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ABOUT RUSSIA / NATIONS / LITHUANIANS

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Nations of Russia

The Lithuanians

The Lithuanians live in Kaliningradskaya Oblast, Moscow, Irkutskaya Oblast, Sverdlovskaya Oblast, Permskaya Oblast.
The Lithuanians are the titular nation of Lithuania, that became independent from the Soviet Union in 1990/91.
Thre are four primary sub-groups: the Aukstaiciai (known as "highlanders", living in the south and east), the Dzukai (south-eastern part, influenced by Polish), the Suvalkieciai (south-west, further subdivided into Kapsai and Zanavykai) and the Zemaiciai (known as "lowlanders", living in the western parts of Lithuania).
Language: Lithuanian, belongs to Baltic group
Religion: Catholics, Lutheran minority (4%)
Diaspora: Latvia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Estonia, Uzbekistan, Georgia, USA, Canada, Poland, Australia.


Lithuania became a unified nation at the end of the 12th century, and by the mid-1300s, the Lithuanian empire in Europe stretched from the Baltic Sea in the northwest and almost to the Black Sea in the south-east. Lithuanian expansion collided Polish expansion, however, and the two states joined in a dynastic coalition through the Union of Krevo, signed in 1385. The two eventually became a single state in 1569, and over the years, Poland became the more dominant of the two powers thanks to larger population and strategic location. Lithuanian ethnic identity became subordinate to a Polish identity, and it was maintained primarily by the lower classes.
In 1795, with the partition of Poland, much of Lithuania came under the control of the Russian tsar. Russian domination was rather inconsistent with the direction of Lithuanian history. Russians were Orthodox Christians, Lithuanians were Catholics, Lithuanians used Latin script, as opposed to Cyrillic, Lithuanians felt culturally more related to Scandinavians, Poles and Germans, than to Russians, and Lithuania was united by trade routes through the Baltic Sea to Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain, rather than through the great rivers and into Russia.
The obvious misfit between the Poles and Lithuanians and the Russians triggered Polish/Lithuanian Revolts in 1830/31 and 1863. The tsar responded with harsh measures against Catholisis, but these measures only intensified nationalist and Catholic sentiments.
A more organised movement for independence of Lithuania emerged in the 1880s, with their own publications, and exile institutions, mainly in Prussia. The tsar allowed a Lithuanian nationalist congress to convene in Vilnius in 1905, and the congress demanded autonomy from Russia, restoration of previous borders, and restioration of Lithuanian language as language of instruction in schools.
Before any of these demands were met, World War I broke out and Lithuania was occupied by Germany. At the end of the war, Lithuania declared itself independent. The Bolshevik Red Army invaded and installed a puppet government, but by May 1920, Lithuanian and German forces had driven the Russians out. Lithuania was recognised as independent. A shortlived Lithuanian democracy was established.
In 1939, Germany took control of parts of Lithuania, but let the Soviets take over, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact. In 1940, the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, installed a puppet Communist government, and the Lithuanian SSR was established.
The Soviets immediately began various russification measures, and also deported tens of thousands of suspected Lithuanian nationalists. When Nazi Germany invaded and took control over Lithuania the next year, the Lithuanians rose up and declared independence. Lithuanian partisans fought against the German occupation, and almost 300.000 lives were lost (many of them were Jews that died in extermination camps). In 1944, Soviet forces "liberated" Lithuania, and Stalin immediately set about eliminating Lithuanian nationalism. Tens of thousands suspected nationalists were killed and severeal hundred thousand were sent to Gulag prison camps. All in all, during World War II and Stalin's reign of terror, around one third of the Lithuanian population was killed or deported. Lithuanian guerillas continued to fight the Soviets until around 1950.
Collectivisation and careless industrialisation severely damaged Lithuania's economy and ecology. Soviet rule also brought many Russians to Lithuania, with promises of good jobs and housing.
Both in the 1950s and -70s, there were political protests in Lithuania, but it was not until Gorbachov came to power in the mid 1980s, that the winds of change began to blow. Gorbachov himself, in 1987 began discussing more openly the possibility of more autonomy for the Baltic states, and in 1988, a popular front was established, under the name "Sajudis". A strong expression of the Balts' (Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians) commitment to independence from the Soviet union took place in 1989, when an enormous number of people from the three nationalities joined hands - literally - in a 400 miles chain from Tallinn via Riga to Vilnius, facing west towards Europe, and turning their backs at the Soviet Union.
In February 1990, multi-party elections were held, and the Sajudis movement won a majority in the new parliament. In March, they declared Lithuania independent. Gorbachov sent troops and introduced an embargo. An agreement was reached, by which Lithuania agreed to "freeze" the independence declaration. In the beginning of 1991, there were many crises between Moscow and Vilnius over military conscripts and other issues. But the Soviet Union was falling apart, and in the wake of the failed coup in Moscow in August, Lithuanian independence became a reality.

Among Lithuanians living in Siberia or other parts of Russia as a result of Stalin's deportations, many may want to be repatriated to Lithuania in the years to come.
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