Volume 4, Fascile 1/2 (6/7) December 1997

The Pole - the Belarusians Mutual Stereotypes in the 19th - 20th Centuries (till 1939)

Ryszard Radzik

The nineteenth century relations between the Poles and the Belarusians showed principally distinct appearance than in present day. The Belarusians have not been treated as a separate nation at all. The subjective sense of some cultural distance was gradually increasing in consequence of the liquidation of the Uniate Church, the decay of the January uprising, and strenthenning of positions of Orthodoxy in the country. They began to consider cultural split as a national one only in the twentieth century together with transformation of the political, over-ethnical idea of the Polish nation into the cultural, linguaethnical one and in the connection with making of the Belarusian national movement. In the past century the Belarusians were identified with peasants: passive, poor, and uneducated. The twentieth century starting with the events of 1905-1906 (robbery of the estates) more and more demonstrated their pretentiousness, their "bolshevizationness" after 1917, extremely low - both in tsarist period and in II Recz Pospolita - level of national self-consciousness. The Belarusian intelligentsia was treated in Poland as a circle of persons with strong left views, pro-soviet, hostile to the Polish state. Stereotype of a Belarusian among the Poles who lived outside of Belarus was weakly indicated. An ordinary peasant from "Little Poland" or from Mazovia or a worker from Krakow or Warsaw knew about the Belarusians nothing or almost nothing.

For a long time, in the tsarist period, Belarusian peasants did'nt take the Poles for a national unity. "Pan"-landlord was seen in class categories, peasant-Mazur was seen as a neighbour with different language and traditions, an intellectual was seen as an educated new-comer from town. Stereotype of a Pole formed among the intelligentsia of the "Nasa Niva" period covered the main features which were characteristic of the upper classes: szlachta (both landlords and gentry) and intelligentsia. Through all the period of fourty years of the twentieth century not only a class conflict was evident but also more and more emphasized threaten of polonization, identification of polishness with Catholicism, its strong association with "panskosc". After creation of Commonwealth of Poland (Rzeczpospolita) polishness was more and more clearly associated with new authorities and their scorn, tendency to make the Poles responsible in their own troubles was shown. Belarusian intelligentsia reproached the Poles with conducting of anti-belarusian cultural and language policy.

However it does not matter that in everyday life some positive features were not seen by neighbours in each other. At the same time in mutual international relations dark colours prevailed which was especially evident in the dominated in Soviet Belarus propaganda of class ideology.

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