History is a never-ending list of what-ifs, maybes and perhapses. In a sense this post is related to a previous one (Królewiec Returns). The ‘what-ifs’ in history relate to different futures with each ‘what if’ being a bifurcation in the historical timeline. At these points, two or more alternate timelines are created but only one is ‘experienced’ by us. We won’t go into a discussion of alternate histories or sci-fi-like alternate universes but it’s fascinating to look at the geopolitical history of Europe and see how things actually did turn out and also what could have been.
Lithuania and Poland… Again
One of the previous posts looked at the possibility of Poland and Lithuania gaining new territory from the defunct Kaliningrad Oblast (to happen in the near future). This post will again mention these two countries which once shared an almighty Commonwealth. It is no mistake that historical discussions of either of these two states need to include a discussion of the other. They are intrinsically linked, rather like strands of wool that become entangled.
After Peace, War
So after so many years together as the Commonwealth of Two Nations, Lithuania and Poland became separated by the partitions. Poland was neatly divided up between Russia, Prussia and Austria whereas Lithuania wholly came under the control of the Russian Empire. After regaining independence (albeit briefly for Lithuania), Poland brutally attacked its former ally and took Vilnius/Wilno/Vilna (the capital of Lithuania). Granted, the large majority of the population was Polish, however, the surrounding area was predominantly Lithuanian and Belarusian. What is more, Vilnius has always been seen as the cradle of Lietuvių Kultūra (Kosovo could be analogous, perhaps).
Central Lithuanian Republic
Armed forces, at the behest of Józef Piłsudski, took Vilnius and the surrounding area. In order to appease the west Piłsudski did not, at first, annexe the area outright. The territory became the Republic of Central Lithuania in 1920. In fact, the Republic had its own (provisional) government, president (Lucjan Żeligowski), flag and postal stamps. After two years and disputed elections, the (puppet) republic voted for the incorporation of the whole of its territory into Poland. It was annexed by Poland in 1922. Thus ended the brief and controversial life of the Republic of Central Lithuania.
Other Bizarre Oddities
There are other such states that have had a brief and fruitless life. States such as the Free, Independent, and Strictly Neutral City of Kraków which survived from 1815 to 1846; the Rusyn Republic of Lemkos (from 1918-1920) or the Republic of Perloja (from 1918-1923) centred around the village of Perloja in Lithuania all serve as great examples of ‘what might have been’ and how important politics can be in the face of self-determination or even sheer brute force.
To this day, many Poles hark back to the past and ruefully wish that their forbears had not made the mistakes that so cruelly extinguished the huge Commonwealth. “If only we had managed to hold onto our territory (from the Baltic to the Black Sea)…” There is something universal in longing for the past and wishing that things could have been done better so that our future might now be more rosy. All nations and peoples do it. Another example, and interesting bifurcation, is the creation de jure of a Ruthenian state in 1658. Had the Principality/Duchy of Ruthenia become a de facto state it would have laid the foundations perhaps of a fledgling Ukraine – “one of the great what-ifs of Eastern European history” according to Andrew Wilson of UCL. Those pesky what-ifs…