Lithuanians - Orientation

Identification. Lithuania is a Baltic nation bounded on the west by the Baltic Sea, on the north by Latvia, on the east and south by Belarus, and on the southwest by Poland and Russia. The ethnonym "Lietuva" is the Lithuanian term for "Lithuania" and "Litva" is the Russian term.

Location. Lithuania lies at 54° to 56° 30′ N by 21° to 26° 30′ E and covers an area of 64,445 square kilometers. It is a low plain with glacial moraines and is covered by meadows, forests (25 percent of the land), peat bogs, and swamps (7 percent of the land). Lithuania has 3,000 lakes, and its rivers drain into the Baltic Sea. The country's major natural resources include dolomite, gypsum, peat, limestone, gravel, sand, clay, and amber. Its climate is quite moderate, owing to its proximity to the Baltic Sea—the average January temperature is -4.8° C, and the average July temperature is 17.2° C. Annual precipitation normally varies between 58 and 79 centimeters, peaking in August.

Demography. The Lithuanian population has undergone significant fluctuations owing to two world wars and to Nazi and Soviet occupations. By 1939, when the Soviets took control, the Nazis had deported or caused the emigration of 200,000 to 300,000 of the approximately 3,000,000 people in Lithuania. Fear of the Soviets caused many Lithuanians to emigrate to the West during World War II. The Soviets implemented large deportations in 1940-1941 and 1946-1950; dispersals, killings, and concentration camps were used to gain obedience. This policy resulted in a decline of 500,000 in the population of Lithuania. By 1970, the Lithuanian population had rebounded to 3,100,000, though only 80.1 percent of these were ethnic Lithuanians—the balance were Russians, Poles, Byelorussians, Gypsies, and others who had entered from the Soviet Union. In 1992 the population was estimated at 3,700,000, of whom 79.6 percent were ethnic Lithuanians. The average annual rate of natural increase is 0.4 percent, and the birth rate is 15 per 1,000 people. Approximately 70 percent of the population is urban, a percentage that is increasing annually; many people are moving to the planned cities of Alytus, Kapsukas, Plunge, Utena, and others. The capital, Vilnius, has a population of 587,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Lithuanian language belongs to the Baltic (or Letto-Lithuanian) Branch of the Indo-European Language Family. The close relationship of this language to Latvian mirrors an overall similarity of the Lithuanian and Latvian cultures. In common with all Baltic languages, Lithuanian preserves several Proto-Indo-European language characteristics, including the distinction of dual number for nouns and verbs.

The Lithuanian language is written using the Roman alphabet and additional diacritical marks. After the 1863 rebellion, the Russians retaliated by forbidding the printing of anything in the Roman alphabet (1864-1904), and the use of the Cyrillic script was encouraged instead. The Lithuanians responded by printing most of their literature during that period with the Roman alphabet in the Prussian-dominated region of Lithuania and by smuggling books and publications across the border.

Lithuania has had a literary language since the sixteenth century. The first of these was used only for religious writings until the end of the eighteenth century; it differed from later standards in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. By the early nineteenth century, three literary dialects had emerged, each used in a different part of the country.

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