for about 31.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002. Food processing, shipbuilding, and the manufacture of electrical machinery are the most important industries. Other manufactures include cement, textiles, televisions, and paper. In 2002 Lithuania’s gross national product (GNP) was US$12,715 million, equivalent to US$3,670 per head (World Bank estimate).
A Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing
Agriculture accounts for about 45 per cent of land use and it is the third-largest component of GDP, accounting for some 7 per cent, but it remains the largest within the employment sector, accounting for some 16 per cent of the workforce. The experience of privatization in agriculture has not been a particularly good one; about 1,100 large units were divided into some 12,000 smaller ones, resulting in units that were too small to be economic and efficient. Combined with fuel shortages, this resulted in a fall in agricultural production of 24 per cent in 1992, although there has been some recovery since. Livestock-rearing is the main activity and cereals, potatoes, vegetables, sugar beet and flax are the principal crops. Timber production has increased recently; the 1994 production was some 3.9 million cu m (137.7 cu ft), and production to 1995 had increased by 54 per cent over four years.