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Belarus—A Perpetual Borderland

Russian History and Culture


Belarus—A Perpetual Borderland


Andrew Savchenko

Belarus—A Perpetual Borderland By Andrew Savchenko LEIDEN • BOSTON 2009
Belarus—A Perpetual Borderland By Andrew Savchenko LEIDEN • BOSTON 2009



This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Savchenko, Andrew. Belarus : a perpetual borderland / by Andrew Savchenko. p. cm. — (Russian history and culture ; v. 2) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-90-04-17448-1 (hardback : alk. paper) 1. Belarus—History. 2. Belarus—Politics and government. 3. Belarus—Economic conditions. I. Title. II. Series.

DK507.54.S3 2009


ISSN 1877-7791 ISBN 978 90 04 17448 1


Copyright 2009 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Hotei Publishing, IDC Publishers, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and VSP.

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printed in the netherlands

To Tatiana and Alexei, with love


Foreword and Acknowledgments


Introduction. Images, Concepts and History of a Borderland


Chapter One. The Making of a Borderland


1. European neighborhoods and Eurasian borderlands Belarus and the Baltic States


2. An unfinished prelude to a modern nation: Belarus and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania


3. On the threshold of modernity: Belarus, as defined by Poles and Russians


Chapter Two. Ex Oriente Lux: the Belarusian National State and the Soviet Union


1. A discordant overture to nationhood (1914–1921)


2. Soviet Belarus between the wars: birth of a nation


3. Belarusians in inter-war Poland: hostages to history


4. The war of 1941–1945 and the consecration of the national myth


5. The enduring charm of real socialism: Belarus



Chapter Three. Borderland Forever: Modern Belarus


1. See no evil: Belarus in the twilight of the Soviet era


2. Paradise lost: Belarus and the disintegration of Soviet economy


3. Back to the future: populist Belarus under Alyaksandar Lukashenka


4. Political economy of institutional symbiosis: Belarus and Russia building the future together


Conclusion. Whither Belarus?





This book’s disciplinary affiliation is rather eclectic. It borrows freely from conceptual frameworks of sociology and political science, but does so in a fashion sufficiently piecemeal and inconsistent to avoid being labeled as a treatise in one of those disciplines. Several clusters of economic analysis scattered throughout the text fail to build a vec- tor that would point the investigation in the direction of economics or political economy. While the narrative is structured in a more or less chronological fashion and includes quite a few historical comparisons, this is not a history book. For all the methodological and theoretical jumble, the book is fairly focused. Its main goal is to investigate Belarus’s propensity to retain the Soviet-era social structures and institutions. I try to explain the current peculiarities of Belarus’s social and political landscape by investigating the country’s long history as a borderland between Russia and Europe. Theories and conceptual frameworks are selected solely on the basis of their usefulness to this investigation. I would not have started to write this book, much less see it to completion, without a firm and friendly encouragement from Patricia Herlihy and Abbott (Tom) Gleason, both professors of history at Brown. It was Patricia who suggested that I should concentrate my effort on the borderland aspect of Belarus. Tom was instrumental in keeping me focused on the project by asking hard questions to which I tried as best I could to find satisfactory answers. Both helped me immensely with editing of the manuscript and smoothing out the edges of my writing style. The roughness, awkwardness, and excessive use of academic jargon that still more than occasionally dot the pages of this book, despite the best efforts of Patricia and Tom, are entirely due to my less than stellar command of the English language. Jim Flynn, professor of history at Holy Cross, has been great help in my research of earlier stages of the Belarusian history, especially the role of the Uniate Church in the development of the Belarusian national consciousness. Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI) was instrumental in my work on this project. The first stages of my research, in 2002 and 2003, were conducted while I was a Eugene and Daymel Shklar Fellow


foreword and acknowledgments

at HURI. The Shklar fellowship allowed me access to the Widener Library at the crucial time of my research program. I am indebted to Professor Roman Szporluk, then director of the institute, for his gen- erous help and valuable advice. Incessant, tireless organizational work by Ljubomir Hayda, HURI executive director, made it possible for me to present my ideas at the seminars thus availing myself of stimulat- ing criticism and discussion by the faculty and fellows of the institute. Warmth and hospitality, always awaiting a visitor in the old HURI building at 1583 Massachusetts Avenue, will remain a source of fond and enduring memories. Jens Kaalhauge Nielsen, of Aarhus Business School, provided lively discussion, advice and encouragement throughout the project. The expression “hostages to history”, which appears in the heading of one of the sections, was suggested by Jens. In Belarus, Vladimir Usoski, department chair at the Belarusian Economic University, explained to me the finer points of Belarus’s convoluted and obscure financial system. He also suggested some very useful readings on the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. My parents, Klara and Edouard Savchenko, regularly supplied me with copious amounts of Belarusian newspapers, electoral pamphlets, leaflets, and other indispensable ephemera. Their ongoing help added much depth to my vision of modern Belarus. Last but definitely not least, my thanks are due to my wife Tatiana and son Alexei. Both supported me throughout the project and bore my crankiness, absent-mindedness, and occasional irritability with grace and patience. I dedicate this book to them, although I know very well that they deserve something better. Although many people made this book possible, the author alone bears responsibility for all its faults, mistakes, and inconsistencies.



This book focuses on one peculiar aspect of post-Soviet Belarusian soci- ety: its stubborn adherence to the patterns and institutions that hearken back to the Soviet era. This phenomenon transcends political structures and encompasses economic system as well as broad patterns of social interaction. It cannot be dismissed as merely a temporary glitch on the road to democracy or explained solely by the efficient ruthlessness of the current political regime. In this book I try to explain the current peculiarities of Belarus’s social and political landscape by investigating the country’s long history as a borderland between Russia and Poland. Specific attention is paid to the impact of the borderland position on Belarus’s development toward modernity. While Europe might think of itself largely in post-modern and post-national terms, for Belarus modernity and nationality still provide the main frame of reference. The book is about the Belarusian national idea that found its realization in modern national institutions only from 1920s onwards, as a part of the Soviet project. When the latter unraveled in 1991, Belarus retained the only type of nationhood it was familiar with: a set of national institutions inherited from the Soviet era that could only survive in a symbiosis with Russia. In Belarus, borderland is not an abstract category. At a roadside mar- ketplace, an old peasant selling apples would tell you that his orchard was planted “in Polish times” and lament, albeit not too vociferously, the dispossession of his family “when the Soviets came”. In a large city or a small town, a Russian Orthodox church may stand close to a Roman Catholic church; both would attract equally steady streams of worshipers on Sundays. A conversation with an educated Belarusian will reveal that his attitudes toward government officials vary in part according to their regional roots. Those who come from the west of the country are thought to be more subtle, urbane, sophisticated than their uncouth counterparts born and bred in the east. He would, how- ever, stop short of saying that the former were “of Belarusian descent, of Polish nation” or, in Latin, “Gente Lithuani, natione Poloni”. That’s how local gentry in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth tended to style themselves, emphasizing both local roots and affinity with Polish



culture. Belarusian politicians, from the conspicuously authoritarian President Lukashenka to the liberal democratic opposition leaders, would talk about Belarus as a part of Europe and then extol its ability to serve as a bridge between Europe and Russia, defining the latter as a fraternal nation with strong ties to Belarus. Patterns of everyday life, collective and individual memory, personal attitudes and political aspirations are shaped by the borderland position of the country. The bewildering array of names used to identify the same nation (ancestors of today’s Belarusians were referred to as Kryvichans, Russians, Lithu- anians, Poles) illustrates that historical roots of Belarus’s borderland status are not only tangled but also very deep. Yet perhaps nothing reflects this status with greater detail and clarity than the enduring features of Belarus’s urban landscape. Few cities in Belarus give visual clues that unequivocally identify them as Belarusian. In the west, Grodno’s skyline is dominated by magnificent baroque cathedrals where Roman Catholic Mass has been celebrated for centuries. The 16th century palace on the top of the hill overlooking the Nieman river was the residence of Stephan Bathory, a Transylvanian prince elected Polish king who shortly before his death in 1586 chose to live in the city which straddled both parts of his realm, the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Narrow streets lined by eighteenth century buildings have not been completely replaced by the functional ugliness of late Soviet era apartment com- plexes. The view has all the hallmarks of the cities west of the border, in Poland. Two hundred miles to the south on the low flat bank of the Pina river, Pinsk displays baroque cathedrals and monasteries of similar style and history. In eastern Belarus, the provincial center of Mogilev has few visible signs of being Belarusian. Rationed grandeur of post- war Stalinist provincial architecture shapes the central part, while a bland monstrosity of gray concrete blocks spreads out to the city limits. Mogilev, together with other two provincial centers, Vitebsk to the north and Gomel to the south, would not be out of place hundreds of miles east, in Russia. Perhaps Belarus’s capital city, Minsk, is the archetypal Belarusian city, the one where the country’s peculiar history found its enduring visual representation. Severely damaged in the second World War, Minsk had not been restored. Instead, it was built anew, an example of Soviet urban renewal of the 1950s. Most buildings that survived the war were torn down, so as to completely obliterate the existing street grid and create a space for a totally new city. The result is still there: wide avenues, green



boulevards, large open spaces of parks and squares set among the buildings displaying the pretentiously ornate eclecticism of late Stalinist architecture. The city is identifiably Soviet, but it does have more than

a hint of its national affiliation. There is a bit of Belarusian national

ornament carved in stone on one building, a large Belarusian motif wrought in stucco on another, an obelisk adorned with traditional pat- terns of Belarusian hand-woven linen fabrics, rendered with lapidary incongruity in gray granite. These ornamental visual clues are the only aspect of post-war Minsk architectural image that tell a passer-by that the city is indeed Belarusian. Are there any reminders of the city’s pre- Soviet history? There are some, but they are very few. A cluster of old buildings, survivors of wars, revolutions, and Soviet urban renewal,

clings to the side of a shallow hill in the city’s center. Although recently restored, they still look out of place in the new city built around them. Prominent among the buildings are two baroque cathedrals. Currently one serves as a Russian Orthodox church, the other one for many year used to house the offices of a military tribunal. Of course, it would be implausible to see this remnant of the 18th century city center as

a straightforward connection to Belarusian past. The cathedrals were

built as Roman Catholic places of worship in a time when Roman Catholicism in Belarus was almost exclusively associated with Polish cultural and linguistic environment. The surrounding buildings housed two monasteries, both Roman Catholic and hence Polish, several city residences of provincial landed aristocracy (Polish in language and culture), shops and warehouses owned most likely by members of the city’s large Jewish community. Minsk’s architectural image reflects not only the history of the city but of the country as well. Changing at a relatively slow pace throughout the first nine hundred years of its existence, Minsk started to develop rapidly in the era of railroad construction in the Russian Empire of the late 19th century. Few surviving buildings of that period look very much like their contemporaries in any urban center of similar size anywhere in the Russian Empire. The next period of rapid growth came after the second World War, as Soviet economic planners chose the city as the location for several large industrial enterprises. These newborn giants, whose combined workforce was greater than the adult population of pre-war Minsk, served as magnets that drew people from rural areas into the city. Minsk’s population increased fivefold in the period from 1945 to 1985. From a backwater provincial center the city grew into a major industrial conurbation, an example of the modernizing abilities of the



Soviet regime. As for the enterprises themselves, they represented the apex of Soviet high technology: large-scale tool-making and machine- building based on the equipment made in Germany in the 1930s and brought to the Soviet Union after the war in lieu of reparation pay- ments. Rapid Soviet-style industrialization was so overwhelming that visual representations of local culture, custom, and history survived only temporarily, until funds for further reconstruction were allocated by central planning authorities in Moscow. The cluster of old build- ings, which still clings to the side of a hill in the central part of the city, survived only because the money to demolish it was not disbursed on time. While these remnants of the past were temporarily spared the wrecking ball, their irrelevance was made visible by the grandiose decor and sheer size of the new city blocks just a stone’s throw away. Soviet modernity, based on ideas and technology borrowed from the West (and in some cases already discarded in their birthplace), came to Belarus in its Russian incarnation. Minsk, where the visual presence of Belarusian identity endures owing to deliberate decisions, made in Moscow half a century ago, as to which symbols, ornaments, architec- tural details to display, serves as a focal point of a space where cultural symbols of two very different systems intermingle. Further out toward the borders, cultural influences of Poland and Russia respectively are more visible. This gradual change and intermingling of visual cultural clues indicates even to a casual observer Belarus’s peculiar position. It does not entirely belong either to the Russian (Soviet, pre-Soviet or post-Soviet period) or the Polish cultural domain, while apparently having some of the elements of its own culture. This superimposition of the three cultures contributes to Belarus’s status as a borderland. A prominent theme of almost every book on modern Belarus is its position between the East and the West. Adam Zholtowski, an eminent Polish historian, saw the border of Europe running through the eastern provinces of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth (which at times included the territory of today’s Belarus). Nicholas Vakar’s magisterial study Belorussia: the Making of a Nation has a whole chapter devoted to the discussion of Belarus’s borderland condition. The intermediacy of Belarus’s position is discussed at length elsewhere in Vakar’s book, as well as in more recent publications on Belarus. Jan Zaprudnik in Belarus at Crossroads in History devotes more than one third of the book to this discussion. David Marples’s Belarus: a Denationalized Nation, while concentrating on Belarus’s position vis-à-vis Russia, does not fail to discuss the past and present of the country’s relations



with its Western neighbor, Poland. This attention paid to Belarus’s borderland position is not a reflection on a mere geographical trivial- ity. That a relatively small nation can retain its identity while located between Russia and Poland, each of the two countries more powerful and populous than Belarus and neither committed to the preservation of its smaller neighbor’s independence, is a remarkable aspect of Belarus’s history, a testament to the resilience of its national spirit. At the same time, the very prominence almost all authors attach to the position of Belarus between the two powerful and culturally different neighbors indicates that their influence, both individual and combined, is a major determinant of Belarus’s identity, comparable in its significance to its indigenous tendencies. The importance of this cross-national influence is to a large extent due to the long-standing and profound differences, often amounting to antagonisms, between Russia and Poland. Belarus’s intermediate posi- tion would not be of such consequence had it been wedged between two countries belonging to the same civilization. No one would plausibly categorize Luxemburg as a borderland by virtue of its location between Germany and France. In the case of Belarus, its neighbors to the east and

west, Russia and Poland, have vastly different cultural systems as defined by religious affiliation, economic aspirations, political philosophies and visions of the place of each country in a larger community of nations. The differences are so pronounced that it would not be implausible to think of these two countries as belonging to quite distinct civilizations. Over many years, both protagonists deliberately styled themselves as distinct and inherently antithetical civilizational entities. Belarus’s history bears indelible scars left by the struggles between Russia and Poland, pushing and pulling the border between Europe and Eurasia in opposite directions. Most scholars define civilizations in terms of shared values and cul-

tures. To Vaclav Belohradsky a civilization was

a cultural system of

social behavior, involving two or more societies. The system includes common language, or a widespread multilingualism; the use of the same basic technology, the same laws, and the same rules of deci- sion-making; the existence of a common dynamic of public opinion, a common everyday routine, a certain measure of religious unity. By the term ‘culture’ we mean, on the other hand, the system of behavior specific to a given society. Civilization comes into being when the elements of a culture overflow the frontiers of the society in which they arose. In this sense we speak of Christian civilization, Catholic,



democratic, or, for example, rational civilization.” (Belohradsky, 1982, p. 33). Samuel Huntington (1996, p. 43) thought of a civilization as “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.” He proceeds to say that “civilizations are the biggest ‘we’ within which we feel culturally at home as distinguished from all other ‘thems’ out there.” A civilizational vision of world history and politics, grounded in tra- ditions going back to Toynbee and Spengler, has recently been revived, most famously by Samuel Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations. This

is a vision of the world divided into identifiable domains, each with its

own consistent set of social, political, economic and cultural institutions

that emerged as a result of shared historical experience, each with its own logic of internal development, relations to other civilizations and determinants of the future. The term “civilization” does not necessar- ily imply a discourse of a high level of abstraction. Indeed, even in casual conversation we frequently invoke such abstract categories as Europe, the West, the Arab World and others, all firmly rooted in the civilizational frame of reference. Crude and overly general though they

might seem, these categories cannot be plausibly dismissed as irrelevant. Implicitly more detailed than Weberian ideal types, the civilizational schemata are directed at a relatively informed audience. When we read about the division between Western democracies over the war in Iraq, or reflect upon the controversy over the “Old” and the “New” Europe, we must have an idea of the West or Europe to understand the context of the discourse. This idea should include a set of features, however vaguely conceived, that we associate with Europe or the West. However, while it might be useful, the civilization frame of reference

is incomplete. To preserve its explanatory capacity, we have to answer

the question posed by those societies that refuse to fit into any of the clear-cut domains. As the history of ethnic cleansing throughout the 20th century indicates, borders of civilizational domains are anything but clear cut and frequently do not coincide with state borders. More often than not the adjacent civilizations have compact enclaves of vari-

ous size on each other’s territory. This places the territory (on both sides of a clearly defined state border) where these enclaves are prevalent in

a category of borderlands. But the physical presence of other-civilizational communities is not the only way that civilizations intermingle. Human societies are com- plex multilevel systems, some elements of which are more likely to be



influenced by or imported from other civilizations. In most societies, elites are more likely to exhibit a propensity to borrow behavioral pat- terns, values, modes of thoughts, ideas prevalent from other civilizations. Sometimes this process, while changing the appearance and behavior of the elites does not immediately affect their relations with the rest of society. Sometimes, however, elites create a cultural environment of their own, which, while based on a more or less consistent model imported from another society, is totally alien to the lower classes. This was the case in Belarus, where the indigenous ruling stratum had been thor- oughly Polonized, so that by the end of the 18th century the Belarusian peasant population was ruled by the landed nobility who considered themselves Polish. Social structures where national identity remains split along the class lines for a considerable period (several generations) may plausibly be categorized as elements of borderlands. While cultural intermingling along the lines of social class might be an important focus of the study of borderlands, it does not exhaust all the dimensions of intercivilizational or intercultural interpenetration. All social systems include functional divisions. According to Habermas (1973), modern societies are divided into three subsystems: the eco- nomic, the political, and the cultural. Prevalence of other-civilizational elements tends to vary across these subsystems. The same person’s actions may be shaped by a largely other-civilizational normative and value pattern in one subsystem, while within the context of other subsystems he may not be influenced by other-civilizational elements at all. The same multiplicity of normative and value patterns may be observed in cultural interchange within one civilization. For example, an Englishman may use metric system at work (economic subsystem) and avoirdupois system when ordering a pint of beer in a local pub (cultural subsystem), while at the same time actively lobbying his local MP (political subsystem) for the retention of the latter alongside the former. Of course, one should not look at the above subsystems as being separate and independent from one another. While Habermas’s schema does not provide a specific mechanism of their interdependence, Talcott Parsons’ functional paradigm does emphasize interaction among its four components. In Parsons’ four-function model society is con- ceptualized as a set of functional requisites: adaptation (generation and distribution of resources, performed by the economy), goal attainment (establishing priorities among system goals and mobilizing resources for their attainment, performed by the political system), integration (per- formed by civil society) and latent pattern maintenance (maintaining



patterns of social interaction, performed by culture). As Parsons delin- eates interrelationships among these four action systems, we can use his approach to see how other-civilizational elements embedded in one system may over time influence and eventually transform other systems (Parsons, 2006). Now we are able to compare three approaches to the phenomenon of borderland. One is based on geography of other-civilizational settle- ments. The second one is based on the propensity of different social groups to accept other-civilizational cultural traits. The third one assumes a multidimensional view of interaction between indigenous normative structures and those borrowed from other cultures or civi- lizations. These structures are embodied in institutions of a borderland society. In this study, the institutions include the state, the ruling elite, the political system and the economy. Belarus did not cease to be a borderland when its ruling class, whose culture was overwhelmingly Polish and then equally overwhelmingly Russian, was replaced by indigenous rulers as a result of the Soviet policies in the 1920s. It did not cease to be a borderland when compact enclaves of ethnic Poles in the west of the country were uprooted and deported to Poland in an ethnic cleansing episode in the aftermath of the Second World War. A decade of political independence, with clear-cut state borders separating it from its neighbors, did not make Belarus fully committed to remain- ing an independent state, as its policy towards Russia on more than one occasion stopped just short of voluntary reincorporation into the latter-day Russian empire. There are many elements in Belarus’s politi- cal, economic and cultural landscapes that make the country Russia’s borderland, without becoming just an outlying Russian province. The resilience of Soviet-era institutions fifteen years after the Soviet col- lapse and the nature of Belarus’s ongoing relations with Russia will be analyzed within the borderland frame of reference. In this book I investigate the emergence of the borderland character of Belarus and analyze the key social and economic institutions that emerged throughout the 20th century and are associated with the pro- cess of modernization. While Belarusian national culture existed prior to the emergence of Soviet Belarus, it was only under Soviet power that national culture began to inform nationally-shaped civil society. The latter, of course, was severely distorted by totalitarian nature of the Soviet regime, but the scope and density of national discourse in Belarus were undoubtedly greater than at any previous time. The same observation applies to the emergence of Belarusian national state, a



crucial institution associated with modernity. While Soviet Belarus was just a constituent Soviet republic, and thus could not be considered a nation-state in its own right, it possessed main characteristics of modern state and was national in its character. While not quite a nation-state, Belarus acquired viable national state structures for the first time in its history under the auspices of the Soviet regime. National institutions, introduced in Belarus in the Soviet period tended to have an identifiable affinity with Russia. Therefore, it is not surprising that institutional memory in today’s Belarus serves to keep Belarus in Russia’s orbit. While it precludes the spread of indigenous Belarusian normative patterns to those spheres of activity where they might influence policy formation and the decision making process, it does not make Belarus more like Russia. Instead, we witness a kind of institutional symbiosis, whereby Belarus preserves its institutional structure by coordinating its policies with Russia. The latter seems just as uninterested in transforming Belarus’s economy and society along Russian lines as the former is in accepting this transformation. In Chapter One, The Making of a Borderland, Belarus is placed within the context of modernization and national development, a two-pronged process that started in Europe in the 16th century and reached its apex by the start of the First World War. I begin the discussion with the events of the 16th and 17th century, when hopes of a European-style national development in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were destroyed by invading Russian armies, which burned most of the cities and reduced others to insignificance. Instead of the city, the magnate’s court became the locus of Westernization on Belarusian territory. This spread of Western ideas from above limited their recipients to the landed gen- try and left the peasants with a diminishing sense of national identity and outside the modernization process. The discussion then switches to the ethnic Belarusian portion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania after the Partitions and throughout Hobsbawm’s “long nineteenth century” (roughly from the French Revolution to the first World War). The nineteenth century, which in many European countries produced suc- cessful political movements of national liberation and self-determina- tion, destroyed the old institutions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, significantly reduced the role played by local Poles as the dominant group of educated and politically active people in the region, but did very little to create national Belarusian institutions. Belarus finished the “long nineteenth century” with a romantic nationalist intelligentsia and weak nationally-inspired political movements. Most nations of Central



and Eastern Europe had stronger and more diverse national institu- tions at the beginning of this period. As it is, Belarus was unprepared to avail itself of a chance for independence that emerged in the chaos of the war and German occupation. Chapter Two, Ex Oriente Lux, describes Belarusian national develop- ment from the end of the first World War to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the interwar period the policy of promoting the local cadre (“korenizatsiya”) conducted by the Soviet authorities in the eastern part of Belarus created, for the first time in modern history, a pattern of social mobility which allowed a Belarusian to occupy the highest positions in politics, management, the professions or academe without sacrificing his Belarusian national identity. Rapid social mobility, indus- trialization and urbanization in Soviet Belarus contrasted sharply with economic stagnation in the western part of ethnic Belarusian territories which from 1920 to 1939 had been the eastern provinces of Poland. In the Polish part of Belarusian territories, nationalist Belarusian political parties managed to survive, however, despite the considerable efforts of the Polish authorities to suppress them. The seemingly bright prospects for national Belarusian development in the Soviet Union, contrasting with the political oppression in Poland, persuaded many nationalist Belarusian politicians to return to Soviet Belarus and declare it the true national home for Belarusians, a sentiment which proved disastrously wrong when virtually all nationally-minded Belarusian intellectuals were rounded up by Soviet secret police and executed. The enthusi- asm caused by the implantation of Soviet institutions into Belarusian society carried over to the western portion of Belarus, so that not only was there no resistance to the Soviet invasion of September 1939, but the Soviets were widely regarded as liberators. The fifty years from the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 represent perhaps the most important period for Belarusian national development in modern history. The tragedy of German occupation, the heroism of guerrilla fighters, the glory of liberation gave Belarus an identifiable place in the official Soviet mythol- ogy. After the war, industrialization and urbanization contributed to a rapid long-term improvement of living conditions and made Belarus one of the best developed economic regions in the Soviet Union. While the war-time heroism and post-war prosperity contributed to a new system of national Belarusian symbols, the post-war years saw a rapid retreat of the Belarusian language and culture from prominent posi- tions in society. Belarusians increasingly identified themselves within the context of the Soviet culture and history.



Chapter Three, Borderland Forever, reflects on the essentially Soviet nature of political and economic institutions in today’s Belarus. Of all the states that emerged as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus maintains the closest approximation of the political sys- tem which existed in the late Soviet period. The Soviet political model included a powerless legislature, two-tier executive branch (ministries subordinated to corresponding departments of the Communist Party), and a judiciary beholden to the government. All these elements are pres- ent in today’s Belarus. Legislative bodies can do little but rubberstamp decisions made by the President. Government ministers have very little power compared to their opposite numbers in the Presidential Administration, a government body which makes important decisions but, unlike the ministries, is not subject to public scrutiny. This sys- tem, by concentrating power in non-transparent executive structures, makes public competition for elected office irrelevant. Competition does exist, but it is a struggle for power between different patronage chains removed from the publicly visible political arena and unimpeded by fixed legal norms. This system can only be changed by members of the ruling elite, as outsiders can only participate in electoral contest for seats in the legislature (and even this is exceedingly difficult for those who openly challenge the regime). Belarus’s contending elites, both aspiring rulers and the public intel- lectuals are trying to establish political institutions that might facilitate their rise to power. So far, these attempts have not met with visible success. Large and influential political parties, of the kind existing in all neighboring states, are conspicuously absent from Belarus’s political landscape. Those that exist are rather amateurish affairs, led by seem- ingly well-meaning members of the Belarusian chattering class and funded mostly by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other multilateral organizations, as membership dues cannot be a sufficient source of funds owing to the small number of registered party members and their chronically impecunious state. As the idea of national revival did not find an adequate response among the electorate, the Belarusian People’s Front (BPF), the largest nation- alist party (and the one with a clear, though hardly realistic, political vision) fares no better than parties of unspecified democratic orienta- tion. The largest of the latter, the United Civic Party (UCP), actually looks at the corrupt polity and pseudo-market economy that emerged in Russia throughout the 1990s as a desirable template for Belarus’s development. This vision, however, is not shared by an effective plural- ity of the electorate.



The major reason for this parlous state is the parties’ inability to convey their message to the electorate due to government control over mass media. Attempting to attract supporters, opposition parties come up with implausibly optimistic projections of increases in public welfare should they come to power. These attempts are futile. Because of the concentration of power in hands of non-elected officials, opposition attempts to gain seats in the legislature (at the moment they have none) even if they met with success, would not enable them to make policy decisions. As for the presidential elections, the opposition has time and again proven unable to field a candidate who would not be tainted by close association with the regime and at the same time possess name recognition sufficient to catch attention of voters. This predicament was confirmed by electoral failures of both opposition candidates at the 2006 presidential polls. The existing, essentially Soviet-type, polity remains immune to dissident challenges. Chapter Three continues with the analysis of the economic policy of the Belarusian leadership and the reasons for their stubborn adherence to the outdated Soviet-type economic model. Belarus’s leaders think that they can use the economy as a tool of populist policies, maintain an essentially Soviet-style industry and agriculture at the expense of the monetary and credit system, and cordon off undesirable influences of the global market by firmly directing foreign trade towards Rus- sia. In the long run, this cannot be more than wishful thinking, but meanwhile it is the foundation of the government’s economic policies. These policies are based on the economic system inherited from Soviet times and are made possible by supplies of Russian oil and natural gas at discount prices, more recently supplemented by large stabilization loans provided by the Russian government. Belarus’s economy is not entirely in a time warp: market activities of various shades of gray are much more widespread than they used to be in the Soviet era and some private enterprises (mostly in retail) do enjoy a modicum of legal recognition. However, private business activities, legal or otherwise, are barely tolerated, while the government controls most of the economy and shows no signs of relinquishing its stranglehold. While other countries of the region are entering the global market, Belarus has chosen to rely on Russia as the main destination of exports and, more importantly, source of vital imports of oil and natural gas. What could have been merely a temporary concession to the realities of post-Soviet economy has become a deliberate policy influenced by the goal of preserving the obsolete large enterprises producing goods that



generate demand among cash-strapped Russian customers but, owing to their low quality, are uncompetitive elsewhere. Efforts to keep the current account deficit within manageable limits include restrictions on import from outside the CIS, government-imposed imports-substitution programs, and restrictions on currency transactions. Belarus’s Central Bank (deprived of even a modicum of independence and made into a conduit of government economic policy) has propped up the national currency (rather unimaginatively called the rubel) by pegging it to the Russian rouble, thus essentially confirming Belarus’s status as a satel- lite of Russian economy. Foreign direct investment is kept low by a combination of government ineptitude, corruption, and excessively intrusive economic policy. Tellingly, the only major deal that involved large influx of foreign funds was the 2007 sale of the controlling stake in the natural gas pipeline network to the Russian natural gas monopoly. Interestingly enough, Belarusian leaders are not inspired by Russia’s crony capitalism, perhaps because the exportable natural resources that feed the institutionalized criminality central to the Russian economy are absent in Belarus. The book concludes with reflections on Belarus’s future. Many trends that define Belarus, culturally, politically, and economically, as Russia’s borderland, rather than a viable entity in its own right, seem to be self- perpetuating. However, there are countervailing trends which at least prevent Belarus from becoming part of Russia. One of these trends is an unwillingness of Belarusian ruling elites to lose their significance, which would happen should Belarus become a mere administrative unit of the Russian Federation. There is also a not insignificant opposition to the current regime, which is unsuccessful, largely due to Russia’s supporting role in the earlier mentioned institutional symbiosis. Should Russia choose to abandon its imperial aspirations, or become too weak to pursue them, these countervailing trends might suffice finally to shape an institutional structure of a nation-state out of what hitherto has been a borderland. This book concentrates on Russia’s influence upon the Belarusian economy, polity and society throughout the twentieth century. Much of this influence was due to the perception of Russian (Soviet) policies in Belarus as constituting a pathway to modernity. However, in today’s Belarus few people would associate the legacy of the Soviet-type econ- omy, and related societal structures, with modernity and progress. This change of attitude may yet turn Belarusians’ attention toward Poland, a country with which Belarus has had long and multifaceted contacts. As



Poland, a new member of the European Union, continues to develop a modern market economy and strengthens its democratic polity, it may provide a viable model of social change to Belarus, definitely more attractive than the criminal state capitalism of modern Russia or pseudo- egalitarian Soviet past. Poland may yet regain its cultural influence in Belarus, but this time without political domination.



1. European neighborhoods and Eurasian borderlands Belarus and the Baltic States

Belarus occupies a somewhat ambiguous position vis-a-vis Europe. While geographically a European country, it failed to develop political and cultural institutions associated with modern Europe. In order to understand Belarus’s peculiar borderland position between Europe and Eurasia, we must look at it those of its neighbors which found their place in the unfolding European project whose political borders have recently been expanded to the east. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which shared Belarus’s experience as constituent Soviet republics, and have recently been admitted to the European Union, provide an informative background to Belarus’s geopolitical situation. The borders of Europe, fixed in geographical taxonomy circa 430 B.C., when Herodotus drew them along the Ural and Caucasus mountains, never coincided with territorial limits of political structures and social institutions that came to be thought of as European. It was always implied that when one spoke of Europe as an identifiable entity, it was defined by political and cultural, rather than strictly geographi- cal, borders. Of course, political and cultural borders usually did not coincide, so that cultural “neighborhoods” transcended political boundaries. Most nations and ethnic groups on the eastern periphery of Europe, those that in the last two or three hundred years were under the political domination of Russia (first, as the Russian Empire, then as the Soviet Union), tended to think of themselves as members of a particular European “neighborhood”. 1 Estonia emphasized its linguistic affinity with Finland and association with Sweden and Denmark going back seven centuries. Latvia remembered its German connections via the Teutonic Order and Hanseatic League. Lithuania, despite cen- turies-long association with Poland, chose to think of the Baltic, i.e.

1 I am indebted to Professor Roman Szporluk, of Harvard Ukrainian Research Insti- tute, for the concept of “cultural neighborhoods” used in a geopolitical context.


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Germano-Scandinavian, “neighborhood” as its entryway to Europe. Many educated Ukrainians see the portion of their country that has been a province of the multi-ethnic Austrian empire for more than a century as the link that ties Ukraine to the destinies, history, and intel- lectual environment of Mitteleuropa. In this long chain of states, large and small, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, Belarus stands apart. It never had a strong cur- rent of public opinion or an influential group of intellectuals, which would envision the Belarusian nation-state within a particular Euro- pean “neighborhood”. Even those Belarusians who hope to see their country accepted in the European community of nations belonging to Europe does not mean a close affiliation with one or more European countries, but rather an acceptance to supra-national structures, such as the EU or NATO. This attitude seems to be in line with the recent trend in the internal development of the European Union: away from the nation-state and toward supra-national bodies as the mainstay of today’s European political order. We shall soon see, however, it is the ability to preserve institutions of nation-state that make a country acceptable as a candidate for the membership in the united Europe. For the countries currently aspiring to membership in the European community, national statehood and its attendant national sentiment are regarded as necessary prerequisites for acceptance into the new, increasingly post-national and post-modern, Europe. To surrender, partly or wholly, national statehood to the EU, one must first possess it. Only nation-states, not regions or non-territorial entities, however defined, are considered for future membership, and by implication recognized as European by the collective conscience of Europe. There is yet another aspect of the old-fashioned nationalism, which helps it to remain relevant in today’s post-national Europe. It is sometimes easy to forget the crucial role nationalism played in the dissolution of the Soviet empire, an event that created geopolitical conditions, which ultimately allowed the European Union to expand its borders to the east. Anti-Communist political movements ascending to power in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, while charting their respective paths to independence, were not inspired by visions of post-modernity devoid of the national idea. 2 In fact, emerging from the supra-national

2 A compelling first-hand account of intellectual roots of Central and East European national movements in the late stages of Communist rule can be found in the series

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domination of the Soviet power, constituent republics and client states searched for symbols and institutions that might justify their existence as independent nations states. Looking for a suitable categorization of post-Soviet changes, Juergen Habermas introduced the term “rectifying revolution”. He suggested that these developments present themselves “as a revolution that is to some degree flowing backwards, one that clears the ground in order to catch up with developments previously missed out.” (Habermas, 1990, p. 5). As to the nature of this revolution, as well as the developments it is catching up with, Habermas described them as “a return to old, national symbols” and “the continuation of the political traditions and party organizations of the interwar years” (Habermas, 1990, p. 5). Now, almost two decades on, we can appreciate Habermas’s foresight. Nation-states had to be recreated in Eastern Europe before the post-Soviet nations were recognized as European and allowed entry into another supranational entity where their national identity is likely to matter no more than identities of groups chosen according to post- modern criteria. Although national sovereignty of the East European entrants is likely to be of little consequence once they have been accepted into the European Union, their entrance is predicated on an existing nationhood. Only those countries that succeeded in their “rectifying revolutions” are now entering the increasingly united European pol- ity, while those who had no old national symbols to return to are still confined to the outer darkness of the Eurasian plain. In other words, it increasingly looks as though political and economic institutions that make it possible to define a country as European can only develop within a nation-state, even if the latter traces its origins to the utterly undemocratic, authoritarian or Fascist political entities that dominated the political spectrum of Eastern Europe between the wars. Indeed, all new EU entrants, except Slovenia, did exist as formally independent nation-states prior to 1945. Of all the former Soviet republics located west of Russia, the three that were accepted as members of the European Union—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—did exist as nation-states for approximately twenty years between the wars. Those that were designated to remain outside the European Union—Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova—became nation-states after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. What is it

of articles edited by Roger Scruton and published in The Salisbury Review under the common heading “In Search of Central Europe” in the early 1980s.


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that makes national statehood gained in 1919 and maintained for two decades different from national statehood gained in 1991 and main- tained for a decade and a half? Surely, the difference cannot be a mere five years. A diachronic comparison of the first fifteen years of indepen- dence in the Baltic states and an equally long period of independence in post-Soviet Belarus reveals certain similarities. Within this period, each of the three Baltic states did develop its own national institutions and symbols, just as Belarus did some seventy years later. In Belarus, just as in each Baltic state between the wars, political development started with ineffectual democracy and then, after economic hardships, turned to a relatively benign dictatorship. The differences lie in the nature of national institutions and meaning of symbols associated with them. Karl Popper once said that “institutions are like fortresses: they must be well-constructed and adequately manned” (Popper, 1957, p. 66). Both structural and personal aspect are equally important for the per- petuation of institutions. First, let us look at the structural aspect. What are the institutions associated with the nation-state? Tentatively we may count among them a stable autonomous polity, a predictable economy not dependent on a single commodity or a single market for survival, and a nationally shaped civil society that can accommodate social change while maintaining its integrative function. Parliamentary politics is perhaps the best single indicator of differ- ences between socio-political institutions of inter-war Baltic states and post-Soviet Belarus. Shortly after they gained independence, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania adopted Constitutions, which were drafted after a careful study of Western constitutional practices. These Constitutions were characterized by contemporary observers as “ultra-democratic” (The Baltic States, 1938, p. 41). Before constitutional democracies were replaced by personal dictatorships (in 1934 in Estonia and Latvia, in 1927 in Lithuania) Estonia and Latvia each held four parliamentary elections, while Lithuania had three (not counting elections in the Con- stituent Assembly). Each election produced a parliament representing from eight to twenty political parties and reflecting a broad spectrum of political ideologies, from Christian Democracy to Communism. While no party had an absolute majority, in all three countries agrar- ian parties and Social Democrats represented the largest parliamentary blocs, thus reflecting the composition of electoral forces in the inter-war Baltic states. These parliamentary regimes, while prone to anarchic inef- ficiency, which ultimately led to their demise, indicated the existence of a relatively unimpeded political discourse.

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Belarus inherited its parliamentary system from the Soviet Union. In fact, after it became independent in 1991, the country retained the Soviet-era legislature elected in 1990. The legislative body, still known as the Supreme Soviet, had only ten percent of deputies formally affili- ated with an opposition political party, while the remainder consisted mostly of high-ranking officials of the Soviet regime. The legislature remained unchanged until the end of its term in 1995, when the next elections produced a parliament with a slightly larger percentage of deputies more or less vaguely associated with the opposition parties. Thus, before the advent of a strongly authoritarian political order in 1996, post-Soviet Belarus had only one parliamentary election, which resulted in the overwhelming representation of Soviet-era elite with no discernible party affiliation. Outwardly, both inter-war Baltic states and post-Soviet Belarus had institutions of parliamentary democracy. The difference is that the former conducted a sustained experiment in democratic politics, while the latter preserved intact a Soviet political structure until it was replaced by a regime of personal dictatorship. Economic self-sufficiency is impossible for a modern industrial nation. However, a diverse composition of foreign trade, both in terms of traded commodities and directions of export and import flows, indicates that a country is not unduly dependent on one export product or one foreign trade partner for its economic survival. In the inter-war Baltic states the bulk of their export revenues was derived from agricultural prod- ucts, processed timber and, in Estonia and Latvia, textiles. These com- modities, by virtue of their fungibility, were not specific to a particular export market and thus did not make the exporters unduly dependent on one source of export revenue. As for destinations of exports, while the United Kingdom and Germany topped the list for all three Baltic states, in most years neither country accounted for more than one third of total export revenues, while the rest was distributed fairly evenly, mostly among West European countries. Import expenditures presented a similar picture, no country receiving more than one third of the total. Thus, by the start of the second inter-war decade, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania established a pattern of foreign trade which did not make them dangerously dependent on a single export commodity or a single foreign market. Their economies, although less developed than in most contemporary countries of North-Western Europe, were not Third World monocultural systems. None of the three countries had strong economic ties with the Soviet Union, the successor of the Rus- sian Empire to which all three only recently belonged. The orientation


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of foreign trade introduced Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the European system of international economic exchange, which at the time presented a somewhat contradictory combination of protectionism and competitive advantages. 3 Post-Soviet Belarus, while having a considerably more developed industrial economy than the three inter-war Baltic states, owed its development exclusively to the internal division of labor within the Soviet Union. This created a situation whereby, despite a substantial range and complexity of Belarus’s manufactured exports, they could only be sold at one market: Russia and other post-Soviet countries. For many years after independence Russia has consistently accounted for about two- thirds of Belarus’s export revenues. Its recent reduction owed much to a combination of rising oil prices and a peculiar arrangement in import of Russian crude and export of oil refinery products to the West (to be discussed in the last section of Chapter Three). Perhaps more importantly, Belarus receives two-thirds of its imports from Russia, including virtually all supplies of oil and natural gas. As no provision has been made by Belarusian leadership to diversify energy imports, the country remains utterly dependent on Russia for imports that are vital to its economy. Thus, allowing Russia to retain a combined posi- tion of a monopsonist buyer of manufactured exports and monopolist supplier of energy imports Belarus remained an economic appendage of Russia with no prospects of creating a more viable economy. Need- less to say, the slightest disruption of economic ties with Russia would result in Belarus’s economic collapse. More than once Russia has used its neighbor’s dependence as leverage in political negotiations. 4 The difference between the inter-war Baltic states and post-Soviet Belarus is profound. In the 1920s and 1930s, Estonia, Latvia and Lithu- ania attempted to create a Western-style democratic polity. Although their attempts ultimately came to a dead end, the three countries established a tradition of constitutional democracy and exhibited a willingness to adopt Western political arrangements. Post-Soviet Belarus preserved a Soviet-style political system. The constitutional changes,

3 The information used in the discussion of economic conditions and foreign trade

orientation of the Baltic states in the inter-war period is taken from The Baltic States,


4 Detailed information regarding the current economic situation in Belarus can be found in the Statistical Appendix to the IMF Country Report No. 04/139, Republic Of

Belarus: Selected Issues, IMF, Washington, DC, 2004.

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ushered in by the referenda of 1996 and 2004, were designed to legiti- mize and strengthen a dictatorial political regime. Economically, the three Baltic states between the wars did not attempt to repair the severed trade links with the former imperial power. Instead, they restructured their economies and reoriented their foreign trade so as to incorporate themselves into the Western system of international economic exchange. Belarus, more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, failed to appreciate the benefits of a truly independent economic system. Instead, its policies are directed toward the preservation of economic ties with the former imperial power. The Baltic states created a tradition of openness to Europe, both politically and economically. Belarus, in its post-Soviet period, ensured that its polity and economy will remain open to Russia and sheltered from European influences. It is not statehood per se that separates European countries from Eurasian borderlands. In the former, institutions that are associated with the modern nation-state emerged as a result of an indigenous process of national development that never had been interrupted for more than one generation. In the latter, at least some of these institu- tions have been implanted, shaped and promoted by an outside power, while the indigenous institutional development exhibited large gaps in historical continuity. I do not want to look at Belarus’s position squarely through the prism of institutional functionalism and economic determinism. One might plausibly object to this treatment by pointing out that the chronically anemic institutions and persistent economic dependence are mere temporary problems inherited from the seventy years of Soviet rule. It takes time to improve them to something remotely resembling European standards and therefore capable of interaction with the EU institutions. True, structural changes do take time. However, the symbolic envi- ronment can be changed virtually overnight. It does not take much time and effort to replace visible symbols, such as street names and national holidays. Had Belarus replaced the symbols inherited from the country’s Soviet past with new ones, it might have been an indication of changes in public opinion, values and aspirations If the symbolic environment remains unchanged for more than a decade, perhaps the absence of change reflects a relative stability of the system of norms and values that correspond to the old symbols. The role of symbols in the political process has been highlighted by cultural anthropologists for quite some time. Stephen Lukes (1975) and


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David Kertzer (1988) were among the first contributors to a paradigm that presents political reality as symbolically constructed. Even if one finds this assertion too sweeping, it is still hard to deny that symbols are important in forming and maintaining public opinion. However, relations between the symbolic environment and public opinion are not unidirectional. While symbols convey certain information to the public, the public can express its attitude to the phenomena designated

by the symbols. For example, if street signs refer to political figures of

a now defunct state, there is nothing that prevents people from chang-

ing them into something more appropriate for their current situation. If the symbols remain unchanged, it might indicate that people have either positive or neutral attitude to the phenomena represented by the symbols. Following Chris Shore’s (2002) application of cultural anthro- pology to symbolic aspects of modern political culture, let us examine an important aspect of political symbolism in today’s Belarus.

The most enduring elements of symbolic environment are those reflected in visible features of urban landscape: names of streets, restora- tion of nationally important buildings, preservation of old or construction of new monuments, etc. Perhaps they serve better than opinion polls as

a reflection of public sentiment. Polls are often questionable, pollsters

politically or ideologically committed, the polled are fickle, the results are fleeting, forgotten once the TV channel is changed or the next issue of the newspaper arrives in the mailbox. On the other hand, visible

features of an urban landscape indicate commitment, the existence of

a plurality of people who share the values, ideas, memories signified

by a visible symbol. Buildings, monuments, memorial plaques, street signs are present before people’s eyes for long time, they are here to stay and by their longevity, by virtue of being major reference points in urban topography, they influence public consciousness, keep ideas alive. They serve as enduring reflections of the nature of nation’s civil society. A full and detailed discussion of Belarus’s urban landscapes and their symbolic aspects would merit a separate book but discussing names of streets and localities, however briefly, will provide a reveal- ing, if not too detailed, illustration of the symbolic environment where contemporary Belarusians reside, work, and generally go about their daily business. There are several groups of street names whose Soviet connotations can be easily identified by virtually everyone. The first group consists of the three names, central to Soviet hagiography: Marx, Engels, and Lenin. The second group includes ideas, institutions and organizations central

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to Communist ideology: Communism, Socialism, Soviet, Komsomol (Young Communist League, the youth branch of the Communist Party), proletariat, and revolution. Names belonging to the first two groups are generally reserved for the nicest, cleanest, most prestigious streets. The third group contains the names of the first generation of the Bolshevik leaders (Dzerzhinski, Kalinin, Kirov, Kuybyshev, Ordzhonikidze, etc.) and Soviet war heroes (Chapayev, Budenny, Matrosov, Kozhedub, etc.). Finally, there is the fourth group: street names derived from important dates and anniversaries of important events. There could be a street named after the 7th of November (the day of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917), the 30th anniversary of the USSR, or any other date or anni- versary that was deemed important by Soviet ideologues. Minsk, the largest city in Belarus, displays the whole range of Soviet- era symbols in the names of numerous streets, avenues, and parks. Street signs in the central part of the city commemorate names of Marx, Engels and Lenin, proclaim ideas of Communism, internationalism and revolutionary change, remind the passer-by of exploits of Kirov and Kuybyshev, Dzerzhinski and Volodarski. So ubiquitous are these reminders of the Soviet past that a resident of Minsk, no matter in what part of the city she lives or works, cannot escape encountering them more than once a day. The situation is very similar in the five provincial centers: Gomel, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Grodno, and Brest. Each city has street names from the first two groups clustered in the center, while names from the third and fourth group are more or less haphazardly scattered around the city. The names of Marx, Engels and Lenin invariably mark the best real estate in town. As for lesser personalities, provincial centers do not have enough streets to accommodate as many of them as the much larger Minsk. Still, names of the people, events and institutions that were officially recognized as important during the Soviet time are well represented. Sometimes anniversaries used in street names line up in short sequences. In Vitebsk, one city park is named after the 30th Anniversary of the Young Communist League, while the other bears the name of the 40th anniversary of the same organization. In Gomel, five streets commemorate anniversaries of the founding of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR): the 30th, the 40th, the 50th, the 60th and the 70th. The BSSR lost the Soviet and Socialist components of its name before the 73rd anniversary of its founding. Belarus’s urban landscape is not entirely devoid of local character. Still, all Belarusian names are either derived from the Soviet era or else


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are part of official Soviet mythology. Names of former Communist leaders of Belarus are well represented, so are the names of Belarusian literary and artistic figures officially recognized by Soviet authorities. Political or literary figures considered controversial in Soviet times are absent from the system of visible symbols of urban topography. In almost every city and town in western Belarus, amid the standard collection of Soviet-era toponyms, one will find a street named after the 17th of September. On this date in 1939 the Soviet Union, honoring the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact signed earlier that year, joined Nazi Germany in its aggression against Poland, thus ushering in the second World War. Actually, the street name commemorates not the act of aggression itself, but rather its immediate outcome. Soviet occupation of the ethnically Belarusian territories in what then was the eastern part of Poland unified most of ethnically Belarusian lands in one political entity: a constituent Soviet republic. Street names in Belarusian cities and towns contribute to the overall symbolic environment, which powerfully conveys a message about the country’s history, traditions, shared ideas and values. They remind the passer-by that all the events, personalities and ideas relevant for modern Belarus emerged in the context of the Soviet rule. The Soviet Union was dissolved almost two decades ago. Its successor, Russia, displays no interest in the symbolic environment of its neigh- bors. It is the Belarusians themselves who continue to commemorate statesmen of a defunct state, ideas that have been proven disastrously wrong, organizations that ceased to exist, dates that are confined to infamy by the civilized world. From the thousand or so years of its written history Belarus chose the seventy years of the Soviet era as the source of traditions, ideas and symbols that shape the everyday life of its citizens. One might point out that in Belarus, ruled by a strongly authoritar- ian regime, it is the government that decides to keep old symbols or introduce new ones. While this is true, Belarusians do not seem to mind the conspicuous saturation of their life with old Soviet symbols. After the Lukashenka government decided to restore the Soviet era symbols in 1995, Mr Lukashenka’s popularity did not suffer and opinion polls (then conducted by independent organizations) consistently put his approval rating much higher than the opposition. Belarus keeps going back to its Soviet past, economically, politically and symbolically and in so doing orients itself away from Europe. Why? In the rest of this chapter we shall look at the development of

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the institutions associated with modernity: the state, the ruling elites, the public intellectuals (famously called the “chattering classes” by Schumpeter), the economy. While Benedict Anderson (1983) described nation-states as “imagined communities”, imagination does not emerge in an historical vacuum. When political leaders try to legitimize their view of the current and future institutional structure by a selective reading of history, they still have to refer to events that really hap- pened. One may refer to nation-states as “imagined communities” only if one keeps in mind that the history of a particular nation must provide building blocks for competing images. The Soviet period of Belarus’s history clearly holds a privileged position in the legitimation system of modern Belarus. Was there a period in Belarus’s history when comparable processes of institutional change and national formation produced institutions relevant for the modern nation-state and at the same time possessing Belarusian national character?

2. An unfinished prelude to a modern nation:

Belarus and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

When precursors of European nation-states started to emerge in about the 16th century, the territory of today’s Belarus was a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL). Apart from Belarus, the latter included the lands now belonging to Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, and Ukraine. At the height of its power, the GDL claimed control over a huge expanse of territory, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, reaching into the steppes east of the Dnieper, establishing its eastern border within a hundred miles of Moscow. However, in feudal times claiming control was different from actually exercising it. The more or less stable core of the GDL included territories of today’s Lithuania and Belarus plus the province of Volhynia, west of the Dnieper. All other territories were per- manently contested by Muscovite Russians, the Crimean Tartars, who by the end of the 15th century enjoyed considerable support by Ottoman Turkey, and, from the 16th century onwards, the steadily growing force of the Cossacks. Militarily, the Grand Duchy was oriented to the east and south to confront the continuing encroachments. Political arrange- ments corresponded to the military task. Aristocratic families, holders of large tracts of land, possessed considerable political clout, owing to their ability to raise and maintain private armies for border defense, as well as to advancement of territorial claims against neighbors. While in


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Poland all members of the noble estate were legally equal (Davies, 1982, vol. 1, pp. 201–215), regardless of size of land holdings, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania the magnates, usually descendants of princely dynas- ties going back to Kievan Rus and ancient Lithuania, had considerable privileges which elevated them above the rest of the landed nobility. The Lithuanian Statute of 1588 distinguished between three strata of nobility: princes, lords of the [Ducal] Council (pany rada), and gentry (szlachta). It is the first two categories that enjoyed considerable legal privileges, including the right to hold court in criminal cases against the gentry in their service (Stone, 2001, p. 78). More importantly, the sheer size of the Polish-Lithuanian Res Publica, combined with the concentration of military power in the hands of magnates meant that the Ducal or Royal authority could not effectively monitor, much less enforce, the magnates’ compliance with the law. While nominally the vassals of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, the princes and lords of the Council in fact were free to behave as independent potentates. Their status was comparable to that of marcher lords in medieval England, only substantially enhanced by the size of the territory they controlled, the distance that separated them from the monarch, as well as the strategic importance of their military position. Unlike their European counterparts, Lithuanian magnates did not have to compete for power with the politically and economically growing cities. Chartered cities did exist in the Grand Duchy. However, those best positioned to benefit from long-distance trade, such as Bykhov and Mogilev on the Dnieper; Polotsk and Vitebsk on the Dvina, were more exposed to regular devastations by invading armies of Muscovite Russia and depended on the magnates for military protection. 5 Much of the territory that constitutes modern-day Belarus has been protected from hostile incursions by the belt of impassable Pripet marshes, as well as by vast expanses of roadless forest. However, the same lack of accessibility made many cities badly located for long-distance trade and limited their opportunities for growth. Thus, the magnates’ estates were true centers

5 According to a detailed account of the consequences of Russo-Polish wars of the 17th century provided by Saganovich (1995), in 1648–67 the city of Vitebsk lost 94% of population, Polotsk lost 93.2% of population, Mahileu, 76%, Byhau, 65%. While cities in the central and western part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the same period experienced population losses up to 50%, the devastation was not nearly as complete as in the eastern cities, located on the Dvina and the Dnieper and formerly important centers of long-distance trade.

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of political power, concentrations of economic wealth, and focal points of military defense. In the 16th century Europe, development of future nations took place in the cities, where the spread of literacy and the emergence of the printed book facilitated discourse, while cities’ abil- ity to generate wealth made them politically important. In the Grand Duchy, with economically weak or strategically exposed cities, distant ducal and royal courts, both with limited abilities to project power to provinces, and communications hampered by difficult terrain, it was magnates’ courts that were left to develop proto-national institutions. What kind of nation would they produce? The ethnic origins of landed nobility in the Grand Duchy of Lithu- ania (including those lands that were ceded to Poland after the Union of Lublin in 1569) have been subject to dispute for quite some time. Throughout the 19th century, Russian government bureaucrats and Russophile researchers not infrequently referred to them as Russians whose ancestors abandoned their ethnic affiliation and adopted Polish culture, customs and political allegiance (e.g. Koyalovich, quoted in Tsvikievich, 1993, p. 162, Lappo, 1924). Belarusian nationalist leaders adopted the same stance, although in their interpretation the origins of the Polonized nobility were Belarusian. Ezovitov forcefully writes about the titled “traitors to their nation” who forgot that their ancestors’ tombstones bear inscriptions in Belarusian (Ezovitov, 1919, pp. 11, 13). Tsvikievich referred to the class of landed gentry in the 19th century Belarus as being “denationalized, semi-Polish” (Tsvikievich, 1993, p. 188). Today, nationally-minded Belarusian historians (e.g., Lych, 2001) describe the nobility of the late medieval Grand Duchy of Lithu- ania as Belarusian. The motives of Russian officialdom to present the landed nobility of the Russian Empire’s western provinces as descen- dants of Polonized Russian princes are easy to discern. As landed nobles in Muscovite Russia eventually became vassals of the Moscow Grand Dukes and then Russian Tsars, the implication was that those landed nobles in the Grand Principality of Lithuania were destined to do the same, even after centuries of Polish domination. Thus, the allegedly Russian origins of the landed nobility with ancestral estates in what is now Belarus and then the North-Western Territory of the Russian Empire confirmed the Russian Tsar’s claim on the territory as his ancient domain. Belarusian nationalist historians project the term “Belarusian” back to the 16th century in an attempt to lay claim to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a political entity at one time dominated by Belarusians.


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In reality, the medieval landed nobility in the Great Duchy of Lithu- ania was neither Belarusian nor Russian, certainly not in the latter day meaning of the term. The gentry, whether ethnically Lithuanian or Slavic (the latter was considerably more numerous than the former), owed its allegiance to the Grand Duke of Lithuania and conducted business of the state in the language they called Russian. Their religious affilia- tion tended to be pagan, then Roman Catholic for ethnic Lithuanians, Eastern Orthodox (later Roman Catholic) for the Slavs. The magnates owned estates in the lands that today constitute Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine. When today’s Belarusian nationalists commemorate Prince Constantine Ostrozhski, commander of the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which defeated Russian forces at Orsha in 1512, they omit to mention that the bulk of Ostrozhski’s possessions was located in Volhynia, today a part of Ukraine. The purportedly Belarusian nobles would not recognize the name Belarus (Belaya Rus’, White Russia) as applied to the territory occupied by today’s Belarus. They would not define themselves or their peasants as Belarusians. The language they used to conduct affairs of the state was known as “yezyk ruski” (as mentioned in the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania), which modern commentators tend to translate as Russian, but which perhaps would be more correctly translated as Ruthenian. The translation as “Russian” is misleading, as this language had little in common with the Russian language as spoken in contemporary Muscovite Russia and is even further removed from the modern Russian language. The whole discussion of the ethnic origins of the Slavic section of the Lithuanian nobility is largely a projection of political views of modern observers on an entirely different cultural and political structure. Magnates, as well as all the gentry in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania identified themselves in terms of feudal allegiance and religious affilia- tion. Before 1569 the former was to the Grand Duke of Lithuania, who may or may not have been the same person as King of Poland, as the two countries elected their respective monarchs at separate Diets (Sejm in Poland, Soim in the Grand Duchy). The Union of Lublin, concluded in 1569, created a federated state consisting of two parts: Poland (Polish Kingdom, Polish Crown) and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), each with autonomy of their internal affairs, but with the same mon- arch, who was elected at the joint Diet by gentry from both Poland and Lithuania and would become the Grand Duke of Lithuania by virtue of being the King of Poland. The Union reduced the size of the Grand Duchy, as lands south of the Pripet marshes were ceded to the Polish Crown (Stone, 2001, pp. 62–63).

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Thus, the territory of the Grand Duchy from 1569 and until the Partitions of Poland in the 18th century roughly coincided with today’s Belarus, Lithuania and the western provinces of Russia. When their territory was absorbed by the Polish Crown, local Ruthenian nobles in Volhynia were included into the Polish legal and political institutions. Their counterparts in the Grand Duchy were exposed to the Polish political culture in a less direct way. The process of acculturation of the local elites took several decades, both in the Crown and Ducal lands. The Union of Lublin did not immediately transform Lithuanian and Slavic nobles of the GDL into Poles. However, some of the changes ushered in by the Union over time contributed to their Polonization. Perhaps chief among such changes was the introduction of equal legal rights for all landed nobility, irrespective of status or wealth. At first, the Ducal magnates were reluctant to enter a union which would increase the political rights of the small and medium gentry. Unlike their Lithuanian counterparts, Polish gentry enjoyed a host of legal privileges which elevated them above the rest of society and made no distinction between noblemen based on their wealth or the antiquity of their titles. Davies (1982, vol. 1, pp. 206, 211, 212) and Dembkowski (1982, pp. 49, 50) describe the noble estate as a formidable force in the politics of the Kingdom of Poland on the eve of the Union of Lublin. Dembkowski (1982, p. 39) stresses the anti-magnate political orientation of a large and active segment of Polish gentry. Magnates of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania feared that a closer union with Poland would result in erosion of their legal privileges vis-a-vis the rest of the gentry and reduce their power over the noble estate. Their opposition to such a union had been successful for decades, despite the sustained pressure from the Polish magnates and royal court. The main supporters of the Union were those Lithuanian nobles who wanted the privileges of the noble estate in the Kingdom of Poland extended to the gentry of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Snyder, 2003, p. 22). The unification process took several years. Stone (2001, p. 60) men- tions that the idea of a union with Poland emerged among the Lithuanian gentry as early as 1562. The Poles managed to persuade their Lithu- anian counterparts to sign the Act of the Union in 1569 only because the Grand Duchy suffered a string of defeats at the hands of Muscovite armies in the course of the Livonian war. The Ducal nobility did not relish the prospect of absorption into Muscovite Russia, a state with a culture and politics vastly different from both Poland and the Grand Duchy. The fact that the Ducal magnates chose the union with Poland rather than an alliance with Russia indicates that identifying them as


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Russian would be implausible. More importantly, this was the first time when a leading cultural and political group in a proto-Belarusian state was faced with a choice between the two neighbors, each associated with a particular civilizational framework. For Ducal signatories, the union with Poland was a difficult compromise which they openly resented. After the signing of the Union, the more powerful magnates frequently flaunted their de facto independence and toyed with separatism (Stone, 2001, p. 61). Still, the separatist posturing generally did not lead to effective political steps. Severing or weakening ties with Poland would have led to a danger of being overrun by Russia, in which event both the magnates and the rest of the gentry would lose the privileges and the rights they enjoyed in the Polish Lithuanian Res Publica. 6 Besides, the political empowerment of the small and medium gentry, which so irritated the magnates, soon proved to be of little or no consequence for actual distribution of political power in the Grand Duchy. Com- munications did not improve with the signing of the Union and the Polish King in Cracow was more distant from manorial estates in eastern provinces than the Grand Duke in Wilno. More importantly, he was just as dependent on the military and organizational skills of the magnates for defense against Russian encroachments. Thus, the magnates continued to enjoy their status of marcher lords, while the small and medium gentry, nominally with rights equal to those of large landowners, was just as dependent on their benevolence as before. Less than twenty years after the Union of Lublin, the Lithuanian Statute of 1588 gave the magnates the right of criminal trial over the nobles in their service. However, the Union of Lublin opened completely new opportunities for the magnates and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the gentry. The nobles, who had hitherto pledged allegiance to a succession of Grand

6 Jerome Horsey (1856, pp. 251–52) provides a detailed, if somewhat baroque, description of his visit to Wilno, the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, on the way to Moscow as the ambassador of the Queen of England to the Tsar of Russia in 1589. Horsey describes his meeting with Nicholas Radziwill the “Red”, one of the most powerful magnates of the realm and a known separatist and opponent of the Union of Lublin. The reader sees a prince who flaunts his Calvinist faith to emphasize his independence from the Roman Catholic monarch, receives a foreign ambassador with the pomp and circumstance usually associated with official royal ceremonies, generally carries on as a potentate in his own right. At the same time, it is obvious that this is a description of a European prince who, for all his separatist tendencies, would be unimaginable as a close ally of the Russian Tsar.

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Dukes belonging to an indigenous Lithuanian dynasty, now participated in the election of Polish kings, choosing between candidates from many European nations, from Transylvania to Sweden. Of course, to participate fully in political discussions concerning the fates of the new Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, the Ducal magnates, whether of Lithuanian or Slavic origins, had to adopt the language and cultural attitude of contemporary Poland. Thus, Polish and Latin, the two languages used for official business of the state, were becoming pro- gressively more important. On the other hand, the proto-Belarusian language, then known as “Russian” and more recently called Ruthenian or Old Belarusian (e.g., Zholtowski, 1950, p. 17; Davies, 1982, p. 115), was losing ground. Although several important literary works, legal treatises, and official documents were published in the Old Belarusian in the sixteenth century, they failed to stem the tide of Polonization of the upper classes in the Duchy (Stone, 2001, p. 225). The noble used the vernacular to communicate with peasants and city merchants while back on his estate in the Duchy. He used Polish and Latin to elect kings and conduct negotiations with foreign embassies. The religious dimension of the aristocratic culture was changing as well. For the Ducal nobles, affiliation with the Eastern Orthodoxy, until the late 15th century associated with dynastic roots going back to Kievan Rus, ceased to be an asset in the new power structure. In fact, it might be seen by the Polish elite as an indication of unpalatable ties with Russia and thus create suspicions of separatism. If Lithuanian magnates wanted to explore a religious dimension of separatism, they were more likely to become Protestant, not remain Russian Orthodox (e.g. the Radziwills, as described in Stone, 2001, p. 61). The denomina- tion of choice, however, the one that facilitated contacts with Polish lords in Warsaw and Cracow, was Roman Catholicism. As the 16th century drew to a close and the 17th century ushered in repeated wars with Russia, magnates of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were faced with an increasingly stark choice: to strengthen their ties with Poland or to suffer disastrous military defeat and subjugation by the Russian autocracy. The circumstances of almost permanent warfare further reinforced political, economic and cultural influence of the magnates. The cities, their resources drained by defense expenditure or destroyed outright by the invading Russian armies, could not emerge as alternative foci of cultural development. Their role in the protection of local culture and language as well as incorporation of European ideas and customs through countless individual interactions in the course of long distance trade was replaced by a very different process.


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Western fashions, customs and political ideas were selected by mag- nates according to their tastes and political needs and then cultivated on their estates. As the magnates’ leading role in early Westernization emerged against the background of their already existing political, military and economic preeminence, there could be little opposition to their selection of Western practices, customs and ideas. Essentially, several aristocratic clans could virtually determine what elements of European political, economic and cultural system would be introduced into the Grand Duchy. For the smaller gentry, service to the magnates was the only avenue to upward social mobility. According to the Lithuanian Statute of 1588, a nobleman who engaged in trade or manufacture while residing in a city or town was liable to lose his privileges and status. Therefore, the only way to attain extra income and promotion was employment at the court of the local magnate. Even if the latter did not explicitly demand adoption of the Polish language and customs by the gentlemen in his service, they had a strong incentive to adopt them voluntarily, as symbols of a new political order which transcended the parochial affairs of their locality and, at least nominally, made them equal to the highest noble of the realm. Thus, the nobility, large and small, adopted the language and customs that served to improve their political and social standing. The “Russian” (Ruthenian) language, while protected by law as the means of legal communication, in everyday use was rapidly becoming the language of the townsfolk and peasantry. As the former were steadily losing political clout, bleeding wealth and decreasing in numbers throughout the 17th century, while the latter never had politi- cal power, the proto-Belarusian language was increasingly spoken by the people who could not muster resources to develop it or persuade political elites of its importance. Belarusian nationalists assign special importance to the 16th century as a golden age of Belarusian culture, political thought, and social development. One might agree that the 16th century was a particularly important period in Belarusian history, although its characterization as a “golden age” should be qualified. The pre-modern state of the 16th century that included the territory of today’s Belarus, Lithuania and portions of Russia was very different from modern states of the 19th century. Snyder (2003, p. 24) highlights an essentially multina- tional pattern in political and cultural affinities in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Lithuanian and Polish elements in the GDL’s polity

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and society were too pronounced to declare the GDL a Belarusian (or proto-Belarusian, Ruthenian) state. When Stone (2001, p. 225) writes about the development of Ruthenian national consciousness, he concen- trates almost exclusively on the Ukrainian lands of the Commonwealth, while pointing to the overwhelming trend towards Polonization in the Ducal lands. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a state in its own right, with its own unique institutions and an equally unique relations with Poland. The latter do not fit a simplified pattern of Polonization of the indig- enous Slavic and Baltic cultures. The process of acculturation was mutual. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania supplied its share of myths and important personalities to Polish history, culture and politics. Polish influence on the local culture did not amount to a complete Poloniza- tion, as more often than not local gentry emphasized local identity by calling themselves Lithuanians (the identity derived from the political entity, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, not from an ethnic group, the Lithuanians). We do not know what would become of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania had it been allowed to follow a pattern of development that transformed early modern nations of Europe into modern nation- states. However, its borderland position contributed to the emergence of a peculiar social structure. Continuous military pressure, growing throughout the 16th century and culminating in the devastating and repeated Russian invasions of the 17th century, did more than simply bring the Grand Duchy of Lithuania closer to Poland. It also made the military estate, the landed nobility, more numerous, more important and more conscious of its importance than in most contemporary European countries. The gentry, regardless of their wealth, remained the elite in the Ducal lands even after the partitions, until the suppression of the 1863 uprising. Only then, after the remnants of the old Grand Duchy of Lithuania were removed from the political scene, could the Belarusian national elite emerge in their place. The events of the 16th century inaugurated two interrelated pat- terns of national development. First, pressure from the two competing neighbors forced the local elites to choose an alliance with one of them in order to preserve the existing political institutions. Second, proto- Belarusian national consciousness was pushed steadily downwards until it came to rest at the level of village community. A propensity for institutional symbiosis among the elites and the stubbornly demotic nature of the Belarusian national idea have remained salient features of


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Belarusian society ever since. The latter became even more entrenched in the years when local peasants saw that their landlords belong not only to another class, but to another nation.

3. On the threshold of modernity:

Belarus, as defined by Poles and Russians

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania survived as an identifiable political entity throughout most of the 18th century. It had its territory reduced by the first Partition of Poland in 1772. On May 3, 1791, the Polish Diet decreed the abolition of the Ducal political structures and the creation of a unified Polish state which would include both the Crown and the Ducal lands. The decision, however, could not be implemented. The war with Russia which broke out in 1792 resulted in the second Parti- tion of 1793 and contributed to the further weakening of the already weak Polish state. In 1794, Polish patriotic forces staged an armed rebellion against the occupying Russians. The latter duly won, owing to overwhelming numerical superiority, and together with Prussia and Austria executed the third Partition of Poland. The Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth ceased to exist politically. Still, through the turmoil of the last century of the Polish-Lithuanian monarchy, as well as for some decades after its disappearance, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania could be distinguished from the surrounding territories. It was the land of declining cities, stagnant commerce, non-existent industry and noto- riously impecunious and abundant gentry. The latter, now of dimin- ished military importance, increasingly justified its privileged status by conspicuous affiliation with Polish culture, albeit in a peculiarly local interpretation. Only as these features gradually disappeared, did the Grand Duchy of Lithuania give way to a new national entity: Belarus. The territory of the former Polish-Lithuanian state that came under Russian control by the end of Napoleonic wars was divided into two parts. The ethnically Polish lands stretching roughly from Kalisz in the west to Brest in the east became known as the Congress Kingdom, owing its name to the Congress of Vienna, which in 1815 inaugurated this political entity. The Kingdom, although part of the Russian Empire, enjoyed a modicum of independence. The territory of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which included both ethnic Lithuanian and Belarusian lands, was incorporated into the Russian Empire as a purely administrative entity which had no special rights or privileges

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beyond those of Russia’s provinces. The peasantry in ethnically Lithu- anian parts of the North-Western Territory, as the newly acquired lands became officially known, was Lithuanian and in ethnically Slavic parts, predominantly Belarusian (although the peasants tended to identify themselves simply as “locals”). The landed nobility merits a special discussion. First, its share in the population was very large. According to the estimates provided by Davies (p. 215) and Wandycz (1974, p. 5), by the end of the 18th cen- tury in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth landed nobility accounted for approximately ten percent of the population. In the Ducal lands this share was probably somewhat higher owing to a smaller urban population. 7 This social group was not a class in the modern sense of the word, as the wealth and income of its members diverged widely. At the top, families of the Radziwills, the Sapiehas and the Czartoryskis had for centuries been in possession of immense tracts of land, with villages and towns. They accumulated equally immense amounts of wealth in form of art collections, gold and silver bullion and money. Several steps below them, middle-level gentry had enough land to provide for a comfortable and secure life, education and the ability to travel abroad. At the bottom stood impoverished small gentry without serfs, often without land, eking out existence by working on a rented plot of land or sometimes even as landless sharecroppers. 8 The unity of the noble estate, in medieval times based on military service of its members, by the 19th century was purely symbolic. For more than a century, the nobility in the Great Duchy of Lithuania were associated with Polish language and culture. These symbols were of special impor- tance to those members of the noble estate who had very little else to reaffirm its status as a social group somehow elevated above the mass of common peasantry. The noble estate traditionally provided educated people needed for

7 Smirnov mentions that in mid-nineteenth century the number of gentry in the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania was about 200 thousand. To this should be added 30 thousand clergy, much of it Roman Catholic, which was recruited mostly from the gentry. While this amounts to only about 5% of the population, one should add to these figures approximately 270 thousand former gentry, who could not prove their noble estate to the Russian authorities and were transferred to the status of free peasants. This addition would put the share of gentry in the total population of the North-Western Territory to about 10%, consistent with the data provided by Davies.

8 While a few magnates owned enormous estates, approximately more than half of the gentry were landless and most of them did not possess serfs (Davies, pp. 228–29).


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a small number of administrative positions in the late feudal Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This did not change after the Partitions, when the spread of imperial administrative apparatus into the region increased demand for cadres of all levels of education, from parochial school to the university graduate. Local gentry controlled the network of elementary and secondary schools. Kosman (1981, p. 50) mentions that in 1809 the Wilno school district (roughly the territory of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania) included six gymnasiums with 1,305 students and fifty four rural elementary schools with 7,442 students. The curriculum, language of instruction and hiring of teachers were controlled by local nobles, who often financed schools at their expense (Liaskovski, 1939, pp. 14–21). The Wilno University, until its closure in 1831, was one of the largest in Europe, with more than one thousand students in 1828 (Kosman, 1981, pp. 50, 51). Although closed after the unsuccessful uprising of 1831 (which, although having sympathy of the students, did not lead to armed rebellion in Wilno), it produced a generation of Polish-Lithuanian intellectuals whose ideas of Poland, Lithuania and Belarus influenced national development in the former Ducal lands for many decades. The more educated gentry was a link that connected the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania with the outside world. From Hotel Lam- bert in Paris, the headquarters of Polish emigre political activity, to the salons of Saint Petersburg, where high-ranking bureaucrats reflected on possible ways to improve an inefficient and unresponsive govern- ment, Polish-Lithuanian nobles participated in contemporary discourse and acquired the latest ideas about progress, democracy, and political change. They were the ones who attempted to implement those ideas back home, not unlike their ancestors in the 16th and 17th centuries, who would pick and choose the latest Western fashions that could be found in Warsaw or Cracow and then introduce them on their estates near Minsk or Grodno. Of course, in the nineteenth century the new ideas would come directly from the source, not distorted by the prism of the Polish political system, as was the case in centuries past. To the outside world, any visitor from the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, indeed any native noble in the former Ducal lands was thought of as a Pole. While some Russians made a distinction between Polish and Polonized gentry in Russia’s western provinces, 9

9 Koyalovich (1884, p. 455) approvingly quotes a monumental geographical study of the Russian Empire in which one of the contributing authors, Semionov, contrasts

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for European observers all gentry from the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth were simply Poles, no matter whether from Warsaw, Kobryn or Novogrudok (the latter two Belarusian towns are birthplaces of the military leader Tadeusz Kosciuszko and poet Adam Mickiewicz, both romantic personifications of the Polish national spirit). National self-perception among the Polish-Lithuanian gentry was not nearly as straightforward. Timothy Snyder (2003, pp. 26–30; 40–45) shows that landed nobility in the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania did not identify themselves as Poles in terms of modern nationalism. They combined a Polish linguistic and cultural identity with a strong affiliation with local traditions. As Wandycz (1974, p. 5) notes, the gentry, while accepting the Polish language and culture as symbols of affinity with the Polish state, did not become denationalized. Not infre- quently they spoke of themselves as Lithuanians. The latter term had little to do with the ethnic or national identity of modern Lithuanians. Rather, it signified an affiliation with the political and cultural legacy of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Adam Mickiewicz, whose ancestral estate was located in the center of ethnic Belarusian lands, called his fatherland “Litwa” (Lithuania) and himself Litwyn (Lithuanian). The “Lithuanian” social fabric, while strongly influenced by the Polish lan- guage and culture adopted by the educated class, was not identical to Polish. Mickiewicz and other prominent Lithuanian Poles thought of it as simple, rural, communal, with visible memories of past martial glory. This culture was not just an antiquated appendage of the great Polish culture. Cultural exchange between Poland proper and Poland-Lithu- ania for centuries has been a two-way process which gave substantial benefits to both sides. From Traugutt to Pilsudski, from Mickiewicz to Milosz, descendants of Polish-Lithuanian noble families that achieved world-wide prominence as Polish politicians or intellectuals brought their Lithuanian experience to those endeavors that were central to their rise to fame. Educated land-owning gentry saw in Polish linguistic and cultural identity a link to a broad cosmopolitan intellectual network, a conduit for modern ideas that could be introduced in their home provinces. For the small and landless gentry, including those whose noble status was revoked by the Russian government in 1836 (Wandycz, 1974, p. 126),

“Belarusian” peasants in the North-Western Territory with Polish or Polonized upper classes. These Polish or Polonized landlords are presented as an alien force standing between the Belarusian peasant and the Russian Imperial government, the latter being of the same faith and nationality as its Western Slavic peasant subjects.


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the Polish language and culture provided the only source of symbols that kept their status above that of common peasantry. A semi-literate squire who had to do regular peasant work for a living, either as a small land-holder or as a sharecropper, clung to the Polish language and a peculiar lifestyle that, while not exactly Polish, included conspicuous display of traditions rooted in the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. A contemporary observer gives a glimpse of the life of petty Polish-Lithuanian nobility: “In homesteads of the poorest nobles, in homes screened by the mantle of misery from attention of the police, there were preserved symbols of old Poland, language of the fatherland, traditions inherited from ancestors and patriotic feelings. A noble born and bred under the thatched roof might not know how many there are continents on Earth. Works of classics of Polish literature might have been alien to him. He could, though, sing Krasicki’s Święta miłości kochanej Ojczyzny or Karpinski’s Pieśń poranna i wieczorna or, accom- panied by his father with the guitar and mother at the keyboard, per- form Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła” (Mikolaj Akilewicz, quoted in Fajnhaus, p. 176). The first two songs mentioned in the quote above were popular ballads which, while evoking nostalgia about the Polish fatherland, did not call for political action. The third song, then unofficial (and today the official) Polish anthem, painted a vivid picture of the overthrow of the Russian occupation by the Polish army. Martial glories of the Pol- ish-Lithuanian past served as justification of poor gentry’s privileges, even though the latter were only symbolic. However, when real sacrifices were needed to justify these symbolic privileges, the Polish-Lithuanian gentry overwhelmingly responded to the call to arms issued by the revolutionary Polish government in January 1863. As the nobility in the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania tended to speak Polish and identify themselves as Poles, they will be referred to as Poles in the discussion that follows. According to Smirnov (1963, p. 301) Poles constituted 95 percent of the gentry in Minsk province, 94 percent in Vilno province, 85 percent in Grodno province, 72 percent in Mogilev province and 38 percent in Vitebsk province. Thus, the stage was set for a century of a conflict between the Imperial Russian government and Polish-Lithuanian elites, educated, politically minded, well familiar with contemporary European social movements and quite frequently possessing leadership experience acquired while in Russian service, civil or military. In a sense, the territory of the former Polish republic, including the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, had two parallel structures of state institutions: one, Imperial Russian, imposed from above on a conquered people, rigid, centralized

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and capable of wielding immense power; the other, Polish-Lithuanian, its ability to wield power substantially curtailed, but still possessing a responsive network of grass-roots institutions and capable of mobiliz- ing public opinion not only in their native lands (now known as the North-Western Territory of the Russian Empire) but also among the educated classes of Saint Petersburg and Moscow. The former tried to legitimize its presence in the “ancient Russian domains”, but was not quite successful and always had to buttress its authority by the presence of military force. The latter, its legitimacy assured by the overwhelm- ingly Polish character of the educated strata, repeatedly contested the legitimate monopoly of violence, the ultimate attribute of the state, according to Max Weber. It is against the background of this contest for legitimacy and power between Russian authorities and contending Polish-Lithuanian elites, that Belarusian national identity has been shaped and developed throughout the 19th century. Russia’s national policy in the provinces of the North-Western Territory did not focus on ethnic Poles. It was the Belarusian peasant population who received the full attention of the imperial government. There is a reason why the Poles, despite their apparent hostility to Russia, were left alone, while the mass of unassuming peasants was subjected to active Russification. All the nations and tribes of the vast multi-ethnic empire were allowed to retain their respective identities. There were only two exceptions. Ukrainians and Belarusians were officially recognized as two segments of the great Russian nation, returned to its bosom after centuries of foreign oppression and therefore in need of brotherly help and support to make them proper Russians. As the White Russians (Belarusians) and Little Russians (Ukrainians) were distinguishable from their Russian brothers mostly by religion and language, both confes- sional and linguistic differences required explanation and correction. Both were explained as contaminants brought by centuries of foreign domination and in need of correction by means of government inter- vention (Weeks, 1996, pp. 71–72). The religious aspect was especially pressing, as Orthodoxy was one of the three elements of the Russian national identity as defined by Emperor Nicholas I (the other two were Autocracy and Nationality). Although unsupported by evidence avail- able at the time (Weeks, 1996, p. 72), these attitudes constituted the foundation of the official Russian policies in the region. A majority of Belarusians and a substantial number of Ukrainians belonged to the Uniate Church, the denomination created by the Union of Brest in 1596, itself an outcome of almost a century of political and ecclesiastical developments. Ecclesiastically, the decline of the


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Constantinople Patriarchate, which after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was under the political control of Ottoman Turkey, and its inability to effectively lead the Orthodox dioceses in Ruthenian lands of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a major factor in a gradual realization of the necessity of a Church reform among the Ruthenian bishops (Gudziak, 1998). Politically, the establishment of the Patriarchal See in Moscow in 1589 presented the Orthodox elites in the Ruthenian lands of the Polish kingdom and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, both ecclesiastical and secular, with an unpalatable prospect of being subor- dinated to Muscovite Russia in spiritual matters at the time when this could have easily invited attempts at political subjugation by Russian Tsars. Mass conversion to Roman Catholicism was unthinkable, as it would destabilize the existing diocesan structure, thus jeopardizing positions of many Orthodox bishops, and lead to tensions and pos- sibly riots among the Orthodox faithful. The Union of Brest provided a much needed compromise. It founded a new Church, specifically for the formerly Orthodox Ruthenians. The new Church was doctrinally Catholic, but it retained the existing hierarchy of Orthodox clergy, while acknowledging the religious authority of the Pope of Rome and accepting some doctrinal aspects of Roman Catholicism, including the filioque clause. The new Church retained the religious practices of the Eastern Orthodoxy, the liturgy in Church Slavonic, traditional icons in Byzantine style, and permission to the parish clergy to marry. As Flynn (1993) notices, the compromise provided the ecclesiastical elite with access to Western cultural and intellectual achievements, while not alienating the peasant faithful, as the latter retained what mattered most to them, their religious traditions and liturgical practices. However, the Uniate Church rapidly became limited to the lowest strata of society, as the process of Polonization of the gentry, which was underway even at the time of the Union of Brest, included conversion to Roman Catholi- cism. Thus, in the course of several decades, the Uniate Church became known as the “peasant faith”. By the time of the third Partition of Poland, when the whole of ethnic Belarusian territory was incorporated into the Russian Empire, more than 80 percent of the rural population belonged to the Uniate Church (Sosna, 1999, p. 90). It is hardly an exaggeration to think of the Uniate Church as the only truly Belarusian institution that spanned the more than two hundred years from the Reformation almost to modernity. In recent years Belarusian historians have come to agree that the Uniate Church played an important positive role in the emergence and development of the Belarusian nation. Since 1636 the Ruthenian

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language was included in ecclesiastic practices, while liturgical Church Slavonic was gradually modified to accommodate some elements of the vernacular (Marozava, 1999). These steps made the Uniate Church an active participant in the development of what by the end of the 19th century has become commonly referred to as the Belarusian language. In fact, for generations of Belarusian peasants the only man who could not only speak but also read and write in their native tongue was the Uniate parish priest. From the point of view of the Russian imperial authorities, the Russification of the peasantry in the Slavic portions of the newly acquired western provinces had to include the abolition of the Uniate Church. The Russian authorities made attempts to abolish the Uniate Church in the lands ceded to them after the first Partition of Poland in 1772. Then it stopped short, however, of the direct and forcible elimina- tion of the religious institutions. While gradual transition to Russian Orthodoxy was facilitated by decrees that served to weaken ties of the Uniate Church in the Russian Empire with the Vatican and allowed appointment of Russian Orthodox priests to vacant positions in Uniate parishes, officially every religion, including the Uniate, was tolerated (for a detailed discussion of the Uniate Church in Belarus in the wake of the Polish Partitions see Sosna, 1999). In the reign of Nicholas I, pressure on the Uniate Church in the Russian Empire increased considerably. Dylangowa (1996) thinks that the decision to liquidate the Uniate Church in the Russian Empire was taken well before 1839, the actual date of its liquidation. It well may be the case, as abolition went rather smoothly and did not cause immediate complications for the authorities. Apparently, the latter made thorough preparations beforehand. Four Uniate bishops were persuaded that conversion of their flock to the Orthodoxy would be beneficial for the spiritual well-being of the faithful and would not jeopardize the posi- tion of the Uniate clergy as they transferred to the Russian Orthodox hierarchy without loss of status. On February 12, 1839, bishops Vasili Luzhinski and Iosiph Semashko signed a petition to the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. They asked to be allowed together with their dioceses to convert to the Eastern Orthodox rite and be admitted to the Russian Orthodox Church. The petition was granted by the Synod and approved by the Tsar, thus ending more than two hundred years of the Uniate Church in the ethnic Belarusian lands. More than 1300 Uniate priests and monks converted to Russian Orthodoxy and retained their positions, while about 600 declined and were deported to the eastern provinces of Russia. As for the faithful,


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almost exclusively peasants, they did not care much about doctrinal details. Samusik (1999) catalogues a number of situations when the newly converted peasants did not know what was their new faith and frequently would define it simply as “Russian” or “official” (kazionnaya). Now, with the Uniate Church being replaced by the official Russian Orthodoxy, imperial authorities made a major step towards the final Russification of the majority of the “locals”. However, their monopoly of violence was as yet far from uncontested. For Polish national mythology, the importance of the January Upris- ing of 1863 is undeniable. The armed insurrection, which in the ethnic Polish lands of the Russian Empire gained considerable strength and continued for more than a year, demonstrated that Poland had never been reduced to a mere national idea but retained an important aspect of the state, the ability to legitimately dispense violence within a certain territory. This attribute, crucial to the idea of the modern state, never faded away for more than one generation. From Kosciuszko’s armed struggle against the Russians to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw to Con- gress Poland, there was an almost uninterrupted presence of national Polish state structures within the territory of the erstwhile Polish-Lithu- anian Res Publica. The 1863 uprising ensured the generational continu- ity between the end of the Congress Kingdom, whose disappearance after 1831 was an outcome of an unsuccessful armed struggle, and the Polish Legions of the first World War. Many of those who fought in the 1831 insurrection later planned and in some cases participated in the armed struggle during the January uprising of 1863. Less than sixty years after the uprising, the surviving rebels witnessed the rebirth of the independent Polish state. In 1914, speaking at the funeral of the last surviving member of the People’s Government (Rząd Narodowy) of 1863, Jozef Pilsudski, the soon to be architect of independent Poland, used the symbolism of the January uprising to emphasize forcefully the continuity of the Polish state (Jarzebowski, 1963, pp. 296–97). The symbolism was all the more potent for the inclu- sion of the lands of former Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the uprising. 10

10 R. Wapinski (1994) provides a detailed discussion of the increased importance of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in Polish national mythology of the 19th century, as somewhat inflated memories of past greatness served to mitigate the humiliation of a stateless existence in post-partition ethnically Polish territories.

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Whether it had the same significance for the Belarusian national myth is quite another matter. Far from being a purely symbolic act, the inclusion of eastern ter- ritories of the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth in the Janu- ary uprising was based on sound strategic considerations. During the insurrection of 1831 military actions took place almost exclusively on the territory of Congress Poland where Polish regular forces fought against regular Russian armies. Defeat of the insurrection highlighted the futility of fighting against the Russian armed forces which always would be numerically superior to whatever the Poles could put in the field. If the Polish state was to be resurrected by means of military force, innovations in military strategy and tactics represented the only hope. The veterans of the 1831 insurrection who went to exile in France started to analyze their defeat and plan for the next confrontation with Russia shortly after they left Poland. In his study of Polish military thought of the 19th century, Halicz (1975) describes the emergence and development of the concept of guerilla warfare by emigre military thinkers. His account of ideas developed by Ludwik Mieroslawski, Maurycy Mochnacki, and Ludwik Bystrzonowski (Halicz, 1975, pp. 120–155) is particularly relevant to the events of the 1863 uprising on the territory of today’s Belarus. In their writings, published in 1830s and 1840s, all three applied the general idea of guerilla warfare to specific conditions of Poland, including the territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Mochnacki and Mieroslawski argued that in the future conflict the eastern territories should become a major theater of military operations, as their strategic position would be crucial for the disruption of communications between the central Russian regions and Polish territories. Mochnacki emphasized that the terrain of the eastern provinces made them especially suitable for guerilla warfare. Bystrzonowski developed a new concept of military communication for small irregular detachments of future insurgents. He noticed that vast tracts of land covered with forest and swamp, traditionally regarded as obstacles for the movement of regular armies, could serve as areas of communication for guerilla detachments whose familiarity with the terrain would allow them to traverse the expanses of wood and marsh, safe from confrontation with superior Russian forces. The guerillas, moving along the continuous lines of difficult terrain, would be able to strike at strategically important targets located on the margins of the wooded areas. Bystrzonowski detailed all the major aspects of the future guerilla campaign, from the preferred armament (carbines with


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bayonets) to the uniforms (not too elaborate, but clearly distinguishable from civilian clothing). To put this innovative plan into motion, leaders of Poland’s struggle for independence needed to recruit a guerilla force of substantial size and ensure its support by the local population. In the territories Polish population was not predominant these two tasks could be accomplished only if the Lithuanian and Belarusian peasants could be persuaded of the legitimacy of the Polish cause. The January Manifesto, issued by the Central People’s Committee, called to arms the “nation of Poland, Lithuania and Ruthenia”. It was clear, however, that in the run up to the uprising the mobilization of rebel forces was much more advanced in the Kingdom of Poland than in the North-Western Territory. Moreover, in the latter the efforts of the local revolutionary leaders were directed disproportionately towards ethnic Poles. In the two years that preceded the insurrection mobiliz- ing public support often took the form of large-scale public gatherings, street demonstrations and celebrations of important dates in the his- tory of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. All those events took place in cities and towns, participation was limited to Polish urban intelligentsia, craftsmen and merchants, Polish officers serving in Rus- sian regiments billeted in the vicinity, and Polish landed nobility and gentry. Throughout the countryside, a conspiratorial network of three thousand members (almost all of them Polish landlords) prepared for the armed conflict by clandestinely procuring weapons and hoarding supplies. However, the conspirators paid much less attention to the recruitment of the local peasantry to their cause. Perhaps the only sustained effort to this effect was the publication of an anti-Russian bulletin in the Belarusian vernacular. Issues of the bulletin, entitled Peasant Truth (Muzhitskaya Pravda), have been distributed in the vil- lages throughout Grodno and Vilno provinces from June 1862 to the late spring of 1863. Peasant Truth was a brainchild of one man, Konstanty Kalinowski, son of a petty landlord from Grodno province. He belonged to the radical faction within the clandestine organization that prepared the uprising in the territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Kalinowski is not infrequently described as the founding father of modern Belarusian nationalism. Interestingly, both Belarusian nation- ally-minded and official Soviet historians tend to share this view. While Peasant Truth can be regarded as the first political document of the modern era published in the Belarusian language, the wider impact of

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Kalinowski’s work on Belarusian national development is not as easy to categorize. The Polish revolutionary leadership of the 1863 uprising was divided into two main factions: the moderates (“whites”) and radicals (“reds”). This division was present in all three major centers of the movement:

among the emigre revolutionaries in Paris, within the Central People’s Committee (Komitet Centralny Narodowy, the KCN) in Warsaw and in the Lithuanian Provincial Committee in Vilno. The radical faction became more prominent as the uprising progressed and the KCN became the National Government (Rząd Narodowy) and the Lithuanian Committee, the Lithuanian Section (Oddzial). Both the “whites” and the “reds” shared the goal of the restoration of the Polish state in the borders of 1772, that is, including the territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The difference between the factions was in the methods employed to achieve this goal, as well as the political reforms to be enacted once the country regained independence. The “whites” expected that an insurrection led by the landed nobility and supported by international pressure on the Russian government would lead to the eventual restoration of independent Poland and would be followed by moderate reforms. The “reds” insisted that success of the uprising could only be ensured by the mass participation of peasants who would be rewarded by a radical redistribution of property once the victory was achieved. However, for both moderate and radical factions the resur- rection of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was central to their respective programs. The “reds” of the Lithuanian Provincial Committee did not differ in this respect from their like-minded co-conspirators in Warsaw or Paris. The differences became even less pronounced in the autumn of 1863, when Romuald Traugutt, a member of the “red” fac- tion who fought with relative success in the Belarusian forests, became dictator of the National Government in Warsaw. While almost all histo- rians point out separatist tendencies among the “red” leadership of the Lithuanian Provincial Committee, they do not indicate that the incipi- ent separatism had a Belarusian nationalist foundation. The “whites” and the “reds” were engaged in a constant power struggle in which the “whites” enjoyed support of the National Government until the second half of 1863. It well may be that separatism of the “reds” was based on purely tactical considerations. One point is clear, however: neither “reds” nor “whites” in the Lithuanian Committee came up with a coherent program of national independence of Belarus or even its substantial


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autonomy within a restored Rzeczpospolita. Even Kalinowski, whom many historians (Liaskovski, Vakar, Smirnov, Zaprudnik) regard as the most separatist among the “red” conspirators, promised the peasants land and freedom as a grant from the Polish government and never articulated a system of political participation for the Belarusians above the village level. 11 While the Manifesto of the Lithuanian Provincial Committee, issued a week after the KCN Manifesto of January 23, was somewhat more accommodating towards the peasants, it might have been due to the simple fact that the Lithuanian conspirators understood that the non-Polish peasantry of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania would not be drawn into the armed struggle by the prospects of a restored Polish state. The Lithuanian Manifesto was more emphatic then the KCN Proclamation in promising land to those peasants who joined the rebel forces. Still, even the additional incentives proved insufficient to ensure peasants’ support of the uprising. In the North-Western Territory the armed struggle began with incur- sions of rebel detachments from the Kingdom of Poland. On January 20 the insurgents succeeded in taking four small towns where govern- ment military garrisons were small or non-existent. However, the rebel forces occupied the towns only for several days and then left before the advancing government troops. In one town, where the rebels chose to stand and fight, they were soundly defeated and had to retreat to the Kingdom of Poland (Liaskovski, 1939, pp. 66–69; Smirnov, 1963, pp. 129–133). Ominously, the retreat was accompanied by mass desertion of local peasants, pressed into service by the insurgents (Liaskovski, 1939, p. 69). Although strategically unimpressive, these raids by Polish rebels would be considered a success if compared with the military actions organized by local revolutionaries. As the Lithuanian Committee (which on March 11 changed its name to the Section Governing the Lithuanian Provinces) opened hostilities in the beginning of April, a series of tragic military defeats followed in a quick succession. On April 13, six men led by Count Plater attacked a military convoy killing three soldiers and capturing a quantity of military equipment. Shortly thereafter the insurgents were apprehended by local peasants and handed over to the authorities. This skirmish had effectively started and ended rebel

11 Kalinowski’s deference to the Polish (National) Government, visible throughout his writings in the Peasant Truth, was a major predicament for the Soviet historians, e.g. A. F. Smirnov, who spares no effort in presenting Kalinowski as a democratic revolutionary who fought for Belarus’s independence (Smirnov, 1963, pp. 111–114).

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military operations in Vitebsk province. In the neighboring Mogilev province, a 250-man strong rebel unit on April 23 took the town of Gory-Gorki, recruited several students of the local agricultural academy, and left for the nearest forest. Five days later the unit, now reduced to 200 men, was annihilated by government troops. Several smaller groups of insurgents in Mogilev province met the same end in the last days of April. The most disturbing aspect of these defeats for the organiz- ers of the uprising was that upon contact with regular army, the rebel detachment would rapidly degenerate into a collection of stragglers, easily picked up by local peasants who either killed their captives or handed them over to government troops. 12 The situation was just as grim in Minsk province, where in the last week of April three guerilla detachments were dispersed by government forces with devastating losses for the rebels. In Vilno and Grodno provinces, where insurgents managed to form larger and better disciplined detachments, they held their own against the government forces for some time. Still, the defeat of a large guerilla force, together with the capture of its commander, Zygmunt Serakowski, was a major blow to the revolutionaries, as with Serakowski’s capture they lost one of the most capable military leaders. In Western Belarus small detachments continued to harass government forces throughout late spring and summer of 1863. Romuald Traugutt, whose detachment was skillfully using the tactics advocated earlier by Bystrzonowski had managed to advance to its objectives through the densely wooded areas, thus placing itself on the interior lines of communications and was able to defeat regular units of the Russian army. This, however, was an exception. Most guerilla forces were too small, too badly trained and too poorly supplied to win pitched battles against regular Russian troops. Despite the skilled leadership of their commanders (mostly professional army officers) and the high courage of individual fighters, they were forced to limit their actions to skir- mishes and raids on undefended villages. Even those were becoming increasingly difficult as the North-Western Territory became saturated with Russian forces. According to official Russian figures (quoted in Smirnov, 1963, p. 122), throughout the North-Western Territory in April there were 11 major military actions against guerillas. This

12 Liaskovski, Smirnov and Fajnhaus provide accounts that, while varying in style and interpretation, agree on the outcomes of most encounters between rebel forces and government troops in the provinces of Vitebsk, Mogilev and Minsk in April 1863.


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number rose to 17 in May and then fell precipitously, to 3 in June and just one in August. Smaller skirmishes were more numerous, but they also exhibited the downward trend throughout the summer. One may safely say that guerilla detachments on ethnic Belarusian and Lithu- anian territories had ceased to be a military threat after May 1863 and from then on presented an internal security problem. In other words, the rebels managed to remain active contestants for the monopoly of violence within the borders of former Grand Duchy of Lithuania for two, maybe three months. The revolutionaries did not lack brilliant military planners and dedi- cated field commanders. The concept of organized guerilla warfare was innovative and sound. However, in the territories with mostly Belarusian population, leaders of the uprising simply did not have enough people to make it work. Before the uprising, Polish military thinkers envisioned forests and swamps as bases of operation from which rebel forces, invis- ible and unreachable by government troops, would strike at strategically important targets, consolidate control over territory, and move to the next task. In reality, guerilla forces in the territories populated mostly by Belarusians were too small to challenge the government’s control over population centers or major communications, including telegraph and railroad. No rebel detachment gained the critical mass needed suc- cessfully to confront regular army units above battalion strength. As for control over territory, insurgents generally failed to install their own administration in populated areas. All they controlled were swathes of wilderness. At the same time, government troops had almost complete freedom of movement and their control over cities and towns was vir- tually unchallenged. In rural areas, the most the insurgents could do was to raid defenseless villages, destroy offices of local administration and disappear into the forest before the arrival of government troops (often alerted by the local peasants). There was a clearly observable inverse correlation between the density of active guerilla units and the density of ethnic Belarusian population. According to Smirnov (1963, p. 123), there were 1229 military confron- tations in the course of the uprising. Out of this number, only 247 took place in the North-Western Territory, while the vast majority, more than 940, occurred in the Congress Kingdom (the remaining confron- tations took place in Volhynia and elsewhere in Ukraine). Within the North-Western Territory, the highest density of military actions was observed in lands with mostly Lithuanian population. In the province of Kovno, there were 99 confrontations. The province of Vilno, with its mixture of Lithuanian, Polish and Belarusian ethnic groups, saw 49

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confrontations. In Grodno province, where the concentration of ethnic Poles was considerable and where the cross-border incursions of guerilla detachments from the Congress Kingdom resulted in some of the more successful operations of the uprising, the number of confrontations was 65. However, in Minsk province there were only 20 confrontations. Farther east, there were only three encounters in Mogilev province and just one in Vitebsk province. Data on the participation of Belarusian peasants in the uprising are sketchy. Smirnov, who employed an impressive quantity of archival sources in his study of the uprising, fails to come up even with a rough estimate of the number of peasants involved in the armed struggle. Fajn- hauz provides a series of accounts of peasant enlistment in individual rebel units and concludes that it was the largest in western provinces and almost negligible in the east. According to his analysis, there was a direct link between peasants’ ethnicity, as well as religious affiliation, and their propensity to take part in rebellion. Poles, as well as Roman Catholic Belarusians, were more likely to actively support the insur- gents or to fight alongside them (Fajnhauz, p. 211). At the same time, in eastern provinces, where peasants were predominantly Orthodox Belarusians, their participation was very low. Fajnhaus mentions that in the whole province of Mogilev only 41 peasants took place in the insurrection (Fajnhauz, p. 218). Those peasants who did participate tended to defect at the first confrontation with Russian forces. Examples of such defections are mentioned by Smirnov (pp. 142, 145, 150). Among those peasants who did not join the rebel forces, support for the uprising was at best sporadic. In fact, more often then not, Belarusian peasants chose to collaborate with Russian authorities by supplying information about rebel movements and rounding up guerilla fighters belonging to the units dispersed by Russian regular army. Fajnhauz, while providing examples of peasants’ support for the rebels (mostly in western provinces), mentions that in many cases the insurgents had to keep at bay hostile crowds of local peasants (p. 213). He explains the frequent hostility of the peasants in Minsk, Vitebsk and Mogilev provinces by successful anti-Polish propaganda, spread by the Russian government. Propaganda brochures printed in Russian and addressed to the “Russian people” presented the uprising as an attempt by Polish landlords to regain not only independence for Poland but also control over their peasants (Fajnhauz, p. 212). The vast majority of Belarusian peasants were ambivalent towards the goals and aspirations of the insurgents. This is reflected in the numbers of peasants who joined the government-organized village self-defense


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units (sel’skiye karauly). Smirnov puts the number of peasants in these units at more than 21,000 for the whole North-Western Territory, out of which 8,507 in Grodno province (Smirnov, 1963, p. 296). At the same time, he mentions that at the highest point of the uprising, the total number of rebel forces in Grodno province was 1,700 and calcu- lates the total strength of the insurgent army for the North-Western Territory to be between 12,000 and 15,000 armed guerilla fighters. According to the most optimistic evaluations, ethnically Belarusian peasants constituted less than 50 percent of rebel forces and generally were the least reliable and stable component, prone to unpredictable desertions. Thus, the comparison between participation of Belarusian peasants in anti-government and pro-government armed units might indicate that their loyalty lay predominantly with the existing author- ity and not with the contending elites. The latter were seen as Polish landlords and townsfolk acting for the benefit of the Polish national cause and making vague promises of land grants and abolition of army conscription to the peasants, while confiscating their foodstuffs and pressing the able-bodied men into service. The January uprising of 1863 was a brainchild of Polish intellectuals and emigre politicians. Its leaders acted within the context of national self-determination movements, widespread among the European nations in the 19th century. Its main goal, stated more than once by key figures among the revolutionaries, was the restoration of the Polish Res Publica within the pre-Partition borders. Of course, politically the restored Poland was to become a modern democratic state. However, the revolutionary leaders envisioned it as a Polish national state, not a confederation of Polish and non-Polish politically autonomous ethnic territories. The revolutionaries saw their struggle as a Polish national cause. It was presented this way to potential allies among European governments, to European public opinion, to educated classes in the Polish Kingdom and North-Western Territory of the Russian Empire, and even to the Belarusian peasants whose participation in the uprising was sought by the revolutionary leadership. When even the most radi- cal separatists in the Lithuanian Section addressed the local peasants, they referred to the Polish government as the guarantor of the com- ing social reforms. Throughout the preparatory stages and the actual armed struggle, Belarus was regarded as a crucial strategic theater of operations, as a source of manpower for the revolutionary army, but never as an actual or potential political entity separate from the restored Polish state. Whatever the private aspirations of individual members of the “red” faction of the Lithuanian Section, they did not

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style themselves as contenders for a Belarusian national state. The uprising, while contributing to the continuation of Polish national institutions in the period of Poland’s statelessness, did nothing to cre- ate institutions of a Belarusian state. Throughout the uprising, Belarus remained a borderland, a territory where a majority of the indigenous population was forced to choose between two contestants, both seen as foreign, neither attractive. Was the 1863 uprising in the North Western Territory a movement for Belarusian national independence or a Polish insurrection? As the Belarusian peasantry did not show much enthusiasm for the armed struggle, the debate over the uprising’s national character concentrates on identities and aspirations of its leaders and active participants, almost all of them members of the landed nobility or urban middle class. To Polish researchers, e.g., Fajnhauz and Zholtowski, they are Poles, fight- ing for a Polish national cause. Soviet historians, e.g., Smirnov, regard the “Red” faction of the Lithuanian Committee as revolutionaries whose agenda included both radical social reforms and national liberation. Belarusian historians, e.g., Lych, Zaprudnik, tend to share the latter view, only with a greater emphasis on the national liberation aspect. Perhaps a less selective picture might emerge if one looks at the events of 1863 against the background of European revolutionary movements of the 19th century. Europe is the birthplace of nationalist politics. Throughout the conti- nent, 19th century Europeans were abandoning their old allegiances—to the tribe, the prince, the locality—and lining up behind newly invented national symbols. Movement towards liberal democracy frequently followed the awakening of the national sentiment, thus including the latter into a great panoply of modernity. Spearheading this process were the new elites, educated, adventurous, seeking to change society according to newly learned theories, ideas, and myths. In their quest for leadership in the projected democratic societies, they appealed to national sentiment as a source of legitimacy (and sometimes created new nations in the process). Polish revolutionaries who led the uprising of 1831, created a short-lived Krakow republic in 1846, and prepared the armed rebellion of 1863 were inspired by the same combination of democracy and nationalism as their counterparts in the rest of continental Europe. In the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, local elites who were inspired by the revolutionary Zeitgeist had choices: to join the emerging liberal milieu in Saint Petersburg or Moscow (and become Russians in the process), to become a member of Polish revolutionary circles in


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Warsaw (after 1831, in Paris), or to explore new roads to power. In the first case, they would have to compete with people from all over the huge empire for allegiance of the predominantly Russian population. In the second case, should a Polish liberal revolution have succeeded, most leadership positions would have been likely to be taken by people from Warsaw and Krakow, not petty gentry from eastern provinces. This made the third choice all the more attractive. Those members of the Polish gentry who had few connections in imperial centers of Russia and not enough income to provide for the impecunious career of a professional revolutionary in Warsaw or an emigre politician in Paris, often would become “political entrepreneurs”. It was a rational choice. Local elites, many of them with roots in rural areas, were well familiar with the lay of the land. They knew that an anti-Russian insur- rection in the region would be supported by many small landowners. They knew that those members of the petty gentry who were deprived of their privileges and transformed into free peasants by the decree of 1836 would be a large reservoir of manpower for an uprising. In addition to that, the new “political entrepreneurs” recognized the presence of yet another potential participant in the planned armed struggle: the local peasantry, voiceless, illiterate, nameless, but multi- tudinous. To utilize the political potential of local peasantry, the con- tending elites needed two things: first, a recognition of peasants as free participants in the political process and second, a means to relate themselves to peasants, to be able to get their message to potential supporters. Already familiar with European revolutions, they had no problem with the former. As for the latter, the proto-nationalist elites needed to study the language spoken by the locals. Then they could write in the language understood by their potential constituency and call upon them to build a new and better society. Syrokomla (Kondratowicz), a Polish-Lithuanian nobleman and poet, wrote in the vernacular about the ill-fated and short-lived Krakow uprising of 1846:

Tam na Zahodzie praliwajuć kroŭ Bjusćia dla slawy, swabody i cześci I robiać wolnych ludzej z mużikoŭ.

(There in the west they spill blood, Fighting for glory, freedom and honor and make free men out of peasants.) 13

13 Spelling, which is neither Polish nor Belarusian, is preserved as in the original.

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Of course, the peasants (to whom this poem was presumably addressed) were not sufficiently well versed in the political geography of con- temporary Europe to respond to the revolutionary events “there, in the west”. The Krakow Republic was not really a peasant affair, so invoking it would not spread a revolutionary mood even among those few Belarusian peasants who knew where Krakow was located. The incongruity of the example, however, was perhaps a less important impediment to communication with the peasant than the simple fact of their almost complete illiteracy. Seventeen years later, Konstanty Kalinowski exhibited a great mastery of the Belarusian language in his appeals to the local Belarusian peasantry to choose the side of the “Polish government” in the struggle against Russian oppressors. 14 Kalinowski made a deliberate attempt to relate the insurrection of 1863 to the contemporary democratic movements in Western Europe, as well as political systems in England and France. Once again, the illiteracy of potential recipients stymied the spread of his ideas which were likely to leave the recipients ambivalent, as Belarusian peasants could not care less about England’s parliamentary democracy or French political liberalization. This point aside, Kalinowski acted like an astute politi- cian who recognized that without support of Belarusian peasants, the uprising in the former Ducal lands was doomed and who understood that he had to speak their language to be heard. The aftermath of the uprising actually contributed more to the devel- opment of the Belarusian national institutions than did the insurrection itself. Before 1863, the Russian authorities in the region did not object to lower administrative positions being occupied by ethnic Poles. 15 The Polish language and culture were tolerated. So was the Roman Catholic Church, whose clergy, mostly Polish in their language and culture, used their position to promote the cause of Poland’s national liberation. Official attitude changed after the insurrection, which

14 In today’s discussion, Kalinowski the revolutionary overshadows Kalinowski the ethnographer and linguist. His contribution to the development of the Belarusian language is put in perspective by Mscislaw Olechnowicz (1986, p. 157), who describes Kalinowski as a “Polish Belarusian folklorist” and mentions him together with Jan Czeczot and Dunin-Marcinkiewicz, two authors commonly credited with the develop- ment of the literary Belarusian language.

15 Liaskovski (1939, pp. 25–30) mentions that prior to the 1863 insurrection three quarters of all administrative positions in the North-Western Territory were occupied by Poles. This included administrative and technical positions in railroad network, telegraph and mail services.


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authorities regarded as a purely Polish affair. Active participants in the armed struggle received sentences ranging from death to deportation. The number of persons executed on orders of Mikhail Muraviev, the governor general of the territory in 1863–64, is estimated at 128 (one hundred and twenty eight, a figure that looks insignificant against the background of politically-motivated executions conducted by progres- sive social movements of the 20th century). Various authors estimate the number of those deported to the eastern provinces of Russia to be anywhere between ten and twenty thousand. Polish landowners had their estates confiscated and transferred to the Crown. Zholtowski reports that those deported landowners whose property was not con- fiscated outright were given two years to sell their estates to the buyers of non-Polish origin (Zholtowski, 1950, p. 127). He estimates the loss of Polish property in the region at one million acres (Zholtowski, 1950, p. 127). Poles were removed from almost all administrative positions in the regions. They were cleansed with particular thoroughness from the educational system, which hitherto was dominated by local landlords who actively promoted the Polish language as the medium of instruction in all educational institutions above the village school level. After the insurrection, the culturally and linguistically Polish popula- tion of the North Western Territory has lost its dominant social position. However, the Russian anti-Polish policies did not include promotion of the local Belarusian culture or language. Instead, the authorities implemented policies whose goal was to make the Russian culture and language dominant in the region. In education, the Polish language was fully replaced by Russian as the language of instruction in the several years that followed the insurrection of 1863. Russian educa- tional authorities did not consider even a limited introduction of the Belarusian language in schools. Kornilov, Head of the Vilno education district (which included most of the territory of today’s Belarus and Lithuania) in the Muraviev administration, envisioned the education reform in the region as yet another battle between the Poles and the Russians. While the military confrontation ensured Russian control over the territory, education was to ensure the Russian influence over the soul of the local population. The Slavic part of the latter was defined variably as “Russian” or “Belarusian”, while its language was invari- ably referred to as “Russian”. In a fashion characteristic of Russian official attitudes to ethnic minorities, educational administrators in the region made a distinction between policies towards the Belarusian and Lithuanian population. The former was treated as Russian, or at least

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potentially Russian, hence the insistence on the Russian language as the sole medium of instruction. The latter was recognized as a separate ethnic group, neither Polish nor Russian. Consequently, the Lithuanian language at the lower levels of the educational system was allowed as a vehicle of de-Polonization. Kornilov wrote that “for Lithuanians the native language, the one spoken at home, is Lithuanian, while for the Belarusian peasants it is Russian. Neither understand a word in Polish. Consequently, the Lithuanians should be educated in Lithuanian, while the Belarusians, in Russian” (Kornilov, pp. 134–135). Treatment of Belarusians as West Russians, i.e., Russians who hap- pened to live in the western provinces of the Russian Empire, was widespread not only among imperial administrators, but also among the educated Russian classes. Not only the Slavophiles, such as Ivan Aksakov, referred to Belarus as West Russia, but liberal Westernized economists, such as Piotr Struve and Sergei Yuzhakov, insisted that economic progress demands that inhabitants of the western provinces speak Russian and not the local dialect. Those Russian intellectuals who studied the history and ethnography of Belarusian ethnic territories tended to ignore the specific features of Belarusians which set them apart from both Poles and Russians. Turchinovich (1857) presented the history of Belarus as simply a continuous struggle between Lithuanians, Poles, and Russian over a stretch of land populated by people who passively endured armed conflict and continuous oppression. Several decades later the same attitude, in a more elaborate form, was presented in the works of Lappo. Gavorski and Koyalovich in their studies of the local political scene emphasized the benefits of Russification and perils of Polonization for the local population, while always maintaining that the latter was “West-Russian”, with no identifiable national features of its own. This vision of the population of western provinces of the Empire had a strong and lasting impact on Russian public opinion. An ideal-typical Belarusian was thought of as an impoverished peasant suffering under intolerable oppression of an essentially foreign ruling class and incapable of improving his lot without the help of the Rus- sian nation. Belarusians started the 19th century with no political or economic institutions of their own. The only Belarusian institution that tran- scended the boundaries of village community was the Uniate Church. Decades of steady escalation of Russian influence in the region had resulted in the planting of Russian administrative, legal, educational, religious and economic structures onto the Belarusian soil. While


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undoubtedly more in line with an overall European movement towards modernity, these institutions had not been Belarusian, either in their design or in the national character of their participants. During the 19th century Belarusians lost their only national institution, the Uniate Church. They lost the legacy of a proto-Belarusian legal system, as the Lithuanian Statute of 1588, many provisions of which were still valid even after the Partitions. The Statute was abolished in 1840, thus putting an end to the practice of local elections and municipal self-government (Wandycz, 1974, p. 125). In the course of the 1863 insurrection they lost a generation of young men who might have been their political leaders should the uprising have succeeded. They lost a generation of intellectuals to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg where people born to Belarusian families were taught to think of their land as nothing more than an administrative region of the Russian Empire and their people as a western branch of the great Russian nation. In the aftermath of the January uprising, Belarusian national con- sciousness seemed to be doomed to extinction. According to the census of 1897 (as quoted by Zaprudnik, 1993, p. 63), however, in five provinces of the North Western Territory 5.4 million people, 64 percent of the total population, were identified as Belarusians. Weeks (1996, p. 237) quotes census figures that indicate that share of Belarusian population varied from 56.05% in Vilno province to 82.4% in Mogilev province. Of this number, only 2.6 percent of Belarusians lived in urban centers, the overwhelming majority being rural dwellers. Belarusians were mostly peasants, but they made inroads into the educated strata of society. According to Zaprudnik (1993, p. 63), about 40 percent of civil ser- vants and 60 percent of teachers in the region identified themselves as Belarusians. The Belarusian presence in other professional groups (they comprised 29 percent of railroad and telegraph employees, 20 percent of medical doctors and 10 percent of lawyers), although well below the share of Belarusians in the general population, was by no means negligible. Despite a century of a deliberate and efficient campaign of Russification, supported by the immense resources of the Russian Empire, Belarusian national identity survived and even spread from its peasant base into educated social groups. This resilience requires at least a brief explanation. In the second half of the 19th century Belarusian territories experi- enced rapid economic development accompanied by an equally rapid population growth. Between 1863 and 1897, the population of Belarus almost doubled, from 3.3 million to 6.5 million. The urban population

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increased at the same rate and reached 680,000 by 1897. However, the process of urbanization in Belarusian ethnic territories was not as pronounced as in other parts of the Russian Empire, since the growth of the cities went apace with the growth of the general population. It is unclear if there was substantial rural-urban migration. By the end of the 19th century less than 10 percent of the population in the five Belarusian provinces lived in urban centers (all figures quoted from Zaprudnik, pp. 60–61). Another feature of Belarusian socio-economic development that set the region apart from the neighboring parts of the Russian Empire was a strangely disjointed pattern of urbanization, industrialization and technological progress. According to Tsvikevich (1993, p. 243), the number of industrial workers in Belarus increased from 23,000 in 1866 to 560,000 in 1897, while industrial production grew from 19 million roubles to 60 million roubles in the same period. Thus, the absolute growth in industrial employment exceeded the absolute growth of urban population. This discrepancy suggests that in Belarusian provinces new industrial enterprises tended to emerge in the countryside and therefore did little to influence urban development. As a threefold growth in industrial output was accompanied by an almost twenty fivefold increase in industrial employment, industrial productiv- ity must have virtually collapsed. Apparently, the new industries did not involve technological innovations but rather presented increased demand for unskilled and badly paid labor whose productivity was negligible. In the last decades of the 19th century the region attracted primary sector industries involved in extraction and crude processing of natural resources. The latter, mostly peat and timber, did not require substantial capital investment, therefore the emergent enterprises were not hampered by the fact that almost seventy percent of the labor force could not read or write. However primitive the industry, its expansion presented a demand for technicians, supervisors and administrators who, unlike the workers, had to be literate. Many regions of the Russian Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century experienced explosive economic growth. In most of them, the pay and promotion outlook for low and middle level technicians and managers were considerably better than in the North Western Territory. Consequently, the newly emerged Belarusian industries had to recruit managers and technicians locally. There was one ethnic group which would be a logical choice as a source of skilled labor. Lands of today’s Belarus lay within the so-called Pale of Settlement, the only territory within the Russian Empire where


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Jews were allowed to reside and outside of which they could only settle under exceptional circumstances and with government permission. According to Weeks (1996, pp. 86, 89), Jewish share of population, while below 20% overall, was close to fifty percent in many towns and cities, varying from 40% in Vilno to 55% in Mogilev. Jewish predomi- nance in crafts and trades, as well as their educational level, which was considerably higher than that of Belarusians, made this ethnic group a proto-middle class (Weeks, 1996, p. 77). However, Jews could not be employed on government jobs (including post office and railroad) due to the officially sanctioned anti-Semitism (Weeks, 1996, pp. 59–64), while the newly emerging jobs in private sector tended to be located in rural areas, away from the cities and towns where Jewish population of the region concentrated. Had the industrial expansion occurred before the mass de-Poloniza- tion of the ethnically Belarusian provinces in the wake of the January Uprising, the local Polish-Lithuanian gentry and urban lower-middle class would have provided a suitably large pool of candidates. After the Uprising, this pool having been drained by mass imprisonments and deportations, new employers (many of them Russian absentee landlords who benefitted from the government policy of the sale of confiscated Polish estates at below the fair market value) turned to the Belarusian graduates of the local, now thoroughly Russified, school system. The latter included elementary schools of the Ministry of Public Educa- tion as well as parish schools run by the Russian Orthodox Church. Tsvikevich (1993, pp. 244, 245) reports that in 1899 there were about 1,500 government run elementary schools and more than 5,500 parish schools in four ethnically Belarusian provinces (Grodno, Minsk, Vitebsk and Mogilev). In addition to that, there were 23 secondary schools, all run by the Ministry of Public Education. Tsvikievich estimates that in 1899 elementary schools in the provinces of Vilno, Grodno, Minsk and Mogilev were attended by 300,000 students. According to Kornilov, teachers and educational administrators from Russia’s heartland were reluctant to relocate to the western provinces. These positions had to be filled by local, mostly ethnic Belarusian, educators. Nationally-minded Belarusian researchers, from Tsvikevich in the 1920s to Lych in 2001, did not fail to notice the policy of Russification behind the Russian government effort to establish a viable educational system in ethnic Belarusian provinces. It is not quite clear to what extent the Russifying intentions of official educators became a reality. True, the schools, run by the government and the Russian Orthodox Church

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not only educated, but also indoctrinated their students in the official ideology of Russian imperialism. However, while the schools did suc- ceed in reducing illiteracy, they failed as instruments of Russification. Belarusian graduates of elementary schools were educated in the Russian language, but they kept using the vernacular at home. Moreover, the difference between the two languages must have highlighted the fact that they belong to a distinct, non-Russian ethnicity. Thus, the system of elementary education established in ethnic Belarusian provinces by Russian authorities annually produced hundreds of thousands of people literate in the Russian language who did not forget that their first, native, tongue was Belarusian. Owing to a peculiar pattern of regional industrial development, graduates of elementary, as well as secondary technical, schools were likely to find employment in the countryside, thus remaining within the familiar rural Belarusian linguistic and cultural environment. Far from Russifying the western provinces, the educational system created a sizeable group of people opened to an idea of Belarus as a nation in its own right. The idea itself had to originate among a social group with time, money, and education. The awakening of Polish elites, mostly those who lived in ethnically Belarusian regions to the fact that Belarusian peasants were different from both Poles and Russians and constitute a separate nationality was a gradual process. In what is today Belarus, this discovery took almost a century to accomplish and was accompanied by all sorts of confusion as to the identity of the newly discovered native popula- tion. Polish ethnographers used different names to identify the natives linguistically, ethnically and territorially. In addition to that, different researchers used different names. The language spoken by the local peasants was variously defined as Kriwiczeski (Kriwiczeskije pesni), Krewicki (idiotyzmy Krewickie), Rusinski (Rusiny i ich język), Rutenski, Ruski, Białoruski. Sometimes the definition Ruski or Rusinski is qualified parenthetically as Białoruski or Białorusinski. At least once there is a clear distinction between what the author calls Russian dialect (“dialekt ruski”) and Muscovite dialect (“dialekt moskiewski”). Ethnically local rural population was defined as “lud litewsko-krewicki”, Rusiny, Białorusiny. Sometimes a distinction is made between Pinczuki (population of the Polessie region) and Białorusiny. At least one author refers to the typical local peasant as Russian peasant (“chłop ruski”). In terms of geography, the territory occupied by ethnic group (groups) mentioned above was frequently divided into three parts: Rus Litewska (sometimes Rus


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Czarna Litewska), Polesie pinskie (as opposed to Polesie wolynskie) and Białoruś. While the boundaries of Polesie were very much agreed upon, different authors provided different boundaries for the first two parts. Sometimes, even Minsk region, located in the center of ethnically Belarusian territories, would be included in Rus Litewska. Obviously, “Lithuanian” (Litewska) in this definition does not point to a mixture of Slavic and Lithuanian ethnic groups but refers to the fact that the identified territory was located within the borders of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. 16 The confusing multitude of names used to identify the same ethnic group indicates that Polish researchers, while understanding that a majority of the rural population in the region were culturally and linguistically distinct from Poles and Russians, did not agree on the ethnic and linguistic classification of this population. Of course, the differences should not be attributed solely, or perhaps even mostly, to conscious disagreement. Polish ethnographers who studied local cultures and customs tended to be educated amateurs, often working in relative isolation from a broader academic community. Thus, each researcher was likely to come up with his/her own system of definitions, classification, categories, etc. Even though the fragmented nature of the research does not account for all inconsistencies (the latter persisted until the end of the 19th century, by which time individual researchers must have become aware of each others’ work), it does explain some of them. As for Russian officials in the North-Western Territory, they blithely identified non-Polish and non-Lithuanian peasants as “Russians” and their language as “Russian”. It may be argued that the word “Byelorus- sian” when used by a 19th century Russian had more to do with the title of the Russian Tsar as the autocratic ruler of all Great, Little and White Russia (Velikiya, Malyya i Belyya Rusi) than with a deliberate attempt to define an ethnically distinct entity. 17 All these bewildering disagreements illustrate an important point: there was no significant

16 Detailed information about Polish researchers of Belarusian culture in the 19th century is provided in Olechnowicz, Mstislaw (1986), Polscy Badacze Folkloru i Języka Białoruskiego w XIX Wieku.

17 An illuminating quote from the Russian geographer Semionov highlights the predominant perception by the Russian educated classes of Belarusians as Russians by another name: “The Belarusian will take his rightful place in his ancestral Russian land, the place not of a stepson, but of a natural son.” (Quoted in Koyalovich, p. 456, italics added).

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plurality within the local population in what is now Belarus that would call themselves Belarusians. More than one contemporary author reported that in the 19th century Belarusian peasants tended to avoid the question of nationality altogether and identified themselves sim- ply as “locals”. To a considerable extent, the emergence and spread of Belarusian national consciousness can be attributed to work of the ethnographers, folklorists, linguists, amateur poets and playwrights. The cultural habits of isolated village communities, dialects of remote regions, legends told by anonymous storytellers were painstakingly collected and recorded by these researchers. When publication of these findings made them available for discussion and comparison, they, like pieces of a puzzle, formed a coherent picture of a nation, with its unique culture, language and customs. The newly literate Belarusians then could see their language and culture not just as “local”, rural and backward, but as linguistic and cultural identifiers that made them equal to other nations. Writing about the last two decades of the 19th century, when educa- tion provided by Russian schools and economic development spurred by Russian investment created the local readership for ethnographic Belarusian publications, Alyaksandar Tsvikevich wrote: “The educated Belarusian then was able for the first time to look at the world with his own eyes, without the spectacles of Polishness.” (Tsvikevich, p. 191). However, purely ethnographic presentation of Belarusian culture and language hardly inspired the incipient nationalism. Ethnographers reg- istered cultural and linguistic elements that were simple and archaic, apparently of ancient origin but hopelessly outdated, lacking urbanity and glamor, well suited for survival against all odds but hardly relevant in the rapidly changing world of the nineteenth century. From unas- suming rural and demotic origins the Belarusian national idea had to be developed into a foundation suitable for modern nationalism. By the end of the 19th century, Belarus possessed national culture, but had not yet developed a nationally-informed civil society. Tsvikievich and his colleagues among the ethnic Belarusian intelligentsia set out to develop the new network of discourse, one in which Belarusians would exchange ideas about Belarus in the Belarusian language. While the demotic aspect could remain—after all, the awakening of the masses was an integral part of modernization—the lack of sophistication and glamor had to be compensated for. The national image of the Belarusian people was created in the late 19th and early 20th century by a number of poets, writers and


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playwrights. While the ethnographers registered the existence of the Belarusian ethnic group as a separate cultural and linguistic entity, the literary intelligentsia worked to present this entity to the world in the best possible light. The first writers to use the Belarusian language as a literary medium emphasized its complexity and flexibility, sufficient to express subtle and sophisticated thoughts and images. Dunin-Mar- cinkiewicz, playwright, poet and folklorist, was one of the first writers to use the vernacular consistently in his works. Among his great feats was the translation of a poem by Adam Mickiewicz from Polish into Belarusian. The poem, Pan Tadeusz is an account of the life of the Pol- ish gentry in the post-partition Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Mickiewicz painted a hauntingly romantic picture of a unique civilization, steeped in ancient glory, rich with emotions, sustained by honor and loyalty and love, fading away before a relentless onslaught of the new world, often hostile, always cold and heartless. Mickiewicz, himself a native of Nowogrodek (now Novogrudok, a small town approximately fifty miles west of Minsk), set his poem in the vicinity of his ancestral home. The poem has become one of the most recognizable works in Polish romantic poetry. Just like the author, it is undoubtedly Polish, and just as undoubtedly has sprung from the land, customs and traditions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Dunin-Marcinkiewicz’s translations thus had a dual ambition: first, to prove that the language spoken by the local peasantry was rich and flexible enough to express the emotions of one of the best poetic works ever written in the Polish language and second, to remind the reader that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was not just an extension of Poland but a complex intermingling of vari- ous languages, cultures and traditions of which the Belarusian side was perhaps just as important as the Polish one. Dunin-Marcinkiewicz also translated into Belarusian one of the Polish patriotic hymns, Boże, coś Polskę. The hymn, which became the anthem of the 1863 uprising and was regarded as subversive by the Russian authorities, asked for divine help in the restoration of Poland’s ancient glory and dignity. There is no mention, however indirect, of Belarus or Belarusians in any of the several known versions of the text. Translation of a Polish popular patriotic song into the Belarusian language could only be interpreted as a call to preserve the fabric of old Grand Duchy of Lithuania whose destiny had been for centuries tied to Poland. Dunin-Marcinkiewicz, a member of the Polish gentry from Minsk province, also wrote several plays where the stage was set in the familiar environment of the Belarusian village. The first play in the Belarusian vernacular, Sialianka (A Peasant Woman) was published in 1846 and

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later staged in Minsk. Interestingly, the peasant characters in the play spoke Belarusian, while the gentry conversed in Polish. In a sense, the play did not advance the cause of Belarusian nationalism. Rather, it was a reminder that both Polish landlords and Belarusian peasants have human dignity and worth. The author again turned to the best traditions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, real or imagined. However, any advance of Belarusian nationalism demanded more than a simple reflection about the equality of Belarusians and their language with other languages and nations of the regions. New Belarusian national activists needed a national ideology, with its own myths, stories, and ideas, which could justify political action towards national self-determination. The next generation of Belarusian literary figures started to build just such an ideology. Franciszek Bohuszewicz, a lawyer from Vilno and an amateur poet, chided Marcinkiewicz for the allegedly patronizing and condescending view of the Belarusian peasant. Bohuszewicz, who in his writings styled himself as a local peasant and wrote in the pungent if not too esthetically elaborate vernacular, set out to establish a suit- able provenance for the Belarusian language. In more than one of his writings Bohuszewicz asserted that the Belarusian tongue is “as noble as French, German, or any other”. As the contemporary state of the Belarusian language as a literary, scholarly or political medium could hardly support this claim, Bohuszewicz chose to refer to its presumed antiquity. On more than one occasion he wrote that centuries old docu- ments of the state, composed by lords and Grand Dukes, were written in the Belarusian language which linguistically was indistinguishable from the language spoken by Belarusians in the late 19th century. Perhaps no more than a literary hyperbole, these statements were later elevated to an axiomatic status by Belarusian historians, linguists and nationalist politicians. The active creation of a Belarusian national identity by intellectuals and literary figures continued into the first decade of the 20th cen- tury. Then it centered around the literary periodical Nasha Niva (Our Field). Published from 1906 to 1915, the newspaper was meant as a replacement for another periodical, Nasha Dolia (Our Fate). The lat- ter, a radical political weekly, existed for less than two months before it was closed by the Russian authorities. Nasha Dolia was founded by the leadership of the Belarusian Socialist Hramada, 18 one of the first

18 Hramada can be translated as a host, a gathering or an assembly, although the latest translation implies structure and order absent in the original meaning of the word. The word Hramada entered Belarusian political vocabulary in 1902, when the brothers


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Belarusian political parties. Among the most prominent figures of the Nasha Niva circle were the brothers Anton and Ivan Lutskevich, Alaiza Pashkevich (literary sobriquet Tsiotka), Felix Umiastouski, and Alyaksandar Ulasau. All of them were among the founding members of the socialist movement in Belarus. Thus, Nasha Niva, ostensibly a

literary publication, from the very start had a dual purpose: to serve as a vehicle of both national awakening and social liberation. Its sig- nificance for the development of the Belarusian language and literature

is truly monumental. Virtually all writers who later were enshrined as

founders of the Belarusian literary canon owe their status to the Nasha Niva circle which actively sought, publicized and promoted those writers and poets who exhibited extraordinary promise. The plethora

of Belarusian national writers associated with Nasha Niva included Janka Kupala and Jakub Kolas, whose works are regarded as classics of Belarusian literature by Belarusians of all political persuasions. Maxim Harecki, Zmitrok Biadulia, Maxim Bahdanovich and Ales Harun, albeit of somewhat lesser stature, are officially recognized as members of the Belarusian literary pantheon. Interestingly, Nasha Niva, the fountainhead of modern Belarusian nationality, owed its existence to the change in linguistic policies of Russian imperial administration in North-Western Territory. Accord- ing to Weeks (1996, p. 67), alarmed by the renewed Polish influence in the region, Russian authorities started to promote the use of the Belarusian language as an anti-Polish measure. Thus Belarus made the first step toward a nationally-informed civil society with the help of the Russian government. Not only did Nasha Niva create the modern Belarusian literary canon,

it also offered space for the publication of literary pieces written in the

Belarusian language by thousands of amateur contributors. According

to Vakar (p. 87), in three years the newspaper printed 960 items of cor- respondence from 489 villages, 246 poems by 61 poets, and 91 stories by an unspecified number of authors. It also contributed to creating

a new Belarusian nationalist paradigm. Echoing Bohuszewicz’s claim

about the antiquity and nobility of the Belarusian language, one of the more influential members of the literary circle, Liavon Hmyrak, wrote in

Ivan and Anton Lutskevich founded the Belarusian Revolutionary Hramada. Since then, Hramada has been used in names of several political parties of left socialist and social-democratic orientation.

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1914 that Belarusian “for centuries has been the official state language, it was used to write laws, it was predominant in all state institutions;

princes and courtiers spoke Belarusian

Vaclav Lastouski, an amateur historian and future prime minister of the short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic, also collaborated with the Nasha Niva circle. In 1910 he published the first account of Belarusian history written in the Belarusian language. The book, Short History of Belarus, was a popularization of a romanticized version of Belarusian history. Its contribution to the advancement of historical knowledge was not as important as its role in the awakening of the Belarusian reader to the existence of a reasonably coherent national idea, newly created by the Nasha Niva group. Many of the figures central to the literary movement affiliated with Nasha Niva were ethnic Poles. Tsvikevich (pp. 312–313) identifies the founders and core participants of the Belarusian Socialist Hramada and Nasha Niva as “Belarusian populist intelligentsia of Polish culture”. 19 These pioneers of the Belarusian national idea came from families of small gentry and received some high school education. Vakar is more specific about their educational background: among the Nasha Niva circle, one person had university education, two received “a more or less formal education”, most “hardly rise above the rural level of lit- eracy” (p. 90). Attempting to advance a radical social cause by means of a nationally-minded literary periodical, these people addressed the audience that consisted mostly of those not unlike themselves: rural lower middle classes and literate peasants. Tsvikevich (p. 313) insists that the main constituency of the populist authors and aspiring politicians consisted of the poorest peasants. While it is likely an overstatement, as this social group would be the least likely to read a literary publica- tion, owing to widespread illiteracy, it is no doubt a correct reflection of their intentions. Their nation-constructing efforts were directed towards peasants who had little access to Russian or Polish culture and thus were more open to the Belarusian nationalist propaganda, especially if the latter was combined with calls for social change. The influence of Nasha Niva should be seen in perspective. Never did its circulation exceed forty five hundred; a more typical figure is

.” (quoted in Lych, p. 37).

19 Not all of the Nasha Niva figures were of Polish origin. Vakar (p. 90) mentions Belarusians, Russians, Jews and even one Latvian among the group’s most prominent members.


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three thousand. This was just a drop in a bucket for a country with a Belarusian population of six million. Still, its influence in the develop- ment of the Belarusian national idea transcended the modest circulation figures and continued long after the last issue left the printing press. Alumni of Nasha Niva found their way to both nationalist and Bolshevik state structures that emerged in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Some of them continued to influence the evolution of the Belaru- sian national ideology throughout the 1920s as officials of the Soviet Belarusian government, until the change of national policy resulted in their liquidation. Works of Janka Kupala, Jakub Kolas and Kondrat Krapiva, all of whom belonged to the Nasha Niva circle, remained in print throughout the most oppressive periods of the Soviet era. The founders of Nasha Niva did succeed in creating a coherent national ideology and spreading it among an important plurality of ethnically Belarusian population. To a very large extent, modern Belarusian nationalism had been cre- ated by a group of literary romantics with pronounced socialist views and political aspirations. Both socialism and romanticism, the latter perhaps with more than a hint of melancholy, are quite discernible in the Belarusian national idea. It extolls simple virtues of a poor peasant:

hard work, communal spirit, healthy simplicity of tastes and aspirations and, above all, an innate sense of social justice and equality. Belarusian nationalism is tolerant, non-aggressive, asking for Belarusians to be left alone, to work without fear of foreign conquest or oppression. Other nations within ethnic Belarusian territory are quite welcome, if they are not seeking domination over the native Belarusians. However, tol- erance does not mean inclusion: Belarusian virtues are set against the background of other peoples’ vices, thus making it imperative to hold on to national identity. A vision of national history constructed by the literary nationalists of Nasha Niva also has an imprint of populist values. Somehow, truly Belarusian state structures are projected back to the high middle ages. Only then one can find Belarusian upper classes, great princes, statesmen and thinkers. Then, mostly owing to Polish intrigue, the rulers and thinkers defected en masse to Polish culture and the Roman Catholic religion, leaving the Belarusian idea to peasants who managed to preserve it for many centuries. The betrayal of Belarus by its upper classes was a prominent theme in contemporary Belarusian national discourse. Layers of customs, traditions, conventions, which were accumulated for centuries in the old Grand Duchy of Lithuania and survived decades after its final demise, although antiquated, held

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together a framework of social institutions that regulated relation- ships between numerous groups, estates and classes. For Belarusians, as their national sentiment grew more pronounced, these institutions were gradually losing relevance, but they were not supplanted by an equally complex modern institutional framework. Instead, national identity and social class were telescoped into one. A Belarusian could only be a peasant and a peasant who lived on Belarusian ethnic territory could only be Belarusian. Of course, a political entrepreneur seeking a new power base or a poet seeking to agitate the national spirit would be a Belarusian as well. Memory of the threadbare social fabric of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania now discarded, the newly created Belarusian nationalism offered a new social paradigm, which conflated nation and class and did not include provisions for institutions between the leaders and the people. Nasha Niva offered a kernel of Belarusian civil society, a network where discourse was conducted in Belarusian and dealt with Belarusian national issues. Even in this embryonic form, the radically demotic nature of the new civil society was apparent. Belarusian nationality was associated with social status of peasant (sometimes worker), while the Poles were invariably presented as feudal landlords or capitalists. The emerging middle class, where Jews would be strongly represented owing to their superior education, was conflated with Jewish national- ity. While most of the Belarusian national myth was presented in the Belarusian-Polish dichotomy, the role of Jewish communities in Belarus was either neglected or mentioned briefly and presented in less than positive light (e.g. Ezovitov, 1919). The political liberalization that followed in the wake of the first Rus- sian revolution of 1905 illustrated how unviable were Belarusian national political parties and movements. When the autocratic oppression was lifted and at least a segment of the population was allowed to participate in the political process, few Belarusians chose to use this opportunity to advance their national cause. In March 1906, the first Duma elections in the ethnically Belarusian provinces produced a result which could hardly be interpreted as a sign of Belarusian national entry onto the political scene. Despite half a century of deliberate suppression of Polish cultural, political and religious prominence in the western provinces, there was a surprisingly high percentage of ethnic Poles among the newly elected Duma deputies. Polls in Vilno province produced seven deputies, all of them Poles. The province of Grodno sent six delegates to the Duma, three of them Poles. In the province of Minsk, seven of


chapter one

the nine elected deputies were Poles. 20 These deputies were unlikely to pursue the Belarusian national cause, as no political party representing such a cause had been given a single seat in the Duma. According to Vakar (pp. 86–87), the political sympathies of Belarusians were distrib- uted among the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Social-Democrats (both parties with no identifiable national orientation), the Constitutional Democrats (of imperial Russian persuasion), the Polish National-Demo- cratic Party and the Jewish Bund. Not surprisingly, none of the elected Duma deputies had an affiliation with a party committed to a Belarusian political revival. The Hramada boycotted the elections, probably fear- ing that a dismal performance at the polls would demonstrate its lack of a power base. As a result, the Belarusian national cause received no representation in the first Duma. More importantly, Belarusian nation- alist politicians chose not to participate in an electoral campaign, thus depriving themselves of a valuable political experience. Belarus entered the “long 19th century” as a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a unique multiethnic conglomerate where local roots of the educated elite were just as important as their cultural ties to Poland and, through Poland, to Europe. Belarus ended the “long 19th century” as a separate nation, with an identifiable culture, nationally-informed civil society, national mythology and aspirations of independent nation- hood. However, crucial institutions had not yet emerged. On the verge of the first World War, Belarus had nationally-minded literary figures and amateur politicians. It did not have a well developed system of national political discourse, where various political persuasions could be discussed in an essentially national context. It did not have politi- cians with an experience of successful competition for office, military leaders who knew how to command a unit above a regiment strength, administrators or bureaucrats. One might say, Belarus did not have a nationally minded cadre who could create and run a modern nation. In the 20th century, this was about to change.

20 All data regarding the share of ethnic Poles among the Duma deputies elected in 1906 are quoted from Zholtowski, p. 137.



1. A discordant overture to nationhood (1914–1921)

In the opening years of the First World War, German armies occu- pied much of the ethnically Belarusian territory, including the cities of Minsk and Vilno. 1 On the Russian side of the frontline, the territory within Belarusian ethnic boundaries was under control of the military administration. The latter was even less inclined to allow independent national development than its civilian counterpart. Germans, on the other hand, did have a stake in supporting national aspirations of the former subject peoples of the Russian Empire. Belarusian national elites (many of them of the Nasha Niva provenance), since their emergence devoid of political power, found that a modicum of influence could be obtained from the occupation authority, which was prepared to be benevolent to the extent that Belarusian nation-building was deemed useful to Germany’s national interests. According to Nicholas Vakar, the Belarusian national intelligentsia in the territory occupied by the German army did not plan to establish an independent Belarusian state. Belarusian nationalists in Vilno, headed by Ivan and Anton Lutskevich, two brothers who were among the founders of Belarusian national movement in the Russian Empire, had

1 Today Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. It was known as Vilno in pre-revo- lutionary Russia and Wilno in inter-war Poland. It is hard to characterize Vilno as a Belarusian city. Demographically, it never had a substantial plurality of ethnically Belarusian population. Before 1939, the intellectual life of the city was dominated by its Polish and Jewish communities. Economically, the presence of Belarusians was neg- ligible. Political power was in the hands of Lithuanians, then Poles, then Russians. As Belarusian nationalism started to emerge in the late 19th century, its founders tended to congregate in Vilno, then the administrative and cultural center of the region. The city continued to have the highest concentration of national Belarusian organizations in non-Soviet Belarusian lands between the wars. It was transferred to Lithuania by the Soviet authorities in 1939. As Belarusian nationalists considered the Grand Duchy of Lithuania an ancient Belarusian state, they treated Vilno (Vilnia in Belarusian), the largest and most important of all Ducal cities, as the focal point of the “Golden Age” of Belarusian national development.


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realistically limited aspirations. They approached the German occupa- tion authorities asking for protection of the interests of Belarusians in the occupied zone. It was the Germans who suggested to the Belarusian nationalists in Vilno that formation of an independent Belarusian state, under German tutelage, might be a possibility. Interestingly enough, at the time Belarusian national leaders were reluctant to proceed alone, even with the clearly stated German support. Instead, they planned to resurrect the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a political structure that, in addition to Belarusians, would include Lithuanian, Polish and Jewish ethnic communities. Consultations among Belarusian, Polish, Lithu- anian and Jewish national activists in Vilno led to a joint declaration issued on December 19, 1915. The signatories stated their intention to form a Confederation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in which Lithuania and Belarus would be independent member states. The Ger- mans, while conferring equal rights upon all languages on the occupied territory and approving the idea of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, had developed a somewhat different vision of the prospective new state. Perhaps impressed by the strength of the Lithuanian national move- ment, they now suggested a Lithuanian state that would also include Belarusian lands under German occupation. Belarusians requested that the Germans include those ethnically Belarusian territories that had not yet been conquered. The number of Belarusians in the proposed state, and therefore the political power of Belarusian elites, now depended on the battlefield success of the German army. While the Belarusian national intelligentsia negotiated particulars of the future Belarusian national statehood with Polish, Lithuanian, and Jewish nationalists, as well as with German occupation authorities, on the Eastern side of the frontline another center of nation-building was taking shape. The Bolshevik message of radical and bloody social change was spreading among the masses of illiterate, confused and demoral- ized soldiers of the Russian imperial army. At first, this process seemed to be unrelated to the future of the Belarusian nation. Few Bolshevik agitators were of Belarusian origin, and those who were worked for the world revolution, not for Belarusian national independence. Some local peasant organizations had a vague national aspect, but the Bolsheviks did not seek cooperation with them (Nedasek, p. 47). On those rare occasions when the Bolsheviks found it useful to spread their message among the peasants, they did so in Russian (Nedasek, p. 49), which was just as well as the majority of peasants was illiterate in any language.

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Bolsheviks in ethnically Belarusian territories concentrated their mobilizing efforts on soldiers, most of whom were not Belarusians. This explains their lack of interest in exploring the potential appeal of a Communist message to the Belarusian population. In fact, an attempt to couch Bolshevism in national Belarusian terms was taking place far from Belarus, in Petrograd. There, in the summer of 1917, a group of Belarusian refugee intelligentsia, previously associated with the Hramada political movement and Nasha Niva literary circle, formed the Belarusian Social-Democratic Party (Bolsheviks). For the first time, the Belarusian national intelligentsia could avail itself of the organization, efficiency and ruthlessness of which the Bolsheviks have become famous. Absent such a symbiosis, the Belarusian national cause fared rather badly. Bolsheviks seized control over Minsk on November 1, 1917 (November 15 new style), just a week after the revolution in Petro- grad. On December 14, Belarusian national activists organized the First Belarusian Convention. With 1,872 delegates, it was the most representative gathering of Belarusian political, intellectual and cul- tural figures to date. The Convention opened with Belarusian folk dances and songs, theatrical performances and declamation of poems in Belarusian. The expansive panoply of cultural performances was perhaps intended to provide a suitably Belarusian backdrop to a gather- ing where three quarters of the delegates conversed in Russian (Vakar, p. 247). The Bolshevik authorities did not mind the cultural exercises. Political discussion was another matter, especially when it was about the national self-determination. A substantial plurality of the delegates wanted to establish an independent Belarusian state, something that the Bolsheviks were not prepared to tolerate. Before the Convention had a chance to vote on the issue, soldiers dispatched by the commander of the Minsk military garrison dispersed the gathering and arrested the most prominent delegates. The Convention worked for only four days and was not allowed to produce any significant decision. However, it had secured an important place in the history of Belarusian national development. For the first time, Belarusian national activists openly discussed a possibility of formation of an independent state. On the other hand, while the idea of Belarusian national statehood had been expressed, its supporters were clearly unable to use force to defend it. This presaged the relationship between Belarusian nationalism and political power in the 20th century.


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Bolshevik forces left Minsk shortly after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was concluded between Germany and the Bolshevik government of Russia. As the German forces entered Minsk on March 8, 1918, they found the Belarusian activists desperately trying to create working government structures and establish at least a semblance of control over the territory recently vacated by the Bolsheviks. The arrival of the Germans meant that the maintenance of public order had become a responsibility of the German army, thus leaving the Belarusian national leaders free to continue their work of nation-building. There was an unexpected complication: there already existed a national Belarusian government in Vilno, elected by a Belarusian National Assembly on February 10, 1918. Chaired by Anton Lutskevich, it was recognized by the Germans and had its own vision of the future Belarusian state, a multinational confederation consisting of Belarusian and Lithuanian lands. The Vilno government referred to it as a Lithuanian Belarusian State. This vision was clearly in conflict with the idea of a purely Belaru- sian national state expressed at the First Belarusian Convention and held by its most active participants who now claimed to speak for the whole Belarusian nation. The rival factions were promptly reconciled, with more than a little encouragement by the German occupation administration. Representatives of Vilno and Minsk nationalist groups met in Minsk on March 25, 1918 and proclaimed the first Belarusian state: the Belarusian People’s Republic (BPR). The latter possessed all the attributes of an independent state but one: an armed force sufficient to secure the state’s independence. The BPR administration was formed barely a month after the Germans entered Minsk. It fled the city on December 16, 1918, a full week before the German retreat. The proclamation of the first independent Belarusian state has assumed immense symbolic significance for Belarusian nationalist intellectuals and politicians. To them, the events of March 25, 1918 proved both the that Belarus could exist as an independent nation-state and promised its resurrection some time in the future. The anniversary of the proclamation of BPR is celebrated by nationalist movements in post-Soviet Belarus. For the vast majority of Belarusians, the date and events it signify mean very little, as their everyday life has no vis- ible reminders of what happened in Minsk on March 25, 1918. It is unlikely that, had they remembered the events in the fullest detail, they would found them a source of inspiration. The BPR was proclaimed by a group of politicians who appointed themselves as members of government. There was no attempt to conduct general elections or any

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other democratic procedure to establish the opinion of the people in whose name the new state was created. Of course, in the chaos of the civil war and foreign occupation it was impossible to organize proce- durally perfect polls. In this situation, establishing good relationships with the occupation administration was perhaps more important than creating a democratic political system. To an unbiased observer, the legacy of the first Belarusian national state remains ambiguous rather than inspiring. However short-lived and imperfect, the BPR produced an important, albeit unexpected, outcome. The Bolsheviks, who were about to replace Germans as the ultimate authority in the land, were now convinced that the Belarusian national idea was strong and widespread enough to merit its incorporation into Communist political designs. On January 14, 1919, shortly after Bolshevik armies entered Minsk, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed. Is government included members of the nationally-minded Socialist intelligentsia (Zhylunovich, Charviakou, Shantyr) who now belonged to the Communist Party of Belarus. The latter, in effect a regional branch of the Russian Com- munist Party (Bolsheviks), was created in Smolensk on December 20, 1918. Soon the new state was united with Lithuania (by then also under Bolshevik control) into a short-lived conglomerate known as Litbel. The latter survived barely two months. On May 22, 1919 Minsk was occupied by the advancing Polish armies. A new chapter in Belarus’s national independence was about to begin. Polish forces that occupied a large part of Lithuania and Belarus in the spring of 1919 were led by Jozef Pilsudski, one of the founders of the Second Polish Republic. A larger than life figure, a romantic revolutionary, a brilliant military leader, a prominent statesman, Pil- sudski, the man who came to personify the restored Polish state, was a Lithuanian Polish noble, born in a region where Belarusian, Polish and Lithuanian communities lived as neighbors and interacted daily. Pilsudski was able to communicate in Belarusian as well as Polish. He was keenly aware of the history of the Republic of the Two Nations, as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was sometimes called. In the manifesto issued after his army expelled Bolshevik forces from Belarusian and Lithuanian lands in the spring of 1919, he addressed the local population as “the people of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania”. The statement reflected Pilsudski’s conviction that history should be a cornerstone in the building of a future Poland. To him, the restored Polish state had to be a confederation of Poland, Lithuania and Belarus.


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While many politicians in Warsaw did not favor this idea, preferring a unified Poland with no autonomous political structures for national minorities, Pilsudski used his position as the supreme military com- mander in the region to promote his vision of Belarus’s future. There were marked differences between the treatment of Belarusian national activists in the western districts of Belarus (governed directly from War- saw) and the rest of the country (under control of the army commanded by Pilsudski). Konstantin Ezavitau (1919) catalogues numerous abuses by the local Polish authorities of those Belarusians who expressed their pro-independence stance. This, however, was confined to the region in the west of the country. In the east things were very different. Vakar writes that conditions for Belarusian cultural and educational development compared not unfavorably with the policies of German occupation authorities (and the latter were quite benevolent towards Belarusian national aspira- tions). The Polish military administration allowed Belarusians to open schools, publish newspapers, and organize local administration. The Belarusian Rada (government of the first BPR) was allowed to return from exile. While Belarus was not recognized as an independent state and was not permitted to create its own military forces, those were the only restrictions on Belarusian national development imposed by the Polish occupation administration. If these restrictions seem unreason- ably harsh, we should remind ourselves that they were imposed by an army that was at the time fighting against the Bolsheviks. Belarusian politicians apparently did not want Belarus to join other territories ruled by Russian Communists but proved powerless to prevent this from happening. Instead, they depended on Jozef Pilsudski and his troops for protection, just as before that they had depended on Ger- man occupation forces. Vakar lists the impressive achievements of Belarusian culture in the short period of the Polish occupation: more than 190 schools, includ- ing three gymnasia and ten junior high schools, a teachers’ college, all with instruction in the Belarusian language, libraries, cultural clubs and cooperative societies, theatrical troupes and folk choirs. He also men- tions that the newly opened teachers’ college quickly became a center of Communist underground led by Usevalad Ihnatouski, a national- ist Belarusian scholar. Pro-Communist political sympathies were not peripheral to the Belarusian national movement. The core of the Nasha Niva movement included people of left Socialist ideological persuasion. Later, Belarusian nationalists found it possible to work with Bolsheviks

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in the creation of the Belarusian Communist Party and Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Pro-Bolshevik Belarusians had to be pro-Russian, at the very least as a matter of political expediency and to the extent the Bolshevik leadership was committed to the establishment of the state coterminous with the former Russian imperial borders. Of course, a Belarusian nationalist did not have to be a Communist to have pro-Rus- sian attitudes. Not infrequently, the acceptance of Russia as a potential ally was merely a way of rejecting Poland. Owing to Belarus’s borderland position, the national intelligentsia had an affinity either with Russian or Polish culture, as noted by Tsvikevich (1993, p. 312). By the time of the Russian civil war, cultural affinities translated into political visions. Ivan Lutskevich, was one of those whom Tsvikevich mentions among the “Belarusian intelligentsia of Polish culture”. In Vilno during the first World War he worked towards the restoration of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a multinational state, where Belarusians would share power with Lithuanians and Poles. Under Polish occupation, and later in the Second Polish Republic between the wars he continued to insist that cooperation with Poland was necessary for Belarusian national development. Few Belarusian national activists were as consistent in their commitment to cooperation with Poland. Attitudes of mainstream Belarusian nationalists toward Poland and Russia are better exemplified in works of Vaclau Lastouski, a historian and publicist who popularized a strongly nationalist vision of Belarusian history. Lastouski entered Belarusian nationalist discourse in 1910 with the publication of his book A Short History of Belarus. In this study Belarus was presented as an identifiable political entity going back to the principalities of Kievan Rus and developing into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Poland and Russia are presented as two foreign pow- ers, equally alien to Belarus. As the author devoted somewhat more effort to his description of relationships between Poland and Belarus, the balance of the argument is more anti-Polish than anti-Russian. The author’s interpretation of Belarus’s history had rapidly become immensely influential among Belarusian nationalists. If, according to Lastouski, there once was a Belarusian state, there was a hope of its revival in the modern age. If over the centuries Polish influence and Russian aggression proved equally detrimental to the Belarusian national cause, it followed that Belarusian revival must come as a result of efforts of Belarusians themselves, without reliance on either Polish or Russian help. Lastouski himself, in a fashion not atypical for an early nationalist figure, combined political activities with scholarly


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pursuits. In 1919 he contended with Lutskevich for leadership in the Belarusian government under Polish occupation. He lost the contest, mostly owing to the Poles’ rejection of his candidacy. In the long run, however, it was Lastouski’s political philosophy that became central for Belarusian national activists, while Lutskevich’s conciliatory position vis-à-vis Poland quickly became marginalized. A political pamphlet written by Konstantin Ezavitau, a member of the first BPR government, illustrates how Lastouski’s vision of Belarus’s history influenced political discourse in the Belarus of the civil war period. Ezavitau published the pamphlet, with a self-explanatory title Belarusians and Poles, in August 1919, just months after a Polish military offensive that allowed the Belarusian national politicians to return from exile. One might expect that the author would at least acknowledge the simple fact that national political life in Belarus was made possible by the success of Polish arms and benevolence of Polish occupation authorities. No such acknowledgment can be found in Ezavitau’s pamphlet. Instead, he published a collection of documents cataloguing various infractions and abuses of Belarusian population by Polish forces. Most of the docu- ments tell about the disbandment of Belarusian military units. Others are eyewitness accounts of petty theft by Polish soldiers, unreasonable searches and detentions of Belarusian activists, the arrogance of Polish officials and other infractions which, while impermissible in peacetime, look positively negligible against the background of the Russian civil war. The documents are apparently intended as an illustration of the author’s political views presented in the first part of the pamphlet. Ezavitau’s vision of Belarus’s history is almost identical to that of Las- touski, although presented in a simplified format, suitable for political propaganda. In Ezavitou’s interpretation, several centuries ago, Poland started the process of colonization of Belarus. Members of the native ruling class were persuaded to change their religion from Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism and their nationality from Belarusian to Polish. This conversion was accompanied by an influx of Polish landowners into the Belarusian lands. As a corollary, Ezavitau states that by the early 20th century the only Poles in Belarus were either descendants of those Belarusians who were bribed or cajoled into betraying their own people or Polish colonizers who came to Belarus with the sole purpose of exploiting the natives. Both categories would have their estates con- fiscated should Belarus become independent and therefore would do everything in their power to stop it from happening. The documents detailing the Polish atrocities against the Belarusian population serve

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to illustrate the point. The brochure was published in Russian, Belaru- sian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Yiddish, German and French, but not in Polish. The Soviet offensive which followed Pilsudski’s ill-fated raid on Kiev in the spring of 1920, brought yet another change of power in Belarus. On July 11, 1920 Bolshevik armies entered Minsk. Before their advance, Lutskevich and the Supreme Rada of the BPR fled to Warsaw. Lastouski and the National Rada (a rival Belarusian government which opposed collaboration with Poland) ended up in Kaunas, where he tried to persuade his Lithuanian hosts to form an alliance against Poland. Ihnatouski stayed and cooperated with the Bolsheviks in establishing the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. The latter was proclaimed on August 1, 1920, when Bolshevik armies, now in possession of the whole territory of Belarus, were rapidly advancing in Poland. Two weeks later, Pilsudski’s brilliant maneuver at the gates of Warsaw sent the Bolsheviks flying back to the starting line of their offensive. The outcome of these tumultuous events was the partition of ethnic Belarusian territories at the Treaty of Riga signed on March 18, 1921. To the west of the border, now running roughly from north to south about thirty miles west of Minsk, Belarusians found themselves in the restored Polish state, with no political autonomy for any national minority. To the east, the newly established Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) consisted of only a part of Minsk province with population estimated between 1,200,000 and 1,400,000. Although formally an independent state, BSSR did not conduct its own foreign policy and was represented by Moscow at the treaty of Riga and then at the international conferences in Geneva and the Hague in 1922 (Vakar, 138). On December 30, 1922 Belarus joined Russia, Ukraine and the Transcaucasian federation in creating the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. A new stage of Belarusian national development had begun.

2. Soviet Belarus between the wars: birth of a nation

The history of the Soviet part of Belarus between the wars is usually divided into two equal parts. According to most historians, the 1920s had been a repetition of the original Golden Age of Belarusian culture, polity and scholarship. The next decade was the opposite: all achieve- ments of Belarusian arts, culture and scholarship gone, the process of Sovietization and Russification damage the country’s national fabric beyond recognition and almost beyond repair. Vakar, Lubachko and


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Zaprudnik all present this periodization of Belarusian national devel- opment in Soviet Belarus between the two world wars. The distinction between the glorious twenties and dismal thirties looks plausible and fits the general trend of development of Soviet polity, economy and society, from the limited pluralism within the ruling party to strong centralism, from the New Economic Policy to collectivization and five year plans, from tolerance towards some forms of dissent to a paradigmatic totali- tarian society. But, while the influence of these tectonic shifts was felt in Belarus, they did not originate there. While the closest approximation of a national state for Belarusians that existed before the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic could not conduct its own national policy. Its ruling elites were appointed by their superiors, not elected by a Belarusian constituency. Consequently, all debates within Belarusian Communist leadership were decided by arbiters in Moscow. Belarusian poets, writers and other members of the intelligentsia owed their livelihoods less to the genuine popularity of their works among the Belarusian public and more to the subsidies provided by the central Soviet authorities. Thus, it could be argued that the second Golden Age of Belarusian culture and statehood was not really an indigenous phenomenon, but instead was imposed by an imperial power, which found it convenient to foster national feelings among its subjects. Of course, Belarussification was not an automatic response to signals from the Party’s Politburo. For those who wanted to find a place for Belarus within the Soviet Union it involved personal endeavor and sacrifice, triumph and tragedy. This should not, however, obscure the complete dependence of nation-building in Soviet Belarus on the politics of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). On the other hand, promoters of Belarusian national development laid a foundation for major Belarusian national institutions, which survived shifts in Soviet national policies. The education system established in the 1920s with Belarusian as the language of instruction was not abol- ished in the 1930s. Belarusian elites, while subject to the same dangers as elites of all the nationalities in the Soviet Union, did not disappear. Belarusians knew that they no longer had to make a choice between social advancement and national identity. One can plausibly suggest that both the 1920s and 1930s marked important stages of Belarus’s national development within the overarching framework of Soviet institutions. Not only was the nationally-informed civil society enlarged beyond the small circle of Nasha Niva intellectuals, the national state structures emerged in Belarus for the first time in history under the Soviet auspices.

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The struggle for leadership between Belarusian nationalist com- munists and their internationalist comrades in the republic’s ruling bureaucracy started shortly after the Polish counteroffensive of August- September 1920 ran out of steam and the front line had stabilized. Wilhelm Knorin, Secretary of the Central Bureau of the Communist Party of Belarus (Bolsheviks), belonged to the generation of Communist leaders who during the first World War fomented revolution among the soldiers of the Russian army located on the Belarusian territory. As neither he nor most of the soldiers were Belarusians, Knorin did not see much use in supporting local nationalism. He kept this attitude when he was in charge of the Belarusian Communist organization. According to Navitski (2002), Knorin saw Belarus as a territorial unit within the Russian Federation, not a national entity in its own right. He viewed the Belarusian national movement as an artificial phenomenon, existing only within a small group of nationalist intelligentsia and ultimately harmful for the coming world revolution. In 1920, Knorin’s views on Belarusian nationalism were essentially the same as in 1917 (for the lat- ter, see Nedasek, 1954, pp. 57–59). These views faced opposition from within the very Party and government apparatus over which Knorin was presiding. Among the Belarusian Bolsheviks who supported the idea of national statehood for Belarus were Anton Balitski (Deputy People’s Commissar of Education), Zmitser Zhylunovich (editor in chief of the Savetskaya Belarus, the official mouthpiece of Belarusian Communist government), Usevalod Ihnatouski (People’s Commissar of Education), Stsiapan Bulat and Iosif Karaneuski (department chiefs in the Central Bureau of the Belarusian Communist Party). These men, together with other like-minded administrators and cultural figures, were not in opposition to Bolshevik rule in Belarus. Indeed, as their positions indicated, they accepted the Bolshevik program of violent revolution and totalitarian social transformation. However, they did not think that this program was incompatible with Belarusian national development. To reconcile a national idea with the Communist program, then still map- ping out a road to the world revolution and international community of workers and poor peasants, was not an easy task. Belarusian national communists approached it with great ingenuity: according to them, virtually all Belarusians were either poor peasants or almost equally poor industrial workers. Untainted by the decadently sophisticated culture of propertied classes, Belarusians were cleared for entry into the newly built Communist society. This theory, apparently stemming from the vision of the Belarusian people common within the Nasha Niva circle, was produced by Ihnatouski who maintained that, as “Belarusian


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culture is the culture of the working masses of Belarusians” (quoted in Lubachko, p. 77), the toiling multitudes could receive Communist indoctrination in the Belarusian language and within the framework of the Belarusian culture. Although the national communists couched their agenda in a suitably Bolshevik way, Knorin and his like-minded comrades were not con- vinced. When proponents of Belarusian national communism brought the issue of territorial enlargement of the republic to a meeting of the Central Bureau, their proposal to petition Russia to cede Vitebsk and Gomel provinces to Belarus was promptly voted down. Ihnatouski and his associates faced an uphill battle against their superiors in a highly hierarchical organizational structure. An obvious solution would be to appeal to the leadership in Moscow, over the heads of Knorin and his entourage in Minsk. On December 14, 1920 thirty two nationalist Communists sent a letter to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). The letter, signed by thirty two persons, asked for territorial enlargement of Belarus and complained that the republic’s Communist leaders of non-Belarusian origins fail to spread the Party message among the local masses. As the latter were Belaru- sian, the implication was that the Communist leaders of Belarusian ethnic origin are better suited to promote Communis policies among Belarusian workers and peasants. The affair, started with the letter, quickly acquired all the features of a factional quarrel of the type the Bolsheviks were famous for. Apparently the Moscow recipients of the letter informed the Minsk leadership of its contents. The letter, by now referred to as the “declaration of the thirty two,” by the number of national communists who signed it, was labeled a separatist attempt and brought to a discussion at the Central Bureau of the Belarusian Communist Party. On February 15, 1921, the Bureau condemned the letter as “immature, unfounded and contrary to the Communist spirit” (quoted in Navitski, 2002). Although the Belarusian Communist Party leadership stopped short of declaring the letter counter-revolutionary, the Bureau proceedings were sufficiently sinister to make the authors fear the fate that commonly befell the losers in high-stakes policy debates within the Bolshevik leadership. Indeed, the day after the Bureau’s meeting, residences of many of the signatories of the letter were searched and they themselves put under arrest. They were freed shortly afterwards, because of the intervention of moderate national- ists in Belarusian leadership. Perhaps the latter (Zhilunovich and the Central Executive Committee Chairman Alexander Charviakou among

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them) anticipated a change of course of the Bolshevik national policy, away from internationalism and towards the recognition the impor- tance of local national elites for the long-term stability of the country the Bolsheviks now controlled. The tenth congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), which took place in March 1921, laid down the foundations of the rul- ing party’s national policy for the next eight years. While the details of the policy were still under discussion, the new prevailing senti- ment was that Communist ideology had to be made compatible with nationalisms of all the peoples of the former Russian Empire. Joseph Stalin, then People’s Commissar for Nationalities and the leading Party authority on national question, presented to the congress his theses on the treatment of various national groups. Some were to be incorporated into the Russian Federation and given limited autonomy, some were recognized as independent republics bound to Russia by treaties. Belarus did not belong to either category and was referred to as being at an “intermediate stage” of federation (quoted in Nahailo and Swoboda, p. 48). This categorization apparently implied that in due course Belarus would move from the “intermediate” position to an autonomous national region of the Russian Federation. The theses presaged Stalin’s scheme of granting national minorities the status of limited autonomy within the Russian Federation, the idea later rejected by Lenin who thought that a union of nominally independent and nominally equal national republics, of which Russia would be one, is a better solution to the national question. For the Belarusian national communists, even Stalin’s vision of national development held consid- erable promise. When during the discussion of his theses at the tenth congress one of the delegates alleged that Belarusian nationality was being artificially promoted, Stalin, in his inimitable style of a pedantic autodidact, replied: “This is not correct, because Belarusian nationality does exist; it possesses its own language which is different from Russian. That’s why one can promote the culture of the Belarusian people only in its native language.” (quoted in Lindner, p. 155). Thus, Belarusian national culture was recognized and declared worthy of support by the person whose opinion on national issues could be safely challenged by very few people, none of them in Belarus. National communists realized that they from now on they had a powerful ally. Emboldened by this thought, they started to put their ideas into practice. Soon after the tenth congress of the RCP (B), the Minsk chapter of the Communist Party of Belarus produced a brochure entitled “The


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Belarusian National Question and the Communist Party”. The docu- ment, consisting of thirteen theses, was published in December 1921. Following the party line established at the tenth congress, the brochure discussed two deviations from this line: “great power chauvinism” and “bourgeois-democratic nationalism”. The authors of the brochure insisted that the latter was a direct consequence of the former, thus implying that if the “great power chauvinism” was eradicated, the “bourgeois-democratic nationalism” would disappear by itself. The latter was described as a substitution of national interests for the interests of working classes. According to the brochure, Belarusian culture did not have class divisions, therefore national interests in Belarus actually coin- cided with the interests of the toiling masses. Thus, Belarusian culture was “the culture of the working masses of Belarusians”. This vision of Belarusians as a nation of peasants and workers, with almost no indig- enous upper class, had its roots in the Nasha Niva circle, specifically, in the works of Vaclav Lastouski. The ideas of the founders of the modern Belarusian nationalism were compatible with Stalin’s national policies. Throughout most of the 1920s Belarusian national communists were able to exploit the opportunities presented by this situation. Personnel changes in the Belarusian Communist Party leadership improved the chances of nationally minded Belarusian Bolsheviks to promote their agenda. In 1921, shortly after the tenth congress, Char- viakou and Adamovich, two moderate nationalists, were promoted to full membership in the Central Bureau, while Stsiapan Bulat, a national Communist, was made chairman of the propaganda department. A year later, Knorin was recalled to Moscow and his place at the helm of the Belarusian Communist Party was taken by Vaclav Bahutski, who shared the main ideas of the national communists. In March 1923 the national communists consolidated their position, as the seventh congress of the Belarusian Communist Party adopted their resolution on the promo- tion of Belarusian culture as the means to spread Communist ideology among the local population. One of the themes of national-communist speeches at the congress was the recognition of the existence of two centers of Belarusian national development: one in Minsk, the other across the border in Wilno (Vilnia in Belarusian). In this context calls for a greater role of Soviet structures in strengthening of the Belarusian culture acquired geopolitical significance that was recognized not only in Minsk, but in Moscow as well. It is likely that geopolitical factors accounted for the positive reception by the Russian Communist leader- ship of a petition by their Belarusian comrades to cede the provinces of Gomel and Vitebsk, as well as some districts of Smolensk province, to

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Belarus. When a delegation led by Bahutski, Charviakou and Ihnatouski visited Moscow in June 1923, the discussion of territorial issues was attended by all but two members of the Politburo. Two months later the Politburo of the Russian Party issued a resolution which essentially granted all the territorial requests of Belarusian national communists.

Following this decision, the territory of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic was enlarged in 1924 and then again in 1926. Belarus received the provinces of Vitebsk, Mogilev and Gomel and several districts belonging to Smolensk province. As a result, in 1926 Belarus’s territory increased to 48,500 square kilometers (more than twice its territory in 1923), while the population increased from 1.5 million in 1923 to almost five million in 1926 (Zaprudnik, p. 78). After the enlargement, Belarusians accounted for more than 80 per- cent of the republic’s population, Jews were the second largest ethnic group constituting 8.2 percent of the total, Russians accounted for 7.7 percent and Poles for 2.0 percent (quoted in Zaprudnik, p. 78). In reality, the national situation in Soviet Belarus was more contradictory than the aggregate data suggest. In the newly acquired territories, the share of Belarusian population exhibited unusually abrupt changes in the twenty five years since the census of 1897. In Vitebsk province, in 1920 Belarusians accounted for 57 percent of the total population, a considerable drop from 75.6 percent in 1897. At the same time, the Russian population, whose share in 1897 was 9.8 percent, increased to 32 percent of the total in 1920 (all data quoted in Navitski, 2002). The province did not experience mass migration between 1897 and 1920. A plausible explanation of the changes would be that a significant group

of respondents were either unsure of their nationality or found it use-

ful to switch their national identity according to the changing political situation. In some districts of Gomel province more than 90 percent

of the population defined their national identity as “unknown” in 1897

and “Russian” in 1920 (Navitski, 2002). Moreover, out of a the minor- ity of Belarusians who could read and write (36 percent in 1926) 52

percent were literate exclusively in the Russian language (Lindner, p. 161).

A major challenge to the nation-building efforts of the national Com-

munists was ignorance and apathy widespread among the very people they claimed to represent. The fact that the titular nation of Soviet Belarus was the least educated had serious implication for Soviet

national policies in the republic. In the 1920s, the official attitudes of Soviet leadership towards ethnic minorities of the former Russian Empire were denoted by the word “korenizatsiya”. One of the many ugly neologisms in the Soviet


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newspeak, “korenizatsiya” (from the Russian korni, roots) is commonly translated as “indigenization”. The meaning of the word, as well as the purpose of the policies it signified, changes depending on a particular interpretation. Vakar equates the policy of korenizatsiya in Belarus with Belorussification of cultural and political life conducted at the expense of the Russian minority (pp. 139–140). Zaprudnik, while not mentioning the word itself, describes the 1920s national policies in Soviet Belarus as the development and nurturing of indigenous Belarusian culture (pp. 78–79). Lubachko writes about a “Golden Age” of Belarusian culture ushered in, albeit for a brief period, by the Soviet authorities’ support for Belarusian national development. Robert Kaiser (p. 125) treats korenizatsiya as a tool of nation-building that emphasized the territorial dimension of national self-determination. Equating korenizatsiya with Belorussification is not implausible if one looks at the policy’s outcomes. Indeed, by the end of the 1920s Belarusian national institutions in politics and culture were stronger and more prominent than before the new national policy was introduced. This view, however, does not tell us much about the political forces behind this policy. Was the unimpeded national development a true goal of the authors of the korenizatsiya policy? There are some aspects of Belarus’s interwar history that invite a more subtle interpretation of Soviet national policies of the 1920s than the one which is commonly given. The centralizing proclivities of Communist leaders had been an enduring and central feature of the Soviet regime from its inception. Indigenization was no more indicative of the Soviet leadership’s com- mitment to national independence than the new economic policy was representative of their dedication to a free market. Opinions and actions of those Soviet Communist leaders who shaped national policy after the civil war clearly demonstrate that they were more concerned with strengthening their position as undisputed rulers of the country than promoting national development among the non-Russian peoples of the former Russian Empire. In September 1922, in the course of discussion about future national policy, Dmitro Manuil’s’ki, then a Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party, sent a let- ter to Stalin, who at the time was chairing a commission that prepared the nationalities issue for discussion at a plenary session of the Russian Communist Party’s Central Committee. Manuil’s’ki stated quite plainly that Bolshevik support of national independence movements in the former Russian Empire was just a concession to “elemental national forces set in motion by the revolution.” In the post-revolutionary chaos,

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when the Bolsheviks held to power only tenuously, national sentiment had to be coopted rather than confronted. According to Manuil’s’ki, as the Bolsheviks had won the civil war and secured a reasonably strong grip on power, they could easily reduce the independence of national borderlands without fear of nationalist backlash. Ideas expressed in the letter were in line with Stalin’s vision of the future relations between the nations of the Soviet realm: independence of Ukraine, Belarus and other Soviet republics should be replaced by their autonomous status within the Russian Federation. The idea was rejected by Lenin, although not out of any special regard for the rights of individual Soviet republics. Lenin did not share the view of Stalin and Manuil’s’ki that national sentiment among borderland elites could be safely tamed. Instead, he wanted to provide a semblance of national independence so as not to provoke separatist forces to declare real independence (the nationalities debate is discussed in Nahaylo and Swoboda, 1990, pp. 49–51). National policies of the Bolshevik regime were intended to secure its control over the vast territory of the former Russian Empire, not promote national independence and local self-government. Indeed, this would be the last thing Bolsheviks would want, as it was in those parts of the Russian Empire where population proved capable of creating effective structures of nationally-based government that their advance was resisted with the greatest success. Key Bolshevik leaders knew that they owe their power not to the popularity of their program but to the organized brutality of their actions against the opponents who were less brutal or less organized. Effective resistance to Bolsheviks was delivered only by those societies which successfully created institutions of self- government legitimized by the feeling of national unity. In Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland this resistance was sufficiently strong to expel the Bolshevik forces and establish independent nation states. As the civil war experience demonstrated, in order to maintain control over the country, Bolsheviks had to prevent local nationalisms from serving as mobilizing forces for the formation of independent centers of political power. This could be achieved by coopting local national elites into the newly created Soviet bureaucracy, thus reducing the incentives for the emergence of potential nationalist leaders. The policy of korenizatsiya had another aspect: the recruitment of local cadres into the newly created administrative apparatus. After their victory in the civil war the Bolsheviks had to administer a vast multina- tional country with an administrative system deliberately destroyed by Bolsheviks themselves. As the administrative vacuum was spread more


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or less evenly throughout the land, new cadres of all levels had to be recruited locally. In Belarus, the main pool of potential administrators was unlikely to consist mostly of Belarusians. As already mentioned, in 1926, only 36 percent of Belarusians in Soviet Belarus could read and write, well below the average 59.7 percent literacy rate for the republic’s population. Given that Belarusians constituted more than 80 percent of the population, the discrepancy of 23.7 percentage points indicated that other ethnic groups were considerably more literate than Belarusians. Less than ten percent of Belarusians lived in cities and towns. Of this number, only 60 percent could read and write. This was well below literacy rates for urban dwellers of other ethnic groups (ranging from 67 percent literacy rate for Poles to 84 percent for Ukrainians) (all data quoted from Lindner, p. 161). Thus, throughout the 1920s local administrators were much more likely to be recruited among the non- Belarusian segment of the population. In 1927, Belarusians accounted for 51 percent of the employees of the central Soviet administrative bodies, 31 percent in economic administration, 26 percent in the judi- ciary (Lubachko, p. 69). The korenizatsiya policy in Belarus had two components: Belarusian and local non-Belarusian. The former, as the data above indicate, was limited by the availability of native Belarusian cadres suitable for promotion. The difference between korenizatsiya and Belorussification was officially recognized, as the tenth Congress of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Belarus stated that the Party line points “not only to the promotion of Belarusians; korenizatsiya means also the promotion of Jewish, Polish and even Russian workers” (quoted in Lindner, p. 158). Belarus’s national Communists recognized the problem and from the very beginning set out to rectify it by expanding Belarusian education at all levels, as well as promoting Belarusian culture through the publica- tion of books and periodicals in the Belarusian language. Lindner quotes figures that show a significant increase in the number of both book titles and periodicals in Belarusian. Book titles in Belarusian numbered sixty one in 1924. The number increased to 275 in 1926 and then to 1,170 in 1930. In 1928 thirty newspapers in Belarus were published in the Belaru- sian language, by 1931 this number increased to 148. Development of the national education system was equally impressive. According to the data quoted by Lindner (p. 161), in 1926 Belarusians accounted for 8,005 school, college and university teachers in Belarus out of the total number of 11,326, thus making this professional group perhaps the only one in which Belarusians were represented proportionately to

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their share in the total population. By the beginning of 1927 Belarus’s People’s Commissariat of Education used only the Belarusian language in its official communications (Lubachko, p. 85). The educational establishment was the most formidable force of Belarusian national development. Illiteracy was energetically tackled as the number of special schools devoted solely to teaching people to read and write grew from 1,034 in the academic year 1925–26 to 1,484 two years later; the schools reduced adult illiteracy in Belarus by 300,000 in three years (Lubachko, p. 87). As for the children, the number of four-year elementary schools (at which attendance became compulsory in 1926) increased from 3,774 in 1924 to 5,163 in 1927 (Lubachko, p. 86). In the same period, Belarus’s professional schools, which combined a junior college level education with middle level professional training, produced more than 15,000 graduates. Belarus’s three institutions of higher learning: the Belarusian State University, the Belarusian Agricultural Academy and the State Veterinary Institute, together had more than 4,500 students (Lubachko, p. 89). For the first time in history, Belarusians had their own educational system. There was one fly in the ointment: Belarusians were still under represented among the faculty of the institutions of higher learning. In 1928, only eight university professors (out of the total of ninety) were Belarusian. However, the situation looked promising in the long run, as Belarusians accounted for twenty three associate professors out of eighty nine and sixty eight assistant professors out of one hundred forty one. Another important task of nation building was the creation of a sufficiently detailed and coherent set of ideas and myths that would justify the existence of the Belarusian nation in the modern progressive context. This effort was concentrated mostly in the Institute of Belaru- sian Culture (Inbelkult), a scholarly organization founded in 1921 with the express purpose of not only studying Belarusian culture but also developing its high-brow component. The former was represented by ethnographic studies, while the latter in linguistic projects that adjusted the Belarusian language to the modern conditions by introducing native Belarusian terms into sciences, engineering, philosophy and other fields of knowledge where the Belarusian language had not hitherto been used. The study of Belarusian history by Inbelkult lay somewhere in between the scholarly pursuit and national indoctrination. In 1924, Anton Balitski, then People’s Commissar of Education, stated that among the main tasks of the Inbelkult was the creation of a biographical reference book of all prominent Belarusian personalities since the 10th century


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and work on historiography and bibliography of Belarusian antiquity (Lindner, 193). The statement apparently implied that Inbelkult should act on the assumption that an identifiable Belarusian polity and society existed as early as the tenth century. Thus, historians were invited to adopt the concept of Belarusian history first introduced by Lastouski in his Brief Review of Belarusian History and popularized by the Nasha Niva circle. It is not that Inbelkult scholars needed much encourage- ment. The vision of Belarus’s history as a sequence of autochthonous development in the principality of Polotsk, the cultural predominance in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Golden Age lost due to Polish perfidy and treason of local elites, the culture and language faithfully preserved by the peasants and awaiting the hour of revival was already well established among Belarusian historians, as Usevalod Ihnatouski, a long-time forceful promoter of these ideas, was the Inbelkult’s director. Works of Ihnatouski, Picheta and Dounar-Zapolski served to consoli- date the romantic nationalist tradition in Belarusian historiography. There are some notable peculiarities in the Belarusian national devel- opment under Soviet tutelage. It is not unusual for empires to promote literacy and education in their borderlands, even if this includes support of a local language. It is not unusual for a fledgling nationalist intel- ligentsia to create intellectually credible stories about their nation’s past by means of selective reading and imaginative interpretation of history. Indeed, plausible glorification of a nation’s history is indispensable for legitimation of a national state. It is highly unusual, however, for this kind of effort to be directly supported by imperial authorities. The lat- ter have been known to tolerate the growth of intellectual nationalism among their minorities, but not to devote resources to its promotion. In post-revolutionary Belarus, local nationalist intelligentsia worked with full support of the Party apparatus, which after the civil war replaced, mutatis mutandis, the ruling bureaucracy of the Russian Empire. In fact, leading contributors to the second Golden Age of Belarusian cul- ture and scholarship were high-ranking members of the local Soviet establishment. Ihnatouski was not only director of Inbelkult, but also a career Soviet bureaucrat and Party official, a member of the Belarusian Com- munist Party Central Committee since 1925. Zhylunovich, formerly of the Nasha Niva circle and strong promoter of the Belarusian national cause, was another Soviet apparatchik. The intellectual foundations of modern Belarusian nationalism were created under the benign super- vision of Soviet bureaucrats. Of course, in the Soviet Union it could

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not have been otherwise. Mussolini’s dictum “nothing outside of the state” applied to the Soviet Union perhaps better than to any other totalitarian regime. Those who wanted to promote Belarusian national development in the Soviet Union could do it through the state (and to the extent allowed by the state) or not at all. It is hard to say whether the “national” or “communist” component prevailed in Belarusian national commu- nism. It is, however, clear that modern Belarusian nationalism was not only compatible with Soviet power structures, but existed within them in a kind of institutional symbiosis. Even non-Soviet Belarusian intellectual and political leaders found this arrangement sufficiently accommodating. In 1925, the Belarusian government in exile declared that the Belarusian People’s Republic transfered its powers to the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Having made this statement, the government dissolved itself and most of its members moved back to Minsk. Lastouski and Tsvikevich were among the initiators of the gov- ernment dissolution. The latter wrote persuasively about the power of the working class as the supra-national authority in the Soviet Union and “the real truth” that shone through “the fog of bloody struggle” in Soviet Belarus, thus allowing Minsk to become “the only center of the national and state regeneration of Belarus” (Quoted in Lubachko, p. 83). Upon their return to Belarus, Lastouski, Tsvikevich and others were given positions in the Soviet apparatus. They were allowed to con- tinue scholarly research on Belarus’s ethnography, history and politics, thus contributing still more to the corpus of Belarusian studies emerg- ing in Minsk in the 1920s. Shortly after that, the Soviet government negotiated the release of Belarusian deputies to the Polish legislature (many of whom were sent to prison following their support of the radi- cal peasant movement) and their repatriation to Soviet Belarus. Symon Rak-Mikhailouski, Branislau Tarashkevich, and Ihnat Dvarchanin were among those prominent Belarusian leaders who joined the already quite impressive gallery of Belarusian national figures in Minsk. Continuing the traditions of the Belarusian national movement started in the Nasha Niva period, these men combined dedication to Belarusian cultural development (Tarashkevich was author of the first Belarusian grammar) with political activism (all of them were deputies of the Polish Sejm) and left-wing political orientation. Non-Soviet Belarusian leaders did not have to compromise their convictions to make a deal with the Soviets. After all, their vision of Belarusians as a nation of the oppressed was not incompatible with the


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ideological tenets of the Communist Party. Generous financial subsi- dies and consistent political support of Belarusian national education and scholarship could be interpreted as a genuine commitment of the Soviet authorities to the Belarusian national cause. The prospect of harnessing resources of a huge empire to lift Belarus to its rightful place among the nations seemed preferable to the hopeless existence of an emigre politician or a Sejm deputy representing a neglected corner of Poland. Belarusian nationalists joined National Communists in mak- ing the most from the opportunities of the time. According to Vakar, Belarusian nationalists “used the state might and the state treasury to force Belorussification upon all phases of life, public and private, instilling in the fatalistic and self-doubting people a new belief in their superior character and destiny” (Vakar, p. 145). One should not blame Lastouski and Tsvikevich, or Ihnatouski and Zhilunovich, for ignoring the deeply sinister aspects of Communist doctrine, for the time being hidden under the veneer of social and economic (but not political) pluralism associated with the New Economic Policy. At that time the view of Soviet Communism as the way of the future was accepted by many intellectuals throughout the world. Belarusian nationalists were in the company of the Webbs, H. G. Wells, Walter Duranty as well as many others who averted their eyes from the badly concealed inhuman- ity of Soviet Communism and concentrated instead on the reforming abilities of the outwardly efficient Soviet state. The state giveth, the state taketh away. The second Golden Age of Belarusian culture ended as it started, with a change of policies by the Party leadership in Moscow. Now that only a few Belarusian national figures remained outside the Soviet Union, national policy could be conducted without fear of triggering anti-Soviet repercussions across the border. As the instability of the Polish state in the wake of the Pilsudski coup of 1926 proved to be wishful thinking of Soviet propagandists, the Belarusian community in Poland ceased to be a potential conduit of Soviet influence and therefore lost its importance in the Kremlin’s geo- political calculations. Ihhanouski’s wish, expressed in 1923, that “Soviet Minsk” should win over “bourgeois Vilnia” as the center of Belarusian culture, came true by 1929. Consequently, geopolitical implications of the Belarusian national movement were no longer relevant. National Communists succeeded in linking the Belarusian national cause to the interests of the Soviet state. The symbiosis worked according to their projections as long as the Communist rulers of the Kremlin were intriguing, scheming, and jostling for power positions, uncertain of the

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future course the empire should take. When the decade of uncertainty ended with a Party-wide consensus, imposed by Stalin with his cus- tomary brutal efficiency, the time came to reexamine national policies in the borderlands. With the new Party line that promoted the center over the borderlands, the local nationalisms had to be limited, while prior developments in excess of the new limits had to be corrected. The brutality of the corrective action actually exceeded the generosity that allowed the Belarusian nationalism to develop so explosively. In 1929 the Main Political Directorate (Glavnoie Politicheskoie Upravleniie, GPU, the secret police) “discovered” two counterrevo- lutionary organizations, the Union for the Revival of Belarus and the Union for the Liberation of Belarus with a membership that conve- niently included virtually all the leading Belarusian nationalists in administration and academia. The culprits were promptly rounded up and accused of counterrevolutionary activities, anti-Soviet propaganda, attempts to separate Belarus from the Soviet Union and a host of other misdeeds. Among the more than one hundred men arrested on these patently fabricated charges were historians and linguists, administra- tors and writers. The tragic absurdity of the proceedings, soon to become a familiar feature of the Soviet judicial system, was then appall- ingly unexpected. The very people who for many years tried to make Belarusian national development compatible with Communist doctrine were labeled anti-Communists. Anton Balitski, former People’s Com- missar of Education, who established a network of schools that lifted Belarusians out of illiteracy, was charged, among other things, with criminal attempts to wreck Belarusian cultural development. Dzimitri Prishchepau, the People’s Commissar of Agriculture, who presided over a steady growth in prosperity in the Belarusian village, was accused of promoting inefficient forms of land use. Usevalod Ihnatouski, for many years the driving force behind the development of Belarusian national scholarship, committed suicide after a preliminary interrogation, appar- ently dismayed by the surreal and yet deadly serious charges against him. Of course, the interrogators knew very little of Belarusian history and culture, education and economy. Their assignment was to remove the people whose services were no longer needed by the Kremlin. The sheer inanity of charges conveyed an important message: from now on Moscow’s policies in Belarus would be unrestrained by local consider- ations, opinions or even common sense. During 1929–30, more than ninety leading Belarusian scholars, writers and administrators were sentenced to various prison terms and


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internal exile. Although the sentences might have seemed compara- tively lenient, in reality many of the victims perished in prisons and concentration camps because of the inhumane treatment and harsh living conditions. Shortly after the first wave of repressions, the atten- tion of the secret police was turned to the Belarusian national leaders who escaped to Soviet Belarus from Poland. Many of them were former deputies in the Polish legislature who spent time in Polish prisons for support of radical peasant movements. Now, the Soviet secret police discovered that all of them were in fact Polish spies sent to Belarus to create anti-Soviet terrorist groups. Rak-Mikhailouski, Dvarchanin and others were arrested and forced to sign confessions that implicated each other in actions ranging from sabotage and espionage to terrorism and fascism. All of them were found guilty of all charges, sent to prison, and eventually shot or physically liquidated by other means. By 1933, all politically active members of the old Belarusian intelligentsia were elimi- nated from the scene. Their work followed them into a long oblivion. Kuzniatsou (2001) cites a list of books banned in Belarus shortly after their authors were imprisoned or murdered. The list includes collections of Belarusian folklore, dictionaries of local dialects, works marking the quadricentenary of the Belarusian press, Belarusian journals, all works by Ales Harun (a Belarusian writer who did not return to Belarus after emigration), proceedings of the first congress of Belarusian archeology, works of the division of humanities of the Belarusian Academy of Sci- ences, dictionaries of Belarusian scientific terms, Belarusian folk tales and proverbs collected by Alyaksandar Serzhputouski. The Belarusian national narrative was starting anew, with a clean slate and with new protagonists. Communist regime created the first Belarusian national state. Now it was re-shaping Belarusian civil society. The new Party line demanded that Belarusian nationalism be treated as a greater danger than Russian chauvinism (Lubachko, p. 116). This set the tone for the new treatment of Belarusian history which now was presented as a joint class struggle of Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian peasants against their oppressors, the latter being almost exclusively Polish landlords. The banned corpus of Belarusian studies produced by national scholars in the 1920s could not be easily and quickly replaced by something more palatable for the new Party ideologues. The result- ing vacuum was immediately felt at the level of secondary school where the lack of suitable textbooks eventually led to the abandonment of the courses in Belarusian history and their replacement by courses in the history of the peoples of the Soviet Union (Lindner, p. 269). The

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Belarusian language, which until then was based on the grammar cre- ated by Branislau Tarashkevich, had been modified to bring it closer to Russian spelling and pronunciation. These measures did not return Belarusian national development to the pre-revolutionary level. The Belarusian national idea was not abandoned altogether, but rather shaped by Communist ideologues in Moscow and not by Belarusian national scholars in Minsk. The latter should be credited with more than just a recreation of a decade-long “Golden Age” of Belarusian culture:

in a very short time they laid the foundations of national institutions that could withstand the pressure of policy changes in the Kremlin long after the protagonists of National Communism perished in Soviet concentration camps. Throughout the 1930s, the number of newspapers published in Belarusian remained virtually the same, 149 in 1938, compared to 148 in 1931 (Lindner, p. 162). Vakar (p. 153) reported that 462 book titles in Belarusian were printed in 1938 in 14,700,000 copies. While this was a considerable drop from 1,301 titles in Belarusian published in 1931 and most of the titles were translations from the Russian language, the numbers do not suggest a serious attempt to eradicate the Belarusian language in the public sphere. At all school levels, Belarusian remained the predominant language of instruction, while the Russian language was not a required subject until 1938 (Vakar, p. 153). When the com- pulsory study of the Russian language was mandated by the government decree in March 1938, there were not enough teachers trained in the subject. Belarus’s People’s Commissar of Education had no adequate schooling in Russian. The gap had to be filled by appointing teachers from Russia to Belarusian schools. All this indicate that there was no concerted and sustained campaign of the Russification of Belarusian education and culture in the 1930s, or else that it failed spectacularly. Repressions against officials of the Communist Party and Soviet bureaucracy continued in Belarus throughout the 1930s, peaking during 1937–38, thus following the pattern common to other Soviet republics and the Soviet Union in general. A sequence of mutual denunciations by high-ranking Party officials followed by show trials and executions was a normal tool of personnel policy practiced by Communists in the 1930s. National features were secondary to this process. For example, in Belarus an official whose time at the top was about to end in front of a secret police interrogating team was frequently accused of being, among other things, a Polish spy, while his colleague from Russia’s heartland was more likely to spy for Germany and the one from the


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Transcaucasian region would supposedly receive payment in guineas for the services rendered to the British Crown. In 1937 Belarus’s Chair- man of the Council of People’s Commissars, Mykola Haladzed was arrested, shortly after a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Belarusian Communist Party where he called on his fellow Com- munists to freely volunteer their help to the secret police, as the latter was overwhelmed by the Herculean task of eradication of hidden class enemies. Some months later, First Secretary of Belarus’s Communist Party, Vasil’ Sharangovich, was arrested and in March 1938 brought to a famous show trial in Moscow with Nikolai Bukharin as one of the co-defendants. Both Haladzed and Sharangovich duly pled guilty to charges that ranged from contacts with Trotskyist organizations to spying for Poland to spreading infectious diseases among livestock in Belarus. Their arrests were accompanied by a round-up of 2,570 people, mostly administra- tors, managers and Party officials, on similarly absurd charges. Most of them were defined by the NKVD as Trotskyists, Socialist-Revolu- tionaries, Mensheviks, members of the Bund, Rightists and members of religious sects (Kuzniatsou, 2000). Only 138 were described as “national- fascist.” Apparently by that time Belarusian nationalism ceased to be a priority for the repressive branch of Stalin’s Communist regime. Of course, a mere two and a half thousand arrested was not even the tip of the iceberg. Persecution in Belarus (as elsewhere in the Soviet Union) was ubiq- uitous and could befall virtually anyone, of any station in life, for no apparent reason whatsoever. The estimated numbers of those who perished in prisons, concentration camps or in front of a firing squad are necessarily incomplete and imprecise. Kuzniatsou estimates that during 1935–40 more than 480,000 people in Belarus were arrested, out of which number more than 50,000 were shot. Other evidence suggests that the real number of those killed by the secret police could be considerably higher, as the excavation of the site in Kurapaty, near Minsk, unearthed mass graves of people killed in the late 1930s whose number has been estimated to be well above 50,000 (Zaprudnik, pp. 87–88, Mironowicz, 2004, p. 55). Belarus did not endure the trauma of murderous collectivization on the scale of the famine deliberately organized in Ukraine in 1932–33. Neither did its modest industrialization program match the scale of industrial investment in Russia or Ukraine. Belarus’s size, comparative

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lack of natural resources, its dead end location with no access to the sea and cross-border trade with Poland hampered by Soviet self-isolation diverted much of the attention of socialist planners to more promising targets. Of course, Belarus was not completely spared the great social experiment and its consequences. Collectivization in Belarus started in the end of 1929, against protests by the republic’s People’s Commissar of Agriculture, Dzimitri Prishchepau. In May 1930, the Central Committee of the Belarusian Communist Party issued a secret directive regarding the treatment of those peasants who lived above the poverty level and thus were likely to be less than enthusiastic about the confiscation of their property. Such peasants were divided into three categories: those who protested most vocally were to be sent to concentration camps, the richest ones were to be exiled to remote regions of the USSR, while the rest had their property confiscated and were allowed to stay in Belarus (Mironowicz, 2004, p. 49). Given the state of communications at the time and difficulties of collecting detailed information by the central government, the actual decisions about assignment of individual peas- ants to a particular category had to be taken by local (village or district) Soviets. By 1927 Belarusians accounted for 92.3 percent of village and 79.2 percent of district Soviets (Lubachko, p. 68). Although the local Soviets had undergone restructuring in 1931, there is no reason to believe that their share changed significantly by May 1930, when the decree was issued. Thus, for the first time in history Belarusians sat in judgement over their fellow Belarusians, deciding who would have their life destroyed and who would only have their livelihood taken away from them. Apparently, the locals were too lenient, as in 1931, follow- ing an order from Moscow, Belarus’s local Soviets were reinforced by industrial workers (most of them Party members) dispatched largely from outside Belarus (Lubachko, pp. 100–101). The newcomers speeded up collectivization and the deportations and confiscations that accompa- nied it. Although collectivization in Belarus took longer to accomplish than in other regions of the Soviet Union, as it was not completed until 1937 (Lubachko, p. 103), the process still inflicted immense damage on the countryside by the deportation of 12 to 15 percent of Belarusian peasants, mostly the most industrious and capable ones. The resulting drop in agricultural productivity, as well as the personal consequences of massive social dislocation made collectivization widely unpopular. Massive and random terror of the 1930s was introduced largely as an element of the inherently inept economic policy. Starving people had


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to be frightened to prevent them from open protest, while concentra- tion camps in Siberia employed the cheapest labor force possible, thus offsetting the waste and inefficiency of central planning. Industrialization in Belarus, although not nearly as massive as in other parts of the Soviet Union, had serious social consequences. The data made available before the deliberate distortion of the first two five year plans rendered official Soviet economic statistics meaningless indicate that the republic’s economic profile was undergoing rapid changes. The share of industrial output in Belarus’s GDP grew from 23.6 percent in 1927 to 53.2 percent in 1932 (Zavaleyev, 1967, p. 235). Much of the industry was located in rural areas and concentrated in the low technology primary sector, such as peat-digging and timber- cutting. However, in addition to this traditional output, Belarusian industry started to produce machine tools and agricultural machinery, textiles and electricity. Manufacturing enterprises were mostly located

in urban centers, thus resulting in increased rural-urban migration. In 1926, only 4.3 percent of Belarusians were employed in physical labor outside agriculture, while in 1939 their share had grown to 23.1 percent. In 1939, 10.2 percent of Belarusians occupied white collar positions, a considerable increase from just two percent in 1926 (Kaiser, 1994,

p. 133). The share of Belarusians who lived in cities and towns increased

from ten percent in 1926 to twenty one percent in 1939 (Kaiser, 1994,

p. 122). Although Belarus’s economic development in the 1920s and

1930s did not produce results sufficiently impressive to set the republic apart from other regions of the Soviet Union, it ushered in changes that had long-term consequences for the national development.

3. Belarusians in inter-war Poland: hostages to history

While in the east the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic moved toward modernity, in the ethnically Belarusian lands of the reborn Polish Republic remnants of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania lived on. It was not only the stagnant economy and the vestiges of an archaic social structure that distinguished the four ethnically Belarusian voivodships (Byalystok, Wilno, Novogrodek and Polesie) from the surrounding regions. The tradition of regarding the territory of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a separate political entity was kept alive by those descendants of the Polish Lithuanian gentry who, just as in the centu- ries past, supplied the Polish state with politicians and poets, soldiers

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and scholars. Pilsudski was perhaps the most prominent of the “Gente Lithuani Natione Poloni” of the twentieth century. Throughout his rise to power, from a social-democratic revolutionary to the authoritarian leader of a restored Poland, he never completely abandoned an idea of a Polish state in which Belarusian and Lithuanian territories would be granted substantial political autonomy, not unlike the position enjoyed by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the pre-Partition Polish Republic (Machray, 1932, p. 130). As Pilsudski’s vision of the restored Polish- Lithuanian federation failed to compete or coexist with the ascendant vision of modern Poland as a nation-state with a clearly identifiable national majority, the importance of the Kresy (Kresy Wschodnie, Eastern Borderlands, as the ethnic Belarusian and Ukrainian territories of the interwar Poland became known) diminished and they faded into obscurity until the Soviet invasion of 1939. Information about the part of today’s Belarus, which between the wars was known as Kresy Wschodnie in Poland and Western Belarus in the Soviet Union, when available at all, is deeply biased. Contemporary Polish sources tell about the modest but steady social and economic process in the lands ravaged by six years of military conflict. The local population, if mentioned at all, is presented as a beneficiary of the enlightened Polish policies. The other side is represented by Belarusian nationally minded historians and contemporary observers. They present the interwar Kresy as a picture of an unrelenting, deliberately savage oppression of Belarusian national movement against the background of dismal economic stagnation. Soviet historians, while just as hostile to the Polish administration in Western Belarus, emphasize class rather than national aspect of the allegedly oppressive Polish policies. The reader is left with the impression that the latter has been caused by the Polish government policies of exploitation of Belarusian peasants and workers. The discrepancy between these gloomy images and the moderately optimistic Polish accounts is so pronounced that it is hard to believe that both sides are talking about the same region and the same time period. Perhaps none of the competing national perspec- tives was well suited for a society, which to a large extent remained pre-modern and pre-national. When the Polish armed forces routed the invading Bolshevik armies at the gates of Warsaw in August 1920 in the move that was almost immediately hailed as the “miracle on the Vistula” and then attacked Red Army’s second echelon with even more devastating results three weeks later at the battle of the Niemen, the whole territory between


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the rivers Niemen, Berezina and Pripet was returned to Polish control. The Bolshevik government was weakened by the three years of the civil war and was preparing to attack the remaining anti-Communist forces in the Crimea. For the latter task it urgently needed the armies that were holding front against the Polish offensive. The Soviet delegation at the peace talks in Riga was prepared to concede to the victorious Poles much of the territory of today’s Belarus. 2 For Pilsudski this would mean a real possibility of a federate Poland where all nations would have enough power to participate in a political process. The Eastern borders would determine not only the ethno-political, but also the strategic and economic fate of interwar Poland. General Dowbor-Musnicki, one of the Polish military leaders quite familiar with the Belarusian theater of operations, thought of defensible eastern borders along the rivers Dvina and Dnieper (Deveroux, 1922, p. 70). Economically, in a region where paved highways were scarce, railroad network to a very large extent determined future development by providing or limiting access to distant markets for local products. The layout of railroads in the region was such that without access to the main junctures in Minsk, Orsha and Vitebsk the railroad network in the region would degenerate into a series of truncated lines leading to dead ends, as cross border trade volume was likely to be negligible. Given the Soviet Union’s ideologically inspired confrontational stance vis-à-vis Poland, both defensible eastern borders and an intact regional transportation system were imperative for long-term political stability and sustainable economic development. Military and economic considerations suggested that Polish nego- tiators should have at least exploited the recent Polish victories that, together with war exhaustion and military pressures elsewhere, made the Bolshevik position in the region increasingly precarious. A more determined effort could have resulted in territorial concessions beyond those actually forced from the Bolsheviks. However, the Polish delega- tion at the peace talks in Riga was driven by projections of the long- term internal political consequences of drawing the border too far to the east. The Polish delegation was dominated by National Democrat

2 According to Borzecki (2008, p. 139), Soviet delegation in Riga, as well as the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs, readily accepted the border proposal put forward by the Polish delegation. This proposal, which roughly coincided with the border actually agreed upon in the Riga peace treaty, was in fact the smallest of the territorial claims discussed by the Polish delegation.

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representative, Stanislaw Grabski, whom Jerzy Borzecki (2008, p. 134) describes as a brilliant intellectual, able to use his expert knowledge (Grabski was professor of economics) to advance the agenda of National Democrats. He was able to persuade the rest of the delegation, including its head, Jan Dabski, that they should pursue more modest territorial gains than those offered by the Bolsheviks. To the National Democrats, large minority groups in the newly created Polish state contradicted their view of Poland as an ethnically homogenous country. While they could not shed the territories that were not exclusively or predominantly Polish, they did make sure that the center of gravity in modern Poland would be its ethnically Polish core. Some observers (e.g., Zholtowski, 1950, pp. 212–215) note that Messrs

Dabski and Grabski later justified their decision to limit territorial gains in the east by the desire to establish long-term friendly relations with the Soviet Union, a much larger and stronger Eastern neighbor. This explanation seems not quite plausible. Relations with the Soviet Union could not be improved by a compromise. The Soviet Union of the 1920s was still run by an ideologically driven Bolshevik clique, which regarded the spread of revolutionary violence abroad as a legitimate way to achieve its ultimate goal of the workers’ paradise. Davies (1982, vol. 2, p. 401) quoted a conversation between Lenin and the German Communist, Clara Zetkin, which illustrated that Soviet leaders would not be satisfied unless they had control over the whole country, which in turn would serve as a stepping point to the European revolutionary conflagration. This kind of regime could not be coaxed into friend- ship by a concession of an additional ten thousand square miles of the territory. The Soviet Union of the 1930s, while shelving the idea of the world revolution, was resurrecting the Russian Empire under a different name. Stalin would not be persuaded to limit his expansionist appetites by references to the restraint of the Polish delegation at the talks in Riga. For all the changes of the Soviet leadership in the inter- war period, the preservation of an independent Polish state was never

a goal of Soviet foreign policy. Whatever their motivations, the Polish representatives at the Riga conference succeeded in creating Poland’s eastern borders, which were militarily indefensible and economically unviable. The new borderland region had an inherent tendency for political instability owing to the

presence of national minorities, which was substantial enough to create

a basis for irredentist politics and at the same time not large enough to effectively claim territorial autonomy. The decisions made in Riga had


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consequences that would plague the Polish portion of the ethnically Belarusian lands for almost two decades. In interwar Poland, regional economic development was to a very large extent directed by the central government. As decisions to invest

into infrastructure and the state-controlled industries were of essentially

a political nature, the political importance of a particular region was

a major factor in its placement on the list of government economic

priorities. For the ethnically Belarusian regions, the lack of political clout, largely a result of the decisions made at the Riga peace talks, meant that the focus of government’s economic development policies would lie elsewhere. The north-eastern voivodeships of Poland, with their underdeveloped infrastructure and chronically anemic private enterprise, suffered considerable devastation in the first World War and badly needed investment. The region’s scarcity of natural resources, badly developed transportation network and poorly skilled workforce provided insufficient incentives for private investment, especially in the generally depressed business climate of the 1920s and 1930s. The only solution to the chronic underdevelopment of the eastern borderlands would have been a credible and consistent economic policy devoted to the improvement of infrastructure and the creation of an extensive system of education and vocational training. Absent political pressure to implement such measures, the region was destined for long-term economic stagnation. The government’s insufficient readiness to supply funds to the east- ern regions was only partly due to weak political incentives. Even less can it be interpreted as malicious neglect. The restored Polish state had to attend to numerous economic tasks, many of them crucial for its survival, while having very limited economic resources at its dis- posal. The country had to create a unified economic system out of the three regional economies, each developed in accordance with needs of another country (Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany) and without any regard whatsoever for their mutual compatibility. Much of the territory of the new Poland was devastated in the course of the first World War and the Bolshevik invasion of 1920. The eastern regions bore the brunt of wartime destruction. While the newly independent country inherited railroad infrastructure (although much of it in dire need of repair) and some rolling stock from the partitioning powers, the merchant marine had to be created from scratch. The Danzig sea port, the only sea shipping outlet to which Poland had access was insufficient for the needs of the country’s foreign trade and vulnerable

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to the political exigencies of the Versailles European order. A new port facility had to be built, together with the new city of Gdynia, on the short stretch of the Baltic coast that was in Poland’s possession. Upper Silesia, a region with a major concentration of coal mines and steel mills, was another important destination for government subsidies and loans. The urgency of government financial support for Silesian industries had been stressed by foreign observers who, while com- menting on the importance of the region for the country’s long-term industrial development, doubted that Silesia’s industrial complex could be preserved as a viable economic entity (Kimens, 1928, 1929). Large scale government industrial projects could not be financed by means of excessive monetary and credit expansion. The Polish government, mindful of the brief period of hyperinflation in the early 1920s and well aware of the potentially disastrous economic and political consequences of a runaway inflation, maintained strict limits on monetary expansion throughout most of the interwar years. Monetary, credit and budget constraints meant that the government had to concentrate on the development of some regions and industries at the expense of others. In this situation, priority was given to the projects whish were indispensable for the country’s industrial develop- ment and the incorporation of Poland into the system of world trade. Even the most optimistic observer would not find an economic entity in the Kresy, which could compete for government funds and private investment with regions and industries of central and western Poland. The lack of economic development in the Kresy should not be inter- preted as willful neglect of a poor and ethnically distinct periphery by a rich metropolitan power. Poland of the interwar years was not a rich and well-developed country. It was a predominantly agrarian state desperately trying to create a modern economy under the pressure of a chronically recessional global economic environment. The needs of the eastern territories had to assume lesser priority than imperatives of national economic survival. Economic development of the Kresy was not completely neglected. Railroads were improved and, where possible, new lines were constructed (Zholtowski, 1950, pp. 262–63). Railroad tariffs were restructured in such a way that made local shipping of goods by rail economically viable. New paved roads were built in the region where until then most travel outside the widely spaced railroad lines was just as difficult and costly as in the middle ages. Private capital responded to improved road communication by establishing bus routes connecting cities and


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towns where no scheduled passenger service had ever existed. Emphasis on the improvement of communications as the focus of the regional economic development was perhaps the most realistic means to lift the Kresy economy from its chronically anemic state. Without much investment, it facilitated the growth of the existing production capac- ity by providing additional opportunities for the development of local markets (mostly for agricultural produce). Of course, this policy could produce results only gradually. Throughout the two interwar decades the low productivity individual farming remained the predominant feature of the Kresy economy. The Belarusian voivodships had the largest share of rural population among the regions of interwar Poland. The share of rural population was 81.9 percent in Polesie voivodship; in Nowogrodek voivodship it was 83.4 percent and in Wilno voivodship it reached 87.1 percent (Zholtowski, 1950, p. 248). Not only the industrial regions of Poland, but also the predominantly agricultural provinces of Western Ukraine had a considerably lower share of rural population (for example, in the voivodship of Lwow it was 71.8 percent). As non-Belarusian ethnic groups tended to concentrate in urban centers (a typical town in the Kresy would be populated by Polish civil servants and Jewish craftsmen and entrepreneurs), the share of rural population among Belarusians exceeded the above figures. Distribution of agricultural land in Poland was characterized by the predominance of small and very small peasant holdings. More than sixty percent of all land holdings were under 10 acres (Taylor, 1952, p. 73). This pattern of land distribution was present throughout the country, including the ethnically Belarusian regions. Land reform introduced in 1920 and then modified in 1925 allowed peasants to acquire the land of large estates whose holdings were parceled out by the government. In the Belarusian provinces the upper limit of the individual holding not subject to parcellation was 1,000 acres, considerably larger than the 400 acres adopted as the upper limit in central and western Poland. While Lubachko quotes several Belarusian politicians criticizing the decision to adopt 1,000 acres as the upper limit of individual family, Zholtowski provides a very positive assessment of the land reform in the Kresy. According to him, a combination of measures designed to increase individual peasant holdings and consolidate a patchwork of small plots into manageable units succeeded in creating a sizeable group of medium-size farmsteads. He estimates that in 1931, six years after the implementation of the second phase of land reform, about half of all

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agricultural units in the three Belarusian voivodships were 12.5 to 125 acres in size. By 1936, more than 1,500,000 acres of agricultural land in the region were transferred from large estates to small peasant hold- ings (all data quoted from Zholtowski, 1950, pp. 278–281). Zholtowski maintains that the measures of land redistribution and improvement of land use introduced by Polish authorities in the Kresy considerably improved the well-being of local peasants and opened better prospects for long-term development of individual family farming. While one might agree with the above optimistic assessment, it should be kept in mind that improvements were taking place only gradually and from a very low base. One must add that the land reform, although well designed, had certain problems in its implementation, particularly in the eastern regions of Poland. Land distribution was supervised by local authorities from whom peasants had to obtain permission to enlarge their holdings. In ethnically Belarusian territories there were instances of abuse of power by local officials who refused to grant such a permis- sion to Belarusian peasants (Lubachko, 1972, p. 133). While peasants’ petitions were frequently neglected or lost in the bureaucratic maze, the newly arrived Polish colonists (mostly retired Polish army servicemen) received the full and benevolent attention of the local authorities. The colonists (osadniki) received not only the land, but also long-term loans and government subsidies for purchasing equipment and constructing buildings (Lubachko, p. 132). As Belarusian peasants generally did not have access to such loans, the policy of colonization of the Kresy by Polish settlers undermined the positive aspects of the land reform by the preferential treatment of the ethnically Polish newcomers at the expense of the local Belarusian population. Perhaps more important was the widespread poverty which prevented many peasants in the Kresy from availing themselves of the opportunities provided by the land reform. Taylor (1952, p. 64) points out that the agriculture of Poland’s eastern provinces was “backward and primitive” compared to the rest of the country. Most peasant households were only subsistence farmsteads with very little possibility of accumulation of monetary resources. According to data provided by Taylor (1952, p. 77), surplus agricultural population in eastern provinces of Poland stood at 53.6 percent in 1930. While this was somewhat lower than Poland’s average share of the surplus population of 59.9 percent, it still indicated an alarmingly high level of rural unemployment. Poverty was one of the consequences of rural overpopulation. In Polesie voivodship peasants lived below subsistence level and their lack of purchasing power threatened the existence of


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the regional market (Taylor, 1952, p. 69). The settlement of Belarusian land by retired Polish servicemen, as well as civilian colonists, should be regarded not only as a measure to shore up the national situation in the ethnically diverse border regions but also as an aspect of economic policy designed to promote gradual improvement of regional economic conditions. The Polish authorities regarded colonization of the Kresy as a means to increase the aggregate purchasing power of the popula- tion, increase demand for local agricultural output and thus, through increased prices, improve the livelihood of local peasants (Mironowicz, 2002). While the idea was economically sound, the introduction of a group of newcomers who were both wealthier than the local population and belonged to a different ethnic group contributed to ethnic and class tensions in the region and thus created favorable conditions for political movements that combined nationalism and agrarian radicalism. The fertile soil for radical politics in the Kresy was exploited both from within, by the local Belarusian nationalist politicians, and from without, by the Communist rulers of the neighboring Soviet Union. For much of the 1920s and 1930s these two groups formed an alliance in which each side had different ends but similar means. The Communist Party of Western Belarus (Kommunisticheskaia Partiia Zapadnoi Belo- russii, KPZB), while formally subordinated to the Communist Party of Poland, was in fact a direct subsidiary of the All-(Soviet)Union Com- munist Party. Jackson (1961, p. 190) points to close ties between the KPZB and its counterpart in the Soviet Belarus. Communists in the Belarusian voivodships of Poland were not numerous, nor was their party affiliation compatible with an open participation in the political process. Of course, their tactics had little use for the latter. Just like their comrades in other Communist parties, the Bolsheviks of western Belarus relied on a conspiratorial organization, unwavering ideological commitment and clear chain of command that led from a small party cell in a Polesie town all the way to the Politburo in Moscow. These features, while not endearing the party to the electorate, were ideally suited for a well-executed seizure of power should a crisis weaken the existing political structures. This worked well in 1917 when the Bol- sheviks in Russia successfully exploited the precipitous decline of the old regime and the power vacuum that followed. In western Belarus, the Communists were expecting a crisis of similar dimensions, which would allow them to take power by virtue of their superior organization. To facilitate such a crisis, they needed a disposable ally, a front party which would work in the open, appealing to the legitimate grievances

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and aspirations of the constituency, until the time came for the Com- munists to take power. Unlike true political allies, the “fellow traveler” parties and movements were never tolerated after the Communists had no further use for them. While the use of fellow travelers was an acceptable tool in the arsenal of Communist parties throughout the world, the fellow travelers themselves were treated with a more or less well disguised contempt. Lenin famously called them “useful idiots”. I do not intend to discuss the details of the strategy, tactics and political morality of Communist parties and movements. Those readers who are interested in the subject will be helped by works of Richard Pipes and Robert Conquest, and indeed by the original writings of such eminent Communist leaders as Lenin, Trotski and Stalin. The brief outline presented above is necessary to provide a suitable background to Belarusian national politics in interwar Poland. The party chosen to serve as the main front organization for the KPZB was the Belarusian Peasants’ and Workers’ Hramada. The name requires some clarification. “Hramada” can be loosely translated as something between “assembly” and “crowd”. The word implies a mass gathering of people with no visible structure provided by formal rules or tangible leadership. The deliberately demotic name was chosen by the founders apparently to appeal to Belarusian peasants, unversed in political terminology of the day. The “Workers’ ” part was somewhat superfluous, as the party was essentially peasant in its program, meth- ods and projected power base. The party, whose name harkened back to the pre-War Hramada of the Nasha Dolia/Nasha Niva provenance, was organized by the Belarusian caucus in the Polish Sejm elected in 1922. Deputies Branisau Tarashkevich, Symon Rak-Mikhailouski, Ihnat Dvarchanin, Piatrok Miatla and others were the first Belarusian national politicians to be elected to a legislature of a democratic country and according to a democratic procedure. For some time they saw their role as that of promoters of the Belarusian national cause within the legitimate structures of the Polish state. However, dissatisfied with the slow development of Belarusian national institutions in Poland and enchanted by the reports about the results of Soviet national policy in the Soviet Belarus, they adopted a considerably more radical and confrontational stance vis-à-vis Poland. In fact, the emergence of the Hramada in July 1925 marked the decisive turn of the left wing of the Belarusian national political intelligentsia away from the idea of cooperation with Poland and towards the incorporation of ethni- cally Belarusian lands into the Soviet Belarus. The Soviet influence in


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the establishment of the Hramada can be traced through a meeting between one of its founders, Branislau Tarashkevich, and Aliaksandar Tsvikievich, a minister in the Belarusian National Republic govern- ment in exile. Tsvikievich, by then convinced that Soviet Belarus was the true and the only homeland for the Belarusian nation, met with Tarashkevich in Gdynia and apparently succeeded in persuading him to abandon the idea of pursuing the Belarusian national cause in cooperation with the Polish state and adopt a considerably more radical stance (Mironowicz, 1998). Several days later, Tarashkevich, Rak-Mikhailouski, Miatla, Valoshin and Sabaleuski announced the creation of the Belarusian Peasants’ and Workers’ Hramada. Among the new party’s goals was the establishment of a revolutionary govern- ment of workers and peasants, an independent Belarus and an alliance with other countries that have already established similar governments (Mironowicz, 1998). As the only country that could claim the dubi- ous honor to be governed by the revolutionary leadership of workers and peasants was the Soviet Union, the stated goals of the Hramada amounted to yet another partition of Poland, this time exclusively for the benefit of Russia, by means of a revolutionary struggle. In August 1925 Tarashekevich and Rak-Mikhailouski met with several members of the KPZB leadership who informed their Hramada allies about the decision by the Comintern’s Moscow headquarters to provide the new party with financial aid (Johnson, 1966, p. 203). Originally, the Comintern intended to use the Hramada as a recruit- ment organization for potential Belarusian guerrilla fighters (Johnson, 1966, p. 203). This limited goal changed in the wake of Pilsudski’s coup in May 1926. Apparently interpreting the regime change as a sign of an impending larger crisis, the Communists stepped up their support for the Hramada. In a classic model of relationships between the leading party and the fellow travelers, the KPZB (itself but a conduit of the decisions made in Moscow) stayed in the shadows, while the Hramada mobi- lized the rural masses around a program that included such demands as radical redistribution of land, abolition of the existing police force, transformation of the standing army into a people’s militia, national self-determination and secession from the Polish state (quoted in:

Johnson, 1966, p. 206). It is unclear to what extent the Hramada leaders were aware of the role given to them by their Communist supporters. Tarashkevich, who joined the KPZB in late 1925, probably knew better than others that Hramada’s actions, if successful, would ultimately lead to the incorporation of the ethnically Belarusian territories of Poland

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into Soviet Belarus. Belarusian radical politicians probably knew what fate awaited the radical peasant parties in Russia after they helped the Bolsheviks in their bid for power. Perhaps Belarusian nationalists were so impressed by the state-supported national development in Soviet Belarus that they did not mind being incorporated into it. Whatever their motives, the Hramada leaders did exactly what their Communist allies wanted them to do. They attempted to create a mass revolutionary movement that, if successful, would destabilize the ethnic Belarusian regions. This intention led them to a direct confrontation with the Polish authorities and helped to further isolate Belarusian national organizations from the mainstream political process. In the second half of 1926, the Hramada experienced a truly phe- nomenal growth. It membership, fewer than 1,000 in June, skyrocketed to 45,000 in September and 68,000 in January. The growth continued in 1927, reaching 150,000 members in March of that year (Johnson, 1966, p. 204). At the same time, the KPZB, which had 1,000 members in 1925, grew to 3,000 in 1926 and then decreased to 1,000 members in 1927 (ibid., p. 205). In additions to the two hundred local chapters, the Hramada supported numerous branches of the Belarusian School Society, a cultural organization which promoted Belarusian national education and disseminated some of the radical demands of the Hramda (Zaprudnik, 1993, p. 84). The growing size of the Hramada, accompa- nied by a massive propaganda campaign and numerous instances of civil unrest, prompted the Polish authorities to take action. In February 1927, fifty six leaders of the Hramada were arrested and, after a year-long investigation, tried behind closed doors and sentenced to prison terms of various length. Tarashkevich, Rak-Mikhailouski, Miatla, Valoshin, and Dvarchanin were later extradited to the Soviet Union where they spent several years occupying prestigious government positions before being imprisoned or executed. After the leaders were arrested, the Hramada ceased to exist as a mass movement. Repressions against the Hramada should not be interpreted as deliber- ate government attempts to stamp out Belarusian national institutions in Poland. Tarashkevich and his colleagues spent much of their time in the Sejm protecting the interest of their Belarusian constituents and sharply criticizing the abuses by local Polish authorities of the Belarusian population. Polish authorities allowed Belarusian nationalist radicals to use the Sejm as a bully pulpit from which they presented their grievances, mixed with large doses of anti-Polish rhetoric. Not content with a relatively narrow national audience, Belarusian deputies


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chose the League of Nations as the ultimate destination for their com- plaints. Their petitions to the latter contained descriptions of mis- treatment of Belarusian peasants by Polish authorities, presented in grotesque detail but unconfirmed by an independent source (Vakar, 1956, p. 124). Despite their conspicuously acrimonious stance vis-à-vis the Polish state, Belarusian radicals were allowed to use their position as Sejm deputies to present the plight of the Belarusians in Poland to domestic and international audiences. Their arrest and prosecution came only after they deliberately chose to pursue a program that included political destabilization and the territorial partition of the Polish state. Their treatment in Poland is brought in perspective when compared with their fate in the Soviet Union. There, they were arrested and tried by the NKVD on charges, which were blatantly fabricated, sentenced to death or to enormously long prison sentences and finally perished, either in front of a firing squad or in one of the many Siberian forced labor camps. While the Polish attitude to the Belarusian national cause was less than friendly, it compares very favorably with the policies of Soviet authorities. After the destruction of the Hramada, Belarusian radical politicians formed a new electoral group, Zmahanne (Strife) which received 71,000 votes in the parliamentary elections of 1928 and sent three deputies to the Sejm (Johnson, 1966, p. 211). There, the three radicals, together with two Belarusian deputies from other parties, maintained the Zmahanne as a parliamentary bloc. Five more Belarusian deputies elected in 1928 chose not to join the radical faction. Hramada and Zmahanne were not the only, or even the dominant, Belarusian national organizations in the Kresy. Not all Belarusian national activists saw the alliance with Bolsheviks as the best way toward an independent Belarus. The Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, which started in the early 1920s as a predominantly Roman Catholic political organization, rapidly transformed into an inclusive Belarusian national party. In 1926, while keeping its strong affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church, the Christian Democrats declared that the party was open to all Belarusians, regardless of religious affili- ation. According to Uladzimir Konan (2003, p. 93) the party leaders intended to attract members among those Belarusians who belonged to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Belarusian Christian Democrats were the most consistent champions of Belarus’s national statehood. They regarded the struggle for Belarusian national interests within the Polish state as only a necessarily temporary measure. The goal of

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Belarusian Christian Democracy was to establish a Belarusian nation- state, independent from Russia and Poland. Fr Adam Stankevich, one of the leaders of the BCD, suggested that Belarusians might seek alli- ance with Ukrainians and Lithuanians, who faced similar problems on their way to national statehood (Konan, 2003, p. 94). While relations between the BCD and Polish authorities were strained, the party never endured the kind of suppression experienced by the Hramada. In 1936, the BCD attempted to further expand its electoral appeal by changing its name to the Belarusian National Union (Belaruskaie Natsiyanal’naie Ab’iadnanne). Despite deliberate attempts to become ever more inclu- sive, the BCD/BNU never had a truly mass following. Its membership was confined mostly to the Belarusian national intelligentsia (Vakar, p. 126). There are no reports about a widespread network of the local BDC branches. In fact, by most accounts Wilno was by far the most important center of its activities. Belarusian urban intelligentsia asso- ciated with the BDC usually had connections with other Belarusian voluntary organizations. A number of Belarusian national organizations chose to work within the context of legitimate Polish state structures, before and after the Pilsudski coup of 1926. Most of them were small and non-political, concentrated on cultural economic development of the Belarusian (mostly peasant) population of the Kresy. The Belarusian Institute of Economy and Culture (BIEC) was perhaps the most prominent among such organizations. Created in 1926 by a group of moderate Belarusian nationalists, the Institute was intended as an organization that helped the Belarusian population to improve agricultural techniques, develop local industry and promote Belarusian arts and culture (Moroz, 2000). In 1927, the Institute, which had its central headquarters in Wilno, established fifty local chapters with a combined membership of 800 and twenty two village libraries (Moroz, 2000). Membership in local chapters of the Institute was never large. The largest figure, reached in 1933, was nine hundred. By 1936 membership declined to slightly above four hundred. The Institute was plagued by leadership quarrels, chronically insufficient funds and the lack of a coherent long-term development strategy. The main division within the leadership was between those activists who wanted the Institute to concentrate on economic problems of the Belarusian peasantry and those who advocated promotion of national culture as the main goal. As a result of this chronic disagree- ment about priorities, the Institute’s work was a rather incongruous mixture of offering bookkeeping courses, founding a bank, which was


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supposed to provide loans to Belarusian peasants and craftsmen, and staging amateur theatrical performances. Many of the Institute’s activi- ties were concentrated in Wilno. Among the members of the Wilno chapter were many educated professionals as well as Belarusian students of Wilno University. While the Institute’s outreach to its intended constituency produced rather unimpressive results, its true significance proved to be in serving as a discussion club for the Belarusian urban intelligentsia. The development of the Belarusian national idea by the still small group of intellectuals at that time was just as important as the spread of practical knowledge among the Belarusian peasants. As for the nationally-minded intellectuals, they were too enchanted by the great strides of Belarusian national development across the border in

the Soviet Union to consistently abstain from pro-Soviet radicalism. Although the Institute, which for many years closely cooperated with the Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, deliberately distanced itself from radical factions of the Belarusian national movement in the Kresy,

it eventually was closed by the Polish authorities who cited public safety

as the main reason for the closure. Suspicions of subversive activities among the Institute leadership

were not entirely unfounded. Since 1936, the Institute closely cooper- ated with the Union of Belarusian Schools. The latter, although osten- sibly dedicated to the goal of Belarusian education in the Kresy, had

a political agenda that combined radical Belarusian nationalism with

an explicitly pro-Soviet stance. This combination not only reflected the attitude prevalent in Belarusian politics in the Kresy (some of the parliamentary deputies who later joined the Hramada also served as prominent national educators) but also direct Soviet aid in financing Belarusian schools in Poland (Vabishevich, 2002). Ideological indoctri- nation in Belarusian gymnasia (there were six of them in the beginning of the 1920s, the number declined to only two by 1932) was blatantly pro-Soviet. Chapters of the Communist Party youth branch were active in every Belarusian gymnasium. Their pro-Communist activity peaked at the time of the Hramada affair, thus suggesting a close coordination. There is no evidence that the administration and teachers did anything to stop the students from joining Communist-controlled organizations, publishing anti-Polish pamphlets, organizing protests, etc. In fact, stu- dents frequently issued statements that reproached their teachers for not being radical enough (Vabishevich, 2003; Tokts’, 2002). After the dissolution of the Hramada, the Communist Party of Western Belarus used the Union of Belarusian Schools as its front organization

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in the Kresy. According to Siemakowicz (2002), the KPZB influence in the Union of Belarusian Schools increased considerably after 1927 and resulted in the establishment of the Union’s chapters in eight districts. In addition to this, assistance by the KPZB allowed the Union to establish three chapters in Belarusian gymnasia. In 1929, after a group of Belaru- sian national activists who disagreed with the political radicalization of Belarusian education left the Union leadership, the influence of KPZB had become even more pronounced. It would not be an exaggeration to say that by the time of its liquidation in 1936 the Union of Belarusian Schools had become a conduit of KPZB’s policies in the educational sphere. This was especially visible at the grassroots level. According to Tokts’ (2002), local Union activists preferred to communicate in Rus- sian and spent more time and energy disseminating Soviet propaganda than promoting Belarusian national education. Radical organizations inspired by the Soviet experience were the pre- dominant but not the only feature of the Belarusian political landscape in the Second Polish Republic. A group of Belarusian national activists believed that their cause was better served by loyal cooperation with Polish authorities and consistent rejection of Soviet support. Throughout the 1920s loyalist Belarusian politicians founded six political parties, all of them small, none lasting longer than three years. While their orien- tation was broadly pro-Polish and they received funds from the Polish government, these parties did not support all aspects of official Polish policies toward the Belarusian minority. The Belarusian People’s Party criticized the Polish authorities for their oppressive policies towards Belarusian national education, lack of financial support for Belarusian peasants, high levels of taxation, and generally neglectful attitude of local administrators to the Belarusian language and culture (Gomolka, 1997). Demands for Belarusian cultural autonomy and government subsidies for Belarusian national education were prominent in programs of all Belarusian political parties of pro-government orientation. In the long run, loyalist Belarusian politicians envisioned political autonomy for Belarus. Since 1930 Belarusian national activists loyal to the Polish govern- ment tended to congregate around the Central Union of Belarusian, Cultural, Educational, and Economic Organizations (Central Union). The latter had a structure and goals broadly similar to those of the Belarusian Institute of Economy and Culture. Anton Lutskevich and Radaslau Astrouski, two prominent Belarusian national activists, were among the founders of the Central Union. Both believed that Belarusian


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national organizations should be free of Soviet influence not only because they did not see Soviet Belarus as a desirable model of a Belarusian national state but also for a more immediate reason: they recognized that Soviet-inspired radicalization provoked repressions against Belarusian nationalists by Polish authorities and thus made it more difficult to promote the cause of Belarusian national development in the Kresy. The Central Union stayed away not only from the KPZB and the Union of Belarusian Schools but even from the Belarusian Christian Democrats. It was not popular among the radical segment of Belarusian national intelligentsia. Tokts’ (2002) and Vabishevich (2002) write about grass- roots activists in villages and schools routinely referring to Astrouski and Lutskevich as traitors to the Belarusian national cause. The rhetoric used by the Christian Democrats in reference to the Central Union was only marginally less vitriolic (Mironovicz, 1998). While the hostility on the part of other Belarusian national organization made it harder for the Central Union to convey its message to its potential constitu- ency, internal problems were perhaps more damaging to the long-term viability of the organization. The Central Union suffered from personal intrigues among its leadership. Particularly pronounced were divisions between Astrouski and Lutskevich. Each leader relied on support from organizations affiliated with the Central Union. This resulted in a split of the moderate Belarusian national movement and its rapid weaken- ing. The Union effectively ceased to exist in 1937. The Belarusian national intelligentsia in the Second Polish Republic was given an opportunity to develop Belarusian national institutions compatible with a modern European state. Belarusian politicians gained experience of a democratic political process, including electoral compe- tition, building relationships with constituencies, working in legislative bodies, participating in a broad and relatively free political discourse. They were able to test the limits of opposition to state policies, com- municate their grievances to the League of Nations, form ethnic parlia- mentary caucuses. Belarus’s national intelligentsia learned to compete for attention of the public in civil society which allowed a relatively free exchange of ideas. Belarusian national activists in interwar Poland enjoyed much greater freedom of expression and political action than their counterparts in Soviet Belarus. One might say that Belarusian civil society in interwar Poland was more organic and vibrant than in Soviet Belarus. It is therefore surprising that the Belarusian intelligentsia in Poland looked at the Soviet experiment across the border as a preferred alter-

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native to their own experience. Radical left-wing politicians were not the only ones expressing their admiration for the Soviet policy towards Belarusians and supporting Soviet infiltration of the Belarusian national- ist organizations in Poland. Moderate Belarusian politicians were simi- larly enchanted with all things Soviet (Mironowicz, 1998). To an extent, this attitude can be explained by a feature of Belarusian nationalism that was shared by Belarusian politicians of all political persuasions, from the extreme left to the moderate center. The anti-Polish tradition of modern Belarusian nationalism, articulated by Lastouski and reaffirmed by Ezavitau, became firmly embedded in national Belarusian ideology. The Belarusian press sometimes grotesquely exaggerated the real extent of Polish repressions against radical nationalists, thus contributing to the perpetuation of the animosity toward the Polish state. In this intel- lectual environment, Soviet Belarus was seen not just as the lesser of two evils, but the only practical way towards the eventual unification of all ethnically Belarusian lands into a Belarusian national state. With the benefit of hindsight, these ideas seem mere delusions. But in the 1920s, when the “korenizatsiya” policy was in full swing, Belaru- sian nationalists in Poland could plausibly interpret developments east of the border as a true beginnings of Belarusian national statehood. Belarusian politicians in the Kresy had to build their parties from the grassroots level up, painstakingly crafting viable constituencies out of the inert mass of frequently illiterate and always desperately poor peas- ants. Their counterparts in Soviet Belarus had their offices delivered to them by benevolent bureaucrats from the Peoples’ Commissariat of Nationalities. In Poland, Belarusian literary figures had to compete for readership within a diverse audience where many of those who could read Belarusian could also read Polish and thus had access to a much greater number of publications (both books and periodicals) than the nascent Belarusian press could offer. Their counterparts in Soviet Belarus enjoyed access to state-subsidized publishing facilities whose operation was not constrained by market forces. The policy of “kore- nizatsiya” implied that the Belarusian cultural figures were entitled to the largest readership, while their non-Belarusian colleagues followed in the order of diminishing significance. Belarusian intellectuals in Poland had to compete for government funds with Polish scholars, many of them world-known experts in their fields. In addition to that, Belarusian scholars had to perform a delicate balancing act: to maintain their Belarusian identity without being too provincial. Meanwhile, in Soviet Belarus, academic credentials were bestowed with the generosity


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which made one suspicious of their true value. In short, the Belarusian national elites in Poland had to pursue the Belarusian national cause in an imperfect democracy and stagnant market, struggling against the government which was sometimes indifferent, sometimes hostile, but never fully supportive of their aspirations. The Belarusian national elites in the Soviet Union benefitted from a deus ex machina assistance by the powerful totalitarian state. It is somewhat more difficult to understand why the Belarusian activists in Poland remained enamored of the Soviet Union even after the policy change away from national development and towards impe- rial hegemony. It is hard to understand why the Belarusian national intelligentsia in Poland continued to support Soviet penetration of Belarusian politics and education even after the figures of symbolic importance for the Belarusian national development were abruptly removed from their positions, silenced, sent to prison, killed, driven to suicide. Repressions against radical Belarusian nationalists in Poland paled in comparison with Soviet atrocities. Still, Belarusian national organizations continued to serve as conduits of Soviet policies in the region. Reluctance of Belarusian nationalists in Poland to distance themselves from Soviet totalitarianism might be explained by the fact that across the border, Soviet Belarus still existed as an identifiable political structure, as the closest approximation of a Belarusian national state. Relatively mild repressions by the Polish state were actions of an alien power, whose ultimate goal was assimilation of Belarusians. Soviet repressions against Belarusian nationalists were conducted by a power which not only retained Belarus as one of the constituent republics but also promoted Belarusians to the highest levels of the state apparatus. Belarusian intellectuals in the Soviet Union participated in an exciting game in which the losers went to Siberia or faced the firing squad and the winners reaped rewards of prestige and power. Not only victims, but quite a few of the prosecutors, jailers and executioners were Belaru- sians who owed their upward mobility to the Soviet state. In contrast to that, Polish state’s policy toward native Belarusians seemed to be the opposite: to make expressions of their national identity a burden on social mobility. To the Belarusian national elites, the Kresy experience did not seem an alternative to the Soviet path of nation-building. Belarusian scholars repeatedly present the Second Polish Republic as an oppressor of the Belarusian minority. Of course, they acknowledge the sufferings of national elites in Soviet Belarus, but in the peculiar calculus of national-

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ism the latter counts for more than the former, as only under the Soviet rule was Belarus allowed to develop and preserve the characteristics of

a modern nation. The Belarusian national intelligentsia in Poland was just a fraction of the total Belarusian population. It is therefore legitimate to ask if the Belarusians who did not belong to the national elite shared the latter’s negative attitude toward the Polish government. While Vakar, Lubachko and Zaprudnik suggest that it was indeed the case, their assessments are based on the contemporary reports provided by Belarusian national politicians. The accuracy of these sources, if not supported by indepen- dently collected data, should be treated with caution. As we are unaware of public opinion polls among the Belarusian population of the Kresy, an observer is left with only few crude indicators that might shed some light on the attitudes of those Belarusians who did not publish newspapers or participate in political meetings. Perhaps the best way

to understand the Belarusians’ attitude to the Polish state is to look at their behavior when the state and its oppressive capacity ceased to exist and have not yet been replaced by another state. When the Second Polish Republic fell under the coordinated attacks of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the Kresy experienced a brief interregnum, when Polish authority disappeared and the Soviet state structures had not yet established themselves in every village or small town of the region. In his definitive work on the Soviet occupation of Poland’s eastern territories, Jan Gross provides a detailed description of this brief and chaotic period. According to him, Belarusian peas- ants did not use the opportunity that arose out of the brief power vacuum to organize an anti-Polish uprising. Even when commanders of the advancing Soviet troops urged the locals to take the law into their own hands, kill the Poles and seize their property, the peasants were reluctant to follow this advice. Although Poles were killed and robbed by Belarusians, those crimes were individual acts, committed for pecuniary motives or just to settle old scores. They did not create

a pattern that could be interpreted as an organized mass movement of

national liberation. Additional information that might shed some light on Belarusians’ attitudes to the Polish state can be found in Marek Wierzbicki’s research of Belarusian soldiers (both conscripts and volunteers) in the Polish Army during the debacle of September 1939 (Wierzbicki, 1996). Information contained in this study indicates that there were no mass desertions of Belarusian recruits during the mobilization prior


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to the hostilities or in the first two weeks of military operations. As Soviet aggression against Poland made military resistance impossible, Belarusian soldiers started to desert en masse. However, Wierzbicki notes that their desertion rates and patterns did not differ significantly from those of ethnic Polish soldiers. First, volunteers, both Polish and Belarusian, tended to stay with their units till the end. Second, conscripts of Belarusian origin deserted when their units were passing through the territory where the population was predominantly Belarusian, while most desertions by ethnic Poles occurred on ethnically Polish territory. Although necessarily sketchy, the data presented by Wierzbicki do not suggest that there was a significant difference in behavior of Polish and Belarusian soldiers throughout the September campaign. For the lack of a better illustration of attitudes of ordinary Belarusians toward the Polish state, we may plausibly assume that the behavior of Belarusians serving in the Polish armed forces serves as such an illustration, however incomplete. There was little sign of widespread and well-founded anti- Polish sentiment among the majority of Belarusians, even before they could compare for themselves life in Poland and in Soviet Belarus.

4. The war of 1941–1945 and the consecration of the national myth

Belarus does not celebrate its independence day on March 25, the day on which the first Belarusian People’s Republic was proclaimed in 1918. Typically, on this day several dozen opposition activists stage a small demonstration, which is promptly dispersed by riot police. The day when Belarus ceased to be a constituent Soviet republic in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in December of 1991, is not publicly celebrated by anyone. Instead, Belarus celebrates Independence Day on July 3. The celebration is a grand affair, with military parades and public processions, wreath-laying ceremonies and Presidential addresses. The event chosen to symbolize Belarus’s independence took place on July 3, 1944. On that day the Red Army expelled German troops from the country’s capital city, Minsk, and restored Soviet power. This is a somewhat strange choice of a date to celebrate Independence Day. Belarus did not become more independent on July 3, 1944 than it was on June 21, 1941, the day before German invasion. However incongru- ous, the choice illustrates the central importance of the Second World War for the national mythology of modern Belarus. This centrality

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is not epitomized in just one day. Belarusian cities are replete with war memorials. Street names commemorating wartime events or war heroes are everywhere. At school, students are constantly reminded that Belarus had lost a quarter of its population while heroically con- fronting German Nazism. Post-war generations of Belarusians grew up with the narrative of the Great Patriotic War as the centerpiece of their national identity. The official image of the Great Patriotic War in Belarus is, well, great and patriotic. Attacked by the overwhelming forces of Nazi Germany, the Red Army in Belarus put up a brave but futile resistance and soon was forced to retreat. Nazi occupation was heroically resisted by the overwhelming majority of the local population who promptly organized a widespread guerrilla campaign which denied the German forces con- trol over the countryside and threatened their position in urban centers. German occupiers responded with a campaign of terror, burning whole villages and killing their inhabitants. This only fueled popular resistance and resulted in the spread of the guerrilla campaign. The latter soon became a major military factor on the Eastern Front, paralyzing Ger- man garrisons, disrupting their lines of communication, tying down large troop contingents sent to control the guerrillas. As the Soviet high command recognized the importance of paramilitary operations in the enemy rear, Belarusian guerrillas received support from the unoccupied portion of the Soviet Union and were involved in the coordination of their activities with the overall strategic objectives of the Soviet armed forces. This coordination culminated in the summer of 1944 when the guerrilla units, then in control of large swaths of Belarus’s territory, used their position to strike in the enemy rear just as the Soviet Army was advancing through Belarus. Thus, Belarus contributed to the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War not only by supplying conscripts to the Soviet Army but also by fighting against the occupying force virtu- ally on its own. Belarusian guerrillas were mostly locally recruited and relied on the local population for supplies and intelligence. Belarus’s participation in the Great Patriotic War set it apart from other Soviet republics, adding the moniker “partisan” to its name. To define Belarus’s war time narrative as “official” would be an over- simplification. True, it was created shortly after the war by the official Soviet propaganda machine, then maintained and developed through the post-war years and eventually taken over by the official propaganda in post-Soviet, authoritarian and populist Belarus. But in the meantime the narrative had become firmly ingrained in the national psyche of


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Belarusians. For most Belarusians, heroic images of their country’s struggle against the German invaders remain central to their national identity. This conspicuous centrality illustrates the importance of Max Weber’s vision of the state as the wielder of legitimate violence within a given territory. Legitimate violence is important not only as a function but also as a symbol of the state. Histories of Belarus’s neighbors to the east and west are replete with tales of martial glory. Stories of guerrilla campaign in which armed groups of Belarusians provided protection to their countryfolk (or alternatively, were able to secure support of the local population by credible threat of violence) allowed Belarus to claim martial glory of her own. The story of Belarus’s heroic past is, of course told selectively. Quite a few facts of the country’s wartime past are conveniently missing from public memory and, if found in history books, are relegated to footnotes. To begin at the very beginning: Belarus did not become involved in the Second World War on the morning of June 22, 1941, when Ger- man troops crossed into the Belarusian territory. Instead, Belarus’s involvement started on September 17, 1939, when the Soviet Union joined its Nazi ally in aggression against Poland. Belarus benefitted from this aggression: it received those regions of interwar Poland which had a substantial presence of ethnically Belarusian population. These regions were finally incorporated into one political entity: the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Dreams of Belarusian nationalists everywhere came true as a result of a coordinated action of the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany. Of course, the territorial enlargement of Belarus was but an afterthought in Moscow’s geopolitical plans. As for the wishes of Belarusian national intelligentsia, they counted for very little. Despite Wilno’s long-standing association with the development of Belarusian national culture, the city, originally allotted to Belarus, was ceded to Lithuania on October 10, 1939, just weeks after its capture by the Red Army. In the short time of the Soviet occupation, the city was thoroughly cleansed of all remaining activists of non-Soviet Belarusian national organizations and movements. Anton Lutskevich and Alyak- sandar Ulasau, leaders of the Belarusian national movement since the Nasha Niva and pre-revolutionary Hramada period, were arrested and later died (or possibly were killed) in prison. The Belarusian poet Makar Kravtsou was arrested and died in captivity. When Wilno (which briefly changed name to Vilnia before changing it again to Vilnius) was handed over to Lithuania, there was no longer a possibility that the city would become a center of a Belarusian national movement that could provide an alternative to the Soviet-style Belarusian national development.

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The ethnically Belarusian voivodeships of Poland occupied by the Red Army in September 1939 had to be cleansed of the vestiges of the destroyed Polish state and to be made indistinguishable from the Soviet portion of Belarus. The transformation of the Kresy into Soviet Belarus was a relatively easy task. First, the existing social structures were allowed to crumble in a wave of criminality, perpetrated by the local population and encouraged by the new Soviet masters. Gross (2002, pp. 38–40) describes numerous instances of murder, robbery and loot- ing directly instigated by Red Army officers. The recorded instances of criminal violence were directed against former Polish administrators, settlers, Roman Catholic priests, families of military officers, landowners, in a word, anyone whose possessions were sufficient enough to serve as a reward for the crime. While Belarusians were mostly among the perpetrators and Poles among the victims, the latter included Belaru- sians who were unlucky to prosper under the Polish regime. When the regular apparatus of repression, familiar to the inhabitants of Soviet Belarus, was established in the former Kresy, all previously existing structures of authority were thoroughly weakened by several weeks of disintegration of the local social fabric. When on October 22, 1939, occupation authorities staged a Soviet-style election that produced the National Assembly of Western Belarus, there was no organized group to oppose the scam. The National Assembly met on October 28, 1939, in Bialystok and promptly voted for the unification with Soviet Belarus, confiscation of large landholdings and nationalization of private banks and industrial enterprises. The establishment of Soviet power structures in Western Belarus was accompanied by forcible change of the region’s ethnic composition. In 1939–41 about 500,000 Polish citizens were deported from Western Belarus to remote regions of the Soviet Union. Approximately half of them went to concentration camps and prisons, others were sent to collective farms and industrial enterprises where they had to work for minuscule compensation (estimates provided by Gross, 2002, pp. 194–95). Most, although not all, of them were Poles. Gross (2002, p. 199) mentions the ethnic composition of the 120,000 thousand Polish citizens deported from Western Ukraine and Belarus who were registered by the Polish Red Cross in 1941–43. Of the total number of deportees, 52 percent were Poles, 30 percent Jews, and 18 percent Ukrainians and Belarusians. Not all Poles in Western Belarus were rounded up. Soviet authorities used social class rather than ethnic identity as the main criterion for deportation. Anyone whose social position placed him or her above rural or urban underclass was in danger of being deported.


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The categories of those subject to arrest or deportation included (but were not limited to) officers of the Polish Army, civil servants of the Polish state, wealthy landowners, owners of large industrial enterprises, financiers, people with university education, teachers, doctors, engineers, employees of forestry services, well-to-do peasants, retired military set- tlers (osadniki), small businessmen (described as “speculators” by the Soviet authorities), and family members of the people belonging to the above categories (Anonymous, 1946, p. 51). As Poles made up a majority of people in many of those categories, the Polish presence in the region was dramatically reduced, thus contributing to ethnic homogenization of the territories newly incorporated into Soviet Belarus. For the first time in history, Belarusian ethnic territories coincided with an identifiable political entity. Of course, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic was not exactly an independent nation state, but it was the closest approximation of it that history had yet afforded. The unification made Belarus more ethnically representative. It did not make Belarusians, in the east and the west of the country, freer, wealthier or happier. Osadniki, as well as other deportees, had their property con- fiscated. These assets were distributed to the poor peasants. The latter received about 200 thousand hectares of land, 30 thousand pigs, sheep and cattle, ten thousand horses, an unspecified quantity of unmecha- nized agricultural equipment. Mechanized equipment was concentrated in the hands of local administrative bodies. The more desirable posses- sions, such as motorcycles, bicycles and valuable household items were appropriated by Soviet administrators (Kuzniatsou, 2005). The spoils of the organized looting were too insignificant to make poor peasants into rich ones. The limited political freedom enjoyed by Belarusians in Poland was gone with the Polish state. The latter, oppres- sive as it was towards Belarusian nationalist intellectuals and peasants, at least allowed the former a modicum of political and cultural expres- sion, while the latter had a well-defined space in which their private life and property rights were not likely to be violated by local authorities. Under the new regime, the intellectuals were killed or driven from the public arena. In the long run, poor peasants, supposedly the primary beneficiaries of Soviet regime in Western Belarus, did not gain much from the new policies. Shortly after the invasion, the Soviets extended the network of secret police to the newly acquired territory and made it a major tool of political control over the local population. Networks of informants, established by local branches of the People’s Commissariat of Internal

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Affairs, proved an effective tool of social control. Omnipresent fear of a seemingly random arrest forced peasants even in remote and isolated villages to display outward signs of loyalty and devotion to the new rulers. The system of informers and denunciations had a self-sustaining quality. Anyone could settle a personal grudge against a neighbor by informing the secret police of his alleged anti-Soviet deeds or words. Such denunciations were treated as sufficient grounds for arrest which was frequently followed by a prison term or deportation. Gross (2002, pp. 114–122) describes the mechanism of voluntary collaboration of the local peasants with the Soviet secret police as a prominent feature of village life in Western Belarus in 1939–41. The climate of fear and uncertainty caused by denunciations and arrests had a corrosive effect on village communities, breeding mutual mistrust and hatred. Although the main burden of repressions was borne by those social groups whose education or modest prosperity set them above the under- class, no one, however poor, could feel safe. There are indications that, once the upper and middle classes were thoroughly destroyed, Soviet authorities started to turn their attention to the poorer social groups. Kuzniatsou (2000) mentions that in the second half of 1940 Belarus’s Supreme Court heard 5,821 cases against defendants from Western Belarus, against only 67 such cases in the first half of the year. Since for each case that made it to the Supreme Court there were dozens of cases which were decided by lower courts or by extra-judicial bodies introduced by the secret police, there are reasons to believe that after the first wave of arrests repressions against the local population were not about to wind down. In the towns, industrial workers had their pay cut in half, from 60 to the equivalent of 30 zlotys a month (Vakar, 1956, p. 168). The Soviet regime in Western Belarus improved lives of the few and disenchanted many. When the German Army advanced int Belarus in June 1941, the enthusiasm of the crowds greeting the new invaders as liberators seemed genuine. The Soviet invasion of eastern Polish regions did not make it into official Soviet mythology of the Great Patriotic War. In today’s Belarus, the events that enlarged the country’s territory at the expense of its neighbor’s destruction are remembered, if at all, as a footnote to the grand epic that started on July 22, 1941. The latter, of course, is remem- bered selectively as well. The full speed of the German Blitzkrieg, the rapidity of the Soviet defeat, the ghastliness of the chaotic disintegration of Soviet power in Belarus do not figure in the commonly accepted narrative of Belarus’s participation in the war.


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The German advance through Belarus was among the most remark- able examples of successful mobile warfare. By June 28, German armored units reached the Berezina river, more than two hundred miles east of the border. A week later, Guderian’s tanks stood at the Dnieper river and by July 10 were advancing into Russia, beyond Belarus’s eastern borders. Despite the high concentration of Soviet armed forces in Belarus, the whole country was overrun in less than three weeks. Soviet power structures collapsed even faster. Vakar (p. 171) men- tions eyewitness accounts of the chaotic flight of Soviet officials, the evacuation of prisons accompanied by mass executions of the inmates, the destruction of buildings, industrial and agricultural equipment conducted by the NKVD and other images of the rapid disintegration of Soviet authority in Belarus. The combination of the incompetence and inhumanity of Stalin’s regime was abundantly demonstrated in the days of the chaotic stampede to the east. Throughout Belarus, people who witnessed the debacle became rapidly disenchanted with the government, which abandoned them so quickly. Perhaps this explains the enthusiasm frequently displayed by Belarusians in the east and the west toward the advancing German troops. Those who remembered German occupation of the region during the first World War prob- ably thought that the new masters would be an improvement over their Soviet predecessors. After all, then it was German support that helped the Belarusian nationalist intelligentsia to establish a fledgling political movement at the end of the First World War. Soon, however, Belarusians were disenchanted again. National Socialist Germany had no intention of making Slavic ter- ritories of the Soviet Union into viable political entities. Hitler’s disdain for Slavs, well reflected in Mein Kampf, did not diminish by the time of the attack on the Soviet Union. Shortly after the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler stated on more than one occasion that the Slavic inhabitants of the conquered territories would be regarded only as a source of cheap manual labor for the future German settlers (e.g., Irving, 1990, pp. 419, 425). Jewish population of the newly acquired territories was slated to complete extermination. Some Nazi officials preferred a more gradual approach to the incorporation of new ter- ritories into Germany’s sphere of influence. However, throughout much of the war, Hitler’s attitudes to the conquered Slavs provided the guiding principle to the administration of the occupied lands. The immediate needs of the armed forces would come first, the economic needs of Germany second, while interests of the subject peoples were

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not even a distant third. In addition to economic tasks, the occupation authorities had a role to play in the “final solution”. The extermination of local Jewish communities was conducted with open brutality and frequently contributed to the destruction of the economic life of small towns where positions of small craftsmen and traders were traditionally occupied by Jews, who in many places constituted a majority of urban population. Special units charged with the implementation of the “final solution” in the east had insufficient numbers for the task and on some occasions had to bring in volunteers recruited in Lithuania. The latter, when working alongside their German comrades, sometimes did not distinguish between Jews and Belarusians, wantonly looting and killing with such ferocity that even local German administrators expressed their apprehension about the conspicuous inhumanity of Sonderkommando actions (Lubachko, 1972, pp. 153–54). Belarusians, who only recently witnessed the brutality of the NKVD, were treated to an equally blatant display of brutality by its Nazi counterpart. To add insult to injury, the German occupation authorities ordered the peasants to keep working at Soviet-era collective farms. Germans apparently recognized that col- lective farms are well-suited for taking agricultural produce away from peasants without having to pay market prices. The harvest of 1941 was appropriated by German authorities very much in the same fashion as the harvest of 1940 by the Soviets (Mueller, 1991, p. 108). The new mas- ters of Belarus proved to be just as respectful of individual liberty and private property as the old ones. Under German occupation much of the ethnic Belarusian territory was included in Belarusian (Weissruthenische) Generalbezirk, an admin- istrative unit within Reichskommissariat Ostland. Parts of Bialystok and Grodno provinces were incorporated into East Prussia, while Pinsk, Brest and Gomel provinces were ceded to the Reichskommissariat of Ukraine. German authorities planned to include the provinces of Smo- lensk and Briansk into Belarusian Generalbezirk, but this had to wait until the end of the war. Throughout the time of German occupation (June 1941–July 1944) Belarusian territory was divided into civilian and military zones. The latter, roughly east of the Berezina river, was administered by military authorities. The civilian zone was presided over by the general commissar, the position occupied by Wilhelm Kube and, after his assassination in September 1943, by Gruppenfuehrer SS Curt von Gottberg. The general commissar, a civilian administrator, was appointed by the Ministry of Eastern Territories and reported to the Reich Minister, Alfred Rosenberg. The latter, a Baltic German,


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who had lived in Russia before the revolution and was familiar with the peculiarities of national and ethnic relations in the region, had the difficult task of reconciling the practical problems of everyday administration with National Socialist racial fantasies. The former had to take into account realities of the region and implied that some kind of accommodation with the locals must be reached, while the latter blithely prescribed extermination of some ethnic groups, resettlement of others and subjugation of the rest according to plans of the expanding German nation’s Lebensraum. The official Belarusian narrative of the Second World War dismisses as traitors those locals who collaborated with German occupation authorities. However, the realities of wartime occupation meant that the occupiers needed the locals and the locals needed the occupiers. Ben Shepherd formulated the main tasks of German occupation administra- tion as exploitation of the occupied area’s economic potential, pacifi- cation of the area and engagement of popular cooperation (Shepherd, 2004, p. 35). Obviously, in order to reach the first and the second goal, cooperation with the locals was necessary. However, the same formula applies to the locals: they needed a peaceful environment to be able to continue their economic activities. In order to ensure peace, some kind of cooperation with occupying forces was necessary. In the context of events of 1939–41, it would be implausible to put a label of treason on cooperation of Belarusian peasants and townsfolk with the new regime. The population of western Belarus could not be expected to develop loyalty to the Soviet regime in less than two years of the latter’s pres- ence in the region. Both in the east and the west, people witnessed the Soviet regime not just crumbling under the German assault but saw its officials fleeing in panic, oblivious to their duties to the population and destroying the assets that the local people would need to survive. In August 1941, a pro-German mood among the Belarusian population and an antipathy to the Bolshevik regime was reported as far east as Vitebsk, Orsha and Mogilev (Shepherd, 2004, p. 61). German officials, in the civilian, as well as the military zone, realized that they did not have enough men to actually occupy every settlement in the Generalbezirk. Moreover, the difficult terrain and lack of paved roads made it impossible to control the countryside from a limited number of strategic points garrisoned by German troops. Therefore, the appointment of representatives of the new regime selected from the local population was necessary. Vakar (1956, p. 180) describes the procedure whereby such representatives were installed. According to

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his account, upon the disappearance of Soviet authority, village com- munities spontaneously organized themselves, sometimes appointing a commonly respected person as a village headman. For weeks, sometimes months, a community would successfully govern itself. When German authorities visited the place, they would select a village administrator from the local population. Frequently, but not always, authority was bestowed on the person already selected by the community as their leader. The new position did not bring with it prestige and respect. Rather, it simply meant that the person appointed village administrator was responsible for all dealings between his community and German authorities. Organized popular resistance to German occupation was not reg- istered in the first six months of German occupation (Vakar, 1956, p. 193). The security units of the German army in the military zone and the special police forces (SS units and Einsatzgruppen) in the civilian part of the Generalbezirk concentrated on rounding up of the Soviet military personnel remaining in the area after their units disintegrated in the course of Wehrmacht’s lightning offensive. Some of them put down their weapons and settled in local villages, becoming indistinguishable from Belarusian peasants. Those who remained in the forests were hunted down by German troops and either summarily executed or sent to POW camps. After the first repressions against Jewish communities, many of their members fled to the forest. They found no safety there. Following orders of Nazi leadership, German security forces pursued the genocidal policy of “final solution” in Belarusian forests and swamps. Jewish communities organized in the wilderness by the escapees from the towns were relentlessly exterminated. Actions against the Jewish refugees were not, strictly speaking, anti-guerrilla operations. Although some German field commanders referred to their quarry as “parti- sans”, casualty reports do not support this categorization. According to Shepard (2004, p. 85), in ten weeks in September and October 1941 the 221st Security Division killed 1,746 enemy with the loss of 18 men. This disparity indicates not a military operation but rather a slaughter of people who were either unarmed or unwilling to fight. The real guerrilla campaign in Belarus started in 1942, not as a result of a spontaneous popular movement, but as a direct military action of the Soviet government in Moscow. As early as the summer of 1941, the Soviet high command started to prepare for actions on the territory occupied by the Germans. In hastily organized special schools young men and women were trained in intelligence gathering, the use of


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explosives, handling of radio equipment and other tasks associated with espionage and sabotage. Graduates of such schools were sent to Belarus in groups of three or five. Vakar (1956, p. 193) reports that 4,650 Soviet special agents were sent to Belarus in the fall of 1941. They were not expected to organize a popular movement against the occupy- ing German forces. Instead, their tasks were intelligence and sabotage, sometimes combined with terrorism. In the spring of 1942, their tasks changed: from now on groups of Soviet agents in Belarus served as nuclei for large scale guerrilla detachments, recruited mostly among the local population. The change of strategy reflected the stabilization of the central segment of the front after German armies failed to take Moscow in the fall of 1941 and were subsequently driven back. Another factor was that intelligence information about the occupation regime available to the Soviet high command by the spring of 1942 was much more detailed and credible than it was in the fall of 1941. Finally, the extension of the Lend Lease act to the Soviet Union in the fall of 1941 ensured that the Soviet air force was supplied with a steadily increasing number of large and reliable transport aircraft from the US. The arrival of new aircraft, such as Douglas DC-3 (military designation C-47, also known as Dakota) drastically increased its airlift capacity and made it possible to deliver large quantities of weapons and equipment to guerrilla bases. The Soviets jacked up their military presence in Belarus because they could, not because the locals asked them to. By the spring of 1942, more than 26,000 guerrilla fighters were sent to Belarus from across the front line (Lubachko, 1972, p. 155). From individual acts of sabotage and concentration on intelligence gathering, the Soviet underground network in Belarus moved to a sys- tematic disruption of the enemy’s lines of communications. According to Shepherd (2004, p. 114), sabotage against railroad network increased from thirty cases in April 1942 to 208 cases in August 1942, while military confrontations between German troops and guerrilla units increased sevenfold. The changing nature and scope of underground operations, now directed from Moscow headquarters of the partisan movement (a branch of Soviet high command established in May 1942), was made possible by increased number and strength of guerrilla units. The latter raises a question of recruitment. As we have seen, Belarusians did not harbor much loyalty to the Soviet regime, at least not enough to make them risk their lives and the future of their families for the return of Soviet administration. There were very few positive inducements the Soviet agents could offer to the locals. Thus, the only solution to the

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recruitment problem was to present the locals with a set of negative incentives sufficiently strong to make cooperation with guerrillas look preferable to other options. By the summer of 1942, Belarusians had many reasons to dislike German occupation: the excessive requisitions of agricultural produce, absence of the promised agricultural reform, systematic extermination of Jewish communities, and occasional atrocities against Belarusian population. The newly emerging partisan units could not protect the locals against depredations by German occupation forces. They could, however, exercise full power over the lives and property of the locals when German troops were not present. Partisans started their cam- paign for the hearts and minds of the local population by killing Ger- man-appointed village administrators, sometimes together with their families. To prevent the villagers from turning to German authorities for help, partisans would provoke German reprisals against innocent and unsuspecting peasants. Vakar and Shepherd are among the authors who describe how partisans would find a village with pro-German attitudes, commit acts of sabotage and terror in the vicinity and wait for the Germans to retaliate against the villagers. That such actions, repeated multiple times, succeeded in driving a wedge between the occupiers and the occupied demonstrates that Germans were unprepared for anti-guerrilla warfare. They grossly underestimated the scope of the task, as well as its complexity. Typi- cally, anti-partisan operations were conducted by the military units unfit for frontline service or, worse, by detachments of Hungarian, Slovak and Rumanian armies with dismally low discipline and combat readiness. While detailed and timely intelligence (preferably collected from the local population) has always been indispensable for success of anti-guerrilla operations, German security forces neglected this aspect of counter-insurgency warfare. The low priority of intelligence gathering in the German army is illustrated by the fact that in security divisions, the units whose primary task was anti-insurgency operations, the officer responsible for intelligence and propaganda had a rank of Lieutenant (Shepherd, 2004, p. 49). The locals were caught between murderously devious actions of partisans and a brutally ham-fisted German response. Belarus’s rural population found itself at the mercy of two powers, neither able to provide full-time protection against the other and both capable of effective extortion in those places and at those times when their military units were present. Thus, the choice of allegiance between


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German occupation authorities and the Soviet partisan movement was largely a matter of geography: those villages, which had a German garrison in the vicinity would be pro-German, while those located at a considerable distance from German garrisons would be drawn into the partisan orbit. For an individual peasant joining the partisans had several advantages. His family left in the village would no longer be targeted by partisans as a source of free food and clothing. On the other hand, he would be able to obtain free food and clothing from those peasants whose relatives did not join partisans. He would have weapons and basic training, thus being able to defend himself. With Soviet propaganda spreading more news about German defeats on the Eastern front, he would feel secure in joining what increasingly looked as the winning side. Of course, partisans frequently press-ganged the locals into joining the cause, leaving very little room for individual choice. Vakar (1956, p. 198) estimated that about 45 percent of guer- rillas were recruited by violence and terror, while only ten percent were motivated by a political ideal. The overall number of guerrillas in Belarus by the end of 1943 was estimated anywhere between 200,000 and 300,000 (ibid.). The partisan movement was not motivated by Belarusian national- ism. Partisan units were named after Russian military leaders (Kutu- zov, Suvorov, etc.) or contemporary Soviet rulers, such as Stalin or Voroshilov. Guerrilla warfare was controlled directly from Moscow, with little or no consideration for the immediate safety of the Belaru- sian civilian population. Propaganda leaflets disseminated among the guerrilla fighters, as well as civilians, emphasized the brotherly relations among Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian peoples and were printed in the Russian language (Vakar, 1956, p. 198). It is hard to disagree with Naidziuk’s assessment of the partisan movement in Belarus as organized and controlled from Moscow for the sole purpose of the restoration of Soviet control over the Belarusian territory (quoted in Lindner, 1999, p. 354). However, in one important respect the officially organized Soviet partisan movement had a lasting and profound impact on the shap- ing of the modern Belarusian nation. Apart from a nucleus of Soviet military personnel inserted into the Belarusian territory from the other side of the front, guerrilla units consisted mostly of locally recruited Belarusians. These peasants turned partisans had the same rights, responsibilities and chances of promotion as their comrades sent to Belarus from Russia. As representatives of Soviet power in Belarus,

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they could use legitimate violence against both German occupiers and, more frequently, against their fellow Belarusians. By killing German- appointed administrators, taking away peasants’ foodstuffs at gunpoint, skirmishing with German security units, Belarusian partisans reaffirmed the national statehood of Soviet Belarus. They were neither mercenaries nor common bandits but soldiers who fought for a specific political entity: a constituent Soviet republic. Not only the realities but also the officially accepted selective memory of the partisan campaign in Belarus were rooted in Soviet politics and ideology. It was the Soviet wartime policies that created conditions in which Belarusians were killing other Belarusians and confiscated their property. After the war, it was Soviet propaganda that eliminated the negative and accentuated the positive aspects of partisan warfare, thus creating a national myth firmly ingrained in Belarus’s collective memory. Of course, Soviet partisans were not the only guerrilla force fighting in Belarusian forests. As German occupation authorities were unable to effectively control the territory they occupied and were unwilling to delegate such control to local communities, the resulting power vacuum was filled by all sorts of armed formations. Soldiers from the Red Army units which disintegrated in the first days of German onslaught some- times were able to evade capture and form small bands that hid in the forest throughout the entire war. Jews, escaping from cities and towns, established settlements in remote and inaccessible places and organized defensive armed units. However, the main goal of this kind of armed formations was to evade contacts with German troops. They did not compete with the Germans for control over the territory. Apart from the German occupation authorities and Soviet-organized partisan detachments, there was yet another government competing for control of at least a part of Belarus’s territory. The Polish government in exile did not abandon its claim to the Eastern territories (Kresy). Throughout the time of German occupation, there were units of the Polish Home Army operating in the Kresy. Their legitimacy as armed forces of the Polish state was provided by political representatives of the London government that were present in each Kresy voivodeship (Bialystok, Wilno, Nowogrodek and Polesie). Representatives, typically prominent politicians in interwar Poland, presided over small struc- tures of local government which, at least in theory, included members of all major Polish political parties (Korbonski, 1978, p. 46). Military units of the Polish underground government had to be recruited and


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supplied locally, owing to the obvious difficulties of airlifting men and materiel from Britain over the territory controlled by Germany. In this situation, organizing cooperation with the Soviet guerrillas would be a logical choice. In reality, cooperation was sporadic and inconsistent at best. Typically, Soviet-controlled partisan units would not accept any offer of cooperation from their Polish counterparts short of complete incorporation of Polish units into the Soviet ones. As the Poles were not willing to subordinate their Home Army units to Soviet command, both sides continued to fight against Germans independently. Some- times, Polish and Soviet guerrilla detachments fought against each other (Korbonski, 1978, p. 90). After April 26, 1943, when the Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with the Polish government in exile, the latter instructed its armed forces in the East not to attempt cooperation with the Soviet partisans. This policy changed in the run-up to the Soviet offensive in Belarus in the summer of 1944. In the course of this offensive, Polish armed units in Western Belarus and Ukraine sometimes fought the Germans alongside the advancing Red Army and generally coordi- nated their actions with the Soviet forces. The Battle for Wilno in July 6–13, 1944, was an example of such a cooperation. The Polish Home Army started to attack German forces in the city and was soon joined by the Soviet armies. Shortly after the battle, Polish commanders and political leaders were arrested by the Soviets. Home Army units either dispersed, or were rounded up by the Soviets and sent to concentra- tion camps (Korbonski, 1978, p. 158). In June 1945, after a three-day trial conducted in Moscow, sixteen leaders of the Polish underground were sentenced by the Military Collegium of the Soviet Supreme Court to prison terms that varied from four months to ten years. They were indicted, tried and convicted for organizing clandestine operations against Soviet armed forces on the territory of Western Ukraine and Belarus. The trial, which bore all the hallmarks of similar judicial pro- ceedings of the Stalin era, effectively put an end to the Polish presence in Western Belarus (Moscow Trial, 1945). From then on, the region’s political landscape was occupied by the Soviet state alone. Some members of the Belarusian national intelligentsia who remained abroad and thus escaped liquidation by Soviet authorities sought to revive the Belarusian national state with the help of National Socialist Germany. Cooperation between a segment of the Belarusian nationalist movement abroad and official Nazi organizations started well before the war. A group led by Fabian Akinchits, who styled himself as a

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Belarusian National Socialist, enjoyed German support as early as 1933 when it started to publish its newspaper New Way (Novy Shlyakh) in Wilno (Sakalouski and Lyakhouski, 2000). In 1936, a member of the Akichits group, Uladzislau Kazlouski, was discussing with Ukrainian nationalist in Germany and Poland the possibility of a united Ukrai- nian-Belarusian state under a German protectorate. The Akinchits group figured in German plans of war against Poland. Pro-Nazi Belarusian nationalists were supposed to distribute anti-Polish propaganda materi- als among Belarusians in Poland and to engage nationalist Belarusian youth in acts of sabotage against the Polish army (ibid.). It is unclear if anything came out of these plans, but the fact that they were dis- cussed illustrate a willingness by a segment of the Belarusian national movement to actively participate in Nazi war plans. Shortly after the German occupation of Poland, Akinchits and his colleagues were asked by German authorities to organize Belarusian Committees in Warsaw and other Polish cities. Apparently the Germans hoped that the Com- mittees would facilitate the emergence of pro-German attitudes among the Belarusian minority in Poland. In 1939–40 Belarusian nationalists in Germany created a large num- ber of Belarusian voluntary organizations. Perhaps the most important of them was the Belarusian Self-help Committee which included, along with Fabian Akinchits, veterans of the Belarusian national move- ment Vasil Zakharka and Kanstantyn Ezavitau. This organization was regarded, at least by its Belarusian leader, as the nucleus of the future government of independent Belarus. Of course, as the future independence was to be ushered by German military efforts, leaders of Belarusian nationalists in Germany tried to contribute what they could toward future victories of German armies. The contribution came mostly in the form of providing intelligence information to the Abwehr and Sicherheitsdienst (SD, intelligence service of the SS). The hopes of the pro-Nazi Belarusian national intelligentsia were realized in a peculiar way. After the German occupation of Belarus, the Belarusian Self-help Committee did not become a nucleus of the new government. Instead, it became the closest approximation of a national government which was allowed by German occupation authori- ties. Known since October 22, 1941, as Belarusian National Self-help (BNS), the organization, chaired by Ivan Yermachenka, declared its goal was “to eradicate poverty and misery caused by Polish and Judaeo- Communist rule in Belarus and create opportunities for better cul- tural life of the Belarusian people” (quoted in Hardzienka, 2001). The


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organization was supervised by the head of the Department of health in the administration of Weissruthenische Generalbezirk, an indication that German authorities envisioned the BNS as a humanitarian orga- nization with no political agenda. The Central Council (Tsentral’naya Rada) of the BNS presided over two outpatient medical facilities, one pharmacy, three canteens, one hotel, two barber shops and a consign- ment store (Hardzienka, 2001). Disappointed by the discrepancy between expectations and reality, the pro-Nazi Belarusian nationalists petitioned Alfred Rosenberg for the introduction of Belarusian as the language of instruction in schools at all levels, the creation of a Belarusian advisory body that would work with the Generalbezirk administration, and allow the formation of Belarusian military units for ant-guerrilla operations. The petition, submitted during Rosenberg’s visit to Belarus in the Spring of 1942, was ignored by the Reichsminister. However, Wilhelm Kube, Generalkom- missar of Belarus, met some of the nationalists’ requests. In June 1942 he appointed Ivan Ermachenka as his advisor on Belarusian national affairs, while three more leaders of the BNS were appointed advisors on cultural, educational and propaganda work among the Belarusian population (Hardzienka, 2001). In addition to that, German authorities allowed the formation of Belarusian Self-defense, an auxiliary police and anti-guerrilla force recruited and based locally, a battalion per rural district. While these concessions to pro-Nazi Belarusian nationalists fell short of their expectations, they considerably added to their personal prestige: advising the local administrators was much better than man- aging barber shops and consignment stores. Belarusian self-help battalions were not a great success. While Vakar stated that anti-guerrilla forces in Belarus “looked well organized, adequately equipped, and numerically strong” (Vakar, 1956, p. 201), this observation included not only the Self-Defense police but all other categories of non-German auxiliaries, many of them recruited outside Belarus and attached to regular German military or security units. The Belarusian village police were badly equipped, distrusted by German military commanders, and lacked a clear chain of command (Hardzienka, 2001). Shortages of supplies and equipment forced anti- partisan forces to confiscate local peasants’ property, thus adopting the modus operandi of the guerrillas, against whom they were supposed to protect the population. Vakar (1956, p. 201) describes frequent instances when guerrilla and anti-guerrilla detachments would conclude an informal truce and concentrate on robbing the defenseless peasants instead of attacking

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each other. As the whole idea of the self defense police force was its relative autonomy, local police commanders had an opportunity to do what they want, with very little or no effective control. Less than a year of existence plagued by organizational shortcomings and failure to stem the tide of the partisan movement was enough to convince the German authorities that local Belarusian police force was not worth keeping. In April 1943, the chief of German security police in Belarus ordered the self-defense units disbanded. Throughout their existence, these units were not controlled by pro-Nazi-Belarusian nationalists. Operational control was exercised by the security police of Weissru- thenische Generalbezirk. Belarusian National Self-help was disbanded in June 1943, apparently owing to its persistent attempts to play the role of the Belarusian government in waiting, whereas German authori- ties still saw the organization’s role as a provider of social services to Belarusians and non-binding advice to the Germans. The last chapter in the saga of pro-Nazi Belarusian nationalists began on January 22, 1944, when Radaslau Astrouski, a veteran Belarusian nationalist whose credentials included membership in the first Belaru- sian government of 1918, was asked by Gruppenfuehrer SS Curt von Gottberg (who became head of German administration in Belarus after the previous Generalkommissar, Wilhelm Kube, was assassinated on September 22, 1943) to select members for a kind of Belarusian national committee with unspecified functions and severely limited prerogatives. The Belarusian Central Council (Belaruskaia Tsentral’naia Rada) was created as a consultative body, which provided advice to the General- kommissar and sent its representatives to district administrators. At the same time, the idea of a local Belarusian police force was resurrected, now under the name of Belarusian Local Defense (Belaruskaia Kraiovaia Abarona). The latter fared no better than its predecessor, the self-defense police. While 100,000 men were reported to have been drafted into the force, Germans did not provide enough weapons to arm the new paramilitary units. Besides, the new native auxiliaries were not eager to fight as many were pressed into service under the penalty of death for draft evasion and deserted at the first opportunity, sometimes joining the pro-Soviet guerrilla units (Vakar, 1956, p. 202). By then, reverses suffered by German armies on the Eastern front and elsewhere became well known (in large part due to the Soviet propaganda effort), so the incentives to join the partisans increased considerably. When it was too late and the available resources allowed to do too little, German authorities decided to make more concessions to Belarusian nationalists. A Belarusian military school was formed, the


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Belarusian Central Council (BCC) was given authority not only over education and culture but also over general civil affairs at the district level. To legitimize the BCC, Germans allowed elections of delegates to a Belarusian National Convention. In a country where no authority exercised effective control over the territory, elections could not really be free and fair. As Vakar notes, the elected delegates did not represent the Belarusian nation, but instead represented the most active segment of Belarusian nationalism (Vakar, 1956, p. 204). After the elections, 1,039 delegates convened in Minsk on June 27, 1944, barely a week before the Soviet armies entered the city. In these conditions, the convention could have no practical or even symbolic significance. After hastily going through the motions, including obligatory praise to German occupation authorities and the National Socialist political system, the delegates confirmed the Declaration of Independence of Belarus of March 25, 1918 and declared the BCC the only legitimate representative of the Belarusian nation. Both statements rang hollow against the background of Soviet cannonade relentlessly advancing from the east. Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that the participation of the Soviet Union in the Second World War played a greater role in the shaping of Belarusian national institutions than any other event of the 20th century. Before September 17, 1939, important groups of the Belarusian national intelligentsia existed not only in the Soviet Union, but also in Poland and elsewhere in Europe. The western part of Belaru- sian ethnic territory under Polish control had no political designation based on the ethnicity of its majority Belarusian population. Soviet Belarus, the only Belarusian political-territorial entity, did not have an officially approved mythology that would make it clearly distinguishable from the other constituent Soviet republics. After the war, centers of non-Soviet Belarusian culture and political thought were wiped out. Most of the surviving members of the Belarusian emigre intelligentsia discredited themselves by cooperation with the Nazi authorities. Expres- sion of the Belarusian national idea was now possible only through the Soviet medium. The Soviet invasion of eastern Poland united most of the Belarusian ethnic territories into one political entity. Moreover, Soviet ethnic policies in western Belarus removed the Polish population and made the region ethnically homogeneous. Partisan movement during the time of German occupation produced an opportunity to create the new nation’s central myth. Official Soviet historians created the myth and official Soviet propaganda disseminated it. Partisan warfare had important consequences for the development of the Belarusian

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social structure and contributed to certain peculiarities of officially recognized value-patterns. First, armed resistance created a favorable image of Belarus within the Soviet ideological framework. Belarus was often referred to as the “partisan republic”. Now, Belarus was able to identify itself within the existing symbolic system and to find the only possible source of national identity at a time when all other sources were either forgotten or forbidden. Second and even more important, a new generation of Belarusian leaders emerged from commanders of the partisan units. Victorious guerrilla commanders, many of them local men, were obvious candidates for promotion to high position in the Soviet administration and the Communist Party apparatus. By the time the second post-war decade started, their ideas and attitudes had become a decisive factor in the shaping of modern Belarus.

5. The enduring charm of real socialism:

Belarus 1945–1991

After the war, Belarus ceased to be a borderland, at least in the purely geographic sense. The Soviet empire stretched westward beyond Belarus, over Poland and Eastern Germany. Features of ethnic borderland were considerably reduced, if not altogether erased, when the ethnic Pol- ish population was encouraged by the Soviet authorities to leave the Belarusian territory for Poland. Snyder (2003, p. 89) mentions that from the Vilnius metropolitan area alone, one hundred thousand left for Poland during 1944–1948. Vakar (1956, p. 208) estimates that by the end of the second World War, ethnic Poles in Belarus numbered about one million. According to the official census of 1959, there were only 540,000 Poles in Belarus (approximately 7 percent of the total popula- tion), most of them in rural districts in the west of Grodno province and north-west of Molodechno province. Belarusians accounted for 65.1 percent of the total population in Grodno province and 67.1 percent in Molodechno province (Polski, 1996, p. 7). With the exception of the two western provinces, the ethnic composition of Belarus homogenized considerably. The share of Belarusians in a total population of five out of seven provinces varied from 86.3 percent in Vitebsk province to 90.5 percent in Minsk province. From 1959 onwards, population censuses showed that Russians replaced Poles as the largest ethnic minority in Belarus. In 1959, 660 thousand Russians accounted for 8 percent of Belarus’s population. In the subsequent years their share progressively


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increased from 10 percent in 1970 to 13 percent in 1989 (Polski, 1996, pp. 7–10). The Russian population in post-war Belarus grew mostly due to migra- tion of Russians from other parts of the Soviet Union. The newcomers settled in Belarus’s urban centers where they found employment at new industrial enterprises. At the same time, the ethnic composition of the urban population started to change in favor of Belarusians. From 1959 to 1989, the share of Russians in Belarus’s urban population actually

decreased slightly, from 19 to 18 percent, while the share of Belarusians increased from 67 to 73 percent (Kaiser, 1994, p. 221). In 1959, only

21 percent of ethnic Belarusians lived in cities and towns. This number

increased to more than 48 percent in 1989, while the share of ethnic

Belarusians living in rural areas of Belarus dropped from 61 percent in 1959 to 30 percent in 1989 (Kaiser, 1994, p. 212). The share of ethnic Belarusians living outside Belarus increased from 18 percent in 1959 to 22 percent in 1989 (Kaiser, p. 215). Changes in the ethnic composition of Belarus’s population and the distribution of ethnic groups within the territory of Belarus were occurring against the background of explosive urbanization. In 1939,

21 percent of Belarus’s population lived in urban centers. This figure

did not change in 1950. Ten years later, Belarus’s population was 32 percent urban and 68 percent rural. This proportion was almost reversed in 1990, when urban dwellers accounted for 67 percent, while the share of rural population stood at 33 percent. In 1989, about 37 percent of Belarusians lived in cities with a population larger than 100,000. Minsk, the capital city of Belarus, grew from a medium size city of 273,000, accounting for slightly over 3 percent of Belarus’s population in 1950 to a sprawling metropolis of 1,636,000, more than 16 percent of the republic’s population in 1989 (Polski, 1996, pp. 7–13). Not only did more Belarusians now live in cities and towns, they also experienced considerable upward social mobility. In 1959, 57 percent of Belarusians were unskilled agricultural workers, 31 percent were blue collar workers and 12 percent white collar workers. Twenty years later, only 18 percent of Belarusians belonged to the first category, while 59 percent were blue collar workers (both industrial and agricultural) and 23 percent white collar workers (Kaiser, 1994, p. 236). There are no indications that ethnic Belarusians were discriminated against in getting access to prestigious and high-paying positions. In the period from 1967 to 1989, the share of ethnic Belarusians among direc- tors of enterprises and organizations, as well as white collar employees

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was almost identical to their share in the general population (Kaiser, 1994, p. 241). In Belarus’s Soviet legislative bodies the participation of Belarusians varied from 70 percent among the delegates to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to 74 percent for the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, rising to 86 percent in local Soviets (Kaiser, 1994, p. 349). Thus, repre- sentation of Belarusians at the highest level legislative bodies was slightly below their share in the total population, while at the lowest level they were over represented. This was not unlike representation in neighbor- ing Ukraine, but differs from the Baltic states, especially Latvia, where the share of the native population in legislative bodies of all levels was considerably higher than its share in the total population. The aggregate data indicate a healthy national development of indigenous ethnic groups in post-war Belarus. However, according to David Marples, that is exactly the period when Belarus started to become a “denationalized nation”, the words he put in the title of his book. Earlier writers, for example, Zaprudnik and Lubachko, see the post-war developments in Belarus as broadly detrimental to Belarusian language, culture and other elements of national identity. Paradoxically, both the “positive” and the “negative” interpretation of this period of Belarusian history are not implausible and both can be supported with empirical data collected by contemporary Soviet researchers and based on official Soviet statistics. In 1926, only 49 percent of Belarusians living in urban centers claimed Belarusian as their native language (Kaiser, 1994, p. 140). Among the rural Belarusian population, the native language retention rate was 85 percent. In 1959, more than 77 percent of ethnic Belarusian urban dwellers claimed Belarusian as their native language, while in rural areas this figure was almost 99 percent. The figure for the urban population is especially revealing, as the native language retention rates increased in the period when the share of urban population grew from 17 percent in 1926 to 32 percent in 1959, mostly due to rural-urban migration. Thus, ethnic Belarusians who moved into cities and towns from their native villages did not see their native language as an impediment to everyday communication in the new and different environment. This was a legacy of Belarusian national Communists, who in the 1920s created enduring institutions of Belarusian national education and culture. Interestingly enough, native language retention rates for the city of Minsk, by far the largest and culturally most important center of the republic, were 76 percent in 1959, very similar to the average rates for the urban popu- lation. In the thirty years that followed the census of 1959, the native


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language retention rates for the rural population remained virtually at the same level. In urban centers, these rates declined significantly. In 1989 in the city of Minsk only 62 percent of ethnic Belarusians claimed Belarusian as their native language. The steepest decline took place between 1959 and 1970, from 75 to 65 percent, a full ten percentage points in ten years (Polski, 1996, pp. 16–17). About the same time, the number of students in schools with Belarusian as the language of instruction started to decline. From 1965 to 1972 it dropped by 15 percent (Kaiser, 1994, p. 256). This process occurred against the back- ground of an unprecedentedly high rural-urban migration. More people moved to cities and towns from villages than ever before. The native language of rural Belarusians was still almost exclusively Belarusian. Unlike the generation of 1926–1959, however, these newcomers chose not to retain their native language and sent their children to schools where the language of instruction was Russian. Although the same interconnected processes of urbanization and de- nationalization were taking place throughout the Soviet Union during the three decades of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Belarus stood out among other constituent Soviet republics by de-nationalizing at a consider- ably faster pace. Overall, for both urban and rural population, native language retention rates for Belarusians living in Belarus stood at 93 percent in 1959, declining to 80 percent thirty years later (Kaiser, 1994, p. 273). By 1989, Belarus’s native language retention rate was by far the lowest of all constituent Soviet republics, while the rate of decline from 1959 level (13 percentage points) was the fastest. The contrast with neighboring Baltic states was especially sharp as native language retention rates varied from 98 percent for Latvia to almost 100 percent for Lithuania, while the change over the thirty year period was less than one percentage point. Perhaps the most revealing aspect of Belarus’s loss of its national char- acter was reflected in the dwindling numbers of books and periodicals published in the Belarusian language. In 1970, the share of books in Belarusian in the total number of titles published in Belarus was only one quarter of the share of Belarusians in the total population of Belarus. By 1988, this figure was only 17 percent. The share of newspapers in Belarusian in the total number of newspapers, which in 1970 was just slightly below the share of Belarusians in the total population, declined to 77 percent (Kaiser, 1994, p. 259). For book publication, the decline of national representativeness in Belarus was less precipitous than for many other republics, although from a lower base. Belarus started and

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ended the period with the lowest representation of the national lan- guage in book publishing among the Soviet constituent republics. For newspapers, only Moldova had lower presence of the national language, both in 1970 and 1988. The significance of these figures becomes clear if we recall that in the Soviet Union decisions about publishing of books and newspapers were not made on the basis of market demand. Thus, low representation of the Belarusian language in this sphere is not a reflection of the lack of popular interest in having large numbers of books and newspapers in the Belarusian language. Instead, decisions were made as a result of interaction between government bureaucrats (this category would include Communist Party officials) and the officially recognized writers, poets and journalists (referred to as “creative intelligentsia” by Soviet officialdom). The significant differences between individual republics, especially between Belarus and the rest of the Soviet Union, indicate that the situation in Belarus was not a result of a concerted effort made by central authorities in Moscow to stamp out national cultures in every Soviet republic. Perhaps the denationalization trend in Belarus concentrated within the ruling elite and the intelligentsia. The reasons for this would be highlighted if one looks at the development of these two groups in post-war Belarus. Belarusian national Communist and simply nationalist elites that laid foundations for the Belarusian national state in the 1920s were destroyed in the purges of the 1930s. Belarusian leaders of the post-war generation, while conscious of their national identity, knew that the nationalism of the “korenizatsiya” period was ideologically impermis- sible. The 1930s provided little that could set Belarus apart from other Soviet republics. The post-war generation of Belarusian elites had to search for the national myths that distinguished Belarus from other regions of the Soviet Union in a very recent past. The new myths were centered around the narratives of war-time partisan resistance and post-war reconstruction. The creation of the new narratives was made all the easier by the fact that the new leaders participated in the events that were reflected in the narratives. By the end of the German occupation of Belarus, many partisan fighters and commanders were of local origin. The specific character of guerilla warfare implied that for success and survival such qualities were instrumental, such as initiative, the ability to gain the support of the local population, pragmatic rather than an ideological approach to the problems. After the war, successful partisan commanders were often


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recruited to various positions in the Communist Party and the Soviet bureaucracy. Th ose qualities which helped them to succeed during the war now helped them to deal with the tasks of peacetime reconstruction and development. They retained close, sometimes personal, ties with their native communities and often used their positions to help them. Gradually moving to the highest levels of the bureaucratic hierarchy, former guerilla leaders became the dominant group in the Belarusian leadership by the late 1950s and remained in this position for more than twenty years, thus having an important impact on the develop- ment of modern Belarus. The commitment of this generation of Belarusian leaders to the wel- fare of the common people, their sense of close ties to the local popula- tion, together with the ability to attain their goals through unorthodox means to some extent account for the relative prosperity of post-war Belarus. In the Soviet administrative system it was very important to be able to bargain for centrally distributed resources. The partisan past of the post-war Belarusian leaders proved useful in persuading the central Soviet authorities that more resources should be given to Belarus’s economy and less taken away from the republic. In this bar- gaining they did not hesitate to invoke images of Belarus devastated by the war and of the heroic struggle of the Belarusian people against the Nazi occupation forces. Their own participation in this epic struggle made their requests all the more legitimate. As a result, Soviet Belarus continued to benefit from these ideologically sacred symbols for forty years after the war ended. The new generation of Belarusian leaders shared the general attitude towards the social and economic progress of the Soviet ruling elite. Large-scale industrialization became the way to the prosperity they charted for post-war Belarus. Shortly after the war, centrally directed investments started to pour into the Belarusian economy. Large indus- trial plants producing diesel engines and heavy trucks, agricultural tractors, machine tools, electronic equipment, home appliances and consumer goods sprang up all around the republic. Belarus’s industry was not infrequently referred to as an assembly line for manufactured goods produced in the Soviet Union. Most of the new industrial enter- prises completely depended on supplies of raw materials and constituent parts from other Soviet republics, while the goods they produced were shipped outside Belarus. Belarus was the only republic whose borders coincided with those of an economic region, the principal unit within

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the Soviet system of a territorial division of labor. This designation allotted Belarus a special place in the Soviet system of central planning and facilitated its greater integration in supply chains of the Soviet economy. Industrial growth did not slow down after the immediate post-war reconstruction ended. On the contrary, Belarus continued to develop more rapidly than other Soviet republics throughout four post- war decades. During 1970–85, Belarus’s rates of growth for GDP and industrial output were approximately 1.5 times higher than the average rates for USSR and considerably higher than in any other Soviet republic or economic region (Goskomstat SSSR, 1987, pp. 123, 133, 135). Belarus’s transformation from a predominantly agricultural and rural to a predominantly industrial and urban society had its drawbacks. Rapid modernization dramatically increased migration from rural areas to the cities, which resulted in labor shortages in agricultural production. Chemical plants and oil refineries, which were among the most attractive symbols of modernity for the Belarusian leadership, were environmentally unsafe. Increased agricultural productivity was accompanied by the destruction of wetlands, forests and other important natural ecosystems. However, those who were immediately affected by adverse social or environmental consequences of modernization could not express their grievances, as the underdeveloped civil society in the Soviet Union precluded free participation in public discourse. As for the decision makers, their priorities did not include environmental protec- tion or sensitivity to social dislocation. Thus adverse consequences of modernization in Belarus (as well as elsewhere in the Soviet Union) were unnoticed by the general public and ignored by elites. Modernization rapidly improved living standards for most Belaru- sians. People who moved to towns and cities from the countryside would gain access to such conveniences as indoor plumbing and hot water, central heating, stores with a selection of processed foodstuffs, and modern health care facilities. All these things, taken for granted by those who enjoyed them for generations, were taken as dramatic positive changes by Belarus’s newcomers to urban areas. The migrants from the countryside compared their improved living conditions with those of the friends and relatives they left behind in their native vil- lages. This comparison had an impact on changing attitudes toward the Belarusian language and culture as they became increasingly associated with the relatively backward and poor village, while the modern and prosperous city increasingly tended to speak Russian.


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In the cultural sphere, Belarusian elites accepted their country’s role as a testing ground for Russification under the guise of Soviet interna- tionalism. The number of Belarusian schools was dwindling; in other schools the Belarusian language and literature were becoming a less and less significant part of the curriculum. By the early 1970s, in Minsk, the political, economic and cultural center of the republic and a city with a population of about one million, no school used Belarusian as the language of instruction (Kennedy, 1991, p. 167). Not a single high school textbook on the pre-revolutionary history of Belarus had been published in the first four post-war decades. In the officially allowed studies of Belarusian history some crucial topics were deliberately ignored. For example, a student of the Uniate Church in Belarus (the majority of Belarusians belonged to this Church before its abolition by the Russian authorities in 1839) would have to rely exclusively on Pol- ish sources, since no detailed study of this subject has been published in Belarus. It is hard to imagine that in any other Soviet republic such a blatant and sustained offensive against a nation’s language, culture, and his- tory could have passed unopposed. However, in Belarus there was no widespread public opposition to this process. The number of dissidents who tried to publicly express their disagreement with national policies of Belarusian leadership was extremely small. In the period from the 1960s to the early 1980s, only one person, Mikhal Kukabaka, is known as a dissident with a consistently national agenda (Lych, 2001, pp. 70–71; Zaprudnik, 1993, p. 112). Belarusian nationalism found its last refuge in academe and among artistic and literary community. Of course, without official support members of the Belarusian nationally minded intelligentsia could not make their ideas known to the general public. The latter seemed content with the gradual disappearance of the Belaru- sian language and culture from the public sphere and their replacement by the Russian language as the means of communication and Russian culture as the symbol of modernity. Belarusians found themselves in a situation not unlike the one that existed in Poland’s eastern regions between the wars. Then, a Belaru- sian’s social mobility was contingent upon his adoption of the Polish language and culture. In post-war Belarus, a Belarusian who aspired to a position above his native village had to speak Russian at high school, in college and then at work. However, while in inter-war Poland there were numerous protests against linguistic and cultural discrimination against Belarusians, post-war Belarus was remarkably quiet. I would

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suggest that there are three basic reasons for this. First, the Russian language was associated with upward social mobility and modernity. Second, Belarusian culture had been oppressed for centuries (except for a short period in the 1920s); now, at least, cultural oppression coincided with improving material conditions. Third, although at the societal level Belarusian national identity was becoming associated with quaint backwardness, it still retained its traditional sanctuary at the communal level in rural areas. All this, together with a feeling of being materially better off than many other republics, made the situation acceptable for most of the Byelorussian population. This pragmatic policy of the Belarusian leaders was quite successful, at least in the short run. More importantly, changes in attitude toward national culture and language among the elites were brought about by the process of the circulation of elites. Rapid industrial growth produced a new type of leaders. The membership in Belarusian Communist Party grew from 19,787 in 1945 to 520,283 in 1978, thus increasing the pool of candi- dates for leadership positions. The composition of the Party changed as well: if industrial workers constituted only 11.9 percent in 1945, their share rose to 57 percent in 1978 (Urban, 1989, p. 15). The “partisan” generation began to leave the scene in the early eighties, being gradually replaced by the technocrats of the late Brezhnev era. The new elites were different: more rational, better educated, more likely to have an urban background. The “partisan” generation of administrators usually rose through ranks of the Communist Party, retaining affiliation with a par- ticular district or province. They governed territorial not industrial units, people not technological processes. To them, the Belarusian language was not an embarrassment or an impediment: they studied it at school (most of them benefitted from the national Belarusian educational sys- tem founded by the national Communists in the 1920’s); they used it in everyday communications with the locals. In 1959, Kiryl Mazurov did not hesitate to make a speech in Belarusian in the presence of Nikita Khrushchev during the latter’s visit to Minsk. According to Zaprudnik (1993, p. 106), Khrushchev was visibly irritated by his subordinate’s linguistic choice. However, after this incident Mazurov continued to enjoy a prominent position in the Communist Party hierarchy. The next generation of Belarus’s elites did not have intimate ties with local communities. Their careers depended on their ability to expand industrial production according to the centrally planned targets, regardless of the social and environmental consequences. Belarusian industries had numerous connections with other enterprises around


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the Soviet Union. This meant that industrial managers and planners had to coordinate their work with their colleagues of various national and ethnic affiliations. Of course, the language of choice in this kind of communication was Russian. In the course of their promotion, indus- trial managers were not infrequently rotated to positions in all-Union ministries or Gosplan in Moscow and then back to Belarus. This kind of career path meant that upward mobility did not require retention of national identity. On the contrary, it was quite convenient to belong to a vague group of the “Russian-speaking people”. Both technological ties with other regions and career aspirations made the idea of Belarusian national independence of any kind absolutely alien to the elite of the late Soviet period. Michael Urban in his study of the Belarusian elites states that an almost complete absence of nationalist sentiment among them made Belarus an ideal case for the study of the typical Soviet elite formation. In particular he notes that the latest generation of the ruling elite did not possess a well-defined and articulated sense of national identity (Urban, 1989, p. 16). Belarus entered the increasingly tumultuous period of Gorbachev’s “perestroika” more economically developed, more prosperous, more dynamic, and more urban than it has ever been at any time in its history. Belarusians were well educated and upwardly mobile and enjoyed bet- ter living standards than the population in most other Soviet republics. Ethnic homogeneity meant that simmering national tensions of the kind that existed in the Caucasus, Central Asia or even in the Baltic repub- lics or some parts of the Russian Federation did not exist in Belarus. National myths built around the heroic exploits of Belarusian partisans during the Great Patriotic War and impressive economic achievements of the post-war development were accepted by the general public and left unchallenged even by those dissident intellectuals who dared to question some aspects of Soviet national policies. The overall impres- sion was that of economic prosperity, national confidence and domestic tranquility. Belarus found its place within Soviet civilization. When the latter began to crumble, readjustment was protracted and painful.