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RETURNED. The Lost International Treaties of the Republic of Lithuania, 1918–1940

6 July–18 September 2022
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Exhibition patron
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis
 
Exhibition organisers
National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Lithuanian Central State Archives
Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania
 
Exhibition partners
Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Canada
Lithuanian Canadian Community
Lithuanian Museum-Archives of Canada

 

Ahead of July 6 – Statehood Day (commemorating the coronation of King of Lithuania Mindaugas) and National Anthem Day – an exhibition is being presented at the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania dedicated to the establishment of modern Lithuanian statehood, RETURNED. The Lost International Treaties of the Republic of Lithuania, 1918–1940. The exhibition invites visitors to delve into the engaging history of the rescue, preservation and later search for international treaties acknowledging the Lithuanian state, as well as to witness these treaties, which were for a long time considered to have been lost. This exhibition is particularly relevant today, in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine – it reminds us that a state's independence is something to fight for, to seek its recognition, establish its status, that is, how important it is to always be on guard.

The international treaties of the Republic of Lithuania that were removed from the provisional capital of Kaunas in 1939 were returned to Lithuania's eternal capital city of Vilnius in 2021, a city strongly fought for in the past, and are today exhibited in the reconstructed Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. This is a symbolic thread linking the statehood of modern and historic Lithuania, highlighting its centuries-old statehood traditions.

A total of 29 international treaties are exhibited here, which the Republic of Lithuania had signed with 19 European, Near Eastern, North and South American states in 1920–1938. This is only a fraction of the 105 legal acts witnessing international agreements that have been returned to Lithuania, which Lithuanian diplomats had removed from the country on the eve of World War II for safe-keeping abroad – first to Stockholm (Sweden), then on to Toronto (Canada). This rescue mission was initiated by Kazys Bizauskas, a diplomat of dramatic fate and signatory to the February 16, 1918 Act of Independence of Lithuania, and was carried out by the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Lithuania, Vytautas Jonas Gylys. Just seven days before the beginning of World War II, two cases were removed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania in Kaunas, containing documents among which were bilateral treaties, agreements, diplomatic letters, conventions, protocols and multipartite international conventions. After long years of being hidden and a spell of unknown whereabouts, the international treaties were returned to Lithuania in 2021, presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania and then handed over to the Lithuanian Central State Archives – they were restored and are now safely stored. The treaties were returned to Lithuania in a rather poor state, having been kept in unsuitable conditions for a long time, however, thanks to the highly experienced archive conservators, they have been resurrected for a new life, and are displayed in this exhibition, revealing their initial appeal.

Guests to the exhibition are invited to admire these unique symbols of the establishment of the Lithuanian state – international treaties of the Republic of Lithuania from 1918–1940 testifying to Lithuania's active participation in the international community, its extensive geography of international relations and range of interests. The exhibition features political, trade, utilitarian and arbitration, consular, extradition (for the transfer of individuals suspected or accused of criminal activity) and legal assistance, administrative, optation (citizenship) and technical treaties. The way they should be discerned was implied by Lithuanian Treaties with Foreign States, a two-volume collection of international treaties compiled by Pranas Dailidė, a diplomatic clerk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania and the director of the ELTA news agency and published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania in 1930 and 1939. The titles of treaties exhibited here correspond with the official treaty text published in the Republic of Lithuania's Vyriausybės žinios (Official Gazette) of the day. Treaties were often composed in a foreign language, usually French, however there are also treaties in English, German, Russian, Portuguese, Latvian and other languages. In addition to the official treaty text, its translation into Lithuania would also be attached. These texts illustrate changes to the Lithuanian language itself over the course of a hundred years, as we can find terms no longer in use, in some cases, even the titles of states have been translated very liberally and do not comply with today's accepted norms.

The treaties on display are the result of long negotiations. During these negotiations, the parties would agree on the content, decide where the treaty would be signed, when and under what conditions it would come into effect and agree on its duration. Aside from the actual treaties, visitors will be able to see the authorisations granted by state leaders for officials to sign them on their behalf, as well as authorisations issued to envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary to exchange ratifying documents and treaty ratification documents. Up to 1927, the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania would deliberate and ratify international treaties in the name of the Republic of Lithuania. On April 12, 1927, when the president dismissed the Seimas, having secured a legal explanation and based on the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, the President of the Republic of Lithuania Antanas Smetona would ratify international treaties unilaterally. Treaties authorised by both signing states would be publicised in the official gazettes of these states and registered with the League of Nations secretariat.

At this exhibition, visitors to the museum will be able to see the original treaties and autographs of famous Lithuanian and foreign politicians, diplomats and heads of state, such as Pope Pius XI, Emperor of Japan Hirohito, King of the United Kingdom George V, King of Denmark Christian X, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, President of the United States of America Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the Weimar Republic Paul von Hindenburg and many others. They will also be able to examine detailed appendices to certain treaties of truly astounding dimensions, such as maps, and to inspect the decorative authorisation and treaty ratifying documents, noting their special, elaborate binding, the colourful threads and intricate state stamps used to authorise the treaties, as well as the initials-only stamps of diplomats who signed the provisional treaties and special protective cases and folders in which the treaties were stored. The exposition is supplemented with photographs from this era that captured the moments of signing, famous political and diplomatic figures, as well as documentary film recordings from the lives of diplomats at the time.

This exhibition is dedicated to those interested in the history of the modern Lithuanian state and its birth, in international relations, diplomacy, political science, the history of printing, bookbinding, calligraphy and sigillography, and to all who find our state's heritage important and interesting.

Exhibition curators
Dr Vilma Akmenytė-Ruzgienė, Džiuginta Kasiulaitienė, Dr Živilė Mikailienė
 
Exhibition scientific consultant
Dr Vytautas Žalys
 
Exhibition coordinators
Jurgita Binkienė, Ignas Račickas, Angonita Rupšytė
 
Exhibition publishing coordinator
Dr Živilė Mikailienė
 
Exhibition scientific and cultural programme coordinators
Dr Ramunė Šmigelskytė-Stukienė, Gintarė Rožėnaitė-Rozovienė
 
Exhibition media and marketing coordinators
Monika Petrulienė, Mindaugas Puidokas