Temporary capital of Lithuania

Temporary capital of Lithuania

Temporary capital or Provisional/Interim capital ("Lithuanian "Laikinoji sostinė") was the official designation of the city of Kaunas in Lithuania during the interwar period.



During the final stages of the World War I, Germany conquered the lands of Samogitia, Suvalkija, Aukštaitija and Dzūkija and recognised it as state of Lithuania eventually. With the collapse of the Central Powers in 1918, the newly-created Lithuanian state broke all dependence of Germany and at the same time announced the city of Vilnius as its capital. Lithuania claimed the city on historical grounds as it was established by Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas and since then used to be the capital of Lithuania until its occupation by czarist Russian Empire. Also, despite of fact that only a minority of people in Vilnius spoke Lithuanian as native tongue (between 1 and 2%), during czarist occupation the city was a center of Lithuanian culture, resistance and was seen as capital of the Lithuanian nation by many Lithuanians. However, the city was also seen similarly by other people as the capital of the Belarusian nation (due to the Belarusian-Lithuanian common history), the capital of Yiddish culture (40% of population were Jews and the city was frequently titled "The Jerusalem of North"); also, proportionally the largest part of population was Polish speaking (roughly 60%). Therefore, a conflict arose: Belarusian People's Republic did not manage to stay for long, Jews had no state at the time, therefore conflict remained mainly between Poland and Lithuaniawho?.

The local Ober-Ost administration accepted the Council of Lithuania to be held in German-held Vilnius, yet the administration remained in German hands. After the German withdrawal, the city was handed overwho? to the local Poles on January 1, 1919. However, only three days afterwards both the city and its surroundings were captured by the Red Army and proclaimed the capital of the short-lived Lithuanian-Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. On April 19, 1919, the city was seized by the regular Polish Army but on July 14, 1920 it was lost again to Soviet forces as one of the stages of the Polish-Bolshevik War. Eventually, after the Bolshevik defeat in the Battle of Warsaw it was handed to Lithuanian authorities according to the Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of 1920 of July 12, 1920, in which Bolshevik Russia accepted the eastern borders of Lithuania. The sovereignty upon parts of the areas granted to Lithuania was passed immediately, while Russia retained most of it due to the war nearing the area. After the Battle of the Niemen, in which the Bolshevik forces were defeated by the Polish Army, most of the Russian-held part of the disputed area was seized by Poland. However, the Lithuanian-held part was not entered as there was no war between Poland and Lithuania and both sides decided to settle the conflict peacefully.

After Polish-Lithuanian talks in Brussels failed, the Poles seized the Lithuanian-held part of the disputed area, up to the temporary border of 1919. A short-lived puppet-state Republic of Central Lithuania was created there, but it was soon unified with Poland following the elections in 1922 (boycotted by the Lithuanian and some other minorities and never recognized by the Lithuanian government). After that, the area disputed by Lithuania was divided onto three voivodships of Poland, largest part including Vilnius itself formed Wilno Voivodship (which included all parts of former Central Lithuania).


Since the constitutional capital of Lithuania remained in Vilnius, but the city now was controlled by Poland, all Lithuanian authorities were transferred to the city of Kaunas, which also became the seat of the government. Lithuania did not recognise Polish control over Wilno (that is how Vilnius is called by Poles) and considered it Polish occupation. Consistently, the seat of the state authorities was called a "temporary capital", while the constitutional capital was a part of Poland. Because of that, Lithuania broke diplomatic relations with Poland and did not reassumed them until 1938, when Poland sent an ultimatum requiring Lithuania to restart diplomatic relations. This move removed a part of Lithuanian pressure on regaining the Vilnius region, however the status of Kaunas still remained as temporary capital, and Vilnius still remained a constitutional capital.


After invading Poland in September 1939, the Soviet Union passed control over Vilnius city itself (but only 1/5th of Vilnius region) to Lithuania, in exchange for stationing Soviet troops in Lithuanian territory. This was accepted by Lithuanian authorities (after it was posed as ultimatum by saying that if it would be rejected, Soviet troops would move in anyway). However, the capital was practically not moved from Kaunas which continued to remain the temporary capital: this was mainly because the Lithuanian government did not want the capital to be near where Soviet troops were stationed, as that would have made it easier for Russians to quickly overthrow the government of Lithuania (which happened soon anyway).

In 1990, after Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union, the city of Vilnius was once again declared its capital. However, large parts of what was once claimed by Lithuania as "the Vilnius region", had already been transferred to Belarus.

Current usage

Currently, the term "temporary capital", despite losing its real meaning, is still frequently used for Kaunas, the second largest Lithuanian city (after Vilnius). A local newspaper is also called "Laikinoji sostinė" ("Temporary capital").

ee also

* History of Lithuania
* History of Vilnius

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