THE COMMEMORATION OF THE 85TH ANNIVERSARY
OF THE KLAIPĖDA REVOLT.
15 JANUARY 2008, PLENARY
SITTING OF THE SEIMAS
Fellow Members of the Seimas,
Today we celebrate the day of Klaipėda. Today
we commemorate the 85th anniversary of the Klaipėda revolt. During those cold
days in January 1923, Lithuania took the most significant and the boldest
political and military step in its interwar history by satisfying the necessity
of the state to have the access to the Baltic Sea and to use the vital Klaipėda
However, we should start the commemoration of
the Klaipėda revolt by recalling the facts of distant past. The coast of the
Curonian Lagoon, where the city of Klaipėda was founded, had been populated by
Baltic tribes up till the 13th century. When the Livonian Order conquered the
precincts of Klaipėda in 1252 and built the castle of Magdeburg, it started an
intensive colonization and germanization of the region. Even after the Battle
of Grunwald when the Teutonic Order was destroyed, our seacoast remained in the
hands of Germans, though the Lithuanian name of Klaipėda referred to in the
letter of 1413 by Vytautas the Great clearly demonstrated the Lithuanian origin
of the city.
Until the 20th century the Klaipėda region
belonged to Germans. After the First World War with the
transformation of the map of Europe and the restoration of the independence of
the Lithuanian state, Lithuanians had stronger hopes to recover the Klaipėda
A favourable situation emerged after the
Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, which decided to separate the Klaipėda
region from Germany and transferred it to the League of Nations.
In the beginning of 1920, Klaipėda fell under
three-year French rule; however, in general, German laws, administrative,
judicial and education system remained effective in the region. Thanks to its
clever maneuvers, Lithuania enhanced its influence in the Klaipėda region. On
15 November 1921, the Constituent Seimas voted for the annexation of the
Klaipėda region and for granting it autonomy. The time was ripe to take actions
in the end of 1922.
The critical events started on the night of 10
January 1923. Alongside with 300 volunteers from Klaipėda, Lithuanian volunteer
riflemen and soldiers played a major role in the revolt. The night of 15
January saw fatal events and in the early morning the French Commissar
surrendered. On 19 January Šilute Declaration on the annexation of the Klaipėda
region by Lithuania was issued. The army of the Republic of Lithuania marched
into Klaipėda later the same day. The Klaipėda region, a part of Lithuania
Minor, was finally united with Lithuania.
All this is an 85 year-old history.
Nevertheless, the resolute and bold steps that were taken by the Government of
the Republic of Lithuania of the time represent a clear example of political
thinking, and modern day politicians should understand, realize and remember
its meaning. We can summarize the implications of the Klaipėda Revolt in the
following way: if it had not been for the revolt of the Klaipėda region, it
could have possibly been annexed to the Kaliningrad region after 1945. We have
been saved from the grim possibility by the farsighted step of the Lithuanian
What does Klaipėda mean today? First of all, it is a port, which is used for
transportation of 50 per cent of all Lithuanias cargo and for marine fishing.
It also offers crude oil resources in the Shelf of the Baltic Sea and wind
energy. It attracts abundant investment LTL 621 million has already been
invested in the free economic zone of Klaipėda alone and LTL 110 million into
construction underway; in addition, projects have been prepared for LTL 341
million. Thus, the investment portfolio will amount to more than a billion
litas. The economic potential of the Klaipėda region
also includes the Būtingė terminal, which is the major and so far the only
energy link with the world. By the way, Lithuania recovered Būtingė not during
the Klaipėda revolt but after prior negotiations with Latvia. We can firmly
state that Klaipėda is one of the strongest economic regions in Lithuania.
Klaipėda University has become the most well
known educational hub in Western Lithuania with nearly 10 000 students and 600
professors, associate professors and teachers. In addition to scientific research,
the University addresses the needs of Lithuania as a coastal state. It has been
rapidly developing as a modern and important centre of science, studies and
artistic work not only in the Western region but also in the entire Lithuania.
There have been many changes in the development
of ethnic culture in the Klaipėda region over the course of time. For a number
of centuries Lithuania Minor was the seedbed of Lithuanian culture: it was the
place where the first Lithuanian book, the first grammar, and the first
collection of folk songs were published. The writer Kristijonas Donelaitis
lived in this region. It saw the birth of Lithuanian press in the end of 19th
century and the establishment of Lithuanian associations. This national revival
movement was mostly active in Tilžė on the left bank of the river Nemunas.
After the annexation of the Klaipėda region by Lithuania in 1923, the seeds of
Lithuanian culture sprang in this part of Lithuania Minor as well. When Germany
occupied Klaipėda, Lithuanian culture was suppressed again. However, since the
1960s thanks to Alfonsas Žalys, the head of Klaipėda and later the signatory to
the Act of the Independent State of Lithuania, the development of national
culture in Klaipėda accelerated significantly.
Naturally, it was only after the restoration of
the independence that the Klaipėda region could reveal the beauty of its
national culture. Sea Festivals, Jazz festivals, song festivals, two
professional theatres, the best concert hall in Lithuania, more than ten exhibition
halls and museums, including the famous dolphinarium, active heritage
conservation, ethnic traditions all these cultural objects and activities are
a vast national treasure of Lithuania.
Coastal aspirations of the Lithuanian state
were weakened or even suppressed for many centuries due to objective and
sometimes biased reasons. In the 21st century we finally have a unique chance
to develop a modern Lithuanian marine metropolis. Certainly, this is a task for
years and probably even decades. Nevertheless, the participants of the Klaipėda
revolt had a similar task. They deserve to see the vision of Lithuania as an
important coastal state today become reality.