Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuva), officially known as the Republic of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Respublika), is a Northern European country to the east of the Baltic Sea. It is the southernmost of the three "Baltic Republics": itself, closely related to Estonia and Latvia.
Lithuanians (and Latvians) are descended from the Balts, an incredibly ancient group of tribes who gave their name to the Baltic sea. Lithuanians as a people first emerge from the fog of history in the early 1000s, in the records of German abbeys. Shortly after, crusaders start to attack the pagan Lithuanians, conquering related Baltic peoples like the Latvians and the Prussians (how this word went from meaning "Baltic tribe" to "For hyu, Tommy, ze var is ofer!" is a story too complex to recount here).
In 1253, the Lithuanians beat off the crusaders morally (by becoming Christian, although, overall Christianization of Lithuanians happened only in late 14th century) and physically (with swords). In the 14th century, it was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the largest country in Europe at that time (but please don't tell the Belarusians, who insist the Grand Duchy was the precursor to their country, not Lithuanianote ). It stretched deep into the lands of the Rus Slavs, and was Catholic, where they were Orthodox. This caused what might charitably be called a spot of bother with Orthodox Muscovy (now Russia). Much bloodshed ensued, until a Lithuanian guy found himself King of Poland. Eventually, the two nations would unite in a vast Commonwealth.
This mixed up the idea of nationality to no end, causing many problems in the future. "Poland" became a grand idea of liberty that you could be part of whether you were Polish, Lithuanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Latvian, or German... but not if you were a serf. Anybody who was anybody in Belarus converted to Catholicism and assimilated into Polish culture and language. It was entirely normal for a Belarusian from Lithuania to call themselves Polish (such a man, Tadeusz Kościuszko, was only able to resolve this confusion by leaving all three of his native countries to become an American hero instead, though he later returned to defend all three countries from Russian aggression).
Lithuania fell victim to the same plague as its partner, Poland: every noble wanted to run the country, which caused quite enough trouble until some of the nobles were bought and became convinced that Germans, Russians, and Swedes should run the country (mainly to keep the monarchy weak; it backfired, badly). In 1795, the Polish-Lithuanian state was dissolved. All of Lithuania as it was then (the vast majority of it as it is now, the Klaipeida/Memelgebiet still being part of Germany at the time) went to Russia. This wasn't so fun, especially for the Jews.
The end of World War I saw Lithuania become independent, first as a German puppet-kingdom (which was better than nothing), then as a republic, but there were problems. One was that Lithuania's only seaport was a German-speaking city (Memel/Klaipeida) that had been part of the German Empire until Lithuania basically invaded it. The Germans, though then powerless, were not pleased. The bigger one was that Vilnius was the ancient capital of Lithuania, and had always been. It was Lithuania's greatest city and always would be. Any Lithuanian could tell you these facts, and the fact that everybody in the city who wasn't Polish was Jewish deterred them not in the slightest. The Polish army, however, did. And the biggest of all was that the country was taken over by a nasty fascist dictator named Smetona.
In 1939, the Nazis and the Commies were looking down their shopping list to see if there was anything they had missed above the big underlined "Poland". There was: for Germany, Memel, for the USSR, the rest of Lithuania. Germany used military force to force a handover of the port. Shortly afterwards, World War 2 began and the Lithuanians decided that it was time to join the jump on Poland and
steal their land reclaim their ancient territory bandwagon.
And a fat lot of good that did. Days later, the Soviet Union invaded in accordance with the pact they'd made with the Nazis, then the Nazis invaded in 1941, having broken said pact. Some Lithuanians joined the SS - it has to remembered that ethnic Lithuanian are Balts not Slavs, and even the Slavs initially thought that the Slavic Untermensch had just been a rabble-rousing thing and the Nazis were the lesser of two evils. But most of the population struggled against both invaders with vigour. Fifteen percent of Lithuanians were killed by the war, including ninety-one percent of the pre-war Jewish population. Lithuania has the sixth highest number of Righteous Among Nations (gentiles who helped Jews survive during the Holocaust).
The Soviets returned in 1944, forcibly annexing the country all over again. Eight years of rebellion against Commie tyranny followed, earning many a one way trip to the Gulag in Siberia. The Soviets did give Vilnius to the Lithuanians as part of the westward shift of Poland. It was only a small relief, since Lithuania itself was now firmly locked within the Soviet Union.
Lithuania unwillingly became the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. Rebellions lasted until after Stalin kicked the bucket, quelled for a little bit before the 80s came around and they interpreted glasnost as a good excuse to pick up the cause against the Russians along with the other Baltic countries. In 1990, it declared independence, the first republic to do so. Moscow attempted to put this down with troops, resulting in the deaths of 13 people in January 1991, called the January Events. It only accelerated the end of the USSR.
Lithuania is now a member of NATO and The European Union, having become a
prosperous democracy religiously themed oligarchy under democracy's name and put all the horrors and enmities of the past behind. Well, except the one with Russia, but it is moderate compared to the quarrels between Russia and the other Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia. Lithuania recently came to the European Union's attention again with its laws banning information about sex and sexual minorities.
You might have heard about a claim some years ago that hearing a Lithuanian peasant speaking their national language is the best way to know how the ancient Indo-Europeans spoke. While that was an exaggeration, it's not a really implausible one, since the Lithuanian language is considered by many professional linguists to be the most conservative (living and healthy) language coming from the Indo-European language family. You might be surprised at how much the language looks and sounds not only like Ancient Greek, but also Sanskrit. How this is possible...we have no clear idea, since preserving a language is much easier when you're isolated in mountains, and yet the Balts live not only live in the coast but also surrounded by major warring powers that can (and will) threaten their sovereignty. The language is closely related to Latvian, which is a bit more innovative (but still very conservative).
Despite its small size, Lithuania is regarded as one of the strongest basketball powers, to the point it's described as the country's second religion. While a part of the Soviet Union, the 1988 Olympic Games gold came from four Lithuanian players - all but one returned four years later to win a bronze for independent Lithuania (adequately, against the Unified Team that comprised the rest of the USSR), and two, Arvydas Sabonis and arūnas Marčiulionis, won another bronze in '96, played in the NBA, and are now in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Even after their retirement, Lithuania won a third bronze in 2000, the 2003 Eurobasket, and a bronze in the 2010 world championship.
Lithuania in fiction
- The most famous fictional Lithuanian likes A Glass of Chianti. Yep, Hannibal Lecter is half-Lithuanian. The early part of Hannibal Rising is set in Lithuania.
- Captain Marko Ramius in Hunt for the Red October is part Lithuanian, and this fact is cited by Jack Ryan as one piece of evidence that he plans to defect.
- Lithuania himself from Axis Powers Hetalia. Was a heterosexual life partner with Poland.
- Jason Bourne commits an assassination at Vilnius University in the 2008 video game The Bourne Conspiracy.
- In the storyline of the 2001 video game Ghost Recon, Russia is taken over by belligerent ultra-nationalists hell-bent on recreating the Soviet Union. It then invades Lithuania (along with Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan). You play as the U.S. Army Special Forces and fight against the Russian invaders, with several missions taking place in Lithuania, specifically in Venta and the capital of Vilnius. The locations are rendered accurately, with real life buildings such as the Lithuanian Presidential Palace being rendered in faithful detail. The developers even added little touches, such as the flagpoles in Lithuania having been replaced with the Lithuanian SSR flags by the invading Russians, the Lithuanian flag crumpled up on the ground nearby.
The Lithuanian flag