By Gloria Kivytaitė O’Brien


Many people know about Perloja,  the little town in Dzūkija whose residents declared an independent republic during the WW I era, and whose story was told by Joe Lukaitis in the July/August 1997 issue of Lithuanian Heritage Magazine. But there was another, earlier republic, known as “Pavlovo Respublika”, which existed through the will and effort of one man, about one hundred and fifty years before that.

Povilas Ksaveras Bžostovskis (Bžostauskas), in 1745 at the age of six years, inherited property in Vilnius upon the death of his father, Juozapas Bžostovskis, who had been a scribe for the Lithuanian Grand Duchy. His mother managed the property during his minority, and he eventually went to Rome to complete his education at the Jesuit university, Collegium Clementinum. Returning to Lithuania in 1760, a Church cleric at the age of twenty-one, he assumed control of his patrimony, rebuilding and refurnishing the family mansion on Dominikonų gatvė (Dominican Street), which had been heavily damaged by fire in 1748.

He started work in the field of literature, contributing to several religious printers and translating religious tracts and scholarly works from various foreign languages to Polish, which was in wide use among the intelligentsia of the time. He also had an interest in genealogy, and published information asserting the nobility of his family tree in several languages.

In 1767, he purchased an old run-down estate known as Merkinės dvarelis,  near  Turgeliai and the river Merkys, and began to implement a series of reforms.The estate consisted of about 34 peasants’ farms, and with an adjoining parcel of land in Turgeliai, he had altogether about 1,640 hectares. He found he had acquired some neglected farmland and a group of impoverished drunkards, enduring the heavy weight of serfdom.

Possibly implementing some liberal notions he had acquired in Rome, he liquidated serfdom on his lands, one hundred and fifty years before that was done in the whole of Lithuania. Peasants, under serfdom, were required to perform unlimited unpaid work (lažas) for their estate owner, and Bžostovskis converted this onerous system to a simple system of rent payments (činša) by allowing the farmers to pay for their land in work, coin and produce or honey. The farmers were tutored in reading, writing and arithmetic, and were given lessons in various handicrafts, such as weaving baskets and straw hats, and knitting stockings. They had the right to manage their own farms and to sell their products or crafts, which helped in paying their rent, and gave them personal liberty.

Povilas Ksaveras Bžostovskis took it upon himself to enlighten his farmers, doing his utmost to draw them away from drink. He instituted a peasant self-government, naming it after himself - Pavlovo Respublika. (Those were the days of Polish and Slavic influence, and many names of people and places took on a Slavic cast, thus, Pavlovo instead of the Lithuanian Povilo or even Paulavo). The land was parceled out to the farmers, and a charter and body of laws were written for the government. As president of the republic, Bžostovskis chose the four most responsible farmers as council members, and set up a two-chamber parliament. The peasant farmers made up the lower chamber, and they chose representatives from among the estate‘s clerical management employees to sit in the upper chamber, along with the president, Bžostovskis.

Pavlovo Respublika had its own constitution, which was confirmed by the Seimas in Warsaw on April 4, 1791, during the final years of the last  “Republic of Two Nations” (Poland and Lithuania). It soon became known as “the republic within a republic”.  Their official flag depicted the Maltese Cross, with the Bžostovskis coat of arms and the letter “P“ on the reverse. The republic had a bank and treasury, an official seal, a pharmacy, a doctor, a school, a court, and its own money, which was prized as a numismatic rarity.

Bžostovskis recruited a uniformed militia, enlisting some 130 men of appropriate age and aptitude in several groups, with a governor at its head. They trained daily, executing military maneuvers, and when necessary, defended their republic. They built strong ramparts all around the estate, fortified with cannon at several locations.

Forest wardens were appointed, as well as foremen to oversee field work. Managers were required to keep detailed reports, and annual prizes were awarded to those farmers whose work or produce were judged the best.

The republic soon became a model of efficiency, and by the year 1784, its income had doubled more than twice.  Every four years, Bžostovskis called a general meeting of all residents, and solemn devotions were held in the Turgelių church. A formal honor guard displayed an embroidered banner proclaiming “Liberty and Justice”.

In the meantime, while this little republic was enjoying its success, the “Republic of Two Nations”  was suffering the attentions of three of Europe’s “great powers” - Russia, Prussia and Austria. The Republic’s territory had already been partitioned (think “confiscated”) twice - in 1772 and 1792. Now, in 1794, while the rest of the world was watching the drama of the French revolution, Russia was demonstrating its power by making further demands, backed by invading forces including regular troops and the fierce, barbaric Cossacks. Tadas Kosciuška, a hero of the American Revolution and an ethnic Lithuanian, led the resistance, which included the militia of Pavlovo Respublika. They acquitted themselves with honor and success on July 3, 1794, rebuffing attacks on their land by Cossacks on two successive days, then a few days later, sending a much greater force of regular Russian troops into ignominious retreat.

But powerful Russia would not be long denied, and the army soon returned to Pavlovo Respublika in overwhelming numbers, killing many residents and setting fires everywhere, occupying the area, driving the remaining residents away, and looting all remaining property.

Povilas Bžostovskis was forced to sell the property and emigrate, to a small estate in Saxony, which he received partly in exchange for the lands of the now defunct republic. As he left Lithuania in 1795, each living person who had been part of Pavlovo Respublika, received a gift of 30 ducats (540 zlotys), a considerable sum at the time. Bžostovskis even extracted an agreement from the new owner, to continue financing the pharmacy and school he had established,  but both were soon closed. Serfdom returned to the estate and the republic was officially abolished.

So ended one of the more radically liberal social experiments of the eighteenth century, which for thirty years had captured the attention of all of Europe.

Gloria O’Brien 2006

Vilniaus Gatvių Istorija - Antanas Rimvydas Čaplinskas
The History of Lithuania Before 1795 - J. & Z. Kiaupai & A. Kuncevičius

This article was printed in Lithuanian Heritage Jan/Feb 2007

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