Lithuania (/ˌlɪθuːˈeɪniə/ or /ˌlɪθjuːˈeɪniə/; Lithuanian: Lietuva), officially the Republic of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Respublika) is a country in Northern Europe, the largest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of theBaltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark. It borders Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and a Russian exclave(Kaliningrad Oblast) to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 3.2 million as of 2011, and its capital and largest city is Vilnius. The Lithuanians are aBaltic people, and the official language, Lithuanian, is one of only two living languages (together with Latvian) in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.
For centuries, the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea was inhabited by variousBaltic tribes. In the 1230s the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, who was crowned as King of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the first Lithuanian state, on 6 July 1253. During the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe: present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russiawere territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. With the Lublin Union of 1569, Lithuania and Poland formed a voluntary two-state union, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighboring countries systematically dismantled it from 1772 to 1795, with the Russian Empireannexing most of Lithuania’s territory.
In the aftermath of World War I, Lithuania’s Act of Independence was signed on 16 February 1918, declaring the re-establishment of a sovereign state. Starting in 1940, Lithuania was occupied first by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end in 1944 and the Germans retreated, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania.
On 11 March 1990, the year before the break-up of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence. Prior to the global financial crisis of 2007–2010, Lithuania had one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union. Lithuania is a member of NATO, the Council of Europe, and theEuropean Union. Lithuania is also a full member of the Schengen Agreement. The United Nations Human Development Index lists Lithuania as a “Very High Human Development” country. In 2011, Lithuania hosted the European men’s basketball championship, EuroBasket 2011, and the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting.
For smaller countries like Lithuania, international trade and economic cooperation in general is of predominant importance for economic development. The forced reorientation of Lithuania’s trade after its incorporation into the USSR resulted in a complete destruction of Lithuania’s economic ties with the West (mainly United Kingdom and Germany). As a result of occupation, Lithuania was forced to forego multiple benefits flowing from foreign trade in general and the cooperation with the advanced market economies in particular. Only about 2 percent of its trade was with the West at the start of the post-Soviet independence in 1990.
With the international trade-to-GDP ratio at the level of some 90 percent, Lithuania is a strongly outward-oriented economy as of 2000. Its foreign trade is liberalized and regulated largely via market economy instruments known in the West and approved by the World Trade Organization (WTO) of which Lithuania is a member. The earlier licensing and foreign exchange surrender requirements have been repealed. Over two-thirds of the Lithuanian imports enter duty free; the rest face 5 to 15 percent duties, becoming more and more uniform as required by the WTO. By 2000, Lithuania maintained economic relations with over 160 countries. The country has bilateral trade treaties with 22 nations. However, accounting for almost one-quarter of Lithuania’s trade turnover , Russia remains a major trade partner. Part of the Lithuanian output decline during transition was due to too slow a reorientation of trade away from the former Soviet Union (FSU) and towards the West. Foreign direct investment into Lithuania is still rather modest due to this and related factors having to do with instability in Russia and elsewhere in the FSU but also shortcomings of the Lithuanian reforms and some communist legacies.
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