The flag of Lithuania is the national flag of this Baltic republic member of the European Union. It is made up of three horizontal stripes of the same size. Its colors are yellow, green and red. It has been in force since 1988, although its first establishment dates from 1918.
Historically, Lithuania was marked by the long-lived Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which kept the Vytis as symbols with the knight and the horse, both in flag and shield. In addition, the dynastic union with Poland made them share symbols. The annexations to the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union generated new adherent flags to these systems.
The current flag was approved in the first independence of the country, in 1918. It was maintained until the Soviet occupation in 1940 and was resumed with the Perestroika process in 1988.
Since then, it is the flag of the country and has not had changes beyond its proportion. The established meaning determines that yellow symbolizes light and prosperity, green symbolizes forests and hope, while red is the blood shed for Lithuania.
History of the flag
Lithuania has many years of history, but its population is even older than the country. Although its inhabitants have been there for ten millennia before the beginning of our era, the Lithuanian people are much later, since it was produced from the union with different Baltic tribes. First of all, Lithuania was recognized more as part of Samogitia and Aukštaitija.
The area, from the ninth century, became an axis of influence of various regional powers. Vikings, Danes and Ukrainians came to have partial control over trade in the area. One of the first Ruthenian rulers in the area seized upon the power of the Kiev Rus.
In the 12th century, the Lithuanians invaded Ruthenian territories. Germany in that century began to act in the region, and the dynamics with Poland became more complicated.
By the end of that century, Lithuania’s military forces had been consolidated. That allowed them to maintain control of the territory and form one of the first states of Eastern Europe that lasted for several centuries: the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which held various symbols.
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The 13th century marked the beginning of the Lithuanian state. Ruthenia, Poland and Latvia each had conflicts in the region. By 1219, different heads of Baltic tribes made peace. The Germans subsequently intervened, with the excuse of Christianizing the region. The Baltic response focused on the leadership of Mindaugas, who won several conquests
The state was consolidated until Mindaugas declared himself King of Lithuania, with the protection of the Holy Roman Empire. The monarch was Christianized, but that did not last long. After different Christian attacks that led to the assassination of Mindaugas, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania ended up being consolidated at the end of the 13th century.
Under the reign of Gediminas, the Grand Duchy became a regional power by being a strong military state and having expanded territorially to the east. Already in the fourteenth century a gradual Christianization of its inhabitants had begun, and even of the ruling dynasty.
The disputes against the Teutonic Knights and the Russians were constant. At the end of the 14th century Christianity became official, with the Grand Duke Jogaila.
Dynastic Union with Poland
The influence of Russian Orthodox Christianity was growing in Lithuania. Jogaila’s conversion to Catholicism occurred when the crown of that country was offered to him from Poland, to benefit from Lithuanian expansion. Finally, Jogaia was crowned king of Poland in 1386 with the name of Władysław (Vladislao). In this way, the dynastic union with Poland began.
This union was quite unstable due to the own internal conflicts of Lithuania, reason why it ended up dissolving, but retaking itself in 1413 in conditions of equality. Subsequently, the nation faced a new enemy: the Tartars. The Russian threat strengthened the alliance with Poland, along with the one that occupied Livonia territories.
It was only in the 16th century when the political reality changed and an official shield was established for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, inspired by the Vytis. Poland needed to incorporate more of the territory into the union and moved in that direction. The shield was a red field with a crown on top. In the center, a horse with a knight joined.
In the 15th century the first flags of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were presented, without official character. Although the shield arrived a century later and with it, the symbol of the state, the flags were registered in the Banderia Prutenorum .
The color red was the common one, and the knight on a running horse. This began to be known as Vytis or Pahonia, and was a primarily military symbol that remained until the 18th century.
Republic of the Two Nations
The Union of Lublin, signed on July 1, 1569, was the definitive step that consolidated the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, also known as the Republic of the Two Nations. Lutheranism was especially present in the cities, but it was not adopted from power.
Virtually all the institutions of the state were unified, except for the armies. However, the influence of Poland was greater, and this could be translated into the massive use of its language. Despite this, the autonomy of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a sub-national entity was not in dispute.
The flag used by the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania was one with three stripes, colored red, white and red. These were arranged horizontally, and kept triangular points at their right end. In the central part the great royal shield was superimposed with the dynastic symbols, including the necklace.
The weakness of the Polish-Lithuanian union began to become apparent in the 18th century. At the end of the century, in 1791, a constitution was approved that belatedly attempted to reform the state. In the end, the Commonwealth was divided three times: 1772, 1793, and 1795. Most of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire.
Russian policy, as in other areas of the Baltic, was to Russify the territory, especially at the beginning of the 19th century. This gave rise to the first samples of Lithuanian nationalism, which rescued the use of the language and the identity of the territory.
However, the irredentism of the territories of the extinct grand duchy was not the objective, but to recover those that historically were always considered Lithuanian.
The flag that the Russian Empire used is its tricolor of three horizontal stripes, colored, white, blue and red. Sometimes the imperial shield was added.
Shortly before the rule of the Russian Empire, the first Lithuanian symbols and colors emerged. Blue and green on a cockade were the first raised by the Supreme Council of the Insurrection in 1794.
By 1863, another uprising repeated blue and green as colors, although little by little white and crimson red were gaining ground. By 1863, the Polish eagle was included among the emblems over a red color.
It is presumed that the oldest registered flag is that of Lithuania Minor, in green, white and red, which was important among students in 1829 and also in Biruté society in 1885.
Other flags were born in exile, with white and blue colors, as well as other tricolor combinations such as white, red and blue; red, yellow and blue or red, green and yellow.
Great Seimas of Vilnius
One of the first solid samples of Lithuanian nationalism occurred in the Great Seimas of Vilnius, a congress of nationalists that met in 1905 to demand autonomy. As a result of this movement, Tsarism granted some spaces of autonomy, especially with regard to language and religion.
The independence of the Baltic republics brought with it the creation of new flags that were identified with the new republican symbolism. In this way, the French tricolor was the first to stand out.
The Lithuanian tricolor proposition is presumed to have arisen from exiles from Russian rule in the 19th century. The origin would have been that the three colors were present in traditional clothing.
However, the Vytis, a traditional flag, was considered by many the national symbol. However, the Great Seimas of Vilnius of 1905 ruled it out because it represented the old monarchical government, which occupied a region much larger than that of the Lithuanian ethnic majority. Furthermore, the red of the Vytis could be related to the communism they were fighting.
First World War
In World War I , like all the Baltic states, Lithuania was occupied by Germany. This country wanted an annexation, but in 1917 the Vilnius Conference was held, which promoted a Lithuanian state, independent of Russia, Poland and also Germany, which would be created with a constituent assembly.
Faced with Germany’s refusal, Jonas Basanavičius, leader of the Lithuanian Council, declared the country’s independence as a German protectorate in 1917 and finally, absolute independence in 1918, as a form of republic. To counter this movement, the Germans appointed a king whom they named Mindaugas II, but who never took office.
Germany used its flag, which was a tricolor of black, white and red, arranged horizontally.
First independence and conflict with the Soviet Union
The German military defeat allowed the independence of the country, which immediately had to face the outpost of the newly constituted Soviet Russia. The Red Army forces came to conquer Vilnius in 1919, through the proclaimed Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. In February, it was unified into the Lithuanian-Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic.
It was not until mid-1919 that the Soviet army began to receive attacks from the Lithuanian, who had been supported by Germany. By the end of the year, the Lithuanians regained their independence.
The flags used by the established Soviet puppet states consisted solely of a horizontal red cloth.
Flag election at the Vilnius Conference
By 1917, near independence, the flag was the subject of debate at the Vilnius Conference. The colors green and red were chosen, and the artist Antanas Žmuidzinavičius was in charge of making them.
However, for many of the participants the design was dark, so Tadas Daugirdas proposed adding a thin strip of yellow in the center, giving it a landscape symbolism, related to sunrise.
By 1918, a special commission proposed the final flag design to the Council of Lithuania. This kept the Vytis in the canton and the stripes of the same size were yellow, green and red. Although it was accepted in principle, this proposal was not supported by the writing of the Constitution of Lithuania in 1922. This produced the definition in the current tricolor.
Second World War
The Second World War changed the political reality of Lithuania and that of the entire Baltic. In this area of European geography, the Red Army decided to occupy the entire coast since 1939. In that year, and after the signing of the Soviet-Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Pact, even the capital, Vilnius, was occupied.
For the following year the Soviet intervention in the Lithuanian government was consolidated and after mock elections, the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was founded. It requested integration into the Soviet Union in 1940, joining in August. In the midst of the war, Lithuania became Sovietized and incorporated into the communist system in the economic area.
The situation changed in 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, occupying its westernmost part, including Lithuania. Certain local groups hailed the Nazi invasion as having ended the occupying Soviet rule. Despite the creation of a provisional government, Germany directly controlled the territory.
After years of Holocaust and resistance, in 1944 Lithuania came under Soviet rule again, and the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was re-established.
Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic
The return to the Soviet occupation meant that Lithuania, like the other two Baltic republics, was integrated into the Soviet Union for more than four decades. First of all, during the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, the flag of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic consisted of a red cloth.
In addition to the red color, in the canton it incorporated the yellow inscription of LIETUVOS TSR, in Lithuanian language, in addition to the hammer and sickle symbol.
The flags of the member republics of the Soviet Union acquired a new unified model in the first half of the 1950s, after the death of Stalin. This consisted of a red cloth with the hammer and sickle and the yellow star in the canton.
At the bottom, a strip used to distinguish the republic. In the Lithuanian case, this was a horizontal white stripe, followed by a larger green one.
Recovery of the flag in 1988
The one-party absolute dominance of the Soviet Union in the life of Lithuania ended in 1988. Mikhail Gorbachev was the new leader of the country and began a process of internal reform, called Perestroika and Glasnost.
In Lithuania, the Sąjūdis Reform Movement was formed, which succeeded in promoting the passage of constitutional amendments. These instituted multipartism and the recovery of symbols, such as the flag and the anthem.
Thus, since 1988 the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic once again had the tricolor established in the first independence as its flag.
Independence of the Republic of Lithuania
In 1990, candidates supported by Sąjūdis took control of parliament. Lithuania quickly declared independence, opposed by the Soviet government.
In February 1991 a referendum was held in which more than 90% supported Lithuanian independence. Her emancipation began to be recognized after the failed coup attempt in the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Lithuanian tricolor flag has been maintained throughout the independent life of the country. Its composition was established in the Lithuanian constitution of 1992. The only change occurred in 2004, when a law on the national flag and other flags was passed, in which it established the ratio of the symbol as 3: 5.
Additionally, in the 2004 law the Vytis was established again as the state flag. This time it was a rectangular red field with the figure of the horse and the knight in white and with blue and yellow tones.
Meaning of the flag
The Lithuanian flag has acquired an official symbolism, which relates each of its colors to patriotic elements. In this way, yellow is the symbol of prosperity and also of the light that the sun emanates .
Instead, green is the color of the forests and the countryside, but also of hope and freedom for Lithuanians. Red, as is customary on flags, is identified with the blood shed by Lithuanians for their freedom.
Despite this being the currently established meaning, the Lithuanian flag was conceived by Tadas Daugirdas as a composition of the country’s landscape. The yellow sun would be born, while the red would be the clouds illuminated by the first sun of the day and the green, at the end, would represent the forests and fields of the country.
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