Lithuania: Preserving Individuality in the Face of Russia (Pt. 1)

By Sabine Tessono

    When most people think of a European nation, Lithuania isn’t the first one that comes to mind. Some think of it as another space on the map, while others who have studied European maps, or those who have dabbled in history recognize its placement as a former Soviet Union member and a Baltic nation, but have not considered the current individual identity of the nation. However, just because Lithuania is not a hegemonic world power or a state that is commonly discussed does not detract from its importance as a country. With its ties to the European Union, NATO, and the overarching shadow of Russia, Lithuania is unique in its approach to establishing itself as a Western state while still facing the ongoing threat of Russian interference. In this blog post, we will attempt to look at this dichotomy and attempt to comprehend its impact on Lithuanian identity as a whole.

    In order to understand this divide, it is necessary to have some background information on Lithuania’s history and relationship with other nations. Originally, Lithuania was a fragmented land made up of diverse Baltic tribes, which were eventually united under the rule of several monarchs and noblemen that spanned for hundreds of years. With various political upsets (varying from assassinations of kings to squabbling among nobles), to an unstable alliance between Poland, and attempts to centralize power in the face of increasing land (Lithuania in the 14th century included Belarus, Ukraine,  Poland, and even parts of Russia), the nation struggled to maintain both domestic and international order, especially in the face of its culture being heavily (and at times forcefully) influenced by Poland and the Russian empire. This tension was even more exemplified during World War II, when Russian troops put increasing pressure on the Lithuania government to sign agreement treaties and be occupied by the Soviet Army, which led to a decades long period of a repressive regime that stifled both the political and cultural freedom that the Lithuanian government, and its citizens, strived for.

    While the nation was able to eventually escape the rule of the Soviet Union and other rival states, the influence of these countries, and the still-overarching threat of a potential Russian invasion still loom in the distance. With the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russian officials justified the invasion by utilizing “a narrative that incorporated a revival of the Tsarist-era term ‘New Russia’ to describe parts of eastern Ukraine.”, despite dissent from a large population of Ukrainians. This move by Russia has caused an unsettling fear from Lithuania, due to its previous history with the state, and the fear of the same pattern of suppression of their national identity. Yet, these fears are not unjustifiable, due to evidence of Russian propaganda being used on both TV and social media sites to question the authenticity of a Lithuanian state, and even politicians using selective information and twisting historical facts to suit their agenda.

    Despite these threatening factors, Lithuania, like its Baltic neighbors, are utilizing their own tactics to provide some sort of defense and protection of their livelihood. In order to prevent repeated violations of territory, an 80-mile long border fence with surveillance cameras was built following an increase in military in Kaliningrad, a Russian city that rests on both Poland and Lithuania’s borders, to dissuade Russian expansion and retain a vital connection to both the European Union and NATO. While these strategies are helpful in showing that Lithuania is serious about retaining its statehood, it also toes a dangerous line in provoking Russia and potentially being overwhelmed by sheer force and resources.

    In essence, Lithuania is a fascinating state due to its history with the countries surrounding it, and with its continual vigilance and fear of being swallowed up again by its overbearing neighbor, Russia. However, in order to comprehend why and how Lithuania benefits by being independent, examination of its development following World War II and its relations with the Western world to piece together its narrative in the modern world.