Prussian Lithuanians - History - 19th Century

19th Century

The nationalistic Lithuanian national revival in the late 19th century was not popular with Prussian Lithuanians. To them integration with Lithuania was not understandable and not acceptable. The idea of Lithuanian–Latvian unity was more popular than idea of Lithuanian-Prussian Lithuanian unity during the Great Seimas of Vilnius, a conference held in 1905.

The first Prussian Lithuanian elected to the Reichstag, Johann Smalakies, was a fierce agitator for the integrity of the German Empire. In 1879, he published the poem Lietuwininkais esame mes gime in the newspaper Lietuwißka Ceitunga. The 7th stanza was dedicated to Wilhelm I, German Emperor.

There was no national Germanisation policy until 1870; Prussian Lithuanians voluntary adopted German language and culture. After the Unification of Germany in 1871, when part of Lithuania became integrated with the new nation of Germany, learning the German language was made compulsory in state schools. Studying the German language provided the possibility for Prussian Lithuanians to become acquainted with Western European culture and values. However, Germanization also provoked a cultural movement among Prussian Lithuanians. In 1879 and 1896, petitions for the return of the Lithuanian language to schools was signed by 12,330 and 23,058 Prussian Lithuanians from the districts of Memel, Heydekrug, Tilsit and Ragnit. In 1921, the French administration made a survey in the Klaipėda Region that showed that only 2.2% of Prussian Lithuanians would prefer purely Lithuanian schools. The Lithuanian language and culture were not persecuted in Prussia. In contrast, there were restrictive Russification policies and a Lithuanian press ban in the parts of Lithuania that had become part of the Russian Empire. The Prussian Lithuanians could publish own newspapers and books, even helping Lithuanians in Russia to bypass their press ban by publishing their newspapers, such as Auszra and Varpas.

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