Lietuva






HISTORY OF LITHUANIA

ONCE THE LARGEST EUROPEAN MEDIEVAL STATE

 


EMERGENCE OF A POWERFUL NATION

The earliest known mention of the name "Lithuania" is found in the German (Teutonic) chronicles of 1009. Lithuania emerged as a larger state in the middle of the 13th century through a union of Baltic territories with Mindaugas becoming the state's first Grand Duke. The country, however, did not adopt Christianity until 1387 and was, for the most part, under constant military attack by the Germanic Livonian and Teutonic Orders for the first 200 years of its existance as a united territory. Not only did the Teutonic and Livonian Orders fail to conquer Lithuania, but by the end of the 14th century Lithuania became one of the most powerful states in eastern Europe. In 1410, a joint Lithuanian, Polish, Russian Vytautas crushed the Teutonic Order once and for all at the battle of Zalgiris (Tannenberg or Grunwald). The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was also responsible for keeping the Golden Horde from invading western Europe.

In the 15th Century, Lithuanian territory extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

 

UNION WITH POLAND AND RUSSIAN ANNEXATION

The power of the Lithuanian state began to decline following the death of Grand Duke Vytautas in 1430. Disagreements among the dukes, the development of new relations with Poland and financial difficulties led the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to join with Poland in what was called the Union of Lublin in 1569.  Initially, Lithuania agreed to be governed as an independent part of this joint Lithuanian-Polish state, only to later become merely one of its provinces. The life of this joint state ended with the eventual total annexation of its territories by Russia, Austria and Prussia. In 1795 during the third implementation of the partition, a large part of Lithuania was forcibly incorporated into Russia. Russia's imperial forces aimed to colonize Lithuania and to transform the country's dominant nationality and national language. An insurrection was mounted in 1863, after which the Russian Tsar outlawed the printing of books and the public use of the Lithuanian language. It was this decision that gave impetus for the subsequent long national struggle to preserve the Lithuanian language, culture and religion (Lithuanians are predominantly Roman Catholic as opposed to their Russian Orthodox neighbors ).

INDEPENDENT REPUBLIC

Relief from oppression came only with the collapse of the Tsarist Russian Empire at the end of World War I On February 16th, 1918, a group of leading Lithuanian intellectuals gathered to sign Lithuania's declaration of independence. Over the following several years most of the world's prominent nations recognized the country's statehood and, in turn, Lithuania established diplomatic and economic relations with the world abroad. During Lithuania's 22 years of independence in between the world wars, Lithuania rapidly progressed in all spheres of her national life. But then disaster struck again in 1940.

WORLD WAR II

The outset of war disrupted Lithuania's further development and brought on yet another period of national subjugation. At first the country was annexed by the Soviet Union, then occupied by Nazi Germany. The Nazis tried to exploit Lithuania's material and human resources for the benefit of their military machine. After the Nazis were defeated at the end of the war, Lithuania found itself occupied by Soviet Union again.

SOVIET OCCUPATION

This time the occupation threatened the very existence of the Lithuanian people. The nation suffered from Stalinist repression and endured mass deportations to Siberia. During nearly half a century of Soviet rule, Lithuania was deprived of nearly a quarter of its population through these deportations, or in labour camps and prisons. The arrival of Soviet rule in Lithuania provoked a guerrilla resistance movement immediately after the World War II, lasting almost ten years.

INDEPENDENCE REGAINED

Lithuania was one of the first republics to break away from the Soviet Union at the time of its collapse in 1991, although a declaration of Lithuania's independence had already been proclamed by parliament a year earlier on March 11, 1990. It was around this time that the modern Lithuanian flag was first hoisted up the historical Gediminas Tower in Vilnius symbolizing the reinstatement of Lithuanian statehood. Iceland was the first country to de facto recognize Lithuania's independence. But, that did not sway the Soviet Union's determination to try and keep Lithuania within its borders. Exactly ten months later on January 13th, 1991, Soviet paratroopers led an assault on Vilnius in trying to occupy key buildings and successfully taking control of the local radio and television centers. In the process, the Soviet military killed 13 and injured hundreds of peaceful and unarmed demonstrators. The struggle eventually led to the international recognition of Lithuania's sovereignty and the country's admittance into the United Nations on September 17, 1991. The last Soviet soldier withdrew from Lithuania on August 31, 1993.

Today, Lithuania is an independent democratic republic. It has an elected President as the head of state and an elected parliament called the Seimas. Both the government and the Supreme Court are appointed.  The division of power is guaranteed by the Constitution, which was adopted by national referendum in 1992.