Polonization as a Determinant of National Identities of Ukraine and Belarus
Since their independence, Ukraine and Belarus have pursued relatively consistent but almost polar-opposite policies toward Russia. For the most part, the difference is explicable not as a product of differing material pressures and incentives (which do not, in fact, differ significantly), but as a consequence of differing popular and elite conceptions of Ukrainian and Belarusian national identities, which yield different beliefs about the proper relationship of those nations to Russia.
The article argues that the difference is largely traceable to the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Grand Duchy
of Lithuania’s southern lands – modern western and central Ukraine – were transferred to the Kingdom of Poland, and subsequently conquered by Russia in stages, while Belarus remained within Lithuania until also conquered by Russia. This resulted in different Ukrainian and Belarusian territories spending vastly different amounts of time
under Polish rule. Considering that Rusian culture originally had a high status in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and that Polonization naturally proceeded more intensely in Poland than in Lithuania, the author hypothesizes that: 1) the longer a territory was under Polish rule, the more subject it was to Polonization; 2) the more it was subject to Polonization, the more it developed a western European identity; 3) the more Ukrainian and Belarusian national identities were westernized, the more alienated they became from non-westernized Rusian nationalities, primarily the (Great) Russian (русский / великорусский / российский); 4) the more alienated a national identity is from Russia, the more its bearers seek to separate themselves from Russia. The research finds out that the longer an area was under Polish rule, the more support it subsequently displayed for separation and distancing from Russia. Ukrainian territories, especially in the west and center of the country, were long under Polish rule and accordingly tend toward an anti-Russian alignment that was visible even a century ago. On the other hand,
Belarus, ruled by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania but never by Poland directly, expressed little desire to abandon the Russian Empire a century ago, and today continues a policy of friendship and integration with Russia.
The article combines various qualitative and quantitative methods to demonstrate how centuries-long historical processes reshaped a national identity, with massive consequences that still endure today.