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Antanas Smetona

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Antanas Smetona

Antanas Smetona
President of Lithuania
In office
19 December 1926 – 15 June 1940
Prime Minister Augustinas Voldemaras
Juozas Tūbelis
Vladas Mironas
Jonas Černius
Antanas Merkys
Preceded by Aleksandras Stulginskis
Succeeded by Antanas Merkys
In office
4 April 1919 – 19 June 1920
Prime Minister Pranas Dovydaitis
Mykolas Sleževičius
Ernestas Galvanauskas
Succeeded by Aleksandras Stulginskis
Personal details
Born (1874-08-10)August 10, 1874
Taujėnai, Lithuania
Died January 9, 1944(1944-01-09) (aged 69)
Cleveland, United States
Political party Lithuanian Nationalist Union
Spouse(s) Sofija Chodakauskaitė-Smetonienė

Antanas Smetona (Lithuanian pronunciation: ; 10 August 1874 – 9 January 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 4 April 1919 to 19 June 1920. He again served as the last President of the country from 19 December 1926 to 15 June 1940, before its occupation by the Soviet Union. He was also one of the famous ideologists of nationalism in Lithuania.


  • Early life 1
  • Early activities 2
  • Politics 3
    • Authoritarian president 3.1
  • Exile 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Born in the village of Užulėnis, 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 Vilnius. Two years later he married Sofija Chodakauskaitė.

Early activities

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.


Smetona (first right from center) in the Council of Lithuania

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 6 September 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 18 and 22 September 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 16 February 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 4 April 1919, the State Council of Lithuania elected Smetona the first President of the Republic of Lithuania. On 19 April 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").

Smetona (center) with ministers

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.

Authoritarian president

Bas-relief of Antanas Smetona by sculptor, medallist Juozas Kalinauskas
Interwar 10 Litas coin featuring 1st President of Lithuania Antanas Smetona by pre-war sculptor, medallist Juozas Zikaras

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. According to his son-in-law he was assassinated by the NKVD. His wife Sofija died in Cleveland, on December 28, 1968, and he also had a daughter, Birutė, who married Juozas Ambrazas. They conceived a daughter Nijole. Birute was killed in a bombing raid leaving Nijole to be cared for by her father Juozas until he, having to leave Nijole behind with relatives, escaped to Germany in 1944. In 1975, his (Antanas') remains were moved from Cleveland's Knollwood Cemetery mausoleum to All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, Ohio.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Smetona, Antanas. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 3, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
  2. ^
  3. ^ "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.

External links

  • Grave of Smetona in USA
  • Official Presidential Site
Preceded by
President of Lithuania
4 April 1919 – 19 June 1920
Succeeded by
Aleksandras Stulginskis
Preceded by
Aleksandras Stulginskis
President of Lithuania
December 19, 1926 – June 15, 1940
Succeeded by
Antanas Merkys
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