For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 65,200 sq. km. (26,080 sq. mi.); slightly larger than West Virginia.
Cities (2008): Capital--Vilnius (pop. 542,809); other cities--Kaunas (358,107); Klaipeda (185,899); Siauliai (128,396).
Terrain: Lithuania's fertile, central lowland plains are separated by hilly uplands. A total of 758 rivers, many navigable, and 2,833 lakes cover the landscape. The coastline is 90 km. (56 mi.) long. Land use--44.2% arable land, 0.91% cultivated, 53.87% other.
Climate: With four distinct seasons, the climate is humid continental, with a moderating maritime influence from the Baltic Sea. January temperatures average -5ºC (23ºF); July, 17ºC (63ºF). The level of precipitation varies considerably from region to region: in the far west, average annual precipitation is 28-33 in., while in the central plain it is about 24 in.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Lithuanian(s).
Population (2009): 3,331,194.
Annual growth rate (2008): -0.6%. Birth rate--10.5/1,000. Death rate--13.1/1,000.
Population density (2007): 51.8 per sq. km.
Ethnic groups (2007): Lithuanians 84.6%, Poles 6.3%, Russians 5.1%.
Religions (2001 census): Roman Catholic (79%), Russian Orthodox (4.1%), Protestant (including Lutheran and Evangelical Christian Baptist) (1.9%).
Languages (2008): Lithuanian (official language) 84.6%, Russian, and Polish
Education: Years compulsory--10 (until the age of 16). Literacy--99.6%.
Health (2007): Infant mortality rate--6.9/1,000. Life expectancy--66.3 yrs. male, 77.57 yrs. female.
Work force (2008): 1.59 million. Services 61.3%; industry 30.3%; agriculture 8.4%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: On October 25, 1992, Lithuanians ratified a new constitution, which was officially signed on November 6 that year.
Branches: Executive--President (chief of state), popularly elected every 5 years; Prime Minister (head of government); Legislative--Seimas (141-member Parliament). Judicial--Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and Highest Administrative Court.
Administrative regions: 10 counties and 60 municipalities.
Principal political parties/coalitions: Four-party governing coalition has 70 members plus the Speaker. Conservatives--46 seats; National Revival Party faction--7 seats; Liberal Movement--11 seats; Liberal and Center Union faction--7 seats. Opposition has 59 members: Social Democrat faction--25 seats; Order and Justice Party faction--19 seats (including 3 Polish Electoral Action Party MPs); Labor Party--10 seats; non-affiliated faction--5 seats (including 3 Peasants Party MPs, 1 Social Liberal MP, and 1 independent). Lithuania United faction claims to be independent and has 11 seats.
Suffrage: Universal adult (18 years of age).
General government budget (2010): $10.9 billion.
GDP (January-October 2009): $28.6 billion.
Annual growth rate (2009, third quarter): -14.2%.
Annual inflation rate (November 2009): 1.5%.
Unemployment rate (2009, third quarter): 13.8%.
Average monthly earnings (2009, third quarter): $891.
Natural resources: Limestone, clay, sand, gravel, iron ore, and granite.
Major sectors of the economy (2009, third quarter): wholesale and retail trade, transport, and communications 33%, manufacturing 19.8%.
Trade: Exports--$13.7 billion (January-October 2009): mineral products 21.6%, machinery and mechanical appliances 9.8%, chemicals 9.3%, vehicles and transport equipment 9.8%. Major export partners--EU 64.3%, CIS 22.9%. Imports--$15.5 billion (January-October 2009): mineral products 29.7%, machinery and equipment 12.6%, transportation equipment 6.4%. Major import partners--EU 58.5%, CIS 33.5%.
The largest and most populous of the Baltic states, Lithuania is situated on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, in northeastern Europe. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the southeast, Poland to the southwest, and Kaliningrad, a territory of Russia, to the west. It has 60 miles of sandy coastline, of which only 24 miles face the open Baltic Sea. Lithuania's major warm-water port of Klaipeda lies at the narrow mouth of Kursiu Gulf, a shallow lagoon extending south to Kaliningrad. The Nemunas River and some of its tributaries are used for internal shipping. Situated between the 54th and 56th latitudes and the 20th and 27th longitudes, Lithuania is glacially flat, except for the hills (of no more than 300 meters) in the western and eastern highlands. The terrain is marked by numerous small lakes and swamps, and a mixed forest zone covers 30% of the country. According to some geographers, Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, lies at the geographical center of Europe.
Lithuanians are neither Slavic nor Germanic, although the union with Poland and the colonization by Germans and Russians has influenced the culture and religious beliefs of Lithuania. This highly literate society places strong emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. Most Lithuanians and ethnic Poles belong to the Roman Catholic Church; the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest non-Catholic denomination.
In spite of several border changes, Soviet deportations, a massacre of its Jewish population, and German and Polish repatriations, the population of Lithuania has maintained a fairly stable percentage of ethnic Lithuanians (from 79.3% in 1959 to 84.6% in 2007). Lithuania's citizenship law and constitution meet international and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) standards, guaranteeing universal human and civil rights.
The Lithuanian language still retains the original sound system and morphological peculiarities of the prototypal Indo-European tongue and, therefore, is fascinating for linguistic study. Between 400 and 600 AD, the Lithuanian and Latvian languages split from the Eastern Baltic (Prussian) language group, which subsequently became extinct. The first known written Lithuanian text dates from a hymnal translation in 1545. Written with the Latin alphabet, Lithuanian has been the official language of Lithuania since 1989. While Lithuania was a member of the U.S.S.R., Russian was the official language, so many Lithuanians speak Russian as a second language. The resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian or Polish as a first language.
Between the 7th and 2nd centuries BC, Baltic tribes established themselves on what is presently known as Lithuanian territory. These tribes were made up of a distinct Indo-European ethnic group whose descendents are the present-day Lithuanian and Latvian nations. The name of Lithuania, however, did not appear in European records until 1009 AD, when it was mentioned in the German manuscript Annals of Quedlinburg. During the period 1236-1263, Duke Mindaugas united the various Baltic tribes and established the state of Lithuania, which was better able to resist the eastward expansion of the Teutonic Knights. In 1253, Mindaugas embraced Christianity for political reasons and accepted the crown from the Pope of Rome, becoming the first and only king in Lithuanian history.
After the assassination of Mindaugas and the ensuing civil war, Grand Duke Gediminas took control of Lithuania. He reigned from 1316 to 1341, during which the long-term expansion of Lithuania into the lands of the eastern Slavs began. He founded the modern capital city of Vilnius and started the Gediminas dynasty, which ruled Lithuania until 1572.
By the end of the 14th century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. In 1386, Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania was crowned the King of Poland, which intensified Lithuania's economic and cultural development and oriented it toward the West. It was at this time that the people of Lithuania embraced Christianity.
In 1401, the formal union between Poland and Lithuania was dissolved. While Jogaila remained the King of Poland, his cousin Grand Duke Vytautas became the ruler of Lithuania. In 1410, the armies of Poland and Lithuania together defeated the Teutonic Order in the Battle of Grunewald, the biggest battle of medieval Europe.
The 16th century witnessed a number of wars against the growing Russian state over the Slavic lands ruled by Lithuania. Needing an ally in those wars, Lithuania again united with Poland through The Union of Lublin in 1569. As a member of this Commonwealth, Lithuania retained its sovereignty and its institutions, including a separate army and currency. In 1795, the joint state was dissolved by the third Partition of the Commonwealth, which forfeited its lands to Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Over 90% of Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire and the remainder into Prussia. Attempts to restore independence in the uprisings of 1794, 1830-31, and 1863 were suppressed and followed by a tightened police regime and increasing Russification, including the 1864 ban on printing Lithuanian books in traditional Latin characters.
A market economy slowly developed with the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Lithuanian farmers grew stronger, and an increase in the number of intellectuals of peasant origin led to the growth of a Lithuanian national movement. In German-ruled East Prussia, also called Lithuania Minor, or Kaliningrad, Lithuanian publications were printed in large numbers and then smuggled into Russian-ruled Lithuania. The ban on the Lithuanian press was lifted in 1904.
During World War I, the German Army occupied Lithuania, and the occupation administration allowed a Lithuanian conference to convene in Vilnius in September 1917. The conference adopted a resolution demanding the restoration of an independent Lithuanian state and elected the Lithuanian Council. On February 16, 1918, the council declared Lithuania's independence. The Seimas (Parliament) of Lithuania adopted a constitution on August 1, 1922 and declared Lithuania a parliamentary republic.
The interwar period of independence gave birth to the development of Lithuanian press, literature, music, arts, and theater as well as a comprehensive system of education with Lithuanian as the language of instruction. However, territorial disputes with Poland (over the Vilnius region and the Suvalkai region) and with Germany (over the Klaipëda region) preoccupied the foreign policy of the new state. During the interwar period, the constitutional capital was Vilnius, although the city itself was annexed by Poland from 1920 to 1939. During this period the Lithuanian Government was relocated to Kaunas, which officially held the status of temporary capital.
The German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939 first pulled Lithuania into the German sphere of influence and then brought it under Soviet domination. Soviet pressure and a complicated international situation forced Lithuania to sign an agreement with the U.S.S.R. on October 10, 1939. By means of this agreement, Lithuania was given back the city of Vilnius and the part of the Vilnius region seized by the Red Army during the Soviet-Polish war; in return, some 20,000 Soviet soldiers were deployed in Lithuania. On August 3, 1940, Lithuania was proclaimed a Soviet Socialist Republic. Totalitarian rule was established, Sovietization of the economy and culture began, and Lithuanian state employees and public figures were arrested and exiled to Russia. During the mass deportation campaign of June 14-18, 1941, about 12,600 people were deported to Siberia without investigation or trial, 3,600 people were imprisoned, and more than 1,000 were killed.
Between 1940 and 1954, under the Nazi and then Soviet occupations, Lithuania lost over 780,000 residents. In World War II, German occupiers sent Lithuanians to forced labor camps in Germany. Almost 200,000, or 91%, of Lithuanian Jews were killed, one of the worst death rates of the Holocaust. After the retreat of the Wehrmacht in 1944, Lithuania was re-occupied by the Soviet Union, and an estimated 120,000 to 300,000 Lithuanians were either killed or deported to Siberia and other remote parts of the Soviet Union. Conversely, Soviet authorities encouraged the immigration to Lithuania of other Soviet workers, especially Russians, as a way of integrating Lithuania into the U.S.S.R.
With the advent of perestroika and glasnost, Gorbachev's programs of social and political reforms in the late 1980s, communist rule eroded. Lithuania, led by Sàjûdis, an anti-communist and anti-Soviet independence movement, proclaimed its renewed independence on March 11, 1990--the first Soviet republic to do so. The Lithuanian Supreme Soviet formed a new Cabinet of Ministers and adopted the Provisional Fundamental Law of the State with a number of by-laws. In response, on the night of January 13, 1991, the Red Army attacked the Vilnius TV Tower, killing 14 civilians and injuring 700. Soviet forces, however, were unsuccessful in suppressing Lithuania's secession.
On February 4, 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognize Lithuanian independence. Sweden was the first to open an embassy in the country. The United States never recognized the Soviet claim to Lithuania and views the present Lithuanian Government as the legal continuation of the interwar republic. In July 2007, Lithuania celebrated the 85th anniversary of continuous diplomatic relations with the United States. Lithuania joined the United Nations on September 17, 1991.
Despite Lithuania's achievement of complete independence, sizable numbers of Russian forces remained on its territory. Withdrawal of those forces was one of Lithuania's top foreign policy priorities. On August 31, 1993, Lithuania and Russia signed an agreement whereby the last Red Army troops left the country.
On May 31, 2001, Lithuania became the 141st member of the World Trade Organization. Desiring closer ties with the West, Lithuania became the first of the Baltic states to apply for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and on March 29, 2004, it joined the Alliance. On May 1 of the same year, Lithuania also joined the European Union.
Lithuania has been a staunch U.S. ally, contributing to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, Lithuania has led a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghor province since 2005, and has deployed Lithuanian Special Operation Forces to southern Afghanistan to operate under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In Iraq, Lithuania had an infantry platoon serving in Multinational Division Center near Al Kut until July 2008; five trainers currently serve in the NATO Training Mission-Iraq in Baghdad. Lithuania has also participated in the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Similarly, Lithuania is a strong supporter of U.S. objectives in the area of democracy promotion. In 2009 Lithuania assumed the chairmanship of the Community of Democracies. Making this a high priority for its foreign policy, Lithuania has provided development assistance and advice to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and other Caucasus states. Lithuania also actively supports democratization efforts in Belarus. As a result of the broader global financial crisis, the Lithuanian economy in 2009 experienced its worst recession since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. After experiencing a boom in growth sparked by Lithuania’s 2004 accession to the European Union (EU), economic contraction in 2009 is expected to be 15.2%, though some analysts believe the economy will start growing slowly in 2010. The government that took power in December 2008 approved a U.S. $2.3 billion stimulus plan as well as a fiscal austerity package that cut spending and raised taxes to shore up finances. This was followed by several more rounds of budget cuts throughout 2009, and the 2010 government budget started to cut into Lithuania’s social benefit programs.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Lithuania is a multi-party, parliamentary democracy. The president, who is elected directly for 5 years, is head of state and commander in chief overseeing foreign and security policy. The president nominates the prime minister and his cabinet and a number of other top civil servants. The Seimas, a unicameral parliament, has 141 members that are elected for a 4-year term. About half of the members are elected in single constituencies (71), and the other half (70) are elected in a nationwide vote by party lists. A party must receive at least 5% of the national vote to be represented in the Seimas.
For the first nine years of its post-Soviet independence, voters in Lithuania shifted from right to left and back again, swinging between the Conservatives, led by Vytautas Landsbergis (now headed by Andrius Kubilius), and the Labor (former Communist) Party, led by former President Algirdas Brazauskas. This pattern was broken in the October 2000 elections, when the Liberal Union and New Union parties won the most votes and were able to form a centrist ruling coalition with minor partners. President Valdas Adamkus played a key role in bringing the new centrist parties together. The leader of the center-left New Union Party (also known as the Social Liberal Party), Arturas Paulauskas, became the Chairman of the Seimas, and the leader of the Liberal Union Party, Rolandas Paksas, became Prime Minister. The new coalition was fragile from the outset, as the Liberal Union was pro-business and right of center, while the New Union had a populist and leftist orientation. The government collapsed within 7 months and, in July 2001, the center-left New Union Party forged an alliance with the left-wing Social Democratic Party and formed a new cabinet under former President Algirdas Brazauskas.
The new government tightened budgetary discipline, supported market reforms, and passed the legislation required to ensure entry into the European Union. Several years of solid economic growth helped to consolidate the government's popularity, despite discontent within two of its core constituencies--unskilled urban workers and farmers--who had expected more generous funding of social and agricultural programs. The government remained firmly in control, and by mid-2004 it was the longest serving administration since the recovery of independence.
In an unexpected political development in January 2003, Rolandas Paksas defeated the incumbent Valdas Adamkus in the second round of the presidential election to become Lithuania's third President since 1992. Paksas' tenure as president was short-lived. In December 2003, an ad hoc parliamentary commission found that President Paksas' vulnerability to influence constituted a threat to national security. On April 7, 2004, the Seimas removed President Paksas from office. Valdas Adamkus won the second round of presidential elections in June 2004 and was sworn in as president on July 12.
Brazauskas remained prime minister after the 2004 parliamentary elections, but the government collapsed in late May 2006 after the New Union and Labor parties withdrew from the coalition. A new minority coalition government headed by Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, a Social Democrat, took office on July 18, 2006, and retained the support of the opposition Conservative party on the major issues until September 2007. On January 28, 2008 the Social Liberal party joined the coalition, giving it a bare majority.
In the October 2008 parliamentary elections, the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrat Party, widely known as the Conservatives, won a plurality, winning almost twice as many seats (45) as the second-place Social Democrats (25). The National Revival Party, a new party with numerous show business and TV-journalism celebrities in its top ranks, finished third (16 seats).
The Conservatives put together a four-party coalition with the National Revival, Liberal Movement, and Liberal and Center Union parties, and Conservative leader Andrius Kubilius became prime minister--a post he previously held in 1999-2000. National Revival founder and leader Arturas Valinskas became Seimas Speaker. Following accusations of corruption and the splitting of the National Revival party, in September 2009 the Seimas removed Valinskas from that position, and First Deputy Speaker Irena Degutiene of the Conservative Party became speaker.
In May 2009, Dalia Grybauskaite, an Independent, overwhelmingly won Lithuania’s presidential election, receiving 68% of the vote. Grybauskaite previously served as the EU Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget and is a former Lithuanian Finance Minister. She has said her top priorities will be domestic issues, especially those that relate to the Lithuanian economy. Grybauskaite was inaugurated July 12, 2009 in Vilnius. Since becoming President, Grybauskaite has focused on action to mitigate the effects of the economic crisis, to recalibrate Lithuania’s foreign policy to achieve balance in terms of relations with countries in the East, the EU, and the U.S., and to assert stronger governmental oversight of the State Security Department.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Andrius Kubilius, Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (known as Conservatives)
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Vygaudas Usackas, Independent (delegated by the Conservative Party)
Minister of Defense--Rasa Jukneviciene, Conservative Party
Minister of Interior--Raimundas Palaitis, Liberal and Center Union
Minister of Justice--Remigijus Simasius, Independent (delegated by the Liberal Movement)
Minister of Finance--Ingrida Simonyte, Independent (delegated by the Conservative Party)
Minister of Transport and Communications--Eligijus Masiulis, Liberal Movement
Minister of Economy--Dainius Kreivys, Conservative Party
Minister of Agriculture--Kazimieras Starkevicius, Conservative Party
Minister of Education and Science--Gintaras Steponavicius, Liberal Movement
Minister of Health--Algis Caplikas, Liberal and Center Union
Minister of Social Security and Labor--Donatas Jankauskas, Conservative Party
Minister of Culture--Remigijus Vilkaitis, National Revival Party
Minister of Environment--Gediminas Kazlauskas, Independent (delegated by the National Revival Party)
Minister of Energy--Arvydas Sekmokas, Independent
Seimas Chairman (Speaker)--Irena Degutiene, Conservative Party
Lithuania maintains an embassy in the United States, located at 2622 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel: (202) 234-5860.
In the second half of the 20th century, the Lithuanian economy underwent fundamental transformations. The Soviet occupation of 1940 brought Lithuania intensive industrialization and economic integration into the U.S.S.R., although the level of technology and state concern for environmental, health, and labor issues lagged far behind Western standards. Urbanization increased from 39% in 1959 to 68% in 1989. From 1949 to 1952 the Soviets abolished private ownership in agriculture, establishing collective and state farms. Production declined and did not reach pre-war levels until the early 1960s. The intensification of agricultural production through intense chemical use and mechanization eventually doubled production but created additional ecological problems.
The disadvantages of a centrally planned economy became evident after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, when Lithuania began its transition to a market economy. Owing to the availability of inexpensive natural resources, the industrial sector had become excessively energy intensive, inefficient in its utilization of resources, and incapable of manufacturing internationally competitive products. More than 90% of Lithuania's trade was with the rest of the U.S.S.R., which supplied Lithuanian industry with raw materials for production and a market for its outputs. The need to sever these trading links and to reduce the inefficient industrial sector led to serious economic difficulties.
The process of privatization and the development of new companies slowly moved Lithuania from a command economy toward a free market. By 1998, the economy had survived the early years of uncertainty and several setbacks, including a banking crisis, and seemed poised for solid growth. However, the collapse of the Russian ruble in August 1998 shocked the economy into negative growth and forced the reorientation of trade from Russia toward the West. In 1997, exports to former Soviet states were 45% of total Lithuanian exports. In 2006, exports to the East (the Commonwealth of Independent States--CIS) were only 21% of the total, while exports to the EU-25 were 63%, and to the United States, 4.3%.
At the end of 2008, Lithuania had accumulated foreign direct investments (FDI) of $12.1 billion, with U.S. investments amounting to $314 million, or 2.6% of FDI. The current account deficit in the third quarter of 2009 was 2.9% of GDP. Lithuania has privatized nearly all formerly state-owned enterprises. More than 79% of the economy's output is generated by the private sector. The share of employees in the private sector exceeds 65%. The Government of Lithuania completed banking sector privatization in 2001, with 89% of this sector controlled by foreign--mainly Scandinavian--capital. "Lithuanian Railways" and Lithuanian Post are the only remaining state-owned companies that may be offered for privatization in the near future.
The transportation infrastructure inherited from the Soviet period is adequate and has been generally well maintained since independence. Lithuania has one ice-free seaport with ferry services to German, Swedish, and Danish ports. There are operating commercial airports with scheduled international services at Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipeda, though air connections contracted in 2009 with the bankruptcy of national carrier FlyLAL. The road system is good. Telecommunications have improved greatly since independence as a result of heavy investment.
After joining the EU in 2004, Lithuania saw its economy boom, reaching a record 8.9% GDP growth in 2007. Strong growth continued through much of 2008, but a weak fourth quarter, as financial stress spread through Europe, slowed growth to 3.0% for the year. In 2009, the global financial crisis hit the Lithuanian economy hard. In the first three quarters of 2009, the economy shrank by 15.7% compared to 2008, which was the worst performance since comparable records began in 1995. Lithuania’s GDP is forecast to drop by 15.2% by year’s end, though a return to weak growth has been projected in 2010. By the end of 2009 unemployment reached 13.8% and is predicted to rise to 17.7% in 2010. Overall salaries of Lithuanians are likely to fall by 12.3% in 2009 and 5.2% in 2010. Growing unemployment and lower income contributed to some limited social unrest in early 2009, when thousands of Lithuanians held a protest around the parliament building, demanding action from the government to save the economy. To do so, the government approved heavy budget cuts and passed a U.S. $2.3 billion stimulus plan.
Lithuania pegged its national currency--the lita--to the euro on February 2, 2002 at the rate of LTL 3.4528 to EUR 1. The initial target date for Lithuania to adopt the euro, January 1, 2007, was postponed due to the high inflation rate of 2006. Some commentators feel that euro adoption is unlikely until 2013 at the earliest. Temporary spikes from the necessary excise tax increases and longer-term convergence forces will probably keep inflation above the Maastricht reference value. Throughout 2009 the government was able to finance its budget deficit through private sector credit, thus avoiding the need to adopt an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program.
Lithuania, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 2004, fully endorses the concept of "collective defense." National policy recognizes the primacy of NATO as the guarantor of security in Europe. The goal of Lithuania's defense policy is to create a military that can contribute to international missions through the NATO alliance, the UN, and other groups, and to continue to integrate Lithuania into Western defense structures. The Defense Ministry is responsible for combat forces, search and rescue operations, and intelligence. The government has committed to but never reached the goal of dedicating 2% of GDP to defense spending.
Lithuania maintains approximately 10,000 active duty troops and 8,000 reserve troops. The core of the Lithuanian force structure is the Iron Wolf Motorized Infantry Brigade, which consists of five battalions and appropriate support elements. The Lithuanian Air Force operates 17 fixed wing aircraft and nine helicopters. The Home Guard is organized into five districts.
The Border Police, with 4,452 staff including 3,649 border guard officers, fall under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry; they are responsible for border protection, passport and customs duties, and the interdiction of smuggling and trafficking activities.
Lithuania cooperates with Estonia and Latvia in the joint naval squadron BALTRON, and plans to contribute to a trilateral Baltic land forces element for future NATO Response Force rotations. Lithuania deployed troops to Iraq until 2008. Since the summer of 2005, Lithuania has also been part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, leading a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghor province. Lithuanian Special Operation Forces also serve in Afghanistan under NATO command.
Lithuania became a member of the United Nations (UN) on September 17, 1991 and is a signatory to a number of UN organizations and other international agreements. It is also a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the North Atlantic Coordinating Council, and the Council of Europe. Lithuania gained membership in the World Trade Organization on May 31, 2001. In November 2002, Lithuania was invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and officially became a member on March 29, 2004. On May 1 of that same year, Lithuania joined the European Union.
Lithuania’s foreign policy is based primarily on protecting itself and the Eastern European region from what it perceives as an expansionist Russia. Lithuania uses its membership in both NATO and the EU to promote security and democracy in Eastern Europe. It strongly advocates NATO membership for both Georgia and Ukraine and increased EU political and economic engagement to the region as a whole, including its neighbor Belarus. Lithuania maintains foreign relations with 98 countries through a network of 42 embassies and 35 honorary consuls. It has seven diplomatic missions to international organizations and one special mission to Afghanistan.
Lithuania's liberal "zero-option" citizenship law has substantially erased tensions with its neighbors. Its suspension of two strongly ethnic Polish district councils on charges of blocking reform or disloyalty during the August 1991 coup cooled relations with Poland, but bilateral cooperation markedly increased with the holding of elections in those districts and the signing of a bilateral friendship treaty in 1994. Relations with Poland are now among the closest enjoyed by Lithuania. Although a similar bilateral friendship agreement was signed with Belarus in 1995, Lithuania has joined the United States and other European nations in strongly urging the Government of Belarus to adopt much-needed democratic and economic reforms. President Adamkus was instrumental in brokering a peaceful resolution to the electoral challenges in Ukraine in 2004, and Lithuania plays an important leadership role in promoting democracy throughout the region.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Lithuania on July 28, 1922. The Soviet invasion forced the closure of the Legation to Lithuania on September 5, 1940, but Lithuanian representation in the United States continued uninterrupted. The United States never recognized the forcible incorporation of Lithuania into the U.S.S.R. and views the present Government of Lithuania as a legal continuation of the interwar republic. In 2007, the United States and Lithuania celebrated 85 years of continuous diplomatic relations. Lithuania has enjoyed most-favored-nation treatment with the United States since December 1991. Since 1992, the United States has committed more than $100 million in Lithuania to economic and political transformation and to humanitarian needs. The United States and Lithuania signed an agreement on bilateral trade and intellectual property protection in 1994 and a bilateral investment treaty in 1997. In 1998, the United States signed a "Charter of Partnership" with Lithuania and the other Baltic countries establishing bilateral working groups focused on improving regional security, defense, and economic issues. Since 2004, the United States deals with Lithuania on regional security and defense matters primarily through NATO fora. In November 2008 Lithuania joined the Visa Waiver Program, which allows Lithuanians short-term travel to the United States visa-free.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Anne Elizabeth Derse
Deputy Chief of Mission--Damian Leader
Political and Economic Section Chief--John Finkbeiner
Press and Cultural Attaché--William James
Defense Attaché--LTC David Millner (USA)
Defense Cooperation Officer--LTC Ron Hogan (USA)
Management Officer--Andrea Baker
Consular Officer--Bradley Norton
The U.S. Embassy in Lithuania is located at Akmenu 6, LT-03106 Vilnius [tel/fax: (370) 5-2665500]. The Embassy website is http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/