Russians in Lithuania

Russians in Lithuania

First small early East Slavic settlements in what is now Lithuania date back to late medieval ages when the first proto-Russian merchants and craftsmen began to permanently reside in several Lithuanian towns. In the late 17th century they were joined by many Russian Old Believers who settled in eastern Lithuania, escaping religious persecution in Russia.

The second, larger, influx of Russians followed the annexation of Lithuania by the Russian Empire during the Partitions of Poland in the late 18th century. Under Russian rule, power in the region remained primarily in the hands of the Lithuanian nobility, but some administrative jobs were gradually taken over by Russians, who also settled in cities such as Vilnius and Kaunas. Also after the uprising of 1863 in Poland some estates had been confiscated from the local nobility and given to Russian officials. Many of the Russians who migrated to Lithuania were soldiers, sailors, and merchants.

Most of the present-day Russians in Lithuania are migrants from the Soviet era and their descendants. Following the terms of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in 1940. After Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the three countries quickly fell under German control. Many Russians, especially Communist party members who had arrived in the area with the initial annexation, retreated to Russia; those who fell into German hands were treated harshly, many were murdered.

As the war drew to a close, the Soviet Union resumed its occupation of the Baltic states in 1944-1945. Western democracies did not recognize the Soviet occupation, and each Baltic state maintained a government in exile; in practice, however, no Western military intervention in the Baltics ever followed.

Immediately after the war, Stalin carried out a major resettlement and "de facto" Russification campaign in what were now the three Baltic Soviet republics. The Russians, along with a smaller number of other Soviet ethnic groups, who migrated to the Baltic were mostly factory workers who settled in major urban areas, as well as military personnel stationed in the region in significant numbers due to the border location of the Baltic States within the Soviet Union. Many military retirees chose to stay in the region, which featured higher living standards compared to most of Russia.

After Stalin's death in 1953, the government of the Lithuanian SSR, led by the "communist nationalist" Antanas Sniečkus, objected to the resettlement policies and managed to slow down the influx of Russians by letting Lithuanians fill some of the higher party positions. The flow of immigrants did not stop entirely, and there were further waves of Russian workers who came to work on major construction projects, such as power plants.

In Latvia and Estonia, less was done to stop the Russian immigration. By 1989 Russians made up 30.3% of the population in Estonia, while in Latvia, ethnic Latvians made up just 52% of the population. In contrast, at the last Soviet census in 1989, only 9.4 percent of Lithuania's population were ethnic Russians, with a few more percent comprising other Soviet nationalities.

Russians who reside in Lithuania live mainly in urban areas. In Vilnius they make up 13% of the population, and 20% in Klaipėda. Kaunas has just 4.4% ethnic Russians. The town of Visaginas was built for workers at the Ignalina nuclear power plant and therefore has an ethnic Russian majority (55%); it was built despite Antanas Sniečkus being against it. Ironically, at first the city was called Sniečkus.

ee also

*Baltic Russians

Further reading

*Popovski, Vesna (2000). "National Minorities and Citizenship Rights in Lithuania, 1988-93". N.Y.: Palgrave. ISBN 0333794680

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