Republic of Central Lithuania

This article is about a former client state of Poland. For the geographical and historical region, see Vilnius Region.
Republic of Central Lithuania
Republika Litwy Środkowej (Polish)
Vidurio Lietuvos Respublika (Lithuanian)
Рэспубліка Сярэдняе Літвы (Belarusian)
Puppet state of the Second Polish Republic
Flag Coat of arms
Territory of the Republic of Central Lithuania (green).
Capital Vilna (Wilno, Vilnius)
Government Republic
President Lucjan Żeligowski
Historical era Interwar period
   Żeligowski's Mutiny October 12, 1920
   General election March 24, 1922
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic
Today part of  Lithuania

Coordinates: 54°30′N 25°45′E / 54.500°N 25.750°E / 54.500; 25.750

The Republic of Central Lithuania or Middle Lithuania (Polish: Republika Litwy Środkowej, Lithuanian: Vidurio Lietuvos Respublika, Belarusian: Рэспубліка Сярэдняе Літвы / Respublika Siaredniaje Litvy), or Central Lithuania (Polish: Litwa Środkowa, Lithuanian: Vidurio Lietuva or Vidurinė Lietuva, Belarusian: Сярэдняя Літва / Siaredniaja Litva), was a short-lived political entity, which did not gain international recognition. The republic was created in 1920 following the staged rebellion of soldiers of the 1st Lithuanian–Belarusian Infantry Division of the Polish Army under Lucjan Żeligowski, supported by the Polish air force, cavalry and artillery.[1] Centered on the historical capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Vilna (Lithuanian: Vilnius, Polish: Wilno), for eighteen months the entity served as a buffer state between Poland, upon which it depended, and Lithuania, which claimed the area.[2] After a variety of delays, a disputed election took place on January 8, 1922, and the territory was annexed to Poland.

The republic was regarded by some as a Poland-dependent puppet state. Initially the Polish government denied that it was responsible for the false flag action that created the entity, but Polish leader Józef Piłsudski subsequently acknowledged that he personally ordered Żeligowski to pretend that he was acting as a mutinous Polish officer.

The Polish-Lithuanian borders in the interwar period, while recognized by the Conference of Ambassadors of the Entente[3][4] and the League of Nations,[5] were not recognized by Kaunas-based Republic of Lithuania[6] until Polish ultimatum of 1938. In 1931 an international court in The Hague issued the statement that the Polish seizure of the city had been a violation of international law, but without any political aftermath.[5]

Most historians agree that the state relied on Polish support. Some historians refer to the Republic of Central Lithuania as a state without qualification,[7] while others characterize it with terms such as puppet state,[8][9] puppet Republic,[10] so-called state,[11] artificial creation,[12] or as a sham state.[13]


Ethnic and national background

Following the partitions of Poland, most of the lands that formerly constituted the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were annexed by the Russian Empire. The Imperial government increasingly pursued a policy of Russification of the newly acquired lands, which escalated after the failed January Uprising of 1864. The discrimination against local inhabitants included restrictions and outright bans on the usage of the Polish, Lithuanian (see Lithuanian press ban), Belarusian, and Ukrainian (see Valuyev circular) languages.[14][15] These measures, however, had limited effects on the Polonisation effort undertaken by the Polish patriotic leadership of the Vilnius educational district.[16][17] A similar effort was pursued during the 19th century Lithuanian National Revival, which sought to distance itself from both Polish and Russian influences.[18]

The ethnic composition of the area has long been disputed, since censuses from that time and place are often considered unreliable. According to the first census of the Russian Empire in 1897, the population of the Vilna Governorate was distributed as follows:[19][20]

The 1916 German census of the Vilnius Region, however, reported strikingly different numbers.[21]

Both censuses had encountered difficulties in the attempt to categorise their subjects. Ethnographers in the 1890s were often confronted with those who described themselves as both Lithuanians and Poles.[22] According to a German census analyst, "Objectively determining conditions of nationality comes up against the greatest difficulties."[23]

Aftermath of World War I


In the aftermath of the First World War, both Poland and Lithuania regained independence. The conflict between them soon arose as both Lithuania and Poland claimed Vilnius (known in Polish as Wilno) region. Demographically, Vilnius was divided near evenly between Poles and Jews, with ethnic Lithuanians constituting a smaller fraction of the total population (about 17–18% of the population, according to Russian 1897[19][20] and German 1916 censuses[21]). The Lithuanians nonetheless believed that their historical claim to the city (former capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) had precedence and refused to recognize any Polish claims to the city and the surrounding area.[24]

While Poland under Józef Piłsudski attempted to create a Polish-led federation in the area that would include a number of ethnically non-Polish territories (Międzymorze), Lithuania strove to create a fully independent state that would include the Vilnius region. Two early 20th-century censuses indicated that Lithuanian speakers were a minority in the region. Lithuanian authorities, however, argued that the majority of inhabitants living there, even if they did not speak Lithuanian and considered themselves Poles, were Polonized (or Russified) Lithuanians.[25]

Further complicating the situation, there were two Polish factions with quite different views on creation of the modern state in Poland. One party, led by Roman Dmowski, saw modern Poland as an ethnic state, another, led by Józef Piłsudski, wished to rebuild the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.[26] Both parties were determined to take the Poles of Vilnius into the new state. Piłsudski attempted to rebuild the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in a canton structure, as part of the Międzymorze federation:[26]

Eventually, Piłsudski's plan failed; it was opposed both by the Lithuanian government and by the Dmowski's faction in Poland. Stanisław Grabski, representative of Dmowski's fraction, was in charge of the Treaty of Riga negotiations with the Soviet Union, in which they rejected the Soviet offer of territories needed for the Minsk canton (Dmowski preferred Poland that would be smaller, but with higher percentage of ethnic Poles).[26] The inclusion of territories predominant with non-Poles would have weakened support for Dmowski.[26]

Polish-Lithuanian War

Map indicating the Polish population living in Central Lithuania, c. 1920.

At the end of World War I, the area of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania was divided between the Republic of Poland, the Belarusian National Republic, and the Republic of Lithuania. Following the start of the Polish-Soviet War, during the next two years, the control of Vilnius and its environs changed frequently. In 1919 the territory was briefly occupied by the Red Army, which defeated the local self-defense units, but shortly afterwards the Russians were pushed back by the Polish Army. 1920 saw the Vilnius region occupied by the Red Army for the second time. However, when the Red Army was defeated in the Battle of Warsaw, the Soviets made the decision to hand the city back over to Lithuania. The Polish-Lithuanian War erupted when Lithuania and Poland clashed over the Suvalkai Region on August 26, 1920. The League of Nations intervened and arranged negotiations in Suwałki. The League negotiated a cease-fire, signed on October 7, 1920, placing the city of Vilnius in Lithuania.[27] The Suwałki Agreement was to have taken effect at 12:00 on October 10, 1920.

However, on October 8, General Lucjan Żeligowski and the 1st Lithuanian-Belarusian Infantry Division, along with local Polish inhabitants launched a surprise attack on the weak Lithuanian forces in the area, and most of them retreated.[2] Poland disclaimed all responsibility for the action, maintaining that Żeligowski had acted entirely on his own initiative.[2] This version of the event was redefined in August 1923 when Piłsudski, speaking in public at a Vilnius theater, stated that the attack was undertaken by his direct order.[28] Rather than annexing the area to Poland, Żeligowski proclaimed a new state, the Republic of Central Lithuania.

The seat of Lithuanian government moved to Lithuania's second-largest city, Kaunas. Armed conflicts between Kaunas and Central Lithuania continued for a few weeks, but neither side could gain a significant advantage. Due to the mediation efforts of the League of Nations, a new ceasefire was signed on November 21 and a truce on November 27.[29]

Republic of Central Lithuania

On October 12, 1920, Żeligowski announced the creation of a provisional government. Soon the courts and the police were formed by his decree of January 7, 1921, and the civil rights of Central Lithuania were granted to all people who lived 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 Pahonia. Its coat of arms was a mixture of Polish, Lithuanian and Vilnian symbols and resembled the Coat of Arms of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Extensive diplomatic negotiations continued 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 the condition that the new state must be also federated with Poland, pursuing Józef Piłsudski's goal of creating the Międzymorze Federation. Lithuanians rejected this condition. With nationalistic sentiments rising all over Europe, many Lithuanians were afraid that such a federation, resembling the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from centuries ago, would be a threat to Lithuanian culture, as during the Commonwealth times many of the Lithuanian nobility Polonized themselves under the influence of Polish culture.

General elections in Central Lithuania were decreed to take place on January 9, 1921, and the regulations governing this election were to be issued prior to November 28, 1920. However, due to the League of Nations mediation, and the Lithuanian boycott of the voting, the elections were postponed.


Selected demarcation lines during the struggle for central Lithuania.

Peace talks were held under the auspice of the League of Nations. The initial agreement was signed by both sides on November 29, 1920, and the talks started on March 3, 1921. The League of Nations considered the Polish proposal of a plebiscite on the future of Central Lithuania. As a compromise, the so-called "Hymans' plan" was proposed (named after Paul Hymans). The plan consisted of 15 points, among them were:[30]

Celebration of the incorporation of Vilnius Region in Poland, 1922.

The talks came to a halt when Poland demanded that a delegation from Central Lithuania (boycotted by Lithuania) be invited to Brussels.[30] On the other hand, Lithuanians demanded that the troops in Central Lithuania be relocated behind the line drawn by the October 7, 1920 cease-fire agreement, while Hymans' proposal left Vilnius in Polish hands, which was unacceptable to Lithuania.[30]

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 Klaipėda Region (the area in East Prussia north of the Neman River) was to be incorporated into Lithuania in exchange for granting certain level of internal autonomy to the Central Lithuania. However, both Poland and Lithuania openly criticized this revised plan and finally this turn of talks came to a halt as well.


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 Lucjan Żeligowski decided to pass the power to the civil authorities and confirmed the date of the elections (January 8, 1922). There was a significant electioneering propaganda campaign as Poles tried to win the support of other ethnic groups present in the area. The Polish government was also accused of various strong-arm policies (like closing of Lithuanian newspapers[1] or election violations like not asking for a valid document from a voter).[32] The elections were boycotted by Lithuanians, most of the Jews and some Belarusians. Poles were the only major ethnic group out of which the majority of people voted.[33]

The elections were not recognized by Lithuania. Polish factions, which gained control over the parliament (Sejm) of the Republic, on February 20 passed the request of incorporation into Poland. The request was accepted by the Polish Sejm on March 22, 1922. All of the Republic's territory was eventually incorporated into the newly formed Wilno Voivodeship. Lithuania declined to accept the Polish authority over the area. Instead, it continued to treat the so-called Vilnius Region as part of its own territory and the city itself as its constitutional capital, with Kaunas being only a temporary seat of government. The dispute over the Vilnius region resulted in much tensions in the Polish-Lithuanian relations in the interwar period.


Some historians have argued that if Poland had not prevailed in the Polish-Soviet War, Lithuania would have been invaded by the Soviets, and would never have experienced two decades of independence.[34] Under this scenario, despite the Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of 1920, Lithuania was very close to being invaded by the Soviets in summer 1920 and being forcibly incorporated into that state, and only the Polish victory derailed this plan.[34]

After the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the Polish Defensive War of 1939, Lithuania was given Vilnius, and its surroundings up to 30 kilometers, on October 10, 1939. A part of the region was given to the Belarusian SSR. Vilnius very quickly became the capital of Lithuania again. But in 1940, Lithuania was swallowed up by the Soviet Union, forced to become the Lithuanian SSR. Since the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1991, the city's status as Lithuania's capital has been internationally recognized.

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 Čepėnas, Pranas (1986). Naujųjų laikų Lietuvos istorija, vol. II (in Lithuanian). Chicago: Dr. Griniaus fondas. ISBN 5-89957-012-1.
  2. 1 2 3 Rauch, Georg von (1974). "The Early Stages of Independence". In Gerald Onn. The Baltic States: Years of Independence – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, 1917–40. C. Hurst & Co. pp. 100–102. ISBN 0-903983-00-1.
  3. Phipps, Eric; Romano Avezzana, Raymond Poincaré, Maurycy Zamoyski, M. Matsuda (1923). Decision taken by the conference of ambassadors regarding the eastern frontiers of Poland (pdf). League of Nations. Retrieved 2008-03-11. Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  4. League of Nations, Treaty Series. 15. League of Nations. 1923. pp. 261–265.
  5. 1 2 Miniotaitė, Gražina (1999). "The Security Policy of Lithuania and the 'Integration Dilemma'" (pdf). NATO Academic Forum: 21. Retrieved 2008-03-14.
  6. The Vilna problem. London: Lithuanian Information Bureau. 1922. pp. 24–25.
  7. For example: Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999, p. 64; Jeffrey Shandler, Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland Before the Holocaust, p.xlvii; Adam Kantautas, Filomena Kantautas, A Lithuanian Bibliography: A Check-list of Books and Articles, p. 307; Lola Romanucci-Ross, Takeyuki Tsuda, Ethnic Identity: Problems And Prospects for the Twenty-first Century, p. 75
  8. Lerski, Jerzy J.; Piotr Wróbel; Richard J. Kozicki (1996). Historical Dictionary of Poland 966–1945. Greenwood Press. p. 309. ISBN 0-313-26007-9.
  9. Royal Institute of International Affairs. International Affairs.Vol.36, No. 3, 1960 p. 354
  10. Kolarz, Walter (1946). Myths and Realities in Eastern Europe. London: Lindsay Drummond. p. 109.
  11. Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America.The Polish Review.1956, p. 67
  12. Eidintas, Alfonsas; Vytautas Žalys; Alfred Erich Senn (September 1999). Ed. Edvardas Tuskenis, ed. Lithuania in European Politics: The Years of the First Republic, 1918–1940 (Paperback ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-312-22458-3.
  13. Vyšniauskas, Arūnas. "Pirmoji sovietinė okupacija ir genocidas Lietuvoje 1940–1941 m." (in Lithuanian). The Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  14. Roshwald, Aviel (2001). Ethnic Nationalism and the Fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia and the Middle East, 1914–1923. Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 0-415-17893-2.
  15. Geifman, Anna (1999). Russia Under the Last Tsar: Opposition and Subversion, 1894–1917. Blackwell Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 1-55786-995-2.
  16. Venclova, Tomas (Summer 1981). "Four Centuries of Enlightenment. A Historic View of the University of Vilnius, 1579–1979". Lituanus. 1 (27).
  17. Yla, Stasys (Summer 1981). "The Clash of Nationalities at the University of Vilnius". Lituanus. 1 (27).
  18. Schmalstieg, William R. (Winter 1989). "The Lithuanian Language and Nation Through the Ages: Outline of a History of Lithuanian in its Social Context". Lituanus. 4 (34).
  19. 1 2 Łossowski, Piotr (1995). Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918–1920 (in Polish). Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza. p. 11. ISBN 83-05-12769-9.
  20. 1 2 (Russian)
  21. 1 2 Brensztejn, Michał Eustachy (1919). Spisy ludności m. Wilna za okupacji niemieckiej od. 1 listopada 1915 r. (in Polish). Warsaw: Biblioteka Delegacji Rad Polskich Litwy i Białej Rusi.
  22. Davies, Norman (1982). God's Playground. Columbia University Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-231-05353-2.
  23. Liulevicius, Vejas Gabrielas (2000). War Land on the Eastern Front. Cambridge University Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-521-66157-7.
  24. MacQueen, Michael (1998). "The Context of Mass Destruction: Agents and Prerequisites of the Holocaust in Lithuania". Holocaust and Genocide Studies. 12 (1): 27–48. doi:10.1093/hgs/12.1.27.
  25. Łossowski, Piotr (1995). Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918–1920 (in Polish). Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza. pp. 13–16. ISBN 83-05-12769-9.
  26. 1 2 3 4 Snyder, Timothy (2003). The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999. Yale University Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-300-10586-X.
  27. Zinkevičius, Zigmas (1993). Rytų Lietuva praeityje ir dabar. Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidykla. p. 158. ISBN 5-420-01085-2.
  28. Venclova, Tomas; Czesław Miłosz (1999). Winter Dialogue. Northwestern University Press. p. 146. ISBN 0-8101-1726-6.
  29. Łossowski, Piotr (1995). Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918–1920 (in Polish). Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza. pp. 216–218. ISBN 83-05-12769-9.
  30. 1 2 3 Moroz, Małgorzata (2001). "Białoruski ruch chrześcijańsko—demokratyczny w okresie pierwszej wojny światowej". Krynica. Ideologia i przywódcy białoruskiego katolicyzmu (in Polish). Białystok: Białoruskie Towarzystwo Historyczne. ISBN 83-915029-0-2.
  31. Lapradelle, Albert Geouffre de; André Nicolayévitch Mandelstam; Louis Le Fur (1929). The Vilna Question. London: Hazell, Watson & Viney, ld. pp. 15–18.
  32. Documents diplomatiques. Conflit Polono-Lituanien. Questions de Vilna 1918–1924. 1924.
  33. Kiaupa, Zigmantas (2004). The History of Lithuania. Vilnius: Baltos lankos. ISBN 9955-584-87-4.
  34. 1 2 Alfred Erich Senn, The Formation of the Lithuanian Foreign Office, 1918–1921, Slavic Review, Vol. 21, No. 3. (Sep., 1962), pp. 500–507.: "A Bolshevik victory over the Poles would have certainly meant a move by the Lithuanian communists, backed by the Red Army, to overthrow the Lithuanian nationalist government... Kaunas, in effect, paid for its independence with the loss of Vilna."
    Alfred Erich Senn, Lietuvos valstybes... p. 163: "If the Poles didn't stop the Soviet attack, Lithuania would fell to the Soviets... Polish victory costs the Lithuanians the city of Wilno, but saved Lithuania itself."
    Antanas Ruksa, Kovos del Lietuvos nepriklausomybes, t.3, p. 417: "In summer 1920 Russia was working on a communist revolution in Lithuania... From this disaster Lithuania was saved by the miracle at Vistula."
    Jonas Rudokas, Józef Piłsudski – wróg niepodległości Litwy czy jej wybawca? (Polish translation of a Lithuanian article) "Veidas", 25 08 2005: [Piłsudski] "defended both Poland and Lithuanian from Soviet domination"
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