31 Dec 2014 22:00
Fireworks in Lithuania marked not only the beginning of the New Year, but also the beginning of the new currency in the country. Over the next two weeks, Lithuanian litas that had been used since 1993 are being replaced by the euro. Lithuania is the last Baltic country after Estonia and Latvia to adopt the euro, doing so to attract more investment, eliminate money-changing costs, reduce the borrowing from - and maybe even the influence of - Russia.
“We used rubbles, talonas, then switched to litas, and now will have to get used to euros,” says Zigmantas while familiarising himself with the new currency on the last day of the year.
The litas was actually first introduced in 1922 after World War I, when Lithuania declared independence. In 1939 Germany annexed the Klaipėda region of Lithuania and the reichsmark replaced the litas until 1941, when the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania and Soviet rubbles were introduced to the country. The talonas – a temporary currency of Lithuania – was used from 1991 to 1993 before reintroducing the litas. Now, from the 1st of January, euros will take the place of Lithuania’s national currency.
“There will be a lot of confusion,” says Zita, Zigmanta’s wife. “I can’t see very well so it’s not easy to tell litas coins from euro coins. It will take time to get used to it.”
Zita spent time watching news on TV to learn about the currency switch in Lithuania and asked her children to change her savings in litas to euros. The switch will be confusing not only because of the physical similarities between the two currencies, but also because of the exchange rate, which is not the easiest to calculate by memory. To help himself and his wife Zita to convert litas to euros, Zigmantas has drawn a chart with different amounts of litas and their equivalent values in euros.
However, the younger generation isn’t worried. Guoda, an 18-year-old student, got a few packages of euro coins as a present for Christmas. Apparently, euro bags were among the most popular presents this year.
“I’ll just put everything together,” Guoda says. “I will try to spend litas first and then will start using euros.”
For the first two weeks on the 2015, Lithuanians can use both currencies to pay for goods and services, however they will only be issued change in euros.
Not all Lithuanians are happy about the change, though. Many worry about rising prices. Others see the loss of the litas as the loss of the nation’s identity. This gave rise to a small artistic movement of ‘crying litas’ – where people started to draw tears on litas notes to make it look as if famous people shown on the notes were crying.
Businessmen, of course, took advantage of the trend and started to produce clothes, bags, playing cards and other everyday goods featuring litas, a very famous symbol among sentimental Lithuanians.
After Lithuania adopted the euro, there are only 11 different currencies remaining in circulation in the European Union.