The Poles of Belarus and Lithuania in the XIXth — in the beginning of 20th c. as an ethnic and social fenomenon

Ales Smalancuk

At present, there is no principle divergence in description of origin of Poles of Belarus and Lithuania of the nineteenth and early twentieth century between Belarusian, Lithuanian, and Polish historiography. The most of scholars agree with the fact that absolute majority of the local Poles were successors of the polonized autochthons from Belarusian and Lithuanian lands. Polonization is considered to be the main factor of forming of the Polish community of the Belarusian—Lithuanian land in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

In Belarusian historiography, scientific approaches to the problem of Polish—Belarusian cultural relations sometimes are neighbouring with simplified ideological understanding of the phenomenon of polonization (publications of L.Lyč). The term «polonization» sometimes is used to describe both the process of forced assimilation and the process of self-polonization or spontaneous assimilation. Frequently polonization is equated with russification for the whole history of Belarus so as for the period of 19th — early 20th c. (S.Kuzniajeva). With exception of some scholars (M.Pilipenka, V.Viarenič) the majority of investigators in Belarus interpret the phenomenon only in the light of the policy of national assimilation. Lithuanian historiography is gradually turning from S.Daukontas's tradition to consider Poland to be the main source of all troubles in Lithuanian history. The works of E.Gudavičius, A.Bumblauskas, R.Miknys demonstrate thorough analysis of such a complicated phenomenon as polonization. Some of the Polish scholars (U.Wielhorski, J.Bardach) emphasized certain peculiarity of the Poles of Belarus and Lithuania in comparison with the Poles from ethnic Poland. The others (for example P.Eberhard and R.Wapinski) consider the Belarusian and Lithuanian Poles to be a part of Polish nation which didn't manage to preserve all the Polish ethnic and cultural features living in more difficult historical circumstances.

The notion of «polonization» itself in the Polish historiography is interpreted as «self-polonization». This statement is true in part. The Polish—Lithuanian Commonwealth was not a national state and Poland had no state institutions to provide the policy of assimilation in relation to Belarusians and Lithuanians. Nevertheless, it can't be ignored that some religious, cultural and social institutions (such as catholic church, educational system of the first third of the 19th century, local administration till the revolt of 1863—64, secret school of the second part of the 19th and early 20th century, estate) played a considerable role in polonization even when there was no national Polish state.

It is difficult to determine an accurate number of Poles in Belarus and Lithuania at the break of the nineteenth century. There are many reasons for that. However, this kind of statistic is very important, so as a base of our speculations we can take the statement that the number of Poles was 563.8 thousand at the minimum (5.6%) and 1 612.3 thousand at the maximum (16.3%). The landlords and intellectuals constituted the main force of Polish movement in Belarus and Lithuania at the break of the nineteenth century. The Catholic clergy a good deal contributed to this phenomenon too. According to their social, cultural, and economic position the upper circles of the Polish community were a significant force in the society. They possessed a considerable political potential which they managed to realize during the revolution of 1905—1907.