Lithuanian Nationalism and the Vilnius Question, 1883-1940

Dangiras Mačiulis and Darius Staliūnas

Lithuanian Nationalism and the Vilnius Question, 1883-1940

According to the 1897 general census of the Russian Empire, the percentage of Lithuanians in the city of Vilnius stood only at 2.1 per cent. At the same time, Lithuanian activists also had no allies in their struggle for the creation both of territorial autonomy first and later of an independent state “within its ethnographic boundaries” with Vilnius as its capital. Yet, irrespective of all these circumstances, the majority of the leaders of the Lithuanian national movement saw Vilnius as their future capital. This book explores the emergence of the notion of Vilnius as the capital of modern Lithuania, which was nurtured in the late 19th and early of the 20th century, as well as examining its evolution and implementation among the masses. Since the nationalists of the time found it hard to imagine a national state with a capital in which the titular nation makes up no more than a few percent of its citizens, Lithuanisation of Vilnius, i.e. the aim that the majority of the city’s inhabitants be Lithuanians, is also among the topics discussed in this study. A great part of the book is devoted to the interwar period when Vilnius was part of Poland, and the Lithuanian political and intellectual elite tried to instill the idea of Vilnius as an eternal capital of Lithuania into the masses. This study shows that in interwar Lithuania, the idea of Vilnius as the capital of modern Lithuania became not only a political ideal but also a tool for political manipulation. While this book does not analyse in detail the attitudes held by Jews, Poles, Belarusians or Russians regarding the Vilnius question, it nevertheless points out the counter-arguments of other Nationalities the Lithuanian claims to Vilnius were up against.

Herder Institut

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