Lithuania (Michel #1300): Lithuanian Flag Day

Lithuania: Symbols of the Lithuanan State – Flags, 4 January 2019. Michel #1300-1302.

First of all, let me wish all of you faithful readers of A Stamp A Day a very hearty “Happy New Year”. In 2020, I plan to focus my collecting and stamp blogging activities almost exclusively to New Issues which will be covered by my other blog, Philatelic Pursuits. Whatever posts I may make to ASAD will most likely be of more recent stamps although I won’t rule out the odd Classic along the way.

In fact, I had no plans to write a post on this blog right at the beginning of the year as I am bogged-down with searching out new-release schedules and getting ready for my first English camps of the New Year. Tomorrow sees a vast number of new stamps issues around the world including one here in Thailand.  I plan to be at the local post office bright and early in the morning.

However, a chance visit to my favorite “On This Date” site revealed that 1 January happens to be Lithuanian Flag Day.  I remembered that the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublika) issued three stamps portraying flags just over a year ago and I’d purchased them at the time, some of my very first 2019 stamps. A short time looking spent looking through my scans and a bit of online research and, voilà! — my first post to A Stamp A Day for 2020.

Flag of Lithuania on top of Gediminas’ Tower in the Vilnius Castle Complex. Photo taken on 23 October 2013 by Kaihsu Tai.

Vėliavos diena (“Flag’s day”) commemorates the date when the national flag was first raised on Gediminas’ Tower in 1919. In Lithuanian, the tower is Gedimino pilies bokštas and is the remaining part of the Upper Castle in the capital city of Vilnius. The first wooden fortifications were built by Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania. The first brick castle was completed in 1409 by Grand Duke Vytautas. The three-floor tower was rebuilt in 1933 by Polish architect Jan Borowski. Some remnants of the old castle have been restored, guided by archaeological research.

Today, the tower houses a museum exhibiting archaeological findings from the hill and the surrounding areas. The museum has models of Vilnius castles from the 14th to the 17th centuries, armament, and iconographic material of the Old Vilnius.

Gediminas’ Tower is an important state and historic symbol of the city of Vilnius and of Lithuania itself. It was depicted on the former national currency, the litas, and is mentioned in numerous Lithuanian patriotic poems and folk songs. The flag of Lithuania was re-hoisted atop the tower on October 7, 1988, during the independence movement that was finalized by the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania on March 11, 1990.

Gediminas Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania, before being built up in the 1930s, probably before 1906.

A reconstruction of the Royal Palace of Lithuania was completed in 2009, and is located near the base of the hill upon which Gediminas’ Tower stands.

As a result of the Great Retreat during World War I, Germany occupied the entire territory of Lithuania and Courland by the end of 1915. Lithuanians lost all political rights they had gained: personal freedom was restricted, and at the beginning, the Lithuanian press was banned. The Lithuanian intelligentsia tried to take advantage of the existing geopolitical situation and began to look for opportunities to restore Lithuania’s independence. The 20-member Council of Lithuania was elected in September 1917. The council adopted the Act of Independence of Lithuania on 16 February 1918 which proclaimed the restoration of the independent state of Lithuania governed by democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital. The state of Lithuania which had been built within the framework of the Act lasted from 1918 until 1940.

It is not known who originally suggested the yellow, green, and red colors for the flag, but the idea is usually attributed to Lithuanian exiles living elsewhere in Europe or in the United States during the 19th century. These three colors were frequently used in folk weavings and traditional dress. At the Great Seimas of Vilnius of 1905, this flag was favored over the Vytis banner as the flag of the Lithuanian nation. The Vytis, strongly advocated by Jonas Basanavičius, was not chosen for three reasons: the first was that as part of the drive for national identity, the Seimas wished to distance itself somewhat from the flag of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which also encompassed now-distinct nations such as Belarus and Ukraine. The second issue was the choice of the color red by revolutionaries who aligned themselves with Marxist or Communist causes. It was additionally thought that the flag with Vytis would be too complicated and could not be easily sewn.

Lithuania: Symbols of the Lithuanian State – Flags, 3-euro cents Flag of the Lithuanian President, 4 January 2019 (Michel #1300)

Debates about the national flag occurred again in 1917 during the Vilnius Conference. Two colors, green and red, were chosen based on their prevalence in folk art. Artist Antanas Žmuidzinavičius decorated the conference hall with small red and green flags. However, the delegates did not like the design as it was too dark and gloomy. Tadas Daugirdas then suggested adding a narrow strip of yellow (to symbolize the rising sun) in between the red (clouds lit up by the morning sun) and green (fields and forests). However, the delegates decided that the matter should be settled by a special commission, composed of Basanavičius, Žmuidzinavičius, and Daugirdas. On 19 April 1918, they submitted their final protocol to the Council of Lithuania. The flag was supposed to be a tri-color (yellow at the top, green in the middle, and red at the bottom) with Vytis in the upper left corner or in the middle. The Council accepted the proposal, but the 1922 Constitution of Lithuania did not include any mention of the coat of arms. It adopted the national flag that is used today. Any of the debates failed to produce a historical flag. Discussions of the national flag continued; its opponents considered gold an inappropriate color, since the combination of yellow, green, and red did not follow the existing rules of heraldry. However, no changes were made during the inter-war period.

Lithuania: Symbols of the Lithuanian State – Flags, 10-euro cents Historic Vytis Flag, 4 January 2019 (Michel #1301)

Following the capitulation of Germany in November 1918, the first Provisional Constitution of Lithuania was adopted and the first government of Prime Minister Augustinas Voldemaras was organized. At the same time, the army and other state institutions began to be organized. Lithuania fought three wars of independence: against the Bolsheviks who proclaimed the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, against the Bermontians, and against Poland. As a result of the staged Żeligowski’s Mutiny in October 1920, Poland took control of Vilnius Region and annexed it as Wilno Voivodeship in 1922. Lithuania continued to claim Vilnius as its de jure capital and relations with Poland remained particularly tense and hostile for the entire interwar period. In January 1923, Lithuania staged the Klaipėda Revolt and captured Klaipėda Region (Memel territory) which was detached from East Prussia by the Treaty of Versailles. The region became an autonomous region of Lithuania.

On 15 May 1920, the first meeting of the democratically elected constituent assembly took place. The documents it adopted, i. e. the temporary (1920) and permanent (1922) constitutions of Lithuania, strove to regulate the life of the new state. Land, finance, and educational reforms started to be implemented. The currency of Lithuania, the Lithuanian litas, was introduced. As Lithuania began to gain stability, foreign countries started to recognize it. In 1921 Lithuania was admitted to the League of Nations.

On 17 December 1926, a military coup d’état took place, resulting in the replacement of the democratically elected government with a conservative authoritarian government led by Antanas Smetona. Augustinas Voldemaras was appointed to form a government. The so-called authoritarian phase had begun strengthening the influence of one party, the Lithuanian Nationalist Union, in the country. In 1927, the Seimas was released. A new constitution was adopted in 1928, which consolidated presidential powers. Gradually, opposition parties were banned, censorship was tightened, and the rights of national minorities were narrowed.

Flag of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (1953–1988)

During World War II, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union (1940–1941) and Nazi Germany (1941–1944). The Soviets regained the territory in 1944, an occupation that continued until 1990. The use of the national flag during this period was prohibited and prosecuted. Two flags were used during the period of Soviet occupation. Immediately after the war, the flag consisted of a red field, golden hammer and sickle with the Latin characters LIETUVOS TSR (Lithuanian SSR in the Lithuanian language) above them in gold sans-serif lettering. That flag was replaced in 1953 by the last flag used by the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic — a red flag, with the hammer and sickle and star in the hoist. At the bottom of the flag, a white and green horizontal bar was placed.

During 1988, when the Lithuanian movement towards independence was gaining strength, the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet again recognized the tricolor as the national flag, by amending article 168 of the Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Lithuanian SSR. The flag was defined as rectangular tricolor which consists of three equally sized horizontal stripes: the upper is yellow, the middle is green, the lower is red; the flag ratio was to be 1:2 (as that of Soviet flags). This flag was confirmed by the Provisional Constitution of 11 March 1990 № I-10.

Lithuania: Symbols of the Lithuanian State – Flags, 49-euro cents State Flag of Lithuania, 4 January 2019 (Michel #1302).

The yellow in the flag is meant to symbolize the sun and prosperity, the green is for the forests, the countryside, liberty, and hope, and the red represents the blood and bravery of those who have died for Lithuania.

The Symbols of the Lithuanian State: Flags issue was released on 4 January 2019.  Designed by T. Dragūnas, there are three denominations:  0.03€ featuring the flag of the Lithuanian President, 0.10€ picturing the historic Vytis flag, and 0.49€ which shows the national flag. Each was issued in a self-adhesive pane of 25 stamps printed using the offset lithography process by AS Vaba Maa’s printing house in Tallinn, Estonia. The stamps measure 24 x 24 mm and have die-cuts in a 14 x 14 gauge.

Lithuania: Symbols of the Lithuanian State, 4 January 2019 (Michel #1300-1302) — header and first row of stamps from each sheet of 25.
Lithuania: Symbols of the Lithuanian State – Flags, 4 January 2019.. First day cover.

The historic state flag on the 0.10€ value is a particular favorite. The earliest known flags with a Lithuanian identity were recorded in the 15th-century Banderia Prutenorum, written by Jan Długosz. At the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, two distinct flags were present. The majority of the 40 regiments carried a red banner depicting a mounted knight in pursuit. This flag, known as the Vytis, would eventually be used as the Lithuanian war flag, and again in 2004 as the state flag. The remainder of the regiments carried a red banner displaying the Columns of Gediminas. Those that bore the Vytis, also known as the Pahonia, were armies from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, while those who bore the Columns of Gediminas were from noble families of Lithuania. Until the end of the 18th century, when it was annexed by the Russian Empire, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania used the Vytis as its flag.

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