During the Soviet occupation of Baltic States, Estonia and Latvia saw their countries settled by Russians who eventually made up more than 30% of their populations. However percentage of Russians in Lithuania was never more than 8%, a relatively small number.

How did Lithuania avoid a large colonization by the Soviet Union?

  • 1
    It might have been full of Lithuanians.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 26, 2015 at 19:38
  • 2
    So you are saying there was no room for settlement?
    – qwaz
    Jun 26, 2015 at 19:44
  • 4
    Might also be interesting to see the proportion of ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia before the Soviet occupation. The Baltic States have had a long and complex history with Russia, Poland, and Germany, Sweden and Finland before the Soviet Union was created.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 26, 2015 at 20:39
  • 1
    Before 1940 in today's territory of Estonia there were around 4% of Russians who were pretty much assimilated, there were no defined communities. The Russian population of today's Estonia almost entirely consists of Soviet Russians. None of those other nations that have at some point in history occupied Estonia such as Germany or Sweden have any communities in Estonia.
    – qwaz
    Jun 26, 2015 at 22:02
  • 1
    Percentages are relative. It helps to have the absolute numbers. From en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… I found in 1950: Estonia had about 1 million people, Latvia about 2 mil, and Lithuania about 2.5 mil. It could be that SU chose the two smallest republics since they were the easiest to colonize (since their populations were the lowest). SU might have had limited number of potential colonizers because the Russian birthrate was rather low compared to other ethnicities, such as the Central Asians.
    – DrZ214
    Aug 1, 2015 at 4:44

3 Answers 3


As the other answer and comments pointed out, all three Baltic states fought to resist the Soviet re-occupation after 1944. The Lithuanian effort were relatively more determined, costing the Lithuania about as many lives as the rest of the Baltic resistances. More importantly, however, during this period Lithuania was slower in its economic development compared to both Estonia and Latvia, as a result of reduced investment levels.

After 1945, the Soviet Fourth Five Year Plan provided the next lowest level of investment per capita in Lithuania of all the Soviet republics. The rate of industrial growth in Lithuania in the 1940s and early 1950s was much slower than in Estonia and Latvia.

- Lane, Thomas. Lithuania: Stepping Westward. Routledge, 2014.

Gresh demands for industrial labour were thus largely sufficiently met by local ethnic Lithuanians. The resulting lack of economic need or opportunity helped reduce prospective Russian settlements.

The resistance movement, slower rates of industrial development, helped restrain the massive migration of Russian settlers to Lithuania which the Estonians and Latvians experienced ... [Because Lithuania] could provide manpower for the new Soviet enterprises, Russian settlement was minimized.

- Dawisha, Karen, and Bruce Parrott. The Consolidation of Democracy in East-Central Europe. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Furthermore, the Lithuanian situation benefited from a greater autonomy and better relations with Moscow that its Lithuanian Communist Party enjoyed. This allowed the Lithuanian party to retain a stronger national character relative to the other Baltic states. Lithuania was thus able to weather the purge of Baltic nationalism that Moscow instituted when Latvia tried to stem the tide of Russian immigration.

Even the purge of Lithuanian 'national communism' which took place in 1959 was mild by comparison with comparable purges in Estonia and Latvia and did not affect the position of the first secretary ... There were more native communists in the Lithuanian Communist Party than in any other republic apart from Armenia and Georgia.

- Hiden, John, and Patrick Salmon. The Baltic Nations and Europe: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Twentieth Century. Routledge, 2014.

Lastly, native Lithuanians bred abundantly under the Soviet occupation. Both Latvia and Estonia saw a reduction in their national majority due to a slow birth rate - Latvians increased by only 3.4% from 1959 to 1970. In contrast, the native Lithuanians outbred the Russian settlers with double digit growth over the same period.

There were 2,507,000 Lithuanians in Lithuania in 1970, which was a gain of 16.5 percent over the 1959 figure of 2.151.000. They even managed to improve their majority in the country's total population from 79.3 to 80.1 percent.

- Szporluk, Roman. Russia, Ukraine and the Breakup of the Soviet Union. Hoover Press, 2000.

Incidentally, at ~80%, Lithuania was the most ethnically homogeneous of the Baltic states to begin with, compared to Latvians at ~60% and Estonians at ~70%.

  • 1
    "As the other answer and comments pointed out, all three Baltic states fought to resist the Soviet re-occupation after 1944." - this is a very one-sided way to put things. And, comment aside, the same forces that "resisted Soviet occupation" spent much of their time to exterminate jews.
    – John Donn
    Apr 26, 2016 at 10:27
  • When does the final statements' "to begin with" refer to?
    – gktscrk
    Jun 14, 2020 at 18:03
  • @gktscrk The preceding phrase, i.e. Lithuania's ethnic homogenity.
    – Semaphore
    Jun 14, 2020 at 18:28
  • Yes, I understood that, but I was wondering if you could be more specific with the time (1920? 1930? 1939?). There were significant demographic changes in between these times, so to say that Latvians and Estonians were a smaller plurality in 1920 than "after the war" is misleading because domestic policies led to the reduction of the German population in the '20's, the Reich's call for settlers in the 30's had the same effect, etc...
    – gktscrk
    Jun 14, 2020 at 20:04
  • 1
    @gktscrk Semaphore was incorrect on relying on his/her memory: on immediate post-WWII period (1945) was Estonia most homogeneos over known times, there were 97.3% of Estonians then (about 831.000/854.000), before WWII was percentage about 90% (ca 990.000) and in 1989 60% (ca 930.000). Today is it about 70% (ca 920.000).
    – w.k
    Jul 17, 2020 at 0:07

Lithuanian resistance was very determined, well-organized, and violent, and it persisted for almost a decade after re-occupation by Soviet Union in 1944. The "forest people" were hiding in the forests, gather info from largely pro-resistance population, and assassinate pro-Soviet functionaries of any level up to 1953. Some of the assassinations were based solely on the victim's ethnicity. That made Lithuania less than welcoming place to settle.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 21, 2015 at 15:42
  • It is with a heavy heart that I moved those comments. Many of them were fascinating and informative. I'd encourage checking out the chat they got moved to.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 21, 2015 at 15:44

First, I would say that Lithuania was less colonized by the Soviet Union, meaning that we are only making a comparison with the other two.

First, Lithuania is less accessible than the other two. It has less coastline than Latvia, and much less coastline than Estonia (before World war II, most of the Soviet Baltic fleet was stationed at Talinn). Also, Lithuania has much more forest and fewer roads on the eastern (land) side; the other two lands are much flatter. Basically, there was less incentive for the Soviet government to "settle" Russians in e.g. Lithuania's (inland) capital of Vilnius than Riga (Latvia) or Tallinn, Estonia.

Finally, Lithuania, unlike the others, had been a major power during the Middle Ages, first in its own right and second in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. On the other hand, the Latvians and Estonians, during the same period, had had the experience of living side-by-side with colonizers such as the swedes, Poles, and yes, Lithuanians, as well as the Russians.

  • 1
    In the USSR it was quite established that Lithuania was less anti-Russian than Latvia and Estonia, so -1
    – Anixx
    Jun 29, 2015 at 23:04
  • As it has been already mentioned in other answers, most of Russians moved to the Baltic republics after the resistence was already over, that is mostly after 1970.
    – Anixx
    Jun 29, 2015 at 23:24
  • Okay, but most who migrated there were associated with industly, power production and navy rather than seeking a place for plasant life.
    – Anixx
    Jun 29, 2015 at 23:28
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    @Anixx: "Most who migrated there were associated with industry, power production and navy..." And Lithuania was less desirable in this regard than the other two. Did I make that point clear in my post (regarding e.g. Lithuania's shorter coastline)?
    – Tom Au
    Jun 29, 2015 at 23:37
  • 4
    Okay but saying Russians would not want to settle there being a major problem is also wrong. Russians simply did not choose where to settle. They settled where the government decided to build plants, factories and place military units.
    – Anixx
    Jun 29, 2015 at 23:57

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