Lithuania History

Lithuania became a state in the middle of the 13th century and everything in the 1300s became a great power in Europe under Grand Duke Gediminas. The capital was Vilnius. The Grand Duchy opposed the Germanic advances from the west and expanded eastward into Slavic- inhabited territory. This is how the Baltic Lithuanians arrived in a minority in a grand duchy, which at its greatest stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea and contained trade routes along the Memel ( Nemunas ) and Dnieper rivers. The language of administration was Old Belarusian.

The Lithuanians were among the last in Europe to become Christian. This happened only when the country entered into a personal union with Poland in 1386. This union became ever closer, and in 1569 it became a real union and a merger of the two countries. Eventually, the Lithuanian nobility switched to the Polish language. The peasants remained Lithuanian. When Poland was divided between Prussia, Austria and Russia in the late 18th century, most of Lithuania fell under Russian rule. A small part – along the coast – came under Prøyssen and was called Little Lithuania.

The Lithuanian territories were the core areas for the Polish uprisings against the Russian tsar in 1831 and 1863. With the revival of the quality of life in Russia in the 1860s, new opportunities were opened to the ethnic Lithuanians, who had been landless peasants. In the 1880s, an intelligence emerged among them. They developed a national movement based on ethnicity, concentrated on the Lithuanian language. Another direction also emerged, in which the wish was to continue the tradition of the territorial large, multi-ethnic and multi-professional Poland-Lithuania. Both Poland’s national call, Adam Mickiewicz and his father, Józef Piłsudski, considered themselves Lithuanians.

After World War I, the Republic of Lithuania was established as a nation-state in the small part of historic Lithuania where the ethnic Lithuanians were the majority. There were two exceptions that created conflict. The Lithuanian nationals wanted to include the mainly German-inhabited city of Memel (now Klaipėda) and Wilno (now Vilnius), where the majority were Polish and Jewish and the Lithuanian population was insignificant. Poland captured Vilnius in 1920, but Lithuania gained Klaipėda in 1923. In the interwar period, Kauna was the capital. Vilnius was finally incorporated into Lithuania and made its capital first in connection with Lithuania becoming the Soviet Republic in 1940.

The first years as part of the Soviet Union involved massive measures to suppress the opposition. Imprisonment and executions were very extensive. About 400,000 were deported to the interior of the Soviet Union. An anti-Soviet partisan group existed until 1953. Antanas Sniečkus was leader of the Lithuanian Communist Party in 1940–1974 and enjoyed respect beyond the party’s own members who defend Lithuanian language and culture within the Soviet framework. At the same time, Lithuania was the Soviet Republic where opposition to the regime received mass support, such as in 1979 when 149,000 signed a petition for the return of the Church of the Queen of Peace in Klaipėda to the congregation.

The democratization of the Soviet Union in the latter half of the 1980s – perestroika – gave the Lithuanians the opportunity to organize themselves in the Sąjūdis independence movement, where Vytautas Landsbergis was a leader. The Lithuanian Communist Party broke with the Soviet parent party in December 1989, changed its name and got a Social Democratic program the following year. Under the leadership of the popular Algirdas Brazauskas, this was the first “ex-communist” party in Eastern and Central Europe to win an election (in 1992). Lithuania regained its independence in September 1991, after over a year of open conflict with Moscow.


Nemirseta / Nimmersatt on the outskirts of the seaside resort of Palanga. Was the northernmost point of the German Ostsiedlung and German-Russian border until the First World War.