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Lithuania & Poland Occupation Independence

The Lithuanian language is one of the two surviving members of the Baltic language group.

Lithuania was first mentioned in a medieval German manuscript, the Quedlinburg Chronicle, in 1009. The ancestors of the Lithuanians were Baltic tribes who were united by the Grand Duke Mindaugas in 1235. Mindaugas 'The Wise' was crowned in 1253 to become Lithuania's first and only king.

Mindaugas The Wise

During the regency of Grand Duke Gediminas and his successors in 1316-1430, Lithuania occupied large territories of present-day Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland. By the end of the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania extended to the Black Sea to form the largest country in Europe.


Lithuania and Poland

Lithuania was the last country in Eastern Europe to convert to Christianity (1387 - 1413) when Poland offered its crown to Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila in 1386. In February, Jogaila became King of Poland.

Just a few years later, in 1401, the countries' unity broke up, and Vytautas was appointed Grand Duke of Lithuania. However, his projected coronation was impeded by a Polish plot.

In 1569, Poland and Lithuania renewed their state union. It was only 2 centuries later - in 1795 - that the joint state was dissolved by the third Partition of the Commonwealth. It forfeited its territories to Russia (by 90%), as well as Prussia and Austria (by 10%), under duress.

In 1918 Lithuania briefly achieved independence. King Mindaugas II then became head of the monarchy until the Lithuanian parlament opted for a republican form of government. From the very beginning, its foreign policies were conditioned by rivalries with Poland and Germany over the territories of Vilnius and Suvalkai, as well as the so-called 'Memelland' surrounding Klaipeda.

In the years of 1920 to 1939, Vilnius was annexed by Poland. During this period, Kaunas became Lithuania's interim capital.



The Soviets annexed and occupied Lithuania in 1940 in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. During the ensuing German occupation, more than 91% of Lithuania's Jewish population were killed by the opressor. More than 190,000 people fell victim to the Holocaust.

Shortly after the German retreat in 1944, Lithuania was again occupied by the Soviets.

During the Soviet dictatorship (1940 to 1954), Lithuania lost 780,000 of its citizens. The Soviet government killed or deported to Siberia a number of 120,000 to 300,000 people. 28,000 to 35,000 prisoners were killed, or died of the hardships in the penal camps or gulags. 21,500 Lithuanians lost their lives in the fight against Soviet oppression. Another 5,000 civilians were executed. A great number of Lithuanians chose to go into exile.

Almost half of the buildings in Vilnius were destroyed during Worl War II. Miraculously, the majority of architectural benchmarks remained intact except for the Great Synagogue. Still, there are only few testimonials to the Soviet occupation who were not destroyed in anger: The sculptures of the Green Bridge, the red sands on Lukiškiu Platz, and some exhibits in museums.

Reference and Chronology

After 50 years of Soviet occupation, Lithuania declared its independency on March 11, 1990. Up until August 31, 1991, the Soviet government tried to forcibly prevent the secession. 13 Lithuanian civilians died during a Soviet attack on the Vilnius television tower.



Lithuania joined the United Nations in 1991, and the NATO in 2004. It was accepted as a member of the European Community on May 1, 2004.

Since Lithuania declared independence on March 11, 1990, it has kept strong democratic traditions. The Lithuanian head of state is the President, elected directly for a five-year term; he or she may serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. The President appoints the prime minister and on the latter's nomination, appoints the rest of the cabinet, as well as a number of other top civil servants and the judges for all courts.

Lithuania's parliament is called the 'Seimas'. Its 141 representatives are elected for four-year terms. In order to be represented in the Seimas, parties need to achieve at least 5% of votes.

Valdus Adamkus and Dick Cheney

Lithuanian President Valdus Adamkus and Dick Cheney in the President's Palace, May 2006.
Picture: White House, David Bohrer.

79% of the population are catholics. The roman catholic church has always played a major part in Lithuanian society and exerted its influence to fight Soviet oppression.

Nowadays most Lithuanians are bi-lingual. Over 80% speak Russian fluently. 6.7% of the population are Poles, 6.3% are Russians.