|Preface Last Updated: 2/28/2002
What a tiny drop of amber is my country, a transparent golden
crystal by the sea. S. Neris
Lithuania, a small and beautiful country on the coast of the
Baltic Sea, has often inspired artists. From poets to amber
jewelers, painters to musicians, and composers to basketball
champions — Lithuania has them all. Ancient legends and modern ideas
coexist in this green and vibrant land.
Lithuania is strategically located as a gateway between the
European Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States. It sits
astride both sea and land routes connecting North to South and East
to West. The uniqueness of its location is revealed in the variety
of architecture, history, art, folk tales, local crafts, and even
the restaurants of the capital city Vilnius.
Lithuania was the last European country to embrace Roman
Catholicism and yet has one of the oldest living languages on earth.
Foreign and local investment is modernizing the face of the country
and still the diverse cultural life includes folk song festivals,
outdoor markets, and mid-summer celebrations as well as opera,
ballet and drama. This blend of traditional with a strong desire to
become part of the new community of nations in Europe makes
Lithuania a truly vibrant and exciting place to live.
Occasionally confusing and frustrating, Lithuania is always
interesting. You will sense the history around you and see history
in the making as you enjoy a tour in this unique and unforgettable
The Host Country
Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Lithuania, covering an area of 26,173 square miles, is the
largest of the three Baltic States, slightly larger than West
Virginia. The country lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea
at approximately the same latitude as Denmark and Scotland.
Lithuania's neighbors are Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east
and south, and Poland and the Kaliningrad region of the Russian
Federation to the south and southwest. Lithuanians believe that the
geographical center of the European continent lies 20 kilometers
north of Vilnius, the capital.
A country known for its agrarian and wooded beauty, Lithuania is
characterized by flat plains and rolling hills. The highest hill,
Kruopine, is only 900 feet above sea level. Roughly one-fourth of
the territory is covered by woodlands, consisting mainly of pine,
spruce, and birch. One of the oldest oak trees in Europe, found in
eastern Lithuania, is said to be about 1,500 years old. The forests
are home to a variety of animals including elk, foxes, and wild
boar; hunting is a popular pastime. Lithuanians especially enjoy
mushroom collecting and berry picking.
More than 700 rivers and creeks crisscross Lithuania. The largest
river, the Nemunas, was once a strategically important shipping
route through Lithuania. Its banks are dotted with castles and
fortresses. There are numerous lakes, especially in eastern
Lithuania, where the Aukstatija National Park is located. This
region is home to the Ignalina nuclear power plant, which exports
electricity to other countries in the region.
Lithuania's climate is moderate. Summer brings average
temperatures of 65°F (afternoon highs in the 70s and 80s) and
plentiful rain. July is the warmest month. Summer days are long,
with only a few hours of darkness. Winters tend to be cold, damp,
and overcast. Temperatures average about 30°F, and days are very
short. Average annual precipitation amounts to about 26 inches.
Population Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The Republic of Lithuania is home to 3,750,000 people.
Approximately 82% are ethnically Lithuanian; 8% Russian or
Russian-speaking; 7% Polish; and the remaining 3% are Belarusians,
Ukrainians, Latvians, Germans, and other nationalities.
The capital, Vilnius, with 650,000 inhabitants, has an
international flavor, as many residents are ethnic Russians and
Poles. Other major cities are Kaunas, the interwar capital (430,000
inhabitants), the port city of Klaipeda (206,000), Siauliai
(148,000), and Panevezys (130,000). Sixty-eight percent of the
population lives in cities and towns.
Public Institutions Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
On the leading edge of the processes that led to the
disintegration of the Soviet Union, Lithuania today faces great
challenges as it builds a democratic state and struggles to rid
itself of the legacy of 50 years of Soviet domination.
Lithuanians have a long historical memory. They recall the
glorious medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which reached its zenith
under the rule of Grand Duke Vytautas the Great. It was he and
Jagiello (Jogaila in Lithuanian), King of Poland and the Grand Duchy
of Lithuania, respectively, who led the joint Polish-Lithuanian
troops to victory against the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of
Tannenberg/Gruenwald (Zalgiris, in Lithuanian) in 1410 and stopped
the medieval German drive eastward. Under Vytautas, the territory of
the Grand Duchy extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
After Vytautas' death, the political importance of the Grand
Duchy slowly declined. In 1569, to counter the growing strength of
the Russian state, the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy were
formally united in a Commonwealth. The head of that union was
elected King by the nobility. Following a series of partitions in
the 18th century, this Commonwealth was wiped off the European map
in 1795 as Russia, Austria, and Prussia partitioned its lands. Most
of Lithuania fell under Russian rule, while a smaller portion near
the Baltic coast was appropriated by Prussia.
For the next 123 years, Lithuania experienced intense repression
and Russification. Vilnius University was closed (1832), and the
Latin alphabet was banned (1864). But as repression increased, so
did the determination of a growing Lithuanian intelligentsia to
retain Lithuanian culture, language, and traditions.
Taking advantage of the political turmoil in Russia near the end
of the First World War, Lithuania declared independence on February
16, 1918. Wars to affirm this independence were fought against the
Red Army, the Polish Army, and combined German-Russian mercenary
forces, which plundered broad areas in the Baltic States. Polish
occupation of the Vilnius region in 1920 was a breach of the Treaty
of Suwalki with Poland, which confirmed Lithuanian rights to
Vilnius. This step hopelessly strained Polish-Lithuanian relations
between the wars. It rendered cooperation in the face of greater
menaces in 1939 impossible.
During the interwar years of independence, Kaunas became the
provisional capital. Lithuania reached a living standard equal to
that of Denmark and had one of the most stable currencies in the
Lithuanian independence was to be short lived. The secret
Molotov-Ribbentrop protocols between Germany and the U.S.S.R. led to
Soviet occupation in June 1940. During this first occupation,
large-scale repression took place, and about 40,000 people were
exiled to Siberia. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in
1941, the Lithuanians attempted to reestablish an independent
republic by revolting against the Soviets. In the face of the German
Occupation, this effort failed. Under Nazi control, more than
200,000 Jews were murdered (95% of the Jewish population of
Lithuania); the highest proportion in Europe. This genocide wiped
out a major center of Jewish culture and learning that had thrived
in Vilnius (the "Jerusalem of the North") since the Middle Ages.
Tens of thousands of Lithuanians were deported to the Reich for
Soviet troops and terror returned in 1944. Another 250,000
Lithuanians were deported to the Siberian Gulag. Over 100,000 lives
were lost in a guerrilla war against the Soviets that lasted until
1953. Virtually no family was left untouched by the horrors of the
Second World War and the Soviet Occupation.
Lithuania spent the next 45 years as a Soviet Republic. The
Soviets restored lands occupied by Poland and Germany in the
interwar and wartime years. Lithuanian exiles in the West,
especially the U.S., kept the flame of an independent nation alive,
along with Lithuania's culture and traditions. The Lithuanian
diplomatic service continued to function in countries (including the
U.S.) that refused to recognize Lithuania's incorporation into the
U.S.S.R. Inside Lithuania, many Lithuanians attempted to resist
Sovietization. Armed resistance (the so-called "forest brothers")
continued sporadically until the early 1950s. Lithuania resisted
much of the Soviet-imposed industrialization, sparing itself the
large influx of Russian workers that occurred in Estonia and Latvia.
Despite these modest successes, life under the Soviets was hard.
Moscow repressed any expression of Lithuanian national aspirations.
Travel to the West was very difficult.
In the late 1980s, Gorbachev's policy of "perestroika" allowed
the deeply hidden aspirations of the Lithuanian nation to surface. "Sajudis,"
a movement that began in support of perestroika, quickly snowballed
into a full-fledged drive for independence. Despite warnings and
threats from the Kremlin, Lithuanians, led by a distinguished
musicologist, Vytautas Landsbergis, reclaimed their independence
when the new, democratically elected Supreme Council voted on March
11, 1990, to reestablish the Lithuanian Republic.
The country persevered in its independence movement despite an
economic blockade imposed by Moscow and Soviet Army operations that
left 23 dead in 1991. The collapse of the Moscow coup in August 1991
led to international, including Russian, recognition of Lithuania's
independence. Foreign embassies began to open in the fall of that
The U.S. and others never recognized Lithuania's forced
incorporation into the U.S.S.R. and maintained continuous ties with
representatives of the interwar government in exile. The U.S.
resumed diplomatic relations with an in-country government in
Lithuania's present struggle to transform itself into a
free-market democracy has shown considerable progress but is still
incomplete. As in other central and Eastern European countries, the
society has been buffeted by economic dislocation, weak markets, a
crumbling infrastructure, a bloated public sector, and a shallow
understanding of working democracy.
In the fall of 1992, Lithuanians elected a new Seimas
(Parliament). The Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (formerly the
Lithuanian Communist Party) won the largest percentage of votes and
the majority of seats in the new Seimas. In February 1993, party
chief Algirdas Brazauskas decisively won the race for the newly
established position of President. He became the fourth person to
hold that title and the first to be elected by direct popular vote.
The opposition in the Seimas, made up of Sajudis deputies, Christian
Democrats, and their allies, was headed by former parliamentary
chairman Vytautas Landsbergis.
Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
"Folk art is the foundation of a nation's artistic tradition,"
said Mykolajus Ciurlionis (1875-1911), Lithuania's most renowned
painter and composer. Since Lithuania has traditionally been an
agrarian society, most of its folk art has been created by peasants.
It has a rich tradition of music, dance, folklore, architecture,
wooden sculpture, and applied folk arts. Currently there is intense
research on authentic folk culture. Many ethnographic ensembles,
both professional and amateur, perform the music and songs that have
accompanied the simple people throughout life.
Song and music remain important means of expression for the
Lithuanian people today. The struggle for independence from the
Soviet Union was characterized by many as the "Singing Revolution."
Unarmed, the people faced down the military might of the Soviets by
standing side by side, drawing strength from the lyrical songs of
During the Soviet period, cultural life was subsidized and
censored by the government. However, excellence was achieved in many
of the performing arts, including classical music, opera, ballet,
and theater. Released from the censor's shackles and responding more
directly to the public's tastes and needs, the fine arts and music
scene has developed in new, different directions. Especially notable
for excellence are the Lithuanian State Youth Theater, the Vilnius
Little Theater, the Vilnius Academic Theater, and the Kaunas
Lithuania has a very high literacy rate, and the nation reveres
its poets and writers. The situation in publishing reflects an
intense interest in translations of internationally known authors
and genres that once were forbidden.
Lithuania was at the forefront of science and technology in the
former Soviet Union. Although much of the work in these fields was a
part of the Soviet military-industrial complex, the achievements by
certain specialists in certain fields (mainly mathematics, physics,
and natural science) were notable.
The educational system is broken down into preschool, elementary
school (4 years), middle school (up to 9- or 12-year programs),
trade schools, and schools of higher education. Vilnius also has
numerous Polish and Russian general education schools. Children
enter elementary school at age 6, and education is compulsory until
age 16. There are 16 schools of higher education. These include
universities, technical schools, pedagogical institutes, and art
Vilnius University, founded in 1579 by Jesuits, is the oldest and
largest higher education institution in the country, with an
enrollment of 13,000. Broad educational reform is under way.
Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
During the 50 years of occupation, the economy was completely
integrated into and subordinated to the centralized Soviet system.
In 1991, the economy went into a tailspin as old ties dried up,
payment systems broke down, and new markets were slow in emerging.
Historically, Lithuanians were a farming people. The Soviets
forced the collectivization of agriculture and excessively rapid
industrialization in the 1950s and 1960s. The Supreme Council passed
legislation in 1992 to privatize agriculture and implement a system
of restitution for property seized during the Soviet Era. As a
result, there were 134,000 private farmers in 1994, farming about
32% of arable land. Production dropped as a result of dislocation
due to the changes and uncertainty among farmers about markets for
their produce. Under Soviet rule, Lithuania overproduced domestic
needs for meat and dairy products by 150% and exported the surplus
to the Moscow and Leningrad market.
The dominant sectors in industry are chemicals and food
processing. Machine building and metal works have been developed.
Light industry produces textiles, knitwear, electronics, furniture,
plywood, building materials, and paper.
Lithuania produces enough electrical power for its own needs and
exports about 40% of its output. In addition to the Ignalina nuclear
power plant, there are other facilities for producing electricity
with oil, gas, and hydropower. The Mazeikiai oil refinery produces
refined petroleum products for domestic use and export. Crude oil is
imported almost exclusively from Russia.
In addition to electricity and refined oil products, Lithuania's
exports include food (mainly meat and dairy products), machinery and
parts, and light industrial products. Major imports include crude
oil, gas, metals, chemicals, machinery, consumer goods, and feed
grain. Trade has shifted dramatically to the West, which accounts
for about 60% of Lithuania's foreign commerce.
Lithuania became a member of the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund in 1992. Together with Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania
is a member of the Baltic Council. Lithuania has close ties with the
Nordic Council and most international and regional economic
Lithuania's economy continues to undergo a structural
transformation. More than 80% of enterprises have been privatized,
with the major exceptions in the energy and telecommunications
sectors. Foreign investment remains modest, although the U.S. has
been one of the largest sources. Major U.S. companies active in
Lithuania include Philip Morris, McDonald's, IBM, US West and
Williams Oil Company.
To aid in the transition to a market economy and democratic
society, the U.S. Government has initiated hundreds of programs in
Lithuania. The goal is to ease the difficult transition from a
command economy to a free-market system. USAID started its operation
in Lithuania in 1992. To date, USAID has spent $45 million in the
areas of banking and finance, energy, enterprise development,
agriculture, legal reform, environment, and strengthening democratic
Automobiles Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The main roads and highways between major cities are serviceable.
One must take considerable care while driving off the intercity
highways, as slow, horse-drawn vehicles and large potholes are
common hazards. During the winter months, snow and freezing
conditions add to the driving hazards, as the roads are not well
plowed. Snow tires or studded tires are a must, and front-wheel or
four-wheel drive is recommended. Almost all American personnel at
post have imported or locally purchased private autos. This is the
preferred mode of transport over the crowded buses. Auto rental from
private vendors for specific trips has worked well for those not
owning a car. Gasoline is available nationwide, both lower octane
and higher octane unleaded. Prices are comparable to current U.S.
prices. Parts and repairs for U.S.-made vehicles remain a problem.
There are many car dealers in Lithuania, including Mercedes, Ford,
Honda, Volvo, VW, and Mazda. Charges for maintenance and repair at
the dealerships are surprisingly high and replacement parts are
expensive. Crime is a concern for owners of late-model vehicles,
especially expensive sport/recreation vehicles.
Theft of such vehicles is not uncommon. Used cars can be
purchased at post or easily imported from Western Europe. Local cars
are easily and affordably serviced and the risk of theft is greatly
An international drivers license is recommended, especially for
travel outside of Lithuania. Third-party-liability insurance can be
purchased at post for all of Europe or just for Lithuania. Collision
insurance is usually obtained from the U.S.
The Mission arranges for registration and plates for those on the
MFA's diplomatic, consular, administrative, and technical list.
Department of State guidelines regarding sales of autos apply.
Local Transportation Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The local transportation system includes electric trolley buses
and diesel buses. They run regularly during the day throughout the
city, but there are drawbacks: They are slow, often break down, and
are terribly overcrowded at rush hours. Mini-buses also run regular
routes throughout the city and are inexpensive. Radio-dispatched
cabs are still relatively inexpensive ($3-$8 to virtually anywhere
in the city).
Regional Transportation Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Intercity buses and trains are not geared for the comfort
oriented or speed oriented, except the express train between Kaunas
and Vilnius. The overnight train to St. Petersburg is acceptable;
reserving the entire compartment is recommended. Trains to Warsaw
depart throughout the day.
Lithuanian Airlines, LOT (to Warsaw), Lufthansa, SAS, Finnair,
KLM and Austrian Air offer regular service to major European
destinations. Ticket prices are high, except to Eastern European
destinations and the U.S. A ferry connects Klaipeda with the German
port of Kiel. Baltic Air and Estonian Air serve Riga, Tallinn, and
Helsinki; a Denmark-to-Klaipeda ferry service is also available.
Riga and Tallinn have ferry service to Scandinavia. The two other
Baltic capitals are 3 and 7 hours away by car, respectively. No visa
is necessary for American citizens spending less than 90 days in
Lithuania. The Mission arranges diplomatic, administrative, and
technical carnets and visas for all Embassy personnel after their
Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
International direct dial from residences is provided with many
homes having multiple lines. The Mission has International Voice
Gateway (IVG) service to the State Department that can also be used
for toll-free calls to the Washington, D.C. area or 1-800 numbers.
All agencies at post are on unclassified E-mail, with Internet
Internet Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Stand alone Internet computers are installed in the Mission for
employee use. Several reliable Internet Service Providers are
available for private residential use. Standard 56Kbps dial-up
services typically cost an average of USD 30.00 per month plus local
phone charges. ISDN services are available at higher costs.
Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The Embassy receives weekly APO services via truck from the APO
facility in Helsinki. The service is reliable and letters and
packages arrive from the USA in 1 to 3 weeks. Most employees use the
APO for all their postal requirements. Packages may be sent out
using the APO provided they comply with APO mailing regulations and
restrictions. The Embassy mailroom does not sell stamps nor does it
insure or certify outgoing mail.
The APO mailing address is:
American Embassy Vilnius
PSC 78 Box V
APO AE 09723
The Embassy also receives weekly unclassified pouch services.
Though it takes longer for mail to arrive via pouch, outgoing
letters are sent directly to Washington, D.C. where they enter the
U.S. postal system. Most employees use the pouch for sending letters
and paying bills. Outgoing packages are not allowed via pouch.
The pouch address is:
American Embassy Vilnius
Department of State
4510 Vilnius Place
Washington, D.C. 20521-4510
International Mail is available and reliable with no reported
cases of theft or pilferage, though employees seldom use this
service. DHL, UPS and Federal Express services also use this
Radio and TV Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
There are now three Lithuanian (PAL system) channels and one
Russian. A number of U.S. Government-supported videocassettes are
available for viewing by post personnel via APO. Multisystem
televisions can be ordered from European vendors or bought in
Vilnius. Independent radio and TV stations have multiplied since
1991. Satellite television (CNN, British Sky News, CNBC, BBC, the
Cartoon Network, numerous Scandinavian channels that carry
English-language movies and series, and French, German, and Italian
stations) and some cable are available at moderate cost.
Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated:
2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The major daily newspapers are Lietuvos Rytas, Respublika,
Lietuvos Aidas (the Opposition paper), and Tiesa (the Labor Party
paper). Weeklies of the above are published in Russian.
Additionally, there is the Russian language Echo Litvy and the
Polish language Kurier Wilenski. A few English-language weeklies are
available, including the Baltic Times. The daily Baltic News Service
is available in the Embassy. Some Western newspapers and periodicals
are available at major hotels or by subscription.
Health and Medicine
Medical Facilities Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The Embassy Health Unit is staffed by a qualified medical
practitioner. In addition to ministering to simple illnesses, the
nurse makes referrals to the Baltic American Medical Clinic, the
Medical and Dental Diagnostic Center, and a variety of
Western-trained doctors and dentists. The official MEDEVAC point for
Vilnius is London. The regional medical officer is in Warsaw and
makes quarterly trips to the post.
In Vilnius, the German pharmacy stocks and sells most Western
European medicines and treatments, and most local drugstores ("vaistine")
carry a wide assortment of Western European medicines. A number of
spas and personal hygiene/cosmetology businesses have opened in the
last few years, to positive reviews by staff patrons.
Community Health Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Periodic outbreaks of serious infectious illness strike the
Lithuanian population. Hepatitis is a concern, especially when
traveling. Consumption of shellfish should be avoided in the warmer
months. All personnel should make arrangements to bring their shot
records up to date in accordance with Mission medical
recommendations before arriving at post.
Preventive Measures Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Fluoride supplements are recommended for children as the city
water is not fluoridated. Vitamin supplements are beneficial,
especially in the winter months. The city water carries a burden of
iron and other minerals from the well south of town and from an
aging distribution system. Although biological contamination in
Vilnius is rare, drinking the water is not recommended because of
the heavy mineral and metal content. Embassy personnel are
encouraged to filter or distill water prior to drinking or cooking.
Distilled water is available in the Embassy and in all stores.
Bottled water is a must outside the capital area.
Pet Care. Many Embassy staff members have pets. Veterinary care
falls only slightly below U.S. standards. Ensure that pets are fully
immunized against standard diseases (most of these immunizations are
required for entry to Lithuania). Annual shots are available. Pet
food and supplies are available in Lithuania.
Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00
There are occasional job opportunities at the Mission for
eligible family members (EFM). Those interested in working should
file a Skills Bank Form with the Family Liaison Office in
Washington, D.C. A December 1994 bilateral work agreement has led to
employment for a few spouses over the past several years outside of
the Embassy. Sponsorship by an outside business can lead to a job
for language-qualified family members. Salaries on the local economy
are very low compared with those in the U.S.
American Embassy - Vilnius
Post City Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Vilnius, the capital city, is situated at the confluence of the
Neris and Vilnele Rivers in southeastern Lithuania. Vilnius is 180
miles from the Baltic Sea and just 21 miles from the Belarusian
border. The city comprises an area of 100 square miles, of which
one-third is forests, parks, and gardens. The city is surrounded by
wooded hills. Vilnius was founded and established as the capital of
Lithuania in 1323 by Grand Duke Gediminas, founder of the Gediminian
(later known as the Jogailian) dynasty, which ruled Lithuania, and
later Poland, for 250 years. Archaeological findings show that the
area was inhabited well over 2,000 years ago. Over the centuries it
has been ravaged many times by foreign troops.
The interwar fate of Vilnius differed from that of the rest of
Lithuania. When the Lithuanians declared independence in 1918, the
borders of the state were not precisely defined. This was also true
of the newly restored Polish State. Skirmishes with Poland began
almost at once and continued during the short but intense
Polish-Soviet War of 1920. Following a separate truce and the
signing of the Treaty of Suwalki, renegade Polish troops under
General Zeligowski, with unofficial approval from the Pilsudski
Government, invaded Vilnius and the surrounding territory. The
League of Nations could not solve the Polish-Lithuanian conflict.
The city remained under Polish administration until 1939. During
that time the city grew and became a multiethnic center with large
numbers of Polish, Jewish, and Belarusian inhabitants. In fact, 30%
of Vilnius' population was Jewish. The city was known as the
"Jerusalem of the North" and was considered one of the world's most
important centers of Jewish culture. In 1939, after Hitler's Germany
and Stalin's Soviet Union secretly agreed to divide Poland and the
Baltic States between themselves, Lithuania signed a treaty with the
Soviets whereby, in exchange for the return of Vilnius, Lithuania
accepted Red Army bases on its territory. This was followed by the
first Soviet occupation in 1940.
One year later, in June 1941, came the German invasion and
occupation. This lasted 3 years until 1944. One-third of the
capital's population was killed. Mass executions took place in the
nearby Forest of Paneriai. Most of the Jewish population of Vilnius
was murdered, and the rich Jewish culture that had flourished in
Vilnius since the Middle Ages was virtually annihilated.
The Soviets reoccupied Vilnius on July 13, 1944. At the end of
the war, only half the prewar population remained. The city had no
water, electricity, means of transport, or modern communications.
All industrial enterprises had been destroyed, and 42% of the city's
residential areas and 20% of its architectural monuments were in
During the following Soviet period, Vilnius was the capital of
the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. The population steadily
grew as the city was rebuilt. Huge apartment complexes were
constructed, and new industries were established.
Vilnius was home to the only university in Lithuania and to
several other institutions of higher education. The city attracted
students, artists, professionals, and workers. Many people from
other Soviet republics were relocated to Vilnius to work, thus
decreasing the percentage of the indigenous population and
associated nationalist tendencies. Vilnius also served as
headquarters for units of the former Red Army, including the troops
that assaulted the television and radio tower on January 13, 1991.
Today, Vilnius is the heart of Lithuania's political, economic,
cultural, and public life. The Old Town is one of the largest in
Eastern Europe, encompassing 74 blocks, 70 streets and lanes, and
over 1,200 buildings. These buildings were constructed over the
course of 5 centuries, reflecting many styles of architecture.
Unfortunately, the Old Town was severely neglected for many years,
and many sections are in desperate need of repair. The modern
sections of the city, built during the Soviet period, are typical of
the planned "micro-regions" of the bloc: very large apartment
blocks, with stores, schools, and recreation areas nearby. The large
greenbelts and parks make the city pleasant in the summer.
The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The Chancery, purchased in 1992, is located at Akmenu 6, on
Tauras Hill, close to the city center. It provides offices for
employees of the Departments of State and Defense, USAID and EEBIC.
The small Chancery building was originally built for the Polish Boy
Scouts between the wars. It lacks interior space for large meetings
or gatherings. The grounds, however, are very suitable for outdoor
events in the spring, summer and fall.
Working hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
An English-speaking operator answers all calls during business
hours. The international code to call Vilnius is 370, followed by 2
for the city, and the main Embassy phone number is 665500. Fax
number (370-2) 665510. Embassy duty officers can be contacted
through the 24-hour English-speaking guard.
The Mission staff is currently made up of the Ambassador, DCM,
political officer, regional affairs officer, administrative officer,
public affairs officer (PAO), defense attaché, security assistance
officer, USAID representative, EEBIC representative and
administrative and technical staff. The PAO and regional librarian
are located at the American Center on Pranciskonu Street, 3/6. A
small Peace Corps office is located nearby. However, the Peace Corps
withdraws from Lithuania in 2002.
Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
New arrivals generally move into permanent lodgings. If permanent
housing is not available, employees are lodged in temporary duty
quarters or hotels. Be sure to let the Embassy know of your arrival
plans as early as possible.
Permanent Housing Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The current Ambassador's residence was purchased in 1992. A
5-minute walk from the Embassy, it is a small (net 1,728 square
feet) building consisting of an entry area, a dining room (which
seats a maximum of 16), a small living room, and 2 smaller sitting
areas. The second floor is a full apartment. The basement contains
the kitchen, a maid's room, a spare bedroom, a laundry room, a
sauna, and storerooms. There is a lovely garden with plenty of room
for entertaining and a garage/storage/guard house. The Mission has
leased apartments and houses for all other personnel. Housing has
improved dramatically since the early days of the Embassy. There are
a variety of Western-style units available. Some are within walking
distance of the Chancery building; others are within a 10- to
25-minute drive. Timely advance notice of arrival time and special
needs will help the Embassy prepare suitable housing.
Furnishings Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
All Embassy housing is furnished with the basics: living room,
dining room, and bedroom furniture. Welcome Kits are available to
tide over arrivals until they get their airfreight.
Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Major appliances—refrigerators, stoves, microwave ovens, washers,
dryers, and space heaters—are provided by the Embassy. Some of the
appliances are European-made and thus smaller than U.S. models.
Electricity in wall sockets is 220v, 50-cycle, AC. Occasionally,
voltage may waver plus or minus 5%. Transformers and surge
protectors are necessary for American 110v appliances, especially
computers and other sensitive gear. Bring such items with you. Only
two transformers are issued per house.
Food Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The food supply situation in Vilnius has improved markedly and
prices are still lower than in the U.S. Almost everything is
available. Specific items of fresh produce can occasionally be hard
to find; much is imported from the EU. The Embassy does not have a
commissary. Some staff have joined the Helsinki Employees
Association and the APO mail truck carries down goods on a weekly
basis. Bring specialty items, like ethnic foods, and staples such as
brown sugar, low and no calorie foods, peanut butter, microwaveable
items, syrups (pancake, maple, Karo) and cake mixes.
Clothing Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Lithuania is a northern country with a generally cool climate. As
has been said, "There is no such thing as bad weather; only bad
clothes:" Lithuania is completely dependent on outside sources of
fossil fuel, so houses may not be as warm as desired. In winter,
space heaters boost the heat level where needed.
Bring winter wear, including thermal or silk underwear, from the
U.S., or prepare to pay a premium. Most staff order from U.S.
Men Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Since the summer season is short, fall- and winterweight suits
and jackets will suffice. Sweaters are a must. In fall and spring,
the city steam heat is turned off and homes on the city heating
system get cold (currently no Embassy housing uses this system).
Bring comfortable warm clothes to wear in the house. Formal wear is
not required, although there has been a Marine Ball here since 1999.
Heavy winter coats and hats, raincoats, boots, and socks are
mandatory. Casual wear is worn away from the office.
Women Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
A well-rounded wardrobe for all seasons consisting of several
cocktail/dinner dresses, suits or skirts with jackets, blouses,
sweaters, slacks, and sportswear is appropriate. Most Lithuanian
women can knit or sew, and you can find or commission items for less
than Western prices. Heavy winter clothing, boots, and rainwear are
a must. Bring a supply of tights and pantyhose, especially if you
are petite. Lithuanian women are fashion conscious and generally
dress more formally than women in the U.S.
Children Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Schools do not require uniforms, so casual/play clothing is
acceptable. Lots of sweaters, foul weather wear, and warm pajamas
are a requirement.
Supplies and Services
Supplies Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Almost any goods available in Western Europe, with some markup
for shipping from there, are available in Lithuania. This includes
toiletries, cosmetics, etc. Large grocery store/mall complexes have
been built and more are under construction. Many, but not all,
prescription drugs are available. For unusual or continuous-use
prescription drugs it is best to have a supplier in the U.S.
Seasonal items such as Christmas and birthday decorations and
wrapping paper should be brought in your household effects (HHE)
although the supply is increasing locally.
Basic Services Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Dressmakers and tailors offer good service. You should, however,
bring patterns and photos. Drycleaning is readily available. Barbers
and hairstylists are omnipresent. Ask around among the community for
shops that have worked out. Automobile service is somewhat difficult
to arrange and expensive. The simpler your car is mechanically and
the fewer power accessories it has, the better off you will be.
Domestic Help Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Domestic help is available at reasonable rates. Most Embassy
employees hire some help. References from other expatriates will
help in the hiring process.
Religious Activities Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Lithuania is a predominantly Roman Catholic country. Feast days
and holy days are observed with pageantry at churches and
cathedrals. In addition, the city has Russian Orthodox, Jewish,
Lutheran, Baptist and Reformed services. There are Catholic,
International Protestant, Baptist and Latter-day Saint services in
English every Sunday.
At Post Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The American International School of Vilnius has been growing
steadily since it was founded in 1992. It currently has about 90
students from 20 different countries in grades prekindergarten (age
3) through 9th grade.
Away From Post Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The State Department provides, and most other agencies mirror, an
allowance for education away from post. Check with the Overseas
Briefing Center (Foreign Service Institute) or the Community Liaison
Office (Main State Department building) for further information.
Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Private-language tutors and teachers of dance, music, art,
crafts, and sports are readily available at reasonable rates.
Recreation and Social Life
Sports Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
There are opportunities for outdoor and indoor sports.
Lithuanians are enthusiastic basketball players. They love to stroll
in the woods collecting berries and mushrooms. Fishing is possible
year round. Good riding stables are located just outside of town.
Many people enjoy cross-country skiing. Tennis and badminton courts
are available. The Hash House Harriers are active.
Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The old town of Vilnius is very attractive. There are exquisite
examples of gothic and baroque architecture, such as the Church of
St. Anne. It is said that when Napoleon passed through Vilnius on
his way to Moscow, he was so impressed with the small church that he
wanted to "carry the church back to France in the palm of his hand."
The 475-year-old University of Vilnius is a wonderful ensemble of
buildings and beautiful courtyards. All of the different
architectural styles seen in Vilnius are represented here. The
neoclassical cathedral and its bell tower (a perfect meeting place)
stand at the foot of Castle Hill. From the top of that hill, the
famous Tower of Gediminas dominates the skyline from Old Town. In
October 1988, the national flag of independent Lithuania was raised
above the tower in place of the Soviet Republic banner.
Trakai, the medieval capital of Lithuania, is 18 miles southwest
of Vilnius, situated in a beautiful area of recreational lakes,
forests, and hills. This stronghold and former residence of
Lithuanian Grand Dukes has been meticulously restored. The whole
complex stands on an island. Trakai is also home to a small minority
of Karaites (a tribe of Turkic people) who were brought to Lithuania
by Grand Duke Vytautas in the 14th century to serve as his
Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania, with a population
of 430,000, is 60 miles west of Vilnius at the fork between the
country's two largest rivers, the Nemunas and Neris. It is said that
Napoleon Bonaparte stood at that fork and said, "Here begin the
great steppes of Russia." Eighty-nine percent of Kaunas' population
is ethnically Lithuanian, which is much more homogenous than
Vilnius. Kaunas was the interwar capital of Lithuania. Kaunas' Old
Town is charming and boasts a pleasant Parisian-style walking mall.
Museums there include the Ciurlionis Gallery and the Devils' Museum.
The former is shrine to an early nationalist composer, the latter
chock-full of hundreds of depictions of devils from Lithuania's
Christian and pagan folk art past.
Rumsiskes is located between Vilnius and Kaunas. It is an
open-air museum of Lithuanian peasant life. Although Lithuania is a
small country, it is divided into four distinct regions: Zemaitija
(lowlands), Aukstaitija (highlands), Dzukija, and Suvalkija (south,
near Poland). The museum's exhibits, brought to Rumsiskes from all
over the country, are representative of these four regions. Easter
is an especially good time to see the thatched farmhouses, take part
in the Easter Egg Roll (like marbles, but with decorated eggs), and
sample the simple cooking of Lithuania's past. In summer, the
Rumsiskes Folk Music Ensemble creates an authentic country
atmosphere and encourages spectator participation.
For nature lovers, Lithuania offers the striking contrasts of the
Baltic sand dunes of Nida, the seemingly infinite forests and lakes
of the east, and the spas of Druskininkiai and Birstonas.
Entertainment Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Cultural life in Lithuania is rich and varied. One has only to
look at the schedule of events at the Opera and Ballet Theater or
the Philharmonic to plan for an evening well spent. When the weather
turns cool, operas and ballets offer respite from cold, grey skies.
The Academic Theater, State Youth Theater, Russian Drama Theater,
and Little Theater of Vilnius all produce plays by internationally
known playwrights. Some knowledge of Lithuanian or Russian is
necessary to follow the action. There are several movie theaters,
all of which show films in their original language.
Folk music lovers will not be disappointed in Lithuania. Every
year in May, a weeklong celebration of folk music takes place in Old
Town. Tangible, lasting expressions of Lithuanian folk culture are
captured in ceramics, textiles, and leather goods. "Daile" (art)
galleries are abundant in the cities.
Social Activities Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The Embassy community is rather small, consisting of 20 American
employees and their families. (A six-member Marine Security Guard
detachment is expected to arrive in 2002.) There are many more
Americans throughout the country. These include Peace Corps
volunteers, U.S. Government contractors and grantees, missionaries,
students and Lithuanian-American businessmen. The diplomatic
community is spread over 24 Embassies, with more than 150
expatriates, including spouses and children.
Vilnius is home to both Rotary and Kiwanis; informal gatherings
of businessmen take place often. There is an American Chamber of
Commerce. Charity events draw from both business and diplomatic
communities, with impressive results. There is an International
Women's Association that meets monthly and organizes a variety of
Nature of Functions Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The Chief of Mission undertakes official representational events
frequently; most require business attire and are held at the
Ambassador's residence. Embassy officers are usually integral to the
function being held, with spouses included when appropriate. Much
entertaining, both official and casual in nature, is done by most
Foreign Service personnel at post.
Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Usual and customary protocol standards are followed by the Chief
of Mission when calling on high-level government officials, as well
as other members of the Diplomatic Corps. Because the Embassy
community is not large, formal calling on principal officers or
their spouses is not done. It is appropriate for Embassy officers to
call on their counterparts in local government and at other
missions. Calling cards and invitations of adequate quality and
reasonable prices can be printed locally in both Lithuanian and
English. Lithuanians tend to be punctual and tend to shake hands
when greeting each other. When visiting a Lithuanian home
(especially the first time) or attending a diplomatic dinner, it is
customary to bring flowers in odd numbers of blooms only, as even
numbers are considered appropriate only for mourning. Toasts are
popular, and Lithuanians are known for their lyricism in speech and
song. The guest of honor is expected to reciprocate a welcoming
toast, and others may participate spontaneously.
Special Information Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Post Orientation Program
The Community Liaison Office (CLO) assigns sponsors for new
arrivals. The sponsor helps make sure lodgings are ready to receive
the new family, stocks the refrigerator for them, meets and greets
them at the airport, and shows them around town. CLO provides
written information before arrival and additional help after.
Notes For Travelers
Getting to the Post Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Lithuania. Several
European airlines including SAS, Lufthansa, KLM, and Finnair serve
Vilnius from most major European air hubs. Make sure your travel
plans comply with the Fly America Act.
Customs, Duties, and Passage
Customs and Duties Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Autos, household goods, and personal effects of diplomatic and
consular personnel are cleared without assessment of duty. Official
Americans are not required to file customs declarations. When
importing a car, it is important to get and keep the import
certificate if you plan to sell the car later. There are strict
controls on the export of items more than 25 years old. To avoid
difficulties in re-exporting any items that fall into this category,
each household should have a detailed list of such items to present
to Lithuanian customs. Items declared upon entry can be freely
exported. There is no limit on the amount of currency that can be
brought into Lithuania. There is an export limit of $1,000.
Unofficial travelers must declare the amount of currency brought
into the country to expedite problem-free export. HHE should be
shipped via the European Logistical Support Office (ELSO) in
Antwerp. Transit time from the U.S. is about 8 to 12 weeks. No
storage is available in Vilnius, so the arrival of HHE should be
planned for after the owner's arrival.
Passage Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Americans do not need visas to enter the three Baltic countries
or Poland. Separate visas are necessary for travel to the
Commonwealth of Independent States, or Russian Federation. Travelers
should bring 10 passport-sized photos of themselves and their family
members for various ID cards. Passport photos are also available
Pets Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
Lithuania does not quarantine animals that are apparently in good
health and are accompanied by a recent (no more than a month old)
veterinarian's certificate and proof of recent rabies vaccination.
Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
In general, it is not permissible to import firearms or
ammunition into Lithuania. However, some sporting weapons (rifles or
shotguns) may be imported with the approval of the Ambassador and
only after performing numerous and lengthy import procedures,
including having a "weapons' safe" for storage. Further, certain
classes of personal defense sticks and chains have been confiscated
from the carry-on luggage of diplomats in Frankfurt.
Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated:
2/28/2002 6:00 PM
The unit of currency is the Lithuanian Litas, which since 1993
has been fixed at 4 to the U.S. dollar under a currency board
arrangement. Plans to tie the Litas to the Euro are being made. The
Embassy provides accommodation exchange and check cashing for
American employees. Credit cards are accepted at more and more
businesses. ATM (automatic teller machines) are located in all the
larger cities of Lithuania. Lithuania uses the metric system.
Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 2/28/2002
Department of State guidelines regarding the sale of autos and
other personal property apply. Currency exchanges are ubiquitous.
Negotiable instruments from the U.S. can be cashed at many banks,
but fees of 1%-5% are involved and processing can take some time.
Recommended Reading Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
These titles are provided as a general indication of the material
published in this country. The Department of State does not endorse
Hiden, John and Patrick Salmon. The Baltic Nations and Europe:
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Twentieth Century.
Michener, James A. Poland.
Misiunas and Taagepera. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence.
Local Holidays Last Updated: 2/28/2002 6:00 PM
New Year's Day January 1
Lithuanian Statehood Day February 16
Independence Day March 11
Easter Monday Varies
Crowning of Mindaugas July 6
Assumption Day August 15
All Saints' Day November 1
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26