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Lithuania News - History

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Lithuania News

LITHUANIA

In The News


Timeline: Lithuania

1915 Lithuania occupied by German troops during World War I.

1918 - Lithuania declares independence.

1920 - Soviet Russia recognises Lithuania's independence under Treaty of Moscow.

1926 - Nationalist Party leader Antanas Smetona seizes power in military coup after left wing wins elections.

1939 - The Soviet Union compels Lithuania to accept Soviet military bases.

1940 - Soviet army invades. Smetona flees. Lithuania incorporated into USSR.

1941 - Thousands of Lithuanians deported to Siberia. Nazis invade USSR and occupy Lithuania.

1944 - Red army returns, presaging further deportations and repression of resistance.

1988 - Group of writers and intellectuals sets up Lithuanian Movement for Reconstruction (Sajudis). Its leaders declare at a mass rally in the capital, Vilnius, that the USSR occupied Lithuania illegally.

Ringaudas Songaila dismissed as Lithuanian Communist Party chief. Replaced by Algirdas Brazauskas.

1989 - Parliament approves declaration of Lithuanian sovereignty, stating that Lithuanian laws take precedence over Soviet ones.

Lithuanian Communist Party breaks away from Soviet Communist Party and declares support for independence.

Independence struggle

1990 - Sajudis wins majority of seats in parliamentary elections. Its leader, Vytautas Landsbergis, is elected chairman of parliament which declares restoration of independence.

USSR imposes embargo, halting fuel supplies and causing severe economic difficulties. Lithuania agrees to suspend independence, pending talks.

1991 January - As no headway is made in talks with Moscow and the economy faces turmoil, Landsbergis ends suspension of declaration of independence.

Soviet troops fire on civilians outside television tower in Vilnius, killing 13 and injuring several hundred.

1991 February - Referendum sees overwhelming vote in favour of independence.

1991 September - Following failed coup in Moscow the previous month, USSR recognises Lithuania's independence. Lithuania joins OSCE and UN.

1992 - New constitution introduces presidency. The former Communist Party, renamed Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party, wins more seats than Sajudis in general election. Coalition government formed.

1993 - Brazauskas elected president. Lithuania joins Council of Europe. New national currency, the litas, introduced. Soviet troops complete withdrawal.

1994 - Lithuania joins Nato Partnership for Peace programme. Treaty of friendship signed with Poland.

1995 - Lithuania's two largest commercial banks collapse. Political scandal ensues.

1996 - Prime Minister Slezevicius dismissed in the aftermath of banking crisis. General elections bring in centre-right coalition government.

1997 - President Brazauskas visits Russia. Border treaty, cooperation agreement signed.

1998 - Valdas Adamkus, a US citizen who spent nearly 50 years in exile, elected president.

1999 - Controversial contract signed selling a controlling share in Lithuanian state oil company to the American energy group, Williams International. Conservative PM Rolandas Paksas resigns. Andrius Kubilius becomes prime minister.

2000 - General election returns another centre-right coalition government. Paksas reappointed prime minister, this time as a member of the Liberal Union.

2001 July - Brazauskas becomes prime minister following collapse of coalition in squabble over privatisation and other economic reforms. He pledges to work to speed up EU and Nato membership.

2002 November - Nato summit in Prague includes Lithuania on list of countries formally invited to join the alliance.

2002 December - EU summit in Copenhagen formally invites Lithuania to join in 2004.

2003 January - Rolandas Paksas elected president.

2003 May - Lithuanian referendum results in vote in favour of joining EU.

2003 November - Demonstrators demand resignation of President Paksas following allegations of links between his office and Russian organised crime.

2003 December - Impeachment proceedings begin against President Paksas after parliamentary inquiry concludes that alleged links between his office and Russian organised crime constitute threat to national security.

2004 March - Lithuania joins Nato.

2004 April - Parliament impeaches and dismisses Rolandas Paksas.

2004 May - Lithuania is one of 10 new states to join the EU.

2004 June - Valdas Adamkus re-elected president.

2004 October - Algirdas Brazauskas carries on as prime minister in new coalition following general elections.

2004 November - Lithuania becomes first EU member state to ratify new EU constitution.

2004 December - Reactor one at Ignalina nuclear power station shuts down in line with EU entry requirements. Under the same agreement, the second reactor is to close by 2009.

2005 January - Foreign Minister Valionis admits that he was once an officer in the Soviet KGB reserves. A parliamentary inquiry is launched into his past and into similar allegations against two other senior officials.

2005 March - President Adamkus declines invitation to attend ceremony in Moscow in May marking end of World War II.

2005 June - Labour Party leader Viktor Uspaskich resigns as economics minister over allegations that his business dealings had breached ethics rules. His party carries on as part of ruling coalition.

2005 September-October - Russian fighter jet crashes on Lithuanian territory, raising diplomatic tension with Moscow. Situation defused when investigation finds technical and human error to blame.

2006 May-July - Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas resigns after the Labour Party pulls out of the ruling coalition. Parliament approves the president's second nominee for the post, Gediminas Kirkilas.

2008 May - Parliament ratifies EU Lisbon Treaty.

The EU Commission turns down Lithuania's application to join the euro zone on 1 January 2007, citing the country's inflation rate.

2008 April-May - Lithuania threatens to derail EU-Russia partnership talks over energy concerns but drops veto under pressure from other member states.

2008 June - Parliament bans display of Soviet and Nazi symbols. The restrictions are the toughest of any former Soviet republic.

2008 October - The conservative Homeland Union party becomes largest party after parliamentary elections, pushing Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas's Social Democrats into second place.

2008 November - Homeland Union leader Andrius Kubilius appointed prime minister at the head of a centre-right coalition government.

2009 April - National statistics office publishes figures showing that Lithuania's GDP plunged 12.6% in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the same period last year.

2009 May - EU budget commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite, standing as an independent, wins presidential election with more than 68% of the vote.

2009 December - The second reactor at the Ignalina nuclear power station is shut down, in line with Lithuania's EU entry requirements.

2011 July - Lithuania protests to Austria over the release of Mikhail Golovatov, a former Soviet officer wanted in Lithuania over the Soviet special forces attack on a Vilnius television tower in January 1991 in which 14 civilians died and hundreds were injured. Austria says Lithuanian information on the case was "too vague" to justify Golovatov's detention.

2012 January - Government adviser Virgis Valentinavicius says Lithuania is on track to adopt the euro currency in 2014, although President Grybauskaite says the goal is "unrealistic" given an inflation rate of over four per cent.


The Top 10 Lithuanian historical figures of all time

Lithuania's history is chock-full of legendary leaders and historical heroes that have made Lithuania what it is today. After looking across the span of Lithuania's long and proud history, here is our list of the Top 10 Lithuanian historical figures of all time.

Lithuania's history is chock-full of legendary leaders and historical heroes that have made Lithuania what it is today. After looking across the span of Lithuania's long and proud history, here is our list of the Top 10 Lithuanian historical figures of all time.

1. Gediminas (c. 1275-1341)

One of the most fondly remembered Grand Dukes of Lithuania, Gediminas is credited with making his state a player to be reckoned with in Europe - and with founding the nation's capital, Vilnius.

By all accounts, Gediminas was a brilliant ruler and strategist, expanding his realm far into Slavonic lands in the south-east (the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania would reach the Black Sea under his grandson's rule) and holding off pressure from the warring Christian missionaries from the west.

Although Gediminas never embraced the Christian faith, he famously invited Christian merchants and farmers to come and settle in his lands - and his city - promising them tax breaks and religious tolerance that came to characterise the Grand Duchy until the end of its days.

2. Mindaugas (c. 1203-1263)

Mindaugas is the starting point of Lithuania's history, the first and only King of Lithuania. Having united conflicting Lithuanian warlords under his rule - some by strategic marriages, others by strategic assassinations - Mindaugas wrote to the Pope of Rome to be baptised as Roman Catholic in 1251 and, two years later, to be crowned the king.

Little is known of Mindaugas' provenance and even the location of his royal seat is debated, but his name is now eponymous with many streets across Lithuania and the assumed day of his crowning, July 6, is a national holiday.

Becomingly to the 'Caesar of Lithuania', Mindaugas' reign was ended by an assassination conspiracy which pushed the state he had created into an extended period of turmoil and uncertainty. Christianity did not take hold among pagan Lithuanians (Mindaugas himself is thought to have reneged on the new god towards the end of his life) and he did not start a dynasty, but Mindaugas takes the spot of the semi-mythical founder of the state of Lithuania.

3. Vytautas (c. 1350-1430) and Jogaila (c. 1352-1434)

The love-hate relationship between the two cousins (and grandsons of Gediminas) Vytautas and Jogaila (or Jagiello) mirrors in many ways the tensions between the brotherly nations of Lithuania and Poland which joined into a personal union under Jogaila, the first ruler to be both the Grand Duke of Lithuania and the King of Poland.

Following several periods of struggle for power, during which both had imprisoned one another and sided with Lithuania's biggest enemies at the time, the Teutonic Order, just to dethrone the other, Vytautas and Jogaila eventually made peace to achieve a great legacy. They Christianized Lithuania under the 1387 Union of Kriewo with Poland, and defeated the Teutonic Knights in the historic Battle of Grunwald (or Žalgiris in Lithuanian, the name used in almost every Lithuanian team sport today), snuffing the biggest threat to the sovereignty of Poland and Lithuania out of existence.

4. Martynas Mažvydas (1520-1563)

The Lithuanian vernacular was late to join the ranks of languages of the learned and it was not until 1547 that the first Lithuanian book came off the printing press. Its author, young Protestant priest Martynas Mažvydas, wrote the lines that generations of Lithuanian pupils have had to learn by heart.

While hand-written prayer books had appeared soon after Lithuania embraced Christianity, Mažvydas' Catechism (or "Katekizmo prasti žodžiai" - "Simple Words of Cathechism") was the first printed book. And it wasn't printed in Lithuania, but in East Prussia (part of which would be called Lithuania Minor) which was a safe haven for protestant Lithuanians from the domination of the Catholic Church in Lithuania proper.

It was in Lithuania Minor that Mažvydas spent his career as a priest, taking care of his parishioners' education and writing prolifically, mostly prayer books and hymnals.

5. Jonas Basanavičius (1851-1927)

If anyone deserves the title of the national patriarch, it is Jonas Basanavičius, whose imposing bearded presence used to stare at Lithuanians from the 50 litas bills and continues to exert authority from monuments and streets named after him in virtually every town in Lithuania.

Basanavičius, a doctor by trade, was one of the leaders of the national revival movement of the late nineteenth century and took part in every step of building the modern Lithuanian nation. He founded the first Lithuanian newspaper, Au&scaronra, chaired the organizing committee of the 1905 Great Seimas of Vilnius and was a signatory of Lithuania's Independence Act on February 16, 1918.

6. Queen Bona Sforza (1494-1557)

As a foreigner and a power-seeking woman, Bona Sforza has long been vilified by historians. She was cast as the main villain in one of the greatest Renaissance love stories, that between her son Sigismund Augustus and Barbora Radvilaitė (or Barbara Radziwill), the most beautiful woman in Lithuania who was allegedly poisoned by her resentful mother-in-law.

In recent years, however, Queen Bona has been largely rehabilitated, with historians agreeing on her role in bringing the Italian Renaissance to Poland and Lithuania.

A member of Milan's House of Sforza, Bona was married off to Sigismund the Old, the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania almost 30 years her senior, in a ceremony in Naples without the groom present. Moving north, Bona brought with her an entourage of Italian cooks, architects and artisans whose impact on the arts and culture in North-East Europe cannot be overstated. Bona was even credited with introducing vegetables to the Polish-Lithuanian diet, although historians say this is an overstatement.

Queen Bona implemented various economic and agricultural reforms in the Grand Duchy, inlcuding the far-reaching Wallach Reform, making herself an incredibly rich landowner. Some of her legacy is on display in the recently reconstructed Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius.

7. Stephen Bathory (1533-1586)

The decade-long reign of Stephen Bathory (or Steponas Batoras in Lithuanian), a prince from Transylvania, as the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania is one of the high-points in the history of Commonwealth. In Lithuania, his greatest legacy is the founding of Vilnius University, in 1579, which long bore his name.

8. Jurgis Bielinis (1846-1918)

Lithuanians rose against the rule of the Russian Empire, which reined over them throughout the nineteenth century, several times and following one such failed attempt, in 1863, Russia decided that the only way to crush the national sentiments of its north-western subjects was to ban the press in the Latin alphabet.

The ban was in effect for 40 years and gave rise to a singular profession, the knygne&scaroniai, which roughly translates as "book traffickers" or "book smugglers". Jurgis Bielinis was one of the most prominent book traffickers from the period, smuggling Lithuanian books and periodicals printed in East Prussia (or Lithuania Minor) into Lithuania proper. Historians estimate, that Bielinis' network was responsible for half of all illegal Lithuanian books that circulated during the press ban.

9. Jonas Žemaitis (1909-1954)

Although Jonas Žemaitis was never a politician and did not run for any elected office, he was declared in 2009 the fourth president of Lithuania. This would have probably surprised even Žemaitis himself had he been alive, but the title recognizes his leadership over the part of the country which continued to fight against the Soviet occupation for almost a decade after World War Two victors declared peace in Europe.

Žemaitis, who adopted the codename Vytautas (which suggests he probably wouldn't have minded being titled president after all), led the Lithuanian Freedom Army, a guerilla resistance, from 1949 until his arrest by Soviet agents in 1953.

General Žemaitis now has Lithuania's military academy named after him and there's an unmissable bust of him standing erected in front of the Ministry of National Defence in Vilnius.

10. Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746-1817)

Tadas Kosciu&scaronka, or Tadeusz Kosciuszko, is a national hero for many nations: Lithuanians, Poles, Belarusians and Americans. His name even braces the highest peak in Australia.

Coming from a land-owning family in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Kosciuszko fought in the American War of Independence and, after returning to Europe, led an uprising in Poland-Lithuania against the Russian Empire. The Kosciuszko uprising failed, precipitating the dissolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and making this last son of the lost republic the ultimate romantic hero.


Lithuania Is Forming a New Relationship With Its Past—and With Israel

Soon after Yossi Levy assumed his role as Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania in August, his assistant, Ana Maizel, came across a swastika crafted from dirt on the ground in front of a Jewish community center—an inauspicious beginning to his tenure. He trod carefully in his response, condemning the crime while offering reassurance. “We Jews do not come here to accuse,” he said. “We do not blame the Lithuania of 2019.”

Levy arrived in Lithuania in a moment of change: Even as the country deals with anti-Semitic incidents, it is in the midst of a pro-Zionist rebranding that combines an imperfect public reexamination of the country’s experience in World War II with a heartfelt appreciation for Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Soon after Yossi Levy assumed his role as Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania in August, his assistant, Ana Maizel, came across a swastika crafted from dirt on the ground in front of a Jewish community center—an inauspicious beginning to his tenure. He trod carefully in his response, condemning the crime while offering reassurance. “We Jews do not come here to accuse,” he said. “We do not blame the Lithuania of 2019.”

Levy arrived in Lithuania in a moment of change: Even as the country deals with anti-Semitic incidents, it is in the midst of a pro-Zionist rebranding that combines an imperfect public reexamination of the country’s experience in World War II with a heartfelt appreciation for Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has come under criticism for his friendliness with Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, who is seen as a participant in efforts to promote historical narratives that diminish the role of Lithuanians in the Holocaust and glorify Nazi collaborators who resisted the Soviets. But the country has begun taking tenuous steps toward a new relationship with its past.

Lithuania’s warming toward Israel has come alongside the beginnings of a new reckoning with the legacy of the Holocaust. Mainstream Lithuanian attitudes toward the country’s tumultuous war and postwar history have long privileged stories of surviving communism and set the crimes of the Soviet era on par with those of the Nazi period. In May, that narrative received a public airing, when a World War II-era chaplain for a Lithuanian police battalion accused of having murdered thousands of Jews was honored with a plaque for his work ministering to soldiers. In newspaper columns and political speeches, references to Lithuanian suffering and the deeds of Lithuanians who helped Jews during the Holocaust often come fast on the heels of any mention of the genocide.

In 2006, the country’s chief prosecutors started an investigation into the wartime destruction of a village. As part of that probe, they accused a group of Jewish ghetto survivors of having joined the pro-Soviet guerrillas, the implication being that they were pro-communist. But the accusation failed to recognize that their path was common among those who hoped to defeat the Nazis. Two of those guerrillas, now elderly, were based in Israel. They feared returning to Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, unsure about what kind of testimony they would be expected to give. The common view was that the ghetto survivors were evading justice. Israel was displeased. One former Israeli ambassador denounced the investigation, and Pinhas Avivi, the deputy general director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry at the time, told the Israeli daily Haaretz, “the ministry takes the persecution of the Jewish partisans very seriously.”

In 2010, the Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, who helped bring fascist war criminals to trial, wrote: “Nowhere in the world has a government gone to such lengths to obscure their role in the Holocaust [as in Lithuania].” State institutions were dragging their feet in seeking justice against alleged Nazi collaborators while running after any evidence that Jewish resistance fighters collaborated with the Soviets.

But when it comes to the history of the ghetto fighters, a transition in thinking is underway. Fania Brancovskaja was one of those ghetto survivors called to give a testimony to a prosecutor when allegations resurfaced of her guerilla group’s participation in a massacre against civilians. She was portrayed in Lithuanian media as a Soviet collaborator and a Jew—but not as a ghetto survivor and a Lithuanian. But then, in 2017, she received a presidential award, and in 2018, the Delfi news website invited her as a honored guest to speak about Holocaust memory.

The country has begun celebrating—and marketing—Jewish heritage in cities and towns. Mainstream politicians and media now talk about a collective mourning for Lithuania’s lost residents.

World War II decimated the majority of the enormous Lithuanian Jewish community, which numbered more than 150,000 before the war, and dispersed most of the few survivors. In the official narrative, and personal stories passed on within families, Lithuanians were victims, and collaborators were outliers. As Robert van Voren wrote in his book Undigested Past: The Holocaust in Lithuania, postwar deaths and suffering were deeply imprinted in Lithuanian collective memory and overshadowed the years under the Nazis. After Lithuania regained independence, and struggled to have the story of its suffering accepted in the West, many in Lithuania considered it unfair that President Algirdas Brazauskas apologized for Lithuanian participation in the Holocaust in a speech to the Israeli parliament in 1995. Lithuanian Jews in Israel felt this was too little, too late. But that relationship with historical justice has begun to change.

Now, high-ranking politicians now tweet greetings on Jewish holidays, mark Holocaust-related commemorative days, and no longer feel compelled to mention in the same breath that the Lithuanian nation suffered, too. And a new consensus against challenging each other’s national narratives is becoming an integral part of Israeli-Lithuanian relations.

The shift began in earnest in 2016. One milestone was a memorial march to commemorate Holocaust victims in August 2016 in Moletai, a town about an hour’s drive north of Vilnius. After a public call by the well-known playwright and director Marius Ivaskevicius, the march gathered more than 1,000 attendees and drew prominent dignitaries.

That August in Moletai, then-President Dalia Grybauskaite laid a stone on the mass murder site, flanked by the then-Israeli ambassador to Lithuania and representatives of the Jewish community. The president had participated in commemorative events at the presidential palace in Vilnius, at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, and at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, but the event in Moletai stood out. She, along with other high-ranking politicians, traveled to a remote region to send a signal that Holocaust memory would from that day forth be part of the mainstream ritual in a country dotted with numerous mass murder sites. A month later, a procession to commemorate the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto in Paneriai again drew crowds.

To be sure, far-right groups can still be heard chanting “Lithuania for Lithuanians” at Independence Day parades (including the one in 2019). And in July, the removal of a plaque and the changing of a street name dedicated to people suspected of aiding the Nazis drew crowds of protesters. But while Lithuanian nationalists were heard chanting “Juden raus”—Jews out—in 2008 (and six individuals were convicted of incitement to hatred a year later), the extreme fringes of the nationalist movement seem to have since refocused their ire on the LGBTQ community and Muslim refugees.

Anti-Semitism in Ukraine is far from vanquished. Violeta Davoliute, who researches Holocaust memory at Vilnius University, has observed that though the taboos around Jewish history in Central and Eastern Europe are falling, historical research remains highly politicized. “Everything is so politicized and confrontational that … it is difficult to conduct neutral research,” she said. Notably, there remain certain red lines as to how far the Lithuanian establishment—and a large part of the society—is willing to go in challenging the official narrative. “We suffered, our Jews suffered, too. They, the Germans and the USSR, were the perpetrators,” Davoliute said, in summary of the establishment perspective.

Israel became generally more popular in Lithuania after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. Lithuania saw that hand-wringing from NATO, Western powers, and the European Parliament was not enough to stop Russia’s increasingly aggressive stance in the region. In response to a newly muscular Russia, Lithuania doubled its military spending between 2013 and 2016 and reintroduced conscription. Speaking at Vytautas Magnus University in May 2015, Darius Degutis, the former Lithuanian ambassador to Israel, praised Israeli conscription for instilling patriotism, which, he maintained, penetrated other areas of Israeli life, from employment to dating. As Lithuania’s presidential elections approached in May 2019, LRT, the public broadcaster, asked candidates to say where they stood on the idea of conscripting women—and pundits referred, in positive terms, to Israel in analyzing their responses.

This year, Skvernelis volunteered to proclaim Lithuania “Israel’s voice in the EU, which can elaborate on Israel’s position.” He also decided not to meet representatives of the Palestinian Authority (PA) during his official visit to Israel. Although Lithuania continues providing development aid to the PA—its focus shifted from democracy to entrepreneurship—it appears to increasingly consider the latter a diplomatic liability. In 2011, Lithuania voted against the Palestinian UNESCO membership.

Lithuania buys Israeli weapons. It also buys into Israel’s right to self-defense narrative. Lithuania’s foreign minister tends to reaffirm that right on Twitter every time he hears about a fresh outbreak of violence against Israelis. In so doing, he is reaffirming Lithuania’s right to the same. In exchange, Israeli officials seem to be willing to accept Lithuania’s flawed emergent efforts at Holocaust reemergence.

For Eastern European populists, Israel today is an “old dream realized,” the political scientist and populism expert Ivan Krastev wrote in the run-up to the Israeli elections last spring. In other words, an Israel that is militaristic and unabashedly ethnocentric feels like a comfortable model for Lithuanian and Eastern European leaders.

In the summer of 2018, Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Lithuania, and when he did, he explicitly tied the new historical approach to the countries’ newly robust relationship. “I believe that by coming to terms with the past, striving to combat anti-Semitism, as the Lithuanian government is doing, telling the new generations the truth about the historic tragedy so that such cases could be avoided in the future, through this we can create strong bilateral relations,” he told reporters. “Once again, just like with technologies, with progress, equally in this—we can do more together.”

Critics say Lithuania has not done nearly enough—and Israel is letting it off the hook as a matter of political convenience. Many Lithuanians remain unwilling to recast their war heroes as Holocaust perpetrators. But some changes, however shaky, are certainly underway.

Daiva Repeckaite is a Lithuanian journalist currently based in Malta. Twitter: @daiva_hadiva


Lithuanian History Highlights: the Lithuanian Women in Legend and History

No one has contributed more to the preservation o f Lithuania’s national identity — and perhaps its very existence — than the Lithuanian woman.

Throughout all the turbulent times o f Lithuanian history the Lithuanian woman played an important role and often assumed heavy burdens and responsibilities for the preservation of the nation’s identity and even its very existence. The Lithuanian woman was glorified in legend and epic. As queen, princess, noblewoman, she distinguished herself in the Lithuania o f Kings and Grand Dukes. Centuries later, during the national renaissance, even as a simple farmer’s wife, she was seen asserting herself and helping to pave the way for the restoration of Lithuania’s independence. When independence came, with fresh energy she shouldered new duties and earned for herself new laurels in every field o f national life.

In our treatment of the Lithuanian woman, we have limited our choice to representative women from antiquity to the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1918. To avoid confusion in the mind of the reader unacquainted with the intricacies of the Lithuanian language, women’s surnames in nearly all instances are written in the masculine form.

IN LEGEND AND EARLY HISTORY

Since time immemorial, Lithuanians have had their V ideal of womanhood. Their symbolic and animisj tic mythology embodied the feminine ideal in a sylvan or water sprite, which they called laume, a being that is akin to the good fairies of Western European folklore. This spirit-maid, surviving to this day in hundreds of folk tales, was a symbolic personification of the ideal Lithuanian woman: tall, flaxen-haired, blue-eyed,buxom maiden, with calm and melodious voice a compassionate nurse and industrious maternal guardian of the aged and the children.

Legends—folk creations of a bygone humanistic or romantic era—have given us many types of women. Some of these legendary women are sublimated examples of heroic Lithuanian maidens. Such, for instance, was Pajauta, the chaste daughter of the chief druid Lizdeika. Folk tradition has it, that rather than marry a foreign non-believer and thereby betray the old pagan religion, she sacrificed herself to the wolves.

A second Pajauta was the beautiful daughter of Duke Kernius. She led an exemplary life as spouse and mother and was respected by her subjects. When she died, her son Kukovietis erected a wooden monument in her memory on the shore of Lake Žasliai. In time, this wooden monument rotted and fell away, but in its place emerged a miraculous linden tree.

Loyalty was another feminine virtue extolled in historical legends.

The Lithuanian woman of earlier times liked to adorn herself, as these silver and amber ornaments from the 13th century testify.

Gražina, the wife of Liutaveras, Duke of Naugardukas, learned that her husband was plotting with the Teutonic Knights against his liege lord Vytautas. Donning her husband’s armor, Gražina led the forces of Naugardukas against the invading Teutonic Knights. Though the Knights were soundly defeated, Gražina fell in battle, preserving the honor of her household.

Another princess of Naugardukas was Živile, whose father would not permit her to marry her lover of lower rank. The lover, however, was determined to free her from her father’s clutches and with a band of Ruthenians forced his way into the castle. But Zivile’s loyalty to her father and his people was stroger than her love for the swain. She stabbed her would-be rescuer and ralied the men-at-arms of the castle to rout of enemy, Zivile stabbed herself to death, to atone for the strife she had caused.

IN THE LAND OF KINGS AND PRINCES

The first Lithuanian woman known in history is Queen Morta (Martha), wife of King Mindaugas, creator of the Lithuanian State. The stature of this renowned couple assumes monumental proportions in Lithuanian history of the thirteenth century. It was Mindaugas and Morta who accepted Christianity for the Lithuanian nation in 1251. Two years later Morta was crowned queen. An energetic and ambitious woman, she not only performed her family duties with dignity, receiving foreign envoys in the regal castles, but she also participated in the political activities of her husband, who spun intrigues against the Teutonic Knights, an aggressive crusading order recently established on the Baltic shores and scheming to plunder Lithuania. Queen Morta was Mindaugas’ adviser and assistant. Friends and strangers alike had to reckon with her. She died earlier than Mindaugas, the exact date being unknown.

In this painting by adolfas Valeska, which is in Chicago’s Holy Cross church, Morta is seen standing next to her husband Mindaugas as he being baptized into the Christian faith.

In the next century another woman enters the spotlight of Lithuanian history. She is Aldona, the daughter of the ruler, King Gediminas. Because of reasons of state, namely, Lithuania’s need to effect an alliance against the growing threat of the Teutonic O rder, Aldona was married to Wladislaw Lokietka’s son Casimir, who was later known as King Casimir the Great. For her dowry she asked her father for the return of 25,000 Polish prisoners of war to Poland—a country whose queen she was about to become. Amid universal acclaim and blessings, Aldona journeyed from Vilnius to Cracow, Poland’s capital. Unfortunately, she did not fare well in her new country. Her husband proved unfaithful. The queen sought solace in charitable work and music. She died a young woman, leaving two daughters, who later married into the Luxembourg and Habsburg families of the Holy Roman Empire. Aldona’s granddaughter became the wife of Emperor Charles IV.

The fate of Birute was different. To this day she is surrounded by emotional legends and a veil of poetry. This daughter of a Samogitian Duke from the Palanga seacoast became the wife of King Kestutis and the mother of the genius Vytautas the Great. Birute came to be regarded as guardian of the Lithuanian national hearth and symbol of dedicated Lithuanian motherhood. A mound held to be her burial site is still kept in high esteem after more than six hundred years.

Birute’s son, Vytautas, had an illustrious spouse, Ona, sister of Lord Sudimantas.

The legendary meeting of Birutė and Kęstutis is fancifully portrayed by children’s book illustrator Povilas Osmolskis.

The personality of Ona (Anna) is characteristic of the typical Lithuanian woman. A mother— but not merely a mother, she was a boon companion of her husband. She was never satisfied with only the maintenance of the household. Her interests were wide. She was a public figure and a politically-minded woman. (The women in Lithuania had been enjoying full freedom and taking part in public activities since olden times.) Ona loved honors, but she also knew how to make sacrifices. She did not avoid obstacles, but overcame them. During the political chaos in Lithuania toward the end of the fourteenth century, when her husband was thrown into prison by his wily cousin Jogaila, she assumed responsibility and devised a way for his escape by exchanging her clothes with him, letting him walk out in disguise while she remained in prison.

Free once more, Vytautas forced his cousin to recognize him as Grand Duke of Lithuania.

Under Vytautas Lithuania became one of the most powerful states of Europe. After Jogaila was crowned King of Poland, Vytautas became a virtual sovereign of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy. Ona was his co-worker. She signed writs of warranty which her husband would fulfill, received emissaries of the Teutonic Knights, went to their capital Marienburg as a hostage to advance her husband’s political cause. She stood firmly at his side when war broke out with the Teutonic Order of Prussia and Vytautas with Jogaila dealt the Teutonic Knights a mortal blow in the battle of Žalgiris (Tannenberg) in 1410. Ona died in 1418, without seeing the day the Holy Roman Emperor granted her husband a royal crown. In the chronicles of the Teutonic Knights Ona is described as “The most elegant woman in Europe.”

Vytautas’ daughter Sofia is shown with husband Vasily, Grand Duke of Moscovia, in
an old woodcut.

The only daughter of Vytautas and Ona was Sofia, an energetic and strong-willed woman, who married the Grand Duke of Moscow. Though living in an alien environment where women were traditionally kept in the terema, the Muscovite equivalent of the oriental harem, Sofia did not accept this strange custom. She was not a slave to her husband, but actively engaged in the politics of the Kremlin. After her husband died she doggedly fought for her son’s rights to the throne. While her father Vytautas was alive, she felt secure, seeking his protection over her family. After his death she continued her firm rule in the Kremlin, although she was driven from the throne and even imprisoned.

She ultimately regained the throne for her son, chose a wife for him, and defended Moscow against the inroads of the Tartars. When Jogaila became the king of Poland, ushering in the renowned Jagelonian Dynasty, his sister Aleksandra exercised great influence in Polish politics. Aleksandra had married the Duke of Mazovia. She went down in posterity as cofounder, with Jogaila, of the University of Cracow. Her capable daughter was to be the mother of the Habsburg Emperor, Frederick IV. The fourth wife of Jogaila was a Lithuanian, Sofia, Duchess of Alšenai. She was the first queen of Poland to see to it that her subjects had the Holy Scriptures in their native language. She played a prominent role in having her offspring chosen as rulers of Poland and Lithuania.

From the fourteenth to the middle of the sixteenth century, a heated conflict between the Lithuanians and the Poles raged over the political union of the two states. The Lithuanians sought to break the ties with the Poles, while the latter wanted a closer union. These strained relations can be seen in the fate of Duchess Barbora Radvila, whose brother and cousin were high dignitaries of Lithuania.

Vytautas’ wife Ona, as painted by Kazys Šimonis.

Duchess Barbora was a ravishing beauty and a true child of the epoch of humanism and the Renaissance. Her love affair with Lithuania’s Grand Duke Žygimantas (Sigismund August) led to a stormy episode in Polish-Lithuanian history. The ruler’s mother and the Polish nobles were opposed to the marriage of the heir to the Polish throne to the daughter of Lithuania’s most influential family. “I would rather see in Cracow the Turkish Sultan than see her as queen of Poland,” said many a Polish magnate. Conventions and parliamentary assemblies discussed the question of the ruler’s wedding. After days of waiting, fear, and insults, the young couple married in secret. Finally, the vacillating Sigismund August became king of Poland and had Barbora crowned queen. But their joy was short-lived. Weakened by a long illness (it is said that the dowager queen Bona poisoned her), Queen Barbora died, a victim of the quarrels between the Lithuanian and Polish nobility.

Among the leading lights of the Renaissance period in Lithuania is the personality of Sofia Vnucka Morkus, a wealthy estate owner and an advocate of Calvinism and secular education. Her contemporary was Sofia Chodkevicius (Katkus), who exerted an influence on the illustrious hetman (military marshal) Jonas Karolis Chodkevicius (Katkus). She was an independent woman, who managed vast estates and built churches and monasteries. One of the most educated and influential women of the eighteenth century in Lithuania was Zabiela-Kosakauskas. The list could be expanded indefinitely.

DURING THE ECLIPSE OF LITHUANIAN LIBERTY

From 1795 to 1918 was a long and difficult period that followed Imperial Russia’s annexation of Lithuania. During those years the Lithuanians repeatedly rose against the czarist despotism, women joining their men folk in the struggle to restore the nation’s freedom and independence. In the 1831 rebellion, Countess Emilija Plateris, a patriotic Samogitian girl, distinguished herself as a guerilla colonel and died from wounds received in combat. Two other Samogitian noblewomen, Marija Asanavicius and Antuane t e Tamašauskas, who gained recognition for their great courage on the battlefield, were fortunate to survive, but were obliged to leave the country and, fearing Russian persecution, did not return.

Queen and Grand Duchess Barbora.

In the same 1831 uprising Princess Kunigunda Oginskis achieved distinction for her heroic devotion as a nurse to the wounded rebels. With her husband, General Gabrielius Oginskis, who had led the Lithuanian units during Napoleon’s march on Moscow in 1812 and who was now Vice-President of Lithuania’s temporary government, she shared the trials and dangers of underground warfare. After the suppression of the revolt, she and her husband emigrated to France. Later, with the Czar’s permission, they returned to Lithuania. It was her fate, however, to experience the tragic loss of her husband, who was seized and tortured by the Russians and died in a Vilnius prison.
The rebellion was suppressed with great bloodshed. The old University of Vilnius, a fountainhead of national thought and aspirations, was closed. Men and women who participated in the rebellion were deported to Siberia. Some succeeded in escaping to the West.

In the 1863 revolt, the sisters of Liudvikas Narbutas, one of the leaders of the revolt— Teodora Monciunskas and Emilija Jucevicius—stand out as women rebels. Teodora supported her brother’s unit as an active liaison runner. Emilija sheltered the units of Ostroga and Lenkevicius. Kazimiera Žebrauskas helped the units of Saurimavicius and Olšauskas in Ukmerge and Panevežys counties. Karolina Gouvaltis residing in Vilnius helped volunteers, hid and clothed rebels.

Women also gave food, shelter, and other aid to the families of men who joined the revolt. Many women were subjected to punishment because their men were in rebel ranks. Without doubt, Dominika Dalevskis, a widow in Vilnius, suffered the most. Her son Titas was executed in Vilnius. Another son, Pranciškus, received a twentyyear hard labor sentence. Konstantinas migrated to France. Aleksandras, returning from Siberia, died in Vilnius before the revolt. Mrs. Dalevskis and her six daughters were deported to the depths of Russia. Banishing her to Ufa province, Governor General Muraviev declared: “Let this mother, who has nurtured so many mutineers, settle near the road to the penal camps. Let her observe her sons, relatives and friends being driven along this road in chains.” On this road Mrs. Dalevskis saw Pranciškus being taken to Siberian exile. The son, as told by Apolonija Sierakauskas— another woman in exile who witnessed the meeting—fell at his mother’s feet, while she only pressed his head to her breast, without a sob or a tear.

Countess Emilija Plateris

Russian gendarmes sent hundreds of rebels to the gallows, Thousands were deported to desolate wastelands of Russia. All Lithuanian schools were closed. Obscurantism clouded the horizon. In 1864 the Lithuanian language was banned in all public offices, and the use of Latin characters in Lithuanian publications was prohibited.

The reactionary czarist regime in Lithuania began a policy against the Catholic Church. This was coupled with Russification and colonization of sequestrated lands by Russian settlers. Dark days had indeed descended upon Lithuania.

During the struggle against Russia, Lithuania lost many of her notables and intellectuals. The only positive development was the abolition of serfdom in 1861, which permitted the sending of peasant children to school. As a consequence, a generation of intellectuals of peasant background sprang up, which took up the struggle for the peasantry and for the nation as a whole. They were, without doubt, the prototypes of the Lithuanian youth a century later that rose up to wage open and guerilla warfare against the overwhelming forces of the Russian Soviets, who had occupied their country and had deported countless thousands of their relatives and neighbors to the barren reaches of Siberia.

In the struggle with the czarist government, women were active participants—not as wives of kings and dukes, but as peasant women. During and after the period of serfdom it was the Lithuanian peasant women who did so much to preserve their ancient language. Seated at her spinning wheel, the Lithuanian mother taught her children to read in the native language. She told them stories and legends about the country’s great past when the land was free and powerful. These legends survived, being passed on from generation to generation. The Lithuanian woman knew that she would be punished for this, but her love of her country was stronger than her fear of punishment.

A Lithuanian peasant woman washing linen in a brook. (Turn of the century photograph.)

The Lithuanian woman was brave. When the Russian authorities ordered the church at Kražiai in 1893 shut down to prevent the people from praying in Lithuanian, the women would not abandon this sanctuary. Thereupon the Russian gendarmes broke in among the worshipers and hacked them with their swords. But the Lithuanian woman bravely and patiently bore her suffering. It was her way of protesting against the regime for forbidding the worship of God in her own language.

The political maturity of the woman runs like an unbroken thread throughout Lithuanian history. Women were among the devoted book smugglers who clandestinely brought into the country Lithuanian books and newspapers, printed in East Prussia and the United States, and distributed them among the common folk hungry for the forbidden Lithuanian word. For their patriotic work many of these book carriers were arrested and banished to Siberia. Among the most prominent women who directed book smuggling from Tilže (East Prussia) was Morta Zaunius, who later helped to organize the Lithuanian exhibit at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1901.

In 1883 the fledgling Lithuanian newspaper Aušra formulated the national aspirations, demanding reestablishment of the Lithuanian press and the opening of more schools. By 1889 another Lithuanian newspaper, Varpas, was asking for acknowledgment of national rights, land reform, civil rights for all, and ultimately national independence.

After years of constant struggle, the Lithuanian press was finally restored in 1904.

The 1905 revolution in Czarist Russia had repercussions in Lithuania. Uprisings broke out all over the country, and regional functionaries of Russia were swept aside in the rural areas. On September 22-23, 1905, the Alliance of Women of Lithuania was formed. The goal of the country’s first women’s organization was the restoration of the Lithuanian State and securing of women’s rights. (Russian law accorded very limited rights to women, especially in the field of inheritance).

That same year a Lithuanian Conference was called in Vilnius. It was attended by two thousand delegates. Women actively participated in the work of this conference. Its resolutions demanding human and political rights for Lithuania later circulated throughout the country. Gabriele Petkevicius, Felicija Bortkevicius, Ona Šapkauskas, Katre Jane lis, and Ona B raza us kas were among the vocal women at the conference.

This sculpture by Petras Rimša, showing a mother at a spinning wheel teaching her child to read during the “Press Ban” in 19th century Lithuania, personifies the indomitable spirit of the Lithuanian woman.

At the end of 1905 a meeting of peasant women took place at Lotove- nai, in Šiauliai County. The women declared that they must have equal rights with men. Being subject to the same taxes, they argued, their rights should also be the same. They also demanded Lithuanian language schools, protested against unrestricted sale of liquor, and came out in favor of a strong, nationwide women’s society.

Growing czarist reaction, however, ruined their hopes. The reprisals were similar to those that took place after the 1831 and the 1863 revolts. Again many Lithuanian patriots were banished to Siberia, while others managed to escape to western Europe and America. Among the emigrants to America were young men fleeing from service in the Czar’s army. Lithuanian women sent their sons abroad that they may escape doing military duty in the Caucasus, Turkestan, and Far Siberia.

In 1907 the first Women’s Conference took place in Kaunas. Because of possible political reaction, the women had to formulate their demands carefully. The conference, with Gabriele Petkevicius as chairman and Ona Pleiris-Puida as secretary, saw a need for a general women’s organization. The meeting raised the question of women’s rights, suggested that women also organize by profession, concern themselves with education, and protest against the government’s open sale of liquor.

In 1908 two women’s organizations were founded—the Lithuanian Catholic Women’s Society in Kaunas and the Lithuanian Women’s Association in Vilnius.

Prior to the First World War, the national political work of women was clandestine. Women often engaged in underground party activities. They peasant women took place at Lotove- nai, in Šiauliai County. The women declared that they must have equal rights with men. Being subject to the same taxes, they argued, their rights should also be the same. They also demanded Lithuanian language schools, protested against unrestricted sale of liquor, and came out in favor of a strong, nationwide women’s society. Growing czarist reaction, however, ruined their hopes. The reprisals were similar to those that took place after the 1831 and the 1863 revolts. Again many Lithuanian patriots were banThe goal of the country’s first women’s organization was the restoration of the Lithuanian State and securing of women’s rights. ished to Siberia, while others managed to escape to western Europe and America. Among the emigrants to America were young men fleeing from service in the Czar’s army. Lithuanian women sent their sons abroad that they may escape doing military duty in the Caucasus, Turkestan, and Far Siberia. In 1907 the first Women’s Conference took place in Kaunas. Because of possible political reaction, the women had to formulate their demands carefully. The conference, with Gabriele Petkevicius as chairman and Ona Pleiris-Puida as secretary, saw a need for a general women’s organization. The meeting raised the question of women’s rights, suggested that women also organize by profession, concern themselves with education, and protest against the government’s open sale of liquor. In 1908 two women’s organizations were founded—the Lithuanian Catholic Women’s Society in Kaunas and the Lithuanian Women’s Association in Vilnius. Prior to the First World War, the national political work of women was clandestine. Women often engaged in underground party activities. They Year o f the Lith u a n ia n Bo o k helped liberate political prisoners and arranged their escape abroad. They edited clandestine and public newspapers and wrote articles on women’s rights. They were often under police surveillance.

When the Kaiser’s armies occupied Lithuania in 1915 and the retreating Russians transported part of the population to Russia Proper, Lithuanian women faced adversity with patience and fortitude. With the fall of the Russian colossus during the March 1917 revolution, Lithuanian women in Russia organized in groups, in order to speed up their return to their homeland. In Moscow they formed the Lithuanian Women’s Freedom Union, with Ona Mašiotas as its suffragette-type chairman.

During the Lithuanian Conference in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) in May of 1917, the women participants—among them: Felicia Bortkevicius, Liuda Purenas, Birute Grigaitis, and Emilija Spudas-Gvildys —insisted that the assembly extend equal rights to women, and their demand was accepted in resolution form. During the German occupation, the Vilnius-based Committee to Aid War Victims was for a long time the only official Lithuanian institution. Two of its more active members were Emilija Vileišis and Sofia Smetona.

On February 16, 1918, Lithuania declared her independence. Even before the impending collapse of Imperial Germany, many refugees had started on their return journey from Russia. The Lithuanian women were going back to rebuild their homeland.

Jadvyga Chodakauskas was among the first women to be sent abroad. In 1918 she headed the Lithuanian Information Center in Bern, Switzerland. For a while she was the representative of Lithuania in Switzerland. In 1919 she went to Paris with the Lithuanian Peace Delegation as the Director of the Lithuanian Information Center.

• This article was adapted from The Lithuanian Woman, edited by Birute Novickis and published by the Federation of Lithuanian Women’s Clubs, Brooklyn, 1968


LRT FACTS. Are Lithuanian cities 'deadliest' in Europe and is drinking to blame?

Fox News ranked Kaunas, VIlnius and Klaipėda as the top three “deadliest” European cities, basing their claim on a UN study from 2019.

Once the story was picked up by all major news outlets in Lithuania, social media exploded with comments, the police held a press conference disputing the “deadliest” label, and government representatives claimed to have contacted Fox News for clarification.

Did Fox truthfully present the figures from the UN Global Study on Homicide, and does Lithuania indeed have the “deadliest” cities in Europe? And why did the deputy police commissioner say it’s enough for Lithuanians to “drink less” for the problem to be solved?

Safe streets, dangerous homes

The Lithuanian police hosted a dedicated conference to present its own statistics – they said most homicides in Lithuania are domestic, therefore Lithuanian cities cannot be seen as dangerous.

The police representatives also said the UN data of the number of homicides per 100,000 people wasn’t up to date.

“The difference is that the domestic crimes, in essence, do not cause danger to the society, to other residents,” the head of communications at the Lithuanian police, Ramūnas Matonis, told LRT FACTS.

“Two people drink, get drunk, get into a fight, use a knife or something, and that’s it. Of course, every murder is a tragedy, but it’s not right to scare people that Lithuanian cities are unsafe,” he added.

The publication by Fox News was disingenuous, said the police.

Researcher Maryja Šupa from the Criminology Department of Vilnius University (VU) said most crimes in Lithuania are committed in domestic environment.

“It’s important to note that no single figure – like the number of murders per 100,000 people – can tell if a city is safe,” she told LRT FACTS, adding it was necessary to look at contextual factors.

Seventy percent of homicides in Lithuania happen in the homes of the victims or the accused, according to an investigation by VU researchers. A completely unrelated person is the victim of murder only in 20 percent of cases.

“Although the number of murders [in Lithuania] is relatively high in comparison with other EU states, only a minority of the murders happen in public spaces,” said Šupa, adding it would be “completely wrong” to say that a random person faces any real risk of being attacked and killed on the streets.

The safety of a city depends on various factors, she said, including “subjective safety – how secure people feel regardless of criminal statistics.”

Therefore, the Fox News “dealiest cities” headline “says very little about the cities themselves,” as it avoids saying “who exactly, why and under what circumstances has died,” said Šupa.

And although Lithuania has the highest number of homicides in the EU, “the statistics are more than 10 times higher in North and South America,” where crime is often linked with drug trade and organised crime, she said.

Lithuania's culture of violence and social exclusion

During the police press conference on February 6, Deputy Police Commissioner Edvardas Šileris said Lithuanians “should drink less” when asked what could help solve the problem of murders.

According to the VU criminologist Šupa, murders committed at home “do not pose a direct threat to the public,” but are "often connected with alcohol [abuse], as 70 percent of murders were committed under the influence of alcohol".

This shows "a culture of violence [that is] a problem common in the whole post-Soviet [sphere]”.

“In countries where alcohol is used in public – in cafes, bars, other spaces – there is more social control, more safeguards, other people that can notice a conflict situation and intervene before something happens.”

Meanwhile, closing oneself up in domestic environments is common in post-Soviet countries, she said.

Crime often results from social exclusion, many of the accused tend to have only school-level education, some have committed other crimes before, and at least 40 percent have previously been imprisoned, added Šupa.

“And it’s again a question for us, the society – is there really no direct danger to people in the streets, does it mean that everything is alright?”

Official but inconsistent data

In a Facebook post, political scientists Mažvydas Jastramskis has criticised the ranking of cities based on statistics from a single year. He said he made several calculations himself which, depending on criteria, completely change the “deadliest” list.

“One of the statistics’ [. ] principles is that you cannot take one measure and present it as if it reflects the entirety,” he wrote.

Jastramskis proceeded to use the UN database to take data from 2011 through 2016, which showed statistics from cities in “almost all European nations, except Kyiv and Dublin”.

The information surprised Jastamskis.

“For example, the deadliest European city isn’t Moscow or Kaunas, but Cahul” in Moldova, he wrote.

When he adjusted the filter to include cities with at least two data entries, the top 10 he got were “Bijelo Polje (Montenegro), Kasnodar (Russia), Prešov (Slovakia), Klaipėda, Kaunas, Vilnius (Lithuania), Moscow (Russia), Riga (Latvia), Liepāja (Latvija), Schaan (Lichtenstein),” according to Jastamskis.

When measuring statistics per 100,000 people, all it takes is for one small town to have a single murder for the statistics to inflate, he wrote.

“This happened with Schaan in Liechtenstein, where one banker was killed in 2014. For a town of 6,000 people this meant 16.9 murders per 100,000 people.”

Comments on social media also pointed to the fact that the quoted statistics are from 2016 and are therefore outdated.

According to Statistics Lithuania, the number of murders in the country have been steadily decreasing for a long time.

The UN report does not rank cities, but profile different countries based on regional and year-frame filters.

“The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime seeks to shed light on different phenomena, from lethal gang violence and the role of firearms to links with inequalities and gender-related killings, and in this way support targeted action,” Yury Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, is quoted in the report.

“I hope that the research and analysis contained in the study are used in this spirit – not to designate “murder capitals” but to learn, understand and strengthen prevention.”

The report did not analyse statistics of different cities, which can only be found in a separate UN database.

Fox News ended up using the statistics differently than intended by the UN and presented them as a rating of “deadliest” cities, contrary to what the report aimed to do.

Verdict: manipulation / sensational headline

Although Lithuania definitely stands out among EU member states with a high number of murders, it isn’t accurate to say that the country’s cities are unsafe or “deadly”, as Fox News claimed. Based on Lithuania’s crime statistics, most murders happen in domestic environments and not in the pubic. Critics said it was wrong to analyse the UN data in the way Fox News did, basing the story on a single criterion of murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Experts, however, said that although the data was inconsistent, it still showed problems arising from social exclusion.


Lithuania News - History

Lithuanian Jewish leaders on Tuesday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "falsifying" history after he defended the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states during World War II.

While paying tribute to those who perished fighting the Nazis, the Jewish community dismissed Putin's attempt to play down Soviet crimes in Lithuania and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia.

"We, the descendants of the Jews of Lithuania, oppose this falsification of the history of the enslavement of our independent Lithuania," community leader Faina Kukliansky and lawmaker Emanuelis Zingeris said.

They issued a joint statement in response to Putin's article in US magazine The National Interest earlier this month in which he described the Baltic states' annexation as "incorporation".

"Their accession to the USSR was implemented on a contractual basis, with the consent of the elected authorities," Putin wrote, saying it was in "line with international and state law of that time".

Putin has repeatedly accused the West of playing down the Soviet contribution to the Nazi defeat -- an estimated 27 million Soviet troops and civilians were killed in World War II.

But for many in the Baltic states, which were independent states after World War I, the Soviet takeover marked the start of decades of often brutal Soviet occupation rather than liberation.

"Lithuanian Jews who had a guarantee of ethnic continuity in independent Lithuania became the ethnic group most persecuted by the Soviet occupiers," Jewish leaders said.

"The majority of Lithuania's Jews didn't want a Soviet government. The massive fight later by the Soviet Union and its satellites against Zionism became the hallmark of the entire period of Communist rule."

The Soviets invaded the Baltic states in 1940 under their infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Nazi Germany. A year later, in June, they deported some 43,000 Baltic citizens, including thousands of Jews.

That drive was cut short when Germany turned on its former allies the same month, pushing the Red Army out of the Baltic region as it invaded the Soviet Union.

In 1944-45, the Soviets put an end to the Nazi occupation -- during which almost all of the region's Jews were killed -- heralding the renewed deportations of hundreds of thousands and prompting an armed resistance that only ended in 1953.

Moscow refuses to recognize the Soviet takeover of the Baltic states as an occupation and it has never offered an apology or reparations.

It was only in March 1990 that Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence, before joining the European Union and NATO in 2004.


Lithuania

Lithuania is the southernmost of the Baltic states. During the Holocaust, the Germans murdered about 90 percent of Lithuanian Jews, one of the highest victim rates in Europe.

Key Facts

Lithuanians carried out violent riots against the Jews both shortly before and immediately after the arrival of German forces.

In June and July 1941, detachments of German Einsatzgrupen together with Lithuanian auxiliaries, began murdering the Jews of Lithuania.

By the end of August 1941, most Jews in rural Lithuania had been shot. By November 1941, the Germans had also massacred most of the Jews who had been concentrated in ghettos in the larger cities.

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Lithuania is the southernmost of the Baltic states.

The Jews of Lithuania had their own distinct and highly developed Jewish culture, including a special dialect of the Yiddish language. Lithuanian Jewry played a profound role in many Jewish ideologies, including the Jewish workers' movement, Zionism, and rational religious thought. Before World War II, the Lithuanian Jewish population was some 160,000, about 7 percent of the total population.

Lithuania was an independent country from the end of World War I until 1940. In March 1939, Nazi Germany delivered an ultimatum to Lithuania to cede the territory of Memel (Klaipeda), a region with an ethnic German majority, to the Reich. On March 21, the Lithuanian government agreed to the German terms. The following day the German and Lithuanian foreign ministers signed a treaty that returned the Memel territory back to Germany and included an non-aggression pact between the two parties. The Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in June 1940 and annexed the country in August 1940. By 1941, the Jewish population of Lithuania swelled by an influx of refugees from German-occupied Poland to reach about 250,000, or 10 percent of the population.

In June and July 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans occupied Lithuania. During the German occupation, Lithuania was incorporated into the Reich Commissariat Ostland (Reichskommissariat Ostland), a German civilian administration covering the Baltic states and western Belorussia.

The Lithuanians carried out violent riots against the Jews both shortly before and immediately after the arrival of German forces. In June and July 1941, detachments of German Einsatzgruppen together with Lithuanian auxiliaries, began murdering the Jews of Lithuania. By the end of August 1941, most Jews in rural Lithuania had been shot. By November 1941, the Germans also massacred most of the Jews who had been concentrated in ghettos in the larger cities. The surviving 40,000 Jews were concentrated in the Vilna, Kovno, Siauliai, and Svencionys ghettos, and in various labor camps in Lithuania. Living conditions were miserable, with severe food shortages, outbreaks of disease, and overcrowding

In 1943, the Germans destroyed the Vilna and Svencionys ghettos, and converted the Kovno and Siauliai ghettos into concentration camps. Some 15,000 Lithuanian Jews were deported to labor camps in Latvia and Estonia. About 5,000 Jews were deported to killing centers in German-occupied Poland, where they were murdered. Shortly before withdrawing from Lithuania in the fall of 1944, the Germans deported about 10,000 Jews from Kovno and Siauliai to concentration camps in Germany.

Soviet troops reoccupied Lithuania in the summer of 1944. In the previous three years, the Germans had murdered about 90 percent of Lithuanian Jews, one of the highest victim rates in Europe.


Lithuania marks 80th anniversary of Soviet mass deportations

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A man lays flowers on rusty railway tracks near old wagons at the Naujoji Vilnia railway station in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, June 14, 2021, as Lithuania marked the mass deportation 80 years ago by the Soviet Union that was occupying the Baltic nation. Deportation started on June 14, 1941, where some 280,000 people were deported to Siberian gulags, a year after Soviet troops had occupied Lithuania. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

VILNIUS – Flowers were laid on rusty railway tracks Monday as Lithuania marked the start of a mass deportation 80 years ago by the Soviet Union that was occupying the Baltic nation.

People who were considered opposed to Moscow or deemed counter-revolutionary elements were sent to Siberia from Lithuania and few returned. Others who owned land or houses were evicted and sent there too.

Some 280,000 people were eventually deported to the Siberian gulags, a year after Soviet troops had occupied Lithuania. Many of those sent away never returned from the long journey in the cattle wagons.

“Two evil forces — Nazi Germany and the Soviet Communist regime — had entered a secret agreement to divide Europe,” President Gitanas Nauseda said during a solemn ceremony in Vilnius, on a day considered one of the darkest pages in the Baltic nation’s recent history. These “regimes caused unspeakable pain and suffering.”

One of those attending the ceremony Monday was deported and spent almost 11 years in Siberia. Aurelija Staponkute and her family were deported only because they had a small farm that was seized.

“We do not know what the future might bring. Whatever happens, we must protect our freedom. After all, we fought for it so hard,” the 83-year-old said.

Only one-third of those deported ever returned, according to historians, and the mass deportation affected all walks of life in the Baltic nation, where it's considered a genocide by an occupying power.

The Soviet occupation of Lithuania lasted for five decades. After regaining its independence in 1991, Lithuania joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


Lithuania marks 80th anniversary of Soviet mass deportations

Lithuania Deportations Anniversary A man lays flowers on rusty railway tracks near old wagons at the Naujoji Vilnia railway station in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, June 14, 2021, as Lithuania marked the mass deportation 80 years ago by the Soviet Union that was occupying the Baltic nation. Deportation started on June 14, 1941, where some 280,000 people were deported to Siberian gulags, a year after Soviet troops had occupied Lithuania. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis) (Mindaugas Kulbis)

June 14, 2021 at 12:01 pm EDT

VILNIUS, Lithuania &mdash (AP) — Flowers were laid on rusty railway tracks Monday as Lithuania marked the start of a mass deportation 80 years ago by the Soviet Union that was occupying the Baltic nation.

People who were considered opposed to Moscow or deemed counter-revolutionary elements were sent to Siberia from Lithuania and few returned. Others who owned land or houses were evicted and sent there too.

Some 280,000 people were eventually deported to the Siberian gulags, a year after Soviet troops had occupied Lithuania. Many of those sent away never returned from the long journey in the cattle wagons.

“Two evil forces — Nazi Germany and the Soviet Communist regime — had entered a secret agreement to divide Europe,” President Gitanas Nauseda said during a solemn ceremony in Vilnius, on a day considered one of the darkest pages in the Baltic nation’s recent history. These “regimes caused unspeakable pain and suffering.”

One of those attending the ceremony Monday was deported and spent almost 11 years in Siberia. Aurelija Staponkute and her family were deported only because they had a small farm that was seized.

“We do not know what the future might bring. Whatever happens, we must protect our freedom. After all, we fought for it so hard,” the 83-year-old said.

Only one-third of those deported ever returned, according to historians, and the mass deportation affected all walks of life in the Baltic nation, where it's considered a genocide by an occupying power.

The Soviet occupation of Lithuania lasted for five decades. After regaining its independence in 1991, Lithuania joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

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