23 February 2018
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The interwar presidents

Statutes of the three interwar presidents are placed in the park in front of the Historical Presidential Palace in Kaunas. Picture: Statues of Aleksandras Stulginskis (front) and Antanas Smetona.
Photo: Aage Myhre

After Lithuania re-won its freedom in 1918, a Polish military invasion led to an annexation of eastern Lithuania (including the capital city Vilnius) to Poland. This was never recognized and Lithuania remained at a state of war with Poland, with the new government city Kaunas officially designated the “Temporary capital”. “We won’t calm down without Vilnius” became a popular slogan and organizations like the “Union for the Liberation of Vilnius” sprung up with the Lithuanian-Polish territorial dispute becoming one of the keystones of interwar Lithuania’s policy.
Interwar Lithuania strived to let the world know of its existence. Left is the art deco Resurrection church, built to be the largest church in the Baltics and an important landmark of rapidly expanding Kaunas. Right are Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, the first Lithuanian pilots to cross the Atlantic (1933). They subsequently died in air disaster, becoming instant martyrs.

The main western powers recognized Lithuania only in 1922 as they preferred a stronger Poland to counter the German and Soviet threats. But by 1922 it was already clear that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth would not be reborn as the Poles ceded many eastern lands to the Soviets in the Treaty of Riga.

Unlike the part of Lithuania that was in the Russian Empire, Lithuania Minor remained under German rule except for its northernmost part, the Klaipėda Region (German: Memelland), which was detached from Germany due to its Lithuanian majority. As the Lithuanian Republic was still unrecognized, Klaipėda Region remained under League of Nations rule. In 1923 Lithuania supported a revolt in Klaipėda Region and the new directory (government) of Edmonas Simonaitis joined Lithuania (as a bilingual autonomous area) thereby giving the young country its only seaport. Together with it came a sizeable German minority which caused trouble in the 1930s when the Nazi ideas caught on among the Germans of Klaipėda Region.

1926 saw a military coup with Antanas Smetona retaking presidential power. He ruled until the end of independent Lithuania, the period thus frequently known as the “Smetonic era”. Lithuania became one of the first authoritarian countries in the Eastern Europe, but by the year 1936 only a few, such as Czechoslovakia, would still remain democratic. 
1926: President Antanas Smetona takes oath before the Catholic bishop.

Interwar Lithuania continued to be an agricultural society with only 20% of people living in cities, therefore it was less heavily hit by the Global Depression, remained a devout Catholic land with the church not disestablished and the birth rates were still high (the population increased by 22% to over 3 million in years 1923-1939 despite the sizeable emigration primarily to the South America).

The foreign policy of Lithuania was friendly to the Germans and Soviets because many other countries, like France or Estonia, supported Poland in the conflict over Vilnius. However, the increasing imperialism of both Germany and the Soviet Union eroded their need for independent Lithuania. In 1939 German ultimatum led to the loss of Klaipėda Region. A secret Molotov-Ribentropp pact protocol included Lithuania in the German zone of influence, but the Smetona’s refusal to invade Poland together with Germany led to the change in the protocol with Lithuania being “ceded” to the Soviet Union. In 1939 Soviet Union established army bases in Lithuania after an ultimatum (this ultimatum also returned 1/5th of Vilnius region, recently occupied by the Soviets during their invasion of Poland), and another ultimatum in 1940 led to a full-scale occupation and annexation.


The interwar presidents

Antanas Smetona

 - President Antanas Smetona

Date and Place of Birth   
August 10, 1874 in a peasant family
Ukmergė county, Taujėnai rural district, Užulėnis village

Married Sofija Chodakauskaitė in 1904, son Julius and daughter Marija

Professional Qualifications                   
Lawyer, Petersburg University, Faculty of Law, 1897–1892

Political, Public, Professional and Cultural Engagement 
Bank clerk in
 Žemės ūkio bankas, 1902–1917
Participant of the Great
 Seimas of Vilnius, 1905
Memberof the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Relief Society for helping victims of the war, 1914–1918
Participant of the Lithuanian Conference in Vilnius, 1917
Head of the Lithuanian Council, later of the State Council, 1917–1919
Signed the Lithuanian Independence Act on February 16, 1918
Became the first President of the Lithuanian State on April 6, 1919
Lecturer of ethics, ancient philosophy and Lithuanian stylistics at the University of Lithuania, 1923–1927
Vice-Chairman of the Board of the International Bank; founder and one of the leaders of a number of societies and companies, 1924–1940
Elected to the 3rd
 Seimas, 1926
Published and edited a number of periodicals; publicized original and translated works on philosophy and other research papers

Party Membership
Member of Lithuanian Democratic Party, 1902–1907
Head of National Progress Party, 1920–1924
Founder, member and Chairman (1925–1926) of Lithuanian Nationalist Union , 1924–1940

In Presidential Office      

April 6, 1919 – June 19, 1920

December 19, 1926 – June 15, 1940 Soviet occupation

After Term of Office
The term was aborted by the Soviet occupation in 1940; therefore, Smetona moved West and settled in the USA
Died in a fire under mysterious circumstances in Cleveland, USA, on January 9, 1944


Alexander Stulginskis

 - President Alexander Stulginskis

Alexander Stulginskis (1885 02 26-1969 09 22)

He was born
in 1885.
 February 26. peasant family 
Taurage, Kaltinėnai district, village Kutalių

in 1920.
 married Hannah Matulaitytė, with whom she had her daughter Aldona

Professional qualifications
agronomist, 1910-1913 m.
 Halle (Germany) Institute of Agronomy

The political, social, professional and cultural activities
Allowed and edited various newspapers, brochures and advice to farmers in organized teaching courses beginning teachers
in 1914-1918.
 Lithuanian Association of victims of war dole member 
in 1917.
 Vilnius Lithuanian conference attendee 
1917-1919 m.
 Council of Lithuania, later a member of the State Council 
in 1918.
 February 16. Lithuania signed the Act of Independence of 
1918 -1919 m.
 II, the Cabinet of Ministers without portfolio 
in 1919.
 III of the Cabinet of Ministers Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs, food and Public Works Minister 
in 1919.
 IVMinistrų office of Agriculture and Minister of State Assets 
in 1920-1922.
 Constituent Seimas, the President, while he was President of 
1926-1927 m.
 III of the Parliament he was Chairman of the Seimas

Membership of political parties
in 1918-1936.
 The Christian Democratic Party

Office of the President 
on 21 December 1922. -1926 June 7.

At the end of this term
after 1927.
 retired from active politics in 
 Soviet authorities exiled to Siberia. 
 sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment, but after 2 years after Stalin's death, released in 1956. returned to Lithuania 
in 1969.
 September 22. died in Kaunas. Buried in the cemetery Panemunė


Kazys Grinius

 - President Kazys Grinius

Kazys Grinius (1866 12 17-1950 06 04)

He was born
in 1866.
 December 17. peasant family 
Marijampolė County, Sasnava district, the village of Budos Selem

in 1896.
 married Joan Pavalkytę, with whom she had a son George and daughter Kazys and Redo in 1918. Wife and daughter brutally murdered soldiers robbing Kislovodsk 
in 1927.
 married Kristina violent, they were born the son of Leo

Professional qualifications
Medic, 1887-1893 m.
 Moscow State University, Faculty of Medicine

The political, social, professional and cultural activities of
the Lithuanian national revival, he wrote and edited various periodicals
in 1917.
 Voronezh Lithuanian Supreme Council of Russia, and member of the President 
 Repatriation Commission Guide 
 Constituent Member of Parliament 
1920-1922 m.VI Cabinet Guide
To 1926.
 December 17. all four of the Lithuanian Parliament member 
in 1922.
 Municipality of Kaunas Medical and Health Department Head, worked here and after 1926. Revolution until 1935. 
various health societies, articles on health and disease author

Membership of political parties
in 1902-1905.
 Lithuanian Democratic Party and founder member of 
1920-1922 m.
 Lithuanian Socialist Peoples Democratic Party 
in 1922-1936.
 Lithuanian Peasants' Association

Office of the President 
in 1926 . June 8. - 1926. December 17. Revolution

At the end of this term
after 1926.
 December 17. coup retired from active political life of the state 
in 1944.
 family emigrated to the West in 
 June 4. died in Chicago 
in 1994.
 remains were transported to Lithuania and bury him at home

Category : Lithuania today

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