Unsettling Borderlands: The Population Exchange and the Polish Minority in Soviet Belarus, 1944–1947
The article examines the Soviet nationality policy in Belarus in 1944–1947 during the population exchange between the Soviet Union and Poland. Unlike in Lithuania and Ukraine, the authorities in Belarus prioritized keeping the labor force over national homogenization, determined nationality by territory of birth, and attempted to keep the people by designating them as Belarusians irrespective of their self-identification. The article argues that in Belarus, the population transfer was a combination of an exodus of refugees with the expulsion of Poles by the state. Although the declarations about the voluntary character of the resettlement were false, the direction of the compulsion varied, and this ambivalence opened up a space of limited autonomy in which the people could exercise agency. The Soviet ethnic cleansing remained incomplete in Soviet Belarus because of the competing urge to keep the labor force. Paradoxically, much of the demographic de-Polonization of new western territories of Soviet Belarus was achieved without the state’s commitment to ethnic cleansing and without the involvement of Belarusian nationalism.