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History & Background

Located on the Baltic Sea, Lithuania is bordered by Latvia to the north and Belorussia to the east and south. Poland is situated to the southwest of the country. The territory of Lithuania encompasses 65,200 square kilometers, 99 kilometers of which is located on the coastline. It is divided into 44 regions and 52 districts, with 92 cities and 22 urban-type settlements. The capital city is Vilnius.

The climate of Lithuania is considered to be transitional in nature, fluctuating between maritime and continental. It is a wet country, with moderate winters and summers. Lithuania makes up a lowland area comprised of many scattered lakes and very fertile soil. The lowest point of elevation is located at the Baltic Sea (0 kilometers), the highest point at Juozapines/Kalnas (292 kilometers).

According to statistics from July 2000, Lithuania's estimated population stands at 3,620,756, some 67 percent of which is between the ages of 15 to 64; 1.17 million are female and 1.26 million are male. The population growth rate is decreasing at .29 percent. The ratio of men to women is 0.88:1 respectively, with an average of 1.34 children born per woman.

The country is predominantly Lithuanian, with the natives making up nearly 81 percent of the country's population. Other represented nationalities include Russian (8.7 percent), Polish (7 percent), Belorussian (1.6 percent), and other (2.1 percent). The official language of the country is Lithuanian; however, because of the makeup in population, the Polish and Russian languages do hold a presence. Lithuania is astoundingly literate, with 98 percent of the population (15 and over) possessing the ability to read and write (CIA 2000).

In terms of the country's history, archeological evidence shows that the Baltic region, home to Lithuania, has been inhabited since the late Stone Age. By 1600 B.C., the area was linked by well-developed trade routes, predominantly used for the export of amber. Lithuania emerged as a state in the thirteenth century, shortly after the union of the main lands. In 1240, Mindaugas was named the Grand Duke of Lithuania, and by the end of the fourteenth century Lithuania emerged as one of the most powerful states in Europe. The successful defeat of their enemies resulted in an era of domination and territorial expansion.

German crusaders invaded the pagan state for almost two whole centuries. Despite the German effort, the country remained unconquered. As an example of their quest for independence, the Lithuanians built castles that are continually admired today for their defensive construction. In 1410, Lithuania, with the help of neighboring Poland, battled the Teutonic Knights in defense of their liberty. In addition, Lithuania was also able to withstand attacks by the Mongols-Tatars from the West and assist other European nations with their fight against the Golden Horde (CIA 2000).

In 1569, the Union of Lublin sealed the Poland-Lithuania Union into a commonwealth (Rzecspospolita); later in the seventeenth century, Lithuania became one of its three provinces. Following the partitioning of the Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania was incorporated into Russia and spent more than 100 years battling tsarist rule. It was not until February 16, 1918 that Lithuania proclaimed its independence and moved to restore its statehood. Through establishment of diplomatic relations, the country was soon recognized by Europe and some of the largest states in the world. It remained independent for only 22 years, before it was once again occupied by the Soviet Union. Lithuania fought bravely for its independence against the Soviet occupiers, despite being drastically outnumbered. Their desire for independence was not subdued even after 50 years of occupation. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1990, Lithuania proclaimed its statehood once again. The old clock of the Cathedral tower strikes, counting the hours of freedom in order to remind the Lithuanians of their struggle. The sounds are transmitted by radio to the nation every morning.

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