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Lithuania - People

With a total population of 3.394.000, according to official estimates, 83.5 percent of Lithuania's population consisted of ethnic Lithuanians. The remaining 16.5 percent was divided among Russians (6.3 percent, down from 8.5 percent in 1994), Poles (6.7 percent), Belarusians (1.2 percent), and others, including Jews, Latvians, Tatars, Gypsies, Germans, and Estonians. Altogether, people of more than 115 nationalities live in Lithuania.

The Lithuanian language and the kindred Latvian language belong to the Baltic group of Indo-European languages. Out of all the living Indo-European languages, Lithuanian has best retained its ancient system of phonetics and most of its morphological features. Since the 19th century, when similarity between Lithuanian and Sanskrit was discovered, Lithuanians take a particular pride in their mother tongue as the oldest living Indo-European language. To this day, some people base their own understanding of ethnic identity on linguistic identity.

Lithuanians proudly quote the French linguist Antoine Meillet, who said that anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant. One can also safely say that Lithuanian is the language that cannot be understood by a foreign speaker if he has not learnt it. Moreover, even users of the two main dialects Auktaiciu (Highland Lithuanian) and Žemaiciu (Lowland/Samogitian Lithuanian) can hardly understand each other, unless they use Standard Lithuanian. Linguists divide the main dialects into numerous sub-dialects, forms of speech which have been preserved to this day. This is a unique phenomenon in all Europe.

Unlike Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania's cultural development was affected by Poland rather than Germany. The imperial Russian regime had an enormous impact on Lithuania from 1795 to 1915, and the Soviet Union had similar influence from 1940 to 1991. Direct contacts with western Europe also made significant contributions beginning in the sixteenth century. Lithuanian nobility in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and Lithuanian intellectuals since the turn of the twentieth century brought back ideas and experiences from Italy, Germany, and France. Also, between the two world wars independent Lithuania's direct communication with western Europe affected the development of educational and religious institutions, the arts and literature, architecture, and social thought. Lithuania's historical heritage and the imprint of the Western outlook acquired in the twentieth century were strong enough to make Soviet citizens feel that by going to Lithuania they were going abroad, to the West.

Like Latvian and Old Prussian, the Lithuanian language belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family. The size of the territory in which Lithuanian was spoken shrank considerably through the ages. Today it is roughly coterminous with the boundaries of Lithuania except for some areas of Lithuanian speakers in Poland and Belarus, and except for the diaspora living in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Latin America, Australia, and even Siberia.

The medieval Lithuanian rulers did not develop a written form of the Lithuanian language. The literary Lithuanian language, based on a southwestern Lithuanian dialect, came into use during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, replacing the use of the Samogitian, or western Lithuanian, dialect. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the use of Lithuanian was confined mainly to the peasantry, but the language was revived subsequently. In 1988 it was declared the official language of Lithuania, as it had been during 1918-40 and the early years of Soviet rule.

The average Lithuanian family is still somewhat larger than families in the neighboring Baltic states, but it has been declining. The average family size shrank to 3.2 by 1989. People marry young, but their marriages are often quickly dissolved. The divorce rate has been increasing. In 1989, of 9.3 marriages per 1,000 population, there were 3.3 divorces. The highest divorce rate is among ethnic Russians and in ethnically mixed families. These statistics indicate the existence of social problems with which society has been ill equipped to deal. Churches are not allowed to intervene to address these problems, and the profession of social work is still virtually nonexistent. The postcommunist government must face the formidable task of developing a social work sector.

What About the Russians?

Lithuania does not border Russia. In 1979, ethnic Lithuanians comprised 80 percent of the population, and 9 percent were Russians. Ten years later, the Lithuanian and Russian shares remained essentially the same. Russian colonization began in the 18th century, but the greatest migration of ethnic Russians followed World War II. In 1989, a law designating Lithuanian as the official state language of the republic was passed. The share of Russian speakers in the total population decreased from 59 to 47 percent between 1979 and 1989, while the share of Lithuanian speakers remained at roughly the 85-percent level.

By 1991 the proportion of Russians who spoke Lithuanian was nearly equal to the proportion of Lithuanians who spoke Russian. Russians were disproportionately represented in the traditionally higher-paying sectors such as industry and transport, while Lithuanian presence in the lower paying sectors such as culture, art, education, and government exceeded their population share. This pattern was repeated in most non-Russian republics of the former Soviet Union, reflecting earlier Soviet policy of dispatching skilled Russians to the republics to staff new industrial enterprises.

Lithuania's small (five percent) Russian minority plays no significant role in domestic politics. When Lithuania regained its independence, ethnic Russians living here were able to apply for Lithuanian citizenship, which has allowed Lithuania to avoid ethnic tensions that have troubled the other Baltic states. The Russian minority consists of old and new immigrants. Many Russians settled in Lithuania in the nineteenth century or in the early twentieth century, shortly after the Bolsheviks came to power in Moscow. Two-thirds of the Russian minority, however, are immigrants--or their descendants--of the Soviet era, many of whom regard Lithuania as their homeland. They usually live in larger cities. In Vilnius 20.2 percent of the population was Russian in 1989. The same year, in Klaipeda, 28.2 percent of the inhabitants were Russians; in Siauliai, 10.5 percent. Ignalina, where the nuclear power plant was located, had a Russian majority of 64.2 percent.

Development of demographic processes in Lithuania for over 20 years is negative, and in recent years the country has recorded perhaps the most intense decline in population in the EU. This is due to intensive emigration - every hour from leaving Lithuania for 4-5 people per year - about 35 thousand people.. Since 1990, Lithuania has lost nearly 900 thousand. Residents, and now the country will live just 2.86 million. Population Reduction contributed not only to the emigration, but also a low level of fertility. It is not guaranteed generational change - 10 Women account for about 16 children, and need to be at least 21. In Lithuania, also inadequately high mortality rate - mortality rates among men are the worst in the EU; sluggish return migration - in 2014 reemigrirovali 19.5 thousand, in 2015 -. 18.4 thousand people.. Meanwhile, immigration has declined: in 2014 the profit of 4.8 thousand in the country, and in 2015 - 3.7 thousand immigrants.

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Page last modified: 21-10-2016 18:41:54 ZULU