LITHUANIA: officially the Republic of Lithuania(Lithuanian: Lietuvos Respublika) is a country in Northern Europe, the largest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It bordersLatvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast (a Russianexclave) to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 3 million as of 2012, and its capital and largest city is Vilnius. The Lithuanians are a Baltic people, and the official language, Lithuanian, is one of only two living languages (together with Latvian) in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.
For centuries, the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea was inhabited by various Baltic tribes. In the 1230s the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, who was crowned as King of the Lithuania, creating the first unified Lithuanian state, on 6 July 1253. During the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe: present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia were territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. With the Lublin Union of 1569, Lithuania and Poland formed a voluntary two-state union, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighboring countries systematically dismantled it from 1772 to 1795, with the Russian Empire annexing most of Lithuania's territory.
In the aftermath of World War I, Lithuania's Act of Independence was signed on 16 February 1918, declaring the establishment of a sovereign state. Starting in 1940, Lithuania was occupied first by theSoviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end in 1944 and the Germans retreated, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania. On 11 March 1990, a year before formal break-up of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare the restoration of independent State of Lithuania.
Prior to the global financial crisis of 2007–2010 and now in its aftermath, Lithuania has one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union. Lithuania is a member of the European Union, the Council of Europe, a full member of the Schengen Agreement and NATO. Lithuania is also a member of the Nordic Investment Bank, and part of Nordic-Baltic cooperation of Northern European countries. The United NationsHuman Development Index lists Lithuania as a "very high human development" country. Since 1 July 2013, Lithuania has held the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union.