Vilnius. A Disputed City

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With a population of over half a milion, today’s capital of Lithuania boasts a 700 year history. You may notice it without any effort, looking at one of the monuments standing on a square next to the cathedral. A massive bronze sculpture of the 14th century Grand Duke Gediminas is placed near a horse. The monarch holds a sword in his left hand and blesses the city with his right hand. During his rule, the area of Lithuania doubled in size. Duke Gediminas, as tourist brochures remind us, created a strong and influential state and extended its power to the East and to the South.

In late 19th and early 20th century, the modern Lithuanian national movement had no doubt where the capital city of a new state should be established. But after the Grat War, Vilnius was attached to Poland in 1922. It was perceived in Lithuania as occupation. The loss of this city became a collective trauma that deeply affected Lithuanian identity.

The Lithuanian minority in interwar Vilnius according to censuses held by the Polish authorities represented about 1 per cent of the total population of the city. They were not numerous, but well organized – most of them belonged to the intelligentsia, they had their own theatre, political parties, a hospital, private schools, newspapers, art exhibitions. Leaders of the Lithuanian community belonged to the generation educated in the former Russian empire. In their work, they especially cared for the language.

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