Antanas Smetona
Antanas Smetona was one of the most important Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

n political figures between World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. 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
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. He was also one of the famous ideologists of nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

 in Lithuania.

Early life

Born in the village of Užulėnis, Taujėnai
Taujėnai is a town in Ukmergė district municipality, Vilnius County, east Lithuania. According to the 2001 census, the town has a population of 322 people. The town has a church of Catholics....

 rural district of Ukmergė district municipality
Ukmerge district municipality
The Ukmergė district municipality is a municipality in Vilnius County, Lithuania. The capital of the municipality is Ukmergė, the largest settlement and only city in the municipality...

, Antanas Smetona was sent to the primary school in Taujėnai. Graduating from the Palanga
Palanga and beautiful sand dunes. Officially Palanga has the status of a city municipality and includes Šventoji, Nemirseta, Būtingė and other settlements, which are considered as part of the city of Palanga.-Legend:...

Gymnasium (school)
A gymnasium is a type of school providing secondary education in some parts of Europe, comparable to English grammar schools or sixth form colleges and U.S. college preparatory high schools. The word γυμνάσιον was used in Ancient Greece, meaning a locality for both physical and intellectual...

 in 1893, he passed his entrance examinations into the Samogitian Diocesan Seminary
Kaunas Priest Seminary
Kaunas Priest Seminary is the largest seminary in Lithuania serving the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kaunas. It is part of the Faculty of Theology of Vytautas Magnus University. Its current rector is Aurelijus Žukauskas. As of 2007, the seminary had 35 students...

 in Kaunas
Kaunas is the second-largest city in Lithuania and has historically been a leading centre of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life. Kaunas was the biggest city and the center of a powiat in Trakai Voivodeship of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since 1413. During Russian Empire occupation...

, with thoughts of becoming a Catholic
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 priest, but various circumstances soon thereafter changed these plans, and he enrolled at Jelgava Gymnasium
Jelgava Gymnasium
Jelgava Gymnasium or Academia Petrina is the oldest higher educational establishment in Latvia. It was established in Jelgava, capital of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, by Duke Peter von Biron in 1775. After the partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Jelgava became part of the...

 (high school) in Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

. Here, together with Jonas Jablonskis
Jonas Jablonskis
Jonas Jablonskis was a distinguished Lithuanian linguist and one of the founders of the standard Lithuanian language...

, Vincas Kudirka
Vincas Kudirka
Vincas Kudirka was a Lithuanian poet and physician, and the author of both the music and lyrics of the Lithuanian National Anthem, Tautiška giesmė. He is regarded in Lithuania as a National Hero. Kudirka used pen names - V...

 and others, he belonged to a secret Lithuanian students' organization. This organization was nationalistic, and anti-Czar
Tsar is a title used to designate certain European Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism...

ist in nature. In the autumn of 1896, he organized the resistance of students against obligatory attendance of the Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

, and was expelled from the Gymnasium, but was later allowed to study at the Gymnasium No.9, in Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...


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
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

. Two years later he married Sofija Chodakauskaitė.

Early activities

From his very first days in Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

, 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
Great Seimas of Vilnius
The Great Seimas of Vilnius , was a major assembly held on December 4 and 5, 1905 in Vilnius, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire, largely inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1905. It was the first modern national congress in Lithuania and dealt primarily not with the social issues that...

. He was later elected into its Presidium
The presidium or praesidium is the name for the heading organ of various legislative and organizational bodies.-Historical usage:...

. In 1904 and 1907, he was on the staff of the Lithuanian newspapers, Vilniaus Žinios
Vilniaus žinios
Vilniaus žinios was a short-lived newspaper published in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was the first legal Lithuanian-language daily newspaper to appear after the Lithuanian press ban was lifted on May 7, 1904.-History:...

(The Vilnius News), and in 1905-1906, edited the weekly Lietuvos Ūkininkas (The Lithuanian Farmer). In 1907, Smetona and the Rev. Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas
Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas
Juozas Tumas, also known by the pen name Vaižgantas , was a prominent Lithuanian writer, Roman Catholic priest, social activist, literary historian, and one of the founders of the Party of National Progress. He wrote novels, short fictional pieces, and non-fiction...

 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
Aušra or Auszra was the first national Lithuanian newspaper. The first issue was published in 1883, in Ragnit, East Prussia, Germany East Prussia's ethnolinguistic part - Lithuania Minor. Later it was published monthly in Tilsit...

 (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 First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, 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
Lietuvos aidas
Lietuvos aidas is a daily newspaper in Lithuania. It was established on September 6, 1917 by Antanas Smetona, and became the semi-official voice of the newly formed Lithuanian government. When the government evacuated from Vilnius to the temporary capital, Kaunas, it ceased publication...

(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
Council of Lithuania
The Council of Lithuania , after July 11, 1918 The State Council of Lithuania , was convened at the Vilnius Conference that took place between September 18 and 23, 1917. The council was granted the executive authority of the Lithuanian people and was entrusted to establish an independent...

 (later Council of the State). On February 16, 1918, Antanas Smetona signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania
Act of Independence of Lithuania
The Act of Independence of Lithuania or Act of February 16 was signed by the Council of Lithuania on February 16, 1918, proclaiming the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania, governed by democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital. The Act was signed by all twenty...


Between December 1918 and March 1919, he lived primarily in Germany
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

 and the Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

n 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
Constituent Assembly of Lithuania
The Constituent Assembly of Lithuania was democratically elected in 1920 to draft and adopt the 1922 constitution of Lithuania.- Historical background :...

 elected Aleksandras Stulginskis
Aleksandras Stulginskis
Aleksandras Stulginskis Aleksandras Stulginskis Aleksandras Stulginskis (born (February 26, 1885 in Kutaliai, in Šilalė district municipality near Tauragė, Lithuania, Russian Empire; died September 22, 1969 in Kaunas) was the second President of Lithuania (1920–1926)...

 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
Klaipeda Revolt
The Klaipėda Revolt took place in January 1923 in the Klaipėda Region . The region, located north of the Neman River, was detached from the East Prussia of the German Empire by the Treaty of Versailles and became a mandate of the League of Nations. It was placed under provisional French...

 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
Ernestas Galvanauskas
Ernestas Galvanauskas was a Lithuanian engineer, politician and one the founders of the Lithuanian Peasants' Union...

, he resigned from his post.

In November 1923, authorities imprisoned Smetona for several days for publishing an article by Augustinas Voldemaras
Augustinas Voldemaras
Augustinas Voldemaras was a Lithuanian nationalist political figure. He served as the country's first Prime Minister in 1918, and again from 1926 to 1929.- Biography :...

, 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.
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

 at the Vytautas Magnus University
Vytautas Magnus University
Vytautas Magnus University ) is a public university in Kaunas, Lithuania. The university was founded in 1922 during the interwar period as an alternate national 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.

Authoritarian president

Antanas Smetona was one of the leaders of the coup d'état of 1926, which deposed President Kazys Grinius
Kazys Grinius
Kazys Grinius was the third President of Lithuania, and held that office from 7 June 1926 to 17 December 1926.When Grinius was born in Selema, near Marijampolė, Lithuania was part of the Russian empire. He studied medicine at the University of Moscow and became a physician...

, 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
Augustinas Voldemaras
Augustinas Voldemaras was a Lithuanian nationalist political figure. He served as the country's first Prime Minister in 1918, and again from 1926 to 1929.- Biography :...

, 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. 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
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

 between Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 and the Soviet Union. After the USSR presented an ultimatum to Lithuania
1940 Soviet ultimatum to Lithuania
The Soviet Union issued an ultimatum to Lithuania before midnight of June 14, 1940. The Soviets, using a formal pretext, demanded to allow an unspecified number of Soviet soldiers to enter the Lithuanian territory and to form a new pro-Soviet government...

 in June of that year, Smetona proposed armed resistance against the Soviets. The majority of the government and the commanders of the army did not concur with this proposal, and Smetona turned over the duties of President to Prime Minister Antanas Merkys
Antanas Merkys
Antanas Merkys |Bajorai]], near Skapiškis, Vilna Governorate of the Russian Empire; died on March 5, 1955 in Vladimir Oblast, Soviet Union) was the last Prime Minister of independent Lithuania, serving from November 1939 to June 1940. When Soviet Union presented an ultimatum to Lithuania, President...

, and on June 15 he and his family fled to Germany, and then on to Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 without surrendering his powers.
In 1941, Smetona emigrated to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, and lived in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the US Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Allegheny County. Regionally, it anchors the largest urban area of Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley, and nationally, it is the 22nd-largest urban area in the United States...

 and Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

 before settling in Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and is the county seat of Cuyahoga County, the most populous county in the state. The city is located in northeastern Ohio on the southern shore of Lake Erie, approximately west of the Pennsylvania border...

 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
Chardon, Ohio
Chardon is a city in Geauga County, Ohio, United States. The population was 5,148 at the 2010 Census. It is the county seat of Geauga County.-History:Chardon is named after Peter Chardon Brooks, who donated land to build the historic Chardon Square....


External links

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