True Lithuania

Lithuanian “history wars” – all viewpoints and explanations

Lithuanian history may seem so confusing and contradictory - you may find the same events explained in completely opposite ways!

That's because, over history, six different versions of Lithuanian historiography were developed by six different ethnic groups: Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Jews, and Germans.

For the first time, all six versions are concisely presented in a single article.

Furthermore, at every place where the versions differ there is a symbol such as [*1410]. You may scroll down to the end of the article where there are explanations of every key divergence: what is the reality and why are different groups inclined to present those events in differing lights.

This is not a scientific study - rather, an as-concise-as-possible way to thoroughly explain the differences to an outsider. Each "story of Lithuania" is presented in the way its proponent would likely present it, while our comments are reserved for the bottom of the page.

This does not mean support of "True Lithuania" for any one of these versions of history! Rather, we just provide the insight into the multi-sided "history wars" that tend to rage over Lithuanian history as, save for the most avid fans of Central European history, few people would otherwise be able to understand why the opinions on certain historical facts differ so much.

Lithuanian traditional version of Lithuanian history

This version began to be developed during the 19th-century national revival of Lithuania. After 1918 independence, it essentially became the official version of Lithuanian history in Lithuania and after the 1940 occupation of Lithuania, it continued to be developed in the Lithuanian diaspora. It inspired the struggle for independence from the Soviets. After such independence was achieved, ~2000 this version began to give way to versions that also incorporated more from the Polish and Jewish versions.

Lithuanians are the original inhabitants of Lithuania and one of the oldest nations of the world, speaking the oldest living Indo-European language [*Prehistory]. Once, together with other Balts, they inhabited the lands from what is now Berlin to what is now Moscow. However, in and around the first millennium AD, Germans and Slavs overtook most of the Baltic lands, leaving Lithuania and Latvia the final two Baltic areas in the world, with Lithuania also being Europe's last Pagan stronghold.

The encroachment of the Balts was stemmed in Medieval times, when, under great leaders such as king Mindaugas, Gediminas, and (most of all) Vytautas, Lithuanians have developed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Medieval Europe’s largest state that ranged from Baltic to the Black seas [*1400s] and defeated entire Christian Europe in the battle of Žalgiris [*1410], thus ending centuries of harassment by bloodthirsty German crusaders [*1300s].

Establishment and expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, superimposed on modern European state boundaries. The areas enclosed by black dotted lines indicates regions both acquired and lost before 1430. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Unfortunately, Grand Duchy of Lithuania was cheated into signing very bad deals with neighboring Poland, especially the Union of Lublin [*1569]. In the Union of Lublin, Lithuanian leaders gave away most of the nation’s territories to Poland. Furthermore, weakened Lithuania would become a “lesser partner” of the so-called Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and was culturally dominated since then. True dark ages have begun whereas the Lithuanian language was spoken less and less, at least among the rich. Furthermore, the Poles ruled the Commonwealth extremely ineffectively: for instance, every Polish noble could have vetoed any decision (so-called liberum veto right), so the Commonwealth could not pass any reforms and entered a steep decline. In 1795, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth collapsed completely and Lithuania fell under the Russian yoke, leading to even worse persecutions as even the Lithuanian language was banned in 1862.

The world believed the Lithuanian language was to die out, yet Lithuanians showed unbelievable resilience, importing illegal Lithuanian books, secretly teaching kids their language. Entire national revival [*1890s] took place that culminated in the achievement of independence in 1918, beating back the Russians and the Poles in the wars of independence. Klaipėda's Lithuanians then also defeated the German elite of their city joined Lithuania through a revolt [*1923].

Sadly, although Lithuanian culture and economy reached their apex once again during president Smetona's era [*1926], Lithuania was but a shadow of the old Grand Duchy in terms of size and population, and thus a prey to the scheming neighbors.

At first, the worst of all were the Poles, who invaded Lithuania and occupied their capital Vilnius [*1920s]. However, eventually, Russians (“Soviets”) were far more deadly, occupying entire Lithuania [*1940] and undertaking a genocide there, with the help of local Russian and Jewish collaborators [*1940s]. A brief Nazi Geman occupation [*1941], while difficult, at least brought a brief relief from the Soviet Genocide, but the Russians were to come back [*1944], and thus World War 2 did not end for Lithuania as it remained illegally occupied and suffering a genocide.

Lithuanians murdered by the Soviets and their Jewish collaborators in Rainiai massacre, one of the brutal mass murders in World War 2 Lithuania. Out of the at least 73 bodies, only 27 could be identified due to mutilations. Prior to death, the victims were tortured: their genitals severed and put into their mouths, eyes picked out, bones crushed, skin burned by hot water and acid, they suffered electrocution. The victims were recently arrested by the Soviets for such 'crimes' as participating in the Boy Scout movement or owning a Lithuanian flag.

Unbelievable persecutions continued in Lithuania, hundreds of thousands were killed or exiled during the genocide [*~1946], yet Lithuanians managed to stage the longest guerilla war in post-WW2 Europe [*~1950]. Lithuanians may have been braver and more resilient but Russians had the numbers on their side, defeating the guerillas. The western world still never recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, largely due to the lobbying of the massive Lithuanian diaspora.

Lithuanian freedom fighter officer awards a female citizen. In 1944-1953 Lithuanian forests sheltered an entire guerilla state with its own government, army, and courts of law. Some vainly hoped for Western help, for the others tough life in forest helped avoid an even quicker death in Soviet genocide. In order to intimidate the remaining population Soviets used to publically display guerilla corpses in town squares.

Even after the death of Stalin toned down the Soviet Genocide, the Lithuanian nation remained in a kind of ice age with its freedom extinguished, its culture ravished and its economy destroyed [*~1970s]. However, the Lithuanian spirit is impossible to defeat. Thus, the calls for independence resounded once again and Lithuania became the first nation to declare independence from the Soviet Union. It has been advancing rapidly on a path back to prosperity ever since [*2004], at the same time recognizing the contribution of its minorities [*2000s].

Baltic way - the 600 km long human chain of some 2 million people that connected Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn (total population of the Baltic States was 7,5 million). It demonstrated the unity of the Baltic States and the determination to achieve freedom. The idea of this protest form was later copied by political movements as far away as in Israel and Taiwan, but neither the size nor the length of the human chain was ever surpassed.

Polish version of Lithuanian history

Polish version of Lithuanian historiography is arguably the oldest one of these six. It began to be developed in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (before 1795) and thrived among the mostly Polish-speaking Polish and Lithuanian nobility in the 19th century. During the Lithuanian National Revival, Lithuanian-speakers developed their own historiography and Polish historiography of Lithuania was retained only in Poland and among Lithuania‘s Polish minority. Due to Polish-Lithuanian conflicts, this historiography of Lithuania was seen as enemy propaganda in ~1890-1990 by most Lithuanians. Since the 2000s, as Lithuania and Poland became allies, parts of it became more readily accepted in Lithuania but it is still somewhat controversial there.

In Medieval times, Poland was one of the beacons of culture and civilization in Europe. In the east, Poland was bordered by Lithuania which was a different story. Economically and technologically backward and pagan, Lithuanians were still kind of barbarians, despite ruling a vast Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Thus, in order for their Grand Duchy to survive against enemies such as the German Knights [*1300s] and Moscow, Lithuanians had no other option but to ally themselves with Poland (which essentially won the Battle of Žalgiris for the Lithuanians who were already on the verge of running away [*1410]). Then Lithuanians had formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Union of Lublin [*1569]. Poland thus also shared its own culture with Lithuanians, helping them culturally “advance into Europe”, adopt the true Christian faith and noble traditions.

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at its highest territorial extent (1616-1657) superimposed on modern European state boundaries. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The following centuries thus were a Golden Age for both Poland and Lithuania, as Poland led the Commonwealth into becoming a great power in Europe. Lithuanians thus also were reaping the benefits of such a peaceful and comparatively affluent life. Adopting the more developed Polish language helped Lithuanians in opening up education and culture, as the Lithuanian language was backward and unfit for nobility but for peasants alone and, furthermore, nobody important spoke it. In any case, few other countries could have compared to Poland-Lithuania in its respect for minority cultures and religions [**1700].

Sadly, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was destroyed by scheming neighbors and Russians occupied Lithuania [*1795]. They greatly discriminated against the Poles and pitted many Lithuanians against them. The so-called “Lithuanian national revival” was a romantic yet unwise movement wherein some educated Lithuanians, who only spoke Polish before [*1890s], would learn and speak Lithuanian and cease speaking Polish simply because they followed some strange idealistic beliefs that all Lithuanians (and not only Lithuanian peasants) must speak the Lithuanian language (while a Lithuanian who does not speak Lithuanian language was supposedly a kind of traitor).

An 1822 book by Adam Mickiewicz, a famous Polish-Lithuanian poet who wrote praises for Lithuania in the Polish language, as this language still predominated all over Lithuania.

Such a strange mass hysteria could not have lasted long, or so it seemed. Poland, independent since 1918, had to once again reunite the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Lithuania. That almost happened as Poles miraculously thrown out the Russian occupants and then the Russian invaders and chased them back to Russia. Yet incompetent politicians signed most of those gains away, leaving most of Belarus and Ukraine to the Russians and Lithuania to be independent. At least Poland managed to retain Wilno (the true name of Vilnius), a Polish-majority city [*1920s], thus saving its inhabitants from being Lithuanized.

Funeral ceremony of the heart of Polish president J. Pilsudski passes the main square of Wilno in 1935. Pilsudski himself came from a Lithuanian family but he never embraced the divisive Lithuanian nationalism, choosing instead to work tirelessly for the reunification of the entire Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Sadly, in 1939, Poland was partitioned once again by its neighbors – Russians (“Soviets”) and Germans (“Nazis”), destroying all the Poland’s interwar might and hopes. Wilno, Polish for centuries, was thus detached from Poland and put under a Soviet yoke [*1939] with a brief period of Lithuanian occupation in 1939-1940. Poles fought valiantly against both occupants and helped the Allies to defeat Germany, yet the same Allies essentially gave the Soviet Union a free hand on what to do with Poland after World War 2. Therefore, Western Poland was turned into a Soviet satellite state, while eastern Poland (including Wilno) was directly annexed by the Soviet Union. Soviets settled Wilno with Lithuanians from villages and Russians, diluting the Polish majority there and thus likely destroying the possibility of Wilno ever becoming Polish again.

This may be something Poles will have to live with but, unfortunately, Lithuanians continued to relegate Polish culture to secondary status after independence, not allowing Poles to write their surnames in Polish or to name the streets in Polish at least in the areas of Lithuania that are still Polish-majority [*2000s].

Jewish version of Lithuanian history

Jewish version of Lithuanian historiography was mostly developed in the Jewish diaspora after World War 2 by Jewish historians. It is the primary version of Lithuanian history in Israel and is also popular in the USA where the Jewish diaspora is influential. After the 1990s, Russia sometimes uses this historiography in its channels aimed at the Western audiences as this historiography paints Lithuanians in an unfavorable and Russia in a comparatively favorable light. In Lithuania, many works based on Jewish historiography have been published as well since the 2000s, often funded by the Jewish institutions and diaspora.

Since times immemorial, Lithuania was multiethnic and multireligious [*Prehistory]. Second in importance only to Catholics were the Jews. They were a majority in many of Lithuania’s cities and towns, where hundreds of synagogues and tens of yeshivas stood and operated. Lithuania – or Lithe – was one of the heartlands of worldwide Jewry and Jews were extremely important for Lithuania’s culture and economy. Vilne (the Yiddish name of Vilnius) was Jerusalem of the North.

Synagogues, such as those in Joniškis town, used to be the focal point of most Lithuania's towns

Despite that (or because of that), Jews encountered anti-Semitism and were often targeted in pogroms, yet, because of their capabilities, they thrived as much as was possible under such circumstances [*1700s]. Still, many sought safer places to live and the major goal of the late 19th century for the Jewish nation worldwide was to create their own state of Israel in the land promised to them by God (Zionism).

The Jewish history of Lithuania came to an abrupt end during World War 2. Nazi Germany occupied Lithuania [*1941]. Lithuanian collaborators eagerly joined the invading army, helping to murder some 80-90% of Lithuania’s Jews in the Holocaust. This was the biggest tragedy Lithuania ever faced.

Entrance to the Jewish ghetto of Vilnius. Before being killed, Jews were forced to live in such ghettos

After World War 2, Lithuania was liberated by the Soviet Union [*1944] but the Jewish community never rebounded. Under the Soviet regime, Jews once again were discriminated but the more successful ones emigrated to Israel. Compared to the Nazi occupation, Soviet Lithuania still was a good place to be [*1944].

After independence, Lithuania did little to remember what once was its top minority (the Jews), and, likewise, it did little to actually prosecute and condemn everybody who participated in or supported the Holocaust. [*2000s]

Belarusian version of Lithuanian history

Belarusian version of Lithuanian history was developed in the 20th century by Belarusian nationalists. History did not treat them well, however: they did not manage to establish independent Belarus in the 1920s (with the Soviet Union occupying it) and, while in the 1990s, independent Belarus was created, only briefly were the nationalists in power. In those few years, the Belarusian history of Lithuanian historiography prevailed but Alexander Lukashenko restored the Soviet symbols and many of the ideals in Belarus. This version of Lithuanian history is thus popular mostly among the Belarusian opposition. It is little known beyond Belarus and Belarusian diaspora

In the Medieval ages, Belarusian nobility married Lithuanian nobility, leading to the creation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the biggest Medieval European state stretching from the Baltic to the Black sea.

This Grand Duchy of Lithuania was, in reality, a Belarusian state. Its official language was Old Belarusian and Belarus formed the bulk of its historic lands, while its first capital was Navahrudak in Belarus [*1200s]. The nation that now calls themselves “Lithuanians” was but a minority in the northwest of the Grand Duchy. Back then they were called Samogitians. The full official name of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Samogitia, and Rus – whereby “Lithuania” meant what is now Belarus, “Samogitia” meant what is now incorrectly called “Lithuania” and Rus meant the other East Slavic lands.

Grand Duchy's main legal document, its First Statute (1529), originally written in Old Belarusian language

Grand Duchy's main legal document, its First Statute (1529), originally written in Old Belarusian language

After the Union of Lublin [*1569], Poland essentially absorbed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the status of Belarusians dwindled under that of Poles, while the Belarusian language was removed from official spheres. By the 19th century, when Belarus came under Russian rule, Belarusian history was all but forgotten.

By the 1890s, Samogitians, in their national revival, thus began calling themselves Lithuanians and claimed the whole Grand Duchy of Lithuania history as theirs [*1890s]. Belarusians tried to “liberate this history”, they also declared independence from Russia in 1918. But it was not to be so: Belarus was once again occupied by Russia and the real glorious history of the Belarusian nation was thus forgotten, while newly-independent Lithuania was able to spread its false version around the world.

Belarusian People's Republic declared in 1918. It would have had Vilnya within its borders and it would have used Lithuanian coat of arms. Sadly, it was partitioned by Russians, Poles, and Samogitians (self-declared Lithuanians)

Belarusian People's Republic declared in 1918. It would have had Vilnya within its borders and it would have used Lithuanian coat of arms. Sadly, it was partitioned by Russians, Poles, and Samogitians (self-declared Lithuanians).

Russians sided with Lithuanians on this issue. In early World War 2, they gave Lithuanians Vilnya (the real name of Vilnius, the historic Belarusian capital) [*1939]. They recognized the Lithuanian version of Medieval history and subjugated the Belarusians, rendering them unable to tell the real history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to anybody.

All this continued to this day, as Belarus never became truly independent from Russia (after a brief attempt in 1991) and even its population is now mostly Russian-speaking.

Russian version of Lithuanian history

Russian version of Lithuanian historiography began developing as Russia has conquered Lithuania. For the most part, the aim of Russian historiography of Lithuania was to justify Russian conquests and actions in Lithuania and downplay Russian atrocities as well as Lithuanian claims to any of their areas. In 1795-1918, it was used to promote Russian Imperial rule and was the official historiography in Lithuania. The Communist revolution in Russia brought a major change as the new Soviet historiography accepted some of the czarist atrocities (however, those were blamed on the czar and not on Russia(ns), who were depicted as „joint victims of czarism“). As the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania, in 1940, the Russian historiography became the official historiography again. Since the 1990 independence of Lithuania, the Russian historiography continues to be despised in Lithuania and even censored as whitewashing of Soviet crimes is banned in Lithuania. In Russia, this is still the main historiography of Lithuania.

In the late Medieval era, the great Russian nation awoke from its sleep and thrown off the Mongol yoke. Muscovy then went on in unifying the Russian lands.

Some of the major Russian lands, such as Kyiv (the historical capital of Kievan Rus) had been occupied by Lithuanians. Now free of Mongols, Russians managed to liberate those lands and expand further and further, as the great Russian nation was destined. Eventually, Russians absorbed the entire country of Lithuania in 1795.

Lithuania was already a shadow of its former self and on a slippery slope into oblivion as its culture was more and more Polonized. Historically, Lithuania’s culture used to be more Russian than Polish, and Russian Empire helped to restore that.

Some czars were good, others were brutal and unable to manage the country, and so the Russian Empire started to crumble. Foreign invasions of World War 1 dealt it a final blow. Russian workers then threw off the yokes of their incompetent and selfish masters and took the matters into their own hands, creating the Soviet Union and unifying most of the areas of the Russian Empire once again.

The center of Kaunas, centered around this Russian Orthodox church, has been constructed by the Russian Empire in the turn of the 19th-20th century. The church has been converted into Catholic use by Lithuanians.

Unfortunately, some territories such as Lithuania were broken off from Russia but, of course, only temporarily. As could have been expected, without the Russian rule, small Lithuania plunged into anarchy and then the fascist dictatorship of president Smetona [*1926]. The people of Lithuania deposed that dictatorship and asked to be admitted into the Soviet family of nations [*1940].

Then the greatest tragedy then befell Europe, Lithuania, and the World - the Fascist-started World War 2. Lithuania was invaded by fascist German armies from the West. Through the willpower and might of the Soviet people, the Soviets have beaten the fascists back and liberated Soviet Lithuania during the Great Motherland War. For some time, fascist bandits still roamed Lithuania [*~1950] but the Soviets established order soon. Soviets also gave Lithuania back Vilnius and Klaipėda regions [*1939, *1945]. Of course, those were the times of war and great peril, and so sometimes innocent people may have died as well: however, people of all nations, including the Russians themselves, temporarily suffered until the Soviet Union rebuilt itself after the war [*1946].

The Soviet Union then greatly developed Lithuania, building highways, power plants, factories, and even entire new cities, as Lithuania became an industrialized and urbanized country for the first time in its history [*~1970s].

Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, with world's most powerful nuclear reactors, built by the Soviet Union in Lithuania. After independence, Lithuania was unable to continue its operation, closing it as per orders from the West

Unfortunately, the American schemes precluded the Soviet Union from ever reaching its full potential, as the Soviets and their allies were attacked in expensive wars. The Soviet Union was also targeted by spies and propaganda, its fringes such as Lithuania especially so, where Americans supported the local fascists, opportunists, and romantic idealists.

In 1990, such a band declared the independence of Lithuania, followed by Latvia, Estonia. Under the incompetent rule, the Soviet Union then collapsed and a short dark age for Russia began. In Lithuania the remaining Russians became discriminated against and a target of Russophobia (perhaps less so than in Latvia or Estonia, but still) [*2000s].

In 1999, however, Vladimir Putin arose in Russia and possibly a new golden age for Russia began as Russia began collecting back its lands taken away from it by the Americans. Unfortunately, Lithuania is among the most American-affected of those lands. While Russia was sleeping in the 1990s, Americans managed to absorb it into NATO while Western Europeans took it into the European Union.

Lithuania is now a sad little country that people leave in their hundreds of thousands [*2004]. In fact, Lithuania lost more people after its independence than during the Great Motherland War and fascist occupation. Several times more Lithuanians have left Lithuania now than left it supposedly “escaping the Soviet Union” in 1944. Lithuanian culture is being destroyed through a forcible introduction of foreign western values such as the pervert rights (so-called LGBT). Sadly, regular Lithuanians no longer understand all this, having been brainwashed by the Americans into being their subservient servants.

German (obsolete) version of Lithuanian history

The German version of Lithuanian historiography originated with the 19th-century German national revival and unification. It portrayed the history of Europe (and thus Lithuania) through the lens of German ethnic nationalism. It culminated in Nazi Germany when the „German superiority“ over other ethnic groups was accentuated the most fervently. It was then the most popular and official historiography among Germans, including Lithuania‘s German minority, and it formed part of the ideological background for Nazi policies in Lithuania. With the defeat of Germany in World War 2 and denazification, the German version of Lithuanian historiography all but disappeared. It may still be present only in some neo-Nazi groups while the main historiography of Lithuania in Germany now follows a mixture of other historiographies.

Before the Middle Ages, Lithuania was a backward land. In the Middle Ages, however, civilization and modernity have been brought to the area by Germans. German merchants of the Hanseatic league brought in foreign goods and money. Teutonic knights brought in chivalry, mighty castles, and European morality. Understanding German superiority, the Lithuanian rulers themselves founded all their cities based on German town laws, such as Magdeburg Law. Essentially, all the Lithuanian cities were German in their law and system of life. They looked increasingly German as well, with gothic red bricks replacing the flammable Lithuanian wood in new construction. [*1300s]

Memel (called 'Klaipėda' by the Lithuanians) city, founded by Germans, as it looked in the 16th century. While the other Lithuanian cities were not directly founded by Germans, they were all too based on the German law

The importance of the German community remained throughout the centuries. Parts of the Lithuanian-inhabited areas were even directly ruled by German overlords (so-called Lithuania Minor, or Klein Litauen, or Litauischer Kreises) - and it was these lands that fared the best economically and culturally. The first Lithuanian-language books in the world were printed there in the 16th century, although later the local Lithuanians increasingly adopted the superior German language and culture.

World's first Lithuanian language book was printed in the German city of Koenigsberg rather than Vilnius

On the other hand, the parts of Lithuania that were outside German control fared worse, especially after they were annexed by the Russian Empire (1795). With the help of German soldiers during and after World War 1, that part of Lithuania managed to regain its freedom as the Republic of Lithuania, while Russia was absorbed by Bolshevist terror.

German army comes to Vilnius in 1915, liberating it from the Russian yoke that had recently built this massive Russian Orthodox church.

Unfortunately, Germany was backstabbed in World War 1 and many of its lands were stolen. Among those stolen lands was Memelland [German language for Klaipėda region] that was essentially given to a newly independent Lithuania by foreign powers who supported a Lithuanian invasion [*1923]. Memel [Klaipėda], the capital of Memelland, never was a part of Lithuania before and was established by German knights. The population majority of Memelland was culturally German, as evident in their culture, language preference, and voting patterns. They did not want to be a part of economically and culturally backward Lithuania, and so a happy day came in 1939 as Memelland was reunified with Germany by Adolf Hitler.

1942 poster in Šiauliai declare: 'The liberated Lithuania continues the struggle against the Bolshevism'

By this time, Lithuanians were a declining nation and a minuscule independent Lithuania could not have lasted long. In 1940, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and faced the worst terror in its history, a terror that was masterminded by Russians and Jews [*1940]. In 1941, Nazi Germany liberated Lithuania from this terror and punished its perpetrators [*1941]. However, in 1944, the murderous Bolshevists occupied Lithuania once again [*1944]. Germans were the key targets for murders and mass rapes by the Russians but hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians were victims as well [~*1946]. Knowing their fate if they remained in Lithuania or East Prussia, over a million Germans and Lithuanians fled from there deeper into Germany, avoiding the advancing Soviet armies.

As separate German historiography ceased to exist after World War 2, it is not possible to tell how it would have evaluated the later developments of Lithuanian history

What is the reality and why are the facts interpreted differently? Head to head comparisons

**Prehistory - Was Lithuania originally Lithuanian or always multiethnic? It is believed the Baltic ethnicities formed in what is now Lithuania some 4000-5000 years ago. There were numerous similar East Baltic tribes, which eventually amalgamated into two ethnicities - Lithuanians and Latvians. There were few if any non-Baltic (non-Lithuanian) people in what is now Lithuania until the 14th century. At that time the Grand Duchy of Lithuania expanded eastwards and southwards and foreigners were invited to settle in its Lithuanian core. It was the 14th century when many of the Lithuanian minorities arrived (Jews, Poles, Tatars). Is it true that, at some point in history, there were nearly as many Jews, Germans, or Poles in Lithuania as there were Lithuanians?. The minorities, even if all put together, never made more than some 20% of the population in the Lithuania-proper. That said, many of the minorities were highly concentrated in their own villages and districts, often centered around their houses of worship. These villages and districts felt like different worlds and, living there, it would have been difficult not to think that Lithuania was not at least evenly divided between the "local ethno-religious group" and ethnic Lithuanians. In reality, however, such "minority-majority" settlements were relatively far from each other, with many ethnic Lithuanian villages standing in between them, this meaning there were no "minority-majority regions" in Lithuania-proper and the total percentage of the minorities was never truly high.

**1200s - What was the first capital of Grand Duchy of Lithuania (was it in modern-day Lithuania or Belarus)? This is not really known as different sources and historians make different assertions, among them today's Navahrudak (today's Belarus), Anykščiai (today's Lithuania), Vilnius, and others. Many actually believe there was no capital at all: the leaders of Lithuania would simply travel from one of their nobility palaces to another one (a common practice in those days). The first known capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania is Kernavė in today's Lithuania (mentioned as such in 1279); the first capital that served as such for a truly long time (centuries) is Vilnius (since 14th century). In any case, the question whereas the capital was in what is now Lithuania or Belarus is of little importance when evaluating 1200s events, as the Lithuanian-Belarusian ethnic boundary was further east back then with parts of modern-day Belarus being ethnically Lithuanian.

**1300s - Were Germans "bloodthirsty crusading conquerors" or traders who developed the Lithuanian cities? They were both - but these were not the same people. On the one hand, there was a Teutonic (German) Order of crusading knights relocated from the Holy Land as Muslims displaced Crusaders from there. Its official aim was to Christianize Baltic tribes (among them Lithuanians, still pagan at the time), but the tactics employed including looting, killing, and these invasions did not stop even when Lithuania converted into Catholicism. On the other hand, there were German traders who moved into Lithuanian cities with permission/invitation by the Lithuanian leadership. Such Germans were seen as especially progressive and the Lithuanian city laws were thus based on the German laws. At the time, however, Germans were not regarded as a single nation, and the German traders were not seen as being co-nationals of the German knights: the idea of the single German nation was solidified much later.

**1400s - Was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Lithuanian, Belarusian, Polish, or something else? The Grand Duchy was started by Lithuanians in Lithuanian-speaking areas. However, the Grand Duchy then expanded into Slavic and even Muslim lands, often peacefully, and remarkable (for the time) tolerance was afforded to all the other ethnic groups. Lithuanian nobles sent to rule these lands would adopt the local culture and faith. At its territorial zenith, the percentage of Lithuanians in Grand Duchy of Lithuania declined to 30% albeit they were still considered the main group, and Lithuanian culture predominated among the top leadership until it gradually Polonized ~1600s [see **1569]. Grand Duchy of Lithuania would also adopt foreign cultural tenets where convenient (e.g. using the more popular-among-neighbors and developed Latin or Slavic languages for official records). All in all, Grand Duchy of Lithuania was not an ethnic empire in a modern sense: it was started and led by Lithuanians, but Lithuanian culture was never forced upon non-Lithuanians and in some fields, actually, those "other cultures" even came to prevail. A more extensive answer is in the article "Was Grand Duchy of Lithuania really Lithuanian?".

**1410 - Did Lithuanians or Poles win the Žalgiris (Grunewald) battle? They did it together. There were more Polish troops than Lithuanian troops in the common army; various estimates put the ratio at 1,5 : 1 or similar. The Lithuanian retreat made Teutonic forces follow Lithuanians and then be crushed by Poles and the Lithuanians returning to battle. The question to what extent Lithuanians pre-planned their retreat may never be answered as chronicles contradict each other, however, feigned retreats were practiced in other battles of the area and timescale (e.g. Vorskla by the Tatars who opposed Lithuanians led by the same Grand Duke Vytautas and won the battle).

**1569 – Was Poland-Lithuania a golden age or a dark age for Lithuania? Economically and technologically, Lithuania was more advanced than ever before. Lithuanian language and culture, however, was slowly losing ground in favor of Polish, getting relegated to „language of peasants“. Poland-Lithuania as a whole may have been larger than Grand Duchy of Lithuania ever was. However, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania within that Commonwealth was just a half-in-size of what the independent Grand Duchy of Lithuania was before 1569. So it depends on whether you see economy/technology or ethnic culture/influence as more important factor in defining the „golden age“. In any case, the Golden Age, if existed, ended with the 1655 war when Poland-Lithuania lost its status as a great power and declined, mostly due to mismanagement by the nobility.

**1700s – Was Poland-Lithuania tolerant or intolerant for Jews and other religious minorities? It was arguably more tolerant than every other European country at the time. Things such as state-led religious persecutions were almost non-existent. That said, times were different, and equality as expected today did not exist anywhere in the world, including Poland-Lithuania. Different religious communities had different social roles so some jobs may have been accessible only to some communities. At times, distrust among some people following different religions would also lead to violence, although such events were significantly rarer and less intense than in the other multi-religious regions of contemporary Europe.

**1890s - During Lithuanian national revival was that Lithuanians themselves remembered their heritage or did some Poles and Belarusians "convert" to become Lithuanians? Most of those who participated in the revival were Lithuanian-speakers who still formed a majority in pre-Revival Lithuania. For the first time, they dared to speak Lithuanian in higher spheres and demand Lithuanian to be spoken there (e.g. in the churches). Some participants of the revival (mostly the ones coming from noble/educated families) were, however, native speakers of other languages, primarily Polish and German. However, they were not some "new converts": the native language of their forefathers (e.g. grandparents) was Lithuanian. At some point, the Lithuanian language was not passed down to kids in their families as useless/uncultured. Those believing in the National Revival thus learned the language of their forefathers and encouraged others to do the same. The situation was akin to that in Ireland where many English-speaking Irish would have had Irish-Gaelic-speaking forefathers - in Ireland, however, such a revival never took place and it is still majority English-speaking.

**1920s – Was Vilnius / Wilno Lithuanian or Polish? It depends on how do you define „Pole“ and „Lithuanian“. The majority of Vilnius inhabitants spoke the Polish language natively (a certain percentage of them may have been natively bilingual in both Polish and Lithuanian). However, the majority of Vilnius inhabitants were descendants of Lithuanian-speaking Lithuanians who switched to Polish over generations rather than Polish immigrants (in the same way, as, for example, people in Ireland gradually abandoned Irish Gaelic language in favor of English). Actually, many would have probably considered themselves both Poles and Lithuanians but we‘ll never know the exact numbers as no census asked for ethnicity (they asked only for a native language without a possibility to write in two languages). There was also a significant Jewish minority who considered themselves neither Lithuanian nor Polish. More info: History of Vilnius article. Did Poles invade and occupy Vilnius / Wilno region or was it rightfully part of Poland?. As the countries were gaining independence all over Eastern Europe after World War 1, it was generally accepted (based on Woodrow Wilson's doctrine) that the new international boundaries should follow ethnic boundaries. This did not solve the Vilnius dispute, however, as while Lithuanians considered Vilnius Region to be Lithuanian based on ethnicity/ancestry, Poles saw it as Polish based on the main language (see above). Immediately after World War 1, Vilnius became a part of Lithuania and the capital thereof (1918-1920). In 1919-1920, however, Poland fought a war with Lithuania over the Lithuanian-Polish boundary. In 1920, Polish troops have captured the Vilnius region, annexing it in 1923.

**1923 - Was Klaipėda / Memel Lithuanian or German? The Klaipėda/Memel region had a slight Lithuanian majority, that's why it was detached from Germany after Germany lost World War 1 (in line with the general practice of the victorious Entente to strip Germany of its non-German-majority lands). The Klaipėda/Memel city itself, though, was 70% German (while its surroundings 70% Lithuanian). The Lithuanian-German ethnic boundary was somewhat fluid, however, as Lithuanians have been Germanizing over the 18th-19th century. Many Klaipėda's Lithuanians were thus following various German cultural practices, had no issue with German as a "prestige language", and supported German political parties. Such people would often consider themselves too distinct from Lithuanians outside of the Klaipėda region, declaring their ethnicity as "Klaipėdian" during the 1925 census. The 1925 shown region's population as 45,2% German, 26,2% Lithuanian, 24,2% "Klaipėdian". Did Klaipėda / Memel people revolt to join Lithuania or did Lithuania invade the region? The local Lithuanians of the Klaipėda region revolted, however, they were consulted and supported by the Republic of Lithuania. It is up to discussion if the revolt could have succeeded without the Republic of Lithuania military support. In any case, the French provisional League of Nations administration that provisionally ruled Klaipėda after World War 1 had little initiative to defend Klaipėda Region as Klaipėda Region was already detached from Germany in 1920 for its Lithuanian majority. All other similarly ex-German-ruled non-German-majority areas were already distributed among neighboring states by that time (Belgium, Denmark, Poland), as per Woodrow Wilson's doctrine that international boundaries should follow ethnic ones. The main reason why the Klaipėda Region wasn't given to Lithuania before was that Lithuania was not internationally recognized yet in 1920.

**1926 - Was Smetona's regime a cultural and economic apex of Lithuania or a fascist dictatorship? Smetona's regime, established by 1926 military coup and lasting until 1940, was a dictatorship but not a fascist or radical nationalist one. There were no free elections and political opposition was limited but it was not persecuted, except for the most radical groups that sought to destroy Lithuania (Nazis and Communists). There was no ethnic or religious discrimination: the minorities also had representation in the institutions and generally fared better than in the pre-1918 era. Economic-wise and development-wise, Smetona's era was indeed the zenith of independent Lithuania - however, it is questionable how much of that was Smetona's achievement and how much of that was simply related to the facts that (1)Before Smetona (1918-1926), Lithuania was still young and ravaged by war/occupation: it is natural that the more time passed after that, the more developed it became; (2)After Smetona, Lithuania was occupied and was ravaged again; (3)Great depression of 1929 naturally hit the industrial world far harder than it did agricultural Lithuania, making Lithuania more affluent compared to the world.

**1939 - Did Soviets really return Vilnius to Lithuania?. Yes, however, it was a Trojan horse. After taking Vilnius from Poland in 1939, Soviets presented this offer to Lithuania: Lithuanians would get back 1/5th of the Vilnius region but would have to accept Soviet military bases in Lithuania. Lithuanians wanted to rescind, understanding that Soviet bases could mean occupation and annexation later. However, the Soviets clarified that this was an ultimatum and Lithuania would be invaded otherwise (as happened in 1939 as the Soviets invaded Finland who rescinded a similar ultimatum). Lithuania then accepted. 1/5th of the original Vilnius region was returned to Lithuania on November, 1939. However, merely half a year later (June 1940), the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania (including Vilnius) and then annexed it, using the military bases established in 1939.

**1940 – Did Lithuania willingly join the Soviet Union or was invaded by the Soviet Union?. The Soviet Union presented an ultimatum to Lithuania (basically „If Lithuania will not sovietize its government, the Soviet Union will immediately invade Lithuania and force it to sovietize“). Seeing resistance as futile, Lithuania accepted the ultimatum while its president fled. Latvia and Estonia likewise accepted similar ultimatums, while Finland decided to fight back an earlier ultimatum and thus retained its independence. The more extensive answer is here: "Did Lithuania join the Soviet Union and was Lithuania communist?".

**1940s – Who collaborated with whom during World War 2? Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had local collaborators in Lithuania who helped in their respective genocides. Lithuania‘s Jews and Russians most often collaborated with the Soviet Union. Lithuania‘s Germans most often collaborated with Nazi Germany. While most ethnic Lithuanians opposed both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, there were ethnic Lithuanians who collaborated with both regimes. All collaborators put together made only a small minority of the general population. That said, when supported by a ruling occupational regime, each collaborator could have been responsible for hundreds or thousands of victims, sowing collaboration well into the collective memories of the victimized groups. Also read: "Did Lithuania support the Nazi Germany during WW2?".

**1941 – Was Nazi German or Soviet rule of Lithuania worse? The Soviet occupation was significantly more deadly and persecuted (imprisoned, exiled) several times as many people in Lithuania than Nazi German occupation. While both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union perpetrated genocides, their targets were very different, with Nazis targetting Jews and Gypsies while Soviets targetting the religious Lithuanians and Lutherans, as well as numerous other groups. Thus, for example, an ethnic Lithuanian was 10-20 times more likely to be killed by the Soviet Union than by Nazi Germany. On the other hand, an ethnic Jew living in Lithuania was at least as many more times more likely to be killed by Nazi Germany than by the Soviet Union. That‘s why „Which occupation was worse?“ question is treated so differently in different historiographies. Read more: "Did Soviet Union liberate Lithuania and was it better than Nazi Germany?".

**1944 – Did Soviet Union occupy or liberate Lithuania?. In 1944, the Soviet Union pushed Germans out of Lithuania - only to occupy Lithuania for itself. Basically, the Soviet Union replaced one totalitarian occupational regime (Nazi German) with another one (Soviet Union) that was responsible for even more deaths. For the ethnic minorities who were more likely to be killed under the Nazi German reign than under the Soviet Union reign (Russians and Jews), however, Soviet occupation was comparatively better and seemed to be liberation. Read more: "Did Soviet Union liberate Lithuania and was it better than Nazi Germany?".

**1945 - Did the Soviets gave Lithuania Klaipėda?. The Soviet Union, after occupying Lithuania, chose to make Klaipėda a part of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. This Republic was, however, not independent and not even truly autonomous: it was simply an administrative unit of the Soviet Union. The borders of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic were based on the borders of interwar independent Lithuania and Klaipėda was part of interwar independent Lithuania: so, there was no reason for Klaipėda not to be included. The correct claim would be not that "Soviets returned Klaipėda to Lithuania" but that "Soviets decided not to permanently Russify Klaipėda", as they did with the once-Lithuanian-inhabited areas of what is today Kaliningrad Oblast, or with the once-Latvian and Estonian villages of the Abrene, Janiliin, and Petsari regions.

**~1946 - Did the Soviet Union target Lithuanians specifically in a genocide or were the persecutions not ethnically motivated? And was it a genocide at all? Soviet Union has targetted numerous ethnic and religious groups in its persecutions. Some of these groups were targetted "in their entirety": that is, nearly every person belonging to those groups was either killed or exiled, essentially destroying their culture and most of the population. Among these groups were nations such as Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Ingushetians, Kalmyks, etc. Among those groups were also Lithuanians of Lithuania Minor (Lietuvininkai), the Germans of Lithuania, and the religious Lithuanians. As for the rest of Lithuanians, they were targetted selectively but reasons for such targetting were extremely broad and, as Lithuanians were considered a "mistrusted" minority, a Lithuanian (and members of many other Soviet minorities) could have been persecuted for reasons that a Russian would not have been persecuted for. That said, the Soviet government also murdered many ethnic Russians (ones deemed "too religious", "too rich", etc.). So, a related question "Were the Soviet persecutions a genocide?" may be answered this way:
(1)Destruction of some 15 ethnic groups of the Soviet Union (including the Lithuania Minor people), was clearly an ethno-religiously inspired genocide by all standards.
(2)The destruction of people based on their faith (e.g. religious Catholics) was also a genocide by all standards.
(3)The murders and exiles of ethnic Lithuanians for other reasons was also nearly certainly a genocide, since the genocide, according to the Genocide Convention definition, includes not only the aim to destroy a "whole group" but also "a part of the group", and being a Lithuanian (or a member of certain other "mistrusted" ethnicities) was a necessary prerequisite for many murders.
(4)That said, Lithuanian laws have a broader definition of genocide than the Genocide Convention. It also classifies mass murders based on social class as genocide. Thus, according to Lithuanian historiography, for example, the murders of the landowner families (even if ethnically Russian and perpetrated by the other Russians) would have been considered a genocide too. This is not so in other historiographies, but this only concerns murders that were solely class-based and not anyhow ethnicity- or religion-based. Most Soviet persecutions, murders, and exiles in Lithuania were either fully or partly ethnicity- and religion- based.

**~1950 – Was Lithuanian post-WW2 guerilla campaign pro-freedom or pro-fascist/Nazi?. One of the easiest and most straightforward answers here: Lithuanian post-WW2 guerillas were pro-freedom, plain and simple. At no point was it fascist or pro-fascist, it merely sought to recreate independent Lithuania. It was labeled fascist by the Soviets in the same sense as they labeled many enemies of communism to be fascists, including post-war West Germany (the Berlin wall was officially known as "Anti-fascist wall", for example).

**~1970s - Did the Soviet Union develop Lithuania and made it more egalitarian or did the Soviet Union destroyed Lithuania's economy and made it poor?. Throughout the Soviet occupation, things such as highways, factories, and power plans were indeed built in Lithuania. However, such developments lagged behind the rest of the contemporary world, the gap in technology, infrastructure, etc. widening as time went on. Furthermore, it is incorrect to claim that "the Soviet Union built that for Lithuania", as it was typically built by Lithuanian labor and materials; whatever was built in Lithuania by non-Lithuanians was more than offset by Lithuanian contributions to the other Soviet lands (Lithuania was a net contributor in the Soviet economy). Also, many of the aforementioned buildings and infrastructure were constructed to serve Soviet rather than Lithuanian needs (e.g. war material production). As for equality, while it may have existed "on paper" (as the salaries were similar), the reality was different, as there were other means to ensure privileges than money. Read more here: Did the Soviet occupation of Lithuania had any bright sides?.

**2000s - Are the ethnic minorities respected in the modern-day Lithuania?
(1)Language-wise, Lithuania provides more opportunities for its minorities than most Western countries: there are many schools with a non-Lithuanian medium of instruction, minority-language shows on taxpayer-funded national TV, etc. However, no language other than Lithuanian enjoys an official status anywhere in Lithuania, meaning that, for example, no official signs can be in any other language even in minority-majority regions.
(2)Culture/attention-wise, there is more interest in most Lithuanian minorities than ever before. However, much of this interest is geared by Jews, with some 60-80% of minority-oriented literature in Lithuania dedicated to this single community, hundreds of memorials built for them, the Holocaust perpetrators tried, etc. This is a new trend, as Lithuania's Jews were somewhat forgotten before the 1990s (and some foreigners still mistakenly believe this continues to be the case). On the other hand, the two largest minorities (Russians and Poles) may have lost the primacy their culture enjoyed decades ago as they are now just minority cultures, whereas at some points in history they were more important in Lithuania than the Lithuanian culture itself.
(3)Politics-wise, Lithuanian minorities participate in the government and decision-making, they also enjoy the freedom of speech. That said, with the rise of Putin's regime and its expansionism, some Lithuanians became wary of the Russian minority political goals in particular, and some Russian government media outlets were thus not allowed to operate in Lithuania due to "anti-Lithuanian propaganda" such as Soviet Genocide and Soviet occupation denial (i.e. promoting the Russian historiography of Lithuania as explained above).
See also Are Lithuanians unwilling to regard minorities as Lithuanians?

**2004 - Is modern-day Lithuania prosperous or poor? Lithuania is richer than every country in Africa or Latin America, as well as most countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. It is poorer, however, than the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Gulf countries and most of Western Europe. This relatively affluent current status is a result of decades of extremely fast economic growth: at the time it regained its independence in 1990, the Lithuanian economy was completely ravaged by the Soviet Union and on par with many "third world" countries. Since 2004, however, Lithuania is a member of the European Union, and people are free to immigrate to richer Western countries. Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians did just that and it is true that Lithuania has lost more people during its European Union membership years than during the Holocaust and Soviet Genocide put together. These people were not killed or exiled, however, nor they were forced to flee in fear of their lives as happened in 1944: instead, they emigrated because the European Union membership allowed a very easy emigration to where the salaries were larger and the economy had never been ravaged by the Soviets. See also Is Lithuania extremely poor / third world?.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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