Vilnius

History

History

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The Lithuanian state arose and strengthened to counter the religious fervour of crusading German knights. Lithuania was the last European country to convert to Christianity, and has seen countless invasions and occupations over the centuries.

7th-2nd centuries BC
The first Baltic tribes establish themselves on what’s now known as Lithuanian territory.

11th century
The word Lithuania is first used in written texts in AD1009. At the same time, a wooden castle is built on Vilnius’ Gediminas Hill (Gedimino Kalnas), leading to the construction of a diminutive settlement beneath it.

13th century
Žemaitians defeat the Livonian Knights at the Battle of Saulė in 1236, establishing the settlement of Šiauliai. After uniting local chieftains, on July 6, 1253 Mindaugas (circa 1203-1263) is crowned Lithuania's one and only king. During his reign as the first Christian sovereign of the state, Vilnius Cathedral is built. However, the majority of the population remains pagan.

14th century
In 1323 Grand Duke Gediminas (circa 1275-1341) sends letters to various Germanic-speaking towns, inviting their craftsmen and merchants to settle in Vilnius with the promise of religious freedom. Trying to ensure peace, in 1325 he forms a union with Poland by marrying his daughter Aldona to the Polish king's son. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth comes into being with the 1387 Krėva Union, whereby Gediminas’ grandson Jogaila (circa 1348-1434) becomes a Polish king by marrying the Polish Princess Jadwiga (circa 1373-1399). Even with the increased security, the Teutonic Knights still manage to invade, resulting in the 1390 burning of the wood-constructed Vilnius.

15th century
The Teutonic Knights are eventually defeated onJuly 15, 1410 by joint Polish-Lithuanian armies led by Jogaila and Grand Duke Vytautas (1350-1430) at the Battle of Grunwald (Lithuanian, Žalgiris. German, Tannenberg), one of the greatest battles in medieval Europe. The country flourishes and by 1430 the borders extend from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

16th century
The Renaissance sees marked cultural advances, notably the printing of the first Lithuanian book in1547, and the founding of Vilnius University in1579. The end of the Jogaila dynasty in 1572results in the political and cultural marginalisation of Lithuania. Polish becomes the state language. The Livonian Wars (1558-1582) with Russia and Sweden drain the Commonwealth's resources.

18th century
At the start of the 18th century both Swedish and Russian forces try to seize control of Vilnius. In1795 Lithuania is incorporated into tsarist Russia. The 120-year Russian occupation is only interrupted by a short liberation by Napoleon's army in 1812 on his failed campaign to Moscow. During the Napoleonic army's return through Vilnius nearly 40,000 of his soldiers die due to starvation and extreme cold.

19th century
Vilnius University acts as a hotbed of dissent against the tsarist government, culminating in the1831 November Uprising, which leads to the closing of the institution. Russification ensues with non-Orthodox churches forcibly closed, the Lithuanian language banned in 1864 and the country named the Northwest Region. The ban on the Latin script forces the smuggling in of books from neighbouring East Prussia. Another uprising takes place in 1863 and General Muravyov (The Hangman) is sent from Moscow to restore order, resulting in deaths by hanging for most of the leading activists. The repression is countered and defied by a revival of Lithuanian culture and tradition. In 1883 Jonas Basanavičius (1851-1927) publishes the first Lithuanian-language newspaper, Auszra (Aušra, or Dawn).

20th century
During the WWI German occupation of 1915-1918 the Lithuanian Council proclaims independence on February 16, 1918. As the Germans retreat, the Lithuanian state comes under attack by the Polish General Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935) who seizes control of Vilnius and areas south of it from1920-1939. Poland maintains control of these areas by claiming they were a portion of the pre-war Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Kaunas becomes the interim capital of Lithuania until1940. During the inter-war period independent Lithuania prospers under the 14-year dictatorship (1926-1940) of the nationalist president Antanas Smetona (1874-1944). Lithuanian independence ends with the clandestine signing on August 23, 1939 of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Hitler and Stalin, who carve up Europe into portions to be controlled by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Lithuania is subject to both Soviet and Nazi occupation. Between 1941-1944the Nazis and their Lithuanian henchmen organise the mass murder of over 200,000 Jews, 94% of the entire Litvak population. The return of the Red Army and the re-incorporation of Lithuania into the USSR on July 7, 1944 results in the deportation of some 250,000 Lithuanians to Siberia, a task they'd already begun in1940 before the Nazis arrived. Lithuanian partisans, dubbed the Forest Brothers (Miško Broliai), wage guerrilla warfare until 1953. In an act of protest against the Soviet occupation, onMay 14, 1972 19-year-old student Romas Kalanta sets fire to himself in public in Kaunas, dying from his wounds.

Independence & Beyond

1988
June 3 The Lithuanian reform movement Sąjūdis is founded by some 500 representatives of the intelligentsia, advocating openness, democracy and sovereignty. August 23 Some 250,000 people gather in Vilnius to mark the 49th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.October 7 The Lithuanian flag is raised on Gediminas Castle.

1989
February 16 Lithuanian Independence Day is officially commemorated. August 23 An estimated 2,000,000 Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians join hands in a human chain stretching the 650km between Vilnius and Tallinn to protest the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

1990
January 11-13 Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Vilnius is far from pleasant as 300,000 pro-independence demonstrators turn out to 'welcome' him. March 4 Pro-independence Sąjūdis candidates receive an overall majority in the first free elections in Lithuania since 1940.March 11 The Supreme Council (later to become Parliament, or Seimas) declares the restoration of Lithuanian independence and demands the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Dr. Vytautas Landsbergis is elected parliamentary chairman.April 17 Moscow imposes an economic blockade.

1991
January 13 Soviet forces try unsuccessfully to storm the parliamentary building in Vilnius. A large crowd ensures the delegates are safe inside. However, during the Soviet bid to reclaim the media by storming the Television Tower, 14 people are killed. February 12 Iceland becomes the first country to recognise an independent Lithuania. July 31 Seven border guards and policemen are killed at the Medininkai border checkpoint by Soviet Special Forces. August 21The Moscow putsch collapses. Soviet troops leave the buildings they've occupied since January. Lenin's statue is removed from Vilnius’ Lukiškių Aikštė (Lukiškės Square). A photograph of the event appears on the cover of Issue N°1 ofVilnius In Your Pocket, published on May 1, 1992.August 29 Sweden becomes the first Western country to open an embassy in Vilnius.September 2 The USA recognises Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. September 17 All three Baltic countries are re-admitted into the UN.

1992
February 8 Lithuanians participate under their own flag at the Winter Olympics for the first time since 1928.

1993
June 25 Lithuania's pre-war currency, the litas, is re-introduced. August 31 The last Russian soldier leaves Lithuania. September 4-8 Pope John Paul II visits.

1994
December Vilnius’ Old Town joins the list of Unesco World Heritage sites.

1997
July 1 The Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) passes a property restitution law, allowing pre-war property owners and their descendants to reclaim property nationalised under the Soviet regime.

1998
January 4 Valdas Adamkus is elected president. Adamkus, who fled Lithuania in 1944, was a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago before returning to Lithuania to run for president. December 21 Seimas abolishes the death penalty in response to international pressure from the EU.

1999
December 13 Accession talks begin between Lithuania and the EU with a projected date of 2004. A major stumbling block is the decommissioning of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.

21st century

2000
At the Sydney Olympics Lithuania wins two gold and three bronze medals. The basketball team wins its third Olympic bronze coming within a few points of beating the American dream team for gold.

2001
June 23-27 The Dalai Lama visits Lithuania, visiting various sites in Vilnius and Kaunas.

2002
February 2 The litas switches pegging from the US dollar to the euro in readiness for EU accession, into which the country is invited to join on October 9. November 22 Lithuania is invited to become a member of Nato. George Bush visits Vilnius the following day, becoming the first US president to visit the city.

2003
In the January 5 run-off election, president Valdas Adamkus is voted out of office by the 46-year-old right wing underdog Rolandas Paksas.May 10-11 A staggering 91% of the 64% of the population who turned out to vote give a resounding Yes to EU membership.

2004
Jan-April Impeachment hearings take place as president Rolandas Paksas is found guilty of violating the Lithuanian constitution and his oath as president in his dealings with unsavoury Russian business partners. April 2 Lithuania becomes a fully-fledged member of Nato and the EU on May 1. June 27 A 77-year-old Valdas Adamkus is re-elected president. July Virgilijus Alekna, whose day job is protecting the president, wins a gold medal at the Athens Olympics in the discus. December 31 The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant says farewell to the first of its two RBMK reactors.

2005
September 15 A Russian SU-27 fighter veers off course and crashes 55km north of Kaunas.December 13 The Lithuanian Supreme Court acquits former president Rolandas Paksas, but leaves his impeachment in place.

2006
May 16 Lithuania becomes the first EU member state to have its application to adopt the euro rejected due to an unsatisfactory inflation rate.May 13 Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and his coalition government resign as two ministers face allegations of corruption. October 17-18Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, visit Vilnius.

2007
November 28 President Valdas Adamkus is awarded the title of European of the Year by theEuropean Voice newspaper. December 21Lithuania joins the Schengen zone, allowing borderless travel to and from other Schengen countries. December 22 The Lithuanian Television and Radio Commission bans broadcasting of the Voice of Russia radio station.

2008
June Lithuania outlaws the public display of Nazi and Soviet symbols. August While most public attention is on basketball, Edvinas Krungolcas and Andrejus Zadneprovskis win silver and bronze respectively in the modern pentathlon at the Beijing Olympics. The Lithuanian basketball team reach the semi-finals but eventually come home empty handed.

2009
Lithuania celebrates 1,000 years since its name was first mentioned in written texts. January 17With 90Lt million of mounting debts, the national airline, flyLAL, suspends all services. Dalia Grybauskaitė, the so-called Iron Lady, is inaugurated as Lithuania’s first female president on July 12. December 31 Vilnius bows out of a disastrous year as European Capital of Culture on the same day as the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant closes for good.

2010
Lithuania celebrates 20 years of independence from the Soviet Union on March 11. In a sinister U-turn, on May 19 a court in Klaipėda approves the public display of swastikas arguing that they represent Lithuania's historical heritage, not Nazi Germany. On June 26, at the age of 77, Lithuania's final First Secretary under the Communists and its first post-independence president dies after a short battle with cancer. Lithuania take bronze medal in the World Basketball Championship in Turkey after defeating Serbia 99-88 on September 12.

2011
Lithuania commemorates the centenary of the death of the painter and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. The country hosts the EuroBasket 2011 competition in cities nationwide between August 31 and September 18. Lithuania is defeated 67-65 by FYR Macedonia in the quarter finals in Kaunas on September 15.

2013
Lithuania takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for a six month period between July 1 and December 31.

2014
May
Dalia Grybauskaitė is re-elected president of Lithuania.

2015
January 1
Lithuania adopts the Euro.

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