Explain Lithuania to Me
Ever feel like just saying “I’m from ______ (insert city)” doesn’t get across what that city means to you? Living in Medellín I get asked from which large piece of dirt I originate and I don’t know whether to answer them United States or Lithuania. There’s the country I originated from, and the country I would have came from if it weren’t for war and communism (I technically had to prove that to earn my Lithuanian citizenship). How do I explain Lithuania?
Don’t get me wrong, I love the USA and the opportunities she’s given me for 25 years. Likewise, I’ve always had a connection to Lithuania ever since Lithuanian camps every summer and Saturday schools since I was *yay* high. From memories of visiting every few years and revisiting friends and family, there’s this itching emotion Lithuania brings about that nobody will ever understand unless they actually spend some time there…
I hope this article gives you a fresh droplet of insight as to what Lithuania is and a little about what she means to me.
First up to understand her, you gotta know the stats.
How I Explain Lithuania
What is Lithuania and where do I find it? Lithuania is a small Baltic country of ~3 million, bordering on Poland, Latvia, Belarus, and that tiny mystery enclave that even less people know, called Kaliningrad. To explain Lithuania’s history, it’s a tangle with Poland’s and believe it or not, at one time, we were the largest empire in Europe!
To explain Lithuania from a macro scale, living there is like living in one giant farm. We’re a people of the land and those savory potatoes she cultivates! Lithuania’s recent history remains deeply tied to into everyday life over there. Lithuania only achieved independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union (and not without a fight!). When you visit, you’re bound to see a divide between the people of the current and the old generation.
The older generation…
…can explain to you what buying on the black market was like during the communist period. You had to wait for days to get through the Polish border (if you were lucky enough to own a car). And you knew there were bad people that wanted to put you behind bars. For example my father spent 6 months in a jail cell before he could get his passport to get the hell out.
Yet many from the older generation seem to dwell upon the reliable ‘ole days when work was consistent. You knew there’d be someone to till your field so you could plant your harvest, only to give it away at the end of the season. The system wasn’t great, but for some, it sufficed. Then came capitalism…
Suddenly you’re left thinking, “Where’s my bread going to come from?” Thence came the aftershock of communism evolving to capitalism. Contrast those people with…
The younger generation
The younger generation is very western. Though carrying a thick accent, you won’t have any trouble speaking with them in English. They’re the generation that grew up with access to technology as it became available. They saw all the same movies you did (except their version had Lithuanian subtitles). They are the capitalist contrast to their communist grandparent counterpart.
The Capital – Vilnius
Life in the capital city is well… authentic. And the least hillbilly compared to the rest of Lithuania. It’s an old city winding with streets, dotted in cobble stones, nudging against narrow sidewalks, stationed below venerable churches.
Summer here is exceptional. Though it’s short, during this time you will see a city living outdoors. The streets are canvased in tents and tables where restaurants serve you your food alongside a park or live concert.
The busy streets are lined with bobutės (pronounced boh-buh-tehs) or grandmas, selling you your choice of flowers, vegetables or cold looks.
Vilnius Street – the one street that stays just as busy during the day time as it does at night. If you’ve been to Vilnius, chances are you’ve meandered through this street that offers all types of persons their choice of coffee shops, restaurants, and bar needs.
Just as easily you can just as easily visit the nature. There are endless forests blanketing the confines of Vilnius. Visit the forests during the autumn season and you’re likely to come across natives foraging for mushrooms, which is a lot of fun to do too!
Winter comes and boy does it get cold! Yet the people are relentless as they continue to tread through the city, as it grows white and devolves back indoors after a gratifyingly fruitful summer. I don’t know how they do it, but the Lithuanians powers through that winter like it’s nothing. (Warning: I’m not as strong and if cold weather depresses you, living in Lithuania during winters can be troublesome).
Regardless of the season, going on in the background of all of this is the feeling of change and growth in the city. It’s appearance as a land with a growing opportunity is radiant. From my POV technology has taken ahold over the last five years, juxtaposing a modern layer side-by-side to her traditional counterpart.
Projects like the Vilnius Tech Park are partnering up with large companies to transform the city with a competitive startup scene.
It’s exciting to see a new side emerge, of a country that I’ve held such fond memories, since seeing it as a child. Yet how do you explain Lithuania? It’s impossible to give a complete overview of what even Vilnius is in a single blog post, but I hope I was able to spark a little curiosity in the pint-sized country I reminisce about when I’m not there…
I know this post addresses a lot of very different topics. It’s not possible to explain Lithuania in a single post. If you’d like me to expand on any specific topic into a new post, let me know down here in the comments
And with that, I leave you with a nice tune by our beloved Kernagis…