• December 6, 2018
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Representatives of the national minorities with Lithuanians created the history of Lithuania’s statehood

In historical development, the same tendencies that pertained to Lithuanians, e.g highs and lows, occupations, crises, political persecutions and various reforms, also affected the national minorities. These processes changed the structure of Lithuanian society and urban residents.

The historian, professor of Vilnius University, Zenonas Butkus, talked about how national minorities became an inseparable part of society, participated in the creation of the Lithuanian state, actively contributed to the strengthening of statehood in the interwar period and participated in the struggle for independence of the country.

In the opinion of prof. Butkus, historical sources witness that Lithuania has long been open to representatives of various nationalities and religions.

”There are many traces left in different historical periods by different nations in the history, culture, traditions, heritage of Lithuania and even in the Lithuanian language. No one is surprised because representatives of various denominations settled in pagan Lithuania. The Eastern Christians, Ruthenians and Western Christians, Poles and Germans lived in The Grand Duchy of Lithuania. After the Christianization of Lithuania in 1387 and the fact that western Christianity became the state religion, minorities became non-Christians – followers of Judaism and Muslims, later, during the Reformation, appeared Lutheran evangelicals as well as Arians (anti-Trinitarians), which the Dominant Church did not consider as Catholics,” says the historian. Also, persecuted nations found shelter in The Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Professor of the University of Vilnius emphasizes that after the Union of Lublin in the Grand Duchy, Poles began to form communities, and the Catholic Church began to spread the Polish culture.

Oppressed nation also found shelter here. From the end of the 15th century, the Romanian camps began to cover the Grand Duchy. Aafter the conclusion of the Union of Brest in 1596, the Greek Catholics (unici) enriched the Christian denominations.At the end of the 17th century, the Old Believers began to run to the Grand Duchy  because of persecution. Over the centuries, People seeking shelter have created strong communities. Each nation found its place in the Grand Duchy and was accepted there. ” says prof. Butkus.

National minorities with their achievements celebrated the Grand Duchy.

Prince Witold settled the first groups of non-Christians in the most important cities and its suburbs of the Grand Duchy. In 1388, prince gave the privileges to Jews settled in Brest, mostly to Ashkenazi. Jews played a very important role in the development of the economy, the growth of cities and towns in the country. They created a widely-known school of Judaism. The town of Trakai became the world-famous because of the critic of Christianity, Karaim Isaac ben Abraham of Trakai, – spiritual leader of the Karaims in the Grand Duchy, who wrote anti-Christian polemic in Hebrew, defending the Judaism.

In the interwar period, representatives of the national minorities defended Lithuania’s freedom.
According to prof. Butkus, the national minorities, taking active part in the social life of Lithuania, also distinguished themselves in the interwar period.

”Immediately after Lithuania’s independence, not only Lithuanians, but also representatives of many different nationalities took part in the battles of 1918-1920. Many representatives of the national minorities accepted the invitation to join the Lithuanian army. They fought bravely and died for the independence of Lithuania. Throughout the independence period, various political and social movements were active in Lithuania. The Union of Jewish Soldiers, Participants of the Struggle for Independence was one of such movements, ” says the historian.

Representatives of the national minorities stood with us both in the Baltic Chain and at the Television Tower.

“At the time of liberalization after the 50 years of occupation of the Soviet political situation and the intensification of national movements, the national communities joined Sąjdis, took part in the Baltic Chain, defended Lithuanian independence on January 13, 1991 and during the August Coup,” says prof. Butkus.

The historian also recalls the little-known fact that more than three thousand representatives of various national communities living in Lithuania turned to the last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, demanding an immediate cessation of violence by the Soviet army. The community of Lithuanian Ukrainians did not remain indifferent to the events of 13 January. It appealed to the Soviet soldiers not to take up arms against the peaceful Lithuanian citizens defending Independence.

National communities, which throughout the complicated period of existence and development of the state together with the Lithuanians had undergone various changes, are undoubtedly an important part of Lithuanian society.


Translated by Iryna Lehenka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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