|1st President of Lithuania|
April 4, 1919 – June 19, 1920
|Succeeded by||Aleksandras Stulginskis|
|4th President of Lithuania|
December 19, 1926 – June 15, 1940
|Preceded by||Aleksandras Stulginskis|
|Succeeded by||Antanas Merkys|
August 10, 1874|
(part of the Russian Empire)
|Died||January 9, 1944
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
|Political party||Lithuanian Nationalist Union|
Antanas Smetona (Lithuanian pronunciation: [ɐn̪ˈt̪äːn̪ɐs̪ s̪ʲmʲɛt̪oːˈn̪ɐ] ( ); August 10, 1874 – January 9, 1944) was one of the most important Lithuanian political figures between World War I and World War II. He served as the first President of Lithuania from April 4, 1919 to June 19, 1920. He again served as the last President of the country from December 19, 1926 to June 15, 1940, before its occupation by the Soviet Union. He was also one of the famous ideologists of nationalism in Lithuania.
Born in the village of Užulėnis, Taujėnai rural district of Ukmergė district municipality, Antanas Smetona was sent to the primary school in Taujėnai. Graduating from the Palanga Pre-Gymnasium in 1893, he passed his entrance examinations into the Samogitian Diocesan Seminary in Kaunas, with thoughts of becoming a Catholic priest, but various circumstances soon thereafter changed these plans, and he enrolled at Jelgava Gymnasium (high school) in Latvia. Here, together with Jonas Jablonskis, Vincas Kudirka and others, he belonged to a secret Lithuanian students' organization. This organization was nationalistic, and anti-Czarist in nature. In the autumn of 1896, he organized the resistance of students against obligatory attendance of the Russian Orthodox Church, and was expelled from the Gymnasium, but was later allowed to study at the Gymnasium No.9, in Saint Petersburg.
After graduating from this Gymnasium in 1897, Smetona entered the Faculty of Law of the University of Saint Petersburg. He joined the activities of the secret Lithuanian Student Organization at the University, and was made its chairman. He became involved with the publishing and dissemination of Lithuanian books. On two occasions he faced the threat of being expelled from the University, and experienced being arrested and a short imprisonment. After his graduation from the University in 1902, he worked at the Agricultural Bank of Vilnius. Two years later he married Sofija Chodakauskaitė.
From his very first days in Vilnius, Smetona became involved in the activities of various Lithuanian nationalist groups, and joined the Lithuanian Democratic Party, which he represented in the Great Seimas of Vilnius. He was later elected into its Presidium. In 1904 and 1907, he was on the staff of the Lithuanian newspapers, Vilniaus Žinios (The Vilnius News), and in 1905-1906, edited the weekly Lietuvos Ūkininkas (The Lithuanian Farmer). In 1907, Smetona and the Rev. Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas established a venture to print the newspaper Viltis (The Hope), and started publishing and circulating it. In Viltis, Smetona advocated national unity; he was also one of the incorporators of the Aušra (Dawn) company for the publishing of Lithuanian books, a member of the Lithuanian Mutual Aid Society of Vilnius, the Lithuanian Learned Society, the Vilniaus aušra (The Dawn of Vilnius), and Rytas (The Morning) education societies, the Rūta Art Society and many other societies, taught the Lithuanian language at Vilnius schools. In 1914, he started publishing Vairas (The Rudder), a new bi-weekly magazine.
During the World War I, he was the 1st Vice-Chairman, and later Chairman, of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Relief Society for helping victims of the war. In the summer of 1916, Antanas Smetona, together with other Lithuanians from Vilnius, presented a memorandum to the German Chief Commander of the Eastern Front, in which he demanded the right of the Lithuanian nation to have an independent State. On September 6, 1917, he started printing the newspaper Lietuvos Aidas (Lithuania's Echo), worked as its publisher and its editor-in-chief. In the first issue of the newspaper, Smetona wrote that the most important goal of the Lithuanian nation was the re-establishment of an independent Lithuanian state.
Between September 18 and 22, 1917, he participated in the Lithuanian Conference in Vilnius, and was elected Chairman (1917–1919), of the Council of Lithuania (later Council of the State). On February 16, 1918, Antanas Smetona signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania.
Between December 1918 and March 1919, he lived primarily in Germany and the Scandinavian countries, soliciting loans for the cause of Lithuanian independence. On April 4, 1919, the State Council of Lithuania elected Smetona the first President of the Republic of Lithuania. On April 19, 1920, the Constituent Assembly elected Aleksandras Stulginskis President. Not re-elected to the Seimas, from 1921 throughout 1924 he edited several periodicals, as Lietuvos balsas ("Voice of the Lithuania"), Lietuviškas balsas ("Lithuanian Voice") and Vairas ("The Steering Wheel").
After the Klaipėda Revolt of January 1923, in the Memelland, which had been separated from Germany, he was made commissioner there on February 20, but due to disagreements with Prime Minister Ernestas Galvanauskas, he resigned from his post.
In November 1923, authorities imprisoned Smetona for several days for publishing an article by Augustinas Voldemaras, in Vairas. Between 1923 and 1927, he was an assistant Professor at the University of Lithuania - at first at the Chair of Art Theory and History and later at the department of Philosophy. He lectured on ethics, antique philosophy, and gave lectures on Lithuanian linguistics. In 1932, he was awarded an honorary Ph.D. at the Vytautas Magnus University.
Smetona participated in the activity of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union that had staged the Klaipėda Revolt, which gave him greater name-recognition. More than once, he was elected to its central board. Between 1924 and 1940, he was the vice-Chairman of the Board of the International Bank, and one of the members of a number of societies and companies.
Antanas Smetona was one of the leaders of the coup d'état of 1926, which deposed President Kazys Grinius, and Smetona once again became President on December 19 of that year (two others briefly held the office during the coup, which began on December 17, before Smetona was formally restored to the Presidency). He designated Augustinas Voldemaras as Prime Minister. One year later he suppressed the parliament, and on May 15, 1928, with the approval of the government, he promulgated a new Constitution of the Lithuanian State with more extensive presidential powers. In 1929, he removed Voldemaras and became authoritarian head of state.1 He was re-elected President in 1931 and 1938, and remained in office until June 15, 1940.
Lithuania was occupied by Soviet troops in 1940, as a consequence of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. After the USSR presented an ultimatum to Lithuania in June of that year, Smetona proposed armed resistance against the Soviets.2 The majority of the government and the commanders of the army did not concur with this proposal. On June 15, Smetona turned over the duties of President to Prime Minister Antanas Merkys on an interim basis as per the constitution, and fled to Germany with his family. Shortly afterward, the Smetonas fled to Switzerland.
A day after Smetona left the country, Merkys announced he had deposed Smetona and was now president in his own right. Two days later, Merkys was pressured into appointing the more pliant Justas Paleckis as prime minister and resigning himself. Paleckis then became acting president, and was used as a puppet to oversee the final stages of Lithuania being incorporated into the Soviet Union a month later. Lithuania's current official position on the matter is that Merkys' takeover of the presidency was illegal, since Smetona never formally resigned. Therefore, Lithuanian officials argue, all subsequent actions leading up to the Soviet annexation were ipso facto void.
In 1941, Smetona emigrated to the United States, and lived in Pittsburgh and Chicago before settling in Cleveland, Ohio in May 1942 with his son Julius' family. While in exile, he began work on a history of Lithuania and on his memoirs. Smetona died in a fire at his son's house in Cleveland, on January 9, 1944, and was buried there. His wife Sofija died in Cleveland, on December 28, 1968, and he also had a daughter, Birutė. In 1975, his remains were moved from Cleveland's Knollwood Cemetery mausoleum to All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, Ohio.3
- Smetona, Antanas. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 3, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9068265
- Alfonsas Eidintas, Vytautas Tuskenis Zalys, Edvardas Senn, Alfred Erich Senn (1999). Lithuania in European Politics. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-22458-5.
- "Antanas Smetona". Find-A-Grave. URL accessed 2006-09-26.
- "Smetona, Antanas". Encyclopedia Lituanica V: 231-235. (1970–1978). Ed. Simas Sužiedėlis. Boston, Massachusetts: Juozas Kapočius. LCC 74-114275.
- (Lithuanian) Banevičius, Algirdas (1991). 111 Lietuvos valstybės 1918-1940 politikos veikėjų.
- (Lithuanian) Liudas Truska, Algimantas Lileikis, Gediminas Ilgūnas, Rimgaudas Geleževičius (1995). Lietuvos prezidentai. Vilnius.
- (Lithuanian) Alfonsas Eidintas (1990). Antanas Smetona. Vilnius. ISBN 5-417-00376-X.
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|President of Lithuania
4 April 1919 – 19 June 1920
|President of Lithuania
December 19, 1926 – June 15, 1940