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1926 Lithuanian coup d'état

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Antanas Smetona and his party were major beneficiaries of the coup.
Antanas Smetona and his party were major beneficiaries of the coup.

The 1926 Lithuanian coup d'état (Lithuanian: 1926-ųjų perversmas) was a military coup d'état in Lithuania that resulted in the replacement of the democratically elected government with a conservative authoritarian government led by Antanas Smetona. The coup took place on 17 December 1926 and was largely organized by the military; Smetona's role remains the subject of debate. The coup brought the Lithuanian Nationalist Union, the most conservative party at the time, to power.[1] Before 1926, it had been a fairly new and insignificant nationalistic party: in 1926, its membership numbered about 2,000 and it had won only three seats in the parliamentary elections.[2] The Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party, the largest party in the Seimas at the time, collaborated with the military and provided constitutional legitimacy to the coup, but did not accept any major posts in the new government and withdrew in May 1927. After the military handed power over to the civilian government, it ceased playing a direct role in political life.

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  • ✪ The Russian Civil War in Early 1919 I THE GREAT WAR

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This episode of the Great War 1919 is sponsored by Battlefront Miniatures, the creators of Flames Of War, and their new miniatures wargame The Great War. Supported by a complete range of miniatures and terrain, including trenches, tanks, and guns, The Great War provides a full selection of models suitable for wargaming, collecting or modelling. Even better, detailed research into the units and tactics of 1918 lets you bring to life the armies that fought on the Western Front. If you want to get started, we recommend one of their Army Deals like Steiner’s Stosstruppen. Modelled after the German stormtroopers, these troops are great in trench raids and the ensuing hand-to-hand combat. If you prefer Entente troops, British, French and American Army Deals are also available. For viewers of The Great War Channel we have two special offers: first, if you go to greatwar.flamesofwar.com, you can use the code “greatwarchannel1” to get 25% off the 234-page hardcover, full-colour Great War rule book which features all available troops, their abilities and also historical background info. Second, you can also use the code “greatwarchannel2” to get 10% off any Great War Army Deals and Unit Cards plus free shipping worldwide. You can use both codes in the same order of course and you can find all the links and additional info in the video description below. Thanks again to The Great War miniatures game for sponsoring our episode. It’s spring 1919, and though peace is being discussed in Paris, the vast expanses of revolutionary Russia are burning. Counter-revolutionary forces are about to launch an attack on the Bolshevik heartland, small nations are arming themselves for independence, and the Allies attempt to intervene: eto grazhdanskaya voina v rossii - it’s the Russian Civil War. Hi, I’m Jesse Alexander and welcome to the Great War. The civil war raging in the lands of the old Russian empire in the early months of 1919 was without doubt the biggest conflict in the aftermath of the First World War. Actually, it was more like several wars going on at once, because the fighting involved numerous factions: there were revolutionary Bolsheviks, counter-revolutionaries, independence movements, foreign forces, and peasant uprisings. And not all of them were Russian. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George might have said it best when he wrote: “Russia was a jungle in which no one could say what was within a few yards of him.” (Lloyd George, 326-327) Let’s start to make sense of this conflict by asking ourselves this question: how did Russia get be such a mess in the first place? After the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks were able to spread out quickly from their base in the main industrial cities of European Russia. The chaos and disorder meant there was little resistance to this “triumphal march of Soviet power” (Mawdsley, 14-18 online): The Imperial army was disintegrating, and the aristocracy had fled. Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin even announced to the Moscow Soviet in April 1918: “It can be said with certainty that, in the main, the civil war has ended.” (Mawdsley, 21-22). Well, Lenin couldn’t have been more wrong. The forces of the Central Powers advanced that spring, occupying the western part of the empire. The famous Czech Legion , made up of some 55,000 former Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war, mutinied and turned on the Bolsheviks, cutting most of Eastern Russia off from Bolshevik power (Volkov). The Allies also decided to intervene, and sent some 30,000 British, French, American and Japanese troops into the country, in the far north around the town of ArchAngelsk and in the far east at Vladivostok. The forces of the counter-revolution, led by former Tsarist generals, began to organize with Allied help. Fierce fighting took place, especially in the south and east, along the railway lines in what was known as the eshelOnaya voina, or train war. As 1918 ended and 1919 began, the Civil War entered a new and more intense phase with the Allied defeat of the Central Powers. German and Austrian troops began to pull out of the territories they had occupied for most of the year: the Baltics, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Caucasus, many of whose people wanted independence. In other parts of the country, the counter-revolutionary forces were now ready to take the offensive against the Red Army. That was a little refresher of 1918. Now, let’s take a closer look the different factions at the start of 1919 so we can see just who is fighting whom, and why. Let’s start with some familiar faces, the Allies. In early 1919, the British, French, Japanese and Americans had a dilemma on their hands. In theory, now that the Germans were out of Russia, they had a free hand, but in practice they weren’t quite sure what to do. They had intervened in 1918 to deny the Germans material and strategic advantages, to support the counter-revolutionaries, and to protect their economic interests - but now their people wanted peace, and their soldiers did not see the point of remaining in a foreign and dangerous country once the Great War had been won. But they also desperately wanted to stop the revolution from spreading and argued among themselves at the Paris Peace Conference about how best this could be achieved. French General Ferdinand Foch and British Minister Winston Churchill supported full-scale military intervention – as Churchill put it, ”After having defeated all the tigers and lions I don’t like to be defeated by baboons.” But Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Wilson were not keen on putting more blood and treasure into the Russian mess. They had bigger fish to fry with the Peace Conference, the establishment of the League of Nations, demobilizing their armies, and new borders in Central Europe (Leonhard, 504, 508). In the words of Lloyd George: “I would rather leave Russia Bolshevik until she sees her way out of it than see Britain bankrupt. And that is the surest road to Bolshevism in Britain.” (Mawdsley, 130). The French, who were worried about recovering the money they’d lent to Russia before the revolution, did send an intervention force to southern Ukraine in late 1918 . But other than Foch they preferred a more indirect strategy of supporting the smaller countries of Central Europe as a so-called cordon sanitaire, a preventive bulwark stopping the Bolshevik revolution from spreading west. Wilson was also wary, and wrote that “to be dragged further into the Russian chaos would be fatal.” (Leonhard, 719). The Allies made some attempts at diplomacy in early 1919 but these failed because none of the warring parties wanted to negotiate, and the Allies refused to recognize the Bolshevik government. Their approach shifted to an indirect war against Bolshevism. They would support those fighting the Bolsheviks but also began a slow withdrawal of their troops starting in the spring of 1919. So much for the Allies who weren’t particularly sure how to engage but were sure that they didn’t like the prospect of a Bolshevik Russia. Let’s turn our attention to the Russian factions. Thankfully, they’re colour-coded, which makes it a bit easier to sort out. We’ll start with the red faction, the Bolsheviks. Their objective was to consolidate the revolution and re-establish control over the vastness of the empire that had fallen to pieces . They also wanted to spread the revolution abroad, especially to Germany . To further this goal, they founded the 3rd Communist International in March , which most Communist Parties of Europe attended. This ideological fervour made them many enemies but allowed them to produce coherent and targeted propaganda. The centres of Bolshevik power were the big industrial cities in European Russia with large populations of factory workers, like Moscow and Petrograd. They did have some support among minority groups and in cities in other parts of the country, but in early 1919 they depended on the traditional Russian heartland – on March 5 they even moved the capital from Petrograd to Moscow, which was farther away from enemy troops. In the central zone they controlled, the Bolsheviks attempted to impose what they called War Communism. This was a policy which saw them forcibly take food from peasants to feed the hungry Red Army and city workers. They also tried to organize, centralize, and nationalize the economy and ownership of land and industry. The peasants, who made up the majority of the population, did not take kindly to these policies and resisted. The Bolsheviks responded by launching what became known as the Red Terror, to impose control by force of arms. The secret police, known as the Cheka and led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, tortured and killed thousands of peasants, especially wealthier kulaki, and middle class “bourgeois”, and regularly took hostages to ensure delivery of food or labour . Lenin wanted this done so “the people will see, tremble, know, shout: they [the Bolsheviks] are strangling and will strangle the bloodsucker kulaks.” (Gerwarth, 82). They also set up thousands of prisoner and labour camps, in addition to running over 21,000 prisons (Mawdsley, 190-191). Unsurprisingly, these atrocities turned much of the population against them. So, although the Reds dominated the Russian heartland, most of the important industrial areas and a population of 60 million people, conditions were still chaotic and their control over the vital food-producing countryside was fragile at best in the face of fierce peasant resistance (Mawdsley 146, Peeling). The most significant counter-revolutionary forces were those of the Whites. They were a military-nationalist movement started by former Tsarist Chief of Staff General Alekseev (who died in 1918), and their members came mostly from the old officer class of the Imperial Army . They believed in Mother Russia and abhorred the Bolsheviks – and though they wished for a return to the old order, if not the Tsar, they lacked clarity of vision and coordination. The Whites faced all sorts of challenges in their quest to turn back the Red tide of revolution. For one thing, the areas they controlled in early 1919 were remote and underdeveloped, and they struggled to coordinate their actions . General Denikin was in command of the Volunteer Army and allied Cossack forces in the North Caucasus and South Russia. In the East, Admiral Kolchak squashed a fledgling All-Russian parliament that had been set up in part thanks to the protection of the Czech Legion, and assumed dictatorial powers from his new capital in the Siberian city of Omsk. In the Arctic, White forces were small, under direct British influence, and would not play a decisive role in the fighting to come. All three of the White zones were sparsely populated and had very few factories, which would make raising and equipping armies extremely difficult. But the Whites had help, in the form of the Allied intervention forces. Allied troops were present in the same zones as the Whites, although only in the north did they see significant action against the Red Army. Once the leftover stocks of weapons and ammunition ran out towards the end of 1918, the White armies would be supplied by the Allies, especially the British. Throughout 1919, they would supply the Whites in the East with as many weapons and ammunition as the entire Soviet zone was able to produce, allowing the former Tsarist generals to continue the fight (Mawdsley 144). In the South, the British also sent a military mission to train White troops, and shipped 60 tanks and aircraft manned by British crews who actually did see combat. (Mawdsley 167). Despite this advantage, White leaders could not coordinate their military and political goals with each other, or with the Allies, who were often not even aware of White plans. As Great Russian nationalists, they also had rocky relations with various minority groups, including the Cossacks fighting alongside them. And since they were military men, they lacked expertise and focus on establishing a functional civilian administration and economy. They were missing a vital ingredient that the Bolsheviks and the regionalists had: a clear and coherent vision they could bring to the people through propaganda. Their propaganda emphasized the Bolshevik evil and associated the revolution with the Jewish religion , drawing on previously-existing anti-Semitism and justifying it as revenge for the Red Terror (Figes, 676-677). As one White put it after the war, “They shouted ‘Death to the bourgeois.’ And we replied ‘Death to the Yids.’” (Figes, 677). The Whites engaged in a White Terror of their own, killing and torturing those suspected of Red sympathies. Jews were especially targeted, and though Polish, Red Army and particularly Ukrainian troops participated, many of the pogroms which killed between 150,00 and 300,000 people were carried out by White units. (Sumpf, Figes 677, Figes 679, Smele 160) So, on one side we had the red Bolsheviks that controlled the industrial centers and tried to establish their power through violence and terror. Their main opponents, the Whites were spread throughout the vastness of Russia and couldn’t agree on much more than that they wanted to get rid of the Bolsheviks – through violence and terror. Now, there were some other colourful factions as well – the Greens were various peasant groups who rose up and revolted against the Bolsheviks, and the Blacks were an anarchist army based in eastern Ukraine . But, we will get to them in a future episode because they definitely deserve a closer look. Our final group of factions doesn’t have a colour. They’re the smaller peoples on the western edge of the empire who were attempting to form new, independent states. The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, along with Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland had all declared independence in the chaos of 1918 and were still fighting to maintain it. The fledgling nations rushed to recruit armies and establish their borders in the face of hostility from the Bolsheviks, the Whites, and sometimes each other. The Baltic states were too weak to take on the Red Army on their own and they relied on outside help, whether from the Finns , remaining German forces, Freikorps units , or the British Navy in the Baltic Sea (Mawdsley, 122). Others, like the Poles and the Ukrainians, would end up fighting the Reds mostly on their own. It’s important to note that some people from these areas, especially from the towns, fought on the Bolshevik side as well, the most famous being the Latvian Riflemen. To further muddy the waters, the Reds also set up Socialist governments in each region which were competing with the independence movements. Alright, so by early 1919 the Russian Civil War is mostly a war between Reds and the Whites in different regions of the former Russian Empire, while at the same time smaller nations are trying to establish themselves along the old border zone between Germany, Austria-Hungariy, and Russia. Now that we have an idea of who was doing the fighting, let’s take a moment to look at how they fought. The Russian Civil War was not an easy war to fight. All sides had to deal with huge distances , poor transportation and communication networks , and a completely wrecked economy. Russia had been absolutely devastated by revolution, occupation by the Central Powers , and civil war in 1917 and 1918. Industrial production was a fraction of what it had been during the war, and food was extremely scarce. So scarce that zoo animals were eaten in Petrograd and in Armenia, the pre-war goat population of around 1 million fell to just 6000 (Figes, 604, Gattrell, 234). Remember the goats. Actual combat was also a little different than in the Great War . Because of the distances involved, railways were critical for the entire course of the civil war, and armoured trains were used to project power between the isolated cities . And just to clarify a popular misconception here: Fighting armoured trains under these circumstances was not trivial , you couldn’t just blow up the tracks and ambush the train like in a movie. The railroad wasn’t just your enemy’s supply route, it was your own side’s supply route once you’d taken out their armoured train. Tactics also evolved throughout the conflict, and eventually trains were accompanied by supporting infantry and mounted escorts. Unlike the Western Front, cavalry was quite important in the wide open spaces, and a horse-drawn machine-gun cart known as the tachAnka became an common source of mobile firepower. There were only a few tanks and airplanes which the British and French provided to the Whites. In early 1919, the White troops were better trained and equipped than the Reds, but fewer in number – and they were very officer-heavy. By February the Red Army, under the direction of War Commissar Leon Trotsky, had grown to half a million men , but many of these were recently conscripted and poorly trained peasants (Mawdsley, 123). The Reds also struggled to impose a command structure and discipline, and to integrate former Tsarist officers and political instructors, known as commissars, into their ranks. Both armies suffered from constant desertions and fluctuations in morale. Alright, now that we have an idea of the kind of warfare being waged on the battlefields of the Russian Civil War, let’s look at how the fighting played out in early 1919. In the North, there were bitter small-scale skirmishes we reported on in the last episode. The terrain, weather and only a handful of railway lines made military operations extremely difficult. The Allied forces fought directly against the Red Army and actually commanded White troops, which was not the case elsewhere even though Bolshevik propaganda claimed otherwise. The main battles between Whites and Reds would take place in the South and East though, so let’s turn our attention there. In southern Russia, Cossack forces of the Don Host and Kuban People’s Republic allied to the Whites overstretched themselves attempting to take the city of Tsaritsyn (today’s Volgograd) and were routed by Red troops. Their lands would now be subject to a particular form of Red Terror known razkazAchivanie or de-cossackization, meant to stamp out Cossack cultural identity and will to fight. This defeat led to a united Cossack and White command, called the Armed Forces of Southern Russia. Even further south in the Caucasus, the Whites launched a major offensive against a Red Army that was suffering badly from typhus. The Reds could barely supply their troops via camel caravan from Astrakhan, some 500km away. Though outnumbered three to one and lacking supplies themselves, the Whites smashed the Reds, capturing the cities of Grozny, Vladikavkaz and Piatigorsk. As it would turn out, this was the biggest single White victory of the war . Two entire Red armies of 150,000 men were destroyed and about 50,000 prisoners taken . (Mawdsley, 161) After the crushing defeat, Trotsky summed up the state of the Red Army in the south: “A swollen army, really a horde rather than an army, has clashed with Denikin’s properly-organized troops and in a few weeks has been reduced to dust.” (Mawdsley 162) These numbers give us an idea of the scale of the fighting, which compares to some battles of the Great War. Now, we are going to look East where the Whites were also fighting as I mentioned earlier. In the East, the White Admiral Kolchak’s army was in good position to launch an attack westwards. In December 1918 his troops had defeated the Red Army and took the key city of Perm. The Bolsheviks sent one Joseph Stalin to investigate the disaster, and he reported that the retreat had been “an absolutely disorderly flight of an utterly routed and completely demoralized army.” Only 1/3 of the Red troops made it to the new front line, and there were many desertions. Kolchak therefore sought to make use of his advantage and attacked again in March, towards the city of Ufa and the Volga river. This would allow him to threaten the Bolshevik centre of power, and give him better access to new recruits, railway lines, and food sources. (Mawdsley 141) On this front the Whites actually outnumbered the Reds, but the White troops were inexperienced and young, and the Red Army had large reserves in its rear and an advantage in artillery. (Mawdsley, 146). At first, the White offensive sliced through the Red Army and sent it reeling on a retreat of hundreds of kilometres to the West – but ultimately the offensive came to an end short of its objectives and the Volga remained out of reach. So, we have skirmishing in the north, both Red and White victories in the south, and a White advance in the East. Now let’s have a look at the situation in what had been Western Russia. The retreat of German and Austrian troops after the November 11 armistice seemed to present a golden opportunity for the Bolsheviks. They were now felt they could strike down the local independence movements and carry the revolution into Europe as they dreamed . So despite the weakness of the Red Army, they went over to the attack in January. The Bolsheviks were met by troops loyal to the new republics , and foreign forces supporting them. In the Baltic, the Red Army first advanced but then was stopped and partly thrown back by local forces with the assistance of Finnish and German Freikorps troops, including the famous Eiserne or Iron Division, plus British naval support. In February, fighting was particularly heavy as the Reds were halted outside the new Lithuanian capital of Kaunas. Polish and Bolshevik forces also clashed, at Bereza Kartuska. Each side was advancing into the gap left by retreating German forces who had kept them apart until now. These skirmishes marked the beginning of a full-scale Polish-Soviet war, which we will cover in more depth in the future. In Ukraine, Symon Petlura’s Ukrainian People’s Republic and the allied West Ukrainian People’s Republic had little outside help. French troops based in Odessa and White forces in the region did not have good relations with the Ukrainians, and neither did the neighbouring Poles, who also laid claim to the city of Lviv, known as Lwow in Polish. The Ukrainians were driven back and lost their capital, Kyiv, to the Reds in February. Caught between the advancing Red Army and rival Poles, in early 1919 the future of independent Ukraine looked grim. To sum it all up, by the late winter of 1919, the Allied-supported Whites seemed well-established in the south and east, the Reds were stalled in the west, and the revolution’s outcome was still in doubt. Lenin himself proclaimed: “Our situation has never been so dangerous as it is now. The imperialists were busy amongst themselves. But now one of the groups has been wiped out by the group of the English, French, and the Americans. They consider their main task to be to smother world Bolshevism, to smother its main center, the Russian Soviet Republic.” (Mawdsley, 127) The Allies certainly did want to defeat Bolshevism, but ultimately it was the clash between Reds and Whites that would determine Russia’s fate. Now that we’ve taken a deep dive into the “Russian” Civil Wars, it’s time for our Roundup segment where we take a look at what else is going on in February 1919. Let’s start in Paris at the Peace Conference, where on the 7th Italian delegates published a memorandum claiming full recognition of the terms of the Treaty of London of 1915, which awarded them former Austrian territory, plus the city of Fiume. The treaty presented a problem for the Allies, who wanted to give some of the land promised to Italy to the new Yugoslav kingdom – this would soon turn into one of the most difficult questions of the conference, especially as the Yugoslavs proposed an extension of their borders on the 18th (Leonhard, 736). On the 13th Japan proposed a racial equality clause during the League of Nations discussions , but this was rejected after opposition from the United States and Australia (Leonhard, 693). A French proposal for a League of Nations Army was also defeated. The next day, Wilson presented the draft text of the covenant of the League of Nations, which had been prepared in just two weeks. He the left for home to shore up domestic support in Congress. On the 19th, a French anarchist attempted to assassinate French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, who survived despite being shot. Turning to other news, on February 6th the new German Parliament met in the city of Weimar, since Berlin was considered too unstable . The Majority Social Democrats had won the recent election, while the Independent Social Democrats suffered a resounding defeat. On the 8th, French General Franchet d’Esperey joined the Allied occupation forces in Constantinople, and two days later, the city was divided into British, French, and Italian zones. On the 16th, the new republic of German Austria went to the polls, which resulted in the election of a Social Democratic government that would struggle with the borders conflicts to the east with Hungary, and to the south with Yugoslavia and Italy. And finally, on February 19th, an American delegation led by William Bullitt went to Moscow to meet the Bolsheviks to discuss pre-war debt repayment and diplomatic relations. Nothing would come of the mission as the Bolsheviks refused to repay the debts and Wilson refused to recognize the Bolshevik regime (Leonhard, 719). Those were some of the main developments in Paris and across Europe in February 1919 – we can already see that just a few weeks into the Peace Conference the road to a settlement on which all could agree was murky indeed. Alright, two of my main sources for this episode were Evan Mawdsley’s “The Russian Civil War” and Orlando Figes “A People’s Tragedy”. You can find all our sources for this episode in the video description, including links to amazon. If you buy through these links, we do get a small commission which helps support the channel, and of course you can also support us on Patreon which gets you access to our Patreon Podcast and other perks. We’ve also got some new merchandise available so give our store a look. I’m Jesse Alexander and this is The Great War 1919, a production of Real Time History and the only Youtube history channel that can see more than a few yards in the Russian jungle.

Contents

Background

Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1795. It was occupied by Germany during World War I, and declared itself independent on 16 February 1918. The next two years were marked by the turbulence of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence, delaying international recognition and the establishment of political institutions. The newly formed army fought the Bolsheviks, the Bermontians, and Poland. In October 1920, Poland annexed Vilnius, the historic and modern-day capital of Lithuania, and the surrounding area; this controversial action was the source of ongoing tension between the two powers during the interwar period. Lithuania's second-largest city, Kaunas, was designated the interim capital of the state.

The Constituent Assembly of Lithuania, elected in April 1920, adopted a constitution in August 1922; elections to the First Seimas took place in October 1922. The most-disputed constitutional issue was the role of the presidency. Eventually, the powers of government were heavily weighted in favor of the unicameral parliament (Seimas). Members of the Seimas were elected by the people to three-year terms. Each new Seimas directly elected the president, who was authorized to appoint a prime minister. The Prime Minister was then charged with confirming a cabinet of ministers. The presidential term was limited to no more than two three-year terms in succession.[3] The parliamentary system proved unstable: eleven cabinets were formed between November 1918 and December 1926.[4]

The principal political actors at the time of the coup had been active during the independence movement and the republic's first few years. Antanas Smetona had served as Lithuania's first president between April 1919 and June 1920; he then withdrew from formal political involvement, although he published political criticism, for which he served a brief prison term in 1923.[5] Augustinas Voldemaras represented Lithuania at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 and later served as Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He resigned from the government in 1920, although he continued to write and publish political criticism, for which he also was sentenced to a short prison term.[6] Kazys Grinius had chaired a post-World War I repatriation commission, and went on to serve as head of the 6th Cabinet of Ministers and in the First and Second Seimas.[7] Mykolas Sleževičius served as prime minister in 1918 and 1919, oversaw the organization of the Lithuanian armed forces in 1920, and was a member of the Second Seimas between 1922 and 1926.[8]

1926 parliamentary election

Results of the 1926 parliamentary election[9]
Party Seats
Christian Democratic Bloc (krikdemai) 30
Peasant Popular Union (liaudininkai) 22
Social Democrats (socdemai) 15
National Union (tautininkai) 3
Farmers' Party 2
Minorities (Germans, Jews, and Poles) 13
Total 85

Between 8 and 10 May 1926, regular elections to the Third Seimas were held. For the first time since 1920, the bloc led by the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party, which strongly supported the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy, did not obtain a majority. The Lithuanian people were disillusioned with this party, as its members had been involved in several financial scandals: Juozas Purickas had been using his diplomatic privileges in Moscow to deal in cocaine and saccharin; Eliziejus Draugelis and Petras Josiukas had purchased cheap low-quality smoked pig fat from Germany instead of buying from Lithuanian farmers; and the Minister of Finance, Vytautas Petrulis, had transferred a large sum of money from the state budget to his personal account.[10] The party's strategies for coping with an economic crisis were perceived as ineffective.[11]

An additional tension arose when the Concordat of 1925 between Poland and the Holy See unilaterally recognized Vilnius as an ecclesiastical province of Poland, despite Lithuanian requests to govern Vilnius directly from Rome. Although it was not traditionally a Vatican policy to establish an arrangement of this type, the decision was objected to strongly by many Lithuanians.[12] The decision implied that the Pope had recognized Polish claims to Vilnius, and this created a loss of prestige for the Christian Democrats.[4] Diplomatic relations with the Holy See were severed,[12] and they did not improve when Pope Pius XI unilaterally established and reorganized Lithuanian ecclesiastical provinces in April 1926 without regard to Lithuanian proposals and demands.[13]

The Peasant Popular Union and Social Democrats formed a left-wing coalition in opposition to the Christian Democrats. But the coalition still did not constitute a majority, and it went on to add representatives of minorities in Lithuania – Germans from the Klaipėda Region, Poles, and Jews.[1] On 7 June, Kazys Grinius was elected the 3rd president of Lithuania and Mykolas Sleževičius became the prime minister. Both were members of the Peasant Popular Union.

Causes

The reasons for the coup remain the subject of debate.[1] The domestic situation was definitely troubled; historians have pointed to specific European precedents in the 1920s that may have had an influence, including the 1922 March on Rome by Benito Mussolini in Italy and the May 1926 Coup of Józef Piłsudski in Poland.[14] Other historians have cited more general trends in Europe that resulted in more or less undemocratic governments in almost all Central and Eastern European nations by the end of the 1930s. Democratic immaturity was displayed by an unwillingness to compromise, and the frequent shifts of government created a chronic perception of crisis. Historians have also discussed an exaggerated fear of communism[1] as a factor, along with the lack of a stable center that could reach out to parties on the left and right; these parties accused each other of Bolshevism and fascism.[14] According to historian Anatol Lieven, Smetona and Voldemaras saw themselves as the dispossessed true heroes of the independence movement, who despaired of returning to power by democratic means.[15]

After the May elections, the Grinius/Sleževičius government lifted martial law, still in effect in Kaunas and other localities, restored democratic freedoms, and granted broad amnesty to political prisoners. For the first time, Lithuania had become truly democratic.[11] However, the change did not meet with universal approval. Many of the released prisoners were communists who quickly used the new freedoms of speech to organize a protest attended by approximately 400 people in Kaunas on 13 June. The protest was dispersed.[10] The new government's opposition used this protest as the platform for a public attack on the government, alleging that it was allowing illegal organizations (the Communist Party of Lithuania was still outlawed) to continue their activities freely. Despite its local nature, the incident was presented as a major threat to Lithuania and its military; the government was said to be incapable of dealing with this threat.[10]

Further allegations of "Bolshevization" were made after Lithuania signed the Soviet–Lithuanian Non-Aggression Treaty of 28 September 1926. The treaty was conceived by the previous government, which had been dominated by the Christian Democrats. However, Christian Democrats voted against the treaty, while Antanas Smetona strongly supported it. It drew sharp criticism as Lithuania exchanged Soviet recognition of its rights to the Vilnius Region for international isolation, as the treaty demanded that Lithuania make no other alliances with other countries.[14] At the time, the Soviet Union was not a member of the League of Nations; France and the United Kingdom were looking for reliable partners in Eastern Europe,[14] and the Baltic states were contemplating a union on their own.[16] On 21 November, a student demonstration against "Bolshevization" was forcibly dispersed by the police.[14] About 600 Lithuanian students gathered near a communist-led workers' union. The police, fearing armed clashes between the two groups, intervened and attempted to stop the demonstration. Seven police officers were injured and thirteen students were arrested.[10] In an attempt to overthrow the government legally, the Christian Democrats suggested a motion of no confidence in response to the incident, but it was rejected.[11]

Another public outcry arose when the government, seeking the support of ethnic minorities, allowed the opening of over 80 Polish schools in Lithuania. At the time, the Polish government was closing Lithuanian schools in the fiercely contested Vilnius Region.[12] The coalition government directly confronted the Christian Democrats when it proposed a 1927 budget that reduced salaries to the clergy and subsidies to Catholic schools. Further controversies were created when the government's military reform program was revealed as a careless downsizing.[16] Some 200 conservative military officers were fired.[14] The military began planning the coup.

Preparations

President Kazys Grinius was ousted by the military on his 60th birthday.
President Kazys Grinius was ousted by the military on his 60th birthday.

There is considerable academic debate concerning the involvement of Antanas Smetona in planning the coup. In 1931, Augustinas Voldemaras, who had since been ousted from the government and forced into exile, wrote that Smetona had been planning the coup since 1925.[10] Historian Zenonas Butkus asserted that an idea of a coup had been raised as early as 1923.[11] However, this time frame is disputed, since the military did not take action until the autumn of 1926. Smetona's personal secretary, Aleksandras Merkelis, held that Smetona knew about the coup, but neither inspired nor organized it.[17] Before the coup, Smetona had been the editor of Lietuvis (The Lithuanian), and a shift in its orientation that took place in late November has been cited as evidence that he was not informed about the coup until then. Before the issue of 25 November appeared, the newspaper was critical of the government and of the Christian Democrats. On that date, however, the newspaper published several articles about 21 November student protest and an article headlined Bolshevism's Threat to Lithuania. The latter article argued that the communists posed a genuine threat and that the current government was incapable of dealing with it. After that date, the newspaper ceased issuing criticisms of the Christian Democrats.[17]

On 20 September 1926, five military officers, led by Captain Antanas Mačiuika, organized a committee. Generals Vladas Nagevičius and Jonas Bulota were among its members. About a month later, another group, the so-called Revolutionary General Headquarters (Lithuanian: revoliucinis generalinis štabas), was formed. The two groups closely coordinated their efforts.[11] By 12 December, the military had already planned detailed actions, investigated the areas where the action was to take place, and informed the leaders of the Lithuanian National Union and Christian Democratic parties. Rumors of the plan reached the Social Democrats, but they took no action.[11] Just before the coup, disinformation about movements of the Polish army in the Vilnius Region was disseminated; its purpose was to induce troops in Kaunas that would potentially have opposed the coup to move towards Vilnius.[10]

The coup

A pamphlet distributed in Kaunas following the coup declared martial law and commanded everyone to go about their daily duties. It was signed by the Temporary War Government.
A pamphlet distributed in Kaunas following the coup declared martial law and commanded everyone to go about their daily duties. It was signed by the Temporary War Government.

Late in the evening of 16 December, the Soviet consul informed Sleževičius about a possible coup the following night, but Sleževičius did not pay much attention to this warning.[18] The coup began on the night of 17 December 1926. The 60th birthday of President Kazys Grinius was being celebrated in Kaunas, attended by numerous state officials. The 1927 budget, with its cuts to military and church spending, had not yet been passed. During the night, military forces occupied central military and government offices and arrested officials. Colonel Kazys Škirpa, who had initiated the military reform program,[12] tried to rally troops against the coup, but was soon overpowered and arrested.[16] The Seimas was dispersed and President Grinius was placed under house arrest. Colonel Povilas Plechavičius was released from prison (he had been serving a 20-day sentence for a fist fight with another officer) and declared dictator of Lithuania.[11] Later that day, Colonel Plechavičius asked Smetona to become the new President and normalize the situation. The military strove to create the impression that the coup had been solely their initiative, that Smetona had not been involved at all, and that he had joined it only in response to an invitation to serve as the "savior of the nation".[11] Prime Minister Sleževičius resigned, and President Grinius appointed Augustinas Voldemaras as the new Prime Minister.

Smetona and Voldemaras, both representing the Lithuanian National Union, invited the Christian Democrats to join them in forming a new government that would restore some degree of constitutional legitimacy. The party agreed reluctantly; they were worried about their prestige. Looking toward the near future, the Christian Democrats reasoned that they could easily win any upcoming Seimas elections, regaining power by constitutional means and avoiding direct association with the coup.[14] In keeping with this strategy, they allowed members of the Lithuanian National Union to take over the most prominent posts.

Initially, President Grinius refused to resign, but he was eventually persuaded that Polish invasion was imminent and that Smetona had sworn to uphold the constitution.[14] On 19 December 42 delegates of the Seimas met (without the Social Democrats or the Peasant Popular Union) and elected Aleksandras Stulginskis as the new Speaker of the Seimas. Stulginskis was the formal head of state for a few hours before Smetona was elected as the President (38 deputies voted for, two against, and two abstained).[14] The Seimas also passed a vote of confidence in the new cabinet formed by Voldemaras. Constitutional formalities were observed thereby.[12] The Lithuanian National Union secured other major roles: Antanas Merkys assumed office as Minister of Defense and Ignas Musteikis as Minister of the Interior.[14]

Aftermath

The official rationale given by the military was that their actions had prevented an imminent Bolshevik coup, allegedly scheduled for 20 December. Martial law was declared. About 350 communists were arrested and four leaders (Karolis Požela, Juozas Greifenbergeris, Kazys Giedrys and Rapolas Čarnas) were executed on 27 December.[11] This was a serious blow to the Communist Party of Lithuania and it was inactive for a time.[16] No concrete evidence was ever found that the communists had planned any coups.[11] Other political parties and organizations were not brutalized and, according to the military, no casualties were associated with the coup, apart from the four executions.[12] However, other sources cite the case of Captain Vincas Jonuška, who was allegedly shot by the guards of the Presidential Palace, and died a day later in a hospital.[19]

International recognition of the new government did not prove to be difficult.[14] The Western powers were not pleased with the Third Seimas when it ratified the non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union in September. They were looking for a government that would change the priorities of Lithuanian foreign policy. It was therefore not surprising that the British Daily Telegraph, the French Le Matin, and the United States' The New York Times wrote that the coup was expected to curtail the move towards friendly relations with the Soviet Union and normalize relations with Poland; the anti-democratic and unconstitutional nature of the coup was not emphasized.[20] The Western press reported the news calmly, or assessed it as a positive development in the Lithuanian struggle against Bolshevism. International diplomatic opinion held that a strong authoritarian leader would provide internal stability, and that even during the earlier years of the republic Lithuania had not been genuinely democratic, since many essential freedoms were curtailed under martial law.[20]

The Christian Democrats, believing that the coup was merely a temporary measure, demanded that new elections to the Seimas be held, but Smetona stalled. He predicted that his party would not be popular and that he would not be re-elected president.[21] In the meantime, the Nationalists were discussing constitutional changes that would increase the powers of the executive branch while curbing the powers of the Seimas.[12] In April, a group of populists tried to organize a coup "to defend the constitution," but the plans were discovered and the rebels were arrested. Among the detainees was a member of the Seimas, Juozas Pajaujis. On 12 April 1927, the Seimas protested this arrest as a violation of the parliamentary immunity by delivering a motion of no confidence against the Voldemaras government.[22] Smetona, using his constitutional right to do so, dissolved the Seimas. The constitution was violated, however, when no new elections were held within two months.[17] In April, Christian Democratic newspapers, which had been calling for new elections, were censored. On 2 May 1927, Christian Democrats withdrew from the government, thinking that the Nationalists acting alone would not be able to sustain it.[22] As a result, the Lithuanian National Union took the upper hand in its dispute with a much larger and influential rival and assumed the absolute control of the state.

The 1926 coup was a major event in interwar Lithuania; the dictatorship would go on for 14 years. In 1935, the Smetona government outlawed the activities of all other political parties.[4] The coup continues to be a difficult issue for Lithuanians, since the Soviet Union would go on to describe its subsequent occupation of Lithuania as a liberation from fascism. Encyclopædia Britannica, however, describes the regime as authoritarian and nationalistic rather than fascist.[23] The coup's apologists have described it as a corrective to an extreme form of parliamentarianism, justifiable in light of Lithuania's political immaturity.[24]

References

  1. ^ a b c d Vardys, Vytas Stanley; Judith B. Sedaitis (1997). Lithuania: The Rebel Nation. Westview Series on the Post-Soviet Republics. WestviewPress. pp. 34–36. ISBN 0-8133-1839-4.
  2. ^ Kamuntavičius, Rūstis; Vaida Kamuntavičienė; Remigijus Civinskas; Kastytis Antanaitis (2001). Lietuvos istorija 11–12 klasėms (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Vaga. p. 385. ISBN 5-415-01502-7.
  3. ^ Laučka, Juozas B. (Fall 1986). "The Structure And Operation Of Lithuania's Parliamentary Democracy 1920–1939". Lituanus. 32 (3). ISSN 0024-5089. Retrieved 4 March 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Crampton, R. J. (1994). Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century. Routledge. p. 102. ISBN 0-415-05346-3. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  5. ^ "Antanas Smetona". Institution of the President of the Republic of Lithuania. Archived from the original on 30 March 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
  6. ^ Vaičikonis, Kristina (Fall 1984). "Augustinas Voldemaras". Lituanus. 30 (3). ISSN 0024-5089. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  7. ^ "Kazys Grinius". Institution of the President of the Republic of Lithuania. Archived from the original on 30 March 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
  8. ^ "Mykolas Sleževičius" (in Lithuanian). Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
  9. ^ Eidintas, Alfonsas (1991). Lietuvos Respublikos prezidentai (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Šviesa. p. 104. ISBN 5-430-01059-6.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Eidintas, Alfonsas (1991). Lietuvos Respublikos prezidentai (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Šviesa. pp. 87–95. ISBN 5-430-01059-6.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kulikauskas, Gediminas (2002). "1926 m. valstybės perversmas". Gimtoji istorija. Nuo 7 iki 12 klasės (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Elektroninės leidybos namai. ISBN 9986-9216-9-4. Archived from the original on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 23 February 2008.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Gerutis, Albertas (1984). "Independent Lithuania". In Albertas Gerutis (ed.). Lithuania: 700 Years. Translated by Algirdas Budreckis (6th ed.). New York: Manyland Books. pp. 216–221. ISBN 0-87141-028-1. LCC 75-80057.
  13. ^ Eidintas, Alfonsas (1991). Lietuvos Respublikos prezidentai (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Šviesa. pp. 50–51. ISBN 5-430-01059-6.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 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. pp. 53–58. ISBN 0-312-22458-3.
  15. ^ Lieven, Anatol (1994). The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence. Yale University Press. p. 66. ISBN 0-300-06078-5. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  16. ^ a b c d Kamuntavičius, Rūstis; Vaida Kamuntavičienė; Remigijus Civinskas; Kastytis Antanaitis (2001). Lietuvos istorija 11–12 klasėms (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Vaga. pp. 376–379. ISBN 5-415-01502-7.
  17. ^ a b c Antanas Drilinga, ed. (1995). Lietuvos Respublikos prezidentai (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Valstybės leidybos centras. pp. 86–90. ISBN 9986-09-055-5.
  18. ^ Žalys, Vytautas (2006). Lietuvos diplomatijos istorija (1925–1940). T-1. Vilnius: Versus aureus. p. 210. ISBN 9955-699-50-7.
  19. ^ Antanas Drilinga, ed. (1995). Lietuvos Respublikos prezidentai (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Valstybės leidybos centras. pp. 330–331. ISBN 9986-09-055-5.
  20. ^ a b Kasperavičius, Algimantas (2006). "The Historical Experience of the Twentieth Century: Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism in Lithuania". In Jerzy W. Borejsza; Klaus Ziemer (eds.). Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes in Europe: Legacies And Lessons. Berghahn Books. pp. 299–300. ISBN 1-57181-641-0. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  21. ^ 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. 112. ISBN 0-312-22458-3.
  22. ^ a b Eidintas, Alfonsas (1991). Lietuvos Respublikos prezidentai (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Šviesa. pp. 107–108. ISBN 5-430-01059-6.
  23. ^ "Baltic states:Independence and the 20th century > Independent statehood > Politics". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 30 June 2012. Retrieved 20 March 2008.
  24. ^ Lane, Thomas (2001). Lithuania: Stepping Westward. Routledge. pp. 23–24. ISBN 0-415-26731-5. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
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