A Baltic country whose history has been closely enmeshed with that of its large neighbours, Russia and Poland.
Early history (up to 1918)
Lithuania was tied to Poland for four centuries, during which time a Polish landowning elite emerged, while the towns were dominated by Jewish mercantile groups. After the territory was annexed by Russia in 1795, a nationalist movement began to emerge during the late nineteenth century which was directed against social and economic domination by the Poles, and the political domination of the Russians. After the Russian Revolution of 1905 it received its own parliament. In 1915, it was occupied by German troops and encouraged towards independence, which was proclaimed in 1918.
After the German defeat, Lithuania was sandwiched between Soviet Russia which challenged its independent existence, only accepting it in 1920, and Pilsudski's Poland which desired a revival of the union between the countries under Polish leadership. When that failed, Poland annexed substantial parts of middle Lithuania, including its capital, Vilnius. In return, Lithuanian troops occupied the German-speaking area around the Baltic town of Memel (Klaipéda). Subsequently, there was social unrest as large estates were expropriated, and many illiterate Lithuanian peasants moved into the cities to find that they were socially and economically disadvantaged compared with the urban elites, many of whom were Jewish. These problems were compounded by a weak parliamentary system, as proportional representation reproduced social divisions and created unstable multi-party coalition governments. An army coup brought to power Antanas Smetona, who gradually built up a Fascist state.
Soviet occupation (1940–89)
Under the terms of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939, Lithuania was occupied by the Red Army on 14 June 1940, and was integrated into the USSR as a Soviet Republic on 3 August 1940. It was occupied by German troops in 1941, until the Red Army returned in 1944. In marked contrast to the other Baltic States (Latvia and Estonia), the absence of any major industries, ports, or minerals made the country much less important for the USSR. Hence, no efforts were made to tie it closer to the USSR through forcibly exchanging part of the Lithuanian population with non-Lithuanians. As a result, it retained a relatively homogeneous population, over 80 per cent of whom were Lithuanian.
Post-Soviet Independence (since 1989)
After Gorbachev's reformist policies of glasnost, it was the first and most vociferous of the Baltic States to demand its independence. After violent clashes, this was recognized by Russia under Yeltsin in 1991. Its economy, which was much weaker than that of its Baltic neighbours, had considerable difficulty in adapting to a capitalist economic system. A brief period of recovery in the mid-1990s was halted in 1998, as Lithuania's economy was adversely affected by the economic downturn in neighbouring Russia. Meanwhile, the country's democracy continued to be characterized by a quick succession of prime ministers, and a rapidly-shifting political landscape. To overcome this fragmentation in part, the former Communist and Socialist parties merged in 2001. They became the largest parliamentary party under the newly elected Prime Minister, Algirdas M. Brazauskas (2001–6. In 2004, President Rolandas Paksas was impeached on charges of corruption, passing on state secrets, and abuse of power. The ensuing elections were won by reform-oriented former President Valdas Adamkus. Despite continuing problems of corruption, Lithuania's economy grew markedly from 2001 to 2006, between over 6 and 8 per cent each year.
Subjects: History by Period.