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A Brief History of Lithuania

By The Late Chevalier Leonard J. Suligowski (Date: Unknown)
Transcribed by Chevalier Rik Sulima Suligowski Fox

Tracing the history of Lithuania we must go back as far as the glacial period, which began forming an extension of the east European plain. It became dotted with lakes and rivers as first. The highest elevation reached about 300 meters (approx. 960 feet). Most of the Baltic shoreline became separated from the open sea by a long narrow strip of sand dunes called the Courland Spit, and the body of water that formed behind it became the Courland Lagoon. Klaipeda (Memel), Lithuania's only commercial port is situated where the lagoon meets the open sea. Lithuania's chief river is the Neman (or Nemunas).

The Lithuanians together with the Latvians are the survivors of the Baltic family of peoples who lived in the region in ancient times and traded with the Romans, primarily in the product of amber. Lithuania emerged its rule as a united nation under Grand Duke Mindugas, who ruled form 1236 to 1263. Mindugas's successors expanded their rule into what is now Belarus and Ukraine, founding an empire that extended east as far as the Dnieper river basin and south almost to the shores of the Black Sea.

In 1386, Grand Duke Jagiello (Iogalis) married Jadwiga ("King" of Poland) and accepted Latin Christianity, thereby assuming the Polish Crown as King Wladistaw II. Under the Jagiellonian Dynasty, Poland and Lithuania established a connection that lasted for more than four centuries. In 1410, they won a notable victory together over the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg), halting the knights' eastward expansion along the Baltic and thereby cutting their power and eventually, hastening their decline.

In the 16th century, Poland-Lithuania, confronted by the growing power of Muscovy-Russia in the east, decided to strengthen the ties between its two peoples by forming the Union of Lublin (1569), which created a new Federation with an elective monarchy. Under the reorganized Commonwealth, however, Lithuania lost its separate institutions and gradually was submerged into Poland as a province. Although they fought together during many wars invading their two countries, Lithuania's political powers of support merged back and forth during the "Deluge" of the Polish- Swedish Wars starting in 1655, switching sides whenever it served their purpose at any given moment. A few of the noble Lithuanian families along with the Radziwill's were apparently having second thoughts about being a joined nation with Poland. This feeling continued well into the time of Sobieski, who couldn't rely on assistance of Lithuania's forces purposely lagging behind, to assist with participation at the Siege of Vienna Relief in 1683. As well, documentation exists of several incidences of in-fighting among the Lithuanian noble families themselves!

In the 18th century, the Polish Kingdom itself was disintegrated and divided among "The Three Black Eagles," (Russia, Prussia & Austria) with the partitions of 1772 (First), 1793 (Second) and 1797 (Third). As a result of this last partition, and the post-Napoleonic settlement at the Congress of Vienna (1815), most of Lithuania was absorbed by Russia, and the area along the Baltic Coast was given to Prussia. A resurgence of National feeling developed among the Lithuanian population of Russia, and after the collapse of the Russian Empire (1917), Lithuania regained its independence (February 18, 1918), it began its life as a Democracy, but, after a Coup in 1926, authoritarian rule was set up under Antanas Smetona, who remained President until Lithuania was forcibly annexed by the USSR in 1940.

Finally, in September 1991, after Boris Yeltsin's reformers had gained the upper hand in Moscow, the USSR recognized the Independence of Lithuania. As with most of the former Soviet Republics, Lithuania experienced difficulty in making the transition from Authoritarianism to Democracy, and from a Socialist to a Free-Market economy. The voters became unhappy about unemployment, high prices, and fuel shortages, and when new elections were held in October and November 1992, the Democratic Labor (former Communist) Party defeated Sajudis. Its leader, Algirdas Brazauskas, replaced Landsbergis as President in February 1993 the last remaining Russian troops were withdrawn from Lithuania.

(Transcribed by Rik -Suligowski- Fox from The Suligowski Heraldic Research Files. Bibliography sources for this article are unknown at this time.)

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Last Updated on September 11, 2013