The Klaipeda Region is now an integral part of Lithuania. This was not, however, always the case; the region has a strong German history. (Its historical German name was Memelland, while in Lithuanian it was called Klaipedos Krastas.) Until 1525, the Klaipeda Region belonged to the Teutonic Order, but later changed hands several times. Initially, it belonged to the Duchy of Prussia (until 1701; and until 1657 was dependent as a fief of Poland), was later controlled by the Kingdom of Prussia (until 1871), and then finally became part of the German Empire (until 1919). For Germans, the province was a historical part of Eastern Prussia until 1945. For Lithuanians, the Klaipeda Region, as well as the area located along the north-eastern part of East Prussia on the south bank of the Neman River, was known as Little Lithuania (Lithuania Minor). The Lithuanians considered this territory to be their own ethnic land, which was wrongfully subjected to gradual Germanization. Before World War II this area was inhabited by Protestants who spoke Lithuanian or German. The 1920 census lists the territory's population at 150,700, of which 71,000 declared German to be their first language, while 67,000 declared Lithuanian. The article first discusses the historical and political background of events in the Klaipeda Region in the first half of the 20th century. Next the author analyzes in a dynamic approach the demographic and ethnic structure of the population. His attention is later focused on the period of World War II when the province was incorporated into the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. In the Soviet period, a major part of the local population was expelled to Germany, while the remaining residents were identified as either Lithuanians or Russians such that the province was no longer dominated by the Protestant and German speaking population. The final part of the article deals with the present demographic and national situation. As a result of the postwar political and economic migrations, a majority of the people in the province now identify themselves as Lithuanian and Catholic. Lithuania, owing to the port of Klaipeda, has now an unrestricted access to sea.
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