The question of territorial ownership by a nation in part can be determined by the ethnic and racial majority of the autochtons. Archeological finds show that during the first centuries of this Era, Lithuanian tribes resided within the confines of Lithuania Propria (W. Antoniewicz, Wilno i ziemia wilenska, I, 1930, p. 122). According to Lowmianski, pre-Mindaugian Lithuania occupied an area of 58,000 sq. km. and supported a population of 170.000 autochtons (or 3 inhabitants per sq. km., Lowmianski, II, p. 5). This generalization, however, is too conservative and unsupported by archeological findings.
Since the earliest times, the Lithuanian dukes settled subject Slavs in the eastern and southern marches (Byelorussians, for the most part, in the environs of Gardinas and Naugardukas). The Jews appeared in Lithuania during Gediminas' reign. Grand Duke Vytautas settled 40,000 Tartars in the environs of Trakai, Aрmena and Lyda. However, the majority of Tartars migrated to the Ukraine in the first half of the 16th century. Most of the remaining Tartars were assimilated by the local Lithuanians and Byelorussians.
The Lithuanians constituted a majority in Lithuania Propria until the 18th century. Only in the wilderness of Suvalkai did the grand dukes settle Lithuanian, Byelorussian and Masurian colonists. Thus, a mixture of nationalities occurred quite early in the Suvalkai region. Demographically the 17th century was not favorable to the Lithuanians in the Palatinate of Vilnius. The period 1654-1667 witnessed devastating wars with Moscow and the Swedes. Between 1654 and 1661, the Russians occupied a greater part of Lithuania. In their wake came massacres and plagues which wiped out a third of the autochtons of Lithuania. After the signing of the Treaty of Andrusovo Moscow occupied Smolensk, Starodub, and Chernigov. Many of the Byelorussians of these regions fled to Lithuania and settled down between Dysna and Vileika, thus decreasing the proportion of Lithuanians in these areas. Entire villages of Byelorussians sprang up.
During the Great Northern War (1708-1711) plagues and famine again carried off a third of the autochtons of Lithuania Propria. This event created the conditions for Polish and Byelorussian colonization in southeastern Lithuania. The local boyars brought in Polish overseers and Byelorussian peasants as a labor force to make up for the losses. These economic migrants mingled with surviving natives.
The oldest inhabitants of the Suvalkai and Gardinas-Naugardukas regions were the Yatvygians, a stock related to the Lithuanians and Old Prussians (see Jerzy Nalepa, Jacwiжgowie). After the plague of 1710-11 Lithuanians (especially Dzыkians) colonized the depopulated areas of Seinai and Agustavas. According to 1861 statistics, in the northern part of Sokolka (Kapиiauka, Kuznica, Naujadvaris, Janиa, Sidra, Kilmoniai and Dambrava) some 7,000 inhabitants still spoke Lithuanian. Lebedkin counted 201,897 Lithuanians in the Government (gubernia) of Gardinas. The pro-Russian ethnographer Janzhul counted 633,852 inhabitants in Augustavas (Suvalkai) Govern-ment of whom 230,000 were Lithuanians. In 1866 the Polish ethnographer N. Stolpianski numbered the Lithuanians in Gardinas county at 63% of the populace, while for the census of the entire Government of Gardinas, he found 201,897 Lithuanians or 25.6% of the population.
Seinai county had a population of 99,300 in 1914. Lithuanians comprised 59.71% and Polonized Lithuanians another 22.5%, a total of 82.21% of the population. According to prof. Mykolas Birziska, the county of Suvalkai in 1932 had 77,350 inhabitants, among them 61,300 Lithuanians.
The demography of Vilnius province was already scrutinized in the 19th century. The first scholar to collect data about the Government of Vilnius on a systematic basis was Mikhail Lebedkin. He used the parish census rolls. Lebedkin classified nationality according to the native language (i.e., the first language spoken at home).
Lebedkin's 1862 statistics by county for Lithuanians and Poles were as follows:
Out of a total population of 757,954, 448,576 (59.18%) were Lithuanians (420,812 Catholics and 27,764 Orthodox) and 154,486 were counted as Poles (20.38%).
Roman Catholics who spoke Polish were included with the Poles. Thus, the percentage of "Poles" was rather large in Dysna (43.4%), Vilnius (34.5%) and Vileika (22.1%) counties, though these counties were far from Ethnographic Poland. Since there was no mass migration of Polish settlers into Vilnius Province, the question arises, are these "Poles" not in reality Polish-speaking Lithuanians who were being Poionized by the estate-owners and clergy?
R. D'Erkert, member of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society, used the 1858 data of the Statistics Commission and local parishes. Being a Poionized German D'Erkert was inclined to favor Polish interests over those of the Russians. Howbeit, using the language criterion, his figures almost coincide with those of Lebedkin, namely, the D'Erkert Statistics of 1863 show: 386,000 Lithuanians, 212,000 Poles;
178,000 Russians and 77.000 Jews, 900 Germans and 2,800 others in Vilnius Province, with a total population of 857,000.
A. Koreva, officer of the Russian General Staff, compiled a census of the population of Vilnius Province in 1858. His information was based on the data of the Fiscal Chambers for the period 1844-1858, Peter Koeppen's revised figures of 1857, Teodor Narbutt's ethnographic studies, and the county police and parochial statistics. He gave the statistics by county: Vilnius — 173,901, Trakai — 105,265, Aрmena — 128,666, Рvenиionys — 104,358, Lyda — 107,787. Vileika — 110.356, and Dysna — 110,831.
One should note that his figures by county almost coincide with the statistics of Lebedkin and D'Erkert. Koreva estimated that the Lithuanians numbered 46% of the population or 386,905. Taking an average of Lebedkin's, D'Erkert's and Koreva's figures, the Lithuanian-speaking inhabitants of Vilnius Province numbered about 400,000 or half of the population. The boundaries of D'Erkert's and Koreva's ethnographic maps almost coincide, that is, they run through Brлslauja, Pastovis, Aрmena and Lyda. It should be added that both ethnographers recognized the fact that the linguistic line between the Lithuanians and Byelorussians was drawn according to the language employed by the majority of the inhabitants in any given township (valриius, volost6). Both ethnographers recognized the fact that there were large Lithuanian-speaking islands to the east, beyond the so-called linguistic line.
The Tsarist Russian authorities conducted two "official" censuses in Vilnius Province. Besides a Lithuanian category, an interesting new category of "Byelorussian Catholics" was created (the Uniate Russians were designated as Russian Orthodox).
The 1897 census of Vilnius Province showed:
County-Lithuanians-“Byelorussian Catholics"-Total Population
In 1909 the Russian police conducted a census in Vilnius Province showing the following:
County-Lithuanians-Byelorussian Catholics-Total Population
From the last two tables we see that the population of Vilnius Province increased, while the official number of Lithuanians decreased. According to the official statistics, in 1897 there were 276,226 Lithuanians in Vilnius Province and in 1909 only 231,828. In other words, the Lithuanians decreased by 45,000! What is astounding is the Polish statistic: the Poles doubled in numbers. In 1897 the Russians counted 77,274 Poles, in 1909 they counted 188,931 Poles! During this period there was no mass influx of Poles into Vilnius Province. The number of Byelorussians also grew. What are the reasons? The adherents of Russification considered Byelorussians as Russians. Therefore, they strove to claim slavophone inhabitants as their own. There were other reasons as well.
Since 1874 Russian scholars accepted the native tongue as the criterion of nationality. There were also political considerations. Polonized township starostas and priests provided the officials with statistics. Since Stolypin planned to introduce the zemstvo system into Vilnius Province, the Polish estate-holders and clergy strove to increase their influence in the Province by demonstrating the extent of "Poionianism" in Vilnius to the Russians.
Between 1861 and 1897 the population of the Province increased by 90%. It would have been quite natural for the Lithuanian population to increase as well. That is to
say, from 1861 to 1897 the number of Lithuanians should have increased from 418,880 to 795,800. Yet the Russian statistics showed 279,877 Lithuanians. In other words, 515,923 Lithuanians disappeared. By "coincidence" the Polish figure suddenly rose and a "Byelorussian Catholic'' category appeared. The history of the 1861-1897 period shows that after the 1861 Rebellion intensive Russification commenced as well as Polonization sthrough the Catholic Church). Since the Byelorussian or Slavonic tongue was a lingua franca, by which a peasant could communicate with the Russian official and Polish parish priest as well as landlord, Lithuanian ethnic awareness was stultified and a "tutejszy" or slavophone type evolved in the province.
Since most of the ethnic Byelorussians belonged to the Orthodox confession one could consider the tutejszy ("locals") as slavophone Lithuanians. The famous Byelorussian ethnographer Evfremij F. Karskij concedes this point. In his study Beloruss, Karskij admits that the Byelorussians number only 24.3% of the population of Vilnius Province (Beloruss, p. 5). He describes the "tutejszy" as follows: "In order to delineate the boundary of the Byelorussian areas we must rely exclusively on language; as a consequence, for example, those Lithuanians in Vilnius gubernija, who today speak only Byelorussian, are included with the Byelorussians by us ... In this manner the described region belongs to the Byelorussian language area, but not to the Byelorussian nation."
Antrhopoiogicallv speaking, the western Byelorussians are in fact siavonized Lithuanians and their region is part of Lithuania. Basing his study on data provided by prisoners of war during the First World War, the Austrian antrhopologist Michel Hesch draws the following conclusion: "Die Litauer wanderten auch aus ostlicherem Gebiet in ihr heutiges Wohngebiet ein. Das westlichen Weissrussische Gebiet war
litauisch besiedelt. Die westlichen Weissrussen sind sicher grossenteils russisch-
sprechende Litauer." (Hesch, Letten, Litauer, Weissrussen, Vienna, 1933, p. 4).
Assuming that the ratio of Lithuanians to non-Lithuanians in Vilnius Province, according to Lebedkin and Koreva, was objective and persistent, and projecting the same ratio as representative of the ethnic stocks in the general population, one would obtain the following census figures:
When the Poles occupied the Vilnius territory, they attempted to demonstrate for political purposes that there were few Lithuanians in the province. In 1921 the Polish census showed only 69,000 Lithuanians, while the 1931 census showed 83,000. In the 1931 census the Poles admitted that in the Vilnius and Gardinas regions there were 948.000 Byelorussians or "Tutejszy". If these same figures described 324,700 Byelorussians of the Orthodox faith. the remaining 624.700 tutejszy were Roman Catholics . There ran be no doubt that the majority of these "Tutejszy" were of Lithuanian descent. Furthermore, the large figure for Poles in the Woewodztwo of Wilno is suspect, because (all those who spoke Polish were listed as Poles.
Based on linguistic considerations the Soviet Union restored to Lithuania the greater- part of Vilnius county in 1939. On August 3. 1940 Moscow offered to return six rajons of Lithuania: Рvenиionys, Vydюiai, Adutiрkis. Astravas, Varanavas and Rodыnл (7,200 sq. km. with 300,000 inhabitants), where the Lithuanians comprised a majority. But due to political and strategic motives, the Soviets returned only Adutiрkis and Рvenиionys raions.
The German occupation authorities conducted a census on May 27, 1942 to ascertain the labor potential in Lithuania. Their statistics for the Vilnius Region (counties of Vilnius, Aрmena, Eiрiрkлs, Svyriai, Рvenиionys and Trakai) showed that the Lithuanians numbered 309,494, whereas the Poles totalled 324,757. By subtracting 73,371 recent Polish settlers and prisoners of war, the local Polish population numbered 251,386.
The Germans considered adding to Lithuania the districts of Pastovis, Varpuva, Druja and Brлslauja, where they found Lithuanian pluralities.