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11th-grader Arnas tells us about Lithuanians and their love of freedom

“There is a fairly extensive range of basic misconceptions people have about Lithuania. A lot of these misconceptions stem from the decades of Soviet occupation between 1944 and 1990, where many countries outside the region used ‘The USSR’ and ‘Russia’ as synonyms. So a lot of people have grown to think that Lithuania is somehow a part of Russia or that Lithuanians are like Russians, but that's untrue: not only are the two nations ethnically different, but they speak completely different languages with different alphabets, follow different religions and so on and so forth… and that's probably one of the biggest misconceptions people have about Lithuania."

"The neighboring country of Latvia also gets mixed up with Lithuania: Riga is the capital of Latvia, whereas Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania. And beyond that, because the colors of our flag are yellow, green and red, people who aren't familiar with the country may even assume it is somewhere in Africa. Some also think it's a relatively new country because it only gained its independence for the second time in 1990 after it became free of Soviet rule. But that's quite far from the truth: Lithuania has existed in one form or another since the 13th century. In fact, in the 15th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest state in Europe by sheer size. The country has a rich history which has unfortunately been suppressed over decades of occupation.”

Now that you’ve cleared up some basic misconceptions about Lithuania, what are you particularly proud of?
“Lithuania is a very beautiful country, with some unique sites, like the medieval Old Town in the capital, Vilnius - the largest in central Europe. There is also plenty of natural beauty, as over a third of the country is covered by forests and has thus preserved much of its nature."

"I suppose if I have to mention a more specific thing I am proud of, it would be the language itself. The Lithuanian language is one of the oldest Indo-European languages in the world, related to Sanskrit. Relative to other languages, it is very much unchanged and retains a lot of the elements of a proto-language."

"But what I'm most proud of are the people of Lithuania, with their passion to gain and maintain their freedom over centuries of occupation and wars - to really hold on to their culture and not give up their language. And this was by no means easy. For a major part of the 19th century, writing in Lithuanian was actually banned. One interesting way it was kept alive was through book smugglers, who brought in books printed in Lithuanian to allow teaching of the language to continue. To pick a more recent event, towards the end of Soviet occupation in 1989, there was a mass protest called The Baltic Way, which took place in the three Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. 2 million people gathered in a nearly 700 km long human chain that united the capitals of the three countries in order to protest for their freedom - which is why it is one of the things we value most”.