Two anniversaries of the Republic of Lithuania: the 100th anniversary of the first democratic Constitution of the State of Lithuania and the 30th anniversary of the Constitution currently in force
Press release, 18 October 2022
In 2022, Lithuania celebrates two important anniversaries: the 100th anniversary of the first democratic Constitution of the State of Lithuania and the 30th anniversary of the Constitution currently in force. In commemorating the anniversaries, the Seimas proclaimed 2022 as the Year of the Constitution of the State of Lithuania.
Photo by Olga Posaškova, Office of the Seimas
The first modern and permanent Constitution of the State of Lithuania was drafted and adopted by the Constituent Seimas on 1 August 1922. By contrast, the current Constitution was drafted by the Supreme Council - Reconstituent Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and adopted by Lithuanian citizens on 25 October 1992. The latter is the longest-standing Constitution and the only one enacted by referendum. It mirrors Lithuania’s legal thought in 1990–1992 and has the compromise between Lithuania’s most important political forces and society enshrined with the ultimate result of constitutional sustainability lasting for as long as thirty years.
Though short from a historical perspective, the thirty-year period is phenomenal from the point of view of Lithuanian constitutional law. Over this period of time, the Constitution was in force the longest, as compared to all constitutions that have ever existed in Lithuania. This period has also allowed for the development of the tradition of Lithuanian statehood and the continuity of constitutionality, which was embedded in the Act on the Re-establishment of the State of Lithuania, as proclaimed by the democratically elected Supreme Council - Reconstituent Seimas on 11 March 1990 after fifty years of occupation. The Act was legally based on the following documents dating back to 1918–1940: the Act of Independence of Lithuania of 16 February 1918 and the Declaration of the Constituent Seimas of 15 May 1920. On the same day when Lithuania re-established its independence, the validity of the Constitution of 1938 was restored (and immediately suspended). The restoration of the validity of the Constitution confirmed the continuity of the Lithuanian statehood.
The longest-standing Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania. When discussing the draft Constitution of the Lithuanian State in 1922, Prof. Mykolas Romeris, a distinguished Lithuanian lawyer, noted, ‘The Constitution is drafted to last much longer than an hour, maybe even longer than a generation.’ In spite of his optimistic vision, constitutions were revised too frequently in the pre-war Lithuania. Within the twenty-two years of existence from 1918 to 1940, the State of Lithuania had three provisional and three permanent constitutions. The first permanent and democratic Constitution, which was in force for six years, was adopted in 1922. Regrettably, it was revised after the coup d’état of 17 December 1926 and the dissolution of the Seimas on 12 April 1927. These events had a direct impact on further development of the Republic of Lithuania. A new Constitution promulgated by the President of the Republic of Lithuania in 1928 signalled a significant diversion from parliamentary supremacy in the state. With a view to increasing the authority of the President of the Republic, the Constitution was amended ten years later. Thus, the Constitution newly adopted in 1938 established the elements of authoritarian governance in Lithuania. However, this Constitution was only to remain in force for two years, until the occupation of Lithuania in 1940. In this respect, being adopted 1992 and now counting its 30th anniversary, the current Constitution stands out as the longest active Constitution in the history of Lithuania.
Ceremony of signing of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on the Procedure for the Enforcement of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania in the Presidium Hall (now the Constitution Hall) of the Supreme Council – Reconstituent Seimas. Vytautas Landsbergis, Speaker of the Supreme Council – Reconstituent Seimas, reads out the document. Lithuanian Central State Archives
The only Constitution of Lithuania adopted by referendum. A distinctive feature of the 1992 Constitution is also its way of adoption, namely, by referendum. In contrast, the 1922 Constitution of the Lithuanian State was adopted by the Constituent Seimas after a parliamentary debate. The 1928 Constitution of the Lithuanian State was promulgated by the President of the Republic of Lithuania and approved by the Cabinet of Ministers. By contrast, in 1938, the Lithuanian Constitution was approved by the Fourth Seimas that was deprived of any opportunity to influence the content of legislation and was used merely to consent to the decisions of the President. Remarkably, the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania currently in force was adopted by Lithuanian citizens through a referendum on 25 October 1992. The draft Constitution was first approved by the Supreme Council - Reconstituent Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania. This was the only Lithuanian Constitution enacted by referendum. Nearly 81 % of Lithuanian citizens turning out for the referendum voted in favour of the Constitution. A total of almost 1.5 million voters said ‘yes’. By embracing the Constitution, Lithuanian citizens became its symbolic drafters.
Authentic Constitution. Prof. Vytautas Sinkevičius, co-author of the Constitution, has once referred to the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, a product of the Lithuanian legal thought, as an authentic Constitution. It was authored jointly by members of the Supreme Council - Reconstituent Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, civil servants of its Legal Division, and other lawyers. In 1990–1992, as many as several commissions and working groups were set up to develop the conceptual framework, draft the Constitution, and co-ordinate constitutional matters. Importantly, the vision of the future Constitution began to emerge well before 11 March 1990. With the rise of the Lithuanian reform movement Sąjūdis in 1988–1990 and its ensuing search for a political alternative to the collapsing regime, the first draft legal acts focused on the values of independence, parliamentary democracy and civil society. This led to the first drafts of the future Constitution, co-authored by Lithuanian lawyers, academics and members of the Sąjūdis. The authenticity of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania is proved by adherence to the tradition of the Lithuanian constitutionalism.
Compromise Constitution. Prof. Egidijus Jarašiūnas, co-drafter of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, has once written that ‘the idea of a constitution is necessary for the development of constitutional order’. During the final stage of drafting of the Constitution in spring 1992, the political debate at the Supreme Council - Reconstituent Seimas revealed an ideological divide brought about by the differences in approach towards the principal powers of the state and relations between them as well as by differences on the preferred state model of either parliamentary or presidential republic. Despite heated polemics, the Lithuanian political culture of the time allowed legal compromises to emerge with the ultimate result of a generation-long constitutional sustainability.
Photo by Olga Posaškova, Office of the Seimas
Information has been prepared on the basis of the exhibitions ‘TOWARDS THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA: 30th Anniversary of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania’ and ‘THE WILL OF CITIZENS: 30th Anniversary of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania’. Both exhibitions have been organised by the Office of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania.