Lithuanian Riflemen's Union

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Lithuanian Riflemen's Union
(Lietuvos šaulių sąjunga)
Lithuanian Riflemen's Union.jpg
Flag of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union
Active 1919–1940
1989–present
Country  Lithuania
Allegiance Lithuanian Armed Forces
Type Paramilitary organization
Role Civilian self-defence institution
Size <10,000 members
Garrison/HQ Kaunas
Nickname(s) Šauliai
Motto(s) "Nepriklausomai Lietuvai!"
Anniversaries June 27, 1919
September 20, 1989
Engagements Lithuanian Wars of Independence
Klaipėda Revolt
Resistance in Lithuania during World War II
January Events in Lithuania
Website www.sauliusajunga.lt
Commanders
Current
commander
Lieutenant colonel Liudas Gumbinas
Insignia
LRU member‘s badge LSS sign.jpg

The Lithuanian Riflemen's Union (LRU) or Union of Lithuanian Riflemen (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Šaulių Sąjunga), also referred to as šauliai (Lithuanian: šaulys for rifleman), is a militarised non-profit organisation supported by the State, and this character determines its activities. The activities are in three main areas: military training, sport and culture.

The Riflemen ideology[edit]

As the organisation was formed, a lot of attention was directed at creating and developing its ideology. Vladas Putvinskis said that “riflemen should carry out their activities with a view of benefitting the Society, thus the riflemen should carry out their activities altruistically on their spare time, using a few free hours a week, without seeking any compensation or privilege”. The organisation experienced some problems with the members abusing their powers, so the leadership put a lot of emphasis on developing values of the organisation.

All members had members' booklets which among other things contained the 10 commandments for the riflemen. As the organisation developed, these main ideological principles changed a bit, but survived until today and The Lithuanian Riflemen's Union (LRU) still bases its actions on it.


Commandments for the rifleman[edit]

1. Protect Lithuanian independence and Lithuanian land.

2. Educate yourself and others.

3. Strengthen your body and will.

4. Be disciplined and polite.

5. Respect your weapon.

6. Be just and fair.

7. Keep your word.

8. Stay vigilant.

9. Protect the property of the State.

10. Treasure the Rifleman’s name and the honour of Lithuania.

The symbols of the LRU[edit]

From the very beginning the symbol of the organisation has been a double cross (Vytis cross) on a shield. This is one of the oldest heraldic symbols used in Lithuania. It is also called the Jagiellonian cross because it was used by the Polish King and the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila. During the Lithuanian Wars of Independence Vytis cross became a state military award. In 1919-1940 the riflemen received member badges with numbers. There was also a separate badge for supporters. The badges were worn not only on uniforms but also on civil clothing.

The current statute of the LRU states that the symbol of the Union is a golden (yellow) double cross, set in a stylised frame of golden (yellow) oak leaves.

The rifleman's badge that the riflemen have the right to wear, is a white darkened metal shield, with a contour of a double cross inside. The height of the badge is 47 mm, and the width is 27 mm. The sign is attached by a metal wrench. A miniature of a rifleman's badge is 20 mm high and 12 mm wide.

The administrative division of the LRU[edit]

Currently the LRU is divided into ten riflemen regiments (šaulių rinktinė):

Karininko Antano Juozapavičiaus 1-oji šaulių rinktinė

Vytauto Didžioji 2-oji šaulių rinktinė

Vakarų (Jūros) šaulių 3-oji šaulių rinktinė

Suvalkijos šaulių 4-oji šaulių rinktinė

Alfonso Smetonos 5-oji šaulių rinktinė

Gen. Povilo Plechavičiaus 6-oji šaulių rinktinė

LDK Kęstučio 7-oji šaulių rinktinė

Žemaitijos šaulių 8-oji rinktinė

Plk. Prano Saladžiaus 9-oji šaulių rinktinė

Karaliaus Mindaugo 10-oji šaulių rinktinė

Membership[edit]

After Lithuania re-established independence in 1990, the organization was restored but it has not regained its former popularity or influence. Current membership of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union is nearly 10,000 (in the interwar period it was 62,000). 66% of members are Young Riflemen (12–18 years old), 10% are Combat Riflemen (19–45 years old) and the remaining 24% are Non-combat Riflemen.

The LRU greatly values its traditions, so the activities are similar to what they were in the past: there are sport and culture activities, the LRU journal Trimitas is published, the members are encouraged to take interest in the history of the country. According to the law on the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union, any Lithuanian citizen who is over 11 and speaks the official language can join the Union. The members are divided into two groups:

1. Young riflemen – youth, 11–18 years old. All young riflemen give an honorary pledge when joining the Union. They are the most visible group of the LRU, very active in social events and competitions. The young riflemen receive training based on a 4 level programme. On each level they study Lithuanian history, receive training in leadership, as well military training. At the end of the level they pass an examination, and get a certificate and a sign. Starting in 2002, young riflemen summer camps, as well as summer courses and the international training camp "Žalgiris", are organised every summer.

2. Riflemen – persons over 18, who give a rifleman's oath. The riflemen are preparing for armed and unarmed resistance. The LRU Command also has an Honorary Guard company, a sport and technology club and a LRU orchestra. Riflemen belonging to the fighting units guard various locations[specify] in Lithuania.

The LRU operates according to a law on LRU, adopted by the Lithuanian parliament in 2010, and a Statute approved by the Ministry of Defence. The highest ruling body of the Union is the Conference of Members. It decides on the most important matters of the Organisation, adopts decisions and approves the Commander of the LRU who is selected by the Minister of Defence. The current Commander of the LRU is reserve col. lt. Liudas Gumbinas, who started his term in July 2014.

The LRU actively cooperates with the governmental institutions: the Lithuanian military, police, fire department, border guards and others.

Riflemen university students[edit]

The LRU also includes a riflemen student corporation SAJA. The word “sajaˮ is a Lithuanian neologism, coined by riflemen students for the word “corporationˮ, when they created the first student riflemen corporation in Vytautas Magnus University in 1934. In 2007 a club for riflemen students was established, and on 19 May 2010 it became the Lithuanian riflemen student corporation SAJA.

The corporation aims to promote the riflemen union in universities, to unite riflemen students, and to do its utmost to support the LRU. The corporation has sections in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda. Members participate in the activities of the LRU, help in organizing the summer camps for young riflemen, cooperate with other university organisations.

Riflemen in emigration[edit]

In Chicago, on 7 March 1954, the riflemen who had emigrated declared the re-establishment of the LRU, under the name of the National Guard of Lithuania in Exile. The main activists included Mantautas, Pūtvytė-Mantautienė, Valatkaitis, Kalmantas and others. Sections of the organisation were active in the USA, the UK, Canada, and Australia.

Currently, the National Guard of Lithuania in Exile forms an integral part of the LRU. It is headed by Julius Butkus and is active in the USA and Canada.

History[edit]

The establishment of the LRU[edit]

The Lithuanian Riflemen's Union was established in Kaunas on 27 June 1919. It was established as a shooting section within the Lithuanian Sport Union. Several historic events determined the establishment of the Union – the Lithuanian State had just declared independence and was asserting it in the wars against the Bolsheviks, the Western Russian Volunteer Army and the Polish forces.

Vladas Putvinskis and Matas Šalčius were the most important activists behind the idea to form a Union, and Putvinskis became the first Commander of the LRU and its main ideologue. It is interesting to note that both of them came up with the idea to form a paramilitary group at almost the same time, but the scope that they envisioned was different.

In 1919 Šalčius together with Antanas Vienuolis-Žukauskas, Faustas Kirša and other employees at the Press Office decided to form an organisation that would be able to protect Kaunas city; they intended to call it the Steel Battalion. At the same time another initiative was launched by a group headed by Putvinskis, and they prepared a statute for the organisation. Their aim was to support Lithuanian military in the entire Lithuanian territory. In June 1919, the Press Office employees invited Putvinskis to their meeting. Putvinskis joined the organisation that was being created and became one of the most active members.

There were many famous and important Lithuanians among the founders of the Union, including writers Antanas Vienuolis-Žukauskas, Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas and Balys Sruoga, poet Faustas Kirša, painter Antanas Žmuidzinavičius, scientist professor Tadas Ivanauskas and many others. It is important to note that in the beginning only civilians participated in the LRU, but later on soldiers and officers started to actively join its ranks. This reflects the main aim of the organisation – to unite civilians who want to support the military.

The ideology and the guiding principles of the LRU were influenced by earlier similar organisations: Sokol in Czechoslovakia, Suojeluskunta in Finland, and a paramilitary organisation of Switzerland. Putvinskis stated that “the Riflemen's Union is an organisation of free citizens, who are volunteering their time and efforts for the sake of protecting their homeland.ˮ

The administrative division of the LRU[edit]

After its establishment in 1919, the LRU quickly expanded throughout Lithuania; many guerilla fighters from the recent wars joined in. In the beginning, the organisation was divided into sections covering the entire Lithuanian territory, and the sections had riflemen units. In 1925 an administrative reform was carried out, dividing the organisation into regiments, in line with the administrative division of Lithuania into districts. In 1936 a separate regiment was created for rail-road workers and their family members.

LRU activities 1919-1940[edit]

The LRU had three main areas of activities in 1919-1940 – culture, sport and military training. The riflemen's units had orchestras, theatres, libraries and sport clubs. The riflemen were required to educate themselves and to participate in educating the society. To help with that they aimed at building riflemen centres in all cities and towns, where the Union was active. The centres were to be dedicated to the needs of the nation. Centres were built in Utena, Tauragė, Alytus and some other cities and towns. The centres served as meeting and training places for riflemen, as well as housing their clubs and administration and hosting cultural activities.


The organisation received a unique legal basis, in 1921, 1924 and 1935 laws on the LRU were passed that defined the activities of the organisation and its functions in the State. The laws aimed at restricting the autonomy of the LRU and to tie it as closely as possible to the Ministry of Defence and the Military. In 1935 the LRU became directly subordinate to the Chief of Defence (See the List of governments of Lithuania in 1918-1940). The law abolished dual leadership – previously the organisation was led by the Chairman of the Central Board, elected by riflemen, and by the LRU Commander, appointed by the Minister of Defence. Thus the riflemen were fully integrated in the defensive structure of the country, and the district military commanders became the commanders of riflemen regiments.

By 1940 the LRU had become one of the most popular and largest organizations in the country, with about 62 thousand members. Both men and women were active in the organisation. The LRU had units of university students, including student corporations Saja and Živilė. Many famous politicians (Antanas Smetona, Rapolas Skipitis, Mykolas Sleževičius, Juozas Urbšys), artists and other members of the cultural elite (Antanas Žmuidzinavičius, Unė Babickaitė-Graičiūnienė also known as Une Bay, Antanas Vienuolis-Žukauskas, Petras Vaičiūnas), scientists (Prof. Tadas Ivanauskas, Prof. Augustinas Janulaitis, Prof. Liudas Vailionis, Assoc. Prof. doc. Antanas Graugrokas) were active in the union. Even though the majority of members originated from the farmer class, the main principles of the Union were also appealing to other classes.

The destruction of the LRU[edit]

On 15 June 1940, the USSR occupied Lithuania, and the riflemen, like the rest of the military, did not receive an order to resist. The first victim of Soviet terror was Aleksandras Barauskas, a rifleman and a border guard, who was killed by Red Army soldiers in the early morning of June 15.

The Soviets saw the LRU as an organisation that could hinder their goals because of its nationalistic ideology, so it was decided to disarm it step by step and to destroy it. The Commander of the LRU, colonel Pranas Saladžius was dismissed on June 19, and on June 25 the Chief of Defence division general Vincas Vitkauskas, who was cooperating with the USSR, ordered the riflemen to hand over their arms to the military, however the riflemen managed to hide some of it. The occupiers and their collaborators took power, and on 13 July 1940 issued a law on liquidation of the LRU. The LRU property was taken by the new government, and most of its symbols destroyed[clarification needed].

In June 1941, mass exile was begun with an aim to arrest and incarcerate or exile all “socially alien elements”, including the riflemen. The Commander of the LRU col. Pranas Saladžius, the honorary Commander of the women section Emilija Putvinskienė, the commander of Utena regiment Lt. Col. Pranas Bronevičius, the head of Culture section Vincas Daudzvaras and many others were arrested.

The Riflemen during occupation[edit]

Even though the LRU was liquidated in July 1940, and a number of the most active riflemen were arrested and exiled to labour camps in Siberia (Read more about labour camps:Gulag), the remaining riflemen started forming anti-soviet groups. Ex-riflemen played a role in the uprising of 23 June 1941, but there is no specific data on how many members participated in it.

During the Nazi occupation ex-riflemen formed several underground organisations, such as Laisvės šauliai (Riflemen for freedom), aimed at restoring independence. During the second Soviet occupation a lot of riflemen fought in the guerilla war. The number of ex-riflemen participating in the armed resistance is not known, but two out of eight guerillas who signed the declaration of the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters on 16 February 1949, were ex-riflemen: Leonardas Grigonis-Užpalis and Juozas Šibaila-Merainis. Some other ex-riflemen were also prominent among the guerillas: Juozas Vitkus-Kazimieraitis, Zigmas Drunga-Mykolas Jonas, Dominykas Jėčys-Ąžuolis, Vladas Montvydas-Žemaitis and many others.

The restoration of the LRU in Lithuania[edit]

The first attempts to restore the LRU were made still during the occupation, when the movement for reform started. On 1 June 1989, during a protest in Kaunas by a club of former exiles and the Democrat party, the restoration of the LRU was officially announced. On 20 September 1989, the activists gave an oath in Kelmė, at the grave of Putvinskis, the founder and ideologue of the LRU. That day is considered to be the day of the restoration of the LRU in Lithuania.

The members of the restored Lithuanian Riflemen's Union were active in the movement for reform, they were especially active in guarding the Lithuanian Parliament and other State buildings in January 1991 and later. On 13 January 1991, two members of Vilnius riflemen regiment were killed: Ignas Šimulionis and Darius Gerbutavičius. On May 19, at a border crossing point in Krakūnai a riflemen and a border guard Gintaras Žagunis was shot to death.

Name origin[edit]

Before officially establishing the organisation, Šalčius had suggested to name it the Steel Battalion, but the new organisation was named the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union. According to Antanas Žukauskas-Vienuolis, this name was also suggested by Šalčius. At that time the name reflected the main activity of the organisation, as it was founded as a shooting section within the Lithuanian Sport Union.

At the Union conference in 1920 Putvinskis raised the issue of changing the name, as in his opinion it was inconvenient because it was mistaken for a city name (Šiauliai, the 4th largest city in Lithuania is written and pronounced very similarly to šauliai). Antanas Žmuidzinavičius suggested to change the name to Arai and Antanas Vienuolis-Žukauskas suggested Areliai (both are variations of an archaic Lithuanian word for eagles). But the members did not agree and the name remained unchanged.

"The Trumpet" journal[edit]

Trimitas (The Trumpet), the journal of the organisation, played a key role in developing the ideology of the LRU. The first issue was issued in May–June 1920. The journal quickly gained recognition in the society because it had some prominent names on the editorial team: the first editor was Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas, followed by Rapolas Skipitis, Teodoras Daukantas, Liudas Vailionis, Matas Šalčius, Mikas Mikelkevičius, Jonas Kalnėnas and many others. The circulation grew from 5000 in 1920 to 25 000 in 1939.

From 1921 onwards Trimitas became a weekly. The content was wide and varied, it was not limited to the news for the riflemen or the contributions from the riflemen, it also contained local and international news, poetry, literature, articles on warfare, sport and culture. Among contributors were Binkis, Tumas-Vaižgantas, Vienuolis-Žukauskas, Krėvė-Mickevičius, Mykolaitis-Putinas, Smetona, and many other prominent Lithuanians.

The LRU wanted to expand the number of subscriptions, so it encouraged the riflemen to subscribe to Trimitas and to read it. The editors also tried to accommodate to their readers and organised various competitions with prizes. Putvinskis set several goals for the journal. The most important ones were to promote the riflemen ideology and to introduce the LRU and its ideology to the society, helping to attract more members to the Union. The circulation was very high, helping the paper to succeed in its mission.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • http://www.sauliusajunga.lt/
  • Jokubauskas, V. Mažųjų kariuomenių galia ir paramilitarizmas. Tarpukario Lietuvos atvejis. Klaipėda, 2014.
  • Nefas, M. Lietuvos šaulių sąjungos ryšiai su išeivija JAV: Antano Žmuidzinavičiaus atvejis. Acta historica universitatis Klaipedensis. XXVIII. Paramilitarism in the Eastern Baltics, 1918 - 1940: Case Studies and Comparisons. Klaipėda, 2014. p. 103 - 124.
  • Nefas, M. Siekiai suaktyvinti studentų šaulių veiklą XX a. 4-ajame dešimtmetyje. Lietuvos studentų korporacijos tarpukariu. Vilnius: Diemedis, 2013.
  • Nefas, M. Šauliai valstybės tarnyboje ir valstybinėse įmonėse Klaipėdos krašte 1923–1939 m. Istorija, 2012, t. 86, Nr. 2. ISSN 1392-0456, E-ISSN 2029-7181. p. 3 – 10. (Duomenų bazėse: ABC-CLIO Historical Abstracts, CEEOL, TOC Premier, EBSCO Publishing: Academic Search Complete, Central &Eastern European Academic Source, MLA International Bibliography.)
  • Nefas, M. Šaulių vaidmuo Klaipėdos krašto gynybos sistemoje. Istorija, 2012, t. 87, Nr. 3. ISSN 1392-0456, E-ISSN 2029-7181. p. 16 – 24. (Duomenų bazėse: ABC-CLIO Historical Abstracts, CEEOL, TOC Premier, EBSCO Publishing: Academic Search Complete, Central &Eastern European Academic Source, MLA International Bibliography.)
  • Lietuvos šaulių sąjunga: praeitis, dabartis, ateitis. Mokslinių straipsnių rinkinys. Kaunas, 2009.
  • Nefas, M. Lietuvos šaulių sąjungos ideologija: vidiniai ir išoriniai jos kūrėjai 1918 – 1940 m. Lietuvos šaulių sąjunga: praeitis, dabartis, ateitis.Mokslinių straipsnių rinkinys. ISBN 978-9955-39-056-5. Kaunas: UAB „Arx Baltica“, 2009. p. 11 – 24.
  • Lietuvos šaulių sąjunga valstybės ir visuomenės tarnyboje 1919 – 2004. Kaunas, 2005.
  • Vareikis, V. Šaulių sąjunga, lenkai, žydai: LŠS ideologijos ir propagandos bruožai. Lietuvos šaulių sąjungos istorijos fragmentai. 2002 m. kovo 7 d. Konferencijos pranešimų medžiaga. Kaunas, 2002.
  • Lietuvos šaulių sąjungos istorija. Sud. Liekis, A. Vilnius, 1992.
  • Vladas Putvinskis- Pūtvis. Gyvenimas ir parinktieji raštai. Antroji laida. Vyr. Redaktorius Marcinkevičius-Mantautas, A. Čikaga, 1973.
  • Matusas J. Šaulių sąjungos istorija. Sydney, 1966.
  • Nepriklausomai Lietuvai. Red. Petrušaitis, P. Čikaga, 1965.

External links[edit]