Lithuania. According to Countryaah, the capital of Lithuania is Vilnius. 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.