The Participation of National Minorities in the Establishment of the Local Self-government in Lithuania (1918–1919)
The article reviews the first elections to local self-governments, the participation of the local Jews and Poles - members of the largest national minorities, and the official policy of the Lithuanian government. Pertinent investigations were based on material kept in the Lithuanian State Archive. During the post-war period, the legacy of assorted new national countries included ethnic minorities, which in Lithuania enjoyed considerable influence. The problem of political loyalty was additionally complicated by territorial disputes with Poland. The Lithuanian government expected the minorities, especially the Jews, who did not harbour any territorial claims, to express their support. Circulars issued by the Lithuanian authorities did not reflect ethnic discrimination. The Jewish community backed the notion of Lithuanian independence and took an active part in local self-government elections. Although the authorities declared equal opportunities for all minorities wishing to vote, conflicts flared up in some localities, with the Lithuanian population objecting to the presence of the Jews in self-government bodies. In towns, the Lithuanians wrote reports about the Jews and complained about illegal elections. Some of the Poles living in Lithuania formed their own self-governments, conceived as an alternative solution; they also refused to recognise the Lithuanian authorities. Others remained loyal citizens of the Lithuanian state and participated in local self-governments together with the Jews and the Lithuanians. Numerous Poles were elected to town councils. In rural self-governments members of the Polish community were represented by landowners. The Lithuanian government did not strictly regulate the election procedure, and permitted considerable local initiative. In Kaunas and Siaulai the elections were general, equal, direct and proportional. In certain localities councils were composed of equal numbers of representatives of different national groups. In such cases, the quota of each ethnic minority in the local self-government was discussed and decided in the course of pre-election meetings. Representatives of the national minorities held important posts in numerous self-governments.
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