Lithuanians in Georgia
Lithuanian community in Georgia "Rūta"
|Head of the community:||Dalia Baltrūnaitė|
|Address:||Nuradin Pridoni g. No 27.|
|Telephone:||+995 577 759 709|
Sunday school of Lithuanian language for children and youth
|Address:||Kekelidze 1–18, Tbilisi 380079, Georgia|
|Telephone:||+995 (32) 222 08 47; +995 (32) 277 26 04|
|E-mail:||[email protected]; [email protected]|
First reliable news about Lithuanians living in Georgia appear at the second half of the 19th century. Some of them came to Georgia as servants, others - as exiles. A large number of Lithuanian came to the Caucasus during the World War I, while others - even earlier.
These Lithuanians were teachers, doctors, engineers, pharmacists and servants, who were transferred by the czar government from all ends of the empire to Caucasus “for the service reasons”.
The number of Lithuanians in Georgia increased during the World War I. They were mainly war refugees and Lithuanian soldiers, who had been mobilized to the Russian army and sent to the Caucasus front to fight Turkey. It is estimated that in 1914-1918 there were couple thousand Lithuanian soldiers in the Caucasus. Among them – Petras Vileišis, a veteran engineer, and a famous figure of the Lithuanian national revival movement.
The biggest Lithuanian community settled in Tbilisi. If was founded before the World War I. Lithuanians carried out various social and cultural activities. Established on 1912, Lithuanian community provided manifold assistance, organized Lithuanian evenings, had a choir, led by eighteen-year old Julius Štarka (1894-1960), who became the first leader of the National Opera of Lithuania during the interwar period. In April 1917 in Tbilisi Lithuanians elected a "National Council". Pranas Dailidė, a math teacher from the boy gymnasium no. 4th, became a chairman. Later Lithuanian communities were founded in other cities in the Caucasus (Jekaterinograd, Kislovodsk, Pyatigorsk, Grozny, Baku, Batumi, Alexandroupolis, Kars).
After the overthrow of the czar, Lithuanian soldiers, who were fighting in the Russia-Turkey front, took a proactive approach. They joined into the national groups in order to return back to Lithuania and to participate in the struggle for the independence of Lithuania. Lithuanian soldiers, who had served in the fortress of Kars, led by the officer Petras Gudelis, founded a Lithuanian language class on April 25, 1917, for those, who had almost forgotten to read and write in Lithuanian.
After the collapse of the Caucasus front, Lithuanian soldiers already knew the increasing activity of Lithuanian community in Tbilisi, and started joining it. As a result, the size of Lithuanian community in Tbilisi increased significantly. Because of various difficulties it was necessary to establish new institutions in order to represent and protect the interests of Lithuanians in Caucasus. Therefore, a National Committee of the Lithuanian community and the Organization of Transcaucasus Lithuanian soldiers started preparing a Congress of all Lithuanians, living in the Caucasus.
Such congress was held on December 27-30, 1917, and was attended by the Lithuanian representatives from Tbilisi, Alexandroupolis, Batumi, Kars, Trabzon - a total of 21 representatives. A congress elected the Presidium. Mr. Vileišis became a honorary chairman, Mr. Dailidė became a vice-president, Mr. Steponavičius and Mr. Jazdauskas became the secretaries. The Congress sent a congratulatory telegram to the Council of Lithuania in Vilnius and to the Council of Lithuania in Russia, Voronezh city. It was expected these councils will lead to establishment of the Constituent Assembly and, therefore, democratic Republic of Lithuania. Mr. Dailidė addressed the Congress, raising a question of a full independence of Lithuania. He argued that nothing will give to Lithuania independence just like that, unless Lithuanians unite and fight for it. Some members of a Congress objected, saying that the time for the independence has not yet come, and that together with other nations of the empire it will be possible to regain autonomy within a democratic Russia. During a discussion Mr. Vileišis made a well-reasoned speech. After that a Congress almost unanimously adopted a resolution, which stated that: "a future of independent Lithuania can be guaranteed only by the constituent Assembly (Seimas) and a World Conference.
The establishment of a Committee of the Caucasus Lithuanian community had a significant impact on the lives of Lithuanians. The Committee developed its activities in three areas:
- Registration and record of Lithuanians;
- Representation of Lithuanians in local government bodies, cooperation with other national minorities, consular work;
- Organization of Lithuanians’ return to their homeland.
"Lithuanian Committee" in the Caucasus also informally carried out consular functions. Armenia and Azerbaijan was informed about the establishment of the Committee. At that time, the missions of Poland and Ukraine had already been established in Tbilisi.
The establishment of Transcaucasian Federal Republic stressed the need to address legally the issue of foreigners. A working committee started to register citizens of Lithuania. The decision was made to start issuing certificates of citizenship, which served as passports. These certificates were issued to those who were able to prove they had been born in Lithuania. There was also a need to establish a consulate, because after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia direct roads from Russia to Lithuania were closed. Therefore, it was necessary to negotiate with other countries on the return routes. For example, at that time a trip through the Black Sea needed a consent from Germany.
On 2 June, 1918, "Lithuanian Committee" in the Caucasus decided to address the Council of Lithuania and ask to open an official mission of Lithuania in Transcaucasia. Therefore, a Committee made a decision to send a delegation to Lithuania. Before the departure, Mr. Dailidė, the Chairman of the Committee, visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and met with Mr. Evgeni Gegečkori, upcoming minister of foreign affairs. Mr. Gegečkori asked to convey greetings to the authorities of Lithuania and hoped that Lithuania would support the aims of Georgian people to restore their independence at the Peace Conference in Paris.
On 23 July, 1918, Mr. Dailidė met with Mr. Antanas Smetona, Head of the State of the Republic of Lithuania, and was authorized to act as a representative of Lithuania and to take care of all Lithuanians in the Caucasus. On 30 August, 1918, after returning to Georgia, Mr. Dailidė was officially accredited as a representative of the State of Lithuania to the Government of Georgia.
On 23 March, 1919, Lithuania opened a mission in Baku, where at that time lived a considerable number of exiles. Both missions in Tbilisi and Baku had serious problems, as the communication with Lithuania was very poor, many Lithuanians had no financial means to return to Lithuania. In one documents of that time the representative of Lithuania in Georgia states that "having only temporary mandate of the Council, a constant shortage of resources, but at the same time following the same path of restoration of independence of Lithuania, the representative of Lithuania was recognized at all Caucasian nations”. Because of this hard work and dedication around 10 thousand Lithuanians managed to return home.
The Revolution broke further development of relations between Lithuania and Georgia, and only after 80 years official relations between these two countries were restored again.
In 1996 Lithuanians living in Georgia organized a community and called it "Rūta". Ms. Irena Džikija became a first honorary consul of Lithuania in Georgia. The Embassy of Lithuania to Georgia was opened in 2004. This opened a new page in bilateral relations between Lithuania and Georgia.
In 1996 community “Rūta” became a member of the World Community of Lithuanians. In order to preserve national identity, community “Rūta” is working in the sphere of education and culture. Various public events are organized on the regular basis in order to commemorate such events as 16th February (Independence Day), 11th March (Day of Restoration of Independence of Lithuania), 13th January (Freedom Defenders Day). Every year the community organizes the Mass for those who have died for Lithuania’s independence near the television tower in Vilnius. The 14th June is the Day of Mourning and Hope. Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, St.John Day are celebrated every year. It is nice to see the fires in the Caucasus mountains and rivers, the mountain allowed St. John's wreaths. During Tbilisoba – the Day of Tbilisi - all ethnic minorities, including Lithuanian, appear dressed up in the national costumes; present their cuisine, songs and dances.
For many years (since 1996) there is a Lithuanian school in Tbilisi, which has been attended already by the third generation of children and grandchildren of members of the community. Recently the school admitted even Georgians who want to learn Lithuanian language and get acquainted with Lithuanian culture.
The Embassy of Lithuania since its very opening became a friend and a partner of Lithuanian Community.
The head of Lithuanian Community in Georgia from 2000 is Ms. Zina Karuchnishvili. She is a doctor of medicine (cardiologist), born in Kaunas, Lithuania. Her husband is a diplomat. Her son is studying at Lithuanian Military Academy of Jonas Žemaitis, daughter is a manager.