In September of 1991, following failed coup in Moscow the previous month, USSR recognized Lithuania’s independence. In 1993, Russia withdrew all the Soviet troops from the Baltic Region, starting with Lithuania.
The first years of independence turned out to be harsh. The country faced the same problems as the most post-Soviet countries did – the hardships of transition to free market, the flourishing bureaucracy and the organized crime. However, by 1995, the police had managed to put the villains in jail. Key state institutions, including telecommunications and passenger sea-lines, were privatized and the government gave way to the development of the business sector. The first skyscrapers were built in Vilnius in 2000.
In 1992, the new constitution was introduced and the presidential republic was established. Everybody who had lived in Lithuania by the time it restored independence (1990), was allowed to get the Lithuanian citizenship (regardless of ethnicity or language skills). Therefore, Lithuania avoided the problem of stateless people that plagued Latvia and Estonia.
From the very start, the Lithuanian government turned to the West aiming to get membership in the EU and NATO. Despite the political and economical challenges through the shifts of the governments, Lithuania was firmly keeping the aspiration to the North-Atlantic integration. The readiness for becoming the member of the alliance coincided with the NATO’s own search for the new identity after the Cold War. Several factors, like the relatively small ethnic Russian population and the limited border with Russia, made Lithuania a strong candidate for the alliance. More importantly, the Lithuanian government adopted and implemented well-thought plans to persuade both internal audience and the international community in the necessity of NATO enlargement. On one hand, Vilnius tried to convince the NATO members in the benefits of accepting Lithuania in the organization, and on the other – assure Moscow, it would not bring any threats to Russian security.
In March of 2001, President Adamkus met Putin in Moscow. A wide range of the sectors was discussed for the bilateral relations, including commercial, economic, scientific, humanitarian and cultural. The joint statement declared, “The Parties recognize the right of each and every state to choose its security arrangements, committing at the same time not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other states.” Although President Adamkus announced that Lithuania’s membership in NATO will actually benefit Russia’s security and economic interests, he also asserted that “Accepting Lithuania into NATO is a formal declaration politically that we are free, and declaring ourselves free forever.”
After the terrorist attack of 9/11, the doubts of the West leaders for the necessity of enlargement in the Baltic region were diminished. Moscow had also reevaluated its positions. Mr. Putin stated that if the alliance became a political, rather than military organization, and if Russia were to feel involved in such processes, it would reconsider opposition.
In November of 2002, during the NATO summit in Prague, Lithuania was formally invited to join the alliance. It became a member in the March of 2004, followed by the acceptance in the EU in May. In November, Lithuania became the first country to ratify the EU’s new constitution.
Despite the domestic financial crisis of 2009, Lithuania has maintained one of the lowest ratios of government debt to GDP in the EU. In response to the crisis, Lithuania swiftly enacted austerity. From 2009 to 2013, the government slashed spending by 10.5 percentage points of GDP. According to the 2014 numbers, GDP per capita (PPP) counts for 25 000 US dollars (in comparison with 7582 in Georgia). In the last decade, the gross domestic product was almost doubled.
Russia is the main destination for the Lithuanian exports, mainly machinery, cars, cheese, and wine. Other trade partners include – Estonia, the UK, and Germany. The greatest part of the export (22 %) is occupied by the refined petroleum, followed by fertilizers and wheat, according to the 2012 statistics. By becoming a member of the Eurozone in the beginning of 2015, Lithuania hopes for the greater diversification of the market.
Lithuania’s wages are among the lowest in the EU. For example, the highest annual income of the secondary school teacher can be 7 000 Euros, comparing 138 00 Euros for teachers in Luxemburg.
One of the biggest problems of the modern Lithuania is emigration, caused by the permission to live and work in the other EU countries. The population was estimated to be 2.92 million people in 2014, almost one million less than in 2011.
The current president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite is not only the first woman president of the country but also the first president who was elected to two consecutive terms. A few weeks ago, regarding the anti-ISIS alliance, she declared that “Lithuania won’t join any new coalitions that include Russia or that Russia wants to be part of,” while Russia “still occupies the territory of another country and is carrying out military actions in two countries. That is, in Ukraine and Georgia.”
Author: Tamuna Jibuti