“The People’s Wishes”: Soviet Media Reports on Lithuania in 1940

By Arabella Schwarber

On August 3, 1940, the Supreme Soviet adopted a law on the admittance of the Lithuanian state into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Both the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities voted unanimously – and in separate arrangements – to admit Lithuania into the Union as a Socialist Republic. The law provided the transfer of certain territories of the Belorussian SSR with a majority Lithuanian population back to Lithuania and permitted elections to be held for the Supreme Soviet. The Moscow News, the English-language mouthpiece of the Soviet state, cheerfully reported on August 9, 1940 “Lithuania Is Admitted Into USSR”.

The newspaper report served as the official Soviet narrative about how Lithuania joined the USSR. Presented as a “natural” process that represented the “will of the people,” The Moscow News story from August 9 followed on the heels of previous reports that the Lithuanian people had “demanded Soviets” and “hailed the entry of the Red Army” into their country. No story mentioned the invasion and occupation of the Baltic country in June 1940 under the provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Instead, these reports testify to how the Soviet state controlled the narrative about Lithuania becoming part of the USSR.

Reactions were quick to the passage of the law on admittance and Justas Paleckis, Prime Minister and acting President of Lithuania, spoke before the Session of Soviets on August 3. He spoke in Lithuanian to the crowd and began his speech by saying, “it is my great privilege to declare to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR that the age-old aspirations of the Lithuanian working-people, the hard and persistent struggle of their finest sons has been crowned with victory.” The crowd responded enthusiastically, as reported by the Moscow News, to Paleckis, offering standing ovations and cheers for his heartfelt support of the Lithuanian working class and their struggle to obtain power.

Prime Minister Paleckis continued his speech by describing the historical struggles the Lithuanian people have faced in recent years, most specifically under the regime of Antanos Smetona. Paleckis described in his speech how, “With the help of the clericals and the support of the reactionary landowners and army officers, Smetona staged a military coup, overthrowing the liaudininkai and Social Democrats.” Paleckis continued to describe the conditions under which the working class and peasantry suffered under Smetona by stating, “One of the cornerstones of the Smetona regime was the consolidation of the ownership of the land by the landed proprietors.” Paleckis argued that Smetona’s regime could no longer interfere with Lithuania’s future.

Paleckis ended his speech with great admiration for the Soviet Union and what it had done for Lithuania. He listed several achievements: Lithuania’s freedom from subjugation by Poland, the return of the capital Vilno, and the dismantlement of land proprietors has been due to the Soviet Union’s help and “most friendly policy.” The end of his speech brought thunderous applause and cheers for “Comrade Stalin”.

Several other public Lithuanian figures also joined the floor to speak about the admittance of Lithuania into the USSR, including Pranas Petrauskas, a deputy of the Lithuanian Seim. He spoke about his experiences as a peasant and the toll it took on his family: “All of us work like oxen from early in the morning to late at night the whole year round.” He then expressed his thanks for the Soviet Union and how he rejoiced in being able to join his fellow fraternal Republics in the Union.

The article from The Moscow News ends with a final speech from Deputy P.K. Ponomarenko the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Community Party of Belorussia.  He recounted the deep bond that Lithuania and the USSR share after the USSR supported Lithuanian independence in 1920 and returned the city of Vilno to Lithuania. Ponomarenko then celebrated the success of the Lithuanian people in achieving power for themselves by stating that by joining the Soviet Union, they are empowering their agriculture and their industries and lending to their true sovereignty. He heartily voiced his support of the passage of the bill allowing Lithuania into the Soviet Union and the chamber echoes in response with cheers of “For ever! For ever!”

Arabella Schwarber is a sophomore majoring in Political Science and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

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