Official name: Republic Of Lithuania
Official language: Lithuanian
Many think that Lithuania is a new country, but its story is actually very long and, believe it or not, it was once Europe’s largest country.
A medieval German manuscript mentioned Lithuania in 1009 but in was in 1236 that Mindaugas united what was called "the state of Lithuania".
In 1253 Mindaugas was crowned and so was born the Kingdom of Lithuania.
During the reign of Vytautas the Great in the 14th Century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, extending from the Baltic to the Black Sea, through territories that today are part of Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and Russia.
By this time, Lithuania was also the only remaining pagan state in Europe, but Christianity became the official religion in 1386 when Grand Duke Jogaila was crowned King of Poland.
This first union was dissolved but both countries kept close relationships, and in 1410 Poland and Lithuania defeated the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunewald, one of the greatest battles in Medieval Europe.
Lithuania and Poland united again in 1569, forming the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
This lasted until 1795 when a great part of its territory was awarded to Russia, Prussia and Austria, following the third Partition of the Commonwealth (better known as the third partition of Poland).
Most of Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire and the rest was awarded to Prussia.
In 1918 Lithuania became independent again but some territorial disputes began: with Poland (concerning Vilnius) and with Germany (concerning Klapeida). Vilnius was designed as capital, but the city was actually in Poland.
Moreover, Poles and Jews made up a majority of its population and Lithuanians were a small minority of only 0.8%.
In 1920 Kaunas was designated as the provisional capital.
In 1940 the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania by means of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but Germany’s occupation began a few months later. By the end of the war, Lithuania became a Socialist Republic within the Soviet Union.
During the war, Lithuania lost almost 800 000 people, among them, 190 000 Lithuanian Jews…91% of the pre-war community. Some were sent to forced labour camps, others were exiled to Siberia.
Independent movements kept going on by Lithuanian nationalists. Those were heavily repressed by the Red Army.
Lithuania was the first Soviet Republic to proclaim its independence, on March 11, 1990 and Iceland was the first country to recognize it, a few months later. Nevertheless, it’s worth to note that the United States of America never recognized the Soviet claim on Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The Red Army left Lithuania in 1993.
Lithuania became a member of the United Nations, NATO and the European Union.
Since 2008 it’s also part of the Schengen area and will soon adopt the Euro as its currency.