Places in World Most Likely to Secede Lithuania

About Lithuania a place in the world likely to secede from Russia, size, population, and history of conflict.

MOST LIKELY TO SECEDE

LITHUANIA

Size: 25,170 sq. mi. (65,200 sq. km.), about the size of West Virginia.

Population: 3.4 million.

The roots of Lithuanian independence run deep in the region's glorious past. Although now a modest circle of flatland wedged against the Baltic Sea between Poland and Latvia, Lithuania once stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea and included Belorussia, a chunk of the Ukraine, and more. Over the centuries, Lithuania has maintained a love-hate relationship with neighboring Poland, at times locked in political and economic union, at others locked in battle, but always with one goal uppermost in mind, Lithuanian autonomy.

When Poland was partitioned three times in the 18th century, Lithuania fell to Russia. In 1918 Lithuania declared its independence with a German promise to check any invasion by Russia. The Soviets waited until Germany surrendered to the Allies at the end of W.W. I before launching their bid to retake the province. The Poles then intervened to drive out the Russians, only to occupy Lithuania for themselves. After much haggling, some bloodshed, good-faith intervention by the League of Nations, and the assumption of dictatorial powers by Lithuanian leaders, the fragile nation wobbled through the depression years of the 1930s. However, with the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact of 1939, which guaranteed Russia free run of the Baltic states, Lithuania finally fell back into union with the U.S.S.R.

A Soviet republic since August, 1940, Lithuania has gone from a largely agrarian society to an industrial one, specializing in heavy equipment, building supplies, and shipbuilding. A majority of the people now reside in cities. Although Lithuanians still make up 80% of the population, Soviet immigration since W.W. II has boosted the number of Russian residents to 9% of the total.

The U.S. still officially recognizes Lithuania as an independent nation and accepts the credentials of a Free Lithuanian charge d'affaires in Washington, though, in signing the Helsinki Agreement in 1975, it did extend de facto recognition to Soviet claims in the Baltic.

Still, the dream of a free Lithuania lives on, both inside and outside the region. The National Guard of Lithuania in Exile lobbies in the U.S. to liberate what it calls "the last colonies in Europe," i.e., the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Inside the Soviet republic, Lithuanians have protested Russian oppression from time to time. In 1972, some 17,000 residents risked reprisal in signing a petition urging the U.N. to pressure the U.S.S.R. into granting religious freedom to this largely Lutheran and Roman Catholic enclave. That same year violent anti-Soviet protests culminated in several acts of self-immolation. On Oct. 10, 1977, soccer fans in Vilnius, the capital, greeted a visiting Russian team from Smolensk with chants of "Katsapy! Katsapy!" the Lithuanians' derogatory term for Russians, an epithet similar to "nigger" or "wop." This and cries of "Russians go home!" actually were carried briefly over live Russian television until alert Soviet technicians cut the audio portion of the program. After the game, an estimated 15,000 spectators took to the streets to continue their spontaneous protest, overturning cars, torching Soviet squad cars, breaking windows, and slashing posters announcing the coming 60th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. It took police and militia some time to restore order. Although the Soviet press chalked the whole thing up to the ubiquitous "drunken hooligans" (a favorite whipping boy of the government-controlled media), dissident sources reported that the next morning automatic weapons suddenly appeared, cradled in the arms of nervous Soviet policemen patrolling the rubble-strewn streets.

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