The origin of the nation and the development of its culture were strongly influenced by foreign occupation of the country and are the result of the perceived need of the people to preserve something of their own. Even when the national language was banned and reading or writing of books in the native tongue was forbidden, people were determined to spread their heritage and share their traditions.

The first settlers of Lithuania arrived in approximately 12, 000 B. C. In 3,000–2,500 B. C. the Indo-European Balts came to live here. Between the 5th and 8th centuries tribal groupings formed in the western territories: Prussians, Yotvingians, Curronians, Zemgalians, Lithuanians and Latgallians. In the 10th c. the pagan Baltic tribes became the target of the missions of the Catholic Europe. In 1009 the name of Lithuania was mentioned for the first time in the written account of the mission of St. Bruno.

In the Middle Ages, Lithuania had already had its state: the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Magnus Ducatus Lithuaniae). It is generally accepted that the state of Lithuania found its way into the world maps, following the coronation of Mindaugas, ruler of the consolidated Lithuania, on 6 July 1253. The Papal Bull granted the State with the highest title of the monarchy, which meant that Lithuania was recognized by and accepted into the family of the Western Europe as an equal member of the political system. With the official adoption of Christianity in 1387, Lithuania chose to follow the Western path of development: the following period saw the spread of the written language, schools were opened, Lithuanian students travelled to study to European universities.

Lithuania won one more important victory in the Battle of Žalgiris (Grünwald) in 1410 when in alliance with the Kingdom of Poland defeated the Order of Teutonic Knights. After the battle, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania reached the peak of its power, with its territory stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea and from Poland to Smolensk, thus emerging as an important political power in Eastern and Central Europe. The success of the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was essentially based on ethnic and religious tolerance towards those who were traditionally considered potential enemies.

The Lithuanian Statutes having served as the legal framework testify to the fact that it was as early as the 16th century that Lithuania became an integral part of the Western Europe. The legal thought reached further heights at the end of the 18th century when a Constitution was adopted on 3 May 1791. It was the first constitution in Europe (preceding the French Constitution), and the second in the world.

The 16th century witnessed the spread of humanistic ideas from West Europe to Lithuania. Aspirations for science, art and wisdom advocated by Humanism brought about the reformation movement in Lithuania. The struggle between the catholic Church and the partisans of the reformation urged both sides to take a keen interest in science and education. In 1547 the first Lithuanian book was printed. The beginning of higher education in Lithuania goes back to 1579, the year of founding of Vilnius University. 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 education school not only in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but in the whole Eastern Europe. 

In 2004, the UNESCO characterized book smuggling as a unique and unprecedented phenomenon in the world Book smuggling emerged as resistance to the repressive actions of tsarist Russia authorities against the Lithuanian Catholic Church consisting of the ban of Lithuanian prayer books and the imposition of Russian Orthodox faith. Book smuggling activities involved the printing of books, mostly in the then Prussia, Lithuania Minor and America, carrying them illegally through the border and their distribution. Though the participants of book smuggling were mostly ordinary peasants, this cultural movement, which is considered to be a part of Lithuanian national movement, paved the way for the restoration of Lithuania‘s independence in 1918. Thus, book smuggling is often regarded to be Lithuania’s historical phenomenon of the 19th century.

 On 16 February 1918, 20 courageous, determined and trusted representatives of the Lithuanian nation signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania “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 Bolsheviks and Polish invaders, Lithuania sealed its parliamentary democracy in the Constituent Assembly (Steigiamasis Seimas) in 1920. The historical tragic flight by Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, who were among the first in the world to fly a propeller plane over the Atlantic (from the US to Europe) in 1933, became a national symbol of patriotism. The principles of the civic society, cultural values and farming foundations rooted in during this period helped Lithuania to survive the Soviet occupation and subsequently served as ideological basis for the restoration of the independence.

On 15 June 1945, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania and, on 14–18 June, started mass deportations of the Lithuanian population to remote areas of the Soviet Union. Many Lithuanians joined partisan groups to fight for Lithuania's independence. The period of partisan fights is one of the most dramatic and tragic events in Lithuania‘s history.

 On 23 August 1989 people joined their hands to form a human chain stretching 650 kilometers across Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn to mark the 50th anniversary of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a result of which Lithuania lost its independence. The Baltic Way was a symbolic action that separated the Baltic States from the Soviet Union and by which people expressed their will to be free.

On 11 March 1990, the independent State of Lithuania was re-established. This was the third time in history that Lithuania started an epoch of autonomous life.

Since independence, Lithuania has been preoccupied with reforming its economic and political institutions. Privatization has transformed its economy to a market-oriented one. Politically, a thriving press and open democracy have been established. Former communists won the first post-independence elections in 1992, but conservatives took back the parliament in 1996 elections.

Following its EU and NATO membership in 2004, Lithuania again reunited with the European family. Once an EU member, Lithuania has become an official donor country and has been giving aid to Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, South Caucasus, Afghanistan and Iraq; it has also been fulfilling multilateral obligations within the EU framework.


Source:   www.lietuva.lt