Capital : Vilnius
Size: 25 200 sq m Popn: 3 759 000
The modern inhabitants of Lithuania are descended from Indo-European tribes which settled the Baltic area about 4000 years ago. Lithuanian is the closest living relative of the Sanskrit language. Before the Christian era, Germanic peoples had settled around the mouth of the River Vistula and the Slavs moved into the area around AD 500, joining with the Balts to form a Balto-Slavic nation from which the inhabitants of modern Belarus are descended. There were three main Slavic tribes - the Kryvicy (north and central Belarus), the Radzimicans (upper Dniapro) and the Drehavicans (Prypiac river area). modern Lithuania. Some Baltic peoples, such as the Samogitians from Aukstota, remained ethnically separate and are the ancestors of the modern Lithuanians. Duke Mindouh, or Mindaugas, who founded the Grand Duchy of Litva, was from this region.
The area was less important as a trade route than its neighbours to the north, Latvia and Estonia, as the country was largely impenetrable forest isolated from the sea so had no useful ports. Riga in Latvia was established as a bishopric in 1198 but most of the Slav tribes retained their own religion and independence. Swedish traders travelled through the area and Kievan Russia was the main power but much of the Baltic coast was under the control of the German Teutonic Order who subdued the most westerly Baltic tribe, the 'Old Prussians' and colonised their territory.
In 1248, Grand Duke Mindaugas united the Lithuanian tribes politically and the country remained outside the Christian sphere of influence although Mindaugas himself became a Christian. Lithuania became the largest territorial state in Europe under his pagan susccessors, Gedymin and Olgierd, and when the latter's son, Jogaila or Jagiello, became a Christian and married the heiress to the Polish throne in 1386, the dynasty ruled much of what is now Belorussia and the Ukraine as well as modern Lithuania and Poland. Estonia and Livonia (Latvia) came under Swedish rule despite resistance from Poland. The Polish and Lithuanian alliance defeated the Teutonic Order in 1410 and became officially united in 1569. The Duchy of Courland was formed by the Poles and Lithuanians out of southern Livonia and Lithuania gained control of Latgale to the east of Livonia in the C17th and established the country's Catholic religion there but both these territories later came under German rule.
The Grand Princes of Moscow enlarged their small territory steadily for 350 years. The long war of Ivan IV (the Terrible) with Livonia in the C16th failed to establish Muscovite control of the Baltic coast but Lithuania lost much of its territory to them. After the third partition of Poland in 1795, Russia acquired most of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the tsar became king of the newly reformed Polish kingdom after Napoleon's short-lived Duchy of Poland was dissolved.
The country still had a Polish influenced ruling class and remained far less urbanised than Latvia and Estonia although the city of Vilnius was ethnically and culturally diverse and became a centre of Jewish scholarship from the late C15th. This aristocracy was associated with the anti-tsarist uprisings in Poland in 1830-1 and 1863 and lost much of its land and power. The serfs were freed in 1861 and were able to acquire some of the land but became targets of the tsars' 'russification' policy. The Lithuanian language was banned and Russian became the official language of government and education. The ethnic Lithuanians were in the minority in the major towns and many emigrated to Canada and America during the C19th. The Catholic clergy appears to have tried to keep Lithuanian culture and language alive to resist the russification and a secret nationalist movement began to develop. The Social Democratic Party was formed in 1895 and the Lithuanian Peasant League and Catholic Democratic party followed the 1905 revolution. Lithuanian and the Roman script were made legal again instead of Russian Cyrillic but there was little political change.
Germany invaded in 1915 after the failure of Russia's East Prussian offensive and was in control of all Lithuania and Courland (which they called the 'Land Oberost') by September that year. As Germany had encouraged Lithuanian defiance of Russia, some attention was paid to requests for autonomy and the 'Taryba' or Lithuanian National Committee met in September 1917 but the country was threatened with partition if it did not comply with German demands. The country declared itself independent in February 1918 but the West did not give any assistance and it only as an allied state that it was recognised as independent by Kaiser Wilhelm in March 1918. Duke Wilhelm of Urach, a Catholic, was proclaimed as King Mindaugas II in July 1918 but the monarchy was abandoned by November.
After the defeat of Germany, Lithuania lost much territory to the Bolsheviks but regained it later in 1919. Peace was made with Soviet Russia in July 1921 with sovereignty over the Vilnius area (which had been under Polish occupation) and rights to some Polish-claimed territory as a reward. At this stage, the country was ethnically diverse with a population of a little over 2 million of whom 84% were Lithuanian, 7.6% Jewish, 3.2% Polish 2.7% Russian and 0.7% Latvian. There was quite a lot of discrimination against the minorities, especially the Jews and Poles.
In 1926, the democratic system was abandoned in a military coup under the Nationalist Party leaders, Antanas Smetona, who became president, and Augustinas Voldemaras, who became prime minister. The latter was dismissed in 1929 with Smetona's brother-in-law Tubelis replacing him. Voldemaras made several attempts to regain power, ending with imprisonment in 1934 and Smetona remained in control as dictator with the new constitution of 1938 only consolidating his rule. Later that year, Poland used the threat of German invasion to force Lithuania to resume diplomatic relations and recognise Polish sovereignty over Vilnius. The country was in Germany's power after the reconquest of Lithuanian-occupied Klaipeda in March 1939 and after the invasion of Poland in September and Ribbentrop's Moscow visit, came into the Soviet sphere of influence.
Smetona wanted to resist by force but was overruled by the government and the Soviets sent a replacement, Dekanozov, with the Red Army to back him up. Lithuania was formally made a Soviet Socialist Republic in August 1940 and most of the government was exiled or deported. In 1941, the country rebelled against Soviet rule and established its own government but it came under German occupation from 1941-4. The Germans considered the Lithuanians to be heavily influenced by the Jews so they were badly treated. Virtually the whole of the Jewish population of 250 000 was killed and the remaining few were persecuted along with the ethnic Lithuanians by the post-war Stalinist regime of the Soviets.
Lithuania was rapidly industrialised under the USSR and many Russian immigrants moved in although some guerrilla resistance continued until at least the 1960s. Nationalist dissent increased again after 1980 but Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of 'glasnost' and 'perestroika' relaxed the Soviet regime. A popular front, the Lithuanian Restructuring Movement (Sajudis), was formed in October 1988 to campaign for autonomy and in the same month, the supreme soviet made Lithuanian the state language and readopted the flag of the interwar republic. Lithuania declared its sovereignty in May 1989 under Communist Party leader Brazauskas and rejected Soviet laws. In December, the Lithuanian Communist Party split in two with the majority, the formally breaking away from the CP of the USSRand establisheing itself as a social-democratic nationalist body.
The 'Sajudis' leader, Vytautas Landsbergis, was elected president in March 1990 with Kazimiera Prunskiene as prime minister. Lithuania declared unilateral independence and a joint declaration renewing the 1934 Baltic Entente was signed with Latvia and Estonia. Despite being in favour of reform for the Baltic states, Gorbachev did not want to allow them independence and the breakaway was declared illegal. Lithuania was economically blockaded until it agreed to suspend the decalaration of independence in July 1990. Prunskiene resigned in January 1991 after being criticised for being too conciliatory towards Moscow, and was replaced by Albertas Shiminas. Soviet paratroopers seized political and communications buildings in Vilnius, killing 13 civilians, but began to withdraw later in January.
After the failed coup against Gorbachev in August 1991, Lithuania's independence was recognised by the Soviet government and the West. It joined the UN and was admitted to the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. The Communist Party was made illegal and Gediminas Vagnorius became prime minister. In February 1992, Landsbergis demanded that Russian troops should be withdrawn from the enclave of Kalingrad (KØ nigsberg). Vagnorius received a vote of no confidence in July and the Lithuanian Supreme Council chose Aleksandras Abisala as prime minister. Algirdas Brazauskas and the Democratic Labour Party won the majority vote in the November elections.
Some of these may be in Polish forms as these were used for some written documents.
Surnames were first introduced to Lithuania when the country began to be Christianised and people were baptised with a Christian name, often in its Slavic form. They were established among the aristocracy by the early C15th but not adopted by the peasant classes until the C17th. Of the 50,000 surnames registered in Lithuania today, most are of foreign origin (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Slavic, Germanic, Tatar) with a only a small number of Lithuanian or Baltic derivation.
During the period of Polish rule, many Lithuanians took Polish forms of their surnames. The -auskas ending became -owski, or -icius, the Latin form of the Polish -icz, was added to the original name. Most of the village priests spoke in Polish so names were recorded in Polish forms even if they were not in daily use. This lasted until independence in 1918 when many people returned to Lithuanian versions. Names were also Russianised with the -ovski ending. Common Lithuanian suffixes are diminutive forms such as -aitis, -utis, -ytis (son of), enas, -unas, -inis, -ynis, -onis, unas, -elis,. Female forms were -iene for a wife and -yte for a single woman. (Anelauskas would become Anelauskiene or Anelauskaite, Zarauskas would become Zurauskaite)
|Olgierdo||1341-77||son of Gedymin, brother of Lubart of Hach|
|Kiejstut||c1381-2||uncle of Jagiello|
|Svidrigello||1430-2||brother of Jagiello of Poland|
|Sigismund||1432-40||brother of Vitold|
|Casimir||1440-92||brother of Vladimir of Poland|
|Dievas||rules Dausos, kingdom of the dead|
|Kalvaitis||smith, recreates sun daily|
|Gabija||fire, the hearth|
This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.
Copies may be made for personal use only.
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