Vilnius Region (Lithuanian: Vilniaus kraštas, Polish: Wileńszczyzna,
Belarusian: Віленшчына, also formerly known in English: as
Wilno Region or Vilna Region) is the territory in the present-day
Belarus that was originally inhabited by ethnic Baltic
tribes and was a part of
Lithuania proper, but came under East Slavic
and Polish cultural influences over time.
The territory included Vilnius, the historical capital of the Grand
Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuania, after declaring independence from the
Russian Empire, claimed the
Vilnius Region based on this historical
Poland argued for the right of self-determination of the local
Poles. As a result, throughout the interwar period the control over
the area was disputed between
Poland and Lithuania. The Soviet Union
recognized it as part of
Lithuania in the Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of
1920, but in 1920 it was seized by
Poland and became part of short
lived puppet state of Central Lithuania, and was subsequently
incorporated into the Second Polish Republic.
Direct military conflicts (
Polish-Lithuanian War and Żeligowski's
Mutiny) were followed up by fruitless negotiations in the League of
Nations. After the Soviet invasion of
Poland in 1939, as part of the
Soviet fulfillment of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the entire region
came under Soviet control. About one fifth of the region, including
Vilnius, was ceded to
Lithuania by the
Soviet Union on October 10,
1939 in exchange for Soviet military bases within the territory of
Lithuania. The conflict over
Vilnius Region was settled after World
War II when both
Lithuania came under Soviet and Communist
domination and some Poles were repatriated to Poland. Since then, the
region became part of the Lithuanian SSR, and since 1990 of modern-day
1 Territory and terminology
4 See also
6 External links
Territory and terminology
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Eastern (brown) and Western (orange)
Vilnius Regions in relation to
the current territory of Lithuania
Vilnius Region did not possess exact borders per se, but
encompassed the surrounding areas near
Vilnius and included the city
as well. This territory was disputed between
1918, after both countries had successfully reestablished their
independence. Later, the western limit of the region became a de facto
administration line between
Lithuania following Polish
military action in the latter part of 1920.
Lithuania refused to
recognize this action or the border. The eastern limit was defined by
the Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of 1920. The eastern line was never
turned into an actual border between states and remained only a
political vision. The total territory covered about 32,250 km².
Today the eastern limit of the region lies between the Lithuanian and
Belarusian border. This border divides the
Vilnius Region into two
parts: western and eastern. The Western
Vilnius Region, including
Vilnius, is now part of Lithuania. It constitutes about one third of
Lithuania gained about 6,880 km² on
October 10, 1939 from the
Soviet Union and 2,650 km² (including
Druskininkai and Švenčionys) on August 3, 1940 from the Byelorussian
SSR. The Eastern
Vilnius Region became part of Belarus. No parts of
the region are in modern Poland. None of the countries have any
further territorial claims.
The term Central
Lithuania refers to the short-lived puppet state of
the Republic of Central Lithuania, proclaimed by Lucjan Żeligowski
after his staged mutiny in the annexed areas. After eighteen months of
existing under Poland's military protection, it was annexed by Poland
on March 24, 1922 thus finalizing Poland's claims over the territory.
A satirical picture from interwar Polish press (around 1925–1935): a
caricature of marshal
Józef Piłsudski and Lithuania, criticizing
Lithuanian unwillingness to compromise over
Vilnius region. Marshal
Piłsudski offers the sausage labeled "agreement" to the dog (with the
collar labelled Lithuania); the dog barking "Wilno, wilno, wilno"
replies: "Even if you were to give me Wilno, I would bark for Grodno
and Białystok, because this is who I am."
Wilno Voivodeship in interwar Poland
In the Middle Ages,
Vilnius and its environs had become a nucleus of
the early ethnic Lithuanian state, the Duchy of Lithuania, also
referred to in Lithuanian historiography as a part of the Lithuania
Propria, that became Kingdom of
Lithuania and later Grand Duchy
After the Partitions of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late
18th century it was annexed by the
Russian Empire which founded here
the administrative district of the Vilna Governorate. In the effect of
World War I
World War I it was seized by Germany and given to the civilian
administration of the Ober-Ost. With the German defeat in World War I
and the outbreak of hostilities between various factions of the
Russian Civil War, the area was disputed by the newly established
Lithuanian, Polish and Belarusian states.
Poles based their claims on demographic grounds and pointed to the
will of the inhabitants. Lithuanians used geographical and historical
arguments and underlined the role
Vilnius played as the capital of the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuanian national activists viewed
Poles and Belarusians of the region as "Slavicized Lithuanians".
Vilnius Conference of September 1917, organized by Lithuanian
activists under German auspices, elected a council of Lithuania, and
an Act of Independence of
Lithuania proclaimed an independent
Lithuanian state with its capital in Vilnius. The Lithuanian
government, however, failed to recruit soldiers among the
inhabitants and was unable to organize defense of the region against
the Bolsheviks. During November and December 1918, local Polish
self-defense formations were created in
Vilnius and in many
surrounding localities. They were formally enlisted into the Polish
Army by the end of the year. The Lithuanian
Taryba left Vilnius
together with the German garrison on 1 January 1919, when the first
skirmishes took place between the approaching Bolshevik forces and the
Polish troops east of the city.
After the outbreak of the Polish–Soviet War, during the summer
offensive of the Red Army, the region got under Soviet control as the
part of planned Lithuanian–Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
(Litbel). In exchange for military cooperation after
Lithuanian–Soviet War, the Bolshevist authorities signed a peace
Lithuania on July 12, 1920. According to the
Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty, all area disputed between
Lithuania, at the time controlled by the Bolsheviks, was to be
transferred to Lithuania. However, the actual control over the area
Bolsheviks hands. After the Battle of
Warsaw of 1920 it
became clear that the advancing
Polish Army would soon recapture the
area. Seeing that they could not secure it, the Bolshevik authorities
started to transfer the area to Lithuanian sovereignty. The advancing
Polish Army managed to retake much of the disputed area before the
Lithuanians arrived, while the most important part of it with the city
Vilnius was secured by Lithuania.
Due to Polish-Lithuanian tensions, the allied powers withheld
diplomatic recognition of
Lithuania until 1922. Since the two
states were not at war, diplomatic negotiations were begun. The
negotiations and international mediation led to nowhere and until 1920
the disputed territory remained divided into a Lithuanian and a Polish
In the 1920s,
League of Nations
League of Nations twice attempted to organise
plebiscites, although neither side were eager to participate. After a
staged mutiny by
Lucjan Żeligowski Poles took control over the area,
and organised elections, which were boycotted by most Lithuanians, but
also by many Jews and Belarusians  because of strong Polish
The Polish government never acknowledged the Russo-Lithuanian
convention of July 12, 1920, that granted the latter state territory
Poland by the
Red Army during the Polish–Soviet War,
then promised to
Lithuania as the Soviet forces were retreating under
the Polish advance; particularly as the Soviets had previously
renounced claims to that region in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In
turn, the Lithuanian authorities did not acknowledge the
Polish–Lithuanian border of 1918–1920 as permanent nor did they
ever acknowledged the sovereignty of puppet Republic of Central
In 1922 the
Republic of Central Lithuania
Republic of Central Lithuania voted to join
Poland and the
choice was later accepted by the League of Nations, The area
Lithuania by the
Bolsheviks in 1920 continued to be claimed
by Lithuania, with the city of
Vilnius being treated as that state's
official capital and the temporary capital in Kaunas, and the states
officially remained at war. It was not until the Polish ultimatum of
1938, that the two states resolved diplomatic relations.
Some historians speculated, that the loss of
Vilnius might have
nonetheless safeguarded the very existence of the Lithuanian state in
the interwar period. Despite an alliance with Soviets
(Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty) and the war with Poland, Lithuania
was very close to being invaded by the Soviets in the summer of 1920
and having been forcibly converted into a socialist republic. They
believe it was only the Polish victory against the Soviets in the
Polish–Soviet War (and the fact that the Poles did not object to
some form of Lithuanian independence) that derailed the Soviet plans
Lithuania an experience of interwar independence.
In 1939, the Soviets proposed to sign the Soviet–Lithuanian Mutual
Assistance Treaty. According to this treaty, about one fifth of the
Vilnius Region, including the city of
Vilnius itself, was returned to
Lithuania in exchange for stationing 20,000 of Soviet troops in
Lithuania. Lithuanians at first did not want to accept this, but later
Soviet Union said that troops would enter Lithuania, anyway, so
Lithuania accepted the deal. 1/5 of the
Vilnius region was ceded,
despite of the fact that the
Soviet Union always recognised the whole
Vilnius region as part of
Soviet Union was awarded the
Vilnius region during the Yalta
Conference, and it subsequently became part of the Lithuanian SSR.
About 150,000 of the Polish population was repatriated from Lithuanian
SSR to Poland.
Main article: Demographic history of the
The area was originally inhabited by Lithuanian Balts. It was
subjected to East Slavic and Polish cultural influences and
settlement[dubious – discuss], which led to its gradual
Ruthenization and Polonization. According to Norman Davies,
Vilnius was culturally Polish by the 17th century. By the 18th and
19th centuries, the city was almost completely surrounded by Slavs,
Vilnius region became exceptionally ethnically diverse
Belarusian-Polish-Lithuanian territory. The Belarusian population
moved into the areas devastated by wars of the 17th and the early 18th
centuries (Northern Ashmyany, Trakai,
Švenčionys and Vilnius
counties) and only a few Lithuanian settlements remained there.
According to the Russian census of 1897 (which studied the linguistic
situation, but didn't include the category of ethnic affiliation))
Vilna Governorate was occupied predominantly by Belarusian
speakers (56,05%), while Polish speakers amounted to only 8,17% of the
population. The Russians maintained that the local Poles belonged
chiefly to the nobility and gentry, and that the peasants in the
region could not be Polish. The later German (1916) and Polish
(1919) censuses showed that
Vilnius and its environs had a Polish
Vilnius at that point was divided nearly evenly
between Poles and Jews, with Lithuanians constituting a mere fraction
(about 2–2.6%) of the total population. These censuses
and their organisation were heavily criticized by contemporary
Lithuanians of the region as biased. At the end of the
First World War, 50% of the
Vilnius inhabitants were Polish and 43%
were Jewish. According to E. Bojtar, who cites P. Gaučas, the
surrounding villages were mainly inhabited by Belarusian speakers who
considered themselves Poles. There was also a large group who
adopted nationality at will depending upon the political
circumstances. According to the 1916 census conducted by the
German authorities Lithuanians constituted 18.5% of the population.
However, during this census the
Vilnius region was expanded greatly
and ended near Brest-Litovsk, and included the city of Białystok. Due
to the addition of further Polish regions, the percentage of
Lithuanian population was diluted. The post-war Polish censuses of
1921 and 1931, found 5% of Lithuanians living in the area, with
several almost purely Lithuanian enclaves located to the south-west,
Dieveniškės enclave), east (Gervėčiai enclave) of Vilnius
and to the north of Švenčionys. The majority of the population was
composed of Poles (roughly 60%) according to the latter three
censuses. The results of Polish censuses were questioned by some
Lithuanian historians and the Lithuanian government
claimed that the majority of local Poles were in fact Polonised
Lithuanians. Today, the Po prostu dialect is the native language
for Poles in
Šalčininkai District Municipality
Šalčininkai District Municipality and in some
Vilnius District Municipality, its speakers consider
themselves to be Poles and believe Po prostu language to be purely
Polish. The population, including those of "the locals"
(Tutejshy) who live in the other part of
Vilnius region that was
Soviet Union and passed on to Belarus, still has a strong
presence of Polish identity.
Census in 1897
Language spoken. Majorities. Green - Belarusian-speaking population,
yellow - Lithuanian-speaking population. Note: relative majority in
Vilnius uyezd. Belarusian: (25,8 % with
Vilnius city; 41,85% if
excluding Vilnius), Lithuanian: (20,93 % with
34,92% if excluding Vilnius)
Lithuanian Jews, speaking Litvish dialect of Yiddish
After the extermination of Jews, displacements and migrations,
Lithuanians became the undisputed ethnic majority in the Vilnius
region. The share of Lithuanians in the
Vilnius city grew from 2% in
the first half of the 20th century to 42.5% in 1970, 57.8% in 2001
(while the total population of the city expanded several times).
and 63.2% in 2011. The Poles are still concentrated
in the area around Vilnius, and constituted 63.6% of the population in
Vilnius District Municipality and 82.4% of the population in
Šalčininkai District Municipality
Šalčininkai District Municipality in 1989, 52.07% of the
Vilnius District Municipality and 77.75% in
Šalčininkai District Municipality
Šalčininkai District Municipality in 2011.
Lithuanian language in the 16th century
Polish ethnographic map from 1912, showing the proportions of Polish
population on the territory of the former Polish-Lithuanian
Commonwealth, according to pre-war censuses
Polish ethnographic map from 1916, showing the proportions of Polish
population, according to German censuses of 1916
Poles in present-day Lithuania
Disputed territories of Baltic States
History of Vilnius
Poles in Lithuania
Polish National-Territorial Region
^ Smetona, Antanas. "
Lithuania Propria". Darbai ir dienos (in
Lithuanian). 3 (12): 191–234.
^ (in Lithuanian) Viduramžių Lietuva Viduramžių Lietuvos
provincijos. Retrieved on 2007.04.11
^ Lithuanians used historical and geographical arguments to defend
their claims, Poles pointed to the overwhelmingly Polish ethnic
character of the Land of Vilnius, and to the explicit will of its
inhabitants. In: Jan Owsinski, Piotr Eberhardt. Ethnic Groups and
Population Changes in Twentieth-Century Central-Eastern Europe. M.E.
Sharpe. 2003. p. 36.
^ Lithuanians based their claims to
Vilnius on its role as the
historical capital of the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania, whereas
Poland staked its claim on the grounds that the city and surrounding
area were predominantly ethnically Polish. Tomas Balkelis. "Nation
State, Ethnic Conflict, and Refugees in
Shatterzone of Empires. Coexistence and Violence in the German,
Habsburg, Russian, and Ottoman Borderlands. Indiana University Press.
2013. p. 244.
^ Jerzy Borzecki. The Soviet-Polish Peace of 1921 and the creation of
interwar Europe. Yale University Press. 2008. p. 35. According to one
of the leading Lithuanian national activists, Mykolas Biržiška, "the
issue of belonging to a certain nationality is not decided by everyone
at will, it is not a matter that can be resolved according to the
principles of political liberalism, even one cloaked in democratic
slogans." Another leading activist, Petras Klimas, had already
declared in September 1917: "Giving the right of self-determination to
the inhabitants of Wilno, a population devoid of culture, would mean
giving an opportunity to agitators to fool people. The thing is to
unite former branches with the old trunk. Based on that, we draw the
border far beyond Wilno, near Oszmiana. Lida County is also
Lithuanian...", p. 322 (Notes).
^ a b c Jerzy Borzecki. The Soviet-Polish Peace of 1921 and the
creation of interwar Europe. Yale University Press. 2008. pp. 2-3,
^ Čepėnas, Pranas. naujųjų laikų Lietuvos istorija (in
Lithuanian). Chicago: DR. Griniaus fondas.
^ Stephanie Salzmann. Great Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union:
Rapallo and After, 1922-1934. Boydell Press. 2013. p. 93.
^ a b Kiaupa, Zigmantas (2004). The History of Lithuania. Vilnius:
Baltos lankos. ISBN 9955-584-87-4.
^ (in Polish) Krajewski Zenon, Geneza i dzieje wewnętrzne Litwy
Środkowej (1920-1922), Lublin 1996; ISBN 83-906321-0-1
^ Alfred Erich Senn, The Formation of the Lithuanian Foreign Office,
1918-1921, Slavic Review, Vol. 21, No. 3. (Sep., 1962), pp. 500-507.:
"A Bolshevik victory over the Poles would have certainly meant a move
by the Lithuanian communists, backed by the Red Army, to overthrow the
Lithuanian nationalist government... Kaunas, in effect, paid for its
independence with the loss of Vilna."
Alfred Erich Senn, Lietuvos valstybes... p. 163: "If the Poles didn't
stop the Soviet attack,
Lithuania would fell to the Soviets... Polish
victory costs the Lithuanians the city of Wilno, but saved Lithuania
Antanas Ruksa, Kovos del Lietuvos nepriklausomybes, t.3, p.417: "In
summer 1920 Russia was working on a communist revolution in
Lithuania... From this disaster
Lithuania was saved by the miracle at
Józef Piłsudski - wróg niepodległości Litwy czy
jej wybawca? (Polish translation of a Lithuanian article) "Veidas", 25
08 2005: [Piłsudski] "defended both
Poland and Lithuanian from Soviet
^ Katarzyna Leśniewska, Marek Barwiński. "
Vilnius region as a
historical region". Region and Regionalism. No. 10. 2010. pp. 95-98.
^ Jerzy Ochmański. Litewska granica etniczna na wschodzie: od epoki
plemiennej do XVI wieku. Wydawn. Nauk. Uniwersytetu im. Adama
Mickiewicza. 1981. p. 81.
^ Norman Davies, God's Playground: The origins to 1795, Oxford
University Press, 2005, p. 29.
^ Jerzy Ochmański, "The National Idea in
Lithuania from the 16th to
the First Half of the 19th Century: The Problem of Cultural-Linguistic
Differentiation", Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Vol. X. No. 3/4. 1986, p.
^ Toomas Karjaharm. Terminology Pertaining to Ethnic Relations as Used
in Late Imperial Russia. Acta Historica Tallinnensia (15). 2010. pp.
^ (in Russian) Demoscope.
^ a b (in Polish) Piotr Łossowski, Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918-1920
(The Polish-Lithuanian Conflict, 1918–1920), Warsaw, Książka i
Wiedza, 1995, ISBN 83-05-12769-9, pp. 11, 104.
^ Michał Eustachy Brensztejn (1919). Spisy ludności m. Wilna za
okupacji niemieckiej od. 1 listopada 1915 r (in Polish). Biblioteka
Delegacji Rad Polskich Litwy i Białej Rusi, Warsaw. pp. 8,
^ Eugenjusz Romer, "Spis ludności na terenach administrowanych przez
Zarząd Cywilny Ziem Wschodnich (Grudzień 1919)", Prace Geograficzne:
Issue 7, p. 31.
^ Pranciškus Bieliauskas "Vilniaus dienoraštis. 1915-1919", Vilnius,
Petras Klimas "Iš mano atsiminimų", Vilnius, Enciklopedijų
Redakcija, 1991, p. 148
^ Vytautas Merkys "Tautinė Vilniaus vyskupijos gyventojų sudėtis
1867-1917" in "Istorijos Akiračiai", 2004, p. 408-409
^ E. Bojtar. Foreword to the past: a cultural history of the Baltic
people. Central European University Press. 2000. p. 201.
^ a b Jan Owsinski, Piotr Eberhardt. Ethnic Groups and Population
Changes in Twentieth-Century Central-Eastern Europe. M.E. Sharpe.
2003. pp. 48, 59
^ (in Lithuanian) Lietuvos rytai; straipsnių rinkinys The east of
Lithuania; the collection of articles; V. Čekmonas, L. Grumadaitė
"Kalbų paplitimas Rytų Lietuvoje" ("The distribution of languages in
^ "Первая всеобщая перепись населения
Российской Империи 1897 г. Виленский
^ "Первая всеобщая перепись населения
Российской Империи 1897 г. Виленский
уезд без города".
^ Roman Szporluk. Russia, Ukraine and the Breakup of the Soviet Union.
Hoover Press. 2000. p. 47.
^ Saulius Stanaitis, Darius Cesnavicius. Dynamics of national
Vilnius population in the 2nd half of the 20th century.
Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series. No. 13. 2010 33-44 pp.
^ "Gyventojai gyvenamosiose vietovėse". Statistics Lithuania.
2013-01-25. Retrieved 2017-02-25.
Repatriation and Resettlement of Ethnic Poles Maps of Ethnic Groups
Belarusian language boundary in the 4th decade of the 19th
Belarusian language boundary in the beginning of the 20th
Coordinates: 54°30′N 25°25′E / 54.500°N 25.417°E /