Communist Dictatorship in Lithuania. The Soviet Occupation (1940-1941; 1944-1991)
Lithuania proclaimed its independence on February 16, 1918 and established itself as a sovereign democratic state. From 1918 until the end of 1926, Lithuania was a democratic republic which divided political power between the President and the Lithuanian Parliament called the Seimas. It had three democratically elected presidents: Antanas Smetona (1919–1920), Aleksandras Stulginskis (1920–1926), and Kazys Grinius (June 1926–December 1926).
The coup d'état of December 17, 1926 put an end to the period of democracy in Lithuania. Following this coup, the authoritarian regime of Antanas Smetona was installed. The regime, also called the "velvet dictatorship", relied on the army, the political police, the Lithuanian Nationalist and Republican Union (Lietuvos Tautininkų Sąjunga) — as its political power base, and the country’s bureaucratic apparatus. In the spring of 1927, the Seimas was dissolved. The Lithuanian Parliament was not convened between 1927 and 1936.
In 1936, parliamentary elections were reintroduced. However, the elections were not democratic. Only the municipalities that were in full control of the Tautininkai Party could nominate candidates. With 42 out of 49 seats, the Tauninkai Party easily made up the absolute majority of the new Seimas; the remaining elected representatives were loyal to Smetona and depended on his support. At this stage, the Seimas only had very limited powers: its acts only became laws if they were approved and signed by the President. The activities of other political parties in authoritarian Lithuania, such as the Christian Democrats, the People's Peasant Union, and the Social Democrats, were constrained after the coup d'état of December 17, 1926. In 1936, these political parties were completely banned. The rule of the authoritarian regime in Lithuania also meant that the country remained under martial law. This particularly served as a tool to suppress all types of political opposition.
During the interwar period, the Lithuanian Communist Party was declared illegal in Lithuania, which forced it to continue its operations underground. It was fully supported by and directly connected with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Lithuanian government made efforts to suppress communist activities in Lithuania during the interwar period; these initiatives, however, did little to slow the growth in membership that the Lithuanian Communist Party had experienced since the early 1920’s. The Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP) only had a few hundred members in the 1920’s, most of which were not ethnic Lithuanians but had Lithuanian citizenship. In June 1940, just before the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States began, the LCP had roughly 1,600 members. Fifty-four point four percent of the LCP’s members were Lithuanians, with Jews accounting for 30.6% and Russians 14.2%. The majority of political prisoners in Lithuania were communists: for instance, in 1940, 350 people were sentenced for political reasons and anti-governmental activities, with 267 of them being sentenced for communist activities.
Before March 1939, the total surface area of Lithuanian was 55,670 km². Following Hitler’s annexation of the Klaipėda Region in March 1939, Lithuania’s total surface area shrunk to 52,822 km². In October of the same year, the USSR pressured Lithuania into signing the Soviet-Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Treaty (Lithuanian: Lietuvos-Sovietų Sąjungos savitarpio pagalbos sutartis), which meant that the Vilnius Region was returned to Lithuania, in exchange for allowing Soviet troops to be stationed on Lithuanian soil. This treaty increased the size of the country to 59,731 km². In 1945, the USSR took over the Klaipėda Region and integrated it alongside occupied Lithuania into its own core territory.
Between 1945 and 1991, Lithuania spanned across 65,300 km². This only changed slightly following the collapse of the USSR; now it stands at 65,286 km². It is estimated that in 1940, there were more than 3 million inhabitants in Lithuania; however, World War II, the Soviet and Nazi occupations, as well as political repressions, including the Holocaust and Soviet mass deportations in 1941, changed this situation dramatically.
Unfortunately, there are no reliable sources that reveal what the population of Lithuania was at the time of Soviet reoccupation, just after World War II. However, various sources indicate that this number could have been between 1.4 million (officially registered persons) and 2.5 million (the most optimistic calculation) in 1944. At the end of the Soviet occupation and the collapse of the USSR, the population of Lithuania stood at about 3.7 million.
Communism was not welcome in Lithuania; in the period between 1944 and 1953, active and armed anti-Soviet resistance took place across the country. A total of 20,500 partisans and their supporters died in the Lithuanian armed resistance.
Soviet plans to seize and occupy the territory of Lithuania were formulated as part of the Treaty of Non-Aggression, the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret annexes (Protocols) which were signed by the Foreign Minister of the German Reich, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR and People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, on 23 August, 1939. After the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939, the Soviets forced Finland and the Baltic states, including Lithuania, to conclude mutual assistance treaties. At that time, the Lithuanian Government and President Antanas Smetona in particular, pursued the policy of neutrality. Within two days after invading Poland, the Red Army captured Vilnius which was had been under Polish control for most of the interwar period.
On September 29, 1939, Molotov proposed that the Lithuanian government should start negotiations on the further development of diplomatic relations between Lithuania and the USSR. On October 7th, the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Juozas Urbšys, arrived in Moscow alongside a delegation of Lithuanian politicians and diplomats; on that fateful day, Stalin demanded that the Lithuanian government sign a mutual assistance treaty with the USSR. As part of this treaty, Vilnius would be handed over to Lithuania and in return, Red Army garrisons would be stationed across Lithuanian territory.
On October 10, 1939, Urbšys and Molotov signed "The Transfer of Vilnius and the Vilnius Region to the Republic of Lithuania and the Soviet-Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Treaty". According to the treaty, 18,786 Red Army soldiers were to be stationed on Lithuanian territory by mid-November. After signing the treaty, Lithuania ceased to be a neutral country. As such, it could no longer pursue its independent foreign policy. As a consequence of the treaty, Lithuania regained the Vilnius Region, which added almost 7,000 km² to its territory. The population of the recovered area numbered around 450,000.
On May 25, 1940, Molotov submitted a diplomatic note to the Lithuanian Ambassador in Moscow, Ladas Natkevičius, in which the Lithuanian Government was accused of abducting Red Army soldiers. On June 7, 1940, the Red Army amassed at the Lithuanian border for the purpose of carrying out a direct invasion. The USSR made one more accusation against Lithuania, in which it claimed that Lithuania had concluded a secret military alliance with Latvia and Estonia that was directed against the USSR. Both accusations were inherently false. While the President of Lithuania, the government, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs were trying to resolve the situation at home and in Moscow, the Soviet Union completed its preparations for its offensive into Lithuania. On June 10, 1940, the 11th and 3rd Armies were mobilised: about 221,260 troops, 1,140 war aeroplanes, 1,513 tanks, 245 armoured vehicles, 2,946 artillery and mortar guns, and 18,786 soldiers, which were part of the Soviet military contingent stationed in the territory of Lithuania in 1939, were called to arms.
On June 11, 1940, under the leadership of the Commander General Dmitry Pavlov of the Belarusian Military District, final plans for the military occupation of Lithuania were discussed. The divisions and regiments were given specific tasks. Late in the evening of June 14, 1940, Molotov sent an ultimatum from the USSR’s government to the head of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Juozas Urbšys. This ultimatum included accusations that Lithuania had broken the Mutual Assistance Treaty and included the following three demands: 1) to bring the Minister of the Interior, Kazys Skučas, and the Director of the State Security Department, Augustinas Povilaitis, to court; 2) to create a new Lithuanian government that would be acceptable to Moscow; 3) to allow an unlimited number of Red Army troops to enter Lithuania.
Molotov demanded that the Lithuanian Government respond by June 15th at 10 A.M. (9 A.M. Lithuanian time). At the government’s meeting held overnight and into the early hours of June 15th, President Smetona had initially proposed resisting the Soviets. However, the government’s meeting ended on June 15th at 7 A.M. with the decision to agree to all Soviet demands. President Smetona decided to leave Lithuania and appointed Prime Minister Antanas Merkys as Acting President.
In the end, the Kremlin succeeded in making sure that the Lithuanian Army would not be able to resist the USSR’s takeover of Lithuania. The Red Army marched into Lithuania from three main directions and spread out across the country, occupying its towns and major cities. Soon after, Molotov's deputy Vladimir Dekanozov was sent to Lithuania; the plan was to annex Lithuania to the Soviet Union by making use of the Lithuanian constitution and other legislation. One of the most important tasks for Dekanozov was to set up Lithuania’s future puppet government.
On June 17, 1940, Acting President Merkys obediently carried out Dekanozov's instructions and signed two crucial acts. The first act was the appointment of Justas Paleckis as Prime Minister, who would then be tasked with forming the Council of Ministers. The second act approved the formation of a new government.
Antanas Sniečkus, a long-time leader of the Lithuanian communists, who was imprisoned in Lithuania during the interwar period, was released from prison immediately after the occupation. He was swiftly appointed Director of the State Security Department.
Sniečkus worked as First Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party from August 15, 1940 to January 22, 1974. He was replaced by Valerijus Charazovas, who was in office from January 1974 until February 1974. Following Charazovas’ return to Moscow, the position was held by Petras Griškevičius (February 1974 until November 1987), Nikolajus Mitkinas (November 1987 until December 1987), Ringaudas Songaila (December 1987 until October 1988), and Algirdas Brazauskas (October 1988 until December 1989).
After the approval of the so-called People's Government that was led by Paleckis, Merkys resigned immediately. Paleckis took office as the President of Lithuania and Krėvė-Mickevičius became Prime Minister.
During debates that took place around June 18th–20th, Lithuania’s new government decided to release communists and other political prisoners that had been convicted of carrying out communist activities in independent Lithuania during the interwar period. On June 25th, the Lithuanian Communist Party was legalised. The Lithuanian Seimas was dissolved on July 1, 1940. However, until the formal annexation of Lithuania took place, the country’s formal name, the Republic of Lithuania, the Constitution, and other legislative acts, as well as the governmental and administrative structure, remained in place. These tools were used by the USSR’s representatives to implement the Soviet occupation policy without arousing too much suspicion within the Lithuanian population.
On July 5th, the Council of Ministers chaired by Justas Paleckis adopted a law on the election of the new People's Seimas. After the announcement of the date of the elections, a false propaganda and agitation campaign began. Eventually, the elections took place on July 14–15, 1940. The results were heavily rigged, and the communists gained a sizeable majority. In the aftermath of the elections, the new Seimas proclaimed that the government would introduce the Soviet system in Lithuania and the country would be transformed into a Soviet Socialist Republic.
Following this event, the deputies decided "to ask the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to accept the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics". The 20-person delegation of Lithuania’s communist officials, including Paleckis and other members of Lithuania’s new government, travelled to Moscow to make a request to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to join the USSR. On August 3rd, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR "accepted" Lithuania as the 14th republic of the Soviet Union. Stalin and Molotov achieved their goal: the occupation and annexation were portrayed as Lithuania’s voluntary agreement to join the USSR.
After this important step, the process of transforming all major Lithuanian institutions into Soviet entities began. One of the initial steps taken was the destruction of the Lithuanian legal system. Books on Soviet propaganda published in the LSSR stated that the main function of courts and laws was the "organisation of a fight against the people's enemies" rather than to uphold the law. Soon after, arrests and the repression of political enemies became commonplace.
Once occupied, Soviet Lithuania started enforcing legislation that had been drawn up in Soviet Russia and the USSR between 1917 and 1940, with very few modifications. For instance, the LSSR had no criminal code of its own: The Criminal Code of the RSFSR of 1926 was effectively in force throughout the Soviet Union until 1961. Hence, laws and legislation were completely dominated by Soviet discourse. Therefore, the total incorporation of the Lithuanian legal system into the Soviet model can be treated as another example of the sovietisation process.
In addition, institutions carrying out surveillance and political repressions started to become active on Lithuanian territory. After the occupation and annexation in 1940, Soviet secret services were established in the Baltic States, including Lithuania. Initially, the Lithuanian State Security Department was reorganised with a focus on employing new and reliable people.
The Board of State Security under the jurisdiction of the Home Affairs People’s Commissariat (NKVD) started activities in Lithuania soon after. On February 3, 1941, the State Security People’s Commissariat (NKGB) was established in lieu of the NKVD State Security Board. It was separate from the NKVD and had political functions to ensure state security. After the reoccupation in 1944, the security agency was re-established — then known as the NKGB–MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs). Between 1944 and 1954, its main tasks were to fight against armed resistance, to build loyalty to the Soviet regime, and to recruit different social groups, such as the intelligentsia, the clergy, young people, and former political and public figures of independent Lithuania.
Another focal point for the Soviet secret services in Lithuania was the struggle against émigré organisations and the activities of foreign secret service operatives. The KGB, which was under the jurisdiction of the Council of Ministers, was established on April 1, 1954. It is important to mention that the old staff of the MGB continued to work in the upper ranks of the KGB. The methods, activities, and secret operations developed under Stalinism continued. In comparison to the apparatus of the MGB, the KGB had only a fraction of the workforce but continued its work on the same level; the latter was only slightly constrained because it did not have the authority to make mass arrests. Nevertheless, the KGB remained active and powerful until Lithuania declared independence in 1990.
In Soviet-occupied Lithuania, some social groups in particular became the target of Soviet aggression and repression.
There were several groups of so-called enemies targeted in Soviet Lithuania during the Stalinist era. The following images of the state’s enemies were particularly common in the Soviet Lithuanian press and Stalinist era propaganda:
a) The former elite and political authorities and the former employees of public institutions and the legal system. The Soviet press and propaganda referred to these individuals as "the bourgeois nationalists" and after World War II, as "the German, Nazi bourgeois nationalists" or "fascists".
b) "Class enemy", which were mainly kulaks.
c) Plunderers involved in the embezzlement of state property, speculators, and other economic criminals.
However, the main target groups of mass repressions were actually as follows: 1) members of the former government, politicians, nobility, wealthy individuals, business entrepreneurs, other members of the economic or intellectual elite, and members of non-Communist political parties, as well as their family members; 2) farmers fitting into the Soviet definition of "kulak"; 3) members of the anti-Soviet opposition and resistance and their family members.
The first politically motivated arrests were sanctioned in Lithuania on July 6–7, 1940 by Antanas Sniečkus, who was the Director of the State Security Department at the time. He issued the order claiming that the so-called "anti-State elements agitating against the people's government" must be arrested. "The Plan for the Preparation and operative Liquidation of the anti-state political parties — the National Union, followers of the right-wing politician Augustinas Voldemaras, the Populist Peasant Union, the Christian Democrats, the Esers (S.R.) [members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party], the Riflemen's Union and Others" was adopted on July 7th. It envisaged compiling lists of all persons who were to be arrested by July 10th.
From July 10–17, the State Security Department of Lithuania, whose employees were replaced with new, pro-Soviet workers, and the NKVD carried out the first mass arrests in Lithuania. Between July 10–14, 373 people were arrested. By July 19th, this number had grown to 504, with 158 of those arrested belonging to the former ruling party, Tautininkai. Thirty-one people were supporters of Voldemaras, 7 were Christian Democrats, 8 were members of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union, and 4 were members of the Lithuanian Popular Peasants' Union. In addition, 148 Polish officers and individuals who had participated in the activities of Polish resistance organisations were arrested. Other deportees included members of the Russian White Army, "Trotskyites", agents of foreign intelligence services, etc. Most of the Lithuanians that were arrested were politicians or public activists. These included former ministers, members of the military, officers, heads and members of former state authorities and organisations, editors of newspapers, journalists, and others.
On July 17, 1940, the last Prime Minister of independent Lithuania, Antanas Merkys, and the last Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Juozas Urbšys, together with their families, were deported to the USSR. On July 23rd, the NKVD arrested and brought 11 people to the KGB prison in Lubyanka. The former Ministers of the Interior, Kazys Skučas, Julius Čaplikas, and Silvestras Leonas, and the former Directors of the Lithuanian State Security Department, Jonas Statkus and Augustinas Povilaitis, were among those imprisoned. By the end of August, 1,313 people had been arrested. Another 1,472 people were arrested by the end of the year.
On November 28, 1940, the Interior People's Commissar, Aleksandras Gudzevičius, started implementing Lavrentiy Beria’s, the head of the Soviet secret police, directive of October 11, 1939. The October 11th directive, or Order No. 001223, stated that all anti-Soviet and "socially dangerous elements" must be registered — which referred to 63 categories of people. Gudzevičius planned to register 320,000 members of former political parties and organizations in advance of the scheduled deportations. By January 13, 1941, the NKVD also registered 17,939 Polish war refugees; the majority of these refugees were put onto the aforementioned deportation lists. In 1940, most of those arrested in Lithuania were put into local prisons.
On September 11, 1940, a total of 4,125 persons were imprisoned. Most were accused of crimes mentioned in Article 58 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR. On April 1, 1941, the total number of prisoners was 6,200, with 3,892 interrogated and 2,308 sentenced. In 1940–1941, before the first mass deportation of June 14, 1941, 6,606 people were arrested for and accused of political crimes: 3,835 Lithuanians (58.1%), 1,664 Poles (25.2%), 334 Jews (5.1%), 262 Russians (4%), and many others were detained. The largest group of prisoners was sent to the Gulag camps between April and June of 1941: a total of 3,565 prisoners.
The first mass deportation from the territory of Lithuania took place on June 14, 1941. It was organised according to the secret "Resolution On the Eviction of the Socially Foreign Elements from the Baltic Republics, Western Ukraine, Western Belarus and Moldova" adopted by the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party and the USSR Council of People's Commissars. On May 23, 1941, the Central Committee Bureau of the Lithuanian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) also passed the "Resolution On the Arrest and Eviction of Counter-Revolutionary and Socially Dangerous Elements from Lithuania". The USSR’s Interior People's Commissar, Beria, was appointed senior executor of this plan. The deportations were organised by the NKVD and NKGB, and in part carried out by the militsya (Soviet police). Activists belonging to the local Communist Party assisted the NKVD, NKGB, and militsya with their efforts.
About 17,600 Lithuanian residents, including women and children, were deported to the Komi Autonomous Republic and the regions of Altay, Krasnoyarsk, and Novosibirsk. About 3,000 men were separated from their families and sent to Stalin’s prisons and Gulag camps. The Lithuanian political and cultural elite and their family members suffered the most: even the former President of Lithuania, Aleksandras Stulginskis, and the former Prime Minister, Pranas Dovydaitis, found themselves among those deported. In addition, there were nearly 1,200 teachers and 79 priests among the victims of deportation.
Between June 22–27, mass killings of Lithuanian prisoners and civilians were carried out in the territories of Lithuania and Belarus. Around 230 prisoners were massacred at Pravieniškės concentration camp. Fifteen prisoners from Lithuania were sentenced to death and executed in a prison in Minsk, and small groups of prisoners and civilians were killed in different parts of the country. In total, almost 40 such large-scale murders occurred that week. Furthermore, a group of political prisoners was brutally tortured and killed on June 25, 1941 in the Rainiai woods, near Telšiai.
The total number of Lithuanian victims who were imprisoned, killed, or deported between the period of June 15, 1940 and June 22, 1941 stands at 23,000 people . After the reoccupation of Lithuania in 1944, terror and mass repressions continued. From 1944 to 1953, a total of 186,000 people was sentenced and imprisoned for political reasons and 118,000 people were deported. As many as 20,000–25,000 people from Lithuania died in prisons and Gulag camps. It is estimated that 28,000 deaths occurred at the Soviet Union’s various deportation destinations. Moreover, Lithuania’s armed resistance sustained great human losses: 20,500 Lithuanian Forest Brothers, a group of Baltic partisans, died in skirmishes during the Lithuanian partisan war.
The first group of people to have been deported from Lithuania in 1945 were Germans; they were taken to Tajikistan. According to official data, this group consisted of 854 people, whereas Soviet documents list 1,048 deported persons.
The first post-war years were also marked by several other deportations. In 1945, eight operations were conducted, including the aforementioned deportation of Germans. Five thousand, six hundred people were deported in 1945 alone. In 1946, there was only one state-coordinated deportation from Lithuania.
However, the most sizeable operations were called "Vesna" (spring) and "Priboi" (coastal surf). "Vesna" was carried out between May 22nd and May 27th in 1948 and "Priboi" between March 25th and March 28th in 1949. Around 70,000 people were deported during these two operations. The deportations were ordered by the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union.
"Priboi" was carried out simultaneously in the Lithuanian SSR, Latvian SSR, and Estonian SSR. The operation "Vesna" was only launched in the territory of the LSSR. Officially, this new wave of terror continued to target the families and supporters of resistance fighters. However, the deportations were primarily used to break down resistance to collectivisation.
According to different calculations, Lithuania lost around 40,000 people during "Vesna", more than half of the victims were women and children. This figure makes "Vesna" the largest mass deportation in Lithuanian history. It is estimated that around 30,000 more people were deported from Lithuania in the wake of "Priboi", the main aim of which was to deal with "kulaks".
Another large-scale deportation called "Osen" (autumn) was carried out in October 1951. It specifically targeted kulaks and those who refused to join collective farms, as well as the families of Polish soldiers who had served in the Polish Army under General W. Anders. Soviet authorities decided to deport 4,000 families from the territory of Lithuania.
The number of people deported during this operation stood at more than 20,000. During the five deportations carried out in 1952, a total of 526 families, consisting of around 3,000 individuals, were taken from their homes. In 1953, deportations were organised for family members of those who had been deported earlier, many of whom were minors and elderly people who had escaped previous deportations. The Soviet Union carried out as many as 35 separate deportations in occupied Lithuania between 1940–1941 and 1944–1953.
The death of Stalin put an end to mass repressions in the whole of the USSR, including Lithuania. However, 1,000 dissidents and other individuals were arrested for political reasons in the period between 1954 and 1986.
 Lithuania in 1940-1991:the History of Occupied Lithuania, Vilnius: LGGRTC, 2015, p. 49-104.
 Vanda Kašauskienė, "Deportations from Lithuania under Stalin. 1940-1953", Lithuanian Historical Studies, No 3, 1998, p. 74-75; Lithuania in 1940-1991:the History of Occupied Lithuania, Vilnius: LGGRTC, 2015, p. 98-104.
The destruction of private property began immediately after the Soviet Union achieved the complete occupation of Lithuania. All sectors of the economy were rapidly transformed in accordance with the Soviet model. In the case of Lithuania, the Soviet economic system was not adjusted in the slightest to be more compatible with local economic conditions and historical traditions: The Soviet model was universally adopted. On July 12, 1940, the People's Government decided to transfer Lithuania’s gold reserves, that were stored in various banks abroad, to the State Bank of the USSR. However, the American, British, and French governments ignored this decree and froze Lithuania’s gold reserves. Nonetheless, Moscow managed to obtain Lithuania’s gold from Swiss and Swedish banks. These gold reserves were valued at 19 million Lithuanian Litas (LTL). On July 22nd, the People's Seimas adopted a declaration on nationalising banks and major industries. On July 30th, the so-called Nationalisation Commission was set up at the Council of Ministers. Its task was to coordinate the nationalisation process.
On July 26th, Acting President Paleckis promulgated the Law on the Nationalisation of Banks, according to which 46 credit institutions were to be sequestered within a few weeks. Ultimately, 202 institutions were affected by this change. These institutions included banks, insurance companies, credit associations, and other similar financial institutions. Minor nationalised credit companies were closed. Others were reorganised and incorporated into the credit system of the USSR.
Lithuanian credit companies lost their independence and became branches of the system of central banks of the USSR. On July 26, 1940, a law to nationalise banks and large industrial enterprises was also adopted. According to this law, all companies employing more than 20 workers had to be nationalised.
The process of nationalising industrial enterprises was carried out by communist party member Motiejus Šumauskas, who served as Chairman of the Trade Unions and People's Commissar of Local Industry of the Lithuanian SSR. The so-called Nationalisation Committees were set up within every enterprise. More than 1,000 industrial enterprises were nationalised within the territory of Lithuania. The number of employees totalled 40,000 workers and administrative personnel. The total value of the enterprises amounted to more than 413 million Lithuanian Litas.
The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet’s decree of September 27, 1940 stated that private trading companies with an annual turnover of 150,000 Lithuanian Litas were to be sequestered. There were more than 1,100 companies of this size in the country. Some smaller companies were also affected by nationalisation. In the autumn of 1940, a total of 1,600 shops, warehouses, restaurants, canteens, and bookstores were taken over by the Soviet state.
At the end of 1940, the Union of Consumer Cooperation of the LSSR was established with "Lietūkis", the Lithuanian cooperative union, as its foundation. The Union of Consumer Cooperation of the LSSR took over three quarters of the nationalised commercial companies and organised the so-called "socialist trade" in rural areas and smaller towns. State-run business operated in larger cities. "Pienocentras", the Central Lithuanian Union of Milk Processing Companies, and "Sodyba", the cooperative union of Lithuanian vegetable and berry growers, were assigned in a trust to the Lithuanian Food Industry People's Commissariat.
The same changes occurred within Lithuania’s infrastructure. At the end of August 1940, the People's Commissariat for Transport of the USSR took control of Lithuania's railway system and locomotive and wagon repair workshops. Consequently, the Moscow-controlled Railway Board of the Republic was formed. Railroads were adjusted so they would match the Soviet railroad track gauge. The main telegraph and telephone lines were also connected to the USSR’s communication system. On October 8, 1940, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the LSSR adopted a decree on the nationalisation of a wide range of private means of transportation, such as sea vessels, motorboats, buses, and trucks. The decree was enforced soon after.
The same applied to private houses. By the decree of October 31, 1940, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the LSSR decided to take over all houses that were larger than 220 m2 in major cities (Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, and Panevėžys) and 170 m2 in other cities. There were 5,400 houses that fit into this category. However, the total number of nationalised houses amounted to 14,000. In other words, this means that smaller houses were nationalised regardless of the decree.
As a result, more than half of the residential areas available in Lithuanian cities and towns were nationalised. The state now owned cinemas, hospitals, pharmacies, and hotels. The total value of the properties amounted to 7 million roubles. In June 1941, only 3,000 trading companies were operating in Lithuania — at the beginning of 1940, this number stood at 30,000.
On July 22, 1940, the People's Seimas adopted the Declaration on the Nationalisation of Land, which proclaimed that all the land, forests, and waterways in Lithuania were the property of the state. Farmers were now landholders rather than owners. They could use the land but were not allowed to sell, purchase, or mortgage it. The Seimas also decided that no farm could have more than 30 hectares of land. The State Land Committee was set up under the Ministry of Agriculture with the explicit duty to carry out the Soviet land reform. As a result of this reform, 608,000 hectares of land were taken to form the State Land Fund.
On March 25, 1941, the national currency of Lithuania was replaced. The Lithuanian Litas was no longer valid and the Soviet rouble became the LSSR’s primary currency.
All these reforms were temporarily interrupted during the period of occupation by Nazi Germany between the summer of 1941 and the summer of 1944. After the Soviet reoccupation of Lithuania in 1944, the process continued, and the soviet economic order was restored.
The process of collectivisation started in 1948: on March 20th, the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party and the Council of Ministers of the LSSR adopted the "Resolution On the Organisation of Collective Farms in the Republic". Mass collectivisation in Lithuania began. As a result, many families were put on the list of kulaks. Although their property was confiscated, they were not admitted to collective farms. Many people labelled as "kulaks" were deported together with their families, whereas others had to move to cities or leave for other republics.
By 1952, the process of collectivisation had been completed. About 400,000 private farms were merged into state farms (the so-called "sovkhozes") or collective farms ("kolkhozes"). Agricultural production decreased dramatically. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land were abandoned and overgrown with bushes and shrubs. In general, the consequences of collectivisation for Lithuania were tragic: in the interwar period, Lithuania was an agrarian country; at this point, the whole socioeconomic landscape of the country was destroyed and completely transformed along with the innocent victims - the repressed "kulaks" and their family members.
Collective farms were reorganised a number of times. In most cases, new, larger farms were created by amalgamating smaller ones. The forced collectivisation pushed the Lithuanian countryside towards complete economic collapse. It is important to mention that most economic indicators in 1956–1958 were still below those recorded before 1940.
Society and culture
The sovietisation of social and cultural life in occupied Lithuania started during the first Soviet occupation; however, as this period of occupation only lasted a short period of time, it had no dramatic effect and no considerable social and cultural changes occurred as a result. In 1944, after the reoccupation of the country, the cultural and social sovietisation of the LSSR continued.
The seizure of the public sphere and the reconstruction of public spaces were among the first steps of sovietisation. Mass media outlets fell into the hands of the Soviets, freedom of speech was restricted, and harsh censorship was imposed whenever and wherever possible. Soviet culture also manifested itself and was promoted through the reconstruction of public spaces: This primarily occurred in the form of changing the names of streets, cities, and villages, erecting communist monuments, and adopting the architectural style of the Stalinist era. Public events, mass communist events, and celebrations (such as May 1st or the International Labour Day) were also used for the purposes of indoctrination and propaganda. Lithuania’s national heroes were replaced by a communist pantheon of heroes.
Officials in Moscow demanded that authorities in Lithuania incorporate socialism into the cultural sphere as quickly as possible. One of their main tasks was to implement the so-called "cultural revolution", which meant suppressing the national and religious identity of Lithuanian society and promoting communist ideology instead. The first step of this policy was the rejection of art and literature from the past and the creation of a new socialist culture that was in line with the paradigm of socialist realism.
This process came hand in hand with strict control and censorship. Authorities created the Unions of Soviet Lithuanian Writers, Artists, and Composers, as well as the Theatre Society to serve as structures within which Soviet culture in Lithuania could be developed and local artists and writers could be kept under control. Artists that were loyal and devoted to the Soviet system were appointed chairmen of these organisations; for instance, the Chairman of the Writers’ Union was Petras Cvirka, a dedicated and loyal communist. He carried out the policy of the Communist Party in the field of literature and exerted strict control over the work of other writers. The Board of Artistic Affairs was formed to control writers, artists, theatre personnel, and composers. The Committee of Cultural and Educational Institutions was designed to take control of all libraries, museums, and the so-called houses of culture. Later, in 1953, the Ministry of Culture was founded to take over all aforementioned functions.
The Communist Party controlled and strictly administered all areas of culture using specific tools, the so-called LCP[B] CC Culture and Science and Propaganda and Agitation departments. Officials were sent from Moscow to Lithuania to ensure the "ideological purity" of Soviet Lithuanian culture and to lead and administer these institutions. As such, the process was controlled by the centre of the Soviet Union.
Marxist-Leninist philosophy, the materialist worldview, and communist ideology were imposed on Lithuanian intellectuals. Another task was to promote friendly relations between the Russian and Lithuanian nations in the spheres of art, culture, and literature. Cultural life was strictly de-Christianised, and atheism became the new dogma of the cultural sphere.
New institutions like the Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge were formed as tools for the cultural and philosophical indoctrination of the Lithuanian population. Figures of Soviet culture such as Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Mayakovsky were actively promoted, whereas Lithuania’s national art and heritage were rejected: books by Lithuanian national writers and core figures of the interwar Lithuanian identity like Vincas Kudirka, Maironis, and Motiejus Valančius were removed from the stocks of libraries.
In carrying out the order of October 26, 1944, all secretaries of the Lithuanian district Communist Party committees and heads of the NKVD and NKGB departments started collecting all "fascist" and other anti-Soviet books from citizens, schools, and institutions. From 1945 to 1946, around 240,000 books were discarded and destroyed. In 1947, this figure stood at 189,000. In 1950, all "periodicals of bourgeois Lithuania" including literature published by various public organisations, textbooks, statistical publications, books in foreign languages, and works written by authors who had been repressed by Stalin were ordered to be removed from libraries. The institution responsible for cultural repressions and the implementation of cultural censorship, the so-called Glavlit , was charged with completing this task.
Glavlit was active in cultural censorship throughout the whole Soviet era in Lithuania. Between 1944 and 1951, around 600,000 publications are estimated to have been destroyed in Lithuania.
In 1948, the mass destruction of "bourgeois" and religious monuments began in the whole territory of the occupied Lithuania. In 1950, Vilnius Cathedral mourned the demolition of its saintly sculptures and in 1952, the monument of the Three Crosses was blown up. Many churches that professed different faiths in Soviet Lithuania were closed. Some of them were turned into museums or art galleries, while others became warehouses. Therefore, many objects of religious and architectural heritage were completely destroyed or even lost in their entirety, including the Great Synagogue of Vilna. The Synagogue had been looted, burned, and partly destroyed by the Nazis during World War II already. However, the synagogue was fully demolished by Soviet authorities between 1955 and 1957 and was intentionally replaced by a basketball court and a kindergarten.
Instead of cleansing or repressing the old Lithuanian intelligentsia, the Communist Party of Lithuania first attempted to re-educate these individuals and to get them actively engaged in efforts towards "building socialism". The campaign of the "fight against apolitical attitudes towards culture" led by Andrey Zhdanov was also launched in Lithuania. Lithuanian authors of previous decades were divided into "progressive" and "reactionary" categories.
The motto of re-education was not adhered to in all cases, and repressions and cleansing affected Lithuanian artists and writers just like other parts of Lithuanian society. Between 1940 and 1953, as many as 91 authors were arrested, deported, sent to Gulag camps, killed, or otherwise punished. Additionally, Lithuanian writers and artists were tasked with depicting the Soviet reality in a strictly positive, idealised fashion. In this way, art and culture became a tool of Soviet propaganda and indoctrination. Western art was condemned and labelled "decadent". The same process took place in the fields of theatre and music; for instance, jazz music was prohibited. On the other hand, folk music was highlighted as music of the "people" and thus actively promoted — mass folk song festivals were organised. In 1946, one festival attracted 12,000 participants and by 1950 this number reached 25,000.
The Lithuanian scientific and academic community was also greatly affected. Following World War II, the philosophers Lev Karsavin and Vosylius Sezemanas, the economist Dominykas Cesevičius, the architect Steponas Stulginskis, the agronomist Jonas Aleksa, and other scholars were arrested and exiled; many of them died in Siberia. Marxism-Leninism became a paradigmatic framework for Lithuanians schools, universities, and other educational institutions. The whole system of education, from kindergartens to universities, was now used to indoctrinate new generations — until the collapse of communism.
It was not until after the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1990 that schools and other educational institutions became free from communist ideology.
Following the death of Stalin, Soviet Lithuanian art and literature became more flexible. The degree of flexibility varied during different periods of the Soviet regime. However, until Gorbachev’s perestroika, art and literature were still ideologically controlled and censored with the use of different tools, ranging from punishment to promotions and awards. Only artists and writers who were ideologically loyal to the regime were in a position to have good career prospects and to have their works published and art exhibited.
When it came to the question of ethnicity, the role of local languages was limited in public and cultural life; the Lithuanian language and culture could exist in a public discourse only to a limited degree and there were many signs of sovietisation. In contrast, the Russian language and culture had an exceptionally high status in Soviet Lithuania.
As has already been mentioned, the Soviet government in Lithuania was very active in the fight against the cultural heritage of Christianity. As part of this fight, Lithuanian underground dissidents continued to propagate and develop Christian culture. For instance, the Catholic underground Samizdat press was extensive, while the Lithuanian anti-communist underground network of illegal dissemination and printing was particularly strong following the year 1972.
 Soviet institution established in 1922 under the name "Main Administration for Literary and Publishing Affairs under the People's Commissariat of Education of the RSFSR (Главное управление по делам литературы и издательств при Наркомате просвещения РСФСР)".
The Red Army was highly respected in Soviet Lithuania, because the formulation of a military identity was an important part of Soviet ideology and propaganda until the end of the Cold War. The obligatory military service for males existed throughout the Soviet period. In addition, the militarisation of public discourse started just after the initial occupation: Rhetorical figures and phrases like "fight" or "enemy" dominated newspapers articles and were used in many different non-military contexts (for instance, phrases such as "fight against the shortages of mass production in the sector of agriculture"). Hence, the militarisation of the public’s mentality started with the militarisation of language.
The 1936 Soviet Constitution declared the military service a "holy duty" for all male Soviet citizens. The 1939 service law was promulgated with a lowered draft age of 19 years. The Red Army adopted a full-cadre structure in the 1930’s. During World War II, all healthy men between the ages of 18 and 51 were subject to mobilisation. The post-World War II demobilisation of the Soviet Armed Forces was completed in 1948. According to the 1949 service law, members of the ground forces had to serve for three years, while members of the navy had to serve for four years. In the late Soviet era, able-bodied males had to serve in the army for two years and enter military service at age 18 – some exceptions were made if they continued their education.
The forced mobilisation of men into the Soviet Red Army between August 1944 and May 1945 became an integral part of the Soviet terror against the Lithuanian population. Lithuanian society saw and treated the Soviets as an occupying force and as invaders. Therefore, the vast majority of men who were drafted were reluctant to enlist and many of them went into temporary hiding. Nobody wanted to sacrifice their life or health for the interests of the USSR — not only a different state but also the enemy of Lithuania. This view was diametrically opposed to the predominant public opinion in some other countries, which saw the Soviet Union and the Red Army as liberators from Nazism. In Lithuania, they were treated not as liberators but as invaders. By and large, the Red Army found no support in the territory of Lithuania.
In contrast, the Soviet Union regarded Lithuania as an integral part of the Soviet Union and thus regarded the mobilisation as a lawful and fair act. However, the service laws violated international law. The conscription of Lithuanian men into the Red Army in the second half of 1944 meant that the Soviet Union violated the provisions of international law enshrined in the 1907 Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, which prohibits the conscription of people of an occupied country into the occupying army or otherwise using them for military purposes.
The city and county military registration and enlistment offices, the USSR’s NKVD internal army, and Red Army units carried out the forced mobilisation of the Soviet Army in Lithuania. Leaders of the Communist Party and heads of the organisations that carried out various types of repressions were among the main organisers of this military campaign both in Lithuania and in Moscow.
Very few Lithuanian men responded to the first calls to serve in the Soviet Army, which led to reprisals and terror in retaliation against the Lithuanian population. On January 1, 1945, 58,620 men hid from the mobilisation efforts in the territory of Lithuania. The mobilisation boycott also strengthened the Lithuanian armed anti-Soviet resistance movement. On December 12, 1944, the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party adopted a resolution on the fight against deserters and those avoiding mobilisation into the Red Army. Order No. 064 of the USSR People’s Commissioner specified that any man found avoiding mobilisation during the search of homesteads was to be detained and immediately delivered to the draft bureaus.
Between 1944 and 1945, NKVD and NKGB soldiers detained 41,000 men who attempted to avoid service in the Red Army; most of them were sent to Soviet military units. By March 21,1945, 338,887 men arrived at the mobilisation points. In total, by December 1, 1945, 46,674 men were delivered to military registration and enlistment offices by force. Around 73,000 Lithuanians were sent to the front or into reserve (educational) divisions. Between July 15, 1944 and December 1, 1945, 1,774 men avoiding conscription were convicted alongside 196 deserters.
At the end of 1947, 60,000 demobilised soldiers returned to Lithuania from the Soviet-German war. Lithuanian soldiers suffered massive casualties and many soldiers were scarred for the rest of their lives; on January 1, 1947, there were more than 5,000 disabled soldiers in Lithuania. Most of the men demobilised after the war, with some exceptions, remained loyal to the regime and helped establish the communist dictatorship and strengthen Soviet rule in occupied Lithuania. The Soviet authorities rewarded some of them with leading positions in various Soviet institutions, granted allowances to their families, and tried to enrol as many of them as possible into the Communist Party. A new forced universal mobilisation into the Soviet Army was announced in 1950. The punishment for avoiding mobilisation was imprisonment or deportation to the Gulags.
The fact that almost every male individual in Soviet Lithuania was a target of compulsory military service and had to serve in the Soviet Army influenced the development of the male Lithuanian identity for generations that grew up during the Soviet era. In many cases, the experience of serving in the Soviet Army was psychologically traumatising, especially because of the wide-spread phenomenon of Dedovshchina — the informal practice of initiation and the constant bullying of junior conscripts during their service. Lithuanian dissidents started to raise public awareness about this problem during the ending years of the Soviet Union. For instance, the dissident Robertas Grigas published his memoirs about serving in the Soviet Armed Forces, in which he revealed the widespread informal brutality and culture of cruelty.
Arvydas Anušauskas, Lietuvių tautos sovietinis naikinimas 1940–1958 metais, Vilnius: Mintis, 1996.
The Anti-Soviet Resistance in the Baltic States, Arvydas Anušauskas (ed.), Vilnius: LGGRTC, 2006.
Alfredas Bublauskas, Alfonsas Eidintas, Antanas Kulakauskas, Mindaugas Tamošaitis, Lietuvos istorija, Vilnius, Vilnius University Publishing House, 2013.
Kristina Burinskaitė, LSSR KGB ideologija, politika ir veikla 1954-1990 m., Vilnius, LGGRTC, 2015
Vanda Kašauskienė, "Deportations from Lithuania under Stalin. 1940-1953", Lithuanian Historical Studies, No 3
Lithuania in 1940-1991: the History of Occupied Lithuania, Vilnius: LGGRTC, 2015.
Vitalija Stravinskienė, "Demografiniai pokyčiai Lietuvoje 1944–1989 m. (statistinis aspektas)", Istorija, 2016, Vol. 103, No. 3.
Second Soviet occupation (1945-1990), accessible online: https://zum.lrv.lt/en/about-the-ministry/second-soviet-occupation-1945-1990.