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THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA

29 March 2017
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Historical Lithuania

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Main events in
Lithuania’s history

(based on “The official gateway of Lithuania”, Government of
Lithuania website, adopted and modified by dr. S. Backaitis)

Description: http://mkp.emokykla.lt/gimtoji/pics/Large/d11k01t08k_il2.jpg

PRE-HISTORY OF LITHUANIA

The first settlers arrived at the eastern shore region of the Baltic Sea in approximately 12, 000 B. C. In 3,000–500 B. C., the Indo-European Balts came to live here. Between the 5th and 8th centuries tribal groupings in the western territories included: Prussians, Yotvingians, Curronians, Zemgalians, Lithuanians and Latgalians. In the 10th century the pagan Baltic tribes became the target of christianization by Western Europe. In 1009, the name of Lithuania was mentioned for the first time in the written account of the mission of St. Bruno in Quedlinburg Annals.

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Baltic tribes - circa 1200 AD

Description: The name of Lithuania was first mentioned in the Annals of Quedlinburg in 1009, in the context of Saint Bruno’s mission to pagan lands.
Lithuania (Litua) mentioned in the Quedlinburg Annals in 1009

CONSOLIDATION AND CHRISTINIZATION

Early Second Millenium

The first major battle known in Lithuanian as Saulės mūšis was fought on September 22, 1236 between the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and pagan Samogitians. The Sword-Brothers, the first Christian military order established in the Baltic lands, were soundly defeated and its Grand Master, Volkwin killed.  The remnants of the Order incorporated into the Teutonic Knights Order in 1237.  The defeat ended forever some thirty years' worth of conquests by the Livonian brothers of the Sword on the south bank of the river Daugava. The defeat  inspired rebellions among the Curonians, Semigallians, Selonians, and Oeselians tribes previously conquered by the Sword-Brothers.

Lithuania, as the Grand Duchy (Magnus Ducatus Lithuaniae), was first noted in documents, with Mindaugas coronation  as the king.  He consolidated a number of Lithuanian related tribes and was crowned on July 6,1253. The Papal Bull granted Lithuania the highest title of monarchy, which meant that the pagan country was recognized and accepted into the family of Europe’s Christian nations as kingdom.  However, Mindaugas was assassinated in 1263, the monarchy disintegrated  and the people reverted to paganism.

Upon several decades of internal feuding, Gediminas (1316-1341) emerges as king of pagan Lithuanians and many Russians and as Duke of Zemgalians. Under his rule Lithuania grew strong. He chose Vilnius as Lithuania’s capital, and invited artisans and learned people from other parts of Europe to come and build the city. With the campaign of Gediminas into the lands of Kiev and Volhynia (1320–1321), the Jewish inhabitants of these territories were invited to come and bring their skills to the northern provinces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

While Gediminas was in power, Lithuania expanded east and south into what are now the lands of Belarus and Ukraine. However, Lithuania as a pagan nation was facing a growing threat from the Teutonic Order, a military organization of German knights, who crusaded by sword to christianize the pagan population of the eastern Baltic region.

In 1363 Gediminas' son Grand Duke Algirdas soundly defeated the Golden Horde in the Battle of Blue Waters liberating Kiev from the rule of Tatars and ending their threat to Western Europe.

In 1377 Jogaila, the grandson of Gediminas and the son of Algirdas, became the Grand Duke of Lithuania. In 1381 he was forced by his uncle Duke Kestutis to flee Vilnius, declaring himself as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. However, in 1382 Jogaila seized power in Vilnius while Kestutis was away. He captured Kestutis, who was subsequently assassinated in captivity.  His son Vytautas escaped.

In 1386 Grand Duke Jogaila married Jadwiga the teenage queen princess of Poland. The Polish Sejm (parliament) elected Jogaila as the king of Poland.  Jogaila accepted Christianity, and most of his subjects in Lithuania were induced, many times by threat of death, to convert to the king’s religion.

Inasmuch as Jogaila was based in Poland and was too distant to rule Lithuania effectively, he made peace with Vytautas in 1392. Vytautas (1350-1430) assumed the title of the Grand Duke of Lithuania on the condition of his allegiance to and support of Jogaila.

With the official adoption of Christianity in 1387, Lithuania followed the Western path of development. In the years following, Lithuania saw the spread of written language, opening of schools, and Lithuanian students travelling to study at European universities.

MIDDLE AGES

From  the Baltic to the Black  Sea

An important victory in the Battle of Žalgiris (Grünwald-Tannenberg) in 1410 was achieved by  the allied forces of Lithuania and Poland. The Order of Teutonic Knights was decisively defeated. After the war, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under Grand Duke Vytautas reached the peak of power, with its territory stretching from the Baltic to the Black Seas and from the borders of Poland to Smolensk. It emerged for the next century and a half as an important political power in Eastern and Central Europe, thwarting the expansion of the Muscovites from the east and the Tatars from south.. The success of the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was essentially based on ethnic and religious tolerance and protection from external enemies. A charter of privileges, which was momentous in the subsequent history of the Jews of Lithuania, was granted by Grand Duke Vytautas, first to the Jews of Brest (July 1, 1388) and later to those of Trakai, Grodno (1389),

Lutsk, Vladimir, and other large towns.

Description: http://www.jewishgen.org/Belarus/newsletter/MyVitebskAppendices_files/image002.jpg
Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th-15th Centuries

Lithuanian Statutes and First Constitutional Document in Europe

The Lithuanian Statutes were developed in early 16th century to serve as the legal framework for the Grand Duchy. The legal thought reached further heights at the end of the 18th century when a Constitution of the Commonwealth was adopted on 3 May 1791. It was the first constitution in Europe (preceding the French Constitution), and the second in the entire world.

The Oldest University in Eastern Europe

The beginnings of higher education in Lithuania go back to 1579, the year of founding of the Vilnius University as the Jesuit academy. Its foundation was the most significant event in the cultural life of the 16th century Lithuanian Grand Duchy, bearing high political importance. Vilnius University was the first higher school of education not only in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but also in the whole of Eastern Europe

Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/The_Grand_Courtyard_of_Vilnius_University.Lithuania.jpg
The Vilnius powers university

The Demise of the Commonwealth

To thwart the threats from rising powers of Sweden and the Duchy of Moscow, Lithuania entered in 1569 into a commonwealth union with Poland, which lasted until the very end of the 18th century. As a member of the Commonwealth, Lithuania retained its institutions, including a separate army, currency, and statutory laws. The Commonwealth up to the end of the 16th century was one of the largest kingdoms in Europe. However, the ruling Jagiellonian dynasty gradually lost control over the affairs of state to the more and more power seeking and self-serving nobility. After the death of king Zygimantas Augustas in 1573, the last of the Jagiello dynasty, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth became an elective monarchy, a quasi-democratized nearly an ungovernable state.

The once powerful Commonwealth, incapable of controlling the feuding regional nobility, gradually lost the ability fight off the growing power and destructive invasions of neighboring kings.  The demise was further amplified by a nearly a century lasting black plaque which wiped out more than half of the Commonwealth’s population. The Commonwealth began to seriously disintegrate in the latter part of the 17th century and was finally partitioned by Prussia, Russia and Austria in 1795.

LATTER PART of the SECOND MILLENIUM

Lithuania Under the Czarist Rule

Upon the third and final partition in 1795, the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania ceased to exist.  Lithuania was annexed by Russia.  In 1830, the Poles rebelled against the Russian rule and in 1831 the uprising spread to Lithuania.  However, the Russians crushed the uprising within a year. In 1863 the Poles and the Lithuanians rose once more against the occupiers, but again they were defeated and brutally dealt with.  Each rebellion was followed by severe repressive measures such as mass hangings, deportations, prohibition of Lithuanian schools and Latin print, as well as prohibition of public use of Lithuanian language. Russian orthodox religion was given preference over the Catholic Church in all walks of public life.  Lithuanians, in hundreds of thousands, escaped Russian repression by emigrating to North America. Similarly, many thousands of Jews of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, calling themselves Litvaks, left for South Africa, North America, Australia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Israel, etc. They formed strong communities around the world and hold top positions in politics, economy, arts and sciences, culture and society in general. They often lead in creativity and innovations that affect and influence the world we live. Their names are frequently found among the Nobel laureates and in many other honorable contexts.

Inspite of these oppressive Russian measures, there was a growing interest in Lithuania in its culture and history and the quest to be free of foreign intrusion. At that time nationalism was a growing force in Europe, and there was little the Russians could do to impede this development.

Book Smuggling – the Nineteen Century Phenomenon

Book smuggling emerged as resistance to the repressive actions of tsarist Russia authorities against the use in public of the Lithuanian language, the ban of Lithuanian books in Latin script and encouraging the population to accept the Russian Orthodox faith. Book smuggling activities involved the printing of books, mostly in the then Prussia (Lithuania Minor) and the United States of America, carrying them illegally into the occupied country and distributing them to  the population. Though book smuggling was done mostly by ordinary peasants, this cultural movement, which was a reflection of the national quest for freedom, paved the way for the restoration of Lithuania‘s independence in 1918. This quest of  preserving national identity, has retained great importance to this day. Inasmuch as book smuggling is often regarded to be Lithuania’s unique historical phenomenon of the 19th century, the UNESCO named it in 2004 as unique and unprecedented phenomenon in the world.

1918–1940: Period of Independence and Nation Building

On 16 February 1918, twenty courageous, determined and trusted representatives of the Lithuanian nation signed the Act of Independence “re-establishing an independent state, based on democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital city, severing all previous links with other states.” Having withstood the fight for independence against Bolshevik and Polish invaders, Lithuania adopted parliamentary democracy in the Constituent Assembly (Steigiamasis Seimas)  on May 15, 1920. Poles, breaking political and military agreements, seized on October 9, 1920, Vilnius and a sizeable part of eastern Lithuania.  Kaunas became Lithuania’s provisional capital.  In 1923 Lithuania exercised its claim over the Klaipeda (Lithuania minor) region by expelling the French military administration.  

The historical tragic flight by American Lithuanians Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, who were among the first ones in the world to fly a propeller plane in 1933 across the Atlantic from the New York city to the middle of Europe, and Lithuania’s win of the basketball championship of Europe in 1939, became national symbols of patriotism and pride in the young nation’s great achievements. The principles developed during this period such as the rule of law, civic society, cultural and historical values, national solidarity, drive for scholastic excellence and flourishing agriculture, helped Lithuania survive as a nation the subsequent 50 years of Soviet Russian occupation. In subsequent years of communist rule, these values served as ideological basis for resistance and restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1990. 

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The signatories of Lithuania’s independence in 1918

Nazi Germany and Lithuania

Lithuania conducted in 1934-5 the first NAZI trial in Europe and defied Hitler’s threats of vengeance. In March 1939, a long-running dispute between Lithuania and Germany over the jurisdiction of the Klaipeda region came to a head when Hitler demanded that Lithuania gives up the region or face Nazi Germany invasion. Lithuania, failing to receive support from either USSR or Western European powers, gave in to the ultimatum. On March 22, 1939, Hitler triumphantly arrived in Klaipeda and declared victory.

Soviet Occupation and Annexation into USSR

In August 1939, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Hitler and Stalin agreed to carve up Central and Eastern part of Europe. The Baltic states were relegated under this agreement to the Soviet sphere of influence. Upon Soviet occupation of eastern part of Poland, Moscow returned Vilnius to Lithuania as a condition of stationing several isolated military garrisons on Lithuania’s territory.  However, eight months later, USSR forcibly occupied Lithuania in June 1940 and formally annexed it as a Soviet republic in August 1940.  Lithuania’s state structure was dismantled, followed by mass arrests, killing of politically unreliable, and began large scale deportations of the population to Siberia.

World War II and Subsequent Period June 1941

On June 22, 1941 Germany invaded USSR and as a result, it occupied all of the Baltic states. It imposed a military rule and political governance by Nazi powers from Berlin. Attempts by Lithuanians to restore their independent state was squashed within several weeks of occupation and their principal proponents were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The occupying Nazis and their local henchmen killed most of the 240 000 Lithuanian Jews.

Upon defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Soviet Union reoccupied the Baltic states. Lithuania was restored as a Soviet Socialist Republic of the USSR. From 1945 through 1950s the Soviet authorities implemented deportations of several hundred thousands Lithuanians to remote areas of the USSR, mostly to northern Siberia slave labor camps (gulags). While more than half of the deportees perished, a number of survivers after enduring inhuman hardships in forced labor camps for some 20 and more years, returned to their homelands. During these turbulent years, thousands of the younger Lithuanians joined resistance groups to fight the communist occupiers for the country‘s independence. The period of the fight for freedom resulted in more than 30,000 deaths. It is one of the most dramatic, tragic but heroic events in Lithuania‘s history.

The Singing Revolution

The Initiative Group of Sąjūdis (Lithuanian Reform Movement), established in June 1988, inspired the nation with faith to quest for independence.  Subsequently in 1989, the Lithuanian Communist party broke away from the Central Communist Party in Moscow, which was an unprecedented  and very dangerous move at the time. 

On August 23, 1989, the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in a mass rally joined hands to form a human chain stretching some 650 kilometers from Vilnius through Riga to Tallinn The event marked the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as a result of which the Baltic nations lost their independence. The Baltic Way was a symbolic expression of final separation of the people of the Baltic States from the Soviet Union. Seeing this danger, the Soviet leader Gorbachev came to Vilnius to persuade the Lithuanians to stay within the USSR. The nation refused. On March 11, 1990, the independence of the Republic of Lithuania was officially restored.

On  January 13, 1991, Moscow sent to Vilnius its well trained and heavily armed OMON paratrooper units to quell the peaceful quest of the people for freedom. But even under armed attack, the Lithuanian people as well as the Latvians and Estonians responded to aggression peacefully - without use of arms, singing songs of freedom in mass gatherings with an endless and persistent faith in victory.  During the military’s crackdown, 13 peacefully protesting civilians were killed in Vilnius. On  February 4, 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognise Lithuanian independence. However, only after the old communist coup in Kremlin failed, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of the Baltic states on September 6, 1991, followed by world  wide recognition and acceptance of Lithuania as member of the United Nations on  September 17, 1991.  As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, Russia agreed to withdraw former Soviet occupation troops from Lithuania's territory  in September 1992.

Description: http://www.dw.de/image/0,,4578218_4,00.jpg
The Baltic Way - Human Chain 600 km Long Linking the
Three Baltic States in Their Drive for Freedom

EU AND NATO MEMBERSHIP

Following its EU and NATO membership in 2004, Lithuania was again reintegrated into the European family of nations. Once an EU member, Lithuania has become an official contributor  country giving aid in the quest for freedom to Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, South Caucasus, Afghanistan and Iraq while also fulfilling its multilateral obligations within the EU and NATO structures.

Category : Historical Lithuania

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Gediminas – King of

Lithuania & Russians


Gediminas' Tower (Gedimino pilies bokštas) is the only remaining part of the
Upper Castle in Vilnius. The first fortifications were built of wood by King Gediminas.
Later the first brick castle was completed in 1409 by Vytautas the Great.

Gediminas (1275 - 1341) was the one founding Vilnius as the capital of Lithuania. In works of history Gediminas is referred to as the Grand Duke of Lithuania, but he called himself, and was titled in all official documents, the King of Lithuania, or the King of Lithuania and of Russians. He ruled in the years 1316-1341. Gediminas was lauded as one of the greatest rulers of Lithuania. He established diplomatic and economic links with Europe and invited many artisans and merchants to Lithuania. His reign was marked with tolerance, open-mindedness and fairness. He extended his invitations to all peoples to come and settle in his capital, including Jews and Christians. As a result, many synagogues, temples and yeshivas were built and flourished in Vilnius (for centuries known as "Jerusalem of the North"). During the rule of Gediminas was consolidated authority of the Grand Duke, strengthened the whole system of state institutions, were created conditions for development of agriculture and growth of the cities, expansion of trade and commerce, advance of culture. Gediminas turned Vilnius into a permanent capital of the state and a city of European significance. During the years of his reign Gediminas was the most honoured ruler in Eastern Europe. In his time the aggressions from the West, of European knights, and from the East, of the Golden Horde, were warded off, and many Russian lands were incorporated into Great Duchy of Lithuania.

On receiving a favorable reply from the Holy See, Gediminas issued circular letters, dated 25th of January 1325, to the principal Hansa towns, offering a free access into his domains to men of every order and profession from nobles and knights to tillers of the soil. The immigrants were to choose their own settlements and be governed by their own laws. Priests and monks were also invited to come and build churches at Vilnius and Novogrodek. In October 1323 representatives of the archbishop of Riga, the bishop of Dorpat, the king of Denmark, the Dominican and Franciscan orders, and the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order assembled at Vilnius, when Gediminas confirmed his promises and undertook to be baptized as soon as the papal legates arrived. A compact was then signed at Vilnius, in the name of the whole Christian World, between Gediminas and the delegates, confirming the promised privileges.

But the christianizing of Lithuania was by no means to the liking of the Teutonic Knights, and they used every effort to nullify Gediminas' far-reaching design. This, unfortunately, it was easy to do. Gediminas' chief object was to save Lithuania from destruction at the hands of the Germans. But he was still a pagan reigning over semi-pagan lands; he was equally bound to his pagan kinsmen in Samogitia, to his Orthodox subjects in Belarus, and to his Catholic allies in Masovia. His policy, therefore, was necessarily tentative and ambiguous, and, might very readily be misinterpreted.

Thus his raid upon Dobrzyn, the latest acquisition of the knights on Polish soil, speedily gave them a ready weapon against him. The Prussian bishops, who were devoted to the knights, at a synod at Elbing questioned the authority of Gediminas‘ letters and denounced him as an enemy of the faith; his Orthodox subjects reproached him with leaning towards the Latin heresy; while the pagan Lithuanians accused him of abandoning the ancient gods. Gediminas disentangled himself from his difficulties by repudiating his former promises; by refusing to receive the papal legates who arrived at Riga in September 1323; and by dismissing the Franciscans from his territories. These apparently retrogressive measures simply amounted to a statesmanlike recognition of the fact that the pagan element was still the strongest force in Lithuania, and could not yet be dispensed with in the coming struggle for nationality.

At the same time Gediminas through his ambassadors privately informed the papal legates at Riga that his difficult position, compelled him for a time to postpone his steadfast resolve of being baptized, and the legates showed their confidence in him by forbidding the neighboring states to war against Lithuania for the next four years, besides ratifying the treaty made between Gediminas and the archbishop of Riga. Nevertheless in 1325 the Order, disregarding the censures of the church, resumed the war with Gediminas, who had in the meantime improved his position by an alliance with Wladislaus Lokietek, king of Poland, whose son Casimir now married Gediminas‘ daughter Aldona.

While on his guard against his northern foes, Gediminas from 1316 to 1340 was aggrandizing himself at the expense of the numerous Slavonic principalities in the south and east, whose incessant conflicts with each other wrought the ruin of them all. Here Gediminas‘ triumphal progress was irresistible; but the various stages of it are impossible to follow, the sources of its history being few and conflicting, and the date of every salient event exceedingly doubtful. One of his most important territorial accretions, the principality of Halych-Volynia; was obtained by the marriage of his son Lubart with the daughter of the Galician prince; the other, Kiev, apparently by conquest.
While exploiting Slavic weakness in the wake of the
Mongol invasion, Gediminas wisely avoided war with the Golden Horde, a great regional power at the time, while expanding Lithuania's border towards the Black Sea. He also secured an alliance with the nascent grand duchy of Muscovy by marrying his daughter, Anastasia, to the grand duke Simeon. But he was strong enough to counterpoise the influence of Muscovy in northern Russia, and assisted the republic of Pskov, which acknowledged his overlordship, to break away from Great Novgorod.

His internal administration bears all the marks of a wise ruler. He protected the Catholic as well as the Orthodox clergy, encouraging them both to civilize his subjects; he raised the Lithuanian army to the highest state of efficiency then attainable; defended his borders with a chain of strong fortresses; and built numerous towns including Vilnius, the capital (first mentioned ca 1321). At first he moved the capital city to the newly built city of Trakai, but in 1323 re-established a permanent capital in Vilnius, on the site of the capital of King Mindaugas, formerly called Voruta.

Gediminas died in the winter of 1342 of a wound received at the siege of Bayerburg castle. He was married three times, and left seven sons and six daughters. Two of his sons perished in battle. Jaunutis initially ruled Vilnius after the death of his father and was formally Grand Duke of Lithuania until his elder brothers Algirdas and Kęstutis returned from military campaigns in Ruthenia and forced him to abdicate his throne in their favor.

After Gediminas, Vilnius emerged over hundreds of years, expanding, changing, and embodying the creative imagination and experience of many generations of architects and builders from Lithuania and abroad; under the care of generous and perceptive benefactors, it became a city rich in architectural treasures and urban harmony.
Following the craftsmen in other European towns at the end of the 15th century, Vilnius craftsmen began to join together by professions into guilds. Many Catholic churches and monasteries appeared in the town. Stone buildings sprang up inside the Lower Castle. The new Cathedral was among them. Crafts and trade continued to develop in the 16th century. Many beautiful new buildings in the late Gothic and Renaissance style appeared in the town. The most significant event in the cultural life of 16th century Lithuania was the founding of the Vilnius Academy in 1579, which was endowed with the rights and privileges of a university.


Gediminas as depicted in the Sapieha Genealogy in Kodeń, 1709

Category : Historical Lithuania

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Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin:

Perhaps we can find
ways to talk to each other


A rough definition of Snyder's "Bloodlands" (by Timothy Nunan).

By Ellen Cassedy

“Even if all you want to do is understand your own group, you have no choice but to understand the history of others.”

That’s what Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale University and the author of Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2010), had to say at a recent roundtable at the Tolerance Center in Vilnius. 

I watched a webcast of the session – and welcomed the opportunity to revisit Snyder’s book, which I’d found challenging on two accounts.

First, immersing myself in the atrocities of the mid-20th century was no easy task.  Between 1933 and 1945, in the region Snyder dubs the bloodlands – the Baltics, Belarus, most of Poland, Western Russia, and Ukraine – an unprecedented 16 million people were killed.  

Second, Bloodlands required me to consider, simultaneously, the fate not only of my own group, as Snyder puts it, but also the history of others.  That wasn’t easy either.


Timothy Snyder

As I watched the webcast, I was reminded of a beautiful summer evening at an outdoor restaurant on Pilies gatve (Castle Street) in Vilnius. 

I’d traveled from my home in the U.S. to the land of my forebears in search of answers about my own Jewish family history. I wanted to understand, too, how Lithuania as a country was engaging with its Jewish family history, especially with the Holocaust.  My dinner companion was a woman I’ll call Violeta, a friend of a friend, who’d volunteered to help me learn.

We sat down at a checkered tablecloth and ordered a decidedly un-Jewish meal of shrimp salad, then raised our wine glasses. 

“L’chaim!” I said, offering the traditional Jewish toast.  To life!

“I sveikata!”  Violeta responded in Lithuanian.  To health!

Growing up in the Soviet period, I asked her, what had she learned about the fate of Lithuania’s Jews during the war?

She furrowed her brow.  “We learned in school that many Jews died,” she answered. 

“Did you learn about the pits in the forests” – I made a digging motion with my hand – “where the Jews were shot and buried?  The mass graves?”

Yes, she said, she had learned about this, too. 

She looked away, then met my eyes. “But,” she said, “no one taught us in school how many Lithuanians were sent to Siberia by the Soviet power.” 

Her voice grew louder.  “Pregnant women and children,” she said heatedly, “they died in Siberia!”  I saw that she was glaring at me, with more than a hint of accusation in her eyes.

Now it was my turn to look away.  It was hard for me to listen, I found, as Violeta placed the massacre of my people alongside the suffering of hers.  It was hard for me to hold in my head the reality of non-Jewish suffering side by side with Jewish suffering.

But if the conversation was not easy, I was glad to be having it.    

“Each catastrophe was different,” Snyder said at the Vilnius roundtable.  And “we have to accept that our memories are never going to be the same.”  But studying the catastrophes that occurred in the bloodlands, and the interactions among those catastrophes, “permits us different ways, from our own different perspectives, to understand.”

If we are truly to understand history, he stressed, we cannot confine ourselves to the study of one people or one nation alone.   

Instead, he said, “we have to go to the highest level, starting and ending with human beings.”  Then, perhaps, we can “find ways to talk to each other in ways we haven’t before.”

ELLEN CASSEDY
Ellen Cassedy traces her Jewish family roots to Rokiskis and Siauliai. Her new book, We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust, was published in March and will appear in Lithuanian soon. She lives in Washington, D.C. Visit her website at www.ellencassedy.com.

Category : Historical Lithuania

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Vilnius – the city built
on human bones


Remains of a Grand Armée Soldier buried in Vilnius.
The skull of a Napoleonic soldier, who died during the French army's
1812 retreat from Moscow, discovered on a Vilnius construction site.

Picture: AFP/CNRS/Universite de la Mediterranee/Pascal Adalian

Vilnius, venerable capital of Lithuania, is sometimes called 'the city built on human bones'. It stands in the main Berlin to Moscow corridor, which for over 200 years has been the battlefields of the armies of Napoleon, the Tsars of Russia, Hitler and Stalin, as well as Poles and Prussians - hence its sinister description.

Early in 2002, while bulldozing some ugly Soviet barracks on the outskirts of Vilnius, municipal workers uncovered a mass grave. Thousands of skeletons were discovered there, laid out neatly in layers. Where did these bones come from? Were they those of Jews, massacred by the Nazis? No. For here's a metal button, with '61' stamped on it. Here's another, stamped '29'. And here's a patch of an ancient uniform, once blue. Also to be seen is a gold 20-franc coin from Napoleonic times, and a 'shako' (a French infantryman's helmet), squashed flat.

The drivers of the bulldozers stopped in their work. This was news - archaeological news - and these were the remains of some of the men that Napoleon had led into Russia in his pursuit of world supremacy in 1812.

Read more…

Category : Front page / Historical Lithuania

No flowers for Smetona

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Ohio crypt holds remains of first Lithuanian President,
yet he has been forgotten here in a Mausoleum tucked
away in a Catholic Cemetery east of Cleveland, USA.

By Frank Passic

There are no flowers at his crypt, although the Mausoleum is filled with them on the vaults of others nearby. He was the President, yet you would not know that by reading the simple inscription found upon his nameplate. His image was on a coin, a banknote, various stamps and medals. Yet he has been forgotten here in a Mausoleum tucked away in a Catholic Cemetery east of Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

His body has already been moved once since his death. But his remains haven’t been taken back to Lithuania since Lithuanian independence was restored, unlike the remains of his counterpart, President Kazys Grinius’ were. So his remains lay here in Ohio, far away from the country he loved and served.

He was Antanas Smetona (1874-1944), the first and fourth President of the Republic of Lithuania. A writer and journalist by profession, Smetona was active in the Lithuanian National Movement. He was a member of the Lithuanian National Council and one of the signers of the Lithuanian Declaration of Restoration of Independence in 1918. He was a member of the Nationalist Party, and his regime was in power until the 1940 Soviet invasion. Smetona was able to successfully flee Lithuania when the USSR invaded the country on June 15, 1940, being the only President to do so from among the three Baltic Republics.

Smetona eventually was allowed to settle in the United States as a private citizen, and delivered speeches on national radio and to communities to promote Lithuanian independence. His untimely death from smoke inhalation occurred as a result of an overheated furnace at his Cleveland home on January 9, 1944. Dignitaries filled St. John’s Cathedral in Cleveland for the funeral on January 13. Eight Cleveland mounted police, led by an office, formed an honorary guard which escorted the corpse to the church and stood sentinel with the Lithuanian flag lowered during the services. Bishop Edward F. Hoban led the solemn pontifical requiem mass, with Chicago’s Rev. A. M. Linkus preaching the funeral. Smetona’s remains were then interred in the Knollwood Mausoleum until 1975.

President Antanas Smetona is now interred in the Crucifixion Mausoleum in All Souls Cemetery, located at 10366 (office at 103400) Chardon Road, Chardon Township in Geauga County, Ohio, zip code 44024. The Mausoleum is located in Section 23, and Smetona’s crypt is No. 103. His wife Sofija (1885-1968) is interred next to him on the right. For the official record, the GPS location of this Mausoleum is  North 41 degrees, 35 minutes, 600 seconds by West 081 degrees, 16 minutes, 208 seconds.

 

In 2006 Lithuanian Numismatic Association member Lou Merkys paid a visit to Smetona’s resting place and took several photographs at the site which we are sharing here with our readers. The Mausoleum is filled with many flowers that have been placed on the faceplates of vaults of the deceased, but no flowers have been placed on those of the Smetonas.

 

 

Numismatists are quite familiar with Smetona’s image on the obverse of the 1938 10 litas coin (KM-84) commemorating the 20th anniversary of independence. The obverse features Smetona’s image, facing left. The legend translates, “State President A. Smetona, 10 Litas.” The reverse depicts the Columns of Gediminas emblem in the center, with the text translating, “Lithuania 1918-1938, Twenty Years of Independence.” The inscription on the edge translates, “In Unity Lies the Strength of the Nation.” This coin was struck in 75% silver, and measures 32 mm. in diameter.

 

This was the last coin issued by the Republic of Lithuania before the Soviet invasion. Designed by sculptor Juozas Zikaras, it is also one of the most popular and scarcest of the pre-War series of 14 coins. Only 170,000 were minted at the Mint of Lithuania in Kaunas. When the coins were released into circulation, they immediately had a collector’s value of 12 litas’.

1 The Lithuanian Mint also struck an example of the coin in gold in the summer of 1938 and presented it to the Lithuanian President.

2 This coin had a limited circulation period. When the Soviet’s invaded Lithuania two years later, anything with the image of President Smetona became a special target, and was outlawed.  One graphic account  by J. Yuknis, Jr. states:

3 When the Russian army occupied Lithuania on June 15, 1940, Moscow ordered destroyed every item with a portrait of President Smetona. On June 19, people were ordered to turn those coins in within one week’s time to the bank, or post office, or police. Rumors were circulating that if such a coin would be found in possession of anybody, there might be a death penalty. Frightened people stood in line at designated places to deliver those ‘capitalistic’ coins. Naïve Russians wanted to erase the name of that great President of Lithuania from pages of history. But they failed…Russians murdered all the philatelists in Lithuania, when their NKVD found some Smetona stamps in their stamp albums. That is a fact!”

Plans were also made in 1938 to strike a new 2 litas coin, bearing the image of Smetona. Dies were prepared and the Brussels Mint in Belgium, and patterns were struck there, both in silver and bronze. These measured 23 mm. in diameter. The master dies were then shipped to the Mint of Lithuania in Kaunas. The bust of Smetona  on the 1938 2 litas patterns feature the President wearing a suit coat, while the image on the 10 litas coin did not. One version had the 20th anniversary year theme on the reverse with a Columns of Gedminas emblem, while another version used the traditional Vytis emblem. In any event, this coin was not approved in time for it to be struck, due to the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Europe.

   

Although there are no flowers at Smetona’s interment site in Ohio, the website www.findagrave.com allows people to leave “virtual flowers” and notes on his burial memorial there. I will be writing specifically about this website in a future article. For now however, on the main page on the left, click on “Famous Grave Search.” Type in “Antanas Smetona” in space provided and click “Search.” You’ll then see his name on the left. Click on his name and you’ll get his listing. You can leave your flowers and notes for Smetona there.

 

FOOTNOTES
1. Karys, Jonas K. Nepriklausomos Lietuvos Pinigai, Aukselis, New York, 1953, pg. 205.
2. Ibid., pg. 206.
3. Yuknis, J. Jr. “Lithuanian-Americana: The Last President of Lithuania,” American-Lithuanian Philatelic Specialist. June 1948, pg. 20. 

Category : Historical Lithuania / Lithuania in the world

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A brief chronology

2000 B.C. Lithuanian ancestors settle along the Baltic coast.

1009 A.D. Lithuania is first mentioned in chronicles. Lithuanians already have a reputation as fierce warriors.

1200 While much of Europe has already converted to Christianity, Lithuania is still pagan and will remain so for several hundred more years. Lithuanians believed fire embodies the divine. A sacred flameis kept at a Vilnius temple tended to by vestal virgins. If they break their vows of chastity or the flame goes out, the penalty is death.

1236 Lithuania is united by Mindaugas and later crowned king. Unification helps Lithuania fend off German crusaders.

1323 Vilnius founded by Grand Duke Gediminas.

1385 Polish-Lithuanian Union known as Kreva Union was sign. Lithuanian Duke Jogaila became Polish King.

1386 To keep the Germans at bay, the Lithuanian Grand Duke and Polish Queen wed, creating a monarchial union.

1387 The Christianization of Lithuania was initiated by the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Jogaila with his cousin Vytautas the Great. This signified the official adoption of Christianity by Lithuania, one of the last pagan nations in Europe.

1392-1430 Lithuania-Poland stretches to the Black Sea.

1410 Lithuania, Poland and their allies defeat the Teutonic Knights and end their military influence in the region forever.

1400s Jews begin to settle in Lithuania. In time, Vilnius becomes a center of Jewish culture and learning in the world

1569 The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Lithuania enters a formal Commonwealth with Poland to help protect against increasing danger from Russia.

1657 The plague strikes and half the population of Vilnius die.

1795 The Commonwealth is partitioned by the Russian Empire, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria. Lithuania ends up controlled by Russia.

1860-1885 Lithuanian uprisings; The Emperor of Russia bans Lithuanian as an officially used language.

1900 Lithuanians begin emigrating en mass to escape Czarist persecution. The émigrés spread their influence far and wide. Among those who are either from Lithuania themselves or whose parents were: British actor Sir John Gielgud, singer Al Jolson, actor Charles Bronson, the Three Stooges, and American composer Aaron Copland. The father of former Israeli premier Ehud Barak was from Lithuania. Today, some 800,000 Americans claim Lithuanian heritage.

1918 Lithuania declares independence.

1920 After battling Russia and other powers, Lithuania secures independence. Poles occupy Vilnius; Kaunas becomes Lithuania’s provisional capital. Catholic Lithuania breaks relations with the Vatican after Rome recognizes Polish rule over Vilnius.

1920-1939 Lithuania prospers financially, culturally and in education.

1939 In March, a long-running dispute between Lithuania and Germany over the jurisdiction of Klaipeda comes to a head when Berlin demands that Lithuania give up the coastal city, or face a Nazi invasion. Lithuania, figuring it couldn’t depend on support from either Russia or any Western powers, gives in to the ultimatum. On March 22, Hitler arrives in Klaipeda.

1939 In August, Hitler and Stalin carve up Europe, with the Baltics in the Soviet sphere. Before, the Baltics were able to play Germany and Russia off each other, but they’re now virtually within U.S.S.R. occupies Lithuania; mass deportations to Siberia begin. Moscow hands Vilnius back to Lithuania.

1940 Soviet Army occupies Lithuania. Mass deportations to Siberia, forced exile, jailings and executions begin.

1941 Nazis occupy Lithuania. Most of Lithuania’s 240,000 Jews are killed.

1944 Soviets occupy Lithuania again. Over 500,000 Lithuanians are either deported, forced into exile, jailed or shot

1987 First open protests against Soviets.

1989 Lithuanian Communists vote to break with the Soviet Party, a daring and dangerous move at the time.

1990 Lithuania declares independence, the first Soviet republic to do so.

1991 Soviet crackdown kills 13 civilians in Vilnius; in August, after a failed Kremlin coup, Lithuania wins independence.

1993 Algirdas Brazauskas becomes president. The litas become the new national currency.

1997 A cooperation agreement is signed between Russia and Lithuania.

1998 Lithuanian born and now a U.S. citizen, Valdas Adamkus becomes a president of Lithuania after a 50-year exile.

March 29, 2004 Lithuania is accepted into NATO.

May 1, 2004 Lithuania joins the European Union.

Category : Historical Lithuania

A world superpower for 300 years

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The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic Baltic tribes from Aukštaitija. The duchy later expanded to include large portions of the former Kievan Rus' and other Slavic lands, covering the territory of present-day Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and parts of Estonia, Moldova,Poland and Russia. At its greatest extent in the 15th century, it was the largest state in Europe. It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state with great diversity in languages, religion, and cultural heritage.

“Lithuania was a superpower much longer than USA has been“. This is how I often tease my American friends arriving in Vilnius. But the teasing is in fact not so far away from reality, as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) over 300 years, was one of the biggest nations of the world, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

It all started with King Mindaugas (1203-1263), Lithuania‘s first and only king, who in 1236 defeated the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and united the different Lithuanian tribes under his reign. But the real expansion began when Grand Duke Gediminas came to power in 1316, and started a new dynasty of leaders. Gediminas employed several forms of statesmanship to expand and strengthen the GDL. He invited members of religious orders to come to the Grand Duchy, announced his loyalty to the Pope and to his neighbouring Catholic countries and made political allies with dukes in Russia as well as with the Poles through marriage to women in his family. Gediminas’ political skills are evident in a series of letters written to Rome and nearby cities. He mentions the Franciscan and Dominican monks who had come to the GDL by invitation and were given the right to preach, baptise and perform other religious services. He also included an open invitation to artisans and farmers to come and live in the GDL, promising support and reduced taxes.

Along with his other political accomplishments, Gediminas established Vilnius as the capital of the GDL. During his rule, he managed to establish a stable state comprised of peoples of varied ethnicity and religious persuasions. When his rule ended in 1341, he left the GDL viable and strong.

Under Vytautas the Great, Lithuania‘s military and economy grew stronger, and he expanded the Grand Duchy‘s frontiers to the Black Sea.

The Grand Duchy was at its peak in the 15th Century. It was in the centre of Europe and comprised of the entire territories of contemporary Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, part of Poland and stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Successfully ruled by a dynastic line of dukes, the GDL developed a highly advanced system of state administration to stave off invading Crusaders longer than any other central European power. Its statesmen conducted effective foreign policy and military campaigns and created a multi-ethnic state. Though officially ending in 1795, the history of the GDL continues to influence modern-day nationalist thinking in the region. Lithuania, but also Belarus and Ukraine point back to the days when they were part of the thriving GDL as proof of their cultural and political strength, clearly distinguishing them from Russia.

Aage Myhre

Category : Historical Lithuania

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The Polish-Lithuanian
War 1919-1920

A series of articles in 4 parts


By Vincas Karnila, Associate editor
vin.karnila@VilNews.com


South-eastern Lithuania, Vilnius included, was occupied by Poland during the interwar period.
Picture: Celebration of the incorporation of Vilnius Region to Poland, 1922.

The Polish–Lithuanian War was an armed conflict between Lithuania and Poland in the aftermath of World War I and Lithuania's declaration of independence 16 February 1918.

The conflict primarily concerned territorial control of the Vilnius Region, including Vilnius, and the Suwałki Region, including the towns of Suwałki, Augustów, and Sejny. According to Lithuanian historians, the war was part of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence and spanned from spring 1919 to November 1920. According to Poland, the war included only fighting over the Suwałki Region in September–October 1920 and was part of the Polish–Soviet War.

After Vilnius was occupied by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1919, the government of the Republic of Lithuania established its main base in Kaunas. When Vilnius was forcibly annexed by Poland, Kaunas became the temporary capital of Lithuania, a position it held until 28 October 1939, when the Red Army handed Vilnius back to Lithuania. The Constituent Assembly of Lithuania first met in Kaunas on 15 May 1920. There were no diplomatic relations between Poland and Lithuania until 1938.

Part 1 – THE BUILD UP
World War I ended on November 11, 1918 when Germany signed the Compiègne Armistice. On November 13, Soviet Russia renounced the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Most of today's Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States were passed to the government of Germany, which in turn decided to grant these states limited independence as buffer states) and began the Soviet westward offensive of 1918–1919.

Part 2 – ADVANCES and RETREATS
In April 1920 Poland launched the large-scale Kiev Offensive in hopes to capture Ukraine. Initially successful, the Polish Army started retreating after Russian counterattacks in early June 1920. Soon the Soviet forces began to threaten Poland's independence as they reached and crossed the Polish borders. 

Part 3 – STRUGGLES for the VILNIUS REGION
Polish chief of state Jozef Pilsudski ordered his subordinate, General Lucjan Zeligowski, to stage a mutiny with his 1st Lithuanian–Belarusian Division (16 battalions with 14,000 soldiers) in Lida and capture Vilnius in fait accompli. 

Part 4 – THE AFTERMATH
In March 1921, the plans for a referendum vote were abandoned. Neither Lithuania, which was afraid of a negative result, nor Poland, which saw no reason to change status quo, wanted it. The parties could not agree in which territory to carry out the vote and how Żeligowski's forces should be replaced by the League's forces. The League of Nations then moved on from trying to solve the narrow territorial dispute in the Vilnius Region to shaping the fundamental relationship between Poland and Lithuania.

Category : Historical Lithuania

The Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic

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Flag of Lithuanian SSR.

The Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Tarybų Socialistinė Respublika; Russian: Литовская Советская Социалистическая Республика, Litovskaya Sovetskaya Sotsialisticheskaya Respublika), also known as the Lithuanian SSR, was one of the republics that made up the former Soviet Union. Established on 21 July 1940 as a puppet state during World War II in the territory of the previously independent Republic of Lithuania after it had been occupied by the Soviet army on 16 June 1940 in conformity with the terms of 23 August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it existed until 1990. Between 1941 and 1944, the German invasion of the Soviet Union caused its de facto dissolution. However, with the retreat of the Germans in 1944–1945, Soviet hegemony was re-established. There had been an unsuccessful attempt to establish a Soviet government in Lithuania by the Bolshevik Red Army in 1918–1919.

World War I
The Lithuanian SSR was first proclaimed on 16 December 1918, by the provisional revolutionary government of Lithuania, formed entirely by the Communist Party of Lithuania. The Lithuanian SSR was supported by the Red Army, but it failed to create a de facto government with any popular support as the Council of Lithuania had successfully done earlier. Two months later on 27 February 1919, it was joined by the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia and they proclaimed the Lithuanian–Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (LBSSR or Litbel), which existed for only six months, until 25 August 1919. The Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic officially recognized the Republic of Lithuania by signing the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty on 12 July 1920, thus ending the existence of the fledgling Soviet Republic. It has been suggested that the failure to conquer Poland in the Polish–Soviet War prevented the Soviets from invading Lithuania and re-establishing a Soviet republic at the time.

World War II and occupation
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, stated that Lithuania was to be included into the German "sphere of influence", but after the World War II broke out in September 1939 the agreement was amended to transfer Lithuania to the Soviet sphere. This was granted in exchange for Lublin and parts of the Warsaw province of Poland, originally ascribed to the Soviet Union, but by that time already occupied by German forces. The Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was established on 21 July 1940 (after Communist rule was forced upon Lithuania following the Soviet ultimatum and subsequent invasion of 15 June 1940). On 3 August 1940, a hastily formed communist government announced that the Lithuanian SSR would become a part of the Soviet Union, i.e. the 14th constituent republic of the USSR. Its territory was subsequently invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in June 1941, but with the Baltic offensive, Soviet rule was re-established there in July 1944. After both Soviet occupations mass deportation of the Lithuanians into gulags and other forced settlements ensued.

1940 Soviet map of the Lithuanian SSR
The United States, United Kingdom, and other countries considered the occupation of Lithuania by the USSR illegal, citing the Stimson Doctrine, in 1940, but recognized all borders of the USSR at post-World War II conferences. In spite of this, the United States refused to recognize the annexation of Lithuania or the other Baltic States, by the Soviet Union, at any time of the existence of the USSR.

In addition to the human and material losses suffered due to war, several waves of deportations affected Lithuania. During the mass deportation campaign of 14–18 June 1941, about 12,600 people were deported to Siberia without investigation or trial, 3,600 people were imprisoned, and more than 1,000 were killed. After the Lithuanian SSR was re-established in 1944, an estimated 120,000 to 300,000 Lithuanians were either killed or deported to Siberia and other remote parts of the Soviet Union. The Potsdam Conference of 1945 attributed the Klaipėda Region to the Lithuanian SSR.

Lithuania declared independence as the Republic of Lithuania on 11 March 1990. All legal ties of the Soviet Union's sovereignty over the republic were cut as Lithuania declared the restitution of its independence. The Soviet Union claimed that this declaration was illegal, as Lithuania had to follow the process of secession mandated in the Soviet Constitution if it wanted to leave. Lithuania contended that the entire process by which Lithuania joined the Soviet Union violated both Lithuanian and international law so it was merely reasserting an independence that previously existed.

Iceland immediately recognised Lithuania's independence. Most other countries followed suit after the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, with the government of the remaining USSR (Moscow) recognising Lithuania's independence on 6 September 1991.

Economy
Collectivization in the Lithuanian SSR took place between 1947 and 1952.

The 1990 per capita GDP of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was $8,591, which was above the average for the rest of the Soviet Union of $6,871. This was still half or less than half of the per capita GDPs of adjacent countries Norway ($18,470), Sweden ($17,680) and Finland ($16,868). Overall, in the Eastern Bloc, the inefficiency of systems without competition or market-clearing prices became costly and unsustainable, especially with the increasing complexity of world economics. Such systems, which required party-state planning at all levels, ended up collapsing under the weight of accumulated economic inefficiencies, with various attempts at reform merely contributing to the acceleration of crisis-generating tendencies.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Category : Historical Lithuania

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How did communism influence Lithuania’s economic development?

A report by: Valdas Samonis
The Institute for New Economic Thinking, USA


Photo: http://www.landesa.org/where-we-work/more/lithuania/

In 1940, independent Lithuania produced per capita 1.9 times more meat, 2.8 times more milk, had 1.9 times more cattle and 2.7 times more pigs than Soviet Union. After 50 years of allegedly astounding economic progress, Soviet Lithuania had become dependent on subsidies from Moscow. To the extent that this assertion is true, how is this possible if not for the inefficiencies caused by the forcefully imposed system of central planning with its associated distortions?

Read more...

Category : Front page / Historical Lithuania

OPINIONS

Have your say. Send to:
editor@VilNews.com


By Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas,
Ph. D., Chicago

A wave of unity sweeps the international Lithuanian community on March 11th every year as Lithuanians celebrated the anniversary of the Lithuanian Parliament's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. However, the sense of national unity engendered by the celebration could be short-lived.

Human beings have a strong tendency to overgeneralize and succumb to stereotypical us-them distinctions that can shatter even the strongest bonds. We need only search the internet to find examples of divisive thinking at work:

- "50 years of Soviet rule has ruined an entire generation of Lithuanian.

- "Those who fled Lithuania during World II were cowards -- and now they come back, flaunt their wealth, and tell us 'true Lithuanians' how to live."

- "Lithuanians who work abroad have abandoned their homeland and should be deprived of their Lithuanian citizenship."

Could such stereotypical, emotionally-charged accusations be one of the main reasons why relations between Lithuania's diaspora groups and their countrymen back home have become strained?

Read more...
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Text: Saulene Valskyte

In Lithuania Christmas Eve is a family event and the New Year's Eve a great party with friends!
Lithuanian say "Kaip sutiksi naujus metus, taip juos ir praleisi" (the way you'll meet the new year is the way you will spend it). So everyone is trying to spend New Year's Eve with friend and have as much fun as possible.

Lithuanian New Year's traditions are very similar to those in other countries, and actually were similar since many years ago. Also, the traditional Lithuanian New Years Eve party was very similar to other big celebrations throughout the year.

The New Year's Eve table is quite similar to the Christmas Eve table, but without straws under the tablecloth, and now including meat dishes. A tradition that definitely hasn't changes is that everybody is trying not to fell asleep before midnight. It was said that if you oversleep the midnight point you will be lazy all the upcoming year. People were also trying to get up early on the first day of the new year, because waking up late also meant a very lazy and unfortunate year.

During the New Year celebration people were dancing, singing, playing games and doing magic to guess the future. People didn't drink much of alcohol, especially was that the case for women.

Here are some advices from elders:
- During the New Year, be very nice and listen to relatives - what you are during New Year Eve, you will be throughout the year.

- During to the New Year Eve, try not to fall, because if this happens, next year you will be unhappy.

- If in the start of the New Year, the first news are good - then the year will be successful. If not - the year will be problematic.

New year predictions
* If during New Year eve it's snowing - then it will be bad weather all year round. If the day is fine - one can expect good harvest.
* If New Year's night is cold and starry - look forward to a good summer!
* If the during New Year Eve trees are covered with frost - then it will be a good year. If it is wet weather on New Year's Eve, one can expect a year where many will die and dangerous epidemics occur.
* If the first day of the new year is snowy - the upcoming year will see many young people die. If the night is snowy - mostly old people will die.
* If the New Year time is cold - then Easter will be warm.
* If during New Year there are a lot of birds in your homestead - then all year around there will be many guests and the year will be fun.

Read more...
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* * *
VilNews
Christmas greetings
from Vilnius


* * *
Ukraine won the historic
and epic battle for the
future
By Leonidas Donskis
Kaunas
Philosopher, political theorist, historian of
ideas, social analyst, and political
commentator

Immediately after Russia stepped in Syria, we understood that it is time to sum up the convoluted and long story about Ukraine and the EU - a story of pride and prejudice which has a chance to become a story of a new vision regained after self-inflicted blindness.

Ukraine was and continues to be perceived by the EU political class as a sort of grey zone with its immense potential and possibilities for the future, yet deeply embedded and trapped in No Man's Land with all of its troubled past, post-Soviet traumas, ambiguities, insecurities, corruption, social divisions, and despair. Why worry for what has yet to emerge as a new actor of world history in terms of nation-building, European identity, and deeper commitments to transparency and free market economy?

Right? Wrong. No matter how troubled Ukraine's economic and political reality could be, the country has already passed the point of no return. Even if Vladimir Putin retains his leverage of power to blackmail Ukraine and the West in terms of Ukraine's zero chances to accede to NATO due to the problems of territorial integrity, occupation and annexation of Crimea, and mayhem or a frozen conflict in the Donbas region, Ukraine will never return to Russia's zone of influence. It could be deprived of the chances to join NATO or the EU in the coming years or decades, yet there are no forces on earth to make present Ukraine part of the Eurasia project fostered by Putin.

Read more...
* * *
Watch this video if you
want to learn about the
new, scary propaganda
war between Russia,
The West and the
Baltic States!


* * *
90% of all Lithuanians
believe their government
is corrupt
Lithuania is perceived to be the country with the most widespread government corruption, according to an international survey involving almost 40 countries.

Read more...
* * *
Lithuanian medical
students say no to
bribes for doctors

On International Anticorruption Day, the Special Investigation Service shifted their attention to medical institutions, where citizens encounter bribery most often. Doctors blame citizens for giving bribes while patients complain that, without bribes, they won't receive proper medical attention. Campaigners against corruption say that bribery would disappear if medical institutions themselves were to take resolute actions against corruption and made an effort to take care of their patients.

Read more...
* * *
Doing business in Lithuania

By Grant Arthur Gochin
California - USA

Lithuania emerged from the yoke of the Soviet Union a mere 25 years ago. Since then, Lithuania has attempted to model upon other European nations, joining NATO, Schengen, and the EU. But, has the Soviet Union left Lithuania?

During Soviet times, government was administered for the people in control, not for the local population, court decisions were decreed, they were not the administration of justice, and academia was the domain of ideologues. 25 years of freedom and openness should have put those bad experiences behind Lithuania, but that is not so.

Today, it is a matter of expectation that court pronouncements will be governed by ideological dictates. Few, if any Lithuanians expect real justice to be effected. For foreign companies, doing business in Lithuania is almost impossible in a situation where business people do not expect rule of law, so, surely Government would be a refuge of competence?

Lithuanian Government has not emerged from Soviet styles. In an attempt to devolve power, Lithuania has created a myriad of fiefdoms of power, each speaking in the name of the Government, each its own centralized power base of ideology.

Read more...
* * *
Greetings from Wales!
By Anita Šovaitė-Woronycz
Chepstow, Wales

Think of a nation in northern Europe whose population is around the 3 million mark a land of song, of rivers, lakes, forests, rolling green hills, beautiful coastline a land where mushrooms grow ready for the picking, a land with a passion for preserving its ancient language and culture.

Doesn't that sound suspiciously like Lithuania? Ah, but I didn't mention the mountains of Snowdonia, which would give the game away.

I'm talking about Wales, that part of the UK which Lithuanians used to call "Valija", but later named "Velsas" (why?). Wales, the nation which has welcomed two Lithuanian heads of state to its shores - firstly Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, who has paid several visits and, more recently, President Dalia Grybauskaitė who attended the 2014 NATO summit which was held in Newport, South Wales.
MADE IN WALES -
ENGLISH VERSION OF THE
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF
VYTAUTAS LANDSBERGIS.

Read more...
* * *
IS IT POSSIBLE TO
COMMENT ON OUR
ARTICLES? :-)
Read Cassandra's article HERE

Read Rugile's article HERE

Did you know there is a comment field right after every article we publish? If you read the two above posts, you will see that they both have received many comments. Also YOU are welcome with your comments. To all our articles!
* * *

Greetings from Toronto
By Antanas Sileika,
Toronto, Canada

Toronto was a major postwar settlement centre for Lithuanian Displaced Persons, and to this day there are two Catholic parishes and one Lutheran one, as well as a Lithuanian House, retirement home, and nursing home. A new wave of immigrants has showed interest in sports.

Although Lithuanian activities have thinned over the decades as that postwar generation died out, the Lithuanian Martyrs' parish hall is crowded with many, many hundreds of visitors who come to the Lithuanian cemetery for All Souls' Day. Similarly, the Franciscan parish has standing room only for Christmas Eve mass.

Although I am firmly embedded in the literary culture of Canada, my themes are usually Lithuanian, and I'll be in Kaunas and Vilnius in mid-November 2015 to give talks about the Lithuanian translations of my novels and short stories, which I write in English.

If you have the Lithuanian language, come by to one of the talks listed in the links below. And if you don't, you can read more about my work at
www.anatanassileika.com

http://www.vdu.lt/lt/rasytojas-antanas-sileika-pristatys-savo-kuryba/
https://leu.lt/lt/lf/lf_naujienos/kvieciame-i-rasytojo-59hc.html
* * *

As long as VilNews exists,
there is hope for the future
Professor Irena Veisaite, Chairwoman of our Honorary Council, asked us to convey her heartfelt greetings to the other Council Members and to all readers of VilNews.

"My love and best wishes to all. As long as VilNews exists, there is hope for the future,"" she writes.

Irena Veisaite means very much for our publication, and we do hereby thank her for the support and wise commitment she always shows.

You can read our interview with her
HERE.
* * *
EU-Russia:
Facing a new reality

By Vygaudas Ušackas
EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation

Dear readers of VilNews,

It's great to see this online resource for people interested in Baltic affairs. I congratulate the editors. From my position as EU Ambassador to Russia, allow me to share some observations.

For a number of years, the EU and Russia had assumed the existence of a strategic partnership, based on the convergence of values, economic integration and increasingly open markets and a modernisation agenda for society.

Our agenda was positive and ambitious. We looked at Russia as a country ready to converge with "European values", a country likely to embrace both the basic principles of democratic government and a liberal concept of the world order. It was believed this would bring our relations to a new level, covering the whole spectrum of the EU's strategic relationship with Russia.

Read more...
* * *

The likelihood of Putin
invading Lithuania
By Mikhail Iossel
Professor of English at Concordia University, Canada
Founding Director at Summer Literary Seminars

The likelihood of Putin's invading Lithuania or fomenting a Donbass-style counterfeit pro-Russian uprising there, at this point, in my strong opinion, is no higher than that of his attacking Portugal, say, or Ecuador. Regardless of whether he might or might not, in principle, be interested in the insane idea of expanding Russia's geographic boundaries to those of the former USSR (and I for one do not believe that has ever been his goal), he knows this would be entirely unfeasible, both in near- and long-term historical perspective, for a variety of reasons. It is not going to happen. There will be no restoration of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical entity.

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Are all Lithuanian energy
problems now resolved?
By Dr. Stasys Backaitis,
P.E., CSMP, SAE Fellow Member of Central and Eastern European Coalition, Washington, D.C., USA

Lithuania's Energy Timeline - from total dependence to independence

Lithuania as a country does not have significant energy resources. Energy consuming infrastructure after WWII was small and totally supported by energy imports from Russia.

First nuclear reactor begins power generation at Ignalina in 1983, the second reactor in 1987. Iganlina generates enough electricity to cover Lithuania's needs and about 50%.for export. As, prerequisite for membership in EU, Ignalina ceases all nuclear power generation in 2009

The Klaipėda Sea terminal begins Russia's oil export operations in 1959 and imports in 1994.

Mazeikiu Nafta (current ORLEAN Lietuva) begins operation of oil refinery in 1980.

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Have Lithuanian ties across
the Baltic Sea become
stronger in recent years?
By Eitvydas Bajarunas
Ambassador to Sweden

My answer to affirmative "yes". Yes, Lithuanian ties across the Baltic Sea become as never before solid in recent years. For me the biggest achievement of Lithuania in the Baltic Sea region during recent years is boosting Baltic and Nordic ties. And not because of mere accident - Nordic direction was Lithuania's strategic choice.

The two decades that have passed since regaining Lithuania's independence can be described as a "building boom". From the wreckage of a captive Soviet republic, a generation of Lithuanians have built a modern European state, and are now helping construct a Nordic-Baltic community replete with institutions intended to promote political coordination and foster a trans-Baltic regional identity. Indeed, a "Nordic-Baltic community" - I will explain later in my text the meaning of this catch-phrase.

Since the restoration of Lithuania's independence 25 years ago, we have continuously felt a strong support from Nordic countries. Nordics in particular were among the countries supporting Lithuania's and Baltic States' striving towards independence. Take example of Iceland, country which recognized Lithuania in February of 1991, well in advance of other countries. Yet another example - Swedish Ambassador was the first ambassador accredited to Lithuania in 1991. The other countries followed suit. When we restored our statehood, Nordic Countries became champions in promoting Baltic integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. To large degree thanks Nordic Countries, massive transformations occurred in Lithuania since then, Lithuania became fully-fledged member of the EU and NATO, and we joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2015.

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It's the economy, stupid *
By Valdas (Val) Samonis,
PhD, CPC

n his article, Val Samonis takes a comparative policy look at the Lithuanian economy during the period 2000-2015. He argues that the LT policy response (a radical and classical austerity) was wrong and unenlightened because it coincided with strong and continuing deflationary forces in the EU and the global economy which forces were predictable, given the right policy guidance. Also, he makes a point that LT austerity, and the resulting sharp drop in GDP and employment in LT, stimulated emigration of young people (and the related worsening of other demographics) which processes took huge dimensions thereby undercutting even the future enlightened efforts to get out of the middle-income growth trap by LT. Consequently, the country is now on the trajectory (development path) similar to that of a dog that chases its own tail. A strong effort by new generation of policymakers is badly needed to jolt the country out of that wrong trajectory and to offer the chance of escaping the middle-income growth trap via innovations.

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Have you heard about the
South African "Pencil Test"?
By Karina Simonson

If you are not South African, then, probably, you haven't. It is a test performed in South Africa during the apartheid regime and was used, together with the other ways, to determine racial identity, distinguishing whites from coloureds and blacks. That repressive test was very close to Nazi implemented ways to separate Jews from Aryans. Could you now imagine a Lithuanian mother, performing it on her own child?

But that is exactly what happened to me when I came back from South Africa. I will tell you how.

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