West Belarus


West Belarus

West Belarus is the name sometimes used in a historical context to denote the territory of modern Belarus that belonged to the Second Polish Republic between the Polish-Soviet War and World War II. Most of the Belarusian minority in Poland lived in that region.

Location and administration

The territory included most of today's western part of Belarus. In particular, Hrodna and Brest voblasts, as well as part of the Minsk and Vitebsk voblasts.

Administration

Administratively West Belarus was divided into several voivodeships:
* Nowogródek Voivodeship,
* Polesie Voivodeship - where the majority of people were Poleszuks, who called themselves "locals" and whose national preference was not established in the interbellum period,
* Białystok Voivodeship (1919-1939) (eastern part),
* Wilno Voivodeship (northern and eastern part, with the exception of the city of Wilno and its surroundings).

Population

The population of West Belarus included Belarusians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, Russians. Many peasants declared themselves as "Local people", (Poleszuks), or Orthodox, rather than Belarusians. Many of them used dialects belonging to the West Palyesian dialect group, related to the Ukrainian language (also see: Belorussian minority in Poland).

History

In 1921, at the end of the Polish-Soviet War, Belarusian territories were divided between Poland and Soviet Russia under the terms of the Peace of Riga. The part that belonged to Poland was named West Belarus in Soviet Russia, and in Poland it was known as central part of Kresy. Several thousand Poles were settled in the area pursuant to the legislation of December 20, 1920. In the elections of November 1922, a Belarusian party (in the "Blok Mniejszości Narodowych" coalition) obtained 14 seats in the Polish parliament (11 of them in the lower chamber, Sejm).ref|Mironowicz-1 In the spring of 1923, Polish prime minister Władysław Sikorski ordered a report on the situation of the Belarusian minority in Poland. That summer, a new regulation was passed allowing for the Belarusian language to be used officially both in courts and in schools. Obligatory teaching of the Belarusian language was introduced in all Polish gymnasia in areas inhabited by Belarusians in 1927.

After an early period of liberalization, tensions between increasingly nationalistic Polish government and various increasingly separatist ethnic minorities started to grow, and Belarusian minority was no exception. Belarusian organization, "Belarusian Peasants' and Workers' Union", was banned in 1927, and opposition to Polish government was met with state repressions. In 1935, after the death of Józef Piłsudski, a new wave of repressions was released upon the minorities, with many Orthodox churches and Belorussian schools being closed. Nonetheless compared to the (larger) Ukrainian minority, Belarusian was much less politically aware and active. After Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, portrayed by Soviet propaganda as 'liberation of West Belarus and Ukraine', some Belarusians welcomed unification with Belorussian SSR, although attitudes of many changed after experiencing the Soviet terror. Nonetheless from 1939, with the exception of a brief period of Nazi occupation, almost all Belarusians previously living in Poland would live in the Belorussian SSR. Norman Davies, "God's Playground" (Polish edition), second tome, p.512-513] pl icon [http://www.bialorus.pl/index.php?secId=49&docId=60&&Rozdzial=historia Stosunki polsko-białoruskie pod okupacją sowiecką (1939-1941)] ]

However, during the rest of the interwar period, the Belarusian minority relations with the Polish government worsened, and it was increasingly repressed, with many schools and regional organizations closed.

Under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Poland was divided between the Soviet Union and Germany and was invaded by these countries in September 1939 ("see" German invasion of Poland and Soviet invasion of Poland). Western Belarus in its entirety was made part of the Byelorussian SSR. It was initially planned to move the capital of the Byelorussian SSR to Vilnius. However, the same year Stalin ordered that the city and surrounding region be transferred to Lithuania, which some months later was annexed by Soviet Union and became a new Soviet Republic. Minsk therefore was proclaimed the capital of the enlarged BSSR. The borders of the BSSR were again altered somewhat after the war (notably the largely Polish area around the city of Białystok was returned to Poland) but in general they coincide with the borders of the modern Republic of Belarus.

After entering the Soviet Union, the people of Western Belarus, especially those who favored democracy and Belarusian independence, immediately faced violent repression from the NKVD, which may explain incidents of local collaboration with Germans during the Nazi occupation of Belarus.

Polonization

Belarusians in Western Belarus faced extensive Polonization.

According to the Polish national census of 1921, there were around 1 million Belarusians in the country. There are historians, however, who estimate the number of Belarusians in Poland at that time to be 1.7 millionref|Żarnowski or even up to 2 million.ref|Mironowicz-2In the 1921-1926 period Poland did not have a consistent policy towards its ethnic minorities. Belarusian schools, not being subsidised by the Polish government, were facing severe financial problems by 1921.

After the 1930 elections in Poland, Belarusian representation in the Polish parliament was reduced and in the early 1930s the Polish government started to introduce policies intended to Polonize minorities. In 1938 about 100 Orthodox churches were destroyed or converted to Roman Catholic ones in the eastern parts of Poland, the majority of them in Western Ukraine.ref|Mironowicz-3 Use of the Belarusian language was discouraged. Not a single Belarusian school survived until the spring of 1939, and only 44 schools teaching the Belarusian language still existed in Poland at the beginning of World War II.

Refugees from Western Belarus were arrested by Soviet authorities and frequently executed, Kurapaty graves contain many products from Poland - cloths, shoes. The most prominent victim of NKVD was the activist and linguist Branislaw Tarashkyevich.

Notes

# Mironowicz, p. 94
# Żarnowski, p. 373
# Mironowicz, p. 80
# Mironowicz, p. 109

References

# Janusz Żarnowski, "Społeczeństwo Drugiej Rzeczypospolitej 1918-1939" (in Polish language), Warszawa 1973
# Eugeniusz Mironowicz, "Białoruś" (in Polish language), Trio, Warszawa, 1999, ISBN 83-85660-82-8

ee also

* Poleszuk
* Second Polish Republic
* History of Belarus
* Kresy
* Border Defence Corps
* Osadnik
* Western Ukraine


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