Antanas Smetona

and The Nationalist Movement

by Alexandra Baena


Lithuania has been one of the Eastern European States that has had constant political upheaval through the centuries. It is a small state surrounded by Poland, Germany, and Russia. Lithuania has had to fight long and hard to become and maintain its own independence due to its huge aggressive neighbors. Lithuania has gone through three distinctive periods in the 20th century which has greatly marked its government today.

The first period began after its release from German invasion in 1918. The democratic period lasted from 1918-1926. It consisted of three mayor forces- the Catholic bloc, the Populists, and the Social Democrats.


The Catholic bloc gained its strength from the Catholic clergy and heavily propagated the ideal that the church was the state. The Populists gained their strength through the rural population and was always in constant strife with the Catholic bloc over the ideals of church and state which it propagated. The Social Democrats were the most radical of the forces and relied heavily on the urban population. The Catholic bloc's control of the government declined after an agreement was signed between Poland and the Vatican over the area of Vilnus, which Lithuania considered hers. The decline left the government at the control of the Populists and the Social Democrats. There was increasing political turmoil at this time because there were no compromises or agreements between the ruling forces. There were also two different views that the public had to choose between an ideological view or a religious one. 

There was no discipline enforced or created by either of the parties and no one had any particular control or power among the masses. The political turmoil was also making Lithuania appear very vulnerable to the aggressive eyes of its neighbor, Poland, who would invade if it had the chance. People were hoping for someone to come in and save them from further invasion. The "new age" began on Dec.17, 1926 with a military coup d'etat led by Antanas Smetona and the Nationalist Movement. The authoritarian period began (Indiana, 3-6).


Antanas Smetona became the first president of Lithuania in April 4, 1919. He created an administrative apparatus; raised a Lithuanian army who was trained to fight against enemies on three fronts; he also instituted a system of taxation and a treasury. Smetona resigned his position with the appearance of a parliamentary government. He was reinstated as president once again in Dec.17, 1926 after the successful coup. He saw himself as a nationalist leader whose role was to create a unified and impenetrable Lithuania (Kapocids, 231-235). Smetona and his Nationalist regime was obsessed with both patriotism as well as nationalism. He wanted national unity for Lithuania and for it to have its own government and its own unique way of life (Indiana, 39).

 Nationalist writers focused in their writing on the importance of individuality for the Lithuanian state, that when unified would be able to promote its own will and "justify the nation's existence" (Indiana, 27).


Smetona envisioned a unified Lithuania which would become a socialist nation through his authoritarian regime. This regime would enable him to have absolute authority to lead the people of Lithuania to work together for the greater good of the nation. He established a system which would be reinstated after Lithuania gained its independence from Russia.

 Smetona's authoritarian and nationalist regime came to a dramatic end when he was forced to flee Lithuania on June 15,1940 after the invasion of the Communist Russia. The nationalist movement failed due to the fact that when people were asked to come together and defend Lithuanian independence, they responded with great apathy. They saw the nationalist movement as a dream not a reality (Indiana, 40).

 Smetona fled to Cleveland, Ohio where he died in a fire at his son's home in Jan.9, 1944. It has been recently speculated that the fire was not an accident, but that the KGB murdered him. Nothing has been proven (Nexus files).


References used:

Encyclopedia Lituanica. Juozas Kapacids; 1976 Lithuania in Crisis. Indiana University Press;1972 Nexus files at B.U. Library.



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