Lithuania. According to
Countryaah, Lithuania's new president became the returning
72-year-old American citizen Valdas Adamkus. Unlike the
other two Baltic republics, the head of state in Lithuania is
elected in referendums. Adamkus is his representative
Algirdas Brazauska's opposite: Adamkus was a conservative in
the United States when Brazauskas was a communist in the
Soviet Union. In common, they have an interest in the home
country and the environment. Adamkus wants to reduce the
bureaucracy and the number of ministries, he is positively
committed to nuclear power but wants to close the Ignalina
nuclear power plant, which at least abroad is seen as a
permanent danger. Also during the year, the nuclear power
plant was forced to close on a couple of occasions after
various errors occurred. According to the country's
constitution, the prime minister must return power to the
newly elected president, but one of Adamkus' first tenure
was to reappoint Gediminas Vagnorius as head of government.
The most notable departure of the year was the Minister
of Transport Algis Zvaliauskas. He had used one of the
state's aircraft to travel home from a hunting trip in
Sweden. This flight turned into a scandal in Lithuanian
press. Another notable dismissal was that of Interior
Minister Vidmantas Ziemelis. He was not considered
sufficiently energetic to fight crime and was therefore
dismissed. The Lithuanian police succeeded in arresting a
league of professional occupational killers. The league was
responsible for a series of murders, explosions, kidnappings
and armed robberies.
Vilnius, Polish Wilno, Yiddish Vilna, the capital of Lithuania; 535,600
(2012), of which 62% are Lithuanians, 16.2% are Poles and 12% are Russians. The
central part of Vilnius lies in a lowland in a moraine landscape by the river
Neris and the Vilnia tributary. Outside are great residential neighborhoods from
the Soviet era, but also many parks and green spaces.
Despite a somewhat remote location, Vilnius is a traffic hub and Lithuania's
political, administrative, economic and cultural center. Business is dominated
by electronics, textile, machine and food production as well as by the emerging
service industry. There are a number of higher education institutions,
including: the university, founded in 1579 and thus one of the oldest in eastern
Europe. The city also houses museums, theaters, opera and ballet, and there is
an extensive concert life.
Architecturally, Vilnius' Old Town is a monument in its own right with
buildings in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassicism; in 1994 it came on
UNESCO's World Heritage list. From the classicist cathedral with its
self-contained tower, located on the large cathedral square, exits the leading
business street, Gedimino, which extends from here to the parliament building.
The restoration of Vilnius' old town is a high priority, and work is underway in
many places. Numerous buildings must be renovated from scratch after the
Soviet-era disrepair, and in the first decade after independence in 1991 was
only 1/10 reached.
The town was built in the 900th century, but Vilnius was not officially
founded until the great prince Gediminas in 1323 made the city its capital, even
though it was already a hub of trade between Eastern and Western Europe. In the
following centuries it developed into one of the largest cities in Central and
Eastern Europe. It gained a strong cosmopolitan feel and, not least, a religious
diversity, where churches, mosques and synagogues lay side by side. From 1300-t.
until World War II, Vilnius was one of the most important centers of Jewish
culture. It was nicknamed the Jerusalem of the North, and in the early 1900's.
40-50% of the city's population was Jewish. Around the year 2000, attempts are
made to revive Vilnius as a Jewish cultural center.
From 1569, when the former Polish-Lithuanian personnel union was replaced by
the Lublin Union, Vilnius came under strong Polish influence. After the
partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1795, Vilnius was a Russian government city
until Lithuania's independence in 1918. However, in 1920 Vilnius was occupied by
and incorporated in Poland in 1922, and Kaunas was appointed as the capital of
Lithuania instead. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania, with which the
Vilnius area was now reunited. Lithuania became a Soviet republic with Vilnius
as its capital; a strong Russification with extensive deportations of
Lithuanians took place both before and after the German occupation 1941-44.
During the occupation, almost all of Vilnius' Jewish population was wiped out.
After its release in 1991, Vilnius became the independent capital of Lithuania.