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Germanization and the Lithuanian National Movement (1871-1914)


In 1871, with the rise of the German Empire which embraced Prussia and included Lithuania Minor, the pangermanic movement became more vigorous. The non-German minorities were to be assimilated by acculturation into the German community. Falk, the Minister of Education, decreed (October 13, 1872) the removal from the schools not only of the Lithuanian but of all non-German language programs. On his own, President Horn of East Prussia permitted religion to be taught in Lithuanian in the lowest elementary grade, and Lithuanian reading and writing in the highest grade. In those schools where German pupils were in the majority, there was no requirement that Lithuanian should be taught at all. Steps were taken to exclude the language from public use. A new government decree (August 28, 1872) enjoined that the German language used at the school meetings and in correspondence. District and village meetings were also to be conducted in German. The conservative Lithuanian peasants, while professing fealty and loyalty to the King of Prussia, nevertheless dared by delegations and petitions to defend their rights. The spectacular audience with the King of Prussia and Emperor William I of Germany in 1878 is well-known. A chorus of women dressed in national costume sang Lithuanian songs at the royal court and as an epilog a poem written by Georg Sauerwein for the occasion was recited. This delegation at least gained a favorable comment in the diary of Prince Frederick. Several petitions (1879, 1882, 1896, 1902, 1904) were submitted to the rulers of Germany but they resulted only in unfulfilled promises or in no answer at all. In their political activity, Lithuanians allied themselves with the conservatives, among whom were the influential German estate owners. Even after the revolution of February 1848, when German parliamentary elections were being held, the Lithuanian linguist Fredrikas Kursaitis (Kurschat) urged the formation of a Lithuanian Conservative Party and inaugurated a newspaper, Keleivis (The Traveler), to express his views. In 1895 the Society of Lithuanian Conservatives was founded. It brought together the more influential farmers of the Tilze and Pakalne districts. One of its founders, Jonas Smalakys, was the first Lithuanian representative to be elected (1898) to the German Parliament (Reichstag). Later Vilius Gaigalaitis was elected (1902) to the Prussian Parliament (Landstag). The lively promotion of Lithuanian activity and the increasing regard for ethnological studies aroused some German scholars to become interested in the language, folklore, art and customs of the Lithuanians. They judged that all this should be preserved for science as a cultural remnant of a "vanishing people." For this purpose the Lithuanian Literary Society (Litauische Literarische Gesellschaft, q.v.) was founded in Tilze in 1879.
An opposing trend, and one which sought to strengthen the national consciousness through its organizations, was fostered in Lithuanian patriotic circles. Several Lithuanian religious societies had already been active earlier; they zealously safeguarded Lithuanian services and hymns and conducted their assemblies in Lithuanian. They remained loyal to the German authorities and maintained that loyalty and Lithuanian national action were compatible. In 1885 Birute (the name of a fabled Lithuanian heroine), a cultural society whose members were drawn chiefly from the young, was founded in Tilze. Its branches, each of which could also have its own name, organized various presentations with songs, games and dances and became quite widespread throughout Lithuania Minor. The Lithuanian Singers Society (Lietuviu Giedotoju Draugija) began its activities in 1895, also in Tilze, under the direction of its choir master, the Lithuanian writer and philosopher Vilius Storasta-Vydunas. The singers were heard in concert in many places. A benevolent and cultural society, Sandora (Concord), was active in Klaipeda and the surrounding district from 1904. Of the newspapers, the widely read weekly Lietuwiazka Ceitunga (Lithuanian Newspaper) began publication in 1877. However, later this newspaper fell into German hands and espoused the cause of germanization. The more notable personages of Lithuania Minor towards the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th were Dovas Zaunius, Martynas Sernius, Jurgis Lapinas, Jurgis Miksas, Jonas Vanagaitis, Enzys Jagomastas, Vilius Gaigalaitis, Jokubas Stiklorius, and Ansas Bruozas among others. They organized and led societies, edited and published newspapers.
Lithuania Minor was the country, which printed the first Lithuanian book (1547) and the first Lithuanian newspaper (1832). When the Russians proscribed Lithuanian publications in Latin characters in Lithuania Major (1864), a few patriotic newspapers were printed and books were published in Lithuania Minor. These were smuggled across the German-Russian border (see Knygnesiai). The first such proscribed paper was Ausra (The Dawn), which was published in Ragaine and Tilze from 1883 to 1886. Before the introduction of this unpretentious monthly dedicated to the national renaissance, the leaders of Lithuania Major (Jonas Basanavicius, Jonas Sliupas and others) collaborated on the Lietuwiczka Ceitunga, but their articles and the whole idea of collaboration between the two divisions of Lithuania were inconsistent with the conservative character of the readers. The exceptions among the more perceptive activists of Lithuania Minor supported the secret Lithuanian press and collaborated with the people of Lithuania Major in the common cause of a national rebirth.