In order to understand Lithuania and the nation’s people better, it is a good idea to learn something about its rich history. The long and fascinating history of Lithuania dates back thousands of years, as local Lithuanians are ancestors of the Balts, whose first settlement dates to around 200 BC.
The Grand Duke Gediminas reigned from 1316 to 1341 and is recognized as founding Vilnius at the joining of Neris and Vilnia rivers. Despite the founding of the capital city, Lithuania did not reach its height until the rule of the Grand Duke Vytautas, who ruled from 1392 to 1430.
The duke strengthened the foundations for a European and Catholic state, while at the same time, he drove back the Turks. He almost succeeded in extending Lithuania’s borders all the way to the Black Sea.
Lithuania began to enter into European culture and in 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom was established, while in 1579, the region’s oldest university, Vilnius University, was founded. The Lithuanian-Polish union came under threat from Prussia, Austria, and Russia at the end of the 18th century, with most of Lithuania being annexed by Russia in 1795. The new rulers tried to make the country ‘more Russian’ by closing Vilnius University and banning the publication of Lithuanian books. In the late 1800s, vicious persecution and dire economic circumstances forced thousands of Lithuanian to leave their home country.
There was limited armed resistance against the Soviets for several years after WWII and finally, on 11 March 1990, the Republic of Lithuania was declared. After Moscow control collapsed, Lithuania gained international acknowledgment and was included in the United Nations in 1991.
In February 1993, Lithuanians voted unanimously in favor of Algirdas Brazauskas to become the first elected president of Lithuania. Also, in 1993, their own currency, the litas, was reintroduced, the last Russian soldier left the country and Lithuania became a member of the Council of Europe.