Birthday: August 10, 1874
Died At Age: 69
Sun Sign: Leo
Born in: Taujėnai
Famous as: Former President of Lithuania
political ideology: Political party-Lithuanian Nationalist Union
Spouse/Ex-: Sofija Chodakauskaitė
children: Birutė Smetonaitė, Julius Smetona
Died on: January 9, 1944
place of death: Cleveland
education: Jelgava Gymnasium, 1902 - Saint Petersburg State University
Antanas Smetona was a very significant Lithuanian political leader who represented strong national interests and was at the helm of Lithuania's government between the two world wars. The turbulent times of Lithuania's struggle for independence from the Bolsheviks and Polish invaders were followed by a period of prosperity under his governance. The first president of independent Lithuania and also the last one before Lithuania fell into the hands of the Soviet Union, he had been politically active from a young age, joining organizations with strong ties to nationalist and anti-czarist ideology. He showed himself as a man of convictions and leadership. He stood up to repressive influences of the forces attempting to dominate his country. As a journalist, he wrote powerfully against political oppression during times of conflict and war. Highly motivated, he joined the Lithuanian Democratic Party as a member, rising to the position of representative of the party to the Great Assembly of Vilnius. With his bold but conservative ideas, determination and involvement in various committees, he progressed dynamically towards a nationalistic political career. His pro-German stance and belief that Lithuania's independence would be best achieved through an alliance with Germany was met with strong disapproval by the members of the newly-established Lithuania Council towards the end of the First World War. He became increasingly autocratic during his second presidency, assuming sweeping presidential powers and suppressing opposition; yet his style was centrist and neither radical nor extreme
Childhood & Early Life
Antanas Smetona was born on August 10, 1874, to Jonas Smetona and Julijona Kartanaite, in Užulėnis, Lithuania. She was one of the seven children born to the couple.
After completing primary schooling from his local district in 1893, he took a step towards becoming a Catholic priest by seeking admission to the Samogitian Diocesen Seminary. He was accepted, but circumstances forced him to change course and he took admission at Jelgava Gymnasium high school in Latvia. Here, he joined a secret student-run political organization, beginning his resistance to the Czarist influence in Lithuania.
In 1897, he entered Law School at the University of St. Petersburg and continued his political activities by joining the clandestine movement of the Lithuanian Student Organization. Soon he become chairman of this group and published and disseminated Lithuanian books. In the process twice he faced the threat of expulsion from the University and was also imprisoned for a short time.
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After completing his graduation in 1902, Antanas Smetona got his first job at the Agricultural Bank in Vilnius. During this time he joined the Lithuanian Democratic Party and became deeply engaged with various nationalist Lithuanian groups.
As representative of the Lithuanian Democratic Party, he was elected to the presidium of the first national Lithuanian Assembly in 1905, simultaneously writing as a journalist to promote and expound his ideas of national liberalism. He was on the writing staff of ‘Vilniaus Zinios’ (The Vilnius News) and editor of ‘Lietuvos Ukininkas’ (The Lithuanian Farmer) during this period.
As his ideas began to take root and spread through publications, Antanas Smetona became recognized as a powerful figure with great national fervor. When appointed chairman of the ‘Central Committee of the Lithuanian Relief Society’ in 1916, he took this opportunity to present to the Germans a demand for an independent Lithuania.
Continuing to write and actively participate in the independence movement, he became Chairman of the Council of Lithuania.
On April 4, 1919, he was elected as the independent Lithuania’s first president. However, he lasted in the office for just one year.
After participating in a coup d'etat in 1926, he regained the presidency for the second time. During this tenure, he seized greater control of government, drafting a new constitution giving him dictatorial powers.
Antanas Smetona was re-elected President in 1931 and 1938 and continued to serve in this position until June 15, 1940.
A leading voice of nationalism in Lithuania, Antanas Smetona advocated his ideas on national unity through several publications, such as ‘Viltis’ (The Hope), a newspaper he created in 1907.
He supported and published Lithuanian books and literature through his membership in several educational and literary societies, notable among which are ‘Ausra’ (Dawn), ‘Rytas’ (The Morning), and Lithuanian Mutual Aid Society.
His statesmanship qualities were respected even during times of political differences with the government between 1920 and 1926, and he was appointed to negotiate the border dispute with Latvia.
Awards & Achievements
His lifelong passion for literary work earned him the honorary Ph.D of the Vytautus Magnus University, Kaunas, in 1932.
Personal Life & Legacy
Antanas Smetona married Sofija Chodakauskaite in 1904 and the couple had two daughters and one son.
In 1940, when Soviet troops occupied Lithuania upon the start of the Second World War, he sought resistance, but did not receive the cooperation of his government, forcing him into exile along with his family.
Making his way to the United States in 1941, after brief stays in Germany and Switzerland, he moved in with his son, Julius in Cleveland, Ohio.
On January 9, 1944, he was killed in a house fire, a fact which led to speculations of a possible assassination.