The Kingdom of Lithuania, or simply Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuva), is a Baltic country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Germany to the west, Poland and Ukraine to the south, White Ruthenia to the east, and the United Baltic Duchy to the north.
In the summer of 1915, the unexpected success of the Gorlice–Tarnów offensive on the Eastern Front saw Germany occupy the majority of Lithuanian lands held by Russia. The Imperial German Army set up the Ober Ost military district in the former Russian governorates of Courland, Kovno, Vilna, and Grodno. German military rule was repressive; however, they soon came to see the benefits of cooperating with the locals. Supporting the Lithuanians could serve as a counterweight to Russian and Polish influence in the region, or at least as a bargaining chip in the negotiations for the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
In 1917, Lithuanian politicians came together at a conference in Vilnius to make good on their aspirations for Lithuanian statehood. The Council of Lithuania was elected, composed of twenty members of all political persuasions and chaired by the nationalist Antanas Smetona. The Council prepared several declarations of independence. The first, on December 11th, proclaimed that Lithuania would have permanent ties to Germany, and so did the second on January 8th. However, the third, on February 16th made no mention of the Germans and declared that Lithuania would determine its own form of government through a democratically-elected constituent assembly. This did not go over well with the Ober Ost administration, which wished to make Lithuania an effective puppet state. It also revealed cracks within the council, as the social democrats were able to oust Smetona for being too pro-German. He was replaced by the widely-respected Jonas Basanavičius, who passed the Act of February 16th. The future of the Lithuanian state, however, remained vague and largely dependent on German desires.
Meanwhile, the Germans wanted to install a monarchy, but were divided on who the monarch should be. The Ober Ost administration favored a personal union with Prussia, effectively annexing Lithuania to the Empire. King Frederick Augustus III of Saxony, citing historical ties between his domains and Lithuania, put himself forward as a candidate. These proposals were protested by the Catholic states of the Empire, who did not want an even greater expansion of Protestant power over a majority Catholic territory. Catholic politician Matthias Erzberger offered fellow Wurttemberger Prince Wilhelm Karl von Urach for the throne. Impressed by his credentials, the Council of Lithuania accepted, and on July 11th proclaimed him King Mindaugas II of the Kingdom of Lithuania. The Ober Ost was initially opposed to this move towards independence, but as the war dragged on a pragmatic solution to the “Lithuanian problem” became increasingly acceptable.
The reign of Mindaugas II
The Ober Ost eventually came round to Lithuanian independence and once again supported the Council of Lithuania, though it demanded that the social democrats be replaced and Smetona reestablished as chairman. The Act of February 16th was finally approved as well, though only with the guarantee that the future Constituent Assembly would codify the German-Lithuania relationship in Germany’s favor. On January 1st, 1920, Wilhelm Karl von Urach was crowned King Mindaugas II, surprising the audience by delivering his speech in Lithuanian. The Kingdom of Lithuania was officially born and the new king was given the prerogative to appoint an interim government. To the surprise of many, Mindaugas II did not appoint Smetona prime minister; instead he favored a coalition of the Christian Democrats, the liberal Santara party, and smaller agrarian parties led by Baron Stasys Šilingas. Smetona took the snub very poorly, and he began to turn away from his originally pro-German posture as he led his Party of National Progress into the political wilderness.
In 1921 the Constituent Assembly was held and it ratified the Constitution of the Kingdom of Lithuania. The constitution was one of the most liberal in the Reichspakt, with guaranteed political freedoms and civil rights, significant respect for minority groups, and a bicameral parliament empowered over a mostly ceremonial monarch. At the same time, Lithuania’s sovereignty was greatly circumscribed through the treaties it signed with Germany. The Palanga Agreement in particular returned the Palanga coastal strip to Lithuania from the United Baltic Duchy, but in exchange restricted Lithuanian foreign trade to only pass through German-controlled ports. German businesses operated in Lithuania under very favorable terms, the Lithuanian mark was pegged to the German one, German was made a co-official language, and the armed forces were organized along German lines.
Parliamentary politics quickly coalesced among two major parties: the pro-monarchy Christian Democrats and the leftist Social Democrats, who rather reluctantly abandoned their traditional republicanism. The Polish, Belarusian, and Jewish minorities also had their own parties or organizations which, though small, could hold the balance of power in the Seimas. With Lithuania independent and freedom of expression achieved, a new revival of Lithuanian culture and nationalism took place. Many of the new Lithuanian nationalists were disdainful of the country’s status in the German sphere and chauvinistic towards ethnic minorities, and they increasingly rallied to Smetona’s Party of National Progress.
The reign of Vytautas II
After a year of illness, Mindaugas II died in his sleep on March 24th, 1928. The “People’s King” was widely mourned throughout the country, and it was widely expected that the crown prince Wilhelm von Urach, who had taken on many of his father’s responsibilities during his illness, would ascend to the throne. However, Wilhelm had been courting Elizabeth Theurer, a woman below his station, and though Mindaugas II had discovered the affair and forbade it, had continued to see Elizabeth in secret. Soon after the old king’s death the news of the prince’s affair broke, and the scandal created a media storm. Faced with a choice of giving up Elizabeth or the throne, Wilhelm chose the latter, thus passing the crown to his younger brother Karl Gero von Urach. Never expecting to inherit the kingdom, Karl Gero had pursued his dream of studying architecture in Munich and he was not happy to become the ruler of a poor Eastern European satellite kingdom that he hardly knew. Though the Lithuanian public was likewise unhappy with their new king, Karl Gero was brought to Vilnius and duly crowned King Vytautas II.
With support for the monarchy plummeting, the nationalist underground decided it was time to strike. The plan for a coup was drawn up, with loyal units in Vilnius to arrest the king and occupy the Seimas while another group would cross the border and seize Memel in defiance of the Germans. In any event, the Memel Uprising saw a group of fifty nationalists wearing armbands decorated with the columns of Gediminas march into the city, initially overpowering the local constabulary, only to get totally massacred by the first German reinforcements. No uprising took place in Vilnius, and the Lithuanian police acted swiftly to break up any nationalist cells they could find. Many suspected Smetona’s involvement in the uprising, though no proof was ever found. In the aftermath, the Party of National Progress was briefly dissolved and re-constituted as the Lithuanian Nationalist Union.
The beginning of the 1930s saw growth in the Polish and Jewish political parties as a reaction to the Memel Uprising. At the same time, Steponas Kairys became leader of the Social Democrats, marking a shift from nationalism within the party towards pluralism and opening up a path for a coalition between the minority parties and the left. Nonetheless, the Christian Democrats maintained their rule in the Seimas, buoyed by strong economic growth and promises to revise the Lithuanian-German relationship.
The Kingdom of Lithuania is a constitutional monarchy. The King of Lithuania is the head of state, and though the monarch does appoint the prime minister, he is expected to follow the will of parliament and act as a mostly ceremonial figurehead. The Seimas is Lithuania’s bicameral legislature, elected through universal suffrage. The Constitution of 1920 guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression, though in practice political extreme publications may be censored.
Lietuvos krikščionių demokratų partija (LKDP; Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party) - Founded in 1917, the LKDP is the principal force of the center-right and has governed the kingdom uninterrupted since 1920. The Christian Democrats are united by their support of constitutional monarchy and political Catholicism. As the largest party, however, the LKDP contains several cleavages. Though the LKDP governments have been the greatest champions of cooperation with Germany, the more nationalist-minded are unhappy with Lithuania’s domination by the Kaiserreich. There is also a divide between those who advocate economic liberalism and those who wish for economic policy to be grounded in Catholic social teaching.
Lietuvos socialdemokratų partija (LSDP; Lithuanian Social Democratic Party) - The oldest Lithuanian political party, the LSDP was a major player in the independence movement but saw itself sidelined because of German influence. The LSDP is principally inspired by the German SDP in its grudging acceptance of the monarchy and the Austromarxists in its advocacy of cultural autonomy, which has won it support among Lithuania’s minority groups. It is anti-German and anti-capitalistic, though these tendencies can vary greatly in intensity between the moderate and radical wings of the party.
Lietuvių tautininkų sąjunga (LNS; Lithuanian Nationalist Union) - Founded in 1929 as the successor as the Party of National Progress, the LNS is a right-wing nationalist party that advocates strong executive governance and state corporatism. It is tightly controlled by its leader Antanas Semtona, the one-time prime minister. Though declaring its respect for democracy, the LNS’s critics on the left claim that it seeks to construct an authoritarian, chauvinistic government. It is suspected that Augustinas Voldemaras, Smetona’s second-in-command, is in touch with radical ultranationalist groups.
Demokratinė tautos laisvės santara (National Democratic Freedom League) - Commonly known as just Santara, this party began among older, liberal Lithuanian nationalists who first expected an autonomous Lithuania within the Russian Republic. This obviously did not come to pass, and since the foundation of the kingdom, Santara has functioned a minor, classically liberal party of the center.
Komitet Polaków na Litwie/Lietuvos lenkų komitetas (KPL/LLK; Committee of Lithuanian Poles) - The LLK is the largest minority-based party in the Kingdom and draws from the Kingdom’s largest minority group: the Poles. It advocates for Polish cultural autonomy, Polish-language education, and closer ties with the Kingdom of Poland. Beyond representing Polish interests, the party is ideologically diverse.
Algemeyner yidisher arbeter-bund (General Jewish Labor Bund) - The Bund was the largest Jewish organization in the old Russian Empire, supporting Jewish autonomy and socialism. Since the end of the empire, it has split into various national units. The Lithuanian Bund is the main party of the Lithuanian Jewry; it also holds quite a bit of economic power, as Jews are disproportionately represented in the urban commercial and working classes.
The Lithuanian Armed Forces are composed of the Royal Lithuanian Army and the Royal Lithuanian Air Force. The army is currently plagued by lack of discipline, training, and modern equipment. Efforts to remedy these problems are currently in development by General Stasys Raštikis, the newly-appointed Chief of Staff. In addition to the regular army, the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union is a semi-official paramilitary that receives public funding, though it exists outside of the armed forces command structure. The air force is in only an embryonic stage, and as Lithuania currently lacks any real port facilities, it has no navy.
The Lithuanian economy is mostly agrarian, with a focus on exporting agricultural goods to other members of Mitteleuropa. The two major urban centers of Vilnius and Kaunas contain only a modest amount of industry.
Several treaties concluded during the independence process have effectively placed the Lithuanian economy under German domination. The Palanga Agreement mandates that all foreign trade must be conducted through the ports of Memel, Libau, and Riga, and be subject to particular tolls. German enterprises have favored status and therefore control most of the country’s industry. In addition, the upheavals surrounding independence saw the flight of the traditional landowning class, and much of the land is now owned by German conglomerates. Only the Bund, with its autarkic and cooperative practices, stands outside German economic control.
Lithuania is one of the Oststaaten, a full member of the Reichspakt and the Mitteleuropa economic bloc. Relations with the German Empire have been cordial since independence, although the majority of the population holds some anti-German feeling, ranging from a mere desire for a more equitable relationship to outright hatred. Lithuanian nationalists still desire the return of the port city of Memel.
Lithuania enjoys warm relationships with its other neighbors, particularly Poland and White Ruthenia due their historical and cultural ties.
The Kingdom of Lithuania is the homeland of ethnic Lithuanians, with only a small portion of them living outside the Kingdom’s borders in Lithuania Minor. However, due to the large portions of territory awarded to Lithuania by Germany after the war, ethnic Lithuanian constitute only a slim majority of the population. Poles, Belarusians, and Jews are only the three largest of the many minority groups, and are particularly concentrated in “Outer Lithuania”, the poorer region south of Vilnius. The majority religion is Roman Catholicism, with Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, and Jewish minorities.