A brief introduction to Lithuania

The culture of Lithuania combines an indigenous heritage, represented by the unique Lithuanian national language, with Nordic cultural aspects and Christian traditions resulting from historical ties with Poland. Although linguistic resemblances represent strong cultural ties with Latvia in various historical moments Lithuania was influenced by Nordic, Germanic and Slavic cultures. Various cultural changes occurred throughout Lithuania’s transformation from a former country of the Soviet Union to an independent Baltic state.

Lithuanian is the official language of Lithuania. Lithuanian, an Indo-European language, closely resembles ancient Sanskrit, and is written using the Latin alphabet. The Lithuanian language is believed to be the most conservative living Indo-European language, retaining many features of Proto-Indo-European now lost in other Indo-European languages. Various dialects of Lithuanian exist, such as High Lithuanian (Aukštaitian) and Low Lithuanian (Samogitian).

Identification. 

Lithuanians are fond of nature and have a strong feeling of a shared culture that begins as early as primary school, where folk music, national traditions, and holidays play an important role. Among those who remember life under the Soviet regime, pride in surviving a period of repression and difficulty is a focal point of the national culture.

The most noticeable distinction between regions is the change in dialects as one travels across the country. To an outsider, a different dialect can sound like a completely different language and in some cases—particularly in border towns—may incorporate elements of the neighboring country’s language.

Symbolism. 

The national symbol is Vytis, the white knight, sitting astride his horse and brandishing a sword; he symbolizes the nation’s struggle to defend itself from intruders. The national plant is rue, and the national bird is the stork. The flag consists of horizontal stripes in yellow, green, and red; the colors symbolize nature (sun and trees) and traditional values such as solidarity and national pride.

Location and Geography. 

Lithuania is on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Just over 40,500 square miles (65,000 square kilometers) in area, it shares borders with Poland and Kaliningrad (Russian Federation) in the southwest, Belarus in the east, and Latvia in the north. The country is divided into four regions: Aukštaitija, the highlands in the northeast and central portion of the country; Žemaitija, the lowlands in the west, stretching from the Baltic coast to the Nevėžis river; Dzūkija, in the southeast; and Suvalkija, in the southwest.

The climate is maritime along the coast and continental in other areas. The physical environment varies from sandy terrain spotted with pine trees on the coast and the Curonian Spit, to flatlands and low, rolling hills farther inland. There are more than eight thousand lakes, mostly in the uplands.

The capital, Vilnius, lies in the southwestern part of the country at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers. Vilnius has been the capital since the fourteenth century, except for the period from 1919 to 1939 during Poland’s annexation of southern Lithuania, when it was temporarily moved to Kaunas.

Lithuanian cuisine.

Lithuanian traditional kitchen features the products suited to the cool and moist northern climate of Lithuania: barley, potatoes, rye, beets, greens, berries, and mushrooms are locally grown, and dairy products are one of its specialties  Since it shares its climate and agricultural practices with Eastern Europe, Lithuanian cuisine has much in common with Eastern European (Polish, Ukrainian), and shares some similarities to Scandinavian cuisine also, Hungarian, Romanian, and Georgian cuisines as well as Ashkenazi cuisine. Nevertheless, it has its own distinguishing features, which were formed by a variety of influences during the country’s long and difficult history.

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Because of their common heritage, Lithuanians, Poles, and Ashkenazi Jews share many dishes and beverages. Thus there are similar Lithuanian, Litvak, and Polish versions of dumplings (koldūnai, kreplach or pierogi), doughnuts spurgos or (pączki), and blynai crepes (blintzes). German traditions also influenced Lithuanian cuisine, introducing pork and potato dishes, such as potato pudding (kugelis or kugel) and potato sausages (vėdarai), as well as the baroque tree cake known as Šakotis. The most exotic of all the influences is Eastern (Karaite) cuisine, and the dishes kibinai and čeburekai are popular in Lithuania. Torte Napoleon was introduced during Napoleon’s passage through Lithuania in the 19th century.

The Soviet occupation badly damaged Lithuanian cuisine. As elsewhere in the Soviet Union, however, its people were allowed to maintain their own small garden plots; these were, and are, lovingly tended. After the restoration of independence in 1990, traditional cuisine became one of the ways to celebrate Lithuanian identity.

Lithuanians are a reserved people with respect for tradition. They generally will not go out of their way to greet someone they do not know; people on public conveyances do not look directly at someone else unless they are friends and generally give up their seats to their elders.

People often bring a small gift of candy or flowers when they visit someone (always an odd number of flowers unless someone has passed away). Hosts are generous and do anything they can to make a guest comfortable.

Men always shake the hands of male friends when they meet in a café or on the street but never inside a door. This is one of many superstitions, which include not whistling indoors for fear of calling little devils and not sitting at the corner of a table if one wishes to marry soon.

Art and museums.

Lithuania’s art community is famous for Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911). Čiurlionis was a nationally renowned musician and artist in Lithuania. His symphonic compositions, Jūra (“The sea”) and Miške (“In the forest”), were the first full length pieces from a Lithuanian musician. Jūra (“The sea”) and Miške (“In the forest”) were composed to represent Lithuania’s landscape. After Čiurlionis’s death, the 2420 Čiurlionis asteroid honors his achievements after being discovered in 1975.

A large number of museums exist in Lithuania. The Lithuanian Art Museum was founded in 1933 and is the largest museum of art preservation and display in Lithuania. The Palanga Amber Museum is a subsidiary of the Lithuanian Art Museum. Various amber pieces comprise a major part of the museum. In total, 28,000 pieces of amber are displayed, and about 15,000 contain inclusions of insects, spiders, or plants. Some 4,500 amber pieces in the museum are used for artwork and jewelry. A future museum, Vilnius Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, will present exhibitions of new media art, parts of the New York City anthology film archive, and Fluxus art. The museum is scheduled to open in 2011.

The Lithuanian Museum of Ancient Beekeeping displays various forms of bee hives. The Grūtas Park contains Soviet-era relics and statues including those of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.

Sports

Sporting is governed by the Physical Education and Sports Department following the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Lithuania participated in the Winter Olympics in Albertville and has participated in every Winter and Summer Olympics since.

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There are nearly 80 Olympic and non-Olympic sports federations in Lithuania, and the Lithuanian Union of Sports Federations was founded in 1993 to unite them. An organization, “Sports for All”, was established to promote physical education and a healthy lifestyle for all Lithuanians.

Among the most popular sports in Lithuania are basketball, football, athletics and cycling.

Religion.

Lithuania is mainly Roman Catholic (90 percent), with some Lutherans and a few members of other churches. The Jewish population, was almost completely erased between 1941 and 1944.

Rituals and Holy Places. 

One of the most significant holy places is the Hill of Crosses just north of Šiauliai on the road to Rīga, Latvia. The hill has hundreds of thousands of crosses brought by believers from throughout the country and around the world. Although the Soviets bulldozed the hill several times for its open violation of their anti-religious policy, the crosses always reappeared.

800px-Hill-of-crosses-siauliai

Politics of Lithuania

Politics take place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Lithuania is the head of government, and of a multi-party system.

Executive power is exercised by the government, which is headed by the Prime Minister. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the unicameral Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament). Judicial power is vested in judges appointed by the President of Lithuania and is independent of executive and legislature power. The judiciary consists of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal as well as the separate administrative courts. The Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania established these powers upon its approval on October 25, 1992. Being a multi-party system, the government of Lithuania is not dominated by any single political party, rather it consists of numerous parties that must work with each other to form coalition governments.

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