Lithuania profile - Overview
- 22 January 2016
- From the section Europe
Lithuania is the largest and most southerly of the three Baltic republics.
Not much more than a decade after it regained its independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Lithuania was welcomed as a Nato member in late March 2004.
The move came just weeks before a second historic shift for the country in establishing its place in the Western family of nations as it joined the EU in May 2004. These developments would have been extremely hard to imagine in not-so-distant Soviet times.
Russia, anxious about the implications of the eastward advance of the EU and Nato to include the three Baltic republics, has a particular eye on Lithuania which has an important border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
The history of Lithuania has close ties with that of Poland, its neighbour to the southwest. By the end of the 18th century most of the country came under the Russian empire. German occupation in the first world war was followed by two decades of independence, although Vilnius was occupied by Poland for most of that time.
Following a pact between Stalin and Hitler, Soviet troops arrived in 1940. They were pushed out by the Nazis the following year but returned in 1944.
For the next half century of Soviet rule, Lithuanians relied on Catholic tradition and memories of independence to preserve their national identity, a skill mastered through centuries of foreign domination. Pagan traditions with roots stretching back centuries have been kept alive too.
Lithuania has embraced market reform since independence. In the run-up to and period following EU entry the republic saw very strong economic growth. It applied to join the eurozone from January 2007 but was rejected because the inflation rate was too high.
Lithuania's boom years came to a sudden end in 2008, and after two decades of capitalism, the country became one of the biggest victims of the global economic crisis. This prompted the implementation of austerity measures, including spending cuts and tax rises.
The Social Democrat-led government that came to power in December 2012 has pledged to ease some of these measures and says that Lithuania should be on course to join the euro by 2015.