History of Lithuania
In preparing for the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minister Audronius Ažubalis) appealed to the scholars at Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science who have been studying the politics of history for many years (professors Raimundas Lopata, Alvydas Jokubaitis, Vytautas Radžvilas, and others), asking them to compile a concise, easy-to-read work of Lithuanian history based on the criteria of truth and openness. Its purpose is to unfold our country’s historical path to the reader - citizens of the European Union in particular – in a clear and understandable way. The long, victorious, sometimes difficult or even tragic path which the founders of the Lithuanian state conquered by leading the nation’s people through different periods and government structures, through pits of occupations and the ups and downs of restored independence – from the very first time the name of Lithuania was mentioned in one of the European chronicles in 1009 to the country’s metamorphosis to a full-fledged member of the European Union in 2004.
ANCIENT BALTS AND EMERGENCE
OF THE LITHUANIAN STATE
In science, the Balts are usually considered a group of Indo-European tribes and nations who live or lived on
the Baltic Sea’s eastern coast and speak or spoke related languages that form a separate branch of the Indo-European language family. This branch is today represented only by the still-spoken Lithuanian and Latvian languages. The Balts and their Lithuanian and Latvian predecessors have led a settled life by the Baltic Sea for at least four thousand years. As a result, they are sometimes considered among the most settled and oldest European nations. Baltic tribes started forming at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, when Indo-European newcomers subdued and assimilated local people. The territory inhabited by the Baltic tribes stretched from the Vistula River to the Dnieper and Oka Rivers in the east in the 1st millennium AD. The Slavs’ expansion started later, in the second half of the 1st millennium, and determined the assimilation of the eastern Baltic tribes.
The Prussian, Yotvingian, Lithuanian and Latvian nations started forming in the early 2nd millennium, but only Lithuanian and Latvian nations emerged. The Prussians and Yotvingians were conquered and assimilated by the Teutonic Order, which later founded the state of Prussia. The Baltic tribes’ settled way of life probably determined that Baltic mythology has a number of features typical of ancient Indo-European mythology and elements of it are still found in folklore. Interest in Baltic mythology has grown. The Lithuanian language most strongly retained the ancient sound system among all still-spoken Indo-European languages, with many morphological peculiarities characteristic of extinct or currently unspoken languages such as Hittite, ancient Greek and Sanskrit. Famous French linguist Antoine Meillet (1866–1936) once said, “If one wants to know how our ancestors spoke, they have to come and hear the Lithuanian country people speaking.” As Lithuania adopted Christianity relatively late, our folk culture and traditions are abundant in archaic elements pertaining to pagan times. They are also present in the customs of Christian religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter and other. It could be asserted that pagan celebrations are just “covered” by a layer of Christian holidays. Existing ancient elements determine the peculiarity of Lithuanian folklore and folk art.