25 November 2015
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Main events in
Lithuania’s history

(based on “The official gateway of Lithuania”, Government of
Lithuania website, adopted and modified by dr. S. Backaitis)

The first settlers arrived at the eastern shore region of the Baltic Sea in approximately 12,000 B. C. In 3,000–500 B. C., the Indo-European Balts came to live here. Between the 5th and 8th centuries tribal groupings in the western territories included: Prussians, Yotvingians, Curronians, Zemgalians, Lithuanians and Latgalians. In the 10th century the pagan Baltic tribes became the target of christianization by Western Europe. In 1009, the name of Lithuania was mentioned for the first time in the written account of the mission of St. Bruno in Quedlinburg Annals.


Category : Front page

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Main events in
Lithuania’s history

(based on “The official gateway of Lithuania”, Government of
Lithuania website, adopted and modified by dr. S. Backaitis)



The first settlers arrived at the eastern shore region of the Baltic Sea in approximately 12, 000 B. C. In 3,000–500 B. C., the Indo-European Balts came to live here. Between the 5th and 8th centuries tribal groupings in the western territories included: Prussians, Yotvingians, Curronians, Zemgalians, Lithuanians and Latgalians. In the 10th century the pagan Baltic tribes became the target of christianization by Western Europe. In 1009, the name of Lithuania was mentioned for the first time in the written account of the mission of St. Bruno in Quedlinburg Annals.

Baltic tribes - circa 1200 AD

Description: The name of Lithuania was first mentioned in the Annals of Quedlinburg in 1009, in the context of Saint Bruno’s mission to pagan lands.
Lithuania (Litua) mentioned in the Quedlinburg Annals in 1009


Early Second Millenium

The first major battle known in Lithuanian as Saulės mūšis was fought on September 22, 1236 between the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and pagan Samogitians. The Sword-Brothers, the first Christian military order established in the Baltic lands, were soundly defeated and its Grand Master, Volkwin killed.  The remnants of the Order incorporated into the Teutonic Knights Order in 1237.  The defeat ended forever some thirty years' worth of conquests by the Livonian brothers of the Sword on the south bank of the river Daugava. The defeat  inspired rebellions among the Curonians, Semigallians, Selonians, and Oeselians tribes previously conquered by the Sword-Brothers.

Lithuania, as the Grand Duchy (Magnus Ducatus Lithuaniae), was first noted in documents, with Mindaugas coronation  as the king.  He consolidated a number of Lithuanian related tribes and was crowned on July 6,1253. The Papal Bull granted Lithuania the highest title of monarchy, which meant that the pagan country was recognized and accepted into the family of Europe’s Christian nations as kingdom.  However, Mindaugas was assassinated in 1263, the monarchy disintegrated  and the people reverted to paganism.

Upon several decades of internal feuding, Gediminas (1316-1341) emerges as king of pagan Lithuanians and many Russians and as Duke of Zemgalians. Under his rule Lithuania grew strong. He chose Vilnius as Lithuania’s capital, and invited artisans and learned people from other parts of Europe to come and build the city. With the campaign of Gediminas into the lands of Kiev and Volhynia (1320–1321), the Jewish inhabitants of these territories were invited to come and bring their skills to the northern provinces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

While Gediminas was in power, Lithuania expanded east and south into what are now the lands of Belarus and Ukraine. However, Lithuania as a pagan nation was facing a growing threat from the Teutonic Order, a military organization of German knights, who crusaded by sword to christianize the pagan population of the eastern Baltic region.

In 1363 Gediminas' son Grand Duke Algirdas soundly defeated the Golden Horde in the Battle of Blue Waters liberating Kiev from the rule of Tatars and ending their threat to Western Europe.

In 1377 Jogaila, the grandson of Gediminas and the son of Algirdas, became the Grand Duke of Lithuania. In 1381 he was forced by his uncle Duke Kestutis to flee Vilnius, declaring himself as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. However, in 1382 Jogaila seized power in Vilnius while Kestutis was away. He captured Kestutis, who was subsequently assassinated in captivity.  His son Vytautas escaped.

In 1386 Grand Duke Jogaila married Jadwiga the teenage queen princess of Poland. The Polish Sejm (parliament) elected Jogaila as the king of Poland.  Jogaila accepted Christianity, and most of his subjects in Lithuania were induced, many times by threat of death, to convert to the king’s religion.

Inasmuch as Jogaila was based in Poland and was too distant to rule Lithuania effectively, he made peace with Vytautas in 1392. Vytautas (1350-1430) assumed the title of the Grand Duke of Lithuania on the condition of his allegiance to and support of Jogaila.

With the official adoption of Christianity in 1387, Lithuania followed the Western path of development. In the years following, Lithuania saw the spread of written language, opening of schools, and Lithuanian students travelling to study at European universities.


From  the Baltic to the Black  Sea

An important victory in the Battle of Žalgiris (Grünwald-Tannenberg) in 1410 was achieved by  the allied forces of Lithuania and Poland. The Order of Teutonic Knights was decisively defeated. After the war, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under Grand Duke Vytautas reached the peak of power, with its territory stretching from the Baltic to the Black Seas and from the borders of Poland to Smolensk. It emerged for the next century and a half as an important political power in Eastern and Central Europe, thwarting the expansion of the Muscovites from the east and the Tatars from south.. The success of the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was essentially based on ethnic and religious tolerance and protection from external enemies. A charter of privileges, which was momentous in the subsequent history of the Jews of Lithuania, was granted by Grand Duke Vytautas, first to the Jews of Brest (July 1, 1388) and later to those of Trakai, Grodno (1389),

Lutsk, Vladimir, and other large towns.

Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th-15th Centuries

Lithuanian Statutes and First Constitutional Document in Europe

The Lithuanian Statutes were developed in early 16th century to serve as the legal framework for the Grand Duchy. The legal thought reached further heights at the end of the 18th century when a Constitution of the Commonwealth was adopted on 3 May 1791. It was the first constitution in Europe (preceding the French Constitution), and the second in the entire world.

The Oldest University in Eastern Europe

The beginnings of higher education in Lithuania go back to 1579, the year of founding of the Vilnius University as the Jesuit academy. Its foundation was the most significant event in the cultural life of the 16th century Lithuanian Grand Duchy, bearing high political importance. Vilnius University was the first higher school of education not only in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but also in the whole of Eastern Europe

The Vilnius powers university

The Demise of the Commonwealth

To thwart the threats from rising powers of Sweden and the Duchy of Moscow, Lithuania entered in 1569 into a commonwealth union with Poland, which lasted until the very end of the 18th century. As a member of the Commonwealth, Lithuania retained its institutions, including a separate army, currency, and statutory laws. The Commonwealth up to the end of the 16th century was one of the largest kingdoms in Europe. However, the ruling Jagiellonian dynasty gradually lost control over the affairs of state to the more and more power seeking and self-serving nobility. After the death of king Zygimantas Augustas in 1573, the last of the Jagiello dynasty, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth became an elective monarchy, a quasi-democratized nearly an ungovernable state.

The once powerful Commonwealth, incapable of controlling the feuding regional nobility, gradually lost the ability fight off the growing power and destructive invasions of neighboring kings.  The demise was further amplified by a nearly a century lasting black plaque which wiped out more than half of the Commonwealth’s population. The Commonwealth began to seriously disintegrate in the latter part of the 17th century and was finally partitioned by Prussia, Russia and Austria in 1795.


Lithuania Under the Czarist Rule

Upon the third and final partition in 1795, the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania ceased to exist.  Lithuania was annexed by Russia.  In 1830, the Poles rebelled against the Russian rule and in 1831 the uprising spread to Lithuania.  However, the Russians crushed the uprising within a year. In 1863 the Poles and the Lithuanians rose once more against the occupiers, but again they were defeated and brutally dealt with.  Each rebellion was followed by severe repressive measures such as mass hangings, deportations, prohibition of Lithuanian schools and Latin print, as well as prohibition of public use of Lithuanian language. Russian orthodox religion was given preference over the Catholic Church in all walks of public life.  Lithuanians, in hundreds of thousands, escaped Russian repression by emigrating to North America. Similarly, many thousands of Jews of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, calling themselves Litvaks, left for South Africa, North America, Australia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Israel, etc. They formed strong communities around the world and hold top positions in politics, economy, arts and sciences, culture and society in general. They often lead in creativity and innovations that affect and influence the world we live. Their names are frequently found among the Nobel laureates and in many other honorable contexts.

Inspite of these oppressive Russian measures, there was a growing interest in Lithuania in its culture and history and the quest to be free of foreign intrusion. At that time nationalism was a growing force in Europe, and there was little the Russians could do to impede this development.

Book Smuggling – the Nineteen Century Phenomenon

Book smuggling emerged as resistance to the repressive actions of tsarist Russia authorities against the use in public of the Lithuanian language, the ban of Lithuanian books in Latin script and encouraging the population to accept the Russian Orthodox faith. Book smuggling activities involved the printing of books, mostly in the then Prussia (Lithuania Minor) and the United States of America, carrying them illegally into the occupied country and distributing them to  the population. Though book smuggling was done mostly by ordinary peasants, this cultural movement, which was a reflection of the national quest for freedom, paved the way for the restoration of Lithuania‘s independence in 1918. This quest of  preserving national identity, has retained great importance to this day. Inasmuch as book smuggling is often regarded to be Lithuania’s unique historical phenomenon of the 19th century, the UNESCO named it in 2004 as unique and unprecedented phenomenon in the world.

1918–1940: Period of Independence and Nation Building

On 16 February 1918, twenty courageous, determined and trusted representatives of the Lithuanian nation signed the Act of Independence “re-establishing an independent state, based on democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital city, severing all previous links with other states.” Having withstood the fight for independence against Bolshevik and Polish invaders, Lithuania adopted parliamentary democracy in the Constituent Assembly (Steigiamasis Seimas)  on May 15, 1920. Poles, breaking political and military agreements, seized on October 9, 1920, Vilnius and a sizeable part of eastern Lithuania.  Kaunas became Lithuania’s provisional capital.  In 1923 Lithuania exercised its claim over the Klaipeda (Lithuania minor) region by expelling the French military administration.  

The historical tragic flight by American Lithuanians Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, who were among the first ones in the world to fly a propeller plane in 1933 across the Atlantic from the New York city to the middle of Europe, and Lithuania’s win of the basketball championship of Europe in 1939, became national symbols of patriotism and pride in the young nation’s great achievements. The principles developed during this period such as the rule of law, civic society, cultural and historical values, national solidarity, drive for scholastic excellence and flourishing agriculture, helped Lithuania survive as a nation the subsequent 50 years of Soviet Russian occupation. In subsequent years of communist rule, these values served as ideological basis for resistance and restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1990. 

The signatories of Lithuania’s independence in 1918

Nazi Germany and Lithuania

Lithuania conducted in 1934-5 the first NAZI trial in Europe and defied Hitler’s threats of vengeance. In March 1939, a long-running dispute between Lithuania and Germany over the jurisdiction of the Klaipeda region came to a head when Hitler demanded that Lithuania gives up the region or face Nazi Germany invasion. Lithuania, failing to receive support from either USSR or Western European powers, gave in to the ultimatum. On March 22, 1939, Hitler triumphantly arrived in Klaipeda and declared victory.

Soviet Occupation and Annexation into USSR

In August 1939, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Hitler and Stalin agreed to carve up Central and Eastern part of Europe. The Baltic states were relegated under this agreement to the Soviet sphere of influence. Upon Soviet occupation of eastern part of Poland, Moscow returned Vilnius to Lithuania as a condition of stationing several isolated military garrisons on Lithuania’s territory.  However, eight months later, USSR forcibly occupied Lithuania in June 1940 and formally annexed it as a Soviet republic in August 1940.  Lithuania’s state structure was dismantled, followed by mass arrests, killing of politically unreliable, and began large scale deportations of the population to Siberia.

World War II and Subsequent Period June 1941

On June 22, 1941 Germany invaded USSR and as a result, it occupied all of the Baltic states. It imposed a military rule and political governance by Nazi powers from Berlin. Attempts by Lithuanians to restore their independent state was squashed within several weeks of occupation and their principal proponents were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The occupying Nazis and their local henchmen killed most of the 240 000 Lithuanian Jews.

Upon defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Soviet Union reoccupied the Baltic states. Lithuania was restored as a Soviet Socialist Republic of the USSR. From 1945 through 1950s the Soviet authorities implemented deportations of several hundred thousands Lithuanians to remote areas of the USSR, mostly to northern Siberia slave labor camps (gulags). While more than half of the deportees perished, a number of survivers after enduring inhuman hardships in forced labor camps for some 20 and more years, returned to their homelands. During these turbulent years, thousands of the younger Lithuanians joined resistance groups to fight the communist occupiers for the country‘s independence. The period of the fight for freedom resulted in more than 30,000 deaths. It is one of the most dramatic, tragic but heroic events in Lithuania‘s history.

The Singing Revolution

The Initiative Group of Sąjūdis (Lithuanian Reform Movement), established in June 1988, inspired the nation with faith to quest for independence.  Subsequently in 1989, the Lithuanian Communist party broke away from the Central Communist Party in Moscow, which was an unprecedented  and very dangerous move at the time. 

On August 23, 1989, the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in a mass rally joined hands to form a human chain stretching some 650 kilometers from Vilnius through Riga to Tallinn The event marked the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as a result of which the Baltic nations lost their independence. The Baltic Way was a symbolic expression of final separation of the people of the Baltic States from the Soviet Union. Seeing this danger, the Soviet leader Gorbachev came to Vilnius to persuade the Lithuanians to stay within the USSR. The nation refused. On March 11, 1990, the independence of the Republic of Lithuania was officially restored.

On  January 13, 1991, Moscow sent to Vilnius its well trained and heavily armed OMON paratrooper units to quell the peaceful quest of the people for freedom. But even under armed attack, the Lithuanian people as well as the Latvians and Estonians responded to aggression peacefully - without use of arms, singing songs of freedom in mass gatherings with an endless and persistent faith in victory.  During the military’s crackdown, 13 peacefully protesting civilians were killed in Vilnius. On  February 4, 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognise Lithuanian independence. However, only after the old communist coup in Kremlin failed, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of the Baltic states on September 6, 1991, followed by world  wide recognition and acceptance of Lithuania as member of the United Nations on  September 17, 1991.  As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, Russia agreed to withdraw former Soviet occupation troops from Lithuania's territory  in September 1992.

The Baltic Way - Human Chain 600 km Long Linking the
Three Baltic States in Their Drive for Freedom


Following its EU and NATO membership in 2004, Lithuania was again reintegrated into the European family of nations. Once an EU member, Lithuania has become an official contributor  country giving aid in the quest for freedom to Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, South Caucasus, Afghanistan and Iraq while also fulfilling its multilateral obligations within the EU and NATO structures.

Category : Historical Lithuania

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 Gediminas – King of
 Lithuania & Russians

Gediminas' Tower (Gedimino pilies bokštas) is the only remaining part of the
Upper Castle in Vilnius. The first fortifications were built of wood
by King Gediminas. Later the first brick castle was completed
in 1409 by Vytautas the Great.

Gediminas (1275 - 1341) was the one founding Vilnius as the capital of Lithuania. In works of history Gediminas is referred to as the Grand Duke of Lithuania, but he called himself, and was titled in all official documents, the King of Lithuania, or the King of Lithuania and of Russians. He ruled in the years 1316-1341. Gediminas was lauded as one of the greatest rulers of Lithuania. He established diplomatic and economic links with Europe and invited many artisans and merchants to Lithuania. His reign was marked with tolerance, open-mindedness and fairness.


Category : Front page

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Gediminas – King of

Lithuania & Russians

Gediminas' Tower (Gedimino pilies bokštas) is the only remaining part of the
Upper Castle in Vilnius. The first fortifications were built of wood by King Gediminas.
Later the first brick castle was completed in 1409 by Vytautas the Great.

Gediminas (1275 - 1341) was the one founding Vilnius as the capital of Lithuania. In works of history Gediminas is referred to as the Grand Duke of Lithuania, but he called himself, and was titled in all official documents, the King of Lithuania, or the King of Lithuania and of Russians. He ruled in the years 1316-1341. Gediminas was lauded as one of the greatest rulers of Lithuania. He established diplomatic and economic links with Europe and invited many artisans and merchants to Lithuania. His reign was marked with tolerance, open-mindedness and fairness. He extended his invitations to all peoples to come and settle in his capital, including Jews and Christians. As a result, many synagogues, temples and yeshivas were built and flourished in Vilnius (for centuries known as "Jerusalem of the North"). During the rule of Gediminas was consolidated authority of the Grand Duke, strengthened the whole system of state institutions, were created conditions for development of agriculture and growth of the cities, expansion of trade and commerce, advance of culture. Gediminas turned Vilnius into a permanent capital of the state and a city of European significance. During the years of his reign Gediminas was the most honoured ruler in Eastern Europe. In his time the aggressions from the West, of European knights, and from the East, of the Golden Horde, were warded off, and many Russian lands were incorporated into Great Duchy of Lithuania.

On receiving a favorable reply from the Holy See, Gediminas issued circular letters, dated 25th of January 1325, to the principal Hansa towns, offering a free access into his domains to men of every order and profession from nobles and knights to tillers of the soil. The immigrants were to choose their own settlements and be governed by their own laws. Priests and monks were also invited to come and build churches at Vilnius and Novogrodek. In October 1323 representatives of the archbishop of Riga, the bishop of Dorpat, the king of Denmark, the Dominican and Franciscan orders, and the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order assembled at Vilnius, when Gediminas confirmed his promises and undertook to be baptized as soon as the papal legates arrived. A compact was then signed at Vilnius, in the name of the whole Christian World, between Gediminas and the delegates, confirming the promised privileges.

But the christianizing of Lithuania was by no means to the liking of the Teutonic Knights, and they used every effort to nullify Gediminas' far-reaching design. This, unfortunately, it was easy to do. Gediminas' chief object was to save Lithuania from destruction at the hands of the Germans. But he was still a pagan reigning over semi-pagan lands; he was equally bound to his pagan kinsmen in Samogitia, to his Orthodox subjects in Belarus, and to his Catholic allies in Masovia. His policy, therefore, was necessarily tentative and ambiguous, and, might very readily be misinterpreted.

Thus his raid upon Dobrzyn, the latest acquisition of the knights on Polish soil, speedily gave them a ready weapon against him. The Prussian bishops, who were devoted to the knights, at a synod at Elbing questioned the authority of Gediminas‘ letters and denounced him as an enemy of the faith; his Orthodox subjects reproached him with leaning towards the Latin heresy; while the pagan Lithuanians accused him of abandoning the ancient gods. Gediminas disentangled himself from his difficulties by repudiating his former promises; by refusing to receive the papal legates who arrived at Riga in September 1323; and by dismissing the Franciscans from his territories. These apparently retrogressive measures simply amounted to a statesmanlike recognition of the fact that the pagan element was still the strongest force in Lithuania, and could not yet be dispensed with in the coming struggle for nationality.

At the same time Gediminas through his ambassadors privately informed the papal legates at Riga that his difficult position, compelled him for a time to postpone his steadfast resolve of being baptized, and the legates showed their confidence in him by forbidding the neighboring states to war against Lithuania for the next four years, besides ratifying the treaty made between Gediminas and the archbishop of Riga. Nevertheless in 1325 the Order, disregarding the censures of the church, resumed the war with Gediminas, who had in the meantime improved his position by an alliance with Wladislaus Lokietek, king of Poland, whose son Casimir now married Gediminas‘ daughter Aldona.

While on his guard against his northern foes, Gediminas from 1316 to 1340 was aggrandizing himself at the expense of the numerous Slavonic principalities in the south and east, whose incessant conflicts with each other wrought the ruin of them all. Here Gediminas‘ triumphal progress was irresistible; but the various stages of it are impossible to follow, the sources of its history being few and conflicting, and the date of every salient event exceedingly doubtful. One of his most important territorial accretions, the principality of Halych-Volynia; was obtained by the marriage of his son Lubart with the daughter of the Galician prince; the other, Kiev, apparently by conquest.
While exploiting Slavic weakness in the wake of the
Mongol invasion, Gediminas wisely avoided war with the Golden Horde, a great regional power at the time, while expanding Lithuania's border towards the Black Sea. He also secured an alliance with the nascent grand duchy of Muscovy by marrying his daughter, Anastasia, to the grand duke Simeon. But he was strong enough to counterpoise the influence of Muscovy in northern Russia, and assisted the republic of Pskov, which acknowledged his overlordship, to break away from Great Novgorod.

His internal administration bears all the marks of a wise ruler. He protected the Catholic as well as the Orthodox clergy, encouraging them both to civilize his subjects; he raised the Lithuanian army to the highest state of efficiency then attainable; defended his borders with a chain of strong fortresses; and built numerous towns including Vilnius, the capital (first mentioned ca 1321). At first he moved the capital city to the newly built city of Trakai, but in 1323 re-established a permanent capital in Vilnius, on the site of the capital of King Mindaugas, formerly called Voruta.

Gediminas died in the winter of 1342 of a wound received at the siege of Bayerburg castle. He was married three times, and left seven sons and six daughters. Two of his sons perished in battle. Jaunutis initially ruled Vilnius after the death of his father and was formally Grand Duke of Lithuania until his elder brothers Algirdas and Kęstutis returned from military campaigns in Ruthenia and forced him to abdicate his throne in their favor.

After Gediminas, Vilnius emerged over hundreds of years, expanding, changing, and embodying the creative imagination and experience of many generations of architects and builders from Lithuania and abroad; under the care of generous and perceptive benefactors, it became a city rich in architectural treasures and urban harmony.
Following the craftsmen in other European towns at the end of the 15th century, Vilnius craftsmen began to join together by professions into guilds. Many Catholic churches and monasteries appeared in the town. Stone buildings sprang up inside the Lower Castle. The new Cathedral was among them. Crafts and trade continued to develop in the 16th century. Many beautiful new buildings in the late Gothic and Renaissance style appeared in the town. The most significant event in the cultural life of 16th century Lithuania was the founding of the Vilnius Academy in 1579, which was endowed with the rights and privileges of a university.

Gediminas as depicted in the Sapieha Genealogy in Kodeń, 1709

Category : Historical Lithuania

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A crucial letter from the Middle Ages changes the interpretation of the history of Lithuania on an essential point

SVEN EKDAHL is Assistant Professor of History at Gothenburg University and Professor of Medieval History at the Polish-Scandinavian Research Institute in Copenhagen. He has published extensively on the history of the Teutonic Order in Prussia as well as treated Polish, Baltic, and Scandinavian themes.

Category : Opinions

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Baltic exports to Russia
have jumped to the highest
in more than a decade

Estonia’s biggest liquor producer has no time for political squabbles as sales to Russia help it plot a safe passage through the euro-area debt turmoil.
“It would be very shortsighted if we turned our backs on Russia,” Liviko AS’s Chief Executive Officer Janek Kalvi said in a phone interview from the capital, Tallinn. “Especially if you look at what’s been happening in Europe.”

Baltic exports to Russia, now Estonia’s top destination for goods, have jumped to the highest in more than a decade, fueling Europe’s fastest growth after the region that also includes Latvia and Lithuania endured the world’s worst recessions after Lehman Brothers Inc.’s 2008 collapse. The surge has defied strained ties over issues from Soviet occupation to energy imports and has helped drive Baltic debt yields to record lows.


Category : News

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Record harvest in
Lithuania this summer

Lithuania plans to boost its grain exports to 2.5 million tons this year after a record harvest, 15min reported, citing Adomas Grigaitis, head of grain exporter Litagra Prekyba.

Lithuania may see a record grain harvest of as much as 4.5 million tons this year, or 1 million tons more than the average in previous years, the newspaper said.

Category : News

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Oh, those old Lithuanian
wedding traditions

The article author, Kestutis Eidukonis, with the bride and her maids.

Marriage and death - these are the events to which ancient Lithuanian culture gave special attention to, and judging by the surviving customs and folklore, the most significant of these was the wedding, for it was on the family that the entire community depended on for survival, structure, and stability - not only of the community but of the whole nation. It is therefore understandable why the creation of a family - a wedding- receives so much attention in both ancient and present day Lithuanian culture.

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Category : Front page

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Oh, those old Lithuanian
wedding traditions

Description: C:\Users\Aage\Downloads\the bridesmaids.JPG
The article author, Kestutis Eidukonis, with the bride and her maids.

Marriage and death - these are the events to which ancient Lithuanian culture gave special attention to, and judging by the surviving customs and folklore, the most significant of these was the wedding, for it was on the family that the entire community depended on for survival, structure, and stability - not only of the community but of the whole nation. It is therefore understandable why the creation of a family - a wedding- receives so much attention in both ancient and present day Lithuanian culture.

One only needs to walk around old town Vilnius or Kaunas or any good size Lithuanian town on any given weekend to see wedding entourages accompanied by photographers posing for pictures at churches, bridges or any other landmark. These festivities occur everywhere in Lithuania. It is a wonderful sight for a country. It is usually a sign of confidence and hope in the future. Of course, traditions change and some people are reluctant to celebrate the wedding using some of these traditions but it was interesting to see them none the less and hope people continue to observe them.

I recently had the privilege of attending one of these special occasions in Žemaitiją in the wonderful towns of Veiverženai, and Švekšna I was invited to the wedding of Arturas and Žavinta, (her name means Enchanting) and I want to thank them and their families for sharing this beautiful experience with the me and the readers of VilNews.

At Žavinta's and Arturas's wedding, all the old traditions of a Lithuanian wedding came into play. All the actors, the matchmaker and his wife, the groom, the bride, the parents, bridesmaids, groomsmen, musician, large number of relatives and friends and most importantly, the children, had a part to play.

The day started at the bride's house with the bride getting dressed for the occasion being assisted by the brides maids. As the magic hour got close, the groom together with groomsmen arrived at the house, where, family and friends waited. The ceremonies began with the Matchmaker and Mrs Matchmaker (The matchmaker's wife) taking charge. The groomsmen are introduced to the bridesmaids. The boys tied flowers on the bridesmaids wrists and the girls in turn put a flower on the lapel of the boys. The future bride and groom in turn present a typical handwoven Lithuanian sash to the Matchmaker with the words Matchmaker - Liar.

The next part of the festivities was both comical and melancholic. The parents shared with everyone present their fondest memories of their children. Their first words, the lullabies they used to put them to sleep with and anything else memorable. The groom's mother then pinned a flower on her son's lapel, and in traditional Catholic families the couple is presented with a rosary as symbol of God's blessing. The bride and groom then bid farewell to their parents by kissing their hands. Tears flow copiously! Moms are usually very tearful - not so the fathers. Guests applaud and cry!

After this the couple proceed to the church where the mass is said and the couple exchange vows - pretty much like any other wedding ceremony. The couple also adopted the custom of releasing white turtle doves after the wedding ceremony outside the church.

After the church ceremonies the young couple along with their whole entourage hop into their cars and go on a noisy, horn blasting, few hour long trip. Photos are taken and rituals are performed. These combine a few old and new traditions - the old tradition consists of sorting through a bunch of stones labeled by the maid of honor with good and bad characteristics of the couple. Love jealousy, respect, hot temper, etc. The good stones are kept and put in a basket. The bad ones are tossed away. The stones have a special pagan significance - in old times they were considered messages to the gods. The newer tradition consists of locking two hearts together with a symbolic lock. The lock is often placed on a bridge and the key is discarded. Most Lithuanian bridges are covered with such locks. (I have also seen people removing their locks after a divorce or separation). The wedding party also uses this occasion to go visit close relatives who are ill or frail and could not make it to the festivities. The groom is also supposed to carry the bride across any and every bridge they come to.

Finally, according to old traditions it is time to go back to the house where the parents and the guests are eagerly awaiting. Weddings used to take place in one of parents' home. Now days, the celebrations are often held in a hall or in a place specially selected for its rural scenery or for the occasion. However, the decorations, like in the old days remain the same, the yard is decorated with birch branches flowers and other decorations. Our wedding took place in Alsė, a "kaimo sodyba" - a rural B & B.

After raising Cain on the roads and streets, the newly weds return to the hall where they are welcomed by their parents with the traditional gifts of bread and salt and water. (The bread symbolizes life, salt bitter moments and the water or wine to wash everything down) But before they are allowed to enter, they are required to undergo a variety of challenges. What would Lithuanian wedding be without jokes, and pranks? The organizer of all this is the irreplaceable wedding musician and the matchmakers who, up until the return of the young couple have been busy preparing for the first trials, an obstacle course for the groom to navigate while carrying his bride blindfolded - she is supposed to coach him where to walk. A baby doll for the bride to wash and diaper. Firewood for the groom to chop, a dish has to be broken and it will predict the number of children they will have, the bride will have to demonstrate that she knows how to peel potatoes. All this is accompanied with cat calls from the audience and commentary from the matchmakers as to how well or how ineptly the newly weds are performing their tasks. Upon completion of their tasks the newly weds request permission to enter the hall, but before the couple are allowed in they must get the approval of all the guests - who might want to challenge the couple. The maid of honor comes to the aid of the couple with a basket of candy and goodies to bribe the guests with. Many of the traditional matchmaker tasks have survived to this day but some are modified to fit the times. It is the matchmakers jobs to keep the evening flowing with toasts, songs, games and speeches. Everyone present is offered a chance to talk. The speeches have to be witty or sentimental, and they are always heartily applauded. The food was plentiful and delicious. Each table had official "bottle masters" and "happy attitude enforcers" assigned. The staff of the "Alsė" was great - pitchers were always full and platters of food just kept on coming. The place where the wedding took place was just outside the town of Švekšna it is a "Kaimo Turismo Sodyba" - a rural village garden type of an accommodation - with gazebos and other areas where guests young and old could socialize and imbibe. It also had places where everyone could rest, either in private rooms or communal bunk type accommodations. People with less stamina, were given semi-private accommodations - while the younger folks were provided with communal sleeping arrangements.

Around midnight - everyone was invited to a fire (normally a fireplace ) but in our case it was burning candles where everyone was asked to sprinkle amber dust on the flames and make a wish for the newly weds. Why Amber? Amber is considered to be the oldest, healing, spiritual rock with a large amount of organic energy. This magnetic stone, can still be found in the Baltic Sea, it is used for attracting love, carrying for and protecting happiness. It is symbolical invitation to an old Lithuanian ancestral spirit, to care for our young family and for our ancestors to reinforce the strength of the spirit of the family hearth fire. This magical fire now resides in Arturas and Zavinta and burns passionately within them.

The party continued till seven AM - With guests disappearing little by little till only the most energetic and hearty ones were left.

On the second day of the wedding - we were awakened by our colorful musician wearing a long wig. knocking on our door and insisting on us opening the door whilst he and his accordion serenaded us with his "wake up" song. Good natured threats were hurtled back and forth. Dire consequences were predicted for those who did not open up and wake up. Little by little, everyone woke up and gathered around for a breakfast of sour kraut soup served with potatoes and Kastynis ( A rich mix of butter and cream). This traditional hangover remedy , a visit to the sauna followed by a dip in the pond quickly revived everyone. The sauna and the dip in the pond was voluntary - though many took advantage of it.

Around noon - everyone was ready to start partying all over again. Everyone gathered at the banquet hall for second round of revelry. In the meantime, the bridal party decided that the matchmaker exaggerated the grooms qualities when he recommended the groom to the bride and her parents and that for being such a big liar, he needs to be strung up. The matchmaker at first tries to make excuses, but then when he sees that it is doing no good he starts to read his humorous last testament. This leaves everyone in stitches! The Matchmaker is than saved from hanging by the young bride - who ties her sash on him as a sign of respect and as sign of thanks for finding her a great husband. The wedding party goes along with the bride and decides that the matchmaker wasn't a liar, after all. He did match up these two wonderful young people and his services are still needed for the remaining large group of unmarried women. The matchmaker is allowed to live but now has to wear his matchmaker's sash around his neck as a reminder of the perils of his job.

Of course, there was still a lot of celebrating to do, games, dances and songs. The wedding went on till later that evening. But most importantly the Lithuanian Spirit was alive and well there. Happy guests, happy newly weds and most important of all - happy young eyes were watching all of this, for you see the young children were a part of this the whole time: This to them was a Fun Lithuanian Wedding!

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Category : Culture & events


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Doing business in Lithuania

By Grant Arthur Gochin
California - USA

Lithuania emerged from the yoke of the Soviet Union a mere 25 years ago. Since then, Lithuania has attempted to model upon other European nations, joining NATO, Schengen, and the EU. But, has the Soviet Union left Lithuania?

During Soviet times, government was administered for the people in control, not for the local population, court decisions were decreed, they were not the administration of justice, and academia was the domain of ideologues. 25 years of freedom and openness should have put those bad experiences behind Lithuania, but that is not so.

Today, it is a matter of expectation that court pronouncements will be governed by ideological dictates. Few, if any Lithuanians expect real justice to be effected. For foreign companies, doing business in Lithuania is almost impossible in a situation where business people do not expect rule of law, so, surely Government would be a refuge of competence?

Lithuanian Government has not emerged from Soviet styles. In an attempt to devolve power, Lithuania has created a myriad of fiefdoms of power, each speaking in the name of the Government, each its own centralized power base of ideology.

* * *
Greetings from Wales!
By Anita Šovaitė-Woronycz
Chepstow, Wales

Think of a nation in northern Europe whose population is around the 3 million mark a land of song, of rivers, lakes, forests, rolling green hills, beautiful coastline a land where mushrooms grow ready for the picking, a land with a passion for preserving its ancient language and culture.

Doesn't that sound suspiciously like Lithuania? Ah, but I didn't mention the mountains of Snowdonia, which would give the game away.

I'm talking about Wales, that part of the UK which Lithuanians used to call "Valija", but later named "Velsas" (why?). Wales, the nation which has welcomed two Lithuanian heads of state to its shores - firstly Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, who has paid several visits and, more recently, President Dalia Grybauskaitė who attended the 2014 NATO summit which was held in Newport, South Wales.

* * *
Read Cassandra's article HERE

Read Rugile's article HERE

Did you know there is a comment field right after every article we publish? If you read the two above posts, you will see that they both have received many comments. Also YOU are welcome with your comments. To all our articles!
* * *

Greetings from Toronto
By Antanas Sileika,
Toronto, Canada

Toronto was a major postwar settlement centre for Lithuanian Displaced Persons, and to this day there are two Catholic parishes and one Lutheran one, as well as a Lithuanian House, retirement home, and nursing home. A new wave of immigrants has showed interest in sports.

Although Lithuanian activities have thinned over the decades as that postwar generation died out, the Lithuanian Martyrs' parish hall is crowded with many, many hundreds of visitors who come to the Lithuanian cemetery for All Souls' Day. Similarly, the Franciscan parish has standing room only for Christmas Eve mass.

Although I am firmly embedded in the literary culture of Canada, my themes are usually Lithuanian, and I'll be in Kaunas and Vilnius in mid-November 2015 to give talks about the Lithuanian translations of my novels and short stories, which I write in English.

If you have the Lithuanian language, come by to one of the talks listed in the links below. And if you don't, you can read more about my work at
* * *

As long as VilNews exists,
there is hope for the future
Professor Irena Veisaite, Chairwoman of our Honorary Council, asked us to convey her heartfelt greetings to the other Council Members and to all readers of VilNews.

"My love and best wishes to all. As long as VilNews exists, there is hope for the future,"" she writes.

Irena Veisaite means very much for our publication, and we do hereby thank her for the support and wise commitment she always shows.

You can read our interview with her
* * *
Facing a new reality

By Vygaudas Ušackas
EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation

Dear readers of VilNews,

It's great to see this online resource for people interested in Baltic affairs. I congratulate the editors. From my position as EU Ambassador to Russia, allow me to share some observations.

For a number of years, the EU and Russia had assumed the existence of a strategic partnership, based on the convergence of values, economic integration and increasingly open markets and a modernisation agenda for society.

Our agenda was positive and ambitious. We looked at Russia as a country ready to converge with "European values", a country likely to embrace both the basic principles of democratic government and a liberal concept of the world order. It was believed this would bring our relations to a new level, covering the whole spectrum of the EU's strategic relationship with Russia.

* * *

The likelihood of Putin
invading Lithuania
By Mikhail Iossel
Professor of English at Concordia University, Canada
Founding Director at Summer Literary Seminars

The likelihood of Putin's invading Lithuania or fomenting a Donbass-style counterfeit pro-Russian uprising there, at this point, in my strong opinion, is no higher than that of his attacking Portugal, say, or Ecuador. Regardless of whether he might or might not, in principle, be interested in the insane idea of expanding Russia's geographic boundaries to those of the former USSR (and I for one do not believe that has ever been his goal), he knows this would be entirely unfeasible, both in near- and long-term historical perspective, for a variety of reasons. It is not going to happen. There will be no restoration of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical entity.

* * *

Are all Lithuanian energy
problems now resolved?
By Dr. Stasys Backaitis,
P.E., CSMP, SAE Fellow Member of Central and Eastern European Coalition, Washington, D.C., USA

Lithuania's Energy Timeline - from total dependence to independence

Lithuania as a country does not have significant energy resources. Energy consuming infrastructure after WWII was small and totally supported by energy imports from Russia.

First nuclear reactor begins power generation at Ignalina in 1983, the second reactor in 1987. Iganlina generates enough electricity to cover Lithuania's needs and about 50%.for export. As, prerequisite for membership in EU, Ignalina ceases all nuclear power generation in 2009

The Klaipėda Sea terminal begins Russia's oil export operations in 1959 and imports in 1994.

Mazeikiu Nafta (current ORLEAN Lietuva) begins operation of oil refinery in 1980.

* * *

Have Lithuanian ties across
the Baltic Sea become
stronger in recent years?
By Eitvydas Bajarunas
Ambassador to Sweden

My answer to affirmative "yes". Yes, Lithuanian ties across the Baltic Sea become as never before solid in recent years. For me the biggest achievement of Lithuania in the Baltic Sea region during recent years is boosting Baltic and Nordic ties. And not because of mere accident - Nordic direction was Lithuania's strategic choice.

The two decades that have passed since regaining Lithuania's independence can be described as a "building boom". From the wreckage of a captive Soviet republic, a generation of Lithuanians have built a modern European state, and are now helping construct a Nordic-Baltic community replete with institutions intended to promote political coordination and foster a trans-Baltic regional identity. Indeed, a "Nordic-Baltic community" - I will explain later in my text the meaning of this catch-phrase.

Since the restoration of Lithuania's independence 25 years ago, we have continuously felt a strong support from Nordic countries. Nordics in particular were among the countries supporting Lithuania's and Baltic States' striving towards independence. Take example of Iceland, country which recognized Lithuania in February of 1991, well in advance of other countries. Yet another example - Swedish Ambassador was the first ambassador accredited to Lithuania in 1991. The other countries followed suit. When we restored our statehood, Nordic Countries became champions in promoting Baltic integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. To large degree thanks Nordic Countries, massive transformations occurred in Lithuania since then, Lithuania became fully-fledged member of the EU and NATO, and we joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2015.

* * *

It's the economy, stupid *
By Valdas (Val) Samonis,

n his article, Val Samonis takes a comparative policy look at the Lithuanian economy during the period 2000-2015. He argues that the LT policy response (a radical and classical austerity) was wrong and unenlightened because it coincided with strong and continuing deflationary forces in the EU and the global economy which forces were predictable, given the right policy guidance. Also, he makes a point that LT austerity, and the resulting sharp drop in GDP and employment in LT, stimulated emigration of young people (and the related worsening of other demographics) which processes took huge dimensions thereby undercutting even the future enlightened efforts to get out of the middle-income growth trap by LT. Consequently, the country is now on the trajectory (development path) similar to that of a dog that chases its own tail. A strong effort by new generation of policymakers is badly needed to jolt the country out of that wrong trajectory and to offer the chance of escaping the middle-income growth trap via innovations.

* * *

Have you heard about the
South African "Pencil Test"?
By Karina Simonson

If you are not South African, then, probably, you haven't. It is a test performed in South Africa during the apartheid regime and was used, together with the other ways, to determine racial identity, distinguishing whites from coloureds and blacks. That repressive test was very close to Nazi implemented ways to separate Jews from Aryans. Could you now imagine a Lithuanian mother, performing it on her own child?

But that is exactly what happened to me when I came back from South Africa. I will tell you how.

* * *

Love and suicide in Lithuania
By Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas,
Ph. D., Chicago, USA

A young Lithuanian policeman is found slumped in the seat of his car shot dead, his weapon clutched in one hand - in his other hand his mobile phone containing a text message he had received: "I love another" (report by psychologist Andrius Kaluginas).

According to the World Health Organization, Lithuania now has the highest suicide rate in the world. Psychiatrists, sociologists, and journalists often link Lithuania's skyrocketing suicide rate to social instability, poverty, high unemployment, and alcoholism.

What has gone largely unnoticed is that one of the leading causes of suicide among people under the age of thirty is unrequited love.


* * *
"Of all that is written, I love only
what a person hath written with
his blood. Write with blood, and
thou wilt find that blood is spirit."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

I edited, wrote a book ...
and felt it had to be called

I am Mindaugas Peleckis, a Lithuanian writer, journalist, music and mythology researcher, and I believe it's fair to say that this book was really written in blood.

This metaphor came to me while listening to MK9 in Vilnius, 2014, when Michael Contreras let the blood go down his wrists and marked his manifesto with it. This made a big impression on me, investigating music and philosophy at the time.

At that moment, everything became clear to me: all the people who talked to me, all the music I listened to, all the mythologies - everything comes from blood, or it's nothing at all.

The main aim of the book is therefore to show modern mythologies from different backgrounds, and highlight that we are all blood's creatures.

I chose to present interviews and other material about people from around the world - including the post-Soviet bloc (Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Ukraine, Poland), Europe (Ireland, Sami lands, Finland, UK, Austria, Sweden, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Greece), the USA, and Asia (Malaysia). Not all people who talk here and give us their "blood" are musicians: some are philosophers, writers, artists and other interesting people with a unique view of our world.

A special introduction to Written in Blood is provided by Thomas Bey William Bailey, and the book also includes a special epilogue by world famous philosopher and photographer Alphonso Lingis.

Mindaugas Peleckis (born 1975 in Lithuania) has written and published more than a dozen books: first the encyclopedia of Lithuanian rock music (2011), a mythological study, a book on new religious movements,
Poetry, and novels. Educated as a professional journalist and philosopher, he especially tries to investigate modern music which he loves very much. Written in Blood is his first book in the English language. M. Peleckis' independent cultural journal (started in 2012) is also part of his mission to spread a different kind of information available in cultural discourse.

* * *
Greetings from Venezuela!
By Vytenis Folkmanas,
Architect, Cracas, Venezuela

With great joy and enthusiasm I have just received the news that Vilnews will be restarted - now in its second stage. I've been for many years an avid reader of all items on the web page and on the VilNews Facebook pages.

I am constantly sharing the articles with the Lithuanian Community of Venezuela, from where I'm writing and from where I send Aage and his team my best wishes and success in this new release of VilNews

* * *
Greetings from Australia!
By Jura Reilly
Victoria, Australia

Approximately 10,000 Lithuanians arrived in Australia after World War 2 from refugee camps in Germany. Previously, a small number arrived in the 1800s and then later after World War 1. Lithuanian communities were established in the capital cities of Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney. These cities host the bi-annual Lithuanian Days Festival on a rotating basis. Smaller communities were established in Albury, Brisbane, Canberra, Geelong, Hobart, Newcastle, Perth, and Wollongong.

* * *
Greetings from Texas!
By Bernard Terway,
Texas, USA

When one thinks of Texas, the least expected thing that would come to mind is that there are actually Lithuanians in Texas! It turns out that some of the earliest settlers from Lithuania came to Texas with their Prussian neighbors and established themselves here. Most thought they were German, probably because Texas was highly populated by Germans. Recently, within the past 25 years or so, it has been established that there were Lithuanians among the German population.

Here is a link to a video about them:

There is also a historical marker about the first Lithuanians in Texas:

There are also two large, active groups of Lithuanians, on in Houston, Lithuanian American Community of Houston and one in San Antonio.

* * *
Click HERE to read previous opinion letters >

VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the
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