Lithuanians


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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Lithuanians

 

(self-designation, lietuviai) a nation; the main population of the Lithuanian SSR. There are 2,665,000 Lithuanians in the USSR (1970, census), including 2,507,000 in the Lithuanian SSR and 158,000 in other republics (mainly the northwestern part of the RSFSR and in Latvia and Byelorussia). More than 500,000 Lithuanians live abroad (mainly in the USA, but also in Western Europe, Canada, Poland, South America, and Australia). Most of them (with the exception of those living in Poland) are descendants of emigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They speak Lithuanian. Most religious Lithuanians are Catholics.

The Lithuanian people was formed from various Baltic tribes of cattle raisers and farmers, whose ancestors reached the basins of the Nemunas (Neman) and Daugava (Dvina) rivers in the late third and early second millennia B.C., bringing with them a well-developed Neolithic culture of polished boat-shaped battle-axes. Of these Baltic tribes, the Lithuanians themselves, or Auk-ŝtaičiai (in the Russian chronicles, litva) and the žemaičiai (zhomoit’ and zhmud’), Skalviai (shalavy), and Nadraviai totally merged into the Lithuanian nationality. Some of the Sudovians (Jatwingians), the southern groups of the Curonians (kors’), Zemgalians (zemigola), and Selonians were also part of the Lithuanians.

From the ninth to 12th centuries, the development of productive forces (farming, livestock raising, iron metallurgy, and other trades and crafts) increased the interaction among Lithuanian territorial and tribal groups, their social differentiation grew, early feudal relations developed, and the Lithuanian nationality gradually took shape. In the first half of the 13th century, the ethnic consolidation of the Lithuanians was facilitated by the formation of the Lithuanian state (Grand Duchy of Lithuania), which grew stronger in the constant struggle against the aggressive Teutonic Order. In the 14th to 16th centuries, firm ties were established between the Lithuanians and the East Slavs (Russians and Byelorussians) within the state. The struggle against the Teutonic Order drew Lithuania and Poland together. The conversion of the Lithuanian feudal leadership to Catholicism (late 14th century), which long remained alien to the common people, also contributed to the polonization of the Lithuanian landlords and the spread of the Polish language among them. However, the majority of the peasants steadfastly preserved their mother tongue and their distinctive material and spiritual culture. Even the Lithuanians of the Klaipėda territory (Memelland), who came under the rule of the Teutonic Order in the 13th century and underwent forced germanization over several centuries, did not lose their ethnic consciousness.

During the feudal period, with its typical economic individualization of regions, local ethnic groups that differed from each other in dialects and some social and cultural features developed within the unified Lithuanian nation. In addition to the žemaičiai and Aukŝtaičiai, who continued to inhabit the ancient tribal areas, these groups included the Dzūkai in southeastern Lithuania (descendants of some of the Sudovians), the Kapai (the southern trans-Nemunas peoples), and the Zanavykai (the northern trans-Nemunas peoples). In 1795 and 1815 the ethnic territory of the Lithuanians (except for the Klaipėda territory, or Memelland) became part of the Russian Empire. In the second half of the 19th century, the Lithuanian nation was formed in Lithuania. From 1919 to 1940, Lithuania was a bourgeois republic (the Vilnius region was part of Poland from 1920 to 1939).

In 1940, Lithuania became part of the USSR. The Lithuanian people embarked upon the path of socialist and communist development and were consolidated into a socialist nation. The Lithuanians created a diverse material and spiritual culture, with numerous distinctive national features.

REFERENCES

Narody Evropeiskoi chasti SSSR, vol. 2. Moscow, 1964. (Bibliography.)
Lietuvių etnografijos bruožaj Vilnius, 1964.
Iŝ lietuvių kultūros istorijos, vols. 1–4. Vilnius, 1958–64.
Lietuvos TSR istorija, vols. 1–4. Vilnius, 1957–63.
Volkaité-Kulikauskiené, R. Lietuviai IX-XII amžiais. Vilnius, 1970. Lietuvininkai. Vilnius, 1970.
Rimantienė, R. Pirmieji Lietuvos gyventojai. Vilnius, 1972.

N. N. CHEBOKSAROV

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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