Lithuania in the News
13th May, 2007
Lithuania Commemorates the First Written Constitution in Europe
President Adamkus addressing Lithuanian Parliament during the joint
sitting of Lithuanian and Polish Parliaments, connected via a
TV telebridge. Photo courtesy President of Lithuanian website
In the tumultuous times of the last few years of its independent existence, the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth ("Commonwealth of Two Nations") promulgated a new constitution, which was the first ever written constitution in Europe and second in the world after the American constitution (1787). The Constitution of May 3, 1791, was commemorated in May 2, 2007, by a joint sitting of the Lithuanian and Polish parliaments, connected via a video conference link, with discussions based on the theme "Common past, common future: From the first constitution in Europe to a common future in Europe". In addition to Lithuanian and Polish speakers during the commemoration, present at the function were the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, and representatives from Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine. Addressing the gathering, Lithuania’s President Valdas Adamkus described the constitution as "Lithuania’s input into the development of progressive ideas in Europe". In the conference preceding the joint parliamentary sitting, Lithuania’s Opposition Leader, Andrius Kubilius, drew the parallels between the political circumstances then, which necessitated the May 3 Constitution, and the present day European situation, crying out for a European constitution now. Since the former was developed for the multi- national needs of Lithuania and Poland of that time, it could serve as a role model for the multi-national needs of Europe at the present time.
The original of the May 3 Constitution. Picture courtesy Wikipedia
The May 3 Constitution was promulgated a year and a half before the second partition of the Commonwealth of Two Nations in 1793 by Russia, Prussia and Austria. The constitution was a response both to the ideals of the Enlightenment and the continuing threat from Russia and other neighbours. Alas, it did not succeed in stopping the second partition in 1793, or preventing the extinguishing of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth in the third partition of 1795. Lithuanians would have to wait for a hundred years before Lithuanian independence was reestablished in the aftermath of World War I.
Australians would be interested to note that the Lithuanian-born Thaddeus Kosciuszko (Kosciuðka in Lithuanian), after whom Australia’s highest mountain Mt. Kosciusko is named, was an active participant in the events of these times and in
Thaddeus Kosciuszko, after whom
Australia’s highest mountain is named.
Picture courtesy Wikipedia
the wars of the American Independence a decade or so earlier. He became a high ranking commander in the War in Defence of the Constitution in 1792 and was the Commander-in-Chief of the Lithuanian-Polish forces in the uprising against the occupying Russian forces in 1794.
Even though the political situation had been deteriorating for over a century, the culture in Lithuania in those turbulent times was vibrant and very progressive. In 1773, just after the first partition in 1772, leading intellectuals in Lithuania and Poland came together in the Education Commission, which reformed the complete education system of schools and universities in Lithuania and Poland and formed what today would be called a Ministry of Education, again the first in Europe! Vilnius University, which had been the main educational institution in North Eastern Europe for two centuries, now formally became Schola Princeps Magni Ducatus Lithuaniae (in Latin). Thaddeus Kosciuszko himself was an alumnus of Vilnius University.
Among the achievements of those days could be listed the University’s astronomical observatory founded in 1753, the fourth oldest in Europe, and the University’s famed Botanical Gardens founded in 1781, with its collection of plants among the most extensive and richest in central Europe. The Gardens also have a connection with Australia, through Georg Adam Forster, who had travelled with James Cook on one of his voyages of discovery. Forster became a professor at Vilnius University and from 1784 continued the work of the Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens a little later were relocated to what today is the popular and beautiful Sereikiðkës Park at the bottom of Gediminas Hill.

Further information:  Click On:   Wikipedia on the May 3 Constitution  and   Wikipedia on Thaddeus Kosciuszko
Vilnius University: & 03/05/07 04/05/07