Lithuania today is in the best place it’s been since Independence. Economically and culturally it’s making strides: it’s becoming an ever-more confident member of the European Union; and emigrants are returning (and tourists are visiting) in unprecedented numbers. It’s palpably modernising, but not at the expense of its own deep-rooted, idiosyncratic culture, still widely celebrated in song, craft and cuisine.
The Lithuanian economy has grown significantly since Independence, moving swiftly from full central control under Soviet rule to the market economy of today. Boosted by admission to the World Trade Organisation in 2001 and the European Union in 2004, its GDP grew by 77% between 2000 and 2008, leading to widespread admiration for the ‘Baltic Tiger’. However, things stalled dramatically with the 2008-2009 economic crisis, and GDP only recovered to its 2009 level in 2015. Now, it’s once more one of the fastest growing economies in the EU.
What the dry statistics translate to in everyday life, especially on the streets of Vilnius, is a greater sense of prosperity and optimism, flashier cars and clothes, and flourishing restaurant and bar scenes. Of course, there are still plenty left behind by the new prosperity: unemployment is still at 9% and homelessness is a visible problem on city streets