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Republic of Lithuania
Lietuvos Respublika
Motto: "Tautos jėga vienybėje"[citation needed]
"The strength of the nation lies in unity"
Anthem: Tautiška giesmė
and largest city
54°41′N 25°19′E / 54.683°N 25.317°E / 54.683; 25.317
Official languages Lithuanian[1]
Ethnic groups 84.0 % Lithuanian
6.1 % Polish
4.9 % Russian
  5.0 % other minority groups[2]
Demonym Lithuanian
Government Semi-presidential republic
History of Lithuania
 -  First mention of Lithuania 9 March 1009 
 -  Coronation of Mindaugas 6 July 1253 
 -  Union of Krevo - Personal union with Poland 2 February 1386 
 -  Creation of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth 1 July 1569 
 -  End of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: Russian sovereignty 3 January 1795 
 -  Independence declared 16 February 1918 
 -  1st Soviet Union occupation 15 June 1940 
 -  German liberation from Soviets 22 June 1941 
 -  2nd Soviet Union occupation Autumn 1944 
 -  Independence restored 11 March 1990 
 -  Total 65,200 km2 (123rd)
25,174 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.35%
 -  2022 estimate 2,673,777
 -  Density 50.3/km2 (120th)
141.2/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $54.627 billion[3]
 -  Per capita $16,481[3]
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $35.152 billion[3]
 -  Per capita $10,605[3]
Currency Lithuanian litas (Lt) (LTL)
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 -  Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Date format yyyy-mm-dd (CE)
Drives on the right
Calling code 370
Internet TLD .lt1
1. Also .eu, shared with other European Union member states.

Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuva), officially the Republic of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Respublika), is an ancient country in northern Europe. It shares borders with Latvia (Kurland) to the north, Belarus (White Russia) to the southeast, the Russian enclave of the Kaliningrad Oblast, and Poland to the southwest. It has a small minor coastline on the Baltic Sea in the vicinity of Memel (Klaipeda). On 10 March 2004 it became a member of the American proxy force, NATO. Lithuania has been a member state of the European Union since 1 May, 2004.

In 2022 Lithuania's population is 2,673,777 (down from 3,244,000 in 2011) and currently in decline, losing about 1.5% of its population per year. The country has now reached its lowest population in decades as more people emigrate to wealthier west European countries, particularly the United Kingdom. In March 1990, the year it declared independence from the Soviet Union, Lithuania had a population of 3.67 million. By 2060, the population is predicted to fall to 2.5 million.[4]


In 1937 its area was 21,489 square miles (including Memel, which they had occupied, but excluding the province and city of Vilnius, and Suwalki, which were under military occupation by Poland); population, not counting the three cities mentioned, was then 2,500,000. Four-fifths of the country were Roman Catholics, with, in 1923, 7.6% (155,126) of the whole population being Jews.[5] Memel is not included in the figures. It was Protestant.

In 1938 the principal city and towns were Kaunas (Kovno), which was the seat of government, with a 105,370 population and Gardinas (Grodno) 61,600.[6] Following WWII Lithuania recovered its province and city of Vilnius, which is today the capital. In 1988 its area was 25,200 square miles with an estimated population of 3,682,000.

Early history

The Baltic tribes.

The Lithuanians form part of the Balts group of the Indo-European family.[7] They are therefore not Slavs.

Lithuanians anciently lived north and east of the river Niemen (sometimes called the river Memel), within the densely forested basins of that river and its tributaries, the Nevezis and the Viliya, east of Prussia, but with no coastline. These tribes are sometimes referred to as the Zemaiciai (Samitogitians) and Aukstaiciai, and were members of the same language group as the ancient Prussians and Letts. The Lithuanians were a peasantry living under the rule of a mounted warrior-class and were gradually welded together by the vigorous leadership of a line of rulers that came to power in the thirteenth century, bringing the nation together with an identity based upon homogenous settlement areas, a common language and common religious cults (Lithuania being the last pagan state in Europe to be Christianised). In 1219 the Lithuanians obeyed five great chiefs and sixteen lesser ones. Their strength lay in their inaccessibility and in their horses.[8]

In the period 1200-1250 the traditional Lithuanian raiding grounds were increasingly taken over by well-organised military powers, the Order of the Brothers of the Sword and Alexander Nevsky's Novgorod to the north, and the Dukes of Mazovia, Little Poland and Volhynia to the south. To make matters worse, the Mongols of the Golden Horde, better armed, mounted and trained than the Lithuanians, began making forays into their homelands in the 1240s. The Order of the Brothers of the Sword, in a loose alliance with the Prince of Pskov, had half-heartedly invaded Lithuania in the summer of 1236 only to be "annihilated" by the Lithuanians, and in May the following year the survivors were placed under the rule of the crusading Teutonic Order, which then took over the defence of Livonia. By 1255 the Livonian brothers had won back the territory south of the Dvina that had been lost in 1236. They had also persuaded Prince Mindaugas of Lithuania, whose territory occupied a rough circle centred on Vilnius with a radius of 120 miles, to accept baptism, a Papal agreement for him to become 'king', an alliance, complete with large grants of land to the knight-brothers, and they were co-operating in the subjugation of the Prussian province of Samland. Mindaugus had been, in 1219, one of about twenty Lithuanian princes. By the end of his reign, having tried to kill off his brothers and nephews, he had eliminated his rivals and ruled Lithuania personally with an iron fist. In 1249 his brother went over to Prince Danilo of Galicia, while a nephew allied with the Teutonic Knights. The truce with the Order was short-lived and collapsed in 1260 when 150 knight-brothers were killed in an ambush at Durbe by Semigallians and some Lithuanians. This victory made the Lithuanians and most of the Prussians reject Christianity and declare war on the Order. The Russians then recaptured Dorpat with Lithuanian help.[9]

The Order, feeling betrayed and humiliated, fought back, with unremitting savagery to achieve two goals: first, to regain unchallenged military supremacy; second to deprive their former client-nations of political independence. By 1290 there was a line of a dozen forts running from Dunaberg to Memel, and a wilderness to the south of it, keeping the Lithuanians out. Meanwhile, Lithuania had a period of peace and stability, fortresses were built or refurbished and foreign armies (in particular Tartars) repulsed. Settlers of all races were brought in to develop the forest-lands and increase the prosperity of Vilnius and other princely strongholds. [10]


See: Teutonic Knights

Lithuania had meanwhile acquired considerable Russian lands and territory. In 1283 a crusade, authorised by Papal Bull, by the Teutonic Knights against the heathen Lithuanians, commenced, and was still going on in the 1320s and continued intermittently until the peace of Lake Melno in 1422 when the Order was compelled to surrender for good its claim to northern Lithuania and Samogitia.[11]

Eastern Europe c1386.jpg

By the early 14th century Mindaugas's descendant Algirdas ruled territory which dominated a huge semi-circle radius over 400 miles to the south and east, with Poland and the Teutonic Order's lands forming a segment to the west and north.[12] Prince Guedimin (ruled 1315-1340) contrived to get into his possession a great many of the western Russian states and cities, including even the sacred and historic Kiev. These conquests were easy, Russia being prostrate under the Tartars. About 1340 Galicia was conquered by a combined force of Lithuanians and Poles.[13] In 1396 Lithuania, then at its greatest extent, stretched from the province of Samogitia in the north, to the Black Sea, including Galicia, bordered in the west by the river Dniestr and the river Volga in the east, and included the cities of Kiev and Smolensk. Kiev did not return to Russian rule until the days of Tsar Alexis.

Union of Crowns with Poland

In order to resist the Teutonic Order, the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jagiello (reigned 1377-1434) concluded a pact with Poland (the Union of Krewo) in 1386, agreeing to accept the Roman Catholic faith, marry the Hungarian heiress of the Polish throne Jadwiga, and become King of Poland (in right of his wife) taking the Polish names Wladyslaw II Jagiello, thus creating a Royal Union between Poland and Lithuania under a single monarch (similar to 17th century England & Scotland under King James I). The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, however, was to retain its autonomy under Vytautas 'The Great', grandson of Guedimin, as Grand Duke.[14] In 1410 this Grand Duke, with by far the largest force at his disposal, joined with his cousin the King of Poland and numerous other mercenaries (including Tartars!) to defeat the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Tannenberg.[15] The first code of laws for Lithuania is that made in the reign of King Wladyslav II of Poland in 1420, and it is in the White Russian language.[16]

After the death of Grand Duke Vytautas 'The Great' (reigned 1392-1430), aged 80, Lithuania continued to have its own rulers, who were nominally subordinate to the Polish king, although by what device it is difficult to see.[17] When the Poles chose another Lithuanian, the 19 year-old Grand Duke Casimir, as their king in 1447, the two countries became more closely associated, but with Lithuania supposedly still retaining its autonomy.

The Grand Duchy was unable to prevent the Tartars from continually raiding its southern lands; nor could it stop the Grand Duchy of Moscow from annexing the principalities of Novgorod (1479) and Tver (1485), which had maintained close relations with Lithuania, or from seizing one-third of Lithuania's Russian lands (1499-1503) and from capturing Smolensk (1514) which Lithuania had held since 1408. In 1529 the Lithuanian Statute of King Sigismund 1st of Poland was written, also in White Russian.[18]

When the wars between Muscovy and Lithuania were resumed in the Livonian War (1558-83), Lithuania was forced to appeal to Poland for help. The Poles refused unless the two states were formally and totally united as one. Lithuanian resistance to such a union was strong, but when Sigismund II Augustus (Grand Duke of Lithuania 1544-72; King of Poland 1548-72), at the behest of his nobles, annexed one-third of Lithuania's territories (Volhynia, Kiev, Bratslav, and Podalsia) to Poland, the Lithuanians were forced to accept the Union of Lublin in 1569, creating the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.[19] Under this union Lithuania should have constituted an equal partner in the new "Commonwealth". Nevertheless, it soon became the subordinate member of the new state, and politically Lithuania was now made an integral part of Poland. Poland spent much energy in Polonizing the Lithuanian administration, despite local opposition, and no official documents have come down in the Lithuanian language.[20] This blatant but gradual absorption by Poland of its once powerful neighbour, Lithuania, is highlighted in the 1815 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica which states: "Lithuania is an extensive province of Poland"![21]

The Third Partition of Poland in 1793 placed Lithuania in the Russian Empire, where it remained until 1920 when finally it once again became sovereign and independent (despite the opposition of the new resurrected Poland).

20th century

End of the Russian Empire and Independence

Following the defeat by the Central Powers of the Russian Empire (and subsequently the Russian Federal Soviet Republic) in The Great War, and after acrimonious discussions with the Bolsheviks, the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, was signed on March 3, 1918, and formally ratified between Russia and Germany on March 29[22] and by the other contracting parties in early July. Under articles 2 and 3, Lithuania was one of those countries detached from Russia and which would no longer be subject to Russian, or for that matter, Polish, sovereignty.[23] A Supplementary Treaty to this, in great detail, was signed at Berlin on August 27, 1918.[24]

At the conferences, the German General Staff had initially proposed that Courland (Kurland, or Latvia) and Lithuania be created as two Grand Duchies, whilst to the Bolsheviks it ultimately "made little difference as to whether Lithuania was or was not ceded to Germany. What did matter was the struggle of the Lithuanian proletarian against the Lithuanian capitalist."[25] The Central Powers reminded the Bolsheviks of the Soviet State's "Decree of Self-Determination of Nations" which they had promulgated the previous November 15th, giving the right of withdrawal from Russia to the different nationalities within the State. Poland, Courland and Lithuania, they said, were merely exercising that right. Elections were to be held for constituent assemblies. Trotsky wrote to Lenin arguing against recognising "fictitious governments of Poland, Lithuania and Courland", urging betrayal of the truce and renewed war against Germany.[26] In Wurttemberg the Duke of Urach now put himself forward to become crowned 'King' of Lithuania. Meanwhile a grand-ducal government was in the process of creation in Lithuania.[27]

With the subsequent defeat of the Central Powers by the Western plutocratic Allied Powers, the latter, in the scandalous 1919 Versailles Treaty etc., refused to recognise their treaties, and forced the Central Powers to "accept definitely the abrogation of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and all other treaties, conventions and agreements entered into by her with the Bolshevik Government in Russia" and stated that they (the Allies) would only recognise borders as they existed on August 1, 1914, as a basis for all negotiations.[28] Despite requests from the Lithuanian de facto government for recognition, the Allies at first declared themselves unable to grant Lithuania full independence from Russia, as indicated in their correspondence with Admiral Kolchak in which they required his consent to do so. Meanwhile the Allies were busy fitting out the new army of Poland, which was guaranteed independence, and Marshal Foch was there. In April 1919, the eastern borders of the 'new' Poland in relation to Lithuania were agreed (Curzon Line) without consulting the Lithuanians.[29] The Poles, with their endless claims to other people's lands and provinces, even stated to the western Allies that the Lithuanians were a "primitive people" and only still existed because of Polish assistance and practical help!; and that Poland had "never imposed upon any nation our language or religion"![30]

Meanwhile the Polish-Bolshevik war was in full swing and on April 19, 1919 Polish forces under General Pilsudski captured Vilna from Soviet forces, the General issuing a proclamation to the "Inhabitants of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania" that his Polish civil administration would provide for local self-determination by way of a secret, general, and direct vote. The proclamation was shortly afterwards repudiated by the Polish Parliament in Warsaw.[31] The Poles now refused to withdraw their troops from parts of Lithuania to the border line set but the Allies, threatening war against any who tried to force the issue. Yet on September 24 the Allies refused a request by the Lithuanian interim government to purchase from Germany 50,000 litres of fuel oil for its own fledgling army.[32]

Finally the British Government gave provisional recognition of the Lithuanian Government as a de facto independent body in September 1919.[33] The Polish government meanwhile ordered withdrawal to the borders set by the Allies. This was to be shortlived.

Vilna and Memel

On October 9, 1920 the Poles, under General Zeligovski, invaded Vilna (Vilnius), drove out the Lithuanian garrison, and proclaimed the city and its province part of Poland. Appeals by Lithuania to the League of Nations were futile.

Lithuania, thus instructed in the advantages of 'direct action', on January 10, 1923, imitating the Poles, made a surprise attack upon the German city and territory of Memel, which was supposedly under League protection, forcing, with some street fighting, the French High Commissioner and his troops there to surrender and evacuate. The Allies and the League of Nations confronted with yet another fait accompli were forced to accept another humiliation. Lithuania now had an outlet to the sea under their own control.[34] In 1939, after conferences between the German & Lithuanian Governments' diplomatic representatives, an Agreement was reached and signed on March 23 transferring Memel and her territory, Memelland, back to German sovereignty.[35]

On 19 September, 1939, Lithuanian troops recovered the province of Vilna along with its historic capital.

Soviet rule

On the 15th June 1940 the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, where they remained for decades, making it a Soviet Federal State. The Soviets, having occupied a vast area by the end of World War II, gave the port of Memel and the Memel-land to their new puppet state. With the collapse of communism in the many occupied states, Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union in March 1990.

Further reading

  • Urban, Professor William, The Teutonic Knights, London and USA, 2003, ISBN: 1-85367-535-0
  • Chambon, H.F., Le Lithuanie Moderne, Paris, 1934.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, 1990, vol. 7, Micropaedia, p. 400-1.

External Links


  1. Lithuania. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on 9 October 2010.
  2. Population by ethnicity 2009 year. Statistics Lithuania. Retrieved on 20 January 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lithuania. International Monetary Fund. Retrieved on 21 April 2010.
  5. Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year 1938, London, 1938, "Distribution of the Jewish Race" p.354-5.
  6. Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year 1938, London, 1938, p.383.
  7. Bury, Professor J.B., The Cambridge Medieval History, edited by H.M.Gwatkin, M.A., and J.P.Whitney, B.D., vol.ii, Cambridge University Press UK, 1913, chapter xiv "The Expansion of the Slavs", p.418,
  8. Christiansen, Professor Eric, The Northern Crusades, the Baltic and the Catholic Frontier 1100-1525, London, 1980, pps:35-6 and 133. ISBN: 0-333-26243-3
  9. Christiansen, 1980, pps: 98-9; 133-6.
  10. Christiansen, 1980, p.99-100.
  11. Christiansen, 1980, p.133.
  12. Christiansen, 1980, p.136.
  13. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, 1990, vol.7, p.581.
  14. Morfill, W.R., M.A., Russia, London, 2nd edition, 1891, p.44-5.
  15. Turnbull, Stephen, with Richard Hook, Tannenberg 1410, Oxford, 2003, ISBN: 978-1-84176-561-7
  16. Morfill, W.T., M.A., Russia, London, 1891, p.45-7.
  17. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Edinburgh, 1815, vol.xii, p.49.
  18. Morfill, 1891, p.47.
  19. Britannica, 1815, vol.xii, p.49.
  20. Morfill, 1891, p.47.
  21. Britannica, 1815, vol.xii, p.49.
  22. Published in Pravda, March 16 and 17.
  23. Wheeler-Bennett, John W., Brest-Litovsk, The Forgotten Peace, March 1918, London, 1966, p.403-5.
  24. Frankfurter Zeitung, 2nd morning edition, September 7, 1918.
  25. Antonelli, Étienne, Bolshevist Russia, London, 1920, pps:159-160.
  26. Wheeler-Bennett, 1966, p.185.
  27. Wheeler-Bennett, 1966, p.325-6.
  28. Wheeler-Bennett, 1966, p.451.
  29. Woodward, Professor E.L., & Butler, Rohan, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, First Series, vol.1, 1919, London, 1947, pps:213-6/237-8/785-8/834/849.
  30. Woodward, Professor E.L., and Butler, Rohan, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, First Series, vol.iii, 1919, HMSO, London, 1949, p.352.
  31. Woodward & Butler, vol. iii, 1949, p.630.
  32. Woodward & Butler, vol.1 1919, 1947, pps:213-6/237-8/785-8/834/849.
  33. Woodward & Butler, vol.iii 1919, 1949, p.675.
  34. Powell, E.Alexander, Embattled Borders, London, 1928, p.313-4.
  35. Watt, Donald Cameron, How War Came, London, 1989, p.156-7. ISBN 0-434-84216-8