Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide


The importance of Switzerland to Lithuania peaked in 1880s-1930s. Main political decisions that shaped the contemporary Republic of Lithuania were made here while the Lithuanian elite were frequent guests in the country.

With the 1890s advent of traveling and popular belief in the health-restoring powers of mountain air, Lithuanians (mainly rich and/or famous) started to visit Switzerland. Maironis (Lithuania's most famous poet and national revival ideologist) spent time in Lucerne healing tuberculosis where he wrote poems about both Lithuania and Switzerland (Four Cantons lake, Rigi Kulm mountain). Swiss universities were also popular among Lithuanians.

When World War 1 was raging in Europe (and Lithuania was caught in its Eastern Front) neutral Switzerland played a key role in developing Lithuanian aspirations. Lithuanian Informational Bureau worked in Lausanne in 1915-1919, propagating the idea of independent Lithuania. Seven political conferences took place (4 of them in Lausanne) where key Lithuanian politicians reached a consensus on future goals (borders of expected independent Lithuania, completely abandoning the idea of union with Poland, etc.).

In 1918 Lithuania declared its independence while in 1919 League of Nations (United Nations precursor) was established in Geneve. Lithuania now had its official representation and clearer goals than ever: to secure a wide recognition of its independence (1918-1922), to win support in territorial disputes over Vilnius (vs. Poland) and Klaipėda (vs. Germany).

After the Soviet occupation (1940) Lithuanian community in Switzerland was joined by new people who escaped the Soviet Genocide. Lithuanian-Swiss have always been few in numbers (~300 people) but were mainly influential intellectuals who continued to advance Lithuanian independence goals through local media. Among such Lithuanian-Swiss was Jurgis Šaulys, one of the signers of the 1918 Lithuanian declaration of independence. Jurgis Šaulys grave is located in Castagnola cemetery of Lugano.

Even today the Lithuanians of Switzerland are disproportionately active in memorizing the Lithuanian-Swiss contacts in the past. St. Charles Hall villa where Maironis used to stay in Meggen suburb of Lucerne (6045 Meggen; Bezeholzstrasse) now has a memorial plaque and other locations are searched for. Multiple books have been published on Lithuanians in Switzerland.

One such work found out that Lithuanian-Swiss contacts far predated the 19th century. During the 16th-18th centuries, Italian architects and sculptors have been popular across Europe in building and decorating churches and manors. Many such artists came to Lithuania and left their works in Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, and elsewhere. As much as 40 of these artists were actually not from Italy-proper but from the ethnically Italian Swiss canton of Ticino, where they left their other works.

Moreover, Vladislovas Broel-Plateris (Wladyslaw Broel-Plater, 1808-1889), a Vilnius-born 19th century noble, has rented Rapperswil-Jona castle for 99 years and establish the Museum of Poland there. Vytis symbol (Lithuanian coat of arms) also features there, as before being partitioned, Poland-Lithuania formed a united country. At the time, Poland-Lithuania was already partitioned by foreign powers before Plater was even born (1795) thus the museum served as a memory for the country he considered his homeland but never saw in person.

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