The 1938 Polish ultimatum to Lithuania was an ultimatum delivered to Lithuania by Poland on March 17, 1938. The Lithuanian government had steadfastly refused to have any diplomatic relations with Poland after 1920, protesting the annexation of the Vilnius Region by Poland. As pre-World War II tensions in Europe intensified, Poland perceived the need to secure its northern borders. Five days earlier, Poland, feeling supported by international recognition of the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, decided to deliver an ultimatum to Lithuania. The ultimatum demanded that the Lithuanian government unconditionally agree to establish diplomatic relations with Warsaw within 48 hours, and that the terms be finalized before March 31. The establishment of diplomatic relations would mean a de facto renunciation of Lithuanian claims to the region containing its historic capital, Vilnius (known in Polish as Wilno).
Lithuania, preferring peace to war, accepted the ultimatum on March 19. Although diplomatic relations were established as a result of the ultimatum, Lithuania did not agree to recognize the loss of Vilnius de jure. The government of Poland made a similar move against the Czechoslovak government in Prague on September 30, 1938, when it took advantage of the Sudeten Crisis to demand a portion of Zaolzie. On both occasions, Poland used the international crises to address long-standing border disputes.
Lithuania severed its diplomatic ties with Poland after the Polish general Lucjan Żeligowski staged a mutiny in October 1920 by order of Józef Piłsudski. He invaded Lithuanian-held territory, captured the disputed city of Vilnius (known to Poles as Wilno), and established the short-lived Republic of Central Lithuania. This entity was incorporated into Poland in 1922. In demographic terms Vilnius was the least Lithuanian of Lithuanian cities, divided almost evenly between the Polish-speaking population and Jews, with Lithuanian-speaking inhabitants constituting about 2–3% of the population, according to Russian (1897) and German (1916) censuses. Lithuania demanded that Polish troops withdraw behind the line drawn in the Suwałki Agreement, while Poland falsely maintained that it had not authorized Żeligowski's actions. The League attempted to mediate the dispute and Paul Hymans presented concrete proposals to form a federation. However, both sides were unwilling to make compromises and negotiations collapsed in January 1922. In January 1923, Lithuanian troops crossed over to the Allied-held Memelland and staged the Klaipėda revolt. It was one of the main factors that led to the decision of the Conference of Ambassadors to award Vilnius to Poland in March 1923.
The result was a state of "no war, no peace" as Lithuania avoided recognizing any Polish claims to the city and the region, as well as refusing to undertake any actions that would recognize Poland's control of Vilnius even de facto. Lithuania broke off all diplomatic relations with Poland and continuously emphasized that Vilnius remained its permanent capital (Kaunas was designated as the temporary capital). Poland refused to formally recognize the existence of any dispute regarding the region, since that would have lent legitimacy to the Lithuanian claims. Railroad traffic and telegraph lines could not cross the border, and mail service was complicated. For example, a letter from Poland to Lithuania needed to be sent to a neutral country, repackaged in a new envelope to remove any Polish signs, and only then delivered to Lithuania. The conflict over Vilnius remained the most important foreign policy issue in Lithuania, but it became increasingly marginalized in the international arena. There were unsuccessful informal attempts to normalize the situation, most notably by the Lithuanian Prime Minister Augustinas Voldemaras between 1927 and 1928 and by Foreign Minister Stasys Lozoraitis between 1934 and 1936, who asked President Smetona to re-establish the diplomatic relations with Poland. Both sides engaged in emotional and nationalistic rhetoric.
On March 11,[note 1] a day before Austria was annexed into Greater Germany following the Anschluss, Justas Lukoševičius, a Lithuanian border patrol, shot Stanisław Serafin, a Polish soldier, on the demarcation line in the village of Trasninkas near Merkinė. The exact circumstances are not clear as the obscure event was variously portrayed as a Lithuanian provocation, a Polish provocation, or as an unfortunate accident. During the 1920s and 1930s, similar incidents had occurred: between 1927 and 1937 seven Lithuanian border guards were killed during the course of 78 events. Usually, such incidents were handled at the local level in an attempt to forestall escalation. On this occasion, however, Polish radio and newspapers picked up the story and fanned anti-Lithuanian sentiment. Protests were held in Warsaw, Vilnius, and four other cities where the crowds shouted for military action against Lithuania. There is evidence that the Camp of National Unity was involved in organizing the protests.
On March 13, the Polish government issued a threatening statement accusing Lithuania of provocation. On the following day, the Senate of the Republic of Poland called for the establishment of diplomatic relations and for the Lithuanian renunciation of claims to Vilnius. Upon receiving news that Poland was considering extreme measures, President Smetona was verging towards agreeing to discuss diplomatic relations, but changed his mind at almost the last minute. On the night of March 14, the Lithuanians, acting through France's envoy to Warsaw, proposed a commission to investigate the shooting incident and to agree on measures to avoid such incidents in the future. This was a partial measure that clearly did not satisfy Poland, which responded by refusing, in the first paragraph of the ultimatum delivered three days later, to establish such a commission. At the same time Lithuanian diplomats approached foreign powers in a bid for international support.
The Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck, who had just returned from a trip to Sorrento, called for a government meeting on the night of March 16. During the meeting he argued that the ultimatum needed to contain only one demand: the establishment of diplomatic relations. In his view, such an ultimatum would not have violated any genuine Lithuanian interests and would offer much-improved prospects for peaceful resolution of the conflict and a speedy relief of tension. It was in accordance with Beck's vision for Eastern Europe, which was based on a Warsaw-dominated Polish–Baltic–Scandinavian bloc free of Soviet or German influence, a modified version of Józef Piłsudski's Międzymorze, which required the normalization of relations with Lithuania. The removal of the other demands also reflected political pressure on Poland from the Soviet Union, France, and the United Kingdom to prevent the conflict from escalating into warfare.
The Polish government agreed to Beck's proposal, and the ultimatum was toned down. However, at the same time, Beck ordered military preparations. Poland assembled four divisions along the demarcation line; about 50,000 Polish troops were present, and just over 20,000 Lithuanian troops. The Polish troops were reinforced by armored vehicles, by two air force regiments, consisting of about one hundred aircraft, and by the Polish fleet in the waters of the Baltic Sea along the Lithuanian shore.
The ultimatum contained an attachment: a draft of what would be deemed an acceptable response to the ultimatum. The proposed response stated only that Lithuania agreed to establish regular diplomatic relations, send a legation to Warsaw, and guarantee normal conditions of operation for a Polish legation in Kaunas.
After the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty was ratified in 1920, the Russian SFSR recognized Lithuanian claims to the Vilnius Region and continued to support them. In its responses to the 1938 ultimatum, the Soviet Union expressed concerns over Lithuania's independence and threatened to abrogate the Soviet–Polish Non-Aggression Pact of 1932. It made it clear, though, that it did not wish to be drawn into an armed conflict. This stance has been attributed to the growth of a threat from Japan; armed assistance to Lithuania would have required the Red Army to invade either Poland or Latvia and could have resulted in a war on two fronts. The Soviets urged France, a major ally of Poland at the time, to de-escalate the conflict and encourage a more moderate version of the ultimatum. France and the United Kingdom, preoccupied with the Anschluss, pressured Lithuania to normalize the relationship with Poland as soon as possible. They feared that the ultimatum had been approved by Nazi Germany.
Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, now turned its attention to the Klaipėda Region, then held by Lithuania. In April 1938, Hitler stated that control of the Port of Klaipėda (German: Memel) and its surrounding area was Germany's second-most important issue, following the status of the Sudeten area. In the event of armed hostilities between Poland and Lithuania, German troops were to defend and occupy the Klaipėda region and significant portions of western Lithuania. The Polish ambassador to Nazi Germany, Józef Lipski, was informed of these plans. The Poles agreed to cooperate with German troops and to respect German interests in Klaipėda if such an armed conflict were to arise. However, in Hitler's assessment, an immediate bid for Klaipėda was impolitic; he wished to maintain the status quo until more time had passed after the Anschluss. The German suggestion was that Lithuania concede to the Polish demands.
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, the three Baltic states, had formed the Baltic Entente in 1934. Its principal purposes were coordination of joint foreign policy and mutual international diplomatic support; it was not a military alliance. In Latvian and Estonian opinion, the Polish–Lithuanian dispute over Vilnius was outside the scope of the Entente, but they wished for a resolution, considering the conflict detrimental to the stability of the region. Latvia attempted to persuade Estonia to exert mutual pressure on Lithuania for a speedy acceptance of the ultimatum. This reaction from an ally was unexpected.
President Smetona held a government meeting late on the night of March 18, to decide whether to accept the ultimatum. Lithuania clearly lacked international support and the demand was rather tame. A refusal would have cast Lithuania in an unfavorable light as an unreasonable disputant that had irrationally rejected peaceful diplomatic relations for eighteen years. Lithuanian diplomats were divided on the issue, while popular opinion was strongly against accepting the ultimatum. Various campaigns for the Lithuanian liberation of Vilnius had attracted massive participation. "Mourning of Vilnius Day" (October 9, when Żeligowski invaded Lithuania and captured Vilnius), had become an annual event, and the largest social organization in interwar Lithuania was the Union for the Liberation of Vilnius, with some 25,000 members. Passionate feelings about Vilnius were expressed in a popular slogan "Mes be Vilniaus nenurimsim" (we will not rest without Vilnius), part of a poem by Petras Vaičiūnas. While Paul Hymans' regional peace plans at the League of Nations were under negotiation, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ernestas Galvanauskas barely survived an assassination attempt. A government decision to open over 80 Polish schools in Lithuania was a probable factor in the 1926 Lithuanian coup d'état. Any government making concessions to Poland at that time risked an ouster.
President Smetona received memoranda from nine nationalistic organizations urging the government to reject the ultimatum. However, a decisive comment was made by General Stasys Raštikis, the commander of the Lithuanian army: He testified that a military victory over Poland was impossible and argued for a peaceful resolution. The government's decision was confirmed by the Fourth Seimas with minimal discussion. On March 19, Dailidė relayed acceptance of the ultimatum to the Poles, who gave a 12-hour extension to decide on the ultimatum as a show of good faith.
The ultimatum contributed to the general atmosphere of tension and fear in Europe. It relieved some of the pressure on Germany that had arisen in the aftermath of the Anschluss and tested the Soviets' willingness to defend their interests in Eastern Europe. Fears were expressed, both in Lithuania and abroad, that the establishment of diplomatic relations was not the only goal of Warsaw and that more far-reaching ultimata might follow. Speculations arose that Poland might seek to resurrect the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, using Germany's annexation of Austria as a precedent. Poland announced that it planned to create a neutral bloc comprising Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Romania to counter both fascism and communism. It stated that it had no wish to incorporate Lithuanian territories and maintained that the bloc would be formed on the basis of bilateral non-aggression and economic treaties. According to The New York Times, the impact of the ultimatum was felt on Wall Street; on March 17, the foreign currency and bond markets sagged, in some cases reaching the lowest points seen in several years. These markets recovered on March 19, after the ultimatum was accepted.
The acceptance triggered a government crisis in Lithuania: on March 24, Prime Minister Juozas Tūbelis, who held uncompromising positions over Vilnius and at the time of the ultimatum was undergoing medical treatment in Switzerland, stepped down. His successor, Vladas Mironas, who was in favor of normalizing relations with Poland, assembled a new cabinet of ministers. Despite increasing pressure to form a broader coalition, the new cabinet was composed solely of members of the Lithuanian Nationalists Union. The unconditional acceptance hurt Lithuanian pride and damaged the reputation of the party. The suppressed opposition used this damage as an opportunity to renew its activities and formed a group called Ašis (Axis). In Poland the acceptance was greeted with enthusiasm, described as a "great bloodless victory", and celebrated by a military march in Vilnius.
A few days after the ultimatum, both Lithuania and Poland named their ambassadors. Kazys Škirpa was sent to Warsaw, and Franciszek Charwat was sent to Kaunas before March 31, the deadline indicated in the ultimatum. Negotiations over practical matters began on March 25, in Augustów, and by June three agreements covering rail transit, mail service, and river navigation had been concluded. The railroad, torn apart for several kilometers at the border, was repaired. A customs post was established in Vievis, and consulates were opened in Klaipėda and Vilnius. Lithuania closed the League for the Liberation of Vilnius and the Vilnius Foundation; the latter organization had given financial support to Lithuanian activities in the Vilnius Region. Nevertheless, Lithuania continued to claim Vilnius as its de jure capital. In May 1938 a new constitution was adopted, which echoed the previous constitution's statement that Vilnius was the permanent capital of Lithuania and that Kaunas was merely a temporary capital. Poland continued to suppress Lithuanian organizations in Vilnius.
A thaw in Polish–Lithuanian relations began in spring 1939. After the German–Czech and German–Lithuanian crises, Poland made more active efforts to ensure Lithuania's assistance, or at least neutrality, in the event of a war with Nazi Germany. Lithuanian General Stasys Raštikis and Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck made high-profile visits to each other's countries, and Poland improved the conditions of Lithuanians in the Vilnius Region. However, Lithuania did not believe that Poland and its western allies were strong enough to resist Germany and the Soviet Union. When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Lithuania maintained a policy of strict neutrality, refusing repeated German offers for a joint attack on Poland to capture Vilnius. Instead, Lithuania interned about 15,000 Polish soldiers and accepted about 35,000 Polish civilian refugees. The Soviet Union returned Vilnius to Lithuania after the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland in September 1939. Neither country was aware at the time of the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, signed in August 1939, in which Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to divide the region into their spheres of influence. In June 1940, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Lithuania in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. A year later Russia was attacked by Nazi Germany leading to the Nazi occupation of Lithuania.
The history of Lithuania dates back to settlements founded many thousands of years ago, but the first written record of the name for the country dates back to 1009 AD. Lithuanians, one of the Baltic peoples, later conquered neighboring lands and established the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th century (and also a short-lived Kingdom of Lithuania). The Grand Duchy was a successful and lasting warrior state. It remained fiercely independent and was one of the last areas of Europe to adopt Christianity (beginning in the 14th century). A formidable power, it became the largest state in Europe in the 15th century through the conquest of large groups of East Slavs who resided in Ruthenia. In 1385, the Grand Duchy formed a dynastic union with Poland through the Union of Krewo. Later, the Union of Lublin (1569) created the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that lasted until 1795, when the last of the Partitions of Poland erased both Lithuania and Poland from the political map. Afterward, the Lithuanians lived under the rule of the Russian Empire until the 20th century.
On February 16, 1918, Lithuania was re-established as a democratic state. It remained independent until the outset of World War II, when it was occupied by the Soviet Union under the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Following a brief occupation by Nazi Germany after the Nazis waged war on the Soviet Union, Lithuania was again absorbed into the Soviet Union for nearly 50 years. In 1990–1991, Lithuania restored its sovereignty with the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania. Lithuania joined the NATO alliance in 2004 and the European Union as part of its enlargement in 2004.History of Poland
The history of Poland has its roots in the migrations of Slavs, who established permanent settlements in the Polish lands during the Early Middle Ages. The first ruling dynasty, the Piasts, emerged by the 10th century AD. Duke Mieszko I (d. 992) is considered the de facto creator of the Polish state and is widely recognized for the adoption of Western Christianity that followed his baptism in 966. Mieszko's duchy of Poland was formally reconstituted as a medieval kingdom in 1025 by his son Bolesław I the Brave, known for military expansion under his rule. Perhaps the most successful of the Piast kings was the last one, Casimir III the Great, who presided over a brilliant period of economic prosperity and territorial aggrandizement before his death in 1370 without male heirs. The period of the Jagiellonian dynasty in the 14th–16th centuries brought close ties with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a cultural Renaissance in Poland and continued territorial expansion that culminated in the establishment of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569.
In its early phases, the Commonwealth was able to sustain the levels of prosperity achieved during the Jagiellonian period, while its political system matured as a unique noble democracy. From the mid-17th century, however, the huge state entered a period of decline caused by devastating wars and the deterioration of its political system. Significant internal reforms were introduced during the later part of the 18th century, especially in the Constitution of 3 May 1791, but neighboring powers did not allow the reform process to advance. The independent existence of the Commonwealth ended in 1795 after a series of invasions and partitions of Polish territory carried out by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy.
From 1795 until 1918, no truly independent Polish state existed, although strong Polish resistance movements operated. After the failure of the last military uprising against the Russian Empire, the January Uprising of 1863, the nation preserved its identity through educational initiatives and a program of "organic work" intended to modernize the economy and society. The opportunity to regain independence only materialized after World War I, when the three partitioning imperial powers were fatally weakened in the wake of war and revolution.
The Second Polish Republic, established in 1918, existed as an independent state until 1939, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union destroyed it in their invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II. Millions of Polish citizens perished in the course of the Nazi occupation of Poland between 1939 and 1945 as Germany classified ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Jews and Romani (Gypsies) as subhuman. Nazi authorities targeted the last two groups for extermination in the short term, deferring the extermination and/or enslavement of the Slavs as part of the Generalplan Ost ('General Plan for the East') conceived by the Nazi régime. A Polish government-in-exile nonetheless functioned throughout the war and the Poles contributed to the Allied victory through participation in military campaigns on both the eastern and western fronts. The westward advances of the Soviet Red Army in 1944 and 1945 compelled Nazi Germany's forces to retreat from Poland, which led to the establishment of a communist satellite state of the Soviet Union, known from 1952 as the Polish People's Republic.
As a result of territorial adjustments mandated by the victorious Allies at the end of World War II in 1945, Poland's geographic centre of gravity shifted towards the west and the re-defined Polish lands largely lost their historic multi-ethnic character through the extermination, expulsion and migration of various ethnic groups during and after the war. By the late 1980s, the Polish reform movement Solidarity became crucial in bringing about a peaceful transition from a communist state to a capitalist economic system and a liberal parliamentary democracy. This process resulted in the creation of the modern Polish state: the Third Polish Republic, founded in 1989.History of Poland (1918–1939)
The history of interwar Poland comprises the period from the re-recreation of the independent Polish state in 1918, until the joint Invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 at the onset of World War II. The two decades of Poland's sovereignty between the world wars are known as the Interbellum.
Poland re-emerged in November 1918 after more than a century of partitions by Austria-Hungary, the German, and the Russian Empires. Its independence was confirmed by the victorious powers through the Treaty of Versailles of June 1919, and most of the territory won in a series of border wars fought from 1918 to 1921. Poland's frontiers were settled in 1922 and internationally recognized in 1923.
The Polish political scene was democratic, but was chaotic until Józef Piłsudski (1867–1935) seized power in May 1926 and democracy ended. The policy of agrarianism led to the redistribution of lands to peasants and the country achieved significant economic growth between 1921 and 1939. A third of the population consisted of minorities—Ukrainians, Jews, Belarusians and Germans—who were either hostile towards the existence of the Polish state because of the lack of privileges or often discriminated against in the case of Ukrainians and Belarusians who faced Polonization. There were treaties that supposedly protected them but the government in Warsaw was not interested in their enforcement.Index of Lithuania-related articles
The following is an alphabetical list of articles related to Lithuania.Lithuania–Poland relations
Polish–Lithuanian relations date from the 13th century, after the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under Mindaugas acquired some of the territory of Rus' and thus established a border with the then-fragmented Kingdom of Poland. Polish-Lithuanian relations subsequently improved, ultimately leading to a personal union between the two states. From the mid-16th to the late-18th century Poland and Lithuania merged to form the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a state that was dissolved following their partition by Austria, Prussia and Russia. After the two states regained independence following the First World War, Polish-Lithuanian relations steadily worsened due to rising nationalist sentiments. Competing claims to the Vilnius region led to armed conflict and deteriorating relations in the interwar period. During the Second World War Polish and Lithuanian territories were occupied by both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, but relations between Poles and Lithuanians remained hostile. Following the end of World War II, both Poland and Lithuania found themselves in the Eastern Bloc, Poland as a Soviet satellite state, Lithuania as a Soviet republic. With the fall of communism relations between the two countries were reestablished.Polish–Lithuanian relations during World War II
The issue of Polish and Lithuanian relations during World War II is a controversial one, and some modern Lithuanian and Polish historians still differ in their interpretations of the related events, many of which are related to the Lithuanian collaboration with Nazi Germany and the operations of Polish resistance organization of Armia Krajowa on territories inhabited by Lithuanians and Poles. In recent years a number of common academic conferences have started to bridge the gap between Lithuanian and Polish interpretations, but significant differences still remain.Polonization
Polonization (or Polonisation; Polish: polonizacja) is the acquisition or imposition of elements of Polish culture, in particular the Polish language. This was experienced in some historic periods by the non-Polish populations of territories controlled or substantially under the influence of Poland. As with other examples of cultural assimilation, it could either be voluntary or forced and is most visible in the case of territories where the Polish language or culture were dominant or where their adoption could result in increased prestige or social status, as was the case of the nobility of Ruthenia and Lithuania. To a certain extent Polonization was also administratively promoted by the authorities, particularly in the period following World War II.Second Polish Republic
The Second Polish Republic, commonly known as interwar Poland, refers to the country of Poland in the period between the First and Second World Wars (1918–1939). Officially known as the Republic of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska), sometimes Commonwealth of Poland, the Polish state was re-established in 1918, in the aftermath of World War I. When, after several regional conflicts, the borders of the state were fixed in 1922, Poland's neighbours were Czechoslovakia, Germany, the Free City of Danzig, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and the Soviet Union. It had access to the Baltic Sea via a short strip of coastline either side of the city of Gdynia. Between March and August 1939, Poland also shared a border with the then-Hungarian governorate of Subcarpathia. The Second Republic ceased to exist in 1939, when Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the Slovak Republic, marking the beginning of the European theatre of World War II.
In 1938, the Second Republic was the sixth largest country in Europe. According to the 1921 census, the number of inhabitants was 27.2 million. By 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, this had grown to an estimated 35.1 million. Almost a third of population came from minority groups: 13.9% Ruthenians; 10% Ashkenazi Jews; 3.1% Belarusians; 2.3% Germans and 3.4% Czechs and Lithuanians. At the same time, a significant number of ethnic Poles lived outside the country's borders.
The political conditions of the Second Republic were heavily influenced by the aftermath of World War I and conflicts with neighbouring states (Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, the Soviet Union) and the emergence of Nazi Germany.
The Second Republic maintained moderate economic development. The cultural hubs of interwar Poland – Warsaw, Kraków, Poznań, Wilno and Lwów – became major European cities and the sites of internationally acclaimed universities and other institutions of higher education.Ultimatums to the Baltic governments
Ultimatums to the Baltic governments may refer to:
Ultimatums to Estonia:1940 Soviet ultimatum to EstoniaUltimatums to Latvia:1940 Soviet ultimatum to LatviaUltimatums to Lithuania:1938 Polish ultimatum to Lithuania
1939 German ultimatum to Lithuania
1940 Soviet ultimatum to Lithuania
Ultimatums presented to Lithuania