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Lithuanian-Polish War - 15 July 1920 - 30 November 1920

Lithuanian troops trained and armed by the British fought Polish troops trained and armed by the French. There were Americans in both the opposing armies. The Lithuanians demanded complete independence from Poland as well as Russia, but the Poles claimed that the ancient union of the two kingdoms in 1386, when Prince Jagiello of Lithuania married Queen Yadviga of Poland, had never been dissolved.

In 1919 the Polish armies in their northeastern movement occupied considerable Lithuanian territory, including Vilna, the capital of Lithuania. The Lithuanians complained to the Supreme Council of the Allies against the encroachments of the Poles and accused them of killing off or driving out the Lithuanian population and closing their schools and churches. But the Council took no action on the alleged atrocities and General Foch decided that the Poles had a right to use Vilna as a base in their campaign against the Bolsheviki.

Once the Poles got the Russians on the run they were again occupying Lithuania. According to the Warsaw despatches, the Polish troops that entered Augustewo "were enthusiastically received by the population" and the Lithuanian soldiers were friendly. But the Kovno despatches giving the Lithuanian version of events said that the people took up arms against the invaders and that the Lithuanian forces drove them out of the surrounding country, taking many prisoners and much material.

Lithuania by her 12 July 1920 treaty with Soviet Russia was bound to maintain neutrality and the Lithuanian Government held that the violation of her territories by the Polish armies was as indefensible as the German invasion of Belgium. The Poles on the other hand held that unless they occupied this corner of Lithuania their left flank would be perpetually exposed to attack by the Bolsheviki.

A Polish delegation went to Kovno to negotiate an agreement with the Lithuanians as to the boundary line, but when the Polish army crossed the Lithuania frontier the Lithuanian Government charged Poland with treachery and packed the delegation off home. Poland in turn appealed to the League of Nations against Lithuanian encroachments on her frontier and accused the Lithuanians of being allied with the Russian Reds to attack Poland thru Lithuanian territory.

The Bolsheviki retained a strip of Lithuanian territory north of the Nieman River in order to use the railroad to Grodno for military purposes. No valid objection could be raised against the Poles for making war on the Soviet forces in this region, but Poles, in sending their cavalry into the Suwalki and Seiny district northwest of this, were clearly trespassing on Lithuanian land, whatever may have been their strategic justification in so doing.

The Polish Government's proposal for joint action against the Bolsheviks was rejected, pending Lithuania's recognition as an independent state with Vilna for its capital. The Polish war against Soviet Russia continued. Under the Suvalki Agreement, signed between the two States on October 7, 1920, Poland recognized the right of Lithuania to provisional administration of Vilnius and its territory, but this trifling fact in no way prevented her from flagrantly violating the agreement two days later, when the notorious “rebel” General Zeligowski recaptured the Lithuanian capital.

The initial victories of the Bolsheviks were followed by defeat and the victorious Poles, under the so-called "rebel" Gen. Zeligowski, on 09 October 1920 drove the Lithuanians out of Vilna, which they had temporarily occupied after the retreat of the Soviet armies. This incident leading to an informal war between the Lithuanians and Gen. Zeligowski's so-called mutineers, the matter was taken up by the League of Nations, which strove to establish the fate of Vilna and other disputed areas by means of a plebiscite. An armistice was concluded with effect from 30 November 1920.

The intervention of the League of Nations in the Lithuanian-Polish dispute dates from September 1920, and formally terminated in January 1922, after a series of futile conferences at Brussels and Geneva under the auspices of M. Paul Hymans, the President of the Council. This intervention was from the first foredoomed to failure by the obstinate and mysterious obsession, whereof M. Hymans was a victim, that some sort of “special tie ” must be effected between Lithuania and Poland.

In the beginning of March 1921, direct negotiation between Poland and Lithuania under the auspices of the League of Nations, to be followed by arbitration on unsettled points, was proposed in lieu of the plebiscite and agreed to by oil parties. Early in January 1922 the Council of the League of Nations, in view of the rejection of its recommendations by both parties, formally terminated its intervention, and gave notice of the withdrawal of the Military Control Commission, while at the same time it proposed the acceptance of a fifth demarcation line to take the place of the neutral zone between the contending parties.

The independence of Lithuania de facto was recognized by Sweden, Norway, England, Esthonia, Finland, France and Poland; de jure by Germany on March 23 1918, by Soviet Russia on 12 July 1920, by Latvia and Esthonia in February 1921 and by the Argentine Republic in March 1921.

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Page last modified: 06-11-2012 17:16:08 ZULU