In the nineteenth century it was commonplace to divide nationality groups into 'historic' and 'non-historic' categories. What distinguished one from the other was the past existence of statehood. In central and eastern Europe the Poles, Czechs and Hungarians were prominent examples of historic nations whose states had been destroyed and territories absorbed by neighbouring powers. Following the nineteenth-century growth of national self-consciousness, with its associated demands for national self-determination, the historic nations became the prime candidates for the restoration of statehood. It was generally assumed that the remaining 'non-historic' nations would achieve some form of autonomy within the structure of existing or soon-to-be-created states, and gain protection for their rights under minority legislation. The Lithuanians were believed to fall into this category.
The victorious Entente Powers who created the map of post-war Europe during the peace negotiations at Versailles in 1919, expected that Lithuania would again become part of Russia, as it had been since the Third Partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1795, whatever the outcome of the Russian civil war. Despite Lenin's rhetoric about self-determination, the Bolsheviks would have incorporated Lithuania and the other Baltic nations into Soviet Russia had they not been repulsed in the various wars on the western borders of Russia after the Armistice of 1918. Poland, its statehood recreated in the peace settlement and aspiring to great-power status in central Europe, assumed that Lithuania would be re-incorporated in it, either as part of a reconstituted and federally-organised Polish-Lithuanian Common-wealth or as an integral part of a unitary Polish state.
For the most part Poles did not take seriously Lithuanian claims to self-determination, believing that the Lithuanians were being deceived or manipulated by Germany, which preferred an independent Lithuania to one incorporated in Poland. After all, Lithuania was small and economically backward, its large estate owners were Polish or Polonized Lithuanians who identified with Poland, its peasantry were ethnically divided between Lithuanians, White Russians and Poles, and its commercial activities were carried on by Jews. It was conceded that there was a small and growing professional middle class and intelligentsia, but this was not taken seriously as the embodiment of Lithuanian national aspirations. For these reasons it was widely held
LITHUANIA: STEPPING WESTWARD