Antanas Smetona

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Antanas Smetona was a prominent Lithuanian politician who served as the head of the country’s administration between the two world wars, representing strong national interests. Following the tumultuous years of Lithuania’s war for independence from the Bolsheviks and Polish invaders, he presided over a period of prosperity. He was the first and last president of independent Lithuania before it was annexed by the Soviet Union. He had been politically involved since he was a child, joining organizations with strong ties to nationalist and anti-czarist philosophy. He demonstrated himself to be a leader and a man of convictions. He stood up to the oppressive forces aiming to take control of his country. During times of strife and war, he wrote vehemently against governmental persecution as a journalist. He became a member of the Lithuanian Democratic Party and rose through the ranks to become the party’s representative to the Great Assembly of Vilnius. He advanced aggressively towards a nationalistic political career with his daring but conservative ideals, persistence, and participation in many committees. His pro-German stance and view that the best way to secure Lithuania’s independence was to form an alliance with Germany was met with significant opposition by members of the newly formed Lithuania Council near the end of the First World War. During his second term, he became increasingly dictatorial, claiming broad presidential powers and repressing opposition; yet, his manner was centrist, not radical or extreme.

Childhood and Adolescence

Antanas Smetona was born in Tunis, Lithuania, on August 10, 1874, to Jonas Smetona and Julijona Kartanaite. She was the seventh of the couple’s seven children.

In 1893, after finishing primary school in his hometown, he applied to the Samogitian Diocesan Seminary in order to pursue a career as a Catholic priest. He was admitted, but due to circumstances, he had to adjust his plans and enrolled in Jelgava Gymnasium in Latvia. He began his resistance to Czarist influence in Lithuania by joining a covert student-run political organization.

In 1897, he enrolled in the University of St. Petersburg’s Law School and continued his political activism by joining the Lithuanian Student Organization’s clandestine activity. He rose to become the group’s leader and began publishing and disseminating Lithuanian works. He was threatened with expulsion from the university twice during the process, and he was also briefly imprisoned.

Career of Antanas Smetona

Antanas Smetona received his first employment at the Agricultural Bank in Vilnius after graduating in 1902. During this time, he became involved with numerous nationalist Lithuanian groups and joined the Lithuanian Democratic Party.

He was elected to the presidium of the first national Lithuanian Assembly in 1905 as a representative of the Lithuanian Democratic Party, while simultaneously writing as a journalist to promote and explain his ideals of national liberalism. During this time, he was a writer for ‘Vilniaus Zinios’ (The Vilnius News) and the editor of ‘Lietuvos Ukininkas’ (The Lithuanian Farmer).

Antanas Smetona became known as a powerful figure with immense national passion as his views took root and propagated through publications. In 1916, when he was chosen head of the ‘Central Committee of the Lithuanian Relief Society,’ he used the occasion to make a demand for an independent Lithuania to the Germans.
He became Chairman of the Council of Lithuania after continuing to write and actively participate in the independence campaign.

He was elected as independent Lithuania’s first president on April 4, 1919. However, he only stayed in office for a year.

He reclaimed the president for the second time after taking part in a coup d’etat in 1926. He took increased control of the government during this time, creating a new constitution that gave him dictatorial powers.
In 1931 and 1938, Antanas Smetona was re-elected President, and he held the position until June 15, 1940.

Major Projects of Antanas Smetona

Antanas Smetona, a strong voice of nationalism in Lithuania, promoted his thoughts on national unification through many publications, including the daily ‘Viltis’ (The Hope), which he founded in 1907.

He was a member of various educational and literary organizations, including ‘Ausra’ (Dawn), ‘Rytas’ (The Morning), and the Lithuanian Mutual Aid Society, where he promoted and produced Lithuanian books and literature.

Even amid political conflicts with the government between 1920 and 1926, his statesmanship talents were appreciated, and he was entrusted to resolve the border dispute with Latvia.

Achievements & Awards

In 1932, he was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas for his lifelong dedication to literary activity.

Personal History and Legacy

In 1904, Antanas Smetona married Sofija Chodakauskaite, with whom he had two daughters and a son.
When Soviet soldiers conquered Lithuania in 1940, marking the start of World War II, he sought resistance, but his government refused to cooperate, driving him and his family into exile.

After arriving in the United States in 1941 after brief stops in Germany and Switzerland, he settled in Cleveland, Ohio, with his son Julius.

He was killed in a house fire on January 9, 1944, prompting speculation of an assassination attempt.

Estimated net worth

The estimated net worth of Antanas Smetona is unknown.