Lithuania: Modern History
A Lithuanian linguistic and cultural revival began in the 19th cent., inspired largely by the Roman Catholic clergy and accompanied by frequent anti-Russian uprisings. World War I and the consequent collapse of Russia and Germany made Lithuanian independence possible. Proclaimed (Feb., 1918) an independent kingdom under German protection, Lithuania became (Nov., 1918) an independent republic.
It resisted attacks by Bolshevik troops and by volunteer bands of German adventurers, but in 1920 Vilnius was seized by Poland. Lithuania remained technically at war with Poland until 1927. In 1923, Lithuania seized the Memel Territory. The virtual dictatorship (1926–29) of Augustine Voldemaras was succeeded (1929–39) by that of Antanas Smetona, and an authoritarian constitution on corporative (fascist) lines became effective in 1938.
Vilnius passed to Lithuania after the Soviet-German partition of Poland in 1939, but a German ultimatum forced the restitution of Memel. In 1940 the USSR, which had obtained military bases in Lithuania, occupied the country. After a Soviet-sponsored “election,” Lithuania became a constituent republic of the USSR. When Germany invaded Lithuania in June, 1941, there was an insurrection against the Soviets and a provisional government was established, but Germany refused to recognize Lithuanian independence, and the government was disbanded. During the German occupation (1941–44) of Lithuania in World War II, the considerable Jewish minority was largely exterminated. In 1944 the Communist government returned. An anti-Communist guerrilla movement was active in the late 1940s and early 1950s; meanwhile, there were massive deportations of intellectuals and farmers to European Russia, Central Asia, and Siberia. After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, repression eased somewhat, and ethnic Lithuanians became prominent in the Communist elite.
In Mar., 1990, the Lithuanian parliament declared independence from the Soviet Union. Sajudis, a non-Communist coalition, won control of the Lithuanian parliament, and Vytautas Landsbergis became Lithuania's president. The Soviet Union responded with an oil embargo and troop actions in which civilians were killed. A referendum on independence passed in Feb., 1991, and Lithuania's independence was recognized by the Soviet Union on Sept. 6, 1991. In 1992, the Democratic Labor (formerly the Communist) party defeated Sajudis, and Algirdas Brazauskas, a former Communist, was elected president in 1993. Also in 1993, the last Russian troops were withdrawn, and Lithuania signed a free-trade agreement with fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia.
Valdas Adamkus, an emigrant from the United States, was elected president in 1998, but lost in a runoff in 2002 to Liberal Democratic party candidate Rolandas Paksas. Charges of corruption and links to Russian organized crime led the parliament to initiate impeachment proceedings against Paksas in Dec., 2003, and he was narrowly removed from office the following April. Parliament speaker Arturas Paulauskas became acting president. The same month Lithuania joined NATO; both events and others led to tensions with Russia in early 2004. Lithuania also became a member of the European Union in 2004. The poorest member of the EU, Lithuania experienced significant emigration to other EU nations in subsequent years, especially during the financial crisis of 2008–11.
In new elections in June, 2004, Adamkus won a second term as president, after a runoff. In October former president Paksas was acquitted of leaking state secrets, one of the three charges on which he was impeached. Adamkus was succeeded as president by Dalia Grybauskaite, who had been serving as the European Union's budget commissioner and ran as an independent; elected in May, 2009, she became the first woman to hold the presidency. She was reelected in May, 2014. In Jan., 2015, the country adopted the euro. In the May, 2019, presidential election, Gitanas Nauseda, an economist and banker who ran as an independent, was elected to the post.
Sections in this article:
- Modern History
- Early History to the Nineteenth Century
- Land and People
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