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Lithuania

Independent republic, formerly part of the USSR, on the Baltic Sea, S of Latvia, NW of Belarus, and W of Poland and Russian Kaliningrad. Settlement may have been made along the Neman River by the Liths, or Lithuanians, as early as 1500 b.c. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword, a German military and religious order founded in a.d. 1202 to conquer and convert the Baltic region to Christianity, overcame the Liths. The Brothers were defeated in 1236 at Siauliai. The Teutonic Knights, a similar order, was united with the Livonian Brothers from 1237 to 1525 and conquered Estonia, Latvia, and part of Lithuania in the most brutal campaigns of the Middle Ages, carrying out a deliberate policy of genocide and expropriation. Pressure from the knights caused the Liths to form a strong state in the 13th century. Two grand dukes, Gedimin (1316–41) and Olgerd (1345– 77) expand ed their territories. Some was taken from neighboring Russian principalities, which had suffered from Mongol invasion. Lithuania grew to be one of the largest states of medieval Europe, at its greatest extent reaching south as far as the Black sea. It included all of Belarus, much of the Ukraine, and some of Great Russia.

Lithuania and Poland were united when Olgerd’s son, Jagiello, became king of Poland as Ladislaus II in 1386 because of his marriage to a daughter of Louis I of Poland and Hungary. From 1392 to 1430, Witwot, a cousin of Ladislaus, governed Lithuania independently and moved it to its greatest power. In 1410 the Liths and Poles defeated the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg, now Stebark, Poland . After Witwot’s reign, Lithuania’s fortunes declined; and in 1569, when in danger from the Russians, the nation merged with Poland in the Union of Lublin. Lithuania further disappeared as a nation when the three partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795 put it under Russian control.

Anti-Russian uprisings during World War I ended when Russian collapse brought freedom. In February 1918 Lithuania became a kingdom under German protection and in November 1918 an independent republic. It successfully resisted attacks by Soviet troops and defeated German adventurers at Siauliai in November 1919, but Vilnius, the capital, was seized by Poland in 1920, though it was reoccupied in 1923. In that year Lithuania occupied the Memel Territory, a district formerly in East Prussia on the Baltic Sea and the northern bank of the Neman River.

Two dictators, Augustine Voldemaras and Antanas Smetona, ruled the country from 1929 to 1939. In 1939 Nazi Germany successfully demand ed the return of Memel, and with the coming of World War II Lithuania was occupied by the USSR in 1940. After Germany invaded the USSR, Lithuania was held by the Nazis from 1941 to 1944, and during this time its sizable Jewish population was mostly exterminated. At the end of the war Lithuania again became a Soviet socialist republic, with a restored Vilnius still the capital. After the Soviet conquest, many Lithuanians were moved to Siberia and other parts of Russia in order to stifle dissent.

In 1990, the Lithuanian parliament declared independence from the Soviet Union, and Vytautas Land sbergis became Lithuania’s president. The Soviet Union initially responded with an oil embargo and military actions, but after a referendum on independence passed in 1991, the Soviet Union recognized Lithuanian independence and started to withdraw its troops. In elections in 1992, the former Communist Party took control of the parliament from the nationalists, and in 1993, Algirdas Brazauskas was elected president. The last Russian troops were withdrawn, and Lithuania signed a free trade agreement with Estonia and Latvia. In 1998, American-born Valdas Adamkus was elected president. In 2002, Adamkus lost in a runoff election to Roland as Paksas. Paksas was removed from office in 2004 on corruption charges, and Adamkus was elected to a second term. Also in 2004, Lithuania joined NATO and was admitted to the European Union.


     

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