Eastern and Central Europe (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

(Ben Green) #1


of the Two Nations, cemented at the
Union of Lublin in 1569. When King
Sigismund Augustus died without an
heir, the combined posi tion of grand
duke of Lithuania and king of Poland
became an elected one. The aristoc-
racy adopted the Polish language, and
Lithuanian culture was marginalized.
The 17th century was a disastrous
period for Lithuania, characterized by
misrule, plague and a calamitous
invasion by the Russians. During the
18th century the Commonwealth
gradually became a puppet state of
tsarist Russia. In a series of partitions,
its vast lands were divided between

Russia, Prussia and
Austria. By 1795, Poland
and Lithuania had
ceased to exist. Over 120
years of occu pation
followed, during which
Russification led to the
eradication of all traces
of traditional Lithuania.
Resistance sim mered
under the surface, and as
World War I and the 1917
Russian Revolution destroyed the
Tsarist Empire, a national council in
Vilnius declared Lithuania inde-
pendent on 16 February 1918.
Between 1926 and 1940, under
authoritarian Antanas Smetona,
Lithuania enjoyed a period of
growing prosperity. However, it was
then occupied by the Red Army,
ushering in a reign of terror defined
by mass deportations and massacres
that continued under the Nazis. The
return of the Red Army in 1944 saw
between 120,000 and 300,000 people
deported to the Siberian gulags.
In 1988, a group of intellectuals
founded the Sajūdis Movement to
rally popular support for demon-
strations and, on 11 March 1990,
Lithuania declared its independence,
prompting a fierce response by Soviet
troops. Freedom was finally declared
in August 1991. Several years of
economic hard ship followed, but
membership of the EU and NATO has
since brought far greater prosperity.

Lithuanian belongs to the Baltic
family of languages. While English is
com monly used as a second language,
German, Russian and Polish are also
widely spoken. Lithuanians celebrate
a host of fes tivals. Most of the year’s
events take place in sum mer when
the country comes alive with music,
dance and food festivals.

Detail from Jan Matejko’s depiction of Battle of Grünwald (1878)


AD 1236 Samogitian victory over German
1240 Duke Mindaugas unites Lithuania
1253 Duke Mindaugas crowned king
1386 Royal marriage unites Lithuania and Poland
1410 Battle of Grünwald destroys the
Teutonic knights
1569 Union of Lublin creates Polish-Lithuanian
1655 Russian Army sacks Vilnius
1795 Final partition of the Commonwealth
1831 Rebellion against tsarist rule
1863 Lithuanian rebels persecuted by Russia
1918 Lithuania declares independence
1923 Lithuania reclaims Klaipėda
1926 President Smetona seizes power
1944 Soviets reoccupy Lithuania
1955 Partisan war against Soviet occupation
dies away
1988 Sajūdis Movement founded
1990 Declaration of independence
2004 Lithuania joins NATO and becomes a
member of the EU
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