860M.01 Memel/206

The Minister in Latvia (Skinner) to the Secretary of State

No. 561

Sir: I desire to confirm my telegram of July 11, 1932,11 informing the Department of my arrival in Kovno the day before, and to report that during my visit to the capital of Lithuania I found it possible to visit a number of my colleagues and others, and more particularly the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Zaunius. I was glad to learn from Dr. Zaunius that relations between Lithuania and Germany, and the German population in Memel, had become a good deal more tranquil, and he was hopeful that all would be well in the end. Incidentally, he remarked that as far as he was concerned he was only able to interest himself seriously in one major political question at a time, by which he intended to suggest that he was devoting himself exclusively to the Memel problem and would continue to do so until it fell completely into the background.

[Page 485]

One thing leading to another, Dr. Zaunius turned to the question of Vilna, expressing himself, so it seemed to me, quite temperately and reasonably. He appreciated the importance of this problem as one which conceivably might lead to unhappy results, but thought that the time was not opportune for undertaking to come to any conclusion with Poland. Public opinion in Poland, he said, was not ripe to accept any settlement which the Lithuanians might be willing to consider, and Lithuanian public opinion would never consent to a complete renunciation of the Lithuanian claim; Lithuanian public opinion had already received a considerable degree of satisfaction by reason of confirmation of the Lithuanian right to refuse transit privileges to freight originating in Poland. Nevertheless, while the frontier was closed to traffic theoretically, he knew it to be a fact that thousands of peasants on both sides of the line were moving backwards and forwards with a certain degree of freedom, and he intimated that while this movement of individuals was in violation of official regulations, the two governments concerned were rather prepared to blind themselves to it.

I learned that in recent months unofficial Polish agents had been discussing the Vilna problem in Lithuania and had decided that it was best for the present to do nothing. Somewhat to my surprise Dr. Zaunius, himself, in our very informal chat, intimated a future way out of the difficulty, which strikes me as possessing a good deal of merit. He said, in effect, that Poland, because of military and political considerations, would certainly be loath to recognize the justice of the Lithuanian claim, but that Lithuania might eventually agree to the maintenance of completely normal relations with Poland, provided Poland would give autonomous status to Vilna and the surrounding territory, making the local population practically independent of Polish control. On these terms, probably, Lithuania would agree to deal practically with the Vilna public authorities respecting current matters growing out of border traffic and the like.

I should think that at some opportune time the Polish Government might be disposed to organize the Vilna territory into a self-governing province of some sort, as I know it to be a fact, ascertained from Polish official friends here, that that government is really desirous of bringing about cordial relations with the government of Lithuania. The Poles are held back from taking any initiative in this matter, thinking that as Poland is the larger and more populous country, to do so might operate unfavorably upon Lithuanian sensibilities, and as to this I think they are quite right.

All in all, having regard to the crisis, to various internal political issues, and the controversy over Memel, it seemed to me that Dr. Zaunius [Page 486] indicated the existence of a much milder attitude in Lithuania with respect to international problems generally than was the case a few months ago.

During my sojourn in Lithuania I was brought into contact with the newly arrived Secretary of Legation and Consul, Mr. M. L. Stafford, who has taken hold of his new duties with energy and interest, and who already appears to have a very satisfactory appreciation of conditions in the country to which he is accredited.

Respectfully yours,

Robert P. Skinner
  1. Not printed.