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Juozas Tūbelis – the third Chairman of the Bank of Lithuania

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Juozas Tūbelis, a political and public figure, Head of the Lithuanian government and Chairman of the Bank of Lithuania, was born on 9 April 1882. He became the Chairman on 1 October 1938, succeeding Vladas Stašinskas who held this position for the longest period of time. Up until then, Tūbelis was the Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania and the Minister of Finance.


Tūbelis was born in the village of Ilgalaukis, not far from Rokiškis, to a wealthy family of farmers. He attended Mintaujos Gymnasium but was expelled from it for refusing to read prayers in Russian. Only two years later, he was accepted to Liepāja Gymnasium and graduated from it in 1902. During his school years, he participated in secret underground activities, organised Lithuanian events and contributed to transportation of Lithuanian press.


Tūbelis got accepted to the University of Warsaw to study Medicine but, being not passionate about it, was later expelled (the reason is still unclear, yet it might be related to his participation in a riot). In 1904, he joined Riga Polytechnical Institute, where he graduated in Agronomy. During this period, Tūbelis contributed to editing and publishing of Lithuanian press. In 1909, he was appointed to Kaunas Land Use Planning Commission and travelled across the country giving various lectures (by the way, he was the first agronomist to read lectures in the Lithuanian language). He worked in the land-use planning field until 1915, when he was drafted to the Russian army. Having returned to Vilnius in 1918, he worked at the Finance and Education Commissions of the Council of Lithuania. When the Provisional Government was set up, Tūbelis was invited to take up the position of the Minister of Agriculture and State Treasures. Later on, he was appointed as the head of a couple of other ministries. In 1919, he got married to Jadvyga Chadakauskaitė, the sister of Antanas Smetona’s wife (it is thought that Lithuania is now called the land of brothers-in-law for this particular reason).


Both Tūbelis and Smetona were members of the Lithuanian Nationalist and Republican Union. After the Union’s debacle at the Constituent Assembly election, he withdrew from politics until 1927. Nevertheless, Tūbelis was still an active public figure – he established and managed various agricultural organisations (namely, contributed to the establishment of Lietūkis, Pienocentras, AB Maistas and others) and was also an active promoter of the modernisation of the country’s agriculture.


In 1927, Tūbelis was asked to join the government once again. He was first appointed as the Minister of Finance, while from 1929 – the Prime Minister as well as the Minister of Finance. Undoubtedly, such career changes were related to the fact that Tūbelis and Smetona were both family and friends – together they made many decisions of national importance and were very close in their personal life.
Although Tūbelis did not have a proper economic education, he held his position as the Minister of Finance for 10 years, whereas as the Prime Minister – for 8.5 years. His background as a farmer was probably the reason why he was quite good with finances. He took a pragmatic approach, with the main goal not to spend more than he earned. Two principles that he found the most important were to save rationally and to methodically develop creative economic forces.


It is believed that the saved funds became the key reason why Lithuania successfully withstood the consequences of the global economic crisis in 1929–1933. During this period, the government reduced all unnecessary expenses, tried to ensure a fairer allocation of taxes based on taxpayers’ capacity and reduced taxes for farmers, as they were the most affected by the crisis.
Tūbelis was also sceptical when it came to borrowing. Although Lithuania certainly could not avoid it, the country borrowed carefully, responsibly and only having ensured the possibility of debt repayment. Therefore, Lithuania’s debt was the lowest compared to the other Baltic states. He tried to provide the economy with as much of local production as possible. There is a famous remark made by him, when he received a complaint that villagers have to use wooden spoons instead of more modern metal ones. This is how Tūbelis answered to this complaint: “Where would Lithuania get metal spoons? Everything has to be imported”.


The most important objective of the economic policy of Tūbelis’ government was stability of the litas. And it was successful, as the national currency was never devalued and its exchange rate was stable throughout its circulation period. To this end, the government and various authorities constantly consulted and cooperated with the Bank of Lithuania. Thanks to Tūbelis, the Lithuanian Mint was established in 1936, interest rates were smoothly adjusted and the supervision of credit institutions was reinforced.


Looking back, it could be stated that when Tūbelis was in the government, he represented the state’s interests instead of seeking his own, his close ones’ or the party’s benefits. The most important posts were appointed to those who had no relations in the government. Moreover, only decisions that benefited the country were made.


Tūbelis was elected to a several of the Bank of Lithuania’s councils, and in 1938 he became the third Chairman of the Bank of Lithuania (succeeding Vladas Jurgutis and Vladas Stašinskas). Since he opposed any compromise with Poland, Tūbelis was removed from this post in 1938 without having held it even for a year and was appointed the Minister of Agriculture. He received this news in Switzerland, where he was in rehabilitation after a heart attack, since he became the Chairman when he was already severely ill. He died on 30 September 1939 and was buried in the old Kaunas cemetery. When it was officially closed, his remains were transferred to Panemunė cemetery.


Today, Rokiškis Tūbelis Progymnasium bears his name and there is also a street named after him in Kaunas.
 

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Last updated: 2021-06-12