Lithuanian Schools

Figure 1.--All we know about this snapshot of is that it was taken in Lituania. We think the boys' school is in the background. The photograph is undated, but was probably taken after World War II in the late-40s or early-50s.

Lithuania is a small country of about 3 milliom people. It is not as Russified as the other Baltics. About 90 percent are Lithuanian, 8 percent Russian, and 2 percent Polish. Vilnius is the capital of the Lithuania and most of Russian and Polish citizens live there. Polish education has been affected by the dramatic political changes in the 20th century. Lituania was for years part of the Russian Empire but obtain independence as part of the World War I Peace settlement and disorders associated with the Russian Revolution. Independent Lituanian was annexed by the Soviets in 1940 after the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agession Pact of 1939. Soviet rule was short-lived as the Germans most of Lituanian within days after they invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The Soviets did not reistablish Communist rule until 1944. The United States and other western countries never recognized Soviet jurisdiction and Lithuania became an indepedent country in 1992 when the Soviet Unin was disolved. As a result of these many different political changes there have been many changes in Lithuanian schools. Our information on Lithuanian schools and the changes over time is very limited.

Tsarist Russia (18th century-1918)

Most of Lituania was acquired by Tsarist Russia as part of the 18th century Polish partitions. At the time what schools existed in the country were primarily German schools. It was thus for years part of the Russian Empire. Lithuasnia was ruled as a Grand Duchy. We have very little information on schools in Lithuanian durng the period of Russian rule. The foundation of a public school system was laid in the later years of the Tsarist Empire. We do know that considerable diversity was tolerated within the Russian Empire, although this varied over time. The prosperous peasants of Užnemunė were able to afford schooling for their children. [Stražas] (Suvalkija/Užnemunė in the southwest is the smallest of the five cultural regions of Lithuania.) It was here that a group of Lithuanian intelligentsia emerged anbd woiud serve as some of the first Lithuanian educators emerged. The example of public schools acroos the border in East Prussia may have been another factor. There were strong historic associations with Poland. Lithuanians participated in the January Rising (1863-64). Tsarist forces suppressed the insurrectionisrs with considerable brutality. Under Tsar Alexander III, the policy of Russification was intensified in the non-Russian privinces, especially Poland. The former Kingdom of Poland lost the the limited remaining elemernts of autonomy. Tsarist offivials eliminated the office of Viceroy and replaced it with a new Governor-General (1874). Užnemunė became subject to the Governor-General of Warsaw (1875). And Russification include language policy. Russian became the sole langguage used in the Tsarist administrative apparatus, including the schools and judicial system. Tsarist officials eventully replaced the term "Kingdom of Poland" with Privoslinsky Krai (The Vistula Region). [Stražas] We notice schools even in Lithuanian peasant communities in rural areas in the early-20th century, being taught in the Russian language.

German Empire (1915-18)

Most of Lithuania was acquired by the Tsarist Empire, but there were Lituanian populated areas that were part of by Brandenberg-Prussia even before the Polish partitions. A united Hohenzollern Prussia was established (1701). This was followed by the great famine and plague of (1709-10). These events were followed by the movement into East Prussia of Swabian, Swiss, and other Protestants. Thge result was the gradual Germanization of the region. Otto von Bismarck as Prussia's First Minister (1862) and later as Chancellor of Germany (1871) accelerated the process. He was primarily concerned with the much larger Polish population, but Lithuanians were also affected. Germany pursued a policy of Germanization in the non-German regions of the Empire. This affected the Lithuanian areas in the eastern portion of East Prussia. Until this time, schools had been taught in the Lithuanian language. This was gradually eliminated and all schools were taught in German. The new German Empire mandated German as the sole official state language. This was a major step in eliminating theLithuanian language from public life. Only in the churches did Lithuanian continue to bec used in any formal venue. Lithuanian spokesmen petitioned Imperial authorities to reestablish Lithuanian schools. One such petition was signed by 27,775 persons (1895). It and other requests were ignored. It continured, however, to be use at home and in personal exchanges. Lithuanian was also used in social and cultural organizations and institutions as well as the local press. [Stražas]

Independent Lithuania (1918-40)

Lithuania declared independence at the advent of the Russian Revolution and the end of World War I. The Bolshviks attempted to reimpose Russuan control, but as a result of the Civil War was unable to do so. As a result, Lithunia and the other Baltic states achieved their independence. The Versailles Peace Conference adopted the principle of self-determination and 12 new states, including Lithuania, were recognized. The new Lithuanian state was primarily the Tsarist Grand Duchy. Like the rest of the Baltics, Luthuania was poor, badly in debt, and devestted by the War and post-War fighting. The League of Nations Council offered to recognize the Baltics if they guaranteed minority rights (1921). [Peters] As a result of a League of Nations referendem, Memel was transferred from German East Prussia to Lithuania. Lituania and Poland were once part of an important medieval power. Thus the border areas there was considerable population mixing. The illdefined post-War border with Poland resulted in conflict with the new independent Polish state. The Poles seized Vilnus. We do not have much information on education in Lithuania during this period. For the first time there was an educational ststem based on national culture. Language was at the heart of this. Now Lithuanian children could study in their own language and Latin alphabet at all levels. The Cyrillic alphabet was dropped. There were informal 'schools of the hearth' in the villages taught in Lituanian to resist Tsarist Rusification. Tsarist officials had made some concessions on language as a result of the 1905 Revolution. Now Lithuanian was the official language. Independence fostered the development of a Lithuanian press, literature, music, arts, and theater. A national education system with Lithuanian as the language of instruction. The network of primary and secondary schools was established. Both primary and secondary schools were expanded along with tertiary institutions. There may have been separate schools for the major minorities such as the Germans, Poles, and Jews. The minorities, especially Germans and Jews were heavily represented in the cities. Lithuanians were the bulk of the rural population. This demographic pattern began to shift in the inter-War era as a result of a range of government policies. Lithuanian society at the time of independence was basically agricultural. Some 80 percen of ethnic Lituanians lived in rural areas. City populations were mostly Germans, Jews, Poles, and Russians. The Roman Catholic Church was a strong cultural force in addition to the mational revival. There was a substantial population increase, over 20 percent in the inter-War era. The most notable impact was a significant change in urban areas with Lituanians becoming the majority for the first time. All of this of course affected the schools. We know there were separate Jewish schools and most Jewish children attended these schools. There was also the issue of the ethnic Lithuanians living in Poland.

Soviet Annexation (1940-41)

Independent Lituanian was annexed by the by the Soviet Union under the terms of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agession Pact of 1939. Te schools becme ficyus of the new Soviet authorities. We have little information, however, at this time as to what happened in the schools. We believe that schools teachers were among the groups that the Soviers targeted for arrest and deportation.

NAZI Rule (1941-44)

The Germans seized Memel just before the onset of World War II, even before the Soviets annexed the country (March 1939). Soviet rule was short-lived in the rest of the country. The German Army Group North occupied most of Lithuania within days of launching Barbarossa (June 1941). We do not know at this time what happened in Lithuanian schools during this period. Unlike the Poles, the NAZIs did not target the Lithuanians for racial reasons. We believe the schools continued to function. There probably was considerable diruption. Teachers were among the groups the NKVD targetted. And teachers with Communist affilitations were presumably targetted by the Lithuanian nationaloists and German occupiers. Relatively little damage was done when the Germans invaded because Red army resistance essentially collapsed. The NAZIs did not, however, allow the Lithuamians to set up a government. The country was riled by military authorities. Much more war damage occirred when the Red Army drove out the Germns.

Soviet Union (1944-91)

The Soviets did not reistablish Communist rule until 1944. The United States and other western countries never recognized Soviet jurisdiction. The Communists incoporated Lithuanian schools into the Soviet education system. I'm not sure how the Soviets hanfeled the languafe question. Stalin promoted Russian emigration.

Independent Republic (1992- )

Lithuania became an indepedent country in 1992 when the Soviet Unin was disolved. There are separate Polish, Russian, and Lithuanian language schools. Only in gimnaziums (there are 2 Russian and 3 Lithuanian gimnazium in Lithuania) do pupils wear uniforms. Other Lithuanian schools do not require uniforms. HBC does not yet have information on Soviet and pre-Soviet schools.


Peters, Putin R. "Baltic state diplomacy and the League ofNations minorities system," in J. Hidenand A. Loit, The Baltic in International Relations between the Two World wars (Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis: 1988), pp. 281-302.

Stražas, A.S. "Lithuania 1863-1893: Tsarist Russification and the Beginnnings of the Modern Lithuanian National Movement," Lituanus (Lithuanian Uarterly Journalm of Arts and Sciences) Vol. 42, No.3 (Fall 1996).

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    Created: January 16, 2001
    Last updated: 4:32 AM 3/13/2016