Central Lithuania

Central Lithuania was a semi-independent state, created in 1920 by allegedly rebelious soldiers of the Lithuanian-Belorussian division of the Polish army.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Culture
3 Conflict
4 Central Lithuania
5 Mediation
6 Resolution
7 Links

Background

In the aftermath of WWI, the historical Grand Duchy of Lithuania was divided onto 3 parts.

The national composition of the latter area is difficult to measure as many Lithuanian historians claim that both Russian, Polish and Soviet censuses are not reliable. The only source acceptable for both Poland and Lithuania seems to be the german 1916 census and, to some extent, the Nazi 1942 census. According to the earlier the inhabitants of the city of Wilno were mostly Poles, Jews, and tutejsi (need info on 1916 census). On the other hand the Lithuanian authorities argued that the majority of Poles living there were polonized Lithuanians and that Lithuania had the same right to create a multi-national country as Poland.

Culture

Conflict

Following the start of the Polish-Soviet war, in 1919 the territory was occupied by the Red Army which defeated and pushed back Polish self-defence units, but shortly afterwards the Bolsheviks were pushed back by the Polish Army. 1920 saw Central Lithuania occupied by the Red Army for the second time, although Russia officially recognized the sovereignity of Lithuanian Soviet Republic over the city. Lenin was probably waiting for the capture of Warsaw, to occupy the remainder of Lithuania. However, when the Red Army was defeated in the Battle of Warsaw, the Soviets made the decision to hand over the city back to Lithuania. Despite the agreements, Lithuania seized the southern Suwalki region as well. When the Polish army reached Lithuanian lines (August 26, 1920), a local war was started that lasted for several days until the Lithuanians were pushed back.

This made the compromise even harder to achieve and the newly-established state of Lithuania declined any negotiations on the status of the Vilnius area, claimed it as its' capital city and denied any polish influence over it whatsoever. A cease-fire agreemen was signed on November 7 1920, but it did not solve the issue. Polish commander Jozef Pilsudski ordered his subordinate, general Lucjan Zeligowski, to defect with his '1st Lithuanian-Byelorussian Division' and capture the city, without declaring war on Lithuania.

General Zeligowski entered the city on November 8 1920, almost unopposed.

Central Lithuania

A new country was created under the name of the Republic of Central Lithuania. General Zeligowski took command of all the military forces of the newly-established state and on October 12, 1921 he announced the creation of a provisional government. Soon the courts and the police were formed and by his decree of January 7, 1921, and the civil rights of Central Lithuania were granted to all people living in the area on January 1 1919, or for five years prior to August 1, 1914.

The symbols of the state were a red flag with Polish White Eagle and Lithuanian Vytis and with a coat of arms being a mixture of Polish, Lithuanian and Vilnian symbols.

There were extensive diplomatic negotiatiations behind the scenes. Lithuania proposed creating a confederation of baltic Western Lithuania (with Lithuanian as an official language) and Central Lithuania (with Polish as an official language). Poland added a condition, that the new state must be also federated with Poland. There was no approval from the Lithuanian side for this.

The general elections had been decreed on January 9 1921, and the voting law was to be issued prior to November 28 1920. However, due to the League of Nations mediation and the boycott of the voting, the elections were postponed.

Mediation

Meanwhile in Brussels peace talks were held under the auspice of the League of Nations. The initial agreement had been signed by both sides on November 29 1920, and the talks started on March 3 1921. The League of Nations to accept the Polish proposal of a plebiscite on the future of Central Lithuania. As a compromise, the so called 'Hymans' plan' was proposed(named after the Belgian envoy to the conference. It consisted of 15 points, among them were:

  • Both sides guarantee each other's independence.
  • Central Lithuania is incorporated into the Federation of Lithuania, composed of two cantons - the Lithuanian-inhabitated Samogitia and Polish-inhabitated Wilno area. Both cantons will have separate governments, parliaments, official languages and a common federative capital in Vilnius/Wilno.
  • Lithuanian and Polish governments will create interstate commissions on both foreign affairs, trade and industry measures and local policies.
  • Poland and Lithuania will sign a defensive alliance treaty.
  • Poland will gain usage of ports in Lithuania.

The plan was more or less acceptable for both sides, but it had certain disadvantages. The talks came to a halt when Poland demanded that a delegation from Central Lithuania (boycotted by Lithuania) be invited to Brussels. On the other hand Lithuanians demanded that the troops in Central Lithuania be relocated to the line of the October 7, 1920 cease-fire agreement. Both claims were a step too far.

A new plan was presented to the governments of Lithuania and Poland in September 1921. It was basically a modification of 'Hymans' plan', with the difference that the area of Klaipeda was to be incorporated into Lithuania while Central Lithuania was to be granted a certain level of internal authonomy instead of a cantonal status. However, both Poland and Lithuania openly criticized it and finally this turn of talks came to a halt as well.

Resolution

After the talks in Brussels failed, the tensions in the area grew. The most important issue was the huge army Central Lithuania fielded (27.000). General Zeligowski decided to pass the power to the civil authorities and confirmed the date of the elections (January 8 1923.

There was a significant propaganda campaign over the issue of the elections as both Poles and Lithuanians tried to win the support of other ethnic groups present in the area. Eventually, Lithuania decided to boycott the elections and only the Socialist Party of Lithuania and Byelorussia took part in it.

Most of the parties that took part in the voting were supporting the idea of incorporation of the area into Poland - with different grades of authonomy.

63,9% of the entire population took part in the voting, but among different ethnic groups the attendance was lower (41% of Byelorussians, 15,3% Jews and 8,2% of Lithuanians). The 2 biggest political groups in the newly-elected parliament were the Polish Voting Commitee (43 seats) and the Popular Councils (34 seats). All the other groups gained 29 seats altogether.

The parliament gathered on February 1 1922 and on February 20 after a fierce discussion incorporation into Poland had been passed. The Polish Sejm passed the law proposed by the Central Lithuanian parliament on March 22 1922 and two days later Central Lithuania ceased to exist.

Lithuania declined to accept the Polish authority over the Vilnius area and it wasn't until the 1938 ultimatum, when the Lithuanian authorities resolved diplomatical relations with Poland and de facto accepted the borders of its' neighbour. After the Soviet-Nazi pact (1939) Lithuania was given the Vilnius County.

Links


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