This article briefly discusses traditional interpretations of the principle of national self-determination declared by President Woodrow Wilson. It is believed that the principle of national self-determination cannot be interpreted in isolation from specific historical conditions under which it was declared and implemented. Until the First World War the self-determination of nations was perceived more like the right to choose their (democratic) form of government (‘internal self-determination’). During the war years the ‘external’ aspect of self-determination gained dominance, i.e. the right of a nation to be free from any ‘alien’ rule. Thus, technically the principle of self-determination of nations was supposed to mean both consolidation of national consciousness and democratization of society. However, implementation of the principle demonstrated that national self-determination might become a threat to democracy.
The article discusses the activities during the period of late Stalinism of Justas Paleckis, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of Soviet Lithuania. The paper puts forward the premise that from 1944 to 1953, Paleckis balanced between indigenous (local) communism and attitudes characteristic of some Central European national communists. To be more precise, he tried to emphasise the specifics of the historical development of Lithuania, and its differences from other Soviet republics, in which the formation of the Soviet regime started earlier. According to him, its tradition of statehood made Lithuania a unique republic, and this circumstance should be taken into account when making Lithuania Soviet. Paleckis was convinced that in order to make Soviet rule more attractive to the Lithuanians, it was necessary to cooperate with the nation’s cultural elite, that is, with the interwar Lithuanian intelligentsia. In his writings and speeches, he tried to merge organically the liberation of the Lithuanian nation from the ‘yoke’ of the exploiters, with the no less important liberation from the ‘national yoke’ or national revival of the Lithuanians. Social and national ‘liberation’, according to him, was crowned with the establishment of the socialist order in Lithuania. This ‘organic’ understanding of history was characteristic of other national communists in Central Europe. Finally, Paleckis tried to incorporate national elements into the system of symbols in Soviet Lithuania. The Lithuanianisation of symbols of Soviet rule was meant to strengthen the legitimacy of the authorities. However, this analysis shows that the Lithuanian Party leadership did not support Paleckis’ ideas and efforts. He was often strongly criticised in communist forums. It can be argued that in the period of late Stalinism, the ‘window of opportunity’ for national communism in Lithuania was finally closed. Tendencies towards unification and Russification became increasingly prevalent in politics. Thus, in this political-cultural context, Paleckis represented the type of communist that could be called an indigenous Lithuanian communist.
The article deals with several closely related problems. Firstly, it presents a concise analysis of the particulars of the formation of the Lithuanian intelligentsia – a modern social élite in the country. It is maintained that in Lithuania (as well as in the other states of Central and Eastern Europe) the intelligentsia’s special role in society was conditioned by its modernization process and the level of its development and manifestation in public life. It was no accident that the pattern of the national ideal, shaped by the intelligentsia, as well as the proposed programme for the modernization of society were of ethnocentric nature.
The second half of the study relates to the project for modernizing society, offered by Vincas Kudirka, a prominent figure in the Lithuanian national movement, a publicist and publisher. It was his belief, supported by many other Lithuanian intellectuals, that the processes of modernization – its social and economic development had to entail and presuppose the development of national self-consciousness. The proposed programme was intended for the lowest and most numerous social layer the peasantry, and it actually expressed that group’s interests. At the same time the modernization programme contained contradictions, acquired ethnocentric features and in future was liable to encourage social and ethnic tensions.