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2009 | 44 | 21-63
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'STRAZ KRESOWA' AND THE BYELORUSSIAN QUESTION. DECLARATIONS AND PRAXIS (Straz Kresowa wobec kwestii bialoruskiej. Deklaracje i praktyka)

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Embarking upon the realisation of the federal conception, Commander-in-Chief Jozef Pilsudski established the Civilian Administration of the Eastern Lands (Zarzad Cywilny Ziem Wschodnich - ZCZW). The universal, and direct elections, held by secret ballot and equal suffrage, which were to decide about the solution of the domestic, national and religious questions of the population living in the territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, officially announced in the Wilno Proclamation of 22 April 1919, were hampered by the inertia prevailing in the multi-national eastern lands. The Head of State connected great hopes with a transference onto this terrain of an organisation which in 1918 had passed the test in the terrains of Chelmno and Volhynia, and which animated local social life. Upon the basis of an agreement signed in March 1921 by Ignacy Paderewski and Ludwik Kolankowski, the first Civilian Commissar of the Eastern Lands, the emissaries of 'Straz Kresowa' (the Eastern Borderland Guards) were to act in the eastern lands and, according to the conception launched by Jozef Pilsudski, to comprise a basis for the federation policy conceived by the Head of State. As a result of backstage manoeuvres among the heads of 'Straz Kresowa' (discernible already in the summer of 1919), the organisation was entrusted, at the time of the dissolution of the Civilian Administration of the Eastern Lands, to the supporters of national thought and incorporation. The Statue and the name of the organisation were formally changed to 'Towarzystwo Strazy Kresowej' (the Society of the Eastern Borderland Guards). This fact dealt a severe blow against the Byelorussians, due to the planned creation of a successive 'Straz' district, known as 'Byelorussian' (the first half of 1920) and a 'Nowogrodek' district (during the first months of the functioning of Central Lithuania). Ultimately, the district was never established, and in the autumn of 1920 the geopolitical situation changed. Those who had experienced the failure of the federation programme had numerous reasons for avoiding a public demonstration of their fiasco. An examination of the reports of the emissaries, regularly dispatched to the Warsaw-based Organisational Department of 'Straz Kresowa' (as well as other institutions), makes it impossible to draw conclusions about the anti-Byelorussian line of conduct on the part of the rank-and-file workers. Nor is it possible to speak about a patronising treatment of the Byelorussians. The characteristic features of the reports from the Wilno District include a certain distance and thoroughness in collecting information about the so-called Byelorussian movement, identified with Russian activity. In the case of the Grodno District (which frequently changed its name, and was supervised directly by the Organisational Department in Warsaw), one may detect strong fear and distrust of the leaders of the 'Byelorussian movement'. Not only were they identified with the 'Byelorussian Uprawa', but also a course intent on eliminating the 'Russian' threat was suggested to the authorities. From the viewpoint of Grodno, the 'Byelorussian movement' was perceived as artificially created by the Russians. In the Minsk District, 'Straz Kresowa' played the role of a secondary albeit careful observer of the events. All the discovered reports comprise an invaluable source for the history of the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1919-1920 (and thus also for the history of Belarus); the author enclosed a suitable sample in the Appendix. The 'Straz Kresowa' publications intended for internal use ('Kalendarz Ludowy' for the year 1920 or 'Biuletyn Informacyjny', issued as a typescript) cannot be described as anti-Byelorussian, although the fact that Melchior Wankowicz, the head of the Press-Publication Department did not use the noun 'a Byelorussian/Ukrainian' but 'a Ruthenian', comes as a surprise. A closer analysis of the contents of 'Biuletyn Informacyjny' leads to the conclusion that Jozef Pilsudski was correct in entrusting to 'Straz Kresowa' the funds intended for the realisation of the federational programme, i.e. the self-determination of all the inhabitants of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, announced in the Wilno Proclamation. An analysis of a stenograph (actually a rough copy) of the statement made by Zdzislaw Lednicki at a closed meeting of 'Straz Kresowa' instructors at the beginning of July 1919 produces certain consternation. It follows from the text that the chairman of 'Straz Kresowa' did not conceal the fact that the organisation's partner could be exclusively the Polish population; moreover, he publicly expressed the hope that the plebiscite in the eastern lands, announced in the Wilno Proclamation, 'will never take place' and informed the gathered listeners about cooperation with landowners 'who do not support the ethnographic borders of Poland'. The seats of the Polish Councils and the Organisational Department of 'Straz Kresowa' were located in the same building, literally in adjoining rooms. The author of the article presumes that the Lednicki expose had in mind cooperation with persons associated with the Polish Council of the Land of Minsk, established, after all, for the defence of Polishness, and proposes a hypothesis that the chairman of 'Straz Kresowa' was 'used' by more sophisticated political players. Finally, the author arrived at the conclusion that the political line represented by the leader of 'Straz Kresowa' must have contributed to the failure of the federational programme.
  • Instytut Historii im. Tadeusza Manteuffla PAN, Rynek Starego Miasta 29/31, 00-272 Warszawa, Poland
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