THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
VilNews has its own Google archive! Type a word in the above search box to find any article.
Antanas Smetona golfing in Michigan at the Tabor Farm after he came to the U.S. in 1941, escaping from the Soviet invasion of Lithuania in June 1940
Antanas Smetona (August 10, 1874 – January 9, 1944) was the most important Lithuanian political figure between World War I and World War II. He served as the first President of Lithuania from April 4, 1919 to June 19, 1920. He again served as the last President of the country from December 19, 1926 to June 15, 1940, before its occupation by the Soviet Union. He was also one of the famous ideologists of nationalism in Lithuania.
Lithuania was occupied by Soviet troops in 1940. After the USSR presented an ultimatum to Lithuania in June of that year, Smetona proposed armed resistance against the Soviets. The majority of the government and the commanders of the army did not concur with this proposal, and Smetona turned over the duties of President to Prime Minister Antanas Merkys, and on June 15 he and his family fled to Germany, and then on to Switzerland without surrendering his powers.
In 1941, Smetona emigrated to the United States, and lived in Pittsburgh and Chicago before settling in Cleveland, Ohio in May 1942 with his son Julius' family. While in exile, he began work on a history of Lithuania and on his memoirs. Smetona died in a fire at his son's house in Cleveland, on January 9, 1944, and was buried there. His wife Sofija died in Cleveland, on December 28, 1968, and he also had a daughter, Birutė.
In 1975, his remains were moved from Cleveland's Knollwood Cemetery mausoleum to All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, Ohio.
Born in the village of Užulėnis, Taujėnai rural district of Ukmergė district municipality, Antanas Smetona was sent to the primary school in Taujėnai. Graduating from the Palanga Pre-Gymnasium in 1893, he passed his entrance examinations into the Samogitian Diocesan Seminary in Kaunas, with thoughts of becoming a Catholic priest, but various circumstances soon thereafter changed these plans, and he enrolled at Jelgava Gymnasium (high school) in Latvia. Here, together with Jonas Jablonskis, Vincas Kudirka and others, he belonged to a secret Lithuanian students' organization. This organization was nationalistic, and anti-Czarist in nature. In the autumn of 1896, he organized the resistance of students against obligatory attendance of the Russian Orthodox Church, and was expelled from the Gymnasium, but was later allowed to study at the Gymnasium No.9, in Saint Petersburg.
After graduating from this Gymnasium in 1897, Smetona entered the Faculty of Law of the University of Saint Petersburg. He joined the activities of the secret Lithuanian Student Organization at the University, and was made its chairman. He became involved with the publishing and dissemination of Lithuanian books. On two occasions he faced the threat of being expelled from the University, and experienced being arrested and a short imprisonment. After his graduation from the University in 1902, he worked at the Agricultural Bank of Vilnius. Two years later he married Sofija Chodakauskaitė.
From his very first days in Vilnius, Smetona became involved in the activities of various Lithuanian nationalist groups, and joined the Lithuanian Democratic Party, which he represented in the Great Seimas of Vilnius. He was later elected into its Presidium. In 1904 and 1907, he was on the staff of the Lithuanian newspapers, Vilniaus Žinios (The Vilnius News), and in 1905-1906, edited the weekly Lietuvos Ūkininkas (The Lithuanian Farmer). In 1907, Smetona and the Rev. Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas established a venture to print the newspaper Viltis (The Hope), and started publishing and circulating it. In Viltis, Smetona advocated national unity; he was also one of the incorporators of the Aušra (Dawn) company for the publishing of Lithuanian books, a member of the Lithuanian Mutual Aid Society of Vilnius, the Lithuanian Learned Society, the Vilniaus aušra (The Dawn of Vilnius), and Rytas (The Morning) education societies, the Rūta Art Society and many other societies, taught the Lithuanian language at Vilnius schools. In 1914, he started publishing Vairas (The Rudder), a new bi-weekly magazine. Also he worked with the writer Liudvikas Jakavicius.
During the First World War, he was the 1st Vice-Chairman, and later Chairman, of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Relief Society for helping victims of the war. In the summer of 1916, Antanas Smetona, together with other Lithuanians from Vilnius, presented a memorandum to the German Chief Commander of the Eastern Front, in which he demanded the right of the Lithuanian nation to have an independent State. On September 6, 1917 he started printing the newspaper Lietuvos Aidas (Lithuania's Echo), worked as its publisher and its editor-in-chief. In the first issue of the newspaper, Smetona wrote that the most important goal of the Lithuanian nation was the re-establishment of an independent Lithuanian state.
Between September 18 and 22, 1917, he participated in the Lithuanian Conference in Vilnius, and was elected Chairman (1917–1919), of the Council of Lithuania (later Council of the State). On February 16, 1918, Antanas Smetona signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania.
Smetona (first right from centre) in the Council of Lithuania, February 16, 1918, the day Lithuanian declared independence after more than hundred years of Tsarist occupation.
Between December 1918 and March 1919, he lived primarily in Germany and the Scandinavian countries, soliciting loans for the cause of Lithuanian independence. On April 4, 1919, the State Council of Lithuania elected Smetona the first President of the Republic of Lithuania. On April 19, 1920, the Constituent Assembly elected Aleksandras Stulginskis President. Not re-elected to the Seimas, from 1921 throughout 1924 he edited several periodicals, as Lietuvos balsas ("Voice of the Lithuania"), Lietuviškas balsas ("Lithuanian Voice") and Vairas ("The Steering Wheel").
After the Klaipėda Revolt of January 1923, in the Memelland, which had been separated from Germany, he was made commissioner there on February 20, but due to disagreements with Prime Minister Ernestas Galvanauskas, he resigned from his post.
In November 1923, authorities imprisoned Smetona for several days for publishing an article by Augustinas Voldemaras, in Vairas. Between 1923 and 1927, he was an assistant Professor at the University of Lithuania - at first at the Chair of Art Theory and History and later at the department of Philosophy. He lectured on ethics, antique philosophy, and gave lectures on Lithuanian linguistics. In 1932, he was awarded an honorary Ph.D. at the Vytautas Magnus University.
Smetona participated in the activity of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union that had staged the Klaipėda Revolt, which gave him greater name-recognition. More than once, he was elected to its central board. Between 1924 and 1940, he was the vice-Chairman of the Board of the International Bank, and one of the members of a number of societies and companies.
Antanas Smetona was one of the leaders of the coup d'état of 1926, which deposed President Kazys Grinius, and Smetona once again became President on December 19 of that year (two others briefly held the office during the coup, which began on December 17, before Smetona was formally restored to the Presidency.
See also our VilNews article http://vilnews.com/?p=3545, “The man who declined the Presidency.”
After the coup, Smetona designated Augustinas Voldemaras, as Prime Minister. One year later he suppressed the parliament, and on May 15, 1928, with the approval of the government, he promulgated a new Constitution of the Lithuanian State with more extensive presidential powers. In 1929, he removed Voldemaras and became authoritarian head of state. He was re-elected President in 1931 and 1938, and remained in office until June 15, 1940, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union.
Why President Smetona's wife smoked Russian cigarettes and refused to talk to Polish ambassador in their native tongue
By: Alfonsas Eidintas / 15min.lt
The following three articles are from VilNews’ collaborative e-publication http://www.15min.lt/en
Alfonsas Eidintas, historian and Lithuania's former ambassador to the USA, Canada, Mexico, Israel, and Norway, has recently published a second book on Lithuania's inter-war president Antanas Smetona. The book is called "Antanas Smetona and His Environment" and the author has kindly agreed to let 15min.lt share some of its chapters. The following is an extract from a chapter on Smetona's wife, Lithuania's first First Lady, Sofija Smetonienė.
Unlike her reserved husband Antanas Smetona, Sofija was talkative and full of energy, partial to good company, a woman of action and resolution. Chodkauskai, a noble family of Antanas Chodkauskas, Sofia's father, who married his cousin Marijona Chodkauskaitė, lived in Gavenonys estate (Šiauliai region) and used Polish among themselves, speaking Lithuanian to peasants only, yet Sofija had sympathized with the Lithuanian national movement from her early days.
Her father would invite Lithuanian students, recommended by the linguist Jonas Jablonskis, to teach his children. During the summer of 1895, a young student from the University of Saint Petersburg, Antanas Smetona, stayed in Chodkauskas' house, teaching his elder son Romanas Lithuanian. Besides Sofija, the family included her sister Jadvyga, their elder brother Romanas and younger Tadas.
Sofija had a talent for learning languages – she picked up German from her German governess that she later improved even more while living in a German boarding school in Mitau, where she graduated from a gymnasium. Sofia's grandmother on her mother's side was a Curonian German, so even her mother spoke better German than Polish.
Sofija, born on 13 January 1885, was 11 years Smetona's junior – which at the time was considered a rather sharp age difference between spouses – and met him, still a student, in Gavenonys.
Young, pretty, lively and talkative 19-year-old, freshly graduated from Mitau Gymnasium, married 30-year-old bank employee Smetona in 1904 and the two moved to Vilnius. It wasn't long before Sofija joined the local Lithuanian society, exhibiting her fairly good voice in choirs and operettas, playing in amateur theater productions, actively participating in charity work. Speaking fluent German, she assisted as interpreter and mediator during the German occupation in World War One.
The Smetona family soon became the centre of Lithuanian cultural life in Vilnius, their home was frequented by the likes of Antanas' university mate J.Tūbelis, reverend V.Mironas, author Kazys Puida with his wife Ona Pleirytė-Puidienė, L.Gira, Mikas and Kipras Petraukas, painter A.Žmuidzinavičius, sometimes even by M.K.Čiurlionis and Petras Klimas. Sofija was a good expert on all the policies of her husband and participated in their making without the slightest sign of ennui (unlike many politicians' spouses who would and still do invest most of their time into updating their wardrobes).
Sofija Smetonienė was reputed as a steadily pleasant hostess who would always invite new acquaintance for a visit at her home. Priest and author M.Vaitkus wrote after a visit at Smetona's in Kaunas: “I found Mrs Sofija at home. Tall, slim. Elongated and slightly dark face. Eyes vaguely Mogul. Slight swelling and shading under the eyes. In general, features quite distinctive and uncommon. One can see a good race. The lady often holds a lit cigarette in between her right-hand fingers which makes them sallow. The cigarette owner, moreover, often touches it with her lips, savors it more fully, leaving marks on lip corners. She received me very simply, almost amiably. We started conversing about routine facts of life, as if we were old acquaintances. By the way, is Mr Smetona home? Yes, she said. And then the lady showed me where to go.”
Vacationing in Palanga in 1925, Antanas Vireliūnas, a known linguist who was very ill at the time, felt his health deteriorating (liver inflammation), his lips and tongue turning black and face yellow. Prof. Iz.Tamošaitis visited the patient, accompanied by S.Smetonienė. She told Tamošaitis, who seemed out of his depth: Vireliūnas would not last long. Indeed, he passed away on 23 July.
Friends talked his family out of transporting the body to cemetery in Kaunas – it was summertime, long distance. They agreed to bury the departed in Palanga. Coffin had to be bought in Klaipėda and brought to Palanga. But how to transport it, by what means, where to get it? While men were discussing it, S.Smetonienė procured a car. All that remained for A.Smetona, reverend Šniukšta, Iz.Tamošaitis, and Parlamentarian Kvieska to do was to say homage speeches in the funeral, silently thanking S.Smetonienė for solving all the practical problems.
Experienced diplomats from the US and Germany were often delighted by her liveliness, ability to quickly find mutual understanding, find their favor, maintain conversations with foreigners. Harry Carlson, American consul in Kaunas 1924-1926, characterized Sofija in one of his wires thus: “Mrs Smetonienė is a highly educated woman of Polish origin, there are indications that her family belongs to Polish nobility. She is exceptionally charming and can be said to be one of the three most important Lithuanian women at the moment. She takes great interest in her husband's politics, although she shows no open interest in any sort of social work, she has not been observed paying any particular attention to education or charity. She is certainly a delightful conversationalist, although her talks always contain certain sharpness and irony when she discusses people and events. Mrs Smetonienė is an ardent gambler and it is well known that she plays rather large sums.”
And here is what Soviet diplomat Sobolevsky though of S.Smetonienė: “Smetonienė is sensible, always in the loop, shows lively interest in everything, well-informed.”
Sofija Smetonienė was ready to sacrifice any prior engagement for the sake of her dearest friends. She instantly accepted an invitation to a dinner party held by US diplomats in the honor of Frederick Coleman, head of the American mission in the Baltic states, but shortly afterwards remembered that, unfortunately, she and the President had already been invited to the USSR embassy (as Smetonienė herself put it, she was invited by the “Bolscheviken”).
However, came 12 October and Smetonienė arrived to the American dinner party, declaring that she had withdrawn her promises to the soviets because she prefered present company, even though she’d got into trouble with the Foreign Ministry for not accompanying the President to the Soviets' event. She recounted how she’d spent half an hour arguing with Prime Minister Voldemaras. She did not leave the party before 1 AM, when the President's adjutant came to fetch her, as usual.
Smetonienė was exceptionally fond of the company of F.Coleman – who would occasionally come to Kaunas on business – because he'd gladly play cards with her.
On 27 October, American Consul Heingartner became witness of the following scene at the President's palace: the guests who arrived for 5 o'clock tea were greeted by the President, descending down the stairs in seemingly good humor. After Smetonienė arrived, everyone drank coffee and started to play a new game (a game of dice called golf), getting instructions on its finer points from one of the guests. Smetonienė had never seen the game, yet she cracked it instantly – faster than any of the gentlemen in the room – and played it with great zest, inviting everyone for another round the following day. “She is a born gambler,” Consul Heingartner noted in his diary.
Upon Sofija's becoming the First Lady again (1926), diplomats noted, somewhat surprised, that the new status made not the slightest change in her attitudes – she remained just as cheerful, honest, frank and slightly mocking of those she did not like. Smetonienė mostly smoked Russian cigarettes. She complained that since her husband became President, he had been smoking too much. He had much on his mind and was smoking to calm his nerves.
On 9 September 1927, an armed uprising erupted in Tauragė and other towns, mostly instigated by the social democrats, but by the evening it got stamped out, culprits arrested. Quite unpleasant for the Smetona family – and on the eve of their daughter Marytė's wedding...
Even though developments of the uprising aupset the family a great deal, they hardly could cancel all the wedding arrangements.
At 7 PM, 10 September 1927, a smart-dressed crowd of Kaunas society and foreign diplomats congregated in the town's Arch-Cathedral. Marytė Smetonaitė was marrying President's adjutant, captain of the hussars Aloyzas Valušis. The Cathedral was full of people from all sections of society, most of them standing as all seats were taken. Sofija Smetonienė led captain Valušis to the altar, the President with Marytė following behind.
Photographers' flashes and buzzing of movie cameras constantly disturbed the ceremony. Archbishop declared the couple husband and wife and read a letter from the Pope. The newlyweds left through the side door while all the diplomats were shaking hands with the President and his wife. Only one foreign diplomat got invited to the wedding ball – the US vice-consul Ch.Gerrity, a personal friend of the Smetona family. Gerrity later told his consul that 75 people attended the wedding, raising champagne glasses on the arrival of the newlyweds to the Pressident's palace.
Each of the newlyweds received a glass of champagne and the young captain threw the emptied glass to the floor – such was the custom here. High clergy and military officers in full-dress uniforms surrounded the tables. After dinner, the bride danced with every one of the guests. Members of Sofija Smetonienė's bridge group sent the young couple an antique silver plate as a present.
Both sisters – Sofija and Jadvyga Chodkauskaitė – were true patriots and would always maintain Lithuanian pride. Sofija Smetonienė was wife of President Antanas Smetona and Jadvyga – spouse to Prime Minister Juozas Tūbelis. Both were famous for their passionate patriotism. Poland's envoy in Kaunas Franciszek Charvat has reported that in his meetings with the Smetonas, the President would talk to him in fluent Polish, while his wife Sofija would not use her native tongue and insist on talking to the Pole in French, a language that she spoke rather poorly.
The Smetonas usually spent their vacations in Palanga – upon arrival, the President's family would be greeted by burgomaster Jonas Šliūpas and other distinctive town citizens, after which the President would go to his summerhouse. The Smetonas spent their holidays swimming, sunbathing, and resting. After 1934 – the year of Smetona's 60th anniversary – the family found a new holiday spot, Užugiris Court near the President's home village.
The Smetona family spent their holidays in Užugiris differently than in Palanga – Smetonienė would take care of the house, the President's sister Julija oversee the fields. Cooking was Sofija's responsibility.
One evening, A.Smetona agreed to visit duke Konstantinas Radvila who was one year Smetona's senior and a widower with three grown-up children.
In his youth, the duke had been renown for his great physical strength, his passion for hunting and a collection of over 70 rifles. His residence, Taujėnai manor, was a splendid building, but upon closer look appeared to be rather neglected. After the land reform (1922), the duke was left with merely 80 ha of his formerly gigantic estate, not quite enough to maintain his wide lifestyle.
As the President's car stopped outside the manor, two uniformed footmen came instantly and the duke, attired in beautiful antique clothes, emerged from an antechamber to greet the guest.
This was a symbolic meeting – after all, Smetona's forefathers once slavishly toiled in the fields of the duke's ancestry. His younger sister Taida Radvilaitė escorted them to a tastefully arranged table. As she spoke no Lithuanian, the party communicated mostly in Polish, even though the duke was fluent in Lithuanian, with a slight regional accent.
Duke Konstantinas was a well-educated man, graduate of Riga Polytechnics with a degree in forestry from a German university. After the meal, Radvila conducted Smetona around the manor, showing rooms furnished with Louis XIV furniture, paintings, vases and sculptures, presents and prizes for excellent shooting. The guests were also shown into a glasshouse filled with tropical plants.
When footmen closed the car door and saluted the out-bound President, the duke remained in his manor and prospectless life, while Smetona returned to his wife in Užugiris Court – this is how the family preferred to call their new property, avoiding the more traditional “Užugiris Manor.”
Next week, what were Smetona's attitudes towards Polish national minority and the Vilnius question and why his adversaries would call him "King of Jews."
Skaitykite daugiau: http://www.15min.lt/en/article/culture-society/why-president-smetona-s-wife-smoked-russian-cigarettes-and-refused-to-talk-to-polish-ambassador-in-their-native-tongue-528-198945#ixzz1sf2CzIfa
Lithuanian Poles and Antanas Smetona, “King of Jews“ (I)
By: Alfonsas Eidintas / 15min.lt
President Smetona is sworn in 1938.
Alfonsas Eidintas, historian and Lithuania's former ambassador to the USA, Canada, Mexico, Israel, and Norway, has recently published a second book on Lithuania's inter-war president Antanas Smetona. The book is called "Antanas Smetona and His Environment" and the author has kindly agreed to let 15min.lt share some of its chapters. The following is an extract from a chapter on Smetona's views on national minorities in inter-war Lithuania.
As people started to build an independent Lithuania, they likewise set out to lithuanianize her. The process of lithuanianization did not escape its excesses – attacks against foreign citizens. It was not only the Holly See delegate A.Zecchini who voiced great indignation in his reports to Vatican, but also President Antanas Smetona, who never approved of attacks against Jews and Poles.
In the beginning of 1923, non-Lithuanian signs and plates in Kaunas and across the entire country would get an occasional tarring. People would find notes of proclamation glued to walls of their houses, signed by “patriots” and fascist groups that came to be called “smearers” (murzintojai).
While the smearers' actions were being hotly debated in the press, Augustinas Voldemaras (Prime Minister at the time) denounced the tarring of signs, stressing that “every Lithuanian passing through these tarred signs must lower his eyes in shame” and that it gave the country great dishonor abroad. Gradually, nationalistic attacks against Jews (they were being accused of distrusting the recently-introduced national currency, litas, and of demanding privileges) and the smearers' adventures lost momentum.
In regimes run by one man, the latter's personal attitude to racial and national minorities becomes a significant factor in state politics.
In regimes run by one man, the latter's personal attitude to racial and national minorities becomes a significant factor in state politics; therefore, Smetona's policies in Lithuania say much about him as a person. Authoritarian regimes (and such was Lithuania under Smetona 1926-1940) usually oppress their national minorities, turning a blind eye on their needs. The more radical among Smetona's opponents have repeatedly called him “King of Jews,” thus voicing their discontent with the President's tolerant position regarding Jews, Lithuania's most important and populous national minority at the time. But what about local Poles? What policies did Smetona's regime adopt regarding national minorities?
On March 24, 1936, Smetona gave probably the most comprehensive account of his views on Vilnius question (Lithuania's old capital was at the time under Polish rule, tensing relations between the two neighboring countries) and Lithuanian-Polish relations in a lecture called “The Lithuanian Nation and Its Purpose.” The importance of Vilnius he described thus: “Lithuania without Vilnius is missing one wing in her flight upwards, to the future. It is a moderate position: In want of a third of her land, she cannot have a full plan of her tasks, she does not have the importance in the eyes of her neighbors that she could have. Getting it back would add weight on international plane and internal life would be more spacious, management work would be done more purposefully.”
Poles, according to Smetona, must, too, grant Lithuanians their right to self-determination, must renounce their imperial nationalism, since the Lithuanian-Pole type that once had historical existence, was no longer possible. In the olden days, Poles would call conscious Lithuanians “litvomans,” unfaithfull to the common Polish-Lithuanian cause, but today, when Lithuania was free, they quit doing so, yet still sought to maintain the obsolete origine lituanus, natione polonus type and grant it the right to determine Lithuania's lot.
The late Marshall Pilsudski loved throwing the term around whenever it suited him, like in Paris in 1927, yet this dual national type became shaky with the rise of the Lithuanian nation. Even families would break up because of it: “Professor Ivanauskas of our university, nobleman, Lithuanian from Lyda in origin, had one brother who thought himself Belorussian and another – Polish. A whole lot of our noblemen – Biržiškai, Mongirdai, Landbergiai, Pečkauskaitė, Pšibiliauskienė, Putvinskiai and many more – come from families whose fathers or grandfathers regarded themselves as Lithuanian Poles.
Finally, late Narutavičius from Telšiai, a nobleman of Polish nurturing, was a member of the Council of Lithuania and signed the declaration of independent Lithuania. And his real brother, Narutavičius, champion of Pilsudski, was elected Poland's President. Polonized Lithuanians, who support Poland, would like to see the common folk that are still nationally unconscious to follow their suit; those recalling their Lithuanian origin stand in support of the resurgent Lithuania.”
That is why Poland allegedly cries about how Lithuanians persecute Poles and, in return, persecute Lithuanians of Vilnius. “Do we not have Polish gymnasiums and other Polish schools, founded on our common laws? We do, so the Poles are not being wronged, but they seek to have more rights than is their due, in order to influence the resurgent Lithuanian people. After all, these schools are meant for the polonized Lithuanians, not some newcomers from Poland. We seek national revival of our people, while Poles think it's their right to use them as ethnographic material. We would be happy if Poles allowed Lithuanians of Vilnius region to remain Lithuanians. This is where our views clash. Today, language is the most important mark ofr a nation, but not the only one.”
Smetona specified his views even further in LTS assembly of November 1939, probably in an attempt to curb his own radical supporters from the younger generation: “To persecute foreigners is not only dishonorable, it is unwise. The flood of nationalistic currents will have to go on the ebb. Life will make nations break free of a narrow shell of nationalism, look for contacts in culture instead of differences and return to a universal human basis of morality.”
In November 1939, Lithuania got Vilnius back, but – contrary to what was being said – Smetona was not excited about it for several reasons. Garrisons of the Red Army were stationed there and, besides, by its population Vilnius was – even though quite Jewish – predominantly Polish, with Polish language dominating the city. Old myths – that the denationalized Lithuanians of Vilnius region were waiting for mother Lithuania to come, whereby they'd burst into speaking publicly in their native tongue – appeared to be mere fables, while Poles with resolutely Polish identity met the coming of Lithuanians – the new invaders, as they saw it – to Vilnius with hostility.
Vilnius was a prism to reflect on spiritual capacities of the Lithuanian nation – it was being claimed that the existence of the Lithuanian state depended on national resistivity, yet the question arose – how far should the nationalism go. V.Alantas (Jakševičius) raised a point that nationality should not be considered as something extreme, one should not feared to become nationalist in the true sense of the word. He was critical of Lithuanians' hospitality and welcoming nature, as it was harmful to Lithuania's interests.
The authorities organized language courses, forcing people to drill Lithuanian and all its rules into their heads, without quite understanding them.
The government undertook vigorous lithuanianization of the city, replaced public signs, published all information in Lithuanian, speaking and writing in Lithuanian became institutional requirement – all of a sudden, the city turned foreign to majority of its townspeople.
The authorities organized language courses, forcing people to drill Lithuanian and all its rules into their heads, without quite understanding them. The present author, newcomer from Žemaitija (Western Lithuania), used to rent a room in Žvėrynas, Vytautas street, with a landlord of Belorussian descent, R.I.P Valentinas Syvijus, who, having experienced the intensity of the pre-war language courses, would wake up from sleep or after ten pints of beer (his absolute limit) and, as late as 1974, would reel off in Lithuanian with a heavy Slavonic accent: “Daiktavardiiis yra kalbos daliis, kurį galima pamacyci yr apačioci.” (Noun is part of speech that you can see and touch.”) He still spoke the language poorly, even though his entire family – who came from Molėtai, on the Lithuanian side of the demarcation line – used only Lithuanian.
Historian Š.Liekis came up with an example to show how much the Lithuanian military, who entered Vilnius, were taken aback by the real, not nominal, linguistic situation in the city.
Lieutenant Mikalauskas of the Lithuanian army and his subordinates spent two weeks going from one village to another with an assignment to help “real sons and daughters of Lithuania,” that is, Lithuanians of Vilnius region. Lieutenant and his soldiers were in for a great shock. They were more than surprised when they did not come across a single Lithuanian-speaker in the villages they marched through – they even got a feeling of slight discomfort, as if they were in a foreign country. Some hope lit their faces only around Šalčininkėliai, Mielagėnai, Kirdeikiai and Laužonys, where they found entire Lithuanian-speaking villages.
There were some radical suggestions, too. The House of Commerce stated, in its 1939 “Economic Bulletin” (for official use only, not for publishing), that Lithuania would now have several hundred thousand pro-Polish citizens and moving several ministries to Vilnius would amount to nothing more than a “war against titans,” that one faced a great mass of Poles that could not be just dissolved. Suggestions were raised to tear this nest apart – physically and economically, with “siedlungspolitik” west to east, etc. Polish burghers were to be moved westwards, leaving all the treasures of Vilnius to Lithuanians; the more Lithuanian the region, the more integral the capital.
Antanas Smetona, “King of Jews“ (II)
By: Alfonsas Eidintas / 15min.lt
Renatos Mikalajūnaitės/Istorinė Prezidentūra nuotr. /
Mylimiausiu prezidentu išrinktas Antanas Smetona
Alfonsas Eidintas, historian and Lithuania's former ambassador to the USA, Canada, Mexico, Israel, and Norway, has recently published a second book on Lithuania's inter-war president Antanas Smetona. The book is called "Antanas Smetona and His Environment" and the author has kindly agreed to let 15min.lt share some of its chapters. The following is an extract from a chapter on Smetona's views on the Jewish national minority in inter-war Lithuania.
As people started to build independent Lithuania, they likewise set out to lithuanianize her. The process of lithuanianization did not avoid its excesses – attacks against foreign citizens. It was not only the Holly See delegate A.Zecchini who voiced great indignation in his reports to Vatican, but also President Antanas Smetona who never approved of attacks against Jews and Poles.
The same [House of Commerce 1939] bulletin urged to define a policy for Jews in Vilnius region, saying that it was unacceptable to leave the most profitable industry – commerce – in Jewish hands, that they needed to be resettled [from the newly-regained Vilnius] and not to other towns, but to rural settlements, to work in agriculture; Lithuanians, it said, had to stop valuing only land: “If we want to live, let's divide up the towns and shove Jews into the country where they in specia are bound for extinction, because they will not manage to do hard and decent work. The gain will be two-fold: Jews will be pushed into passive and prospectless rural existence and put on the verge of extinction.”
This was a very open and Nazi-like incitement – Smetona's government policies never included such drastic measures.
Having regained our state, we want and we must be just in dealing with our minorities. Since we do not demand them to melt, to drown within our nation, we grant them the right to a native tongue, allow them to associate with their own kind in matters of culture.
Smetona had cooperated with Jewish colleagues under the Tzar, during election to the Russian Duma; Jews participated in the Council of Lithuania. So when the 1922 Constitution was being discussed, Smetona supported provisions granting cultural autonomy for national minorities, yet opposed privileges, creating “states within a state.” He protected the status of Lithuanian as a state language, often speaking out against derogations and persecution of minorities, urging to respect their culture: “Having regained our state, we want and we must be just in dealing with our minorities. Since we do not demand them to melt, to drown within our nation, we grant them the right to a native tongue, allow them to associate with their own kind in matters of culture. In exchange, they must be our land’s – therefore, territorial – patriots, love Lithuania and respect the Lithuanian people. They must be loyal to Lithuania, stick to the laws not out of coercion, but out of conscience. Therefore, our national minorities are not aliens, but fellow citizens, not foreign-ethnic, but different-ethnic.”
Smetona, himself a member of a small nation, was sensitive to problems of the small ones (back in1913, he wrote in a publication called “Hope” that nationalism had two sides to it: “Nationalism of the stronger nation turns into chauvinism, that of the weaker – patriotism.”).
“A small nation, of course, is not equal to a big one, one race is not equal to another, but does it follow from this inequality that a nation must slave for another or disappear altogether? The Egyptians are not Aryans, but no one can deny the greatness of their culture. Japanese are a yellow race, but their might today is indisputable, their culture is deep and special. Jews are Semites, a tiny nation that used to live around Palestine, and what giant impact have they made on mankind. They gave us the Holly Scriptures that touched all nations of the world. Which corner of this earth lacks a Bible? None. A tiny nation of Norwegians – and they have given so many brilliant people, authors, and musicians. (...) In proportion, small nations can easily match big ones creatively, in the arts, sciences, technology. Diversity and not unification is the mover of cultural progress,” Smetona said in a congress in 1935.
Neither Smetona, nor his party, Lithuanian Nationalist Union (LTS), promoted racism or antisemitism, even though some groups would hold occasional nationalistic actions or smear Jewish shop windows and doors. Among the most aggressive attackers against Jewish traders were their Lithuanian competitors, businessmen, and their publication “Verslas” (“Business”). Meanwhile, Smetona and LTS leadership always maintained close ties with Jewish financiers and trading groups.
In Jewish press and literature, Smetona was depicted as an incredibly tolerant Lithuanian politician – an image that prompted bitter Lithuanian radicals to dub him the “King of Jews.”
If there is any basis for the claim that the Lithuanian tradition does not recognize antisemitism, then it should not surprise us that Mr Smetona, who has both his feet in the historic soil of his nation, is untouched by either antisemitism or chauvinism.
In 1932, Izidorius Kisinas authored a book for Jewish pupils called “Antanas Smetona, President of the Republic of Lithuania,” published in Hebrew in Vilkaviškis. According to Kisinas, “if there is any basis for the claim that the Lithuanian tradition does not recognize antisemitism, antisemitism as a dominant social current, then it should not surprise us that Mr Smetona, who has both his feet in the historic soil of his nation, is untouched by either antisemitism or chauvinism (if, regretfully, such phenomena have been observed lately, then the influence of Mr Smetona and the better part of the Lithuanian society is our guarantee that trends within certain groups will not stray us away from the historic path (...) and good Lithuanian-Jewish relations).”
However, Smetona's attitudes were completely different regarding the Jewish left and those Jews who participated in Lithuania's revolutionary movement, active members of the Communist Party and communist underground. Perhaps it was the Jews – who preferred speaking other languages (not Lithuanian) – that Smetona intended this remark, uttered in the LTS convention on 5 January 1935: “I could reprove one minority group for having within their ranks those who have not shown due respect for the national Lithuanian language. Not having mastered it properly, they like using one of our neighbours’ languages in public. This habit turns majority of the population against it.”
Smetona expressed an uncomplicated understanding of the relation between the Lithuanian nation and the others: “Lithuanians are builders of their state, while national minorities are their aides, they must love Lithuania and respect the Lithuanian nation, be loyal to Lithuania.” His magnanimity, however, was not extended to all Jews. As B.Ivanov notes, the nationalist press mostly reflected the strategy of integration for national minorities, i.e., questions of their loyalty, since nationalists paid much attention to Jews and tried nurturing a highly differentiated image for them, distinguishing among various groups on the basis of national and public loyalty.
Nationalists would put loyal Jews into two main categories: Zionists and religious Orthodox Jews that presented no serious challenge in terms of public loyalty. It was based on certain Jewish sense of honour, interpreted as national self-consciousness, reliability, fairness, usefulness to Lithuanian nationalism and nationalists. The kind of Jew who would not shun spilling blood in Palestine, whom the Lithuanian environment nurtured into a modern man in terms of national feeling. Lithuanians themselves, it was claimed, could learn national consciousness from him.
The nationalists' attitudes towards Jewish politics were rather inconsistent – they approved of the Jewish role and support in dealing with Klaipėda and Vilnius questions. Meanwhile their wish to participate in municipal and later parliamentary elections was deemed an “unjustified” ambition to further expand their influence.
VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the editors: editor@VilNews.com.
Code of Ethics: See Section 2 – about VilNews. VilNews is not responsible for content on external links/web pages.
HOW TO ADVERTISE IN VILNEWS.
All content is copyrighted © 2011. UAB ‘VilNews’.