Augustinas Voldemaras

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Augustinas Voldemaras
Augustinas Voldemaras (standing far right) in 1918.
Augustinas Voldemaras (sitting on the left) and Gustav Stresemann in Berlin (1929)

Augustinas Voldemaras (April 16, 1883 in Dysna, Ignalina district municipality – May 16, 1942 in Moscow) was a Lithuanian nationalist political figure. He served as the country's first Prime Minister in 1918, and again from 1926 to 1929.

Biography[edit]

In 1910, Voldemaras received his Master's Degree in History and Philosophy at the University of St. Petersburg, and was awarded a gold medal for his dissertation. A scholarship fund was set up to enable him to further his studies, and eventually he achieved his PhD. During his years as a student, Voldemaras was greatly influenced by the spirit of ethnic pride and nationalism which was sweeping Lithuania. Although the country was still part of the Russian Empire, small groups both in and outside of Lithuania were forming to agitate for Lithuania's autonomy and independence. Voldemaras joined one of these student groups in St. Petersburg and was elected as its representative to the Congress of Non-Sovereign Nations in Kiev in September, 1917.[1]

In 1926, a segment of the army that disagreed with the policies of President Kazys Grinius' administration planned a military coup d'état. They appealed to Voldemaras and Antanas Smetona to support them, both of whom agreed. The coup took place on December 17, deposing Grinius after an administration of only six months, and installing Smetona as President for the second time and Voldemaras as Prime Minister. To assuage public opinion, in both Lithuania and the outside world, Grinius agreed to "appoint" Voldemaras Prime Minister, if the latter promised to uphold the constitution of 1922. Although Voldemaras made this promise, all of his actions moved the government in a dictatorial direction instead.[1]

Meanwhile, disagreements and resentments between the various political parties of Lithuania were growing. Voldemaras was the head of an organization called Geležinis Vilkas (Iron Wolf), whose honorary head was President Smetona. Although he and Smetona had formerly worked closely together and shared similar ideologies, their association was soon to be brought to an end, partly because of Voldemaras' intense involvement with Geležinis Vilkas. The dynamic personality of Professor Voldemaras continued to attract adherents among the younger nationalist officers, who were favorably impressed by emerging fascism, and who were displeased with what they perceived as Smetona's more moderate course.[1]

Voldemaras was unpopular in some quarters, and in 1929 he survived an assassination attempt in Kaunas.[1] Later that year, while attending a meeting of the League of Nations, he was ousted in a coup by President Smetona, who now ruled as dictator alone until the Soviet invasion in 1940. Upon Voldemaras' removal from office, Geležinis Vilkas went underground and received aid and encouragement in its activities from Germany.[1]

Geležinis Vilkas planned and executed a coup in 1934, flying Voldemaras in from Zarasai to take over as head of the government. However, the coup was unsuccessful, and Voldemaras was imprisoned for the next four years. During this time he wrote another major work, a historical account of the life of Christ, which was banned in Lithuania because of its controversial nature.[1]

In 1938, Voldemaras was pardoned and released from prison and exiled. He attempted to return in 1939, but was arrested and sent back to Zarasai. He tried to return on several more occasions, but each time was sent back to his place of exile.[1]

In June 1940, a few days after the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Lithuania, Voldemaras made another attempt to return from exile. The reason of his return remains unclear. There have been speculations that he cooperated with NKVD, however some historians suggest that this was a discrediting propaganda by the Soviets. He was arrested at the border by the Bolsheviks, and was not heard from again. It was only learned much later that he had died while in the Moscow Butyrka prison on May 16, 1942.[1]

Voldemaras was a professor of philology, as well as a polyglot, familiar with sixteen different languages.

In 1929, Voldemaras acted as the Godfather to the three-year-old Valdas Adamkus, who later became the President of Lithuania.

References[edit]

Preceded by
none
Prime Minister of Lithuania
11 November 1918 – 26 December 1918
Succeeded by
Mykolas Sleževičius
Preceded by
Mykolas Sleževičius
Prime Minister of Lithuania
17 December 1926 – 23 September 1929
Succeeded by
Juozas Tūbelis