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They say that a Lithuanian can be most easily recognised while working or day-dreaming. The foundations of the nation's character were laid in ancient times, and were determined by the ecology, geographic location, politics, work characteristics and religious holidays. Lithunians should not be grouped among the dynamic or particularly expressive nations: traditionally, they are more inclined towards reserve, the family hearth and stubborn labour. Historically, Lithuanians are a nation of tillers of the soil, who have lived near the sea, but not along with it. Mythology reveals that the country is divided into three cultural regions, whose interrelationship is reminiscent of a tree: in the west one finds the roots, in the middle of Lithuania the trunk, and in the east, the branches. To the present day, Lithuania has preserved its previously-mentioned four ethnic groups. Each of them differs in its customs, clothing and songs, and in character as well. The dzukai, who live in the southeast, are the most expressive, the Zemaiciai, in the west, are the most reserved and most archaic. Earlier, this trait of the Zemaiciai had been to a large extent given mythological dimensions and even attributed to the entire Lithuanian nation by the neighbouring nations, particularly the Poles and the Germans. A romantic story, Lokys ("The Bear") by the French author Prosper Mérimée, set in superstitious and archaic Zemaitija (Samogitia), became widely known in 19th century Europe.
Natural disasters and wars and epidemics have tempered the "average" Lithuanian, no less than the north and the sea have tempered the "average" Scandinavian. Furthermore, one should not forget that Lithuanians were the last pagans in Europe, who officially embraced Christianity only at the end of the 14th century. Moreover, even in modern times, there exists an extremely emotional element in many religious customs.
The Lithuanian character also possesses the spontaneity characteristic of the European Slavs, and at times, even some irrationality. Most probably, our ancestors acquired these character traits during the Middle Ages, when they had to defend the land against various invaders from the west, and later from the east as well. The Lithuanians themselves also used to follow a warlike path.
In accepting the mass culture of the west, the people of modern Lithuania are also experiencing the pitfalls of excessively speedy modernisation.
Lithuanians celebrating their history. Photo by K. Driskius.
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