This past Monday, less than 48 hours ago, I returned from a trip to Lithuania. Lithuania is the homeland of my father’s parents and the southernmost Baltic state. Geographically located between Germany and Russia, Lithuania’s history is a result of those countries’ attempts for territorial and political power in the region.
Lithuania surprised me. Before the trip, I didn’t have much of an image of Lithuania or even Eastern Europe. The native culture features heavy influences from Germanic, Russian, and Slavic cultures, highlighting Lithuania’s centrality between Central and Eastern Europe.
We spent the largest chunk of time, 5 out of our 14 day trip in Kaunus, the second largest city. Everywhere we traveled, I noticed the buildings and homes of Lithuania as being one of three extremes: dilapidated, beautifully restored, or completely new and modern.
This architecture can be seen as representative of Lithuania’s economic state: a relatively recent independent nation, it is experiencing the growing pains of a rapidly growing free economy.
Lithuania gained indepdence from Russia barely one generation ago in 1991, and joined the European Union in May 2004. The IMF lists Lithuania and its northern neighbor Latvia as newly graduated developed economies.
Unemployment grew to over 16% following the recession, peaking in 2010, but since has been declining, and was reported at 11% at year-end 2014 (Lithuania’s unemployment rate (IMF)).
The tourism industry has grown 16 times in the 18 years between 1995 and 2013, from $102M to $1.6B (inbound tourism in Lithuania).
Population growth is trending down, likely exhibiting the flight of young graduates to more developed countries. The total population peaked at 3.7M in 1991 and has since declined to its lowest levels since before 1970, at around 3M (Total population of Lithuania).
Lithuanians, as well as other Eastern European countries, reversed a downtrend in development in 1995, apparently due to GDP growth (Global HDI, Baltic countries’ GDP trend). It is not immediately apparent why this reversal came about in 1995. It is noted the European Economic Area was formed in 1994, but Lithuania did not enter into the EEA until 2005.