Eastern Borderlands (1918-1939)

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Byelorussians Life

Life of Byelorussians in the Eastern Borderlands

Byelorussians lived in the eastern and northern part of the Second Polish Republic (in the provinces of Polesie, Novogrod, Vinius, and Bialystok). Most of them were peasants, living on poor, backward farms. The lack of fertile land, bad climatic conditions and inefficient farming methods, led to a very poor standard of life. Moreover, many years of Russification and poor levels of education led to a lack of a developed social class among the Byelorussians.

Another feature of Byelorussian society was a lack of a developed national identity. They were only interested in farming reforms that would improve their lot within the Eastern Borderlands. They often referred to themselves as “the people from here”. Byelorussian identity did not extend beyond a very few enthusiasts and a small number of elites.

In 1930, on the initiative of Antoni Luckiewicz, the Central Cultural and Economic Association was formed in Vilnius (with the assistance of the Byelorussian Orthodox Committee and later the Education Society of Belarus). The association focussed its attention on the organization of rural libraries and reading rooms, as well as the spread of agricultural and Byelorussian literature. They also published the newspaper “Napierad” and the yearbook “Rodny Kraj”.

The Polish authorities were of the opinion that Byelorussians were not a nation but rather an ethnic group. The relations of the Second Republic with the Byelorussians had a negative impact on the future relations of the USSR with them. In the latter half of the 1930s the Polish authorities sharpened their approach to the Byelorussians, no longer permitting the formation of Byelorussian Cultural or Social Organizations and Institutions, and imposed other legal limits on the population (for example, the liquidation of schools and orthodox churches).