Signatories of the Act of Independence of Lithuania

The signatories of the Act of Independence of Lithuania were the twenty Lithuanian men who signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania on February 16 1918. The signatories were elected to the Council of Lithuania by the Vilnius Conference in September 1917 and entrusted with the mission of establishing an independent Lithuanian state.cite book |last=Eidintas |first=Alfonsas |coauthors=Vytautas Žalys, Alfred Erich Senn |editor=Ed. Edvardas Tuskenis |others= |title=Lithuania in European Politics: The Years of the First Republic, 1918-1940 |edition=Paperback |year=1999 |month=September |publisher=St. Martin's Press |location=New York |isbn=0-312-22458-3 |pages=24-31 |chapter=Chapter 1: Restoration of the State] The proclaimed independence was established only in late 1918, after Germany lost World War I and its troops retreated from Lithuanian territory. What followed was a long process of building the state, determining its borders, and gaining international diplomatic recognition. The signatories succeeded in their mission and independent Lithuania existed until the Soviet Union occupied the state on June 15 1940. The signatories comprised a wide political, professional, and social spectrum. After the declaration of Lithuania's independence the signatories continued to participate in Lithuania's public life; two of them, Antanas Smetona and Aleksandras Stulginskis, were later elected Presidents of Lithuania, and Jonas Vileišis went on to become mayor of Kaunas, the temporary capital of Lithuania. After Lithuania lost its independence during World War II, six of the surviving signatories were sent to prison or executed by the Soviet government, and six others went into exile.


Personal and professional backgrounds

Act of February 16]

The signatories had come from a variety of social backgrounds; of the twenty signatories four had been born to Lithuanian noble families: Donatas Malinauskas, Stanislovas Narutavičius, Jonas Smilgevičius, and Mykolas Biržiška; the other 16 were the children of icon cite web| url= |title=Vasario 16-osios Akto signatarai |publisher=Sigitas Jegelavičius| accessdate=2007-06-27] The eldest of the signatories was Jonas Basanavičius, who was 67 at the time, and the youngest Kazimieras Bizauskas, who was 25. Of the remainder, three were in their fifties, six were in their forties, eight were in their thirties, and one was in his twenties. With the exception of Saliamonas Banaitis, all held degrees in higher education. In 1926 he enrolled at Kaunas University, but his studies were left unfinished due to his death in 1933. In terms of educational background, the Council was dominated by eight icon cite journal| last=Šenavičius | first=Antanas| title=Lietuvos nepriklausomybės atkūrimo akto teisinė prigimtis ir konstitucinė reikšmė| journal=Istorija xl| volume=40| pages=23–26| id=ISSN 1392-0456| date=1999] The group also included four priests, two agronomists, two financiers, one physician, one economist, and an engineer. The majority of the signatories had received their higher education outside of Lithuania, since at the time Lithuania had no universities - Vilnius University was closed after the January Uprising in 1863. Many of the signatories had studied at the University of Moscow and the University of St. Petersburg.

By faith, nineteen of the signatories were Roman Catholics, although Jonas Basanavičius was not practicing; Jokūbas Šernas was the only professed Protestant Reformer. At the time of the Act of Independence, six of the signatories were officially nonpartisan, seven were members of the conservative Lithuanian Christian Democrats, two were affiliated with the Lithuanian National Union and the Social Democratic Party, and Jonas Vileišis was affiliated with the Party of National Progress and the left-wing Lithuanian Popular Socialist Democratic Party.

Activities before the Act of Independence

The signatories had all been active in Lithuania's independence movement. Antanas Smetona, Donatas Malinauskas, and several others had participated in secret Lithuanian fellowships in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; these groups were involved in promoting the illegal distribution of materials printed in the Lithuanian language, banned by the Tsarist government from 1866 to 1904, as well as fighting other attempts at Russification by the authorities. Antanas Smetona, Steponas Kairys, Alfonsas Petrulis, and Mykolas Biržiška were expelled for these activities from their secondary schools. Jonas Basanavičius, the future chairman of the Council of Lithuania when the Act was signed, worked as a physician for a long time in Bulgaria. Despite the demands of his medical work abroad, he contributed continuously to Lithuanian affairs. He organized the publication of a major underground newspaper, "Aušra"; its first issue appeared in 1883. Basanavičius was active in Bulgaria's political life as well, representing its Democratic party. Basanavičius has been described as a pioneer of public health in Bulgaria. [cite journal| last = Valančiūtė| first = Janina| title = Didi humanitaras ir didis daktaras, tarnavęs Eskulapui ir Lietuvai| journal = Medicina| volume = 38| pages = 103| id = ISSN: 1010-660X| date=2002] Many of the future signatories participated in the Great Seimas of Vilnius, which in 1905 shaped the political future of the Lithuania state.

Activities after the Act of Independence

Most of the signatories of the Act remained active in the cultural and political life of independent Lithuania. Jonas Vileišis served in the Lithuanian Parliament and as mayor of Kaunas; [cite encyclopedia | editor = Simas Sužiedėlis | encyclopedia = Encyclopedia Lituanica | title = Viliešis, Jonas | year = 1970–1978 | publisher = Juozas Kapočius | volume = VI | location = Boston, Massachusetts | id = LCC|74-114275 | pages = 124–125] Saliamonas Banaitis was involved in finance, opening several banks. [cite encyclopedia | editor = Simas Sužiedėlis | encyclopedia = Encyclopedia Lituanica | title = Banaitis, Saliamonas | year = 1970–1978 | publisher = Juozas Kapočius | volume = I | location = Boston, Massachusetts | id = LCC|74-114275 | pages = 282] Among the signatories were two future Presidents of Lithuania, Antanas Smetona and Aleksandras Stulginskis. Jonas Basanavičius returned to an academic life, pursuing his researches in Lithuanian culture and folklore. [cite encyclopedia | editor = Simas Sužiedėlis | encyclopedia = Encyclopedia Lituanica | title = Basanavičius, Jonas | year = 1970–1978 | publisher = Juozas Kapočius | volume = I | location = Boston, Massachusetts | id = LCC|74-114275 | pages =307–310] Five signatories died before World War II began; three died during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. Those who did not emigrate to Western countries were arrested as political prisoners after Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union during World War II.

Aleksandras Stulginskis and Petras Klimas were sent to prison in Siberia by Soviet authorities, but survived and returned to Lithuania; Pranas Dovydaitis and Vladas Mironas were also sent to Siberia but died there. [cite encyclopedia | editor=Simas Sužiedėlis | encyclopedia=Encyclopedia Lituanica | title=Dovydaitis, Pranas | year=1970–1978 | publisher = Juozas Kapočius | volume=II | location=Boston, Massachusetts | id=LCC|74-114275 | pages=101–103] [cite encyclopedia | editor=Simas Sužiedėlis | encyclopedia=Encyclopedia Lituanica | title=Mironas, Vladas | year=1970–1978 | publisher=Juozas Kapočius | volume=III | location=Boston, Massachusetts | id=LCC|74-114275 | pages=545–546] Kazys Bizauskas was shot along with a number of other prisoners on June 26 1941 while being transported to a Soviet prison in Minsk. [lt icon cite web| url= |title=Kazys Bizauskas |publisher=Seimas | date=2006-02-23 |accessdate=2007-08-18] Donatas Malinauskas, along with many other civilians, was deported to Siberia and died there on November 30 1942; his body was returned from Siberia in 1993 and reburied in Lithuania. Six of the surviving signatories went into exile. Brothers Jurgis Šaulys and Kazimieras Steponas Šaulys died in Switzerland; Jonas Vailokaitis died in Germany; Antanas Smetona, Mykolas Biržiška and Steponas Kairys died in the United States.


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