From the 16th to the mid-17th century, culture, arts, and education flourished in Lithuania, fueled by the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. The Lutheran ideas of the Reformation entered the Livonian Confederation by the 1520s, and Lutheranism soon became the prevailing religion in the urban areas of the region, while Lithuania remained Catholic.
An influential book dealer was the humanist and bibliophile Francysk Skaryna (c. 14851540), who was the founding father of Belarusian letters. He wrote in his native Ruthenian (Chancery Slavonic) language, as was typical for literati in the earlier phase of the Renaissance in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. After the middle of the 16th century, Polish predominated in literary productions. Many educated Lithuanians came back from studies abroad to help build the active cultural life that distinguished 16th-century Lithuania, sometimes referred to as Lithuanian Renaissance (not to be confused with Lithuanian National Revival in the 19th century).
At this time, Italian architecture was introduced in Lithuanian cities, and Lithuanian literature written in Latin flourished. Also at this time, the first printed texts in the Lithuanian language emerged, and the formation of written Lithuanian language began. The process was led by Lithuanian scholars Abraomas Kulvietis, Stanislovas Rapalionis, Martynas Mavydas and Mikalojus Dauka.
Secret protocols of the MolotovRibbentrop Pact, adjusted by the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty, divided Eastern Europe into Soviet and Nazi spheres of influence. The three Baltic states fell to the Soviet sphere. During the subsequent invasion of Poland, the Red Army captured Vilnius, regarded by Lithuanians as their capital. According to the SovietLithuanian Mutual Assistance Pact of October 10, 1939, Soviet Union transferred Vilnius and surrounding territory to Lithuania in exchange for the stationing of 20,000 Soviet troops within the country. It was a virtual sacrifice of independence, as reflected in a known slogan "Vilnius ms, Lietuva rus" (Vilnius is ours, but Lithuania is Russia's). Similar Mutual Assistance Pacts were signed with Latvia and Estonia. When Finland refused to sign its pact, Winter War broke out.
In spring 1940, once the Winter War in Finland was over, the Soviets heightened their diplomatic pressure on Lithuania and issued the 1940 Soviet ultimatum to Lithuania on June 14. The ultimatum demanded the formation of a new pro-Soviet government and admission of an unspecified number of Russian troops. With Soviet troops already stationed within the country, Lithuania could not resist and accepted the ultimatum. President Antanas Smetona fled Lithuania as 150,000 Soviet troops crossed the Lithuanian border. Soviet representative Vladimir Dekanozov formed the new pro-Soviet puppet government, known as the People's Government, headed by Justas Paleckis, and organized show elections for the so-called People's Seimas. During its first session on July 21, the People's Seimas unanimously voted to convert Lithuania into the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic and petitioned to join the Soviet Union. The application was approved by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union on August 3, 1940, which completed the formalization of the annexation.
Immediately following the occupation, Soviet authorities began rapid Sovietization of Lithuania. All land was nationalized. To gain support for the new regime among the poorer peasants, large farms were distributed to small landowners. However, in preparation for eventual collectivization, agricultural taxes were dramatically increased in an attempt to bankrupt all farmers. Nationalization of banks, larger enterprises, and real estate resulted in disruptions in production that caused massive shortages of goods. The Lithuanian litas was artificially undervalued and withdrawn by spring 1941. Standards of living plummeted. All religious, cultural, and political organizations were banned, leaving only the Communist Party of Lithuania and its youth branch. An estimated 12,000 "enemies of the people" were arrested. During the June deportation campaign of 1941, some 12,600 people (mostly former military officers, policemen, political figures, intelligentsia and their families) were deported to Gulags in Siberia under the policy of elimination of national elites. Many deportees perished due to inhumane conditions; 3,600 were imprisoned and over 1,000 were killed.