The New Elite in Post-Communist Eastern Europe

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Christopher Vanderpool et al. | Go to book overview

7
The Emergence of the Lithuanian Political Elite

Vladas Gaidys

Prior to the sixteenth century, Lithuania's ruling elite had a Lithuanian identity with local origins. The elite used the Lithuanian language and identified with the Lithuanian duchy. Subsequently, Lithuania's autonomy suffered a decline as it became more integrated with the Polish state. Advanced technology and European culture came to Lithuania from Poland. As a result, a large share of nobility lost its Lithuanian identity.

As part of the Russian empire (from the eighteenth to the twentieth century), the official bureaucracy in Lithuania consisted of Russians, but the Polish-speaking nobility and Roman Catholic priests still played an important role in state affairs. Following World War I, the independent Lithuanian state was shaped by a statehood-minded intelligentsia, many of whom were graduates of Moscow and Saint Petersburg universities. Prior to the 1926 military coup, Lithuania was a parliamentary republic dominated by the political parties of social democratic persuasion. The coup propelled to power a right-wing authoritarian regime that endured until the country lost its independence in 1940. The Red Army's occupation of Lithuania gave rise to a collaborationist elite. It consisted of underground communists (the likes of Antanas Snechkus) as well as leftist intelligentsia, who entertained many illusions typical of the then prevalent mood among the intelligentsia in many countries. Members of Lithuania's former political elite were either repressed, or they emigrated to the West. Of the 79 members of the Council of Ministers of independent Lithuania who lived to see the Soviet invasion, 38 were executed or expelled, 37 emigrated to the West, and only 4 managed to adapt to the new circumstances.1

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