History of Lithuania
The history of Lithuania dates back to at least 1009, the first recorded written use of the term. Lithuanians, a branch of the Baltic people, later conquered neighboring lands, establishing the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and in the 13th century the short-lived Kingdom of Lithuania. The Grand Duchy was a successful and lasting warrior state. The Duchy remained fiercely independent and was one of the last areas of Europe to adopt Christianity. In the 15th century, Lithuania became the largest state in Europe through the conquest of much of East Slav populated Ruthenia. The Grand Duchy, a formidable power, formed in 1385 a dynastic union with Poland and became Christianized, merging into the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. In 1795, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was erased from the political map with the Partitions of the Commonwealth. Afterwards the Lithuanians lived under the rule of the Russian Empire until the 20th century.
On February 16, 1918, Lithuania was reestablished as a democratic state. It remained independent until the outset of World War II, when it was occupied by the Soviet Union under the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Following a brief occupation by Nazi Germany when the Nazis declared war on the Soviet Union, Lithuania was again absorbed into the Soviet Union for nearly 50 years. In the early 1990s, Lithuania restored its sovereignty and in the following years became integrated into the European political structures.
The first people arrived on the territory of modern Lithuania in the 10th millennium BC after the glaciers had retreated and the last glacial period had ended. According to historian Marija Gimbutas, the people came from two directions: from the Jutland Peninsula and from present-day Poland. They brought two different cultures as evidenced by the tools they used. They were traveling hunters and did not form more stable settlements. In the 8th millennium BC, the climate became much warmer and forests developed. The inhabitants traveled less and engaged in local hunting, gathering and fresh water fishing. During the 6th–5th millennium BC, various animals were domesticated, dwellings became more sophisticated and could shelter larger families. Agriculture did not arrive until the 3rd millennium BC, because of demanding climate and terrain and a lack of suitable tools to cultivate the land. Crafts and trade also started to form at this time. Speakers of North-Western Indo-European might have arrived with the Corded Ware culture around 3200/3100 BC.
The first Lithuanians were a branch of an ancient Indo-European group known as the Balts, whose tribes also included the original Prussian, Yotvingian and Latvian people. The Baltic tribes were not directly influenced by the Roman Empire, but they did maintain close trade contacts (see Amber Road).
Lithuania, located along the lower and middle Neman River basin, comprised mainly the differently developed regions of Samogitia, and further east Aukštaitija, or Lithuania proper. The area was remote and not easily accessible or attractive to outsiders, including traders, which accounts for its separate linguistic, cultural and religious identity and delayed integration into the European patterns and trends.
Today, the two remaining Baltic nationalities are Lithuanians and Latvians, but there were more Baltic groups or tribes in the past. Some of these have merged into Lithuanians and Latvians (Samogitians, Selonians, Curonians, Semigallians), while others no longer exist (Prussians, Sambians, Skalvians, Galindians).
Formation of Lithuanian state
During the 11th century, Lithuanian territories were included in the list of lands paying tribute to Kievan Rus', but by the 12th century, the Lithuanians were invading neighboring territories themselves. From the late 12th century an organized military force existed; it was used for external rides, plundering and gathering of slaves. Such military and wealth-acquiring activities and the attendant social differentiation triggered a struggle for power in Lithuania, which initiated the formation of early statehood, from which the Grand Duchy of Lithuania developed.
Grand Duchy of Lithuania (13th century–1569)
From the early 13th century, the nearly yearly foreign military excursions had become possible because of the increased cooperation and coordination among the tribes. In 1219, twenty-one Lithuanian chiefs signed a peace treaty with Galicia–Volhynia. This event is widely accepted as the first proof that the Baltic tribes were uniting and consolidating.
From the early 13th century, two German religious orders, the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and the Teutonic Knights, became established in the region. Under the pretense of converting to Christianity they conquered much of the area that is now Latvia and Estonia, in addition to parts of Lithuania. In response, a number of small Baltic tribal groups united under the rule of Mindaugas. Mindaugas, originally a kunigas or major chief, one of the five senior dukes listed in the 1219 treaty, is referred to as the ruler of all Lithuania as of 1236 in the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle. Mindaugas conquered the Black Ruthenia region (the vicinity of Grodno, Brest and Navahrudak).
The Lithuanians, led by Vykintas, defeated the Livonian Brothers and their allies in the Battle of Saule in 1236, which forced the Brothers to merge with the Teutonic Knights. In 1250 Mindaugas entered into an agreement with the Teutonic Order; he consented to receive baptism (the act took place in 1251) and relinquish control over some lands in western Lithuania, for which he was to receive a crown in return. On July 17, 1251, Pope Innocent IV signed two papal bulls, ordering the Bishop of Chełmno to crown Mindaugas as King of Lithuania, appoint a bishop for Lithuania, and build a cathedral. In 1253, Mindaugas was crowned and the Kingdom of Lithuania was established, for the first and only time in Lithuanian history. In 1260 Samogitians, victorious over the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Durbe, agreed to submit themselves to Mindaugas' rule on the condition that he abandons the Christian religion; the King complied by terminating the emergent conversion of his country, renewed anti-Teutonic warfare and expanded further his Ruthenian holdings. Mindaugas thus established the basic tenets of medieval Lithuanian policy: defense against the German order expansion from the west and north, conquest of Ruthenia in the south and east.
Mindaugas was murdered in 1263 by his nephew Treniota, which resulted in great unrest and a return to paganism. Pagan Lithuania was a target of Christian crusades of the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Order. In 1241, 1259 and 1275 the country was ravaged by raids from the Golden Horde.
Traidenis' reign (1269-1282) was the longest and most stable regime during the period of unrest. Tradenis reunified all Lithuanian lands, defeated the Teutonic Knights (the Livonian branch) in 1279 and became the ruler of Yotvingia, Semigalia and eastern Prussia. After his death, the German orders finalized their conquests of Baltic tribes and they could concentrate on Lithuania. In 1274 the Great Prussian Rebellion ended, and the Teutonic Knights proceeded to conquer other Baltic tribes, including the Yotvingians in 1283; the Livonian Order completed its conquest of Semigalia, the last Baltic ally of Lithuania, in 1291.
The House of Gediminas began with Butigeidis and his brother Butvydas, who ruled 1292-1294. Butvydas' sons, the brothers Vytenis (1295-1315) and Gediminas (1315-1341), after whom the Gediminid dynasty is named, had to deal with the increased Teutonic pressure, bloody and costly raids and incursions. Grand Duke Gediminas was the first of the leaders responsible for Lithuania's state power and the great expansion into Ruthenia.
Gediminas extended the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the east by challenging the Mongols, who from the 1230s invaded large areas of Rus'. Through alliances and conquest, in competition with the Principality of Moscow (an Orthodox metropolitan Lithuanian seat was established to further that end), the Lithuanians eventually gained control of vast expanses, the western and southern portions of the former Kievan Rus'. Gediminas' rule stretched up to the eastern Smolensk region, southern Polesia and temporarily Kiev. In the 14th century, many Lithuanian princes established in the territories to govern the Rus' lands accepted Eastern Christianity and assumed the Ruthenian custom and names, joining the culture of their subjects. Integration into the Lithuanian state structure was accomplished without disturbing the local ways of life. The Lithuanian-controlled area grew to include most of modern Belarus and Ukraine (the Dnieper River basin) and comprised a massive Lithuanian state that in the 15th century stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
Gediminas and his people were pagan, but the ruler kept contacts with the world of Western Christianity, including Western Europe. Casimir, the son of the Polish king Władysław, married Gediminas' daughter Aldona, the future queen of Poland. A defensive alliance with Poland was concluded in 1325.
Of Gediminas' seven successor sons, four remained pagan and three became Orthodox Christians. From 1345 Algirdas took over as the grand duke. He in practice ruled Lithuanian Ruthenia, while Lithuania proper was the domain of his equally able brother Kęstutis. Algirdas fought the Golden Horde Tatars and the Principality of Moscow, Kęstutis took upon himself the demanding struggle with the Teutonic Order.
Algirdas captured Kiev in 1362 after defeating the Mongols in the Battle of Blue Waters. Volhynia, Podolia and left-bank Ukraine were also incorporated. In 1368, 1370 and 1372 he invaded Muscovy and each time approached Moscow itself. Over the same period Kęstutis heroically and with perseverance fought for the survival of ethnic Lithuanians, attempting to repel about thirty incursions by the militarily advanced Teutonic Knights and their European guest fighters. The two brothers and other Gediminas' offspring left many ambitious and endowed sons. Their rivalry weakened the country facing the Teutonic expansion and the newly assertive Grand Duchy of Moscow, buoyed by the 1380 Battle of Kulikovo victory over the Golden Horde and intent on unification of all Rus' lands under its rule.
Algirdas died in 1377 and his son Jogaila became grand duke when Kęstutis was still alive. Jogaila made overtures to the Teutonic Order and concluded a treaty with them in 1380, contrary to Kęstutis' principles and interests. Kęstutis felt he could no longer support his nephew, attempted to remove him from the throne and a civil war (1381–1384) ensued. Kęstutis was captured and died in Jogaila's custody, but his son Vytautas escaped.
Jogaila agreed to the Treaty of Dubysa with the Order in 1382, an indication of his weakness. A four year truce stipulated Jogaila's conversion to Catholicism and the cession of half of Samogitia to the Teutonic Knights. Vytautas went to Prussia seeking support of the Knights for his claims, including the Duchy of Trakai, which he considered inherited from his father. Jogaila's refusal to submit to his cousin's and the Knights' demands resulted in their joint invasion of Lithuania in 1383. Vytautas, however, having failed to gain the entire Duchy, decided to establish contacts with the Grand Duke. Upon receiving from him the Grodno, Podlachia and Brest areas Vytautas switched sides in 1384, destroying the border strongholds entrusted to him by the Order. The two Lithuanian dukes acting together waged in 1384 a successful expedition against the Teutonic ruled lands.
14th century Lithuanian society
The increasingly differentiated Lithuanian society was led by the princes of the Gediminid and Rurik dynasties and the descendants of the former kunigas top chiefs. Below were the regular nobles or boyars, in Lithuania proper strictly subjected to the princes. For their military and administrative services they were compensated by payments and Ruthenian land grants. The majority of ordinary rural folks were free. They were obligated to provide crafts and numerous contributions and services; for not paying debts or other trespasses one could become a slave and join the foreign captured laborers.
Towns developed to a much lesser degree than in nearby Prussia or Livonia. Outside of Ruthenia, the only cities were Vilnius (Gediminas' capital), Trakai and Kaunas. Vilnius in the 14th century became a major trade center, linking Eastern Europe with the Baltic zone. Of the passing Ruthenian, German and Polish merchants, many settled there. Lithuanian (from the late 13th century) and foreign currencies were widely used.
The state had a patrimonial structure of power. The Gediminid rule was hereditary, but the ruler would choose the son he considered most able to be his successor. Councils existed, but could only advise the duke. The huge state was divided into a hierarchy of territorial units, administered by designated officials, who were also empowered in judicial and military matters.
Lithuania, not an officially Christian state, was an anomaly in Europe and had no allies. This situation was becoming increasingly untenable in the 1380s.
Christian Lithuania, dynastic union with Poland
As the power of Lithuanian warlord dukes expanded to the south and east, the cultivated East Slavic Ruthenians moved in the opposite direction within their new statehood and exerted influence on the Lithuanian ruling class. They brought with them the Old Church Slavonic liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Christian religion, written Slavic language, the version of which known as Chancery Slavonic was to serve the Lithuanian court's document-producing needs for a few centuries, and developed laws, turning Vilnius into a major center of their civilization. By the time of Jogaila's acceptance of Catholicism at the Union of Krewo in 1385, the establishment of his realm and members of his family had been to a large extent assimilated into the Orthodox Christianity and became Russified (in part a result of the deliberate policy of the Gediminas ruling house).
The Catholic influence and contacts, including German settlers and traders, had also been increasing for some time around the northwest region of the empire, Lithuania proper. The Franciscan and Dominican monk orders existed in Vilnius from the time of Gediminas. Kęstutis in 1349 and Algirdas in 1358 negotiated Christianization with the pope, the emperor and the Polish king. The conversion by force policy of the Teutonic Knights had actually been an impediment, delaying the progress of Western Christianity in the Grand Duchy.
Jogaila, a grand duke since 1377, was himself still a pagan. He agreed to become a Catholic when offered the Polish crown and the child queen Jadwiga by leading Polish nobles, who were eager to take advantage of Lithuania's expansion. Lithuania's close association with Poland had thus begun, and lasted, in one form or another, for nearly five centuries. For the near future, Poland gave Lithuania a valuable ally against increasing threats from the Teutonic Knights and the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Lithuania, in which Ruthenians outnumbered Lithuanians proper several times, was not a stable political entity, and Jogaila's realistic choice may have been between a conversion-marriage based alliance with Muscovy or with Poland. A Russian deal was also negotiated with Dmitry Donskoy in 1383–1384, but Moscow was too far to help with the Teutonic problem and could pose a difficulty as a center competing for the loyalty of the Orthodox Lithuanian Ruthenians.
Jogaila's baptism and the crowning as the King of Poland in 1386 were followed by the final and official Christianization of Lithuania. The establishment of the bishopric in Vilnius in 1387 and Jogaila's orders for his court and followers to convert to Catholicism were meant to deprive the Teutonic Knights of the justification for their practice of forced conversion through military onslaughts. Jogaila also needed Polish support in his struggle with cousin Vytautas.
After the Lithuanian Civil War of 1381–1384 and the Lithuanian Civil War of 1389–1392, Vytautas the Great became the Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1392, under a compromise deal with Jogaila. Vytautas had been frustrated by Jogaila's Polish arrangements and rejected the prospect of Lithuania's subordination to Poland. During Vytautas' reign Lithuania reached the peak of its territorial expansion, but his ambitious plans were checked by the 1399 defeat, inflicted by the Golden Horde at the Battle of the Vorskla River. Prior to that expedition, in the Treaty of Salynas in 1398 Vytautas had to grant the Teutonic Order a large portion of Samogitia, a native Lithuanian land, greatly improving the position of the Order and their associated Knights of the Sword in Livonia. In his soon pursued attempts to retake the territory, the Grand Duke needed the help of the Polish King. Under Vytautas centralization of the state had begun, and the Lithuanian nobility became increasingly prominent in state politics.
The original Union of Krewo of 1385 had been renewed and defined further, but continuously with little clarity, due to the competing Polish and Lithuanian interests, by the "unions" of Vilnius (1401), Horodło (1413), Grodno (1432) and Vilnius (1499). A lasting connection of some sort between the two states was beneficial to Poles, Lithuanians, Ruthenians, Catholic and Orthodox, and the Jagiellon rulers themselves, whose hereditary succession rights in Lithuania practically guaranteed their election as kings in Poland.
The Lithuanian-Polish alliance was able to defeat the mighty Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, but they failed to take Marienburg, the Knights' fortress-capital. Several more wars resulted and in 1422, at the Peace of Melno, the Grand Duchy recovered Samogitia, which terminated its involvement in the wars with the Order. Later different foreign policies were pursued by Lithuania and Poland, accompanied by conflicts over Podolia and Volhynia, the Grand Duchy's territories in the southeast.
The dynastic link to Poland resulted in religious, political and cultural ties and increase of Western influence among the native Lithuanian nobility, and to a lesser extent among the Ruthenian boyars from the East, Lithuanian subjects. Catholic Lithuanians were granted preferential treatment and access to offices because of the policies of Vytautas, officially pronounced in 1413 at the Union of Horodło, and even more so of his successors, aimed at asserting the rule of a Catholicized, Lithuanian elite over the Rus' territories. Such policies increased the pressure on the local nobility to convert to Catholicism. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was preserved as a separate state with separate institutions. Cities were granted the German system of laws (Magdeburg rights), with the largest of these being Vilnius, since 1322 the capital of the Grand Duchy.
Following the deaths of Vytautas (1430), conflict ensued and Lithuania was ruled by rival successors. Afterwards, the Lithuanian nobility on two occasions technically broke the union between Poland and Lithuania, unilaterally selecting grand dukes from the Jagiellon dynasty. In 1440, the Lithuanian great lords elevated Casimir, King Jagiełło's (Jogaila)'s second son. This was fixed by Casimir's election as king by the Poles in 1446. In 1492, in the case of Jagiełło's grandsons, John Albert became the king, while Alexander the grand duke in Lithuania. Again, in 1501 Alexander succeeded John as king, which resolved the difficulty.
On the Teutonic front, the Polish Crown continued the struggle, which in 1466 led to the Peace of Thorn and the recovery of much of the Piast dynasty territorial losses. A secular Prussian state was established in 1525. It would greatly impact the futures of both Lithuania and Poland.
The Tatar Crimean Khanate recognized suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire from 1475. Seeking slaves and booty the Tatars raided vast portions of the Grand Duchy, burning Kiev in 1482 and approaching Vilnius in 1505. Their activity resulted in the 1480s and 1490s in Lithuania's loss of its distant reaches on the Black Sea shores. The last two Jagiellon kings were Sigismund I and Sigismund II Augustus, during whose reign the intensity of Tatar raids diminished due to the appearance of the military caste of Cossacks at the southeastern territories and the growing power of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
Lithuania needed a close alliance with Poland when, at the end of the 15th century, the increasingly assertive Muscovy threatened some of Lithuania's Rus' principalities, seeking a "recovery" of the formerly Orthodox-ruled lands. In 1492, Ivan III of Russia unleashed what turned out to be a series of the Muscovite–Lithuanian and later Livonian wars.
The border of Lithuania's loosely controlled eastern Ruthenian territory ran in 1492 less than one hundred miles from Moscow. But as a result of the warfare, a third of the Grand Duchy's land area was ceded to the Russian state in 1503. Then the loss of Smolensk in July 1514 was particularly disastrous, even though it was followed by the successful Battle of Orsha in September, as the Polish interests were reluctantly recognizing the necessity of their own involvement in Lithuania's defense. The peace of 1537 left Homel as the Grand Duchy's eastern edge.
In the north prolonged multinational conflicts took place over the strategically and economically crucial Livonia region, the traditional territory of the Knights of the Sword. The Livonian Confederation formed an alliance with the Polish-Lithuanian side in 1557. Desired by both Lithuania and Poland, Livonia was then incorporated into the Polish Crown by Sigismund II. These developments caused Ivan IV of Russia to launch attacks in Livonia beginning in 1558, and later on Lithuania. The Grand Duchy's fortress of Polotsk fell in 1563, which was followed by a Lithuanian victory at the Battle of Ula in 1564, but not a recovery of Polotsk. Russian, Swedish and Polish-Lithuanian occupations subdivided Livonia.
Toward more integrated union
The Polish ruling establishment had been aiming at incorporation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into Poland since before the Union of Krewo. At that time and in the 15th century Lithuanians were able to fend off the Polish attempts, but the dynamics of power changed in the 16th century. In 1508 the Polish Sejm voted for finances for Lithuania's defense against Muscovy for the first time and an army was fielded. The Polish szlachta's executionist movement called for full incorporation of the Grand Duchy because of its increasing reliance on the Polish Crown's support against Moscow's encroachments. This problem had only grown more acute during the reign of Sigismund II Augustus, the last Jagiellon king and grand duke of Lithuania, who also had no heir who would inherit and continue the personal union. The preservation of the Polish-Lithuanian power appeared to require the monarch to force a decisive solution during his lifetime. The resistance to a closer and more permanent union was coming from Lithuania's ruling families, culturally increasingly Polonized, but attached to the Lithuanian heritage and their patrimonial rule, different from the already significantly developed democracy of nobles in Poland.
Legal evolution had lately been taking place in Lithuania nevertheless. In the Privilege of Vilnius of 1563 Sigismund restored full political rights to the Grand Duchy's Orthodox boyars, up to that time restricted by Vytautas and his successors; all members of the nobility were from then officially equal. Elective courts were established in 1565-66 and the Second Lithuanian Statute of 1566 created a hierarchy of local offices patterned on the Polish system. The Lithuanian legislative assembly assumed the same formal powers as the Polish sejm.
The Polish Sejm of January 1569, deliberating in Lublin, was attended by the Lithuanian lords at Sigismund's insistence. Most left town on March 1, unhappy with the Poles' proposed right to acquire property and settle in Lithuania and other issues. Sigismund reacted by announcing the incorporation of the Grand Duchy's Volhynia and Podlachia voivodeships into the Polish Crown. Soon the large Kiev Voivodeship and Bratslav Voivodeship were also annexed. Ruthenian boyars in the formerly southeastern Grand Duchy mostly approved the territorial transfers: they were becoming members of the privileged Polish nobility. But the King also pressured many obstinate Crown deputies to agree on compromises important to the Lithuanian side. The arm twisting combined with reciprocal guarantees for Lithuanian nobles' rights in the Crown resulted in the "voluntary" passage of the Union act on July 1. The combined polity would from now be ruled by a common sejm, but separate hierarchies of major state offices were kept. Through this process that many in the Lithuanian establishment found objectionable, but in the end prudent to comply with, Sigismund managed to preserve for the time being the Polish-Lithuanian great power. Reforms necessary to protect its long-term success and survival were not undertaken.
From the 16th to the mid-17th century culture, arts, and education flourished, fueled by the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. The Lutheran ideas of the Reformation entered the Livonian Confederation by the 1520s, and Lutheranism soon became the prevailing religion in the urban areas of the region, while Lithuania remained Catholic.
An influential book dealer was the humanist and bibliophile Francysk Skaryna (c. 1485—1540), who was the founding father of Belarusian letters. He wrote in his native Ruthenian (Chancery Slavonic) language and was typical in this respect of the earlier phase of the Renaissance in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which lasted until the middle of the 16th century, when Polish predominated in literary productions. Many educated Lithuanians came back from studies abroad and the Grand Duchy was boiling with active cultural life, sometimes referred to as Lithuanian Renaissance (not to be confused with Lithuanian National Revival in the 19th century).
At the time Italian architecture was introduced in Lithuanian cities, and Lithuanian literature written in Latin flourished. Also at that time the first handwritten and printed texts in the Lithuanian language emerged, and the formation of written Lithuanian language began. The process was led by Lithuanian scholars Abraomas Kulvietis, Stanislovas Rapalionis, Martynas Mažvydas and Mikalojus Daukša.
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795)
With the Union of Lublin of 1569 Poland and Lithuania formed a new state: the Republic of Both Nations (commonly known as Poland-Lithuania or the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth; Polish: Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów, Lithuanian: Abiejų Tautų Respublika). The Commonwealth, which officially consisted of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was ruled by Polish and Lithuanian nobility, together with kings, who were elected by the nobles. The Union was decided to have a common foreign policy, customs and currency. Separate Polish and Lithuanian armies were kept and separate but parallel ministerial and central offices established, organized according to the governmental practice developed in the Crown.
Following the union, Polonization increasingly affected all aspects of Lithuanian public life; it took well over a century for the process to be completed. The 1588 Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the earlier legal codifications were written in the Ruthenian Chancery Slavonic language. From about 1700 Polish was used in official documents; the Ruthenian language and Latin had been utilized in the Grand Duchy's written transactions prior to that time. Lithuania's ruling families and nobility had become linguistically and culturally Polonized, while retaining a sense of Lithuanian identity. The Lithuanian language fell into disuse in the circles of the grand dukes' courts in the second half of the 15th century. A century later Polish was commonly used by ordinary Lithuanian nobility. The Lithuanian language however survived, despite the encroachments of the Ruthenian, Polish, Russian, Belarusian and German languages, as a peasant vernacular and from 1547 in written religious use.
The predominantly East Slavic population of the Grand Duchy was mostly Eastern Orthodox, and much of the Lithuanian state's nobility also remained Orthodox. Unlike the common people of the Lithuanian realm, at about the time of the union with Poland large portion of the nobility converted to Western Christianity. Following the Reformation movement many noble families converted to Calvinism in the 1550s and 1560s, and typically a generation later, conforming to the Counter-Reformation trends in the Commonwealth, to Roman Catholicism. The Protestant and Orthodox presence must have been very strong, because according to an undoubtedly exaggerating early 17th century source, "merely one in a thousand remained a Catholic" in Lithuania at that time.[a] In the early Commonwealth religious toleration was the norm and was officially enacted by the Confederation of Warsaw in 1573.
By 1750 nominal Catholics comprised about 80% of the Commonwealth's population, the vast majority of the noble citizenry, and the entire legislature. In the east there were also the Eastern Orthodox Church adherents. However, Catholics in the Grand Duchy itself were split. Under half were Latin rite with strong allegiance to Rome. The others (mostly non-noble Ruthenians) followed the Eastern rite. They were the so-called Uniates, whose church was established at the Union of Brest in 1596, and they acknowledged only nominal obedience to Rome. At first the advantage went to the advancing Roman Catholic Church pushing back a retreating Orthodox Church. However after the first partition of the Commonwealth in 1772, the Orthodox had the support of the government and gained the upper hand. The Russian Orthodox Church paid special attention to the Uniates (who had once been Orthodox), and tried to bring them back. The contest was political and spiritual, using missionaries, schools, and pressure exerted by powerful nobles and landlords. By 1800 over 2 million of the Uniates had become Orthodox, and another 1.6 million by 1839.
Grand Duchy and its decline
The Union of Lublin and the integration of the two countries notwithstanding, for over two centuries Lithuania continued to exist as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, retaining separate laws as well as an army and a treasury. At the time of the Union King Sigismund II Augustus removed Ukrainian and other territories from Lithuania and incorporated them into the Polish Crown. The Grand Duchy was left with today's Belarus and parts of western Russia, in addition to its ethnic Lithuanian lands. From 1573, the kings of Poland and the grand dukes of Lithuania were always the same person, and were elected by the nobility, who were granted ever increasing liberties and privileges. These liberties, especially the liberum veto, led to political anarchy and the eventual dissolution of the state.
The Commonwealth was greatly weakened by a series of wars, beginning in 1648 with Khmelnytsky's Cossack uprising. During the Northern Wars (1655–1661), the Lithuanian territory and economy were devastated by the Swedish army. Before it could fully recover, Lithuania was again ravaged during the Great Northern War (1700–1721). War, plague, and famine resulted in the loss of approximately 40% of the country's inhabitants. Foreign powers, especially Russia, became dominant players in the domestic politics of the Commonwealth. Numerous factions among the nobility used their "Golden Liberty" to prevent reforms.
The Constitution of May 3, 1791, a culmination of the belated reform process of the Commonwealth, was passed by the Sejm (central legislature). It attempted to integrate Lithuania and Poland more closely, although the separation was kept by the added Reciprocal Guarantee of Two Nations. Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772, 1793 and 1795 terminated the existence of the Commonwealth and saw the Grand Duchy of Lithuania divided between Russia and Prussia. Lithuania ceased to exist as a distinct entity for more than a century.
Under Imperial Russia, World War I (1795–1918)
Post-Commonwealth Lithuania 1795–1864; foundations of Lithuanian nationalism
Following the partitions of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire controlled the majority of Lithuania, including Vilnius, which was a part of the Vilna Governorate. In 1803 Emperor Alexander I revived and upgraded the old Jesuit academy as the imperial Vilnius University, the largest in the Russian Empire. The university and the regional educational system was directed on behalf of the Tsar by Prince Adam Czartoryski. In the early years of the 19th century, there were signs that Lithuania might be allowed some separate recognition by the Empire, however this had never happened.
These hopes were soon to be dashed, particularly subsequent to 1812, when Lithuanians eagerly welcomed Napoleon Bonaparte's French army as liberators, with many joining his offensive against Russia. After the French army's defeat and withdrawal, Tsar Alexander I decided to keep the University of Vilnius open and the poet Adam Mickiewicz was able to receive his education there. The south-western part of Lithuania included in Prussia in 1795 and in the short-lived Duchy of Warsaw in 1807 became a part of the Russian-controlled Kingdom of Poland in 1815, while the rest of Lithuania continued to be administered as a Russian province.
Lithuanians and Poles revolted twice, in 1831 and 1863, but both attempts had failed and resulted in increased repression by the Russian authorities. After the November Uprising of 1831, Tsar Nicholas I began an intensive program of Russification and the University of Vilnius was closed. The Polish language schooling and cultural life were however largely able to continue in the former Grand Duchy, until the failure of the 1863 January Uprising. The Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were annulled by the Russian Empire only in 1840, and serfdom was abolished in 1861. The Uniate Church, important in the Belarus part of the former Grand Duchy, was incorporated into the Orthodox Church in 1839.
The poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, emotionally attached to the Lithuanian setting and exploring Lithuania's medieval themes, influenced ideological foundations of the emerging Lithuanian national movement. Simonas Daukantas, who studied with Mickiewicz at Vilnius, promoted a return to Lithuania's pre-Commonwealth traditions and a renewal of the local culture, based on the Lithuanian language. With those ideas in mind he wrote already in 1822 (at that time not published) a history of Lithuania in Lithuanian. Teodor Narbutt wrote in Polish a voluminous Ancient History of the Lithuanian Nation (1835–1841), where he likewise expounded and expanded further the concept of historic Lithuania, whose days of glory had ended with the union with Poland (1569). Narbutt, invoking the German scholarship, pointed out the relationship between the Lithuanian and Sanskrit languages. It indicated the closeness of Lithuanian (preserved in considerable isolation from historic era foreign influences) to its old Indo-European roots and would later provide the "antiquity" argument for the national revival activists. By the middle of the 19th century the basic ideology of the future nationalist movement had thus been defined; it required, in order to establish a modern Lithuanian identity, a break with the Polish (early modern) tradition and cultural-linguistic dependence.
Around the time of the January Uprising, there was a generation of Lithuanian leaders of the transitional period, between the Grand Duchy-oriented, bound with Poland, and the modern nationalist Lithuanian language-based movement. Jakób Gieysztor, Konstanty Kalinowski and Antanas Mackevičius wanted to form alliances with the local (Lithuanian and Belarusian speaking) peasants, who, empowered and given land, would presumably help defeat the Russian Empire, acting in their own self-interest. This created new dilemmas that had to do with languages used for such inter-class communication, and later led to the concept of a nation as the "sum of speakers of a vernacular tongue".
Formation of modern national identity and push for self-rule 1864–1918
The 1864 failure of the January Uprising made on the one hand the Polish connection seem of no further practical use to Lithuanians, while on the other led to the creation of a class of emancipated and even prosperous Lithuanian peasants, custodians of the Lithuanian language. Educational opportunities, now more widely available also to young people of such common origins, were one of the crucial factors responsible for the Lithuanian revival. As schools were being de-Polonized and Lithuanian university students sent to St. Petersburg or Moscow rather than Warsaw, a cultural void resulted and it was not being successfully filled by the attempted Russification policies.
The Russian Empire regarded the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as an East Slavic realm that ought to be (and was being) "reunited" with Russia. In the following decades however, a national, Lithuanian ethnicity-based movement emerged. It was composed of activists of different social backgrounds and persuasions, often primarily Polish speaking, but united by their willingness and zeal to promote the Lithuanian culture and language as a strategy for building a modern nation.
In 1864 the Lithuanian language and the Latin alphabet were banned in junior schools. Lithuanians resisted the Russification by arranging printing abroad and smuggling the books in by knygnešiai. The tsarist authorities implemented a number of Russification policies, including a ban on Lithuanian press and the closing of cultural and educational institutions. Lithuania became part of a new administrative region called Northwestern Krai (the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania).
Because many Lithuanian nobles were Polonized and only the poor and middle classes used Lithuanian (some of the latter also preferred to use Polish), Lithuanian was not considered a prestigious language. There were even expectations that the language would become extinct, as more and more territories in the east were Slavicized, and more people used Polish or Russian in daily life. The only place where Lithuanian was considered more prestigious and worthy of books and studying was German-controlled Lithuania Minor. Even there, an influx of German immigrants threatened the native language and culture.
The language was already present among poor people and the language revival spread into more affluent strata, beginning with the release of Lithuanian newspapers, Aušra and Varpas, then with the writing of poems and books in Lithuanian. These writings glorified the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, depicting the historic nation of great power and with many heroes.
The two most prominent figures in the revival movement, Jonas Basanavičius and Vincas Kudirka, both originated from affluent Lithuanian peasantry and both attended the Marijampolė (Mariampol) secondary school in the Suvalkai region, where serfdom had been eliminated in 1807, the time of Napoleon's takeover. The school was a Polish educational center, Russified after the Uprising, with the Lithuanian language classes introduced at that time.
Basanavičius studied medicine at Moscow, where he developed international connections, published in Polish on Lithuanian history and graduated in 1879. From there he went to Bulgaria, and in 1882 moved to Prague. In Prague he met and became influenced by the Czech national movement activists. In 1883 Basanavičius began working on a Lithuanian language review, which assumed the form of a newspaper named Aušra (The Dawn). Published in German East Prussia, Aušra was written in the Latin script, banned under the Russian rule where Cyrillic characters were required for printing in Lithuanian, and was smuggled to Lithuania. The review (forty issues in total), building on the work of the earlier writers, sought to establish continuities with the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania and exalted the Lithuanian common people in their role as the conduit of that (essential for the national revival) continuity.
Russian restrictions at Marijampolė secondary school were eased in 1872 and Kudirka, enrolled at that time, learned Polish there. He went on to study at the Warsaw imperial university, where he was influenced by Polish socialists. In 1889 Kudirka returned to Lithuania and worked on incorporating Lithuanian peasantry into mainstream politics, as the main building block of a modern nation. In 1898 he wrote a poem inspired by the opening strophe of Mickiewicz's masterpiece Pan Tadeusz, using the poet's famous invocation in a different language and for a differently understood, but resonating with the patriotism of the original, national purpose. The poem became the national anthem of Lithuania (Tautiška Giesmė).
The revival spearheaded the independence movement, with various organizations opposing Russian influence. Russian policy became harsher in response. Attacks took place against Catholic churches while a ban forbidding Lithuanian press continued.
The period from 1890 to 1904 saw the publication of about 2,500 book titles in the Lithuanian Latin alphabet. The majority of these were published in Tilsit, a city in East Prussia, although some publications reached Lithuania from the United States. A largely standardized written version of the language was achieved by the turn of the twentieth century, based on historical and Aukštaitijan (highland) usages. The letters -č-, -š- and -v- were taken from the modern (redesigned) Czech orthography, to avoid the Polish usage for corresponding sounds. The widely-accepted Lithuanian Grammar, by Jonas Jablonskis, appeared in 1901.
In 1879 Emperor Alexander II of Russia approved a proposal from the Russian military leadership to build the largest defensive structure in the entire Russian state – the 65 km2 (25 sq mi) Kaunas Fortress. Large numbers of Lithuanians went to the United States in 1867–1868 after a famine in Lithuania. Between 1868 and 1914, approximately 635,000 people, almost 20% of the population, left Lithuania. Nevertheless, a Lithuanian National Revival laid the foundations of the modern Lithuanian nation and independent Lithuania.
Lithuania's nationalist movement continued to grow. During the Russia-wide revolutionary uprising of 1905, a large congress of Lithuanian representatives in Vilnius known as the Great Seimas of Vilnius demanded provincial autonomy for Lithuania (by which they meant the lesser northwestern portion of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the territory they considered ethnically Lithuanian, including Vilnius and surrounding areas) on 5 December of that year. The tsarist regime made a number of concessions as the result of the 1905 uprising. The Baltic states could once again use their native languages in schooling and public discourse. The Latin script replaced the Cyrillic script which had been forced upon Lithuanians for four decades. However, not even Russian liberals were prepared to concede autonomy similar to that that had already existed in Estonia and Latvia, albeit under Baltic German hegemony. Many Baltic Germans looked toward aligning the Baltics (Lithuania and Courland in particular) with Germany.
After the outbreak of hostilities in World War I Germany occupied Lithuania and Courland in 1915. Vilnius fell to the Germans on 19 September 1915. An alliance with Germany in opposition to both tsarist Russia and Lithuanian nationalism became for the Baltic Germans a real possibility. Lithuania was incorporated into Ober Ost, occupational German government. As open annexation could result in a public relations backlash, the Germans planned to form a network of formally independent states that would in fact be completely dependent on Germany, the so-called Mitteleuropa.
Independent Lithuania (1918–1940)
Declaration of independence
The Germans allowed the Vilnius Conference (18–22 September 1917) to convene (elections for a formal representative assembly were not permitted), demanding that Lithuanians declare loyalty to Germany and agree to an annexation. The Conference instead announced basic principles of a limited in territorial scope, but independent ethnic Lithuanian state, with cultural rights for the minorities; accordingly, the publication of the Conference's resolution was not allowed. The Conference elected a 20-member Council of Lithuania (Taryba) and empowered it to act as the executive authority of the Lithuanian people. The Council declared on 11 December Lithuanian independence as a German protectorate, and then adopted the outright Act of Independence of Lithuania on 16 February 1918. It proclaimed Lithuania as an independent republic, organized according to democratic principles. The Germans, still present in the country, did not support such a declaration and hindered attempts to establish actual independence. To prevent being incorporated into the German Empire, Lithuanians elected Monaco-born King Mindaugas II as the titular monarch of the Kingdom of Lithuania in July 1918. Mindaugas II never assumed the throne.
In the meantime, initially also under the German occupation, an attempt to revive the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a socialist multinational federal republic took place. Anton Lutskevich and his Belarusian National Council proclaimed in March 1918 the Belarusian People's Republic, which was to stretch from the Baltic to the Black Sea and include Vilnius. Lutskevich and the Council fled the approaching Red Army and left Minsk before it was taken over by the Bolsheviks in December 1918. Upon their arrival in Vilnius, they proposed a Belarusian-Lithuanian federation, which however generated no interest on the part of the Lithuanian leaders, who were in advanced stages of promoting national plans of their own. The Lithuanians were interested only in a state "within ethnographic frontiers", as they perceived it.
Germany lost the war and signed the Armistice of Compiègne on 11 November 1918. Lithuanians quickly formed their first government, led by Augustinas Voldemaras, adopted a provisional constitution, and started organizing basic administrative structures. As the German army, defeated in the West, was withdrawing from the Eastern Front, it was followed by the Soviet forces, whose intention was to spread the global proletarian revolution. They created a number of puppet states, including on 16 December 1918 the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. By the end of December the Red Army reached Lithuanian borders, starting the Lithuanian–Soviet War.
On 1 January 1919 the German occupying army withdrew from Vilnius turning the city over to local Polish self-defense forces. The Lithuanian government evacuated Vilnius and moved west to Kaunas, which became the temporary capital of Lithuania. Vilnius was captured by the Soviet Red Army on 5 January 1919. As the Lithuanian army was in its infant stages, the Soviet forces moved largely unopposed and by mid-January 1919 controlled about ⅔ of the Lithuanian territory. Vilnius was now the capital of the Lithuanian Soviet Republic, and soon of the combined Lithuanian–Belarusian Soviet Republic.
From April 1919, the Lithuanian–Soviet War went parallel with the Polish–Soviet War. Polish troops captured Vilnius from the Soviets on 21 April 1919. Poland had territorial claims over Lithuania, especially the Vilnius Region, and these tensions spilled over into the Polish–Lithuanian War. Józef Piłsudski of Poland,[b] seeking a Polish-Lithuanian federation, but unable to find common ground with Lithuanian politicians, in August 1919 made an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Lithuanian government in Kaunas.
In mid-May the Lithuanian army, commanded by General Silvestras Žukauskas, began an offensive against the Soviets in northeastern Lithuania. By the end of August 1919, the Soviets were pushed out of the Lithuanian territory. The Lithuanian army was then deployed against the paramilitary West Russian Volunteer Army, who invaded northern Lithuania. They were Germany-reactivated and supported German and Russian soldiers who sought to retain German control over the former Ober Ost. West Russian Volunteers were defeated and pushed out by the end of 1919. Thus the first phase of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence was over and Lithuanians could direct attention to internal affairs.
The Constituent Assembly of Lithuania was elected in April and first met in May 1920. In June it adopted the third provisional constitution and on 12 July 1920 signed the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty. In the treaty the Soviet Union recognized fully independent Lithuania and its claims to the disputed Vilnius Region; Lithuania secretly allowed the Soviet forces passage through its territory, as they moved against Poland. On 14 July 1920, the advancing Soviet army captured Vilnius for a second time from Polish forces. However, they only handed the city over to Lithuanians on 26 August 1920, following the defeat of the Soviet offensive. The victorious Polish army returned and the Soviet–Lithuanian Treaty increased hostilities between Poland and Lithuania. To prevent further fighting, the Suwałki Agreement was signed on 7 October 1920; it left Vilnius on the Lithuanian side of the armistice line. It had never gone into effect, because Polish General Lucjan Żeligowski, acting on Józef Piłsudski's orders, staged a military action presented as a mutiny. He invaded Lithuania on 8 October 1920, captured Vilnius the following day, and established a short-lived Republic of Central Lithuania on 12 October 1920. The "Republic" was a part of Piłsudski's federalist scheme, which was never to materialize, because of the opposition from both the Polish and Lithuanian (represented now by the Lithuanian government) nationalists. For 19 years, as the Vilnius Region had remained under Polish administration, Kaunas was the temporary capital of Lithuania. The League of Nations attempted to mediate the dispute and Paul Hymans proposed plans of a Polish–Lithuanian union. However, the negotiations broke down as neither side agreed to the compromise. Central Lithuania held a problematic election, boycotted by the Jews, Lithuanians and Belarusians, and was annexed into Poland on 24 March 1922. The Conference of Ambassadors awarded Vilnius to Poland in March 1923. Lithuania did not accept this decision and broke all relations with Poland. The two countries were officially at war over Vilnius, the historical capital of Lithuania, inhabited at that time largely by Polish-speaking and Jewish populations, between 1920 and 1938. The dispute continued to dominate Lithuanian domestic politics and foreign policy and doomed the relations with Poland for the entire interwar period.
The Constituent Assembly, which adjourned in October 1920 due to threats from Poland, gathered again and initiated many reforms needed in the new state: obtained international recognition and membership in the League of Nations, passed the law of land reform, introduced national currency litas, and adopted the final constitution in August 1922. Lithuania became a democratic state, with Seimas (parliament) elected by men and women for a three-year term. The Seimas elected the president. The First Seimas was elected in October 1922, but could not form a government as the votes split equally 38–38, and was forced to resign. Its only lasting achievement was the Klaipėda Revolt from 10–15 January 1923. Lithuania took advantage of the Ruhr Crisis and captured the Klaipėda Region, a territory detached from East Prussia according to the Treaty of Versailles, and placed under French administration. The region was incorporated as an autonomous district of Lithuania in May 1924. For Lithuania it was the only access to the Baltic Sea and an important industrial center. The Revolt was the last armed conflict in Lithuania before World War II. The Second Seimas, elected in May 1923, was the only Seimas in independent Lithuania that served the full term. The Seimas continued the land reform, introduced social support systems, started repaying foreign debt. Strides were made in education: the network of primary and secondary schools was expanded and first universities were established in Kaunas. A national census took place in 1923.
The Third Seimas was elected in May 1926. For the first time Lithuanian Christian Democrats (krikdemai) lost their majority and became an opposition. It was sharply criticized for signing the Soviet–Lithuanian Non-Aggression Pact (Lithuanian claim to Poland-held Vilnius was recognized by the Soviets again) and accused of "Bolshevization" of Lithuania. As a result of growing tensions, the government was deposed during the 1926 Lithuanian coup d'état in December. The coup, organized by the military, was supported by the Lithuanian Nationalists Union (tautininkai) and Lithuanian Christian Democrats. They installed Antanas Smetona as the President and Augustinas Voldemaras as the Prime Minister. Smetona suppressed the opposition and remained as an authoritarian leader until June 1940.
The Seimas thought that the coup was just a temporary measure and new elections should be called to return Lithuania to democracy. The legislative body was dissolved in May 1927. Later that year members of the Social Democrats and other leftist parties, named plečkaitininkai after their leader, tried to organize an uprising against Smetona but were quickly subdued. Voldemaras grew increasingly independent of Smetona and was forced to resign in 1929. Three times in 1930 and once in 1934 he unsuccessfully attempted to return to power. In May 1928 Smetona, without the Seimas, announced the fifth provisional constitution. It continued to claim that Lithuania is a democratic state and vastly increased powers of the President. His party, the Lithuanian Nationalist Union, steadily grew in size and importance. Smetona adopted the title of "tautos vadas" (leader of the nation) and slowly started building personality cult. Many of the prominent political figures married into Smetona's family (Juozas Tūbelis, Stasys Raštikis).
When the Nazi Party came into power in the Weimar Republic, Germany–Lithuania relations worsened considerably as Nazi Germany did not accept the loss of the Klaipėda Region. The Nazis sponsored anti-Lithuanian organizations in the region. In 1934, Lithuania put the activists on trial and sentenced about 100 people, including their leaders Ernst Neumann and Theodor von Sass. That prompted Germany, one of the main trade partners of Lithuania, to declare embargo of Lithuanian products. In response Lithuania shifted its exports to Great Britain. But that was not enough and peasants in Suvalkija organized strikes, which were violently suppressed. Smetona's prestige was damaged and in September 1936 he agreed to call the first elections to Seimas since the coup of 1926. Before the elections all political parties, except the National Union, were eliminated. Thus of the 49 members of the Fourth Seimas, 42 were from the National Union. It functioned as an advisory board to the President and in February 1938 adopted a new constitution, which granted the President even greater powers.
As tensions were rising in Europe following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, Poland presented an ultimatum to Lithuania in March 1938. Poland demanded the re-establishment of normal diplomatic relations, which were broken after the Żeligowski's Mutiny in 1920, and threatened military actions in case of refusal. Lithuania, having a weaker military and unable to enlist international support for its cause, accepted the ultimatum. Lithuania–Poland relations somewhat normalized and the parties concluded treaties regarding railway transport, postal exchange, and other means of communication. Just a year after the Polish ultimatum and five days after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Lithuania received as oral ultimatum from Joachim von Ribbentrop demanding to cede the Klaipėda Region to Germany. Again, Lithuania was forced to accept. This triggered a political crisis in Lithuania and forced Smetona to form a new government which for the first time since 1926 included members of the opposition. The loss of Klaipėda was a major blow to Lithuanian economy and the country shifted to the sphere of German influence. When Germany and the Soviet Union concluded the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 and divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence, Lithuania was, at first, assigned to Germany.
World War II (1939–1945)
In August 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, with secret clauses assigning spheres of influence in the area of the Baltic Sea. Lithuania with Vilnius, initially assigned to the German sphere of influence, was transferred to the Soviet sphere in secret additional protocols of the German–Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty of September 28, 1939. Vilnius, regarded by Lithuanians as their capital, but under Polish control before the war, was occupied by the Red Army on 19 September 1939 during the invasion of Poland; Lithuania petitioned Moscow for the city. Joseph Stalin apparently overruled the Soviet government circles inclined to grant Vilnius to the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and in the Soviet–Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Pact of 10 October 1939 transferred a part of the Vilnius Region previously held by Poland, including Vilnius, to Lithuanian control in exchange for the stationing of 20,000 Soviet troops within Lithuania. Lithuania established its state authority in Vilnius and under the leadership of Prime Minister Antanas Merkys proceeded with Lithuanization of the city.
In 1940, once the Winter War in Finland was over and Germany was making rapid advances against Denmark and Norway and against France and the Low Countries, the Soviets heightened their diplomatic pressure on Lithuania, culminating in the Soviet ultimatum to Lithuania of June 14, 1940. The ultimatum demanded the formation of a new pro-Soviet government and admission of an unspecified number of Russian troops. Lithuania, already partially controlled by Soviet forces and unable to effectively resist, accepted the ultimatum. President Antanas Smetona fled Lithuania as the Soviet military (15 divisions with 150,000 soldiers) crossed the Lithuanian border on June 15, 1940.
Soviet representative Vladimir Dekanozov formed the new pro-Soviet puppet government, known as the People's Government. Justas Paleckis replaced Smetona as the acting President of Lithuania. The new government was a rubber stamp institution, carrying out orders from Moscow. The Fourth Seimas was disbanded and new show elections to the so-called People's Seimas were organized on July 14–15, 1940. With only communist-led Lithuanian People's Bloc candidates running and under conditions of general terror, official results showed over 90% voter turnout and 95% support for the Bloc. During its first session on July 21, the People's Seimas unanimously voted to convert Lithuania into the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic and petitioned to join the Soviet Union. The application was approved by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union on August 3, which completed the formalization of the annexation. By August 6 the Republic was subjected to a complete Red Army control. Twenty to thirty thousand Lithuanians, Poles and Jews were deported by the Soviet NKVD to Siberia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere between June 1940 and June 1941, including Lithuanian Prime Minister Merkys and Foreign Minister Juozas Urbšys.
Immediately following the occupation, Soviet authorities began rapid Sovietization of Lithuania. All land was nationalized. To gain support for the new regime among the poorer peasants, large farms were distributed to small landowners. However, in preparation for eventual collectivization, agricultural taxes were dramatically increased in an attempt to bankrupt all farmers. Nationalization of banks, larger enterprises, and real estate resulted in disruptions in production causing massive shortages of goods. The Lithuanian litas was artificially undervalued and withdrawn by spring 1941. The standard of living plummeted. All religious, cultural, and political organizations were banned leaving only the Communist Party of Lithuania and its youth branch. Estimated 12,000 "enemies of the people" were arrested. During the June deportation some 17,000 people (mostly former military officers, policemen, political figures, intelligentsia and their families) were deported, under the policy of elimination of national elites, to Gulags in Siberia, where many perished due to inhumane conditions.
Collaboration and resistance
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The German forces moved rapidly, encountering only sporadic Soviet resistance. Vilnius was captured on 24 June 1941, and within a week Germany controlled all Lithuania. The retreating Soviet forces massacred Lithuanian political prisoners (see Rainiai massacre). The Lithuanians generally greeted the Germans as liberators from the oppressive Soviet regime and hoped that Germany would restore some autonomy to Lithuania. The Lithuanian Activist Front organized anti-Soviet June Uprising, declared independence, and formed the Provisional Government of Lithuania with Juozas Ambrazevičius as Prime Minister. The Provisional Government was not forcibly dissolved, but stripped of any actual power; it resigned on August 7, 1941. The Germans established the civil administration, known as the Reichskommissariat Ostland. The Germans did not have enough manpower to staff local administration; therefore, most local offices were headed by the Lithuanians. Policy decisions would be made by high-ranking Germans and actually implemented by low-ranking Lithuanians. Overall, local self-government was quite developed in Lithuania and helped to sabotage or hinder several German initiatives, including raising a Waffen-SS unit or providing men for forced labor in Germany.
There was substantial cooperation and collaboration between the German forces and some Lithuanians. The Lithuanian Activist Front volunteered a police force, known as Tautinio Darbo Apsaugos Batalionas (TDA), hoping that it would be later transformed into regular army of independent Lithuania. Instead these units were employed by the Germans as auxiliary in massacres of the Jews during the Holocaust. Another infamous unit was the Lithuanian Security Police (Saugumo policija) operating in Vilnius. A number of other police battalions were formed; the auxiliary forces were sometimes employed outside of Lithuania and charged with securing communications, guarding prisoners, delivering supplies, etc. Harsh German policies of settling ethnic Germans in Lithuania, collecting large war provisions, gathering people for forced labor, conscripting men into the German army etc. soon produced a resistance movement. The most notable resistance organization, the Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania, was formed in 1943. Despite German pressure a Waffen-SS division was not established in Lithuania. Eventually, the Lithuanian general Povilas Plechavičius agreed to form the Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force (LTDF), which was to operate solely in the Lithuanian territory and be commanded by Lithuanian officers. When Germans did not honor the agreement and attempted to subordinate LTDF to the German army, Plechavičius disbanded it in May 1944.
Lithuanians also organized armed resistance, which was conducted by pro-Soviet partisans, operated in eastern Lithuania, and mainly consisted of minority Russians, Belarusians and Jews. This group fought for the re-incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. Soviet partisans committed a number of atrocities (for example, the Koniuchy massacre) and sacked towns and villages. The villagers were forced to organize local self-defense. The Polish Armia Krajowa (AK) also operated in eastern Lithuania, expecting post-war Poland to resume control of the Vilnius Region. AK was fighting not only against the Nazis, but also against the pro-Nazi Lithuanian police involved in attacks on Poles, Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force, and the Soviet partisans. Relationships between different national military organizations were often adversarial and became only more hostile and retributive as the war went on.
Before the Holocaust, Lithuania was home to about 210,000 or 250,000 Jews. According to one estimate, the Nazis and their Lithuanian subjugated-collaborators murdered around 190,000 Lithuanian Jews (91% of the pre-war Jewish community) during the Holocaust. The Holocaust in Lithuania can be divided into three stages: mass executions (June–December 1941), ghetto period (1942 – March 1943), and final liquidation (April 1943 – July 1944). Unlike in other Nazi-occupied countries where the Holocaust was introduced gradually, Einsatzgruppe A started executions in Lithuania on first days of war. Executions of Jews on a mass scale took place in Lithuania before the practice had spread to other occupied countries. The executions were carried out in three main groups: in Kaunas (Ninth Fort), in Vilnius (Ponary massacre), and in the countryside (Rollkommando Hamann). Estimated 80% of Lithuanian Jews were killed before 1942. The surviving 43,000 Jews were concentrated in the Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, and Švenčionys ghettos and forced to work for the benefit of German military industry. On June 21, 1943, Heinrich Himmler issued order to liquidate all ghettos and transfer remaining Jews to concentration camps. Vilnius Ghetto was liquidated, while Kaunas and Šiauliai were turned into concentration camps and existed until July 1944. Remaining Jews were sent to camps in Stutthof, Dachau and Auschwitz. Only about 2,000–3,000 Lithuanian Jews were liberated from these camps. More survived by withdrawing into the interior of Russia before the war broke out or by escaping the ghettos and joining the Jewish partisans. The genocide rate of Jews in Lithuania, up to 95–97%, was one of the highest in Europe. This was primarily due, with few notable exceptions, to widespread Lithuanian cooperation with the German authorities. Jews were widely considered to be responsible for the previous Soviet regime in Lithuania (see Jewish Bolshevism), the idea promoted by Nazi propaganda, and were resented for welcoming Soviet troops. There was also resistance to the German occupation, and some Lithuanians risked their own lives to save Jews; 723 Lithuanians are recognized as Righteous among the Nations for their efforts.
In the summer of 1944, the Soviet Red Army reached eastern Lithuania. By July 1944, the area around Vilnius came under control of the Polish Resistance fighters of Armia Krajowa, who also attempted a takeover of the German-held city during the ill-fated Operation Ostra Brama. The Red Army captured Vilnius with Polish help on 13 July. The USSR re-occupied Lithuania and Joseph Stalin re-established the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1944 with its capital in Vilnius. The Soviets secured the passive agreement of the United States and Britain (see Yalta Conference and Potsdam Agreement). By January 1945, the Soviets captured Klaipėda, on the Baltic coast. It is estimated that Lithuania lost 780,000 people during World War II.
Soviet Lithuania (1944–1990)
Stalinism and Soviet rule (1944–1988)
The mass deportation campaigns of 1941–1952, the June deportation according to Serov Instructions and the March deportation known as Operation "Priboi", exiled tens of thousands of families to forced settlements in Siberia and other remote parts of the Soviet Union. Between 1945 and 1953, about 120,000 people (5% of the population) were deported from Lithuania, thousands more had become political prisoners. Many leading intellectual figures and most Catholic priests were among the deported; many returned to Lithuania after 1953. Approximately 20,000 of local organized resistance fighters participated in unsuccessful partisan warfare against the Soviet regime in the 1940s and early 1950s. Most were killed or deported to Siberian gulags.[e] Considerably more ethnic Lithuanians died after than during the war.
Soviet authorities encouraged immigration of non-Lithuanian workers, especially Russians, as a way of integrating Lithuania into the Soviet Union and to encourage industrial development, but in Lithuania this process had not assumed the massive scale experienced by other European Soviet republics.
However, to a great extent, Lithuanization rather than Russification had taken place in postwar Vilnius and elements of national revival characterize the period of Lithuania's existence as a Soviet republic.[d] Lithuania's future shape and territorial and political integrity were determined by Joseph Stalin's decision to grant Vilnius to the Lithuanian SSR again in 1944. Subsequently, most Poles were resettled from Vilnius (but only a minority from the countryside and other parts of the Lithuanian SSR) by the application of the Soviet and Lithuanian communist policies, to be initially partially replaced by Russian immigrants. Vilnius was then increasingly settled by Lithuanians and assimilated by the Lithuanian culture, which fulfilled, albeit under the limiting conditions of Soviet rule, the long-held dream of Lithuanian nationalists.
The national developments in Lithuania followed tacit compromise agreements worked out by the Soviet communists, Lithuanian communists and the Lithuanian intelligentsia. The Vilnius University was reopened after the war, operating in the Lithuanian language and with a largely Lithuanian student body. It became a center for Baltic studies. General schools in the Lithuanian SSR provided more instruction in Lithuanian than at any previous time in the country's history. The literary Lithuanian language was standardized and refined further as a language of scholarship and literature. The price the Lithuanian intelligentsia ended up paying for the national privileges was their much increased, after Stalin's death, Communist Party membership.
The communist era is memorialized in Grūtas Park.
Until mid-1988, all political, economic, and cultural life was controlled by the Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP). Lithuanians as well as people in two other Baltic republics distrusted the Soviet regime even more than people in other regions of the Soviet state, and gave their own specific and active support to Mikhail Gorbachev's program of social and political reforms known as perestroika and glasnost. Under the leadership of intellectuals, the Lithuanian reform movement "Lietuvos persitvarkymo sąjūdis" (the Reform Movement of Lithuania) was formed in mid-1988 and declared a program of democratic and national rights, winning nationwide popularity. Inspired by Sąjūdis, the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet passed constitutional amendments on the supremacy of Lithuanian laws over Soviet legislation, annulled the 1940 decisions on proclaiming Lithuania a part of the USSR, legalized a multi-party system, and adopted a number of other important decisions, including the return of the national state symbols — the flag and the anthem. A large number of LCP members also supported the ideas of Sąjūdis, and with Sąjūdis support, Algirdas Brazauskas was elected First Secretary of the Central Committee of the LCP in 1988. On 23 August 1989, 50 years after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, in order to draw the world's attention to the fate of the Baltic nations, Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians joined hands in a human chain that stretched 600 kilometres from Tallinn, to Riga, to Vilnius. The human chain was called the Baltic Way. In December 1989, the Brazauskas-led LCP declared its independence from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and became a separate party, renaming itself in 1990 the Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania.
Independent modern Lithuania (1990–present)
Struggle for independence (1990–1991)
In early 1990, Sąjūdis-backed candidates won the elections to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet. On March 11, 1990, the Supreme Soviet proclaimed the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence. The Baltic republics were in the forefront of the struggle for independence and Lithuania was the first of the Soviet republics to declare independence. Vytautas Landsbergis, a leader of the Sąjūdis national movement, became the head of the state and Kazimira Prunskienė led the Cabinet of Ministers. On March 15, the Soviet Union demanded revocation of the independence and began employing political and economic sanctions against Lithuania. Soviet military was used to seize a few public buildings, but violence was largely contained until January 1991. During the January Events, the Soviet authorities attempted to overthrow the elected government by sponsoring the so-called National Salvation Committee. The Soviets forcibly took over the Vilnius TV Tower, killing 14 unarmed civilians and injuring 700. During this assault the only means of contact to the outside world available was an amateur radio station set up in the Lithuanian Parliament building by Tadas Vyšniauskas whose call sign was LY2BAW. Their initial cries for help were received by an American amateur radio operator with the call sign N9RD in Indiana, USA. N9RD, and later other radio operators from around the world, were then able to relay situational updates to relevant authorities until official State Department personnel were able to go on-air. Moscow failed to act further to crush the Lithuanian independence movement and the Lithuanian government continued to work.
During the national referendum on February 9, 1991, more than 90% of those who took part in the voting (76% of all eligible voters) voted in favor of an independent, democratic Lithuania. During the August Coup in Moscow, Soviet military troops took over several communications and other government facilities in Vilnius and other cities, but returned to their barracks when the coup failed. The Lithuanian government banned the Communist Party and ordered confiscation of its property. Following the failed coup, Lithuania received widespread international recognition and was admitted to the United Nations.
Contemporary Republic of Lithuania (1991–present)
As in many other formerly Soviet countries, popularity of the independence movement (Sąjūdis in the case of Lithuania) was diminishing due to worsening economic situation (rising unemployment, inflation, etc.). The Lithuanian Communist Party renamed itself Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania (LDDP) and ran against Sąjūdis in the 1992 parliamentary elections, gaining a majority of the seats. LDDP continued building the independent democratic state and transitioning from a centrally planned to a free market economy. In the 1996 parliamentary elections, the voters swinged back to the rightist Homeland Union, led by the former Sąjūdis leader Vytautas Landsbergis.
As part of the transition to a free market economy, Lithuania organized a privatization campaign to sell government-owned residential real estate and commercial enterprises. The government issued investment vouchers to be used in privatization instead of actual currency. People cooperated in groups to collect larger amounts of vouchers for the public auctions and the privatization campaign. Lithuania, unlike Russia, did not create a small group of very wealthy and powerful people. The privatization started with small organizations, and large enterprises (such as telecoms or airlines) were sold several years later for hard currency in a bid to attract foreign investors. Lithuania's monetary system was to be based on litas, the currency used during the interwar period. Due to high inflation and other delays a temporary currency, talonas, was introduced (commonly called Vagnorkė or Vagnorėlis after Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius). Eventually litas was issued in June 1993 and it was decided to peg it to the United States dollar in 1994 and to the Euro in 2002.
Despite Lithuania's achievement of complete independence, sizable numbers of Russian forces remained in its territory. Withdrawal of those forces was one of Lithuania's top foreign policy priorities. Russian troop withdrawal was completed by August 31, 1993. The first military of the reborn country were the Volunteer Forces, who first took an oath at the Supreme Council of Lithuania soon after the independence declaration. The Lithuanian military built itself to the common standard with an air force, navy and land army. Interwar paramilitary organisations such as Lithuanian Riflemen's Union, Young Riflemen, and Lithuanian Scouts were reestablished.
Seeking closer ties with the West, Lithuania applied for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership in 1994. The country had to go through a difficult transition from a planned economy to a free market one, satisfying the requirements for the European Union (EU) membership.
In October 2002, Lithuania was invited to join the European Union and one month later to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; it became a member of both in 2004. Large numbers of Lithuanians have since left in search of better economic opportunities in other EU states, creating a significant demographic problem for the small country.
Krapauskas (2010) identifies three main tendencies in the recent historiography. The “postmodern school” is heavily influenced by the French Annales School and presents an entirely new agenda of topics and interdisciplinary research methodologies. Their approach is methodologically controversial and focuses on social and cultural history. It is largely free from the traditional political debates and does not look back to the interwar Šapoka era. Secondly, the “critical-realists” are political revisionists. They focus on controversial political topics in the twentieth century, and reverse 180° the Soviet era interpretations of what was good and bad for Lithuania. They use traditional historical methodologies, with a strong focus on political history. They are often opposed by the third school, the “romantic-traditionalists.” After severe constraints in the communist era, the romantic-traditionalists now are eager to emphasize the most positive version of the Lithuanian past and its cultural heritage. They pay less attention to the niceties of documentation and historiography, but they are not the puppets of political conservatives. Indeed, they include many of Lithuania’s most respected historians.
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a.^ This tiny fraction of Catholics in the early 17th century Grand Duchy is given by Kasper Cichocki (1545-1616), a Catholic parish priest near Sandomierz, who wrote on the subject of the extent of the heresies in the Commonwealth. According to Wacław Urban, Calvinism and Eastern Orthodoxy predominated, and were followed by Catholicism and the Polish Brethren, with Lutheranism being numerically the least significant of the Christian denominations in Lithuania.
b.^ Piłsudski's family roots in the Polonized gentry of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the resulting point of view (seeing himself and people like him as legitimate Lithuanians) put him in conflict with the modern Lithuanian nationalists (who in Piłsudski's lifetime redefined the scope of the "Lithuanian" connotation), by extension with other nationalists, and also with the Polish modern nationalist movement.
d.^ About 90% of Vilnius Jews had been exterminated by the Nazis in 1941-1944 and about 80% of Vilnius Poles were deported under the Soviet rule in 1944-1946, which left the city open to settlement by Lithuanians, or possibly Russians.
e. ^ It was a sizable force in comparison with the similar number (20,000) of underground anti-communist fighters operating at that time in Poland. Poland was a country with an over eight times the population of Lithuania, but legal opposition (the Polish People's Party) was primarily active there in the 1940s.
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