Lithuania

   
The southernmost of the Baltic States, bordering Latvia in the north, Belarus in the east, Poland in the south and the Baltic Sea as well as the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in the west.
  
Lithuania is listed on these pages for pretty much the same reasons as Latvia (and to a lesser degree Estonia): a) the Holocaust, and b) the Soviet period (including the Cold War) and its end brought about by the region's independence struggle in the early 1990s. 
  
These are the individual dark-tourism sites in Lithuania that have their own entries here:
 
Today but a small speck on the world map, Lithuania was once a huge empire (extending as far as to the Black Sea!) – this may partly explain why the Lithuanians are so well-endowed with national pride. However, the country was gradually chopped up and devoured by surrounding powers on the rise (Prussia/Germany, Russia/USSR, Poland), and for large parts of its modern history it wasn't even an independent country at all.
 
What pained Lithuanians especially was the fact that through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, their country was swallowed up by the Soviet Union, shortly after Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII, and that after the war the victorious Soviets simply held on to the country until 1991.  
 
In between, however, it was taken by Nazi Germany as the Wehrmacht edged eastwards invading the USSR in Operation Barbarossa, in defiance of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And with the Nazis, the Holocaust reached Lithuania. And how! Well over 90% of Lithuania's Jews did not survive – the highest rate anywhere. A particularly deadly massacre site was that of Ponary (to use its then Polish name, today it's Paneriai), where possibly up to 100,000 were slaughtered.
 
The fact that so many Lithuanians collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust is something that that isn't too eagerly commemorated in Lithuania today …
 
… much more is made out of the Soviet period – in particular how much the country suffered in that period, and how heroically it was overcome. Lithuania was in 1990/91 at the very forefront of the independence movement that led to the eventual break-up of the Soviet Union. In January 1991, Soviet troops tried to quell the independence endeavours in the country and killed several civilians in the process (before ultimately giving up). Their graves and memorials at the site(s) bear witness to this.
 
Anti-communist (even anti-Russian) sentiment is still palpably rife in Lithuania, and it can also colour the culture of commemoration and commodification for tourism. This is seen, for instance, in the fact that a museum dedicated to the Soviet era refers to the repression in the period as "genocide" (while hardly mentioning the Holocaust). And it's also reflected in the controversy that the founding of Grutas Park created esp. inside Lithuania itself – it wasn't at all universally welcomed that this privately funded "theme park" took to displaying those communist-era statues and busts that the Lithuanians had all but completely removed from the public sphere shortly after gaining independence.
 
For the dark tourist in Lithuania, however, Grutas Park, Lithuania is certainly the most prominent attraction and a must-see destination – even though it is pretty remote. Most other dark destinations are easier to get to, as they are in or near the capital city Vilnius or the country's second city Kaunas, but the rather remote Plokstine former missile base is definitely worth the detour, in particular for those with a special interest in the Cold War
  
Lithuania is a small country (although the Soviets slightly enlarged it by attaching parts of what before WWII had been part of Poland) and a fairly easy travel destination. Getting into the country is fairly unproblematic, at least for Westerners, especially EU citizens, now that Lithuania is a member of the Schengen area. The borders with Belarus, and Russia are, not surprisingly, far less permeable (visas are required).
 
Direct flights to Lithuania have in recent years "fluctuated" in availability, and fares can be higher than you'd expect, depending on the connection. Getting to Riga in Latvia and making the short journey south into Lithuania from there can be an option worth considering. (This is what I did when I went on my pan-Baltics trip in 2014.)
  
You can also get to Lithuania from the West by car via Poland, but driving in these parts may be a little stressful for the uninitiated (cf. Latvia) … as local driving habits can be heart-stopping at times (reckless overtaking in blind curves, say). Just drive as defensively as possible – also bearing in mind the keenly enforced speed limits and strict zero-alcohol rules!
  
Long-distance buses and trains are available too (including international connections e.g. from Moscow or Warsaw – although the latter is currently, in 2014, suspended due to track works, but will be resumed). Ferries also go to the Baltics from Scandinavia (esp. Sweden) or Germany. Time-consuming as these modes of travel may be, they are alternatives to flying.
     
Price levels in Lithuania are still lower than in the West, though not necessarily at quite such fabulous bargain levels any more in the capital Vilnius. Elsewhere you can still get very good value for money, especially for accommodation. 
  
Speaking of money, it should be noted that as of 1st January 2015, Lithuania has followed its Baltic neighbours in introducing the Euro as its currency. It replaces its former national currency, the Litas (lts for short). For the time being prices are still given in both the old and the new currency, but before long will be in Euros only. Whether the adoption of the Euro will eventually also usher in increased price levels (as it had done elsewhere before) remains to be seen. 
  
With regard to food and drink, Lithuania is probably rather a white spot on most people's culinary world map, but it does have some interesting specialities to offer, if you are experimental and don't mind food being on the heavy and stodgy side. For vegetarians, choices can be a bit limited (though the aged cheeses are a must-try!), vegans face the usual dearth of choices as anywhere in Eastern Europe. 
  
What is little known in the outside world and indeed was a tremendous discovery for me too is the fact that Lithuania sports a whole specific beer culture all of its own. So those like me who can no longer stand those industrially mass-produced lagers (which are basically just yellow carbonated water) and have an open mind towards trying something entirely new, then Lithuania has plenty of exciting tastes to discover. The most individual brews, made in small countryside or village microbreweries, are fresh, unfiltered, unpasteurized, “live” and often very yeasty. Maybe not to everybody's taste, but I found some of them highly intriguing. And you can really only try them here (in specialist beer bars in Vilnius in particular), as they do not travel well and have to be consumed within a few days.  
  
Language-wise, Lithuania can be a little more challenging than multilingual Estonia. The Estonians are under no illusions about foreigners understanding their exotic (Finno-Ugric) language and thus speak English very well. That is less so the case in Lithuania – even though Lithuanian is by no means an easy language to learn either (although it is of a Baltic-Slavic, i.e. Indo-European type). Even knowing Russian may not get you as far as elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, possibly because the proportion of Russian speakers is much lower in Lithuania compared to the other two Baltic countries. That said, though, in the places that tourists are likely to be about in larger numbers, English, and sometimes German and/or Russian will see you through alright. The rather remote locations such as Raseiniai or Plokstine may require more flexible linguistic negotiating talent ...  
  
  • Lithuania 1 - idyllic lakesideLithuania 1 - idyllic lakeside
  • Lithuania 2 - waterfowlLithuania 2 - waterfowl
  • Lithuania 3 - wooden churchLithuania 3 - wooden church
  • Lithuania 4 - they are very catholic hereLithuania 4 - they are very catholic here
  • Lithuania 5 - boredLithuania 5 - bored
  • Lithuania 6 - forestLithuania 6 - forest
  • Lithuania 7 - tree shadowsLithuania 7 - tree shadows
  • Lithuania 8a - traditional national dishLithuania 8a - traditional national dish
  • Lithuania 8b - the country has a unique beer culture of its very ownLithuania 8b - the country has a unique beer culture of its very own
  • Lithuania 9 - before sunriseLithuania 9 - before sunrise
  • LithuaniaLithuania
  
  
  
  
  

© dark-tourism.com, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2016