Communist Dictatorship in Lithuania. The Soviet Occupation (1940-1941; 1944-1991)

Lithuania proclaimed its independence on 16 February 1918 and established itself as a sovereign democratic state. From 1918 until the end of 1926, Lithuania was a democratic republic which divided the 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 17 December 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 a 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 representatives, 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 became laws only if they were approved and signed by the President. The activities of other political parties in authoritarian Lithuania (the Christian Democrats, the People's Peasant Union,  the Social Democrats) were constrained after the coup d'état of 17 December 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 its efforts to suppress communist activities in Lithuania during the interwar period; these initiatives, however, did little to slow the growth in membership which the Lithuanian Communist Party had experienced since the early 1920s. The Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP) only had a few hundred members in the 1920s, most of which were not

ethnic Lithuanians but still had Lithuanian citizenship. In June 1940, just before the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States started, the LCP had roughly 1,600 members. 54.4% of them were Lithuanians, Jews accounted for 30.6%, and Russians constituted 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 imposed treaty with the USSR meant that the Vilnius Region was returned to Lithuania, thus increasing 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 very slightly following the collapse of the USSR; now it stands at 65,286 km². It is calculated 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 revealing 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 totalled between 1.4 million (officially registered persons) and 2.5 million (the most optimistic calculations) 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[1].

Communism was not welcome in Lithuania; in the period between 1944 and 1953, active armed anti-Soviet resistance took place across the country. A total of 20,500 partisans and their supporters died in the Lithuanian armed resistance[2].


[1] Vitalija Stravinskienė, Demografiniai pokyčiai Lietuvoje 1944–1989 m. (statistinis aspektas), Istorija, 2016, Vol. 103, No. 3, pp. 27–50.

[2] The Anti-Soviet Resistance in the Baltic States, Arvydas Anušauskas (ed.), Vilnius: LGGRTC, 2006.



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.

It was already on 29 September 1939 that Molotov proposed that the Lithuanian Government should start negotiations on a further development of diplomatic relations between Lithuania and the USSR. On 7 October, 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 shall 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 the territory of Lithuania.  

On 10 October 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 in the territory of Lithuania 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 was about 450,000.

On 25 May 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 7 June 1940, the Red Army was amassed at the Lithuanian border for the purpose of direct invasion. One more accusation was made, namely that Lithuania had concluded a secret military alliance with Latvia and Estonia 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 negotiating the situation at home and in Moscow, the Soviet Union completed its preparations for the offensive into Lithuania. On 10 June 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 also the 18,786 soldiers which were part of the Soviet military contingent stationed in the territory of Lithuania since 1939.

On 11 June 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 14 June 1940, Molotov sent the ultimatum of the Government of the USSR to the Head of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Juozas Urbšys. This ultimatum included accusations that Lithuania had broken the Mutual Assistance Treaty, as well as 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 contingent of the Red Army to enter Lithuania.

Molotov insisted that the Lithuanian Government should respond by 15 June 10 a.m. (9 a.m. Lithuanian time). At the government meeting held overnight into the early hours of 15 June, President Smetona had initially proposed resisting the Soviets, however, the government meeting ended on 15 June 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 resist the takeover. The Red Army marched into Lithuania from three main directions and spread across Lithuania, occupying its major cities and towns along the roads. Soon after, Molotov's deputy Vladimir Dekanozov was sent to Lithuania; the plan was to annex Lithuania to the Soviet Union making use of the Lithuanian constitution and other legislation. One of the most important tasks for Dekanozov was to set up the future puppet government.

On 17 June 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 also be assigned the task of forming the Council of Ministers. The second act approved 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 15 August 1940 to 22 January 1974. He was replaced by Valerijus Charazovas (in office from January 1974 until February 1974), 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 led by Paleckis, Merkys resigned immediately. Paleckis took office as President of Lithuania; Krėvė-Mickevičius became Prime Minister.

In debates around 18-20 June it was decided to release the communists and other political prisoners convicted because of communist activities in the independent Lithuania of the interwar period. On 25 June, the Lithuanian Communist Party was legalised. The Seimas of Lithuania was dismissed on 1 July 1940. However, until the formal annexation, the name of 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 representatives to implement the Soviet occupation policy without arousing too much suspicion with the Lithuanian population.

On 5 July, the Council of Ministers chaired by Justas Paleckis adopted the law on the elections 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 14-15 July 1940. The results were heavily rigged, and the communists gained a sizeable majority. In the aftermath of the elections, the new Seimas proclaimed the introduction of the Soviet system in Lithuania, and the transformation of Lithuania into a Soviet Socialist Republic.

Following this, 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 delegation of 20 persons, including Paleckis and others, travelled to Moscow to make a request to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to join the USSR. On 3 August the Supreme Soviet of the USSR "accepted" Lithuania as the 14th Republic of the Union. Stalin and Molotov achieved their goal: the occupation and annexation were represented and pictured as a 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 repressions for political enemies became commonplace.

Once occupied, Soviet Lithuania started enforcing the legislation drawn up in Soviet Russia and the USSR between 1917 and 1940 with very few own adjustments. For instance, the LSSR had no Criminal Code of its own: The Criminal Code of the RSFSR of 1926 was effectively in force until 1961. Hence, laws and legislation were completely dominated by Soviet discourse. Therefore, a total incorporation of the Lithuanian legal system into the Soviet model can be treated as another example of the sovietisation process.

Also, 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 3 February 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 (the intelligentsia, the clergy, young people, the former political and public figures of independent Lithuania).

Another field of work 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 1 April 1954. It is important to mention that the old staff of the MGB continued to be in the higher ranks. The methods of 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. Still, the KGB remained active and powerful until the declaration of Lithuania’s independence in 1990.


In Soviet-occupied Lithuania, some social groups in particular became targets of Soviet aggression and repressions.

There were several groups of the so-called enemies targeted in Soviet Lithuania during the Stalin era. The following images of the enemies in the Soviet Lithuanian press and propaganda of the Stalin period were particularly common:

a) The former elite and the authorities, the former employees of public institutions and the legal system. The Soviet press and propaganda referred to them as “the bourgeois nationalists”, after the war – as “the German, Nazi bourgeois nationalists” or “fascists”.

b) “Class enemy”, mainly kulaks.

c) Plunderers involved in the embezzlement of state property, speculators and other economic criminals.

d) Saboteurs.  

However, the main target groups of mass repressions were actually as follows: 1. The former government, politicians, nobility, wealthy people, business entrepreneurs, other members of the economic or intellectual elite, members of non-Communist political parties, as well as their family members. 2. The farmers fitting into the Soviet definition of "Kulak". 3. Members of the anti-Soviet opposition and resistance, and their family members.

The first arrests on a political basis were sanctioned in Lithuania on 6-7 July 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 7 July. It envisaged compiling lists of all persons who were to be arrested by 10 July.

From 10 to 17 July, 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 10-14 July, 373 persons were arrested. By 19 July, this number had grown to 504, with 158 of them being members of the former ruling party, Tautininkai. 31 persons were supporters of Voldemaras, 7 Christian Democrats, 8 people were members of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union, and 4 of them were members of the Lithuanian Popular Peasants' Union. There were also 148 arrested Polish officers and persons who participated in the activities of Polish resistance organisations. Others were members of the Russian White Army, "Trotskyites", agents of foreign intelligence services, and more. Most of the arrested Lithuanians were politicians or public activists: Former ministers, military and other officers, heads and members of former state authorities and organisations, editors of newspapers, journalists, and others.

On 17 July 1940, the last Prime Minister of independent Lithuania Antanas Merkys and the last Head of foreign affairs Juozas Urbšys, together with their families, were deported to the USSR. On 23 July, the NKVD brought 11 arrested people to the prison of Lubyanka. The former Ministers of the Interior Kazys Skučas, Julius Čaplikas and Silvestras Leonas, the former directors of the Lithuanian State Security Department Jonas Statkus and Augustinas Povilaitis were among them. By the end of August, 1313 persons had been arrested, and another 1472 people were arrested by the end of that year.

On 28 November 1940, the Interior People's Commissar Aleksandras Gudzevičius started implementing Beria’s directive of 11 October 1939, ordered to register all anti-Soviet and "socially dangerous elements": 63 categories of people were mentioned. It was planned to register 320 000 members of the former political parties and organizations in advance. By 13 January 1941, the NKVD also registered 17,939 Polish war refugees; the majority of them were put onto the aforementioned lists. In 1940, most people arrested in Lithuania were put into local prisons.

On 11 September 1940, a total of 4,125 persons were imprisoned. Most were accused based on Article 58 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR. On 1 April 1941, the total number of prisoners was 6,200 (3,892 interrogated and 2,308 sentenced). In 1940-1941, before the first mass deportation of 14 June 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 others. The largest group of prisoners was sent to the Gulag camps between April-June 1941: a total of 3,565 prisoners[1].

The first mass deportation from the territory of Lithuania took place on 14 June 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 23 May 1941, the Central Committee Bureau of the Lithuanian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) additionally passed the “Resolution On the Arrest and Eviction of Counter-revolutionary and Socially Dangerous Elements from Lithuania”. The USSR Interior People's Commissar Beria was appointed senior executor of this action. The deportations were organised by the NKVD and NKGB, and in part carried out by the militsya (Soviet police). Activists of the local Communist Party assisted them.

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 males were separated from their families and sent to Stalin’s prisons and the 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 the deported ones. There were almost 1,200 teachers and 79 priests among the victims[2].

Between 22-27 June, mass killings of Lithuanian prisoners and civilians were carried out in the territories of Lithuania and Belarus. About 230 prisoners were massacred at Pravieniškės concentration camp, 15 prisoners from Lithuanian were sentenced to death and executed in the prison of Minsk, and small groups of prisoners and civilians were killed in different parts of the country; in total, almost 40 such group murders occurred that week. As another example, a group of political prisoners was brutally tortured and killed on 25 June 1941 in Rainiai woods.

The total number of Lithuanian victims between the period of 15 June 1940 and 22 June 1941 stands at 23,000 people who were imprisoned, killed or deported[3]. After the reoccupation of Lithuania in 1944, terror and mass repressions continued. In 1944-1953, a total number 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 the Gulag camps. It has been calculated that 28,000 deaths occurred in the various deportation destinations. Also, Lithuania armed resistance sustained great human losses: 20,500 Lithuanian Forest Brothers, a group of Baltic partisans, died in skirmishes during the Lithuanian partisan war[4].

The first group of people to have been deported from Lithuania in 1945 were Germans; they were taken to Tajikistan. According to the official data, the group consisted of 854 people whereas one Soviet document lists 1,048 deported persons.

The first post-war years were also marked by several other deportations. In 1945, eight operations were conducted, including the afore-mentioned deportation of Germans. 5,600 people were deported that year 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). These two deportations were carried out between 22-27 May 1948 ("Vesna") and 25-28 March 1949 ("Priboi"). Around 70,000 people were deported as part of 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 launched only in the territory of the LSSR. Officially, this new wave of terror continued to target the families and supporters of the 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 them being women and children. This makes this deportation the largest mass deportation in Lithuanian history. It is calculated that around 30,000 more people were deported from Lithuania in the wake of "Priboi", the main aim of which was to deal with the "kulaks".

Another large-scale deportation called “Osen” (autumn) was carried out in October 1951. It specifically targeted the 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. The decision was made to deport 4,000 families from the territory of Lithuania.

The number of the deported persons for this operation stood at more than 20 000 people. 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 which were minors and elderly who had escaped previous deportations. As many as 35 separate Soviet deportations from occupied Lithuania were carried out 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 people were arrested for political reasons in the period between 1954 and 1986.


[1] Lithuania in 1940-1991:the History of Occupied Lithuania, Vilnius: LGGRTC, 2015, p. 49-104.

[2] 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 in Lithuania was started immediately after complete occupation had been achieved. All sectors of the economy were rapidly transformed according to the Soviet model. In the case of Lithuania, the Soviet economic system was not adjusted in the slightest to be more compatible with the local economic conditions and historical traditions: The Soviet model was universally adopted. On 12 July 1940, the People's Government decided to transfer the gold reserves of Lithuania stored in various banks abroad to the State Bank of the USSR. However, the governments of the USA, Britain and France ignored this decree and froze Lithuanian gold reserves. Nonetheless, Moscow managed to obtain Lithuania’s gold from Swiss and Swedish banks. These gold reserves were still valued at 19 million Lithuanian Litas (LTL).       On 22 July, the People's Seimas adopted the declaration on nationalising banks and major industries. On 30 July, the so-called Nationalisation Commission was set up at the Council of Ministers. Its task was to coordinate the nationalisation process.

On 26 July, the 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 were 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 26 July 1940, the law to nationalise banks and large industrial enterprises was also adopted. According to the law, all companies employing more than 20 workers had to be nationalised.

The process of nationalisation of industrial enterprises was carried out by communist Motiejus Šumauskas (Chairman of the Trade Unions and People's Commissar of Local Industry of the Lithuanian SSR). The so-called Nationalisation Committees were set up in 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 Litas.

By the decree of 27 September 1940 of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, private trading companies with an annual turnover of LTL 150,000 were 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 also 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 trust to the Lithuanian Food Industry People's Commissariat.

The same happened to 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 gauge. Main telegraph and telephone lines were also connected to the USSR communication system. On 8 October 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 31 October 1940, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the LSSR decided to take over all houses that were larger than 220 square metres in major cities (Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, Panevėžys) and 170 square metres in other cities. There were 5,400 houses that fit into that category. However, the total number of nationalised houses amounted to 14,000. Effectively, 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, 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 22 July 1940, the People's Seimas adopted the Declaration on the Nationalisation of Land which proclaimed that all land, forests and waters in Lithuania were 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 established 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 25 March 1941, the national currency of Lithuania was replaced. The Lithuanian Litas was no longer valid and instead, the soviet rouble was adopted as the only currency.

All these reforms were temporarily interrupted during the period of occupation by Nazi Germany between the summer of 1941 and 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 20 March, 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; now the whole socioeconomic landscape of the country was destroyed and transformed completely along with the innocent victims - the repressed "kulaks" and their family members.

Collective farms were reorganised many times. In most cases, new larger farms were created by amalgamating smaller ones. The forced collectivisation pushed the Lithuanian countryside towards a complete economic collapse. It is important to mention that most economic indicators in 1956-58 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 already; however, as it lasted only a short period of time, it had no dramatic effect and no considerable social and cultural changes occurred as a result of it. In 1944, after the reoccupation of the country, the cultural and social sovietisation in 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. The 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 Stalin era. Public events, mass communist events and celebrations (such as the 1st of May or the International Labour Day) were also used for the purposes of indoctrination and propaganda.  National heroes of Lithuania were replaced by the communist pantheon of heroes.

The strict demand came from Moscow to build socialism in the cultural sphere as quickly as possible. One of the tasks was to implement the so-called "cultural revolution", which meant suppressing the national and religious identity of Lithuanian society and promoting the communist ideology instead. The first step of this policy was the rejection of art and literature of the past and the creation of a new socialist culture that was in line with the paradigm of socialist realism.

The process came hand in hand with strict control and censorship. The Unions of Soviet Lithuanian Writers, Artists and Composers, as well as the Theatre Society became new structures created to implement the task of developing Soviet culture in Lithuania and to keep local artists and writers under control. Artists 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 friendship 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 in the cultural field.

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 national Lithuanian art and heritage were rejected: books by the Lithuanian national writers and core figures of the interwar Lithuanian identity like Vincas Kudirka and Maironis and Motiejus Valančius were removed from the stocks of libraries.

In carrying out the order of 26 October 1944, all secretaries of the Lithuanian district Communist Party committees and Heads of the NKVD and NKGB department 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 the authors who had been repressed by Stalin were ordered to be removed from all libraries. The institution responsible for cultural repressions and the implementation of cultural censorship, the so-called Glavlit[1], 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, mass destruction of "bourgeois" and religious monuments began in the whole territory of the occupied country. In 1950, Vilnius Cathedral mourned the demolition of the sculptures of the saints and in 1952, the monument of the Three Crosses was blown up, to name just a few examples. 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 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. But the ruined synagogue was finally demolished by the 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 them and engage them actively in the task of "building socialism". The campaign of the "fight against apolitical attitudes towards culture" led by Andrey Zhdanov was also launched in Lithuania. Lithuanian authors of the previous decades were divided into "progressive" and "reactionary" ones.

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 the Gulag, killed or otherwise punished. Also, Lithuanian writers and artists were tasked to depict the Soviet reality only in a 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 the 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, in 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 paradigm 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 the schools and other educational institutions became free from 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 by means 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 have their works published and their art exhibited.

Talking about the role 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, 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.


[1] 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. Also, the militarisation of public discourse started just after the initial occupation: Rhetorical figures and phrases like "fight" or "enemy" were dominant in the articles of newspapers 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 public mentality started with the militarisation of language.

The 1936 Soviet Constitution declared the military service as 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 1930s. 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 occupying forces and 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. Regardless, it 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 to the occupying army or otherwise using them for military purposes.

The City and County military registration and enlistment offices, the USSR NKVD internal army, and the 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. On 1 January 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 12 December 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 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, the NKVD and NKGB soldiers detained 41,000 men avoiding service in the Red Army; most of them were sent into Soviet military units. By 21 March 1945, 338,887 men arrived at the mobilisation points. In total, by 1 December 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 15 July 1944 and 1 December 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 big casualties and many soldiers were scarred for the rest of their lives; on 1 January 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 male Lithuanian identity for those generations that grew up in the Soviet era. In many cases, the experience of serving in the Soviet Army was psychologically traumatising, especially because of a wide-spread phenomenon of Dedovshchina – the informal practice of initiation and constant bullying of junior conscripts during their service. Lithuanian dissidents started to raise this problem in public in the dying 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.


Online sources:

Second Soviet occupation (1945-1990), accessible online: