- Vilna Land and Vilnius Land redirect here. You may be looking for Wilno Land, a name of the Wilno Voivodeship in the years 1922-1926.
Vilnius Region (Lithuanian: Vilniaus kraštas, Polish: Wileńszczyzna, Belarusian: Віленшчына, former English: Wilno or Wilna Region) is the territory in the present day Lithuania that was originally inhabited by ethnic Baltic tribes and was a part of Lithuania proper, but came under East Slavic and Polish cultural influences over time.
The territory included Vilnius, the historical capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuania, after declaring independence from the Russian Empire, claimed the Vilnius Region based on this historical legacy. Poland pointed to the fact that the region was inhabited by a Polish majority and argued for its right of self-determination. As a result, throughout the interwar period the control over the area was disputed between Poland and Lithuania. The Soviet Union recognized it as part of Lithuania in the Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of 1920, but in 1920 it was seized by Poland and became part of short lived puppet state of Central Lithuania, and was subsequently incorporated into the Second Polish Republic.
Direct military conflicts (Polish-Lithuanian War and Żeligowski's Mutiny) were followed up by fruitless negotiations in the League of Nations. After the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, as part of the Soviet fulfillment of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the entire region came under Soviet control. About one fifth of the region, including Vilnius, was ceded to Lithuania by the Soviet Union on October 10, 1939 in exchange for Soviet military bases within the territory of Lithuania. The conflict over Vilnius Region was settled after World War II when both Poland and Lithuania came under Soviet and Communist domination and some Poles were repatriated to Poland. Since then, the region became part of the Lithuanian SSR, and since 1990 of modern day independent Lithuania.
Territory and terminology
Initially the Vilnius Region did not possess exact borders per se, but encompassed the surrounding areas near Vilnius and included the city as well. This territory was disputed between Lithuania and Poland in 1918, after both countries had successfully reestablished their independence. Later, the western limit of the region became a de facto administration line between Poland and Lithuania following Polish military action in the latter part of 1920. Lithuania refused to recognize this action or the border. The eastern limit was defined by the Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of 1920. The eastern line was never turned into an actual border between states and remained only a political vision. The total territory covered about 32,250 km².
Today the eastern limit of the region lies between the Lithuanian and Belarusian border. This border divides the Vilnius Region into two parts: western and eastern. The Western Vilnius Region, including Vilnius, is now part of Lithuania. It constitutes about one third of the total Vilnius Region. Lithuania gained about 6,880 km² on October 10, 1939 from the Soviet Union and 2,650 km² (including Druskininkai and Švenčionys) on August 3, 1940 from the Byelorussian SSR. The Eastern Vilnius Region became part of Belarus. No parts of the region are in modern Poland. None of the countries have any further territorial claims.
The term Central Lithuania refers to the short-lived puppet state of the Republic of Central Lithuania, proclaimed by Lucjan Żeligowski after his staged mutiny in the annexed areas. After eighteen months of existing under Poland's military protection, it was annexed by Poland on March 24, 1922 thus finalizing Poland's claims over the territory.
In the Middle Ages, Vilnius and its environs had become a nucleus of the early ethnic Lithuanian state, the Duchy of Lithuania, also referred to in Lithuanian historiography as a part of the Lithuania Propria, that became Kingdom of Lithuania and later Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
After the Partitions of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in late 18th century it was annexed by the Russian Empire which founded here the administrative district of the Vilna Governorate. In the effect of World War I it was seized by Germany and given to the civilian administration of the Ober-Ost. With the German defeat in World War I and the outbreak of hostilities between various factions of the Russian Civil War, the area, while controlled by Poles became disputed by Lithuania and the short-lived Belarusian People's Republic.
After the outbreak of the Polish–Soviet War, during the summer offensive of the Red Army, the region got under Soviet control as the part of planned Lithuanian–Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Litbel). In exchange for military cooperation after Lithuanian–Soviet War, the Bolshevist authorities signed a peace treaty with Lithuania on July 12, 1920. According to the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty, all area disputed between Poland and Lithuania, at the time controlled by the Bolsheviks, was to be transferred to Lithuania. However, the actual control over the area remained in Bolsheviks hands. After the Battle of Warsaw of 1920 it became clear that the advancing Polish Army would soon recapture the area. Seeing that they could not secure it, the Bolshevik authorities started to transfer the area to Lithuanian sovereignty. The advancing Polish Army managed to retake much of the disputed area before the Lithuanians arrived, while the most important part of it with the city of Vilnius was secured by Lithuania.
Since the two states were not at war, diplomatic negotiations were begun. As Lithuanians made up a small minority in the disputed area and Poles constituted approximately 58% of its inhabitants (the rest being mostly Jews and Belarusians, see Ethnic history of the region of Vilnius), the Polish authorities wanted the region to part of Poland. The Lithuanian government argued that the majority of those who declared Polish nationality were in fact Polonized Lithuanians, that the area historically belonged to Lithuania Propria part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and believed that their historical claim to the city of Vilnius (which at that point was divided near evenly between Poles and Jews, with Lithuanian speaking as constituting a mere fraction – about 2–3% – of the total population ) had precedence over self-determination rights of the mostly Polish speaking population of the region. The negotiations and international mediation led to nowhere and until 1920 the disputed territory remained divided into a Lithuanian and a Polish part.
Finally, in 1920, after a staged coup on October 9, Polish general Lucjan Żeligowski seized the Lithuanian part of the disputed territory and created there a semi-independent Republic of Central Lithuania. Although the following year it voted to join Poland and the choice was later accepted by the League of Nations, the area granted to Lithuania by the Bolsheviks in 1920 continued to be claimed by Lithuania, with the city of Vilnius being treated as that state's official capital and the temporary capital in Kaunas, and the states officially remained at war. It was not until the Polish ultimatum of 1938, that the two states resolved diplomatic relations.
The Polish government never acknowledged the Russo-Lithuanian convention of July 12, 1920, that granted the latter state territory seized from Poland by the Red Army during the Polish–Soviet War, then promised to Lithuania as the Soviet forces were retreating under the Polish advance; particularly as the Soviets had previously renounced claims to that region in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In turn, the Lithuanian authorities did not acknowledge the Polish–Lithuanian border of 1918–1920 as permanent nor did they ever acknowledged the sovereignty of puppet Republic of Central Lithuania that was soon incorporated into Poland.
The loss of Vilnius might have nonetheless safeguarded the very existence of the Lithuanian state in the interwar period. Despite an alliance with Soviets (Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty) and the war with Poland, Lithuania was very close to being invaded by the Soviets in the summer of 1920 and having been forcibly converted into a socialist republic. It was only the Polish victory against the Soviets in the Polish–Soviet War (and the fact that the Poles did not object to some form of Lithuanian independence) that derailed the Soviet plans and gave Lithuania an experience of interwar independence.
In 1939, the Soviets proposed to sign the Soviet–Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Treaty. According to this treaty, about one fifth of the Vilnius Region, including the city of Vilnius itself, was returned to Lithuania in exchange for stationing 20,000 of Soviet troops in Lithuania. Lithuanians at first did not want to accept this, but later Russia said that troops would enter Lithuania, anyway, so Lithuania accepted the deal. 1/5 of the Vilnius region was ceded, despite of the fact that the Soviet Union always recognised the whole Vilnius region as part of Lithuania previously.
The Soviet Union was awarded the Vilnius region during the Yalta Conference, and it subsequently became part of the Lithuanian SSR. About 150,000 of the Polish population was repatriated from Lithuanian SSR to Poland.
According to the 1916 census conducted by the German authorities Lithuanians constituted 18.5% of the population. However, during this census the Vilnius region was expanded greatly and ended near Brest-Litovsk, and included the city of Białystok. Due to the addition of further Polish regions, the percentage of Lithuanian population was diluted. The post-war Polish censae of 1921 and 1931, found 5% of Lithuanians living in the area, with several almost purely Lithuanian enclaves located to the south-west, south (Dieveniškės enclave), east (Gervėčiai enclave) of Vilnius (Polish: Wilno) and to the north of Švenčionys (Polish: Święciany). The majority of the population was composed of Poles (roughly 60%) according the latter three censae. The results of Polish censuses were questioned by some Lithuanian historians and the Lithuanian government claimed that the majority of local Poles were in fact Polonised Lithuanians. In the 1920s, League of Nations twice attempted to organise plebiscites, although neither side were eager to participate. After a staged mutiny by Lucjan Żeligowski Poles took control over the area, and organised elections, which was boycotted by most Lithuanians, but also by many Jews and Belarusians  because of strong Polish military control. Today, the Po prostu dialect is the native language for Poles in Šalčininkai District Municipality and in some territories of Vilnius District Municipality, its speakers consider themselves to be Poles and believe Po prostu language to be purely Polish. The population, including those of "the locals" (Tutejshy) who live in the other part of Vilnius region that was occupied by Soviet Union and passed on to Belarus, still has a strong presence of Polish identity.
- Disputed territories of Baltic States
- History of Vilnius
- Poles in Lithuania
- Polish National-Territorial Region
- Suwałki Region
- Smetona, Antanas. "Lithuania Propria". Darbai ir dienos (in Lithuanian) 3 (12): 191–234.
- (Lithuanian) Viduramžių Lietuva Viduramžių Lietuvos provincijos. Retrieved on 2007.04.11
- Čepėnas, Pranas. naujųjų laikų Lietuvos istorija (in Lithuanian). Chicago: DR. Griniaus fondas.
- (Polish) Piotr Łossowski, Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918-1920 (The Polish-Lithuanian Conflict, 1918–1920), Warsaw, Książka i Wiedza, 1995, ISBN 83-05-12769-9, pp. 11.
- (Russian) Demoscope.
- Michał Eustachy Brensztejn (1919). Spisy ludności m. Wilna za okupacji niemieckiej od. 1 listopada 1915 r. (in Polish). Biblioteka Delegacji Rad Polskich Litwy i Białej Rusi, Warsaw.
- (Polish) Krajewski Zenon, Geneza i dzieje wewnętrzne Litwy Środkowej (1920-1922), Lublin 1996; ISBN 83-906321-0-1
- Alfred Erich Senn, The Formation of the Lithuanian Foreign Office, 1918-1921, Slavic Review, Vol. 21, No. 3. (Sep., 1962), pp. 500-507.: "A Bolshevik victory over the Poles would have certainly meant a move by the Lithuanian communists, backed by the Red Army, to overthrow the Lithuanian nationalist government... Kaunas, in effect, paid for its independence with the loss of Vilna."
Alfred Erich Senn, Lietuvos valstybes... p. 163: "If the Poles didn't stop the Soviet attack, Lithuania would fell to the Soviets... Polish victory costs the Lithuanians the city of Wilno, but saved Lithuania itself."
Antanas Ruksa, Kovos del Lietuvos nepriklausomybes, t.3, p.417: "In summer 1920 Russia was working on a communist revolution in Lithuania... From this disaster Lithuania was saved by the miracle at Vistula."
Jonas Rudokas, Józef Piłsudski - wróg niepodległości Litwy czy jej wybawca? (Polish translation of a Lithuanian article) "Veidas", 25 08 2005: [Piłsudski] "defended both Poland and Lithuanian from Soviet domination"
- Kiaupa, Zigmantas (2004). The History of Lithuania. Vilnius: Baltos lankos. ISBN 9955-584-87-4.
- (Lithuanian) Lietuvos rytai; straipsnių rinkinys The east of Lithuania; the collection of articles; V. Čekmonas, L. Grumadaitė "Kalbų paplitimas Rytų Lietuvoje" ("The distribution of languages in eastern Lithuania")
- Repatriation and Resettlement of Ethnic Poles Maps of Ethnic Groups
- Lithuanian-Belarusian language boundary in the 4th decade of the 19th century
- Lithuanian-Belarusian language boundary in the beginning of the 20th century