Lithuania Modern History

The Jagiellonian dynasty ruled Lithuania and Poland for over a century and a half. The last Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland was Sigismund Augustus (1544-72) who, having no children, aroused deep concern in Poland for the future fate of the Polish-Lithuanian union, created precisely with the Jagiellonian dynasty. At this time Lithuania was at war with the Tsar of Russia, Ivan IV, for the possession of Livonia. The outcome of the war gave Sigismondo Augusto most of this province, but behind the sale of the important fortress of Polock, which in the hands of the Russians greatly weakened the defense of Lithuania. In such contingencies, the Lublin congress met where the Polish representatives, in addition to proposing the strengthening of the personal union, they became supporters of the project of political union between the two states. The Lithuanian delegates strongly opposed this project, even abandoning the congress. The king then detached from Lithuania, incorporating them to Poland, the provinces of Podlacchia, Volhynia, and Podolia with Kiev. The Lithuanians were preparing to respond with war to this dispossession, but the Russian threat induced them to return to the congress and sign the new pacts of political union by which Lithuania and Poland formed a single state called “Respublica”,  at the head of which it was a common king with the title of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. The state had only one seim and one senate; treaties with other states were signed in his name; however, the armies, the treasury and the judicial body remained distinct and separate. The duchies of Livonia and Courland became common property of the state; the prohibition existing up to the Lublin congress was also abolished, whereby the Poles could not acquire land or hold offices in Lithuania and vice versa.

The signing of the treaty of union of Lublin had sad results for Lithuania: reduced its territories, reduced its representation to the seim and the senate, the grand duchy continued to have a subordinate function in Poland, which followed the ups and downs. He tried several times to become independent and autonomous, but always in vain. In the century XVII Prince Janus Radzivill even allied himself with Sweden to be able to detach Lithuania from Poland.

From the union of Lublin onwards, Lithuania took a more or less direct part in the affairs of Poland, engaged in the war against the Cossacks and the Turks. Conversely, it had to directly defend itself from the increasingly violent assaults of the nascent Muscovite empire. It regained some splendor when Stephen Batory was elected King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1576.

During the reign of Sigismund Vasa the Swedes occupied Livonia and in the ensuing war against Russia, Lithuania lost new provinces. Tsar Alexis even came to occupy Vilna, which was later returned in exchange for the provinces of Smolensk, Novgorod-Seversk and Černigov. The advent of Charles XII of Sweden again engaged the dual state in a bitter and disastrous war during which it was invaded by the Swedes who, defeated by Peter the Great at Poltava in 1709, did not retreat until 1717. From this’ epoch in Lithuania as in Poland begins to assert the preponderance of Russia, which established its garrisons in the country and held them there until the division of the double monarchy.

With the first partition in 1772, Russia had the territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania located east of the Dvina and Beresina with the provinces of Polock, Vitebsk and Mohilev. Similar mutilation induced the seim to plan a new order of the country which provoked an insurrection both in Lithuania and in Poland. Russia took the pretext to intervene and proceeded to a second partition (1793) for which the province of Minsk was taken away from Lithuania. This new partition sparked the well-known Polish-Lithuanian revolt led by T. Kościuszko. It was also tamed and the third partition of 1795 put an end to the existence of the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom. Almost all of Lithuania fell to Russia, with the exception of the part located west of the Niemen, which passed to Prussia. Russia administratively divided Lithuania into the two governorates of Vilna and Sonim. For Lithuania history, please check

In 1812, during the Napoleonic wars, the French established a provisional local government in Lithuania and the country also began to organize its own army in the hope of being restored to an independent state. But the disastrous outcome of the Russian campaign wrecked the Napoleonic promises and Russia regained possession of Lithuania.

Back under the Tsarist regime, Lithuania severely discounted its attachment to the Catholic religion and its language. In 1831, following the Poland that had risen the previous year, he rose up, leading a guerrilla war which was subdued after a few months. In reaction, the University of Vilna was closed, the Russian language was imposed as the official language, parish schools were abolished and replaced with Russian schools, monasteries and church property were confiscated and the Russian treasury was enriched by over 170 million. of rubles. In 1840 the “Lithuanian statute” was also abolished and even the name of Lithuania was changed to “Northwest Province”.

When Alexander II (1855-1881) ascended to the throne and serfdom was abolished, the peasant in Lithuania also acquired personal freedom with the land and was able to form a new class no longer linked to the almost entirely polonised nobility. The formation of this class accentuated the rebirth movement in the country.

The second Polish revolution of 1863 also spread to Lithuania where it was led by Constantine Kalinowski. But the dispatch of General Murav ev marked perhaps the most tragic period of Russian oppression. After Kalinowski hanged (1864) and put an end to the insurrection, Murav′ev prohibited the Latin alphabet which was replaced with the Russian alphabet. Many thousands of Lithuanians were deported to Siberia. The clandestine printing of Lithuanian books was harshly repressed, but in vain, because, especially in East Prussia, it took on an extraordinary development. The books, with a well-organized smuggling service, were brought into Lithuania and distributed throughout the country. The work of the apostle of this cultural and patriotic rebirth, G. Basanavičius, deserves to be remembered, Au š ra (Aurora) which was followed by a number of other newspapers published in East Prussia and in America where a large Lithuanian colony had been forced to emigrate to escape the harsh conditions in which the country lived.

Lithuania Modern History

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