Today marks the 100th anniversary of Lithuania’s independence, achieved with the signing of the Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania. Though this initial freedom lasted just twenty-two years before the incorporation into the Soviet Union, it remains Lithuania’s primary celebration of sovereignty. In fact, when Lithuania separated from the USSR in 1990, the country asserted that the Act had never lapsed, and the nation was simply restoring its original state of independence. To celebrate the occasion, here’s ten interesting facts you might not know about Lithuania!
1 – There is a theme park in Lithuania which recreates life as a USSR citizen. Visitors have their belongings confiscated, have to wear gas masks, experience interrogation, and must learn the Soviet anthem. At the end of the three-hour experience, their reward is a shot of vodka.
2 – According to a study conducted by French scientist Jean-George Affholder in 1989, Lithuania is at the geographical center of Europe. To calculate this, the method used was that of the centre of gravity of the geometrical figure of Europe.
3 – There is a small neighbourhood of Vilnius, Užupis, which has declared itself an independent republic. It has its own flag, currency, president, cabinet, and an army of 11 men. The statehood of the republic is considered a tongue-in-cheek prank, an idea supported by the fact that its independence day falls on April Fool’s Day. The Constitution of this Republic also has articles like “A dog has the right to be a dog” and “People have the right to have no rights”.
4 – The national animal is the stork. Lithuania has one of the largest stork population in any European country, and more specifically the highest nesting density in the world for this bird. Many Lithuanians superstitiously believe that storks bring luck and harmony to the families near which they nest.
5 – Lithuania’s Act of Reinstating Independence was lost soon after its ratification in 1918. It was only in 2017 that the original was discovered in Germany’s diplomatic archives.
6 – Up until 2002, women in Lithuania were required to undergo a gynecological examination before obtaining a driver’s license. Some officials argued that this requirement for women, which dates from Soviet times, should be kept, because some gynecological diseases can cause sudden pains and even temporary loss of consciousness.
7 – On the 23 August 1989, around 2 million citizens from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia joined hands in a human chain that stretched 600 kilometres across the 3 Baltic countries. Only a few months after these events, which formed part of the so-called Singing Revolution, Lithuania became the first country to declare independence from the Soviet Union.
8 – In Eurovision 2006, Lithuania sent a mocking song called We Are The Winners where they repeatedly said ‘We are the winners of Eurovision’ and ‘You gotta vote for the winners!’. They ended up placing 6th, and the song became the first platinum single in Lithuania in 4 years. They also made a World Cup version of that song, even though Lithuania hadn’t qualified for it.
9 – The Lithuanian language is one of the oldest spoken languages in the world. It belongs to the Baltic group of the Indo-European family of languages and it even has words, such as vyras (man), šuo (dog), avis (sheep) which cognate in Sanskrit. This means that Lithuanians can recognize some words while listening to Indian languages.
10 – By the end of the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe and included present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia.