Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the largest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark. It borders Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and a Russian exclave (Kaliningrad Oblast) to the southwest.
The World Bank classifies Lithuania as a ‘lower-middle-income’ developing country. Manufacturing is the most valuable activity. Products include chemicals, electronic goods, processed food and machine tools.
Lithuania is mainly Roman Catholic (90 percent), with some Lutherans and a few members of other churches. The Jewish population, was almost completely erased between 1941 and 1944.
About 84% of the republic’s inhabitants are Lithuanians, who speak a Baltic language. Russians (6%) and Poles (7%) constitute the largest ethnic minorities. Around 80% of the people are Roman Catholic.
The climate of the country is transitional between the maritime type of western Europe and the continental type found farther east. As a result, damp air masses of Atlantic origin predominate, alternating with continental Eurasian and, more rarely, colder Arctic air or air with a southern, tropical origin. The mean temperature for January, the coldest month, is in the low 20s F (about −5 °C), while July, the warmest month, has an average temperature in the 60s F (about 17 °C).
In the northern Birzai region of Lithuania, a high gypsum and limestone content in the local terrain, plus the existence of numerous underground rivers, has caused the occurrence of over two thousand sinkholes. The water underground erodes the soil and rock above, causing the ground to cave in. The sinkholes range in size from very small holes to large, deep craters.
Education between the ages of 7 and 16 is compulsory and free of charge at all levels, as a result of the 1992 Constitution. The three levels of Lithuanian education include: comprehensive (from 7 to 16 years of age), vocational and schools of further education (from 16 to 18), and higher education. Furthering this delineation, there are three types of comprehensive schools: primary (grades 1 to 4), principal (grades 5 to 9), and secondary (grades 10 to 12).
Life expectancy was 73 in 2000. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 8.3 and 14.7 per 1000 people.
There is a shortage of quality hotels, although some have been restored with foreign investment. Lithuanians have long distinguished themselves at basketball, and have contributed top players to the Soviet teams. Besides valid passports, all visitors need visas, except nationals of the UK, Hungary, Poland, and Denmark.
Lithuania and Russia committed to demarcating their boundary in 2006 in accordance with the land and maritime treaty ratified by Russia in May 2003 and by Lithuania in 1999. Lithuania operates a simplified transit regime for Russian nationals traveling from the Kaliningrad coastal exclave into Russia, while still conforming to strict Schengen border rules. As of January 2007, ground demarcation of the boundary with Belarus was complete and mapped with final ratification documents in preparation.
Since Lithuania regained its independence, the United States has worked closely with the country to help it rebuild its democratic institutions and a market economy. The U.S. welcomed Lithuania's accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) in 2004. As a NATO ally and EU member, Lithuania has become a strong, effective partner committed to democratic principles and values.