Kazys Grinius: an Outstanding Personality in Small Country Politics. Ethics and Political Engagement in 1920–1926
Keywords:Kazys Grinius, Prime Minister, President, Seimas, interwar period
Member of the Constituent Assembly and member of all the democratically elected Seimas Assemblies between 1920 and 1926, Kazys Grinius served as Prime Minister from 1920 to 1922 before his election as President of the Republic of Lithuania in 1926. This outstanding politician with complex personality relentlessly strove for the highest humanist ideals and encouraged his fellow-colleagues to do so, too. His ambition was to reach particularly stringent ethical standards in all spheres regardless of any circumstances. In Lithuania’s historical memory, the name of Kazys Grinius is associated with his significant role in the political discourse of the First Republic of Lithuania (1918–1940).
In the midst of formation of the statehood, in June 1920, Grinius became the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers without any prior work experience in public administration and with a very scarce political backing of the Lithuanian Popular Peasants’ Union at the Constituent Assembly (Seimas). His sense of direction mostly derived from his own ideals and values, political principles and character, rather than the existing political tradition of pragmatism and the political setup. What is unique about Grinius in the context of political history of the twentieth century Lithuania, is that he was the only President and Head of State in the country who did not appeal to supernatural forces and did not utter the name of God in his inaugural pledge in June 1926. Thus, he highlighted the secular nature of the modern democratic statehood of Lithuania.
In the period between June 1920 and February 1922, the government under Grinius’ leadership significantly consolidated the country’s statehood in a number of areas. Its furthest reach was in the field of foreign policy. Of significant historical importance to Lithuania was the Peace Treaty between Lithuania and the Soviet Russia, signed on 12 July 1920 in Moscow. It de jure freed Lithuania from its former sovereign; defined the South Eastern border of the Republic of Lithuania and secured Lithuania’s sovereignty in the welldefined geopolitical area with Vilnius as its capital. The Peace Treaty also created incentives for third countries to de jure recognise Lithuania as an independent country and gave rise to the positive development of good neighbourly relations between Lithuania and Russia. However, the Grinius-led government in 1920s not only regained but also lost Vilnius as the capital city of Lithuania, with all the resulting political and historical consequences.
In the second half of 1926, after the third parliamentary elections, Lithuania led by President Grinius embarked on an ambitious domestic and foreign policy reform. It was preparing for a historic breakthrough from the political and cultural heritage of the tsarist empire and the associated structural weaknesses and red tape in public administration. However, these ambitions remained unattained due to various fears emerging among the national political elites, complemented with conservative patriarchal mindset, inert society, conservatism, and ethnic and political divide in the society, made worse by the unfavourable international climate resulting from the unconstitutional coup in Poland in May 1926 and leading the country towards authoritarian rule.