Geography is about understanding the world around us; the countries, landscapes, cultures and climates. It’s about where we live. Geography is about nature, the order of the world and what remains unchanged by rapid social and technological change. All the human and physical features that geographical research deals with are essential factors that are taken into account by many research projects in other disciplines, be it history, politics, economics, transport or others. Therefore, geography is well placed in the interdisciplinary research landscape of the Vilnius Institute for Advanced Studies.
Lithuania’s geographical position is a peculiarity in Europe. It’s located in the centre of the European subcontinent (according to a study by the French National Geographical Institute, the geographical centre of Europe is only 26 kilometres north of Vilnius) and is classified as either an Eastern European or a Northern European country. The country’s location at the crossroads has led to centuries of political tension with major international powers. However, it has also enabled Lithuania to become the most important transport centre in the region. Moreover, the port of Klaipeda is the northernmost ice-free port in Europe, although Lithuania is known for its winters, which can last until the beginning of May, and its summers, which last only two weeks and can be marked by rain (rain gave Lithuania its name, namely lietus – Lietuva).
Geography and demography can hardly be separated. The environment is constantly influenced by the people who live in it, while the environment in turn determines the characteristics of the corresponding population. Demography in Lithuania deals with issues that apply to the whole of Europe, the most pressing being the ageing of the population. However, Lithuania also faces country-specific demographic challenges. The country has lost almost a third of its population in a decade because it has the highest emigration rate among EU member states. Health issues are also a demographic problem. The country lags behind most EU Member States in life expectancy, the age-standardised mortality rate is the second highest in the EU, the mortality rate from ischaemic heart disease and alcohol-related causes, and the mortality rate that can be influenced by medical interventions are among the highest in Europe.
One of the most important demographic changes Lithuania has experienced in the last 100 years is the transformation from a purely rural country to a state where two-thirds of the population lives in cities. Life in the city has its own rhythms and rituals, with nightlife and traffic jams, heterogeneous neighbourhoods and invisible neighbours, everything that was foreign and hardly imaginable less than a century ago. Urbanisation has led to the disappearance of traditional ways of life and the emergence of new lifestyles and lifestyles that bring new social, environmental and economic problems. The emptying of villages and the growth of large cities in Lithuania highlight the importance of urban studies, a discipline that borrows heavily from sociology, anthropology, architecture, transport, criminology and other fields of research in its search for answers to urban life and cultures.