Ethnic history of the Vilnius region

Ethnic history of the Vilnius region

Following is a list of censuses that have been taken in the city of Vilnius/Vilna/Wilno/Wilna and its region since 1897. The list is incomplete. Data are at times fragmentary.

Ethnic and national background

Following the decline of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in late 18th century, the state had been divided among its neighbours in what is known as the partitions of Poland. Most of the lands that formerly constituted the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were annexed by the Russian Empire. While initially the lands around the city of Vilna (Vilnius) had a certain local autonomy, with local nobility holding the same offices as prior to the partitions, after several secessionist revolts against the Russian Empire, the Imperial government started to pursue a policy of both political and cultural assimilation of the newly-acquired lands (Russification). Following the failed November Uprising all traces of former Polish-Lithuanian statehood (like the Third Statute of Lithuania and Congress Poland) started to be replaced with their Russian counterparts, from the currency and units of measurement, to offices of local administration. The failed January Uprising of 1864 further aggravated the situation, as the Russian authorities decided to pursue the policies of forcibly imposed Russification. The discrimination of local inhabitants included restrictions and outright bans on usage of Polish, Lithuanian (see Lithuanian press ban), Belorussian and Ukrainian (see Valuyev circular) languages.Aviel Roshwald, "Ethnic Nationalism and the Fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia and the Middle East, 1914–1923", Routledge, 2001, ISBN 0415178932, [ Google Print, p.24] ] Anna Geifman, "Russia Under the Last Tsar: Opposition and Subversion, 1894–1917", Blackwell Publishing, 1999, ISBN 1557869952, [ Google Print, p.116] ] This has however not stopped the Polonization effort undertaken by the Polish patriotic leadership of the Vilna educational district even within the Russian Empire.Tomas Venclova, [ Four Centuries of Enlightenment. A Historic View of the University of Vilnius, 1579–1979] , "Lituanus", Volume 27, No.1 — Summer 1981] Rev. Stasys Yla, [ The Clash of Nationalities at the University of Vilnius] , "Lituanus", Volume 27, No.1 — Summer 1981]

Despite that, the pre-19th century cultural and ethnic pattern of the area was largely preserved. In the process of the pre-nineteenth century voluntaryFact|date=December 2007 Polonization, much of the local nobility, boyars and gentry of Ruthenian and Lithuanian origin adopted Polish language and culture. This was also true to the representatives of the then-nascent class of bourgeoisie and the Catholic and Uniate clergy. At the same time, the lower strata of the society (notably the peasants) formed a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural mixture of Poles, Lithuanians, Jews and Ruthenians, as well as a small yet notable population of immigrants from all parts of Europe, from Italy to Scotland and from the Low Countries to Germany.

The national composition of the latter area is difficult to measure as censuses from that time and place are often unreliable.Fact|date=February 2007

In the middle of the 19th century, Lithuanian speakers constituted more than a half of all the population in the entire Vilna Governorate, including Vilna. In Lithuanian areas of the region (that is without southeast margins of Vilna Governorate and Vilna with its surroundings as a linguistic enclave) according to M. Lebedkin there were 71% of Lithuanians here,Fact|date=February 2007 to A. Koreva — 67%,Fact|date=February 2007 to D. Erkert — 66%Fact|date=February 2007. 18% of Poles were found by official statistics in all the Vilna Governorate (including Vilna) then.Fact|date=February 2007

The data from different times shows the changes in languages. The Lithuanian speaking area was constantly on the decline, while Belarusian speaking area pro rata was on the increase. In the parishes to the southeast from Vilnius Belarusian positions as a language of junior generation started to strengthen at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. Petras Gaučas: "Lietuvių-gudų kalbų paribio etnolingvistinė situacija 1795-1914 m." ["Ethnolinguistical situation of Lithuanian-Belarusian languages' boundary in 1795–1914 m."] " in: "Lietuvos rytai; straipsnių rinkinys [the east of Lithuania; the collection of articles] ", p. 49. Vilnius 1993. ISBN 9986-09-002-4] The 20th century marks a sudden increase of Polish speaking people and pro rata decrease of Belarusian speakers. Lithuanian speaking "islands" remained in Dzyatlava, Lasduny, Gervyaty etc. [] , []

Since the first contact in the 9th century the Slavic (Ruthenian, later Belarusian) speaking areas have always bordered the vicinity of eastern Lithuania. During the rule of the Russian tsars, the use of the Lithuanian language was as follows:
*The Lingua franca remained Polish as it had been in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Though by the middle of 17th century most of the Lithuanian nobility had started to speak Polish political elite of Grand Duchy of Lithuania continued to be self-dependent. No career could have been made without Polish by then. With passing time and changing circumstances Lithuanian, Ruthenian and [Polish nobility merged politically and started to consider themselves to be citizens of one common state. For example an important person on the topic Józef Piłsudski‘s father and mother by paternal line belonged to respectively Samogitian descent "Giniotai" (sg. "Giniotas"; Polish "Ginet") and "Bilevičiai" (sg. "Bilevičius"; Polish "Billewicz"< "*Bilius") families [ [ The genealogical tree of Józef Klemens (Ziuk) Piłsudski ] ] . The surname "Piłsudski" is of toponymic origin.
* Lithuanian was considered as an inferior, pagan language by the Polish clergy and Russian officials. This idea was constantly reinforced and conveyed to the common people.
* Catholicism (with the Polish clergy dominating) naturally was a symbol of resistance. By the end of 19th century polonisation started to be harshened by the local Church. Since Polish was considered the language of Catholicism by the clergy a good number of Lithuanian speakers of this area declared themselves as Poles during the censuses. By doing so, they felt they were emphasising that they were Catholics.Fact|date=February 2007
* Belarusians were able to understand both the Tsar's officials and the Polish speaking priests. These languages are akin to each other. Thus, many peasants adopted Belarusian and spoke in two or three languages. Their children did not need to speak Lithuanian any longer.

A considerable number of Lithuanians began to speak Belarusian containing many substratical relics of Lithuanian and mixed with Lithuanianisms, Polonicisms and became "tuteishi" ("the locals"). They did not assign themselves to any nation. These people said they were speaking "po prostu" ("the common language, the language of the simple people").Fact|date=February 2007

People who spoke "po prostu" were considered to be Poles by various governments. The polonization, exercised by clergy, spreading from estates and schools and later implemented by the Polish government was uncompromising. About 100–200 thousands colonists from Poland were brought in to form a mass of officers. Many Lithuanian schools were closed. In 1938, the Polish administration left only two Lithuanian primary schools and one gymnasium (the Gymnasium of Vytautas Didysis) in the entire area.Zigmas Zinkevičius. Pietryčių Lietuva nuo seniausių laikų iki mūsų dienų [Southeastern Lithuania since ancient times to nowadays] . Lietuvos rytai, straipsnių rinkinys [the East of Lithuania, the collection of articles] , p. 22. ISBN 9986-09-002-4]

The soviets at the beginning stopped the polonization. But they soon restored it. The Poles were protected by the local governments of the area. Lithuanians had been replaced in public functions by Poles and Russians.Fact|date=February 2007 This coincided to soviet politics of denationalization and gave them expectancies to play a card of national tensions.

During this long period of foreign rule, many people of the region became indoctrinated with negative attitudes towards the Lithuanian language and to be ashamed of their descent and in spite of speaking "po prostu", to consider themselves to be Poles.Fact|date=February 2007


Russian census of 1897

Source: 1897 Russian censusru icon [ Demoscope] .]

pl icon Piotr Łossowski, "Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918-1920" (The Polish-Lithuanian Conflict, 1918–1920), Warsaw, Książka i Wiedza, 1995, ISBN 8305127699, pp. 11.]

In 1897 the first Russian Empire Census was held. The territory covered by the tables included large parts of today's Belarus, that is the voblasts of Hrodna, Vitebsk and Minsk. Its results are currently criticised with respect to the issue of ethnic composition, because the ethnicity was defined by language spoken. In many cases the reported language of choice was defined by general background (education, occupation), rather than ethnicity. Some results are also thought as skewed due to the facts that pidgin speakers were assigned to nationalities arbitrarily and the Russian military garrisons were counted in as permanent inhabitants of the area. Some historians point out the fact that the Russification policies and persecution of ethnic minorities in Russia were added to the notion to subscribe Belarusians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Poles to the category of Russianslt icon cite book | author =Egidijus Aleksandravičius | coauthors =Antanas Kulakauskas | title =Carų valdžioje: Lietuva XIX amžiuje (Lithuania under the reign of Czars in XIX. century) | year =1996 | editor = | pages =253–255 | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Baltos lankos | location =Vilnius | id = | url = | format = | accessdate = ] pl icon cite book|author=various authors | editor=Wiesław Łagodziński |year=2002|title=213 lat spisów ludności w Polsce 1789-2002|publisher=Główny Urząd Statystyczny, Warsaw|id= ] .

1916 German census

Source: 1916 German census

As a result of World War I, almost all of the territory encompassing the present borders of modern Lithuania and Poland were occupied by the German Army. On March 9, 1916, the German military authorities organised a census to determine the ethnic composition of their newly-conquered territories. This census is currently the only census organised before 1991 that is accepted by both Polish and Lithuanian historians.Fact|date=February 2007 However, many Belarusian historians note that the Belarusian minority is not noted among the inhabitants of the city.

A similar census was organised for all of the territory of German-occupied Lithuania and the northern border of the territory was more or less correspondent to that of present-day Lithuania, however it's southern border was expanded greatly and ended near Brest-Litovsk, and included the city of Białystok (see Southern Lithuania).

1921 Polish census

Source: 1921-1923 Polish censuspl icon cite journal | author=Ludwik Krzywicki | title=Rozbiór krytyczny wyników spisu z dnia 30 IX 1921 r | journal=Miesięcznik Statystyczny | volume=V | issue=6 | year=1922 | pages= ]

After the Polish-Bolshevik War and the Treaty of Riga, the eastern Polish border was almost established. In 1921 the first Polish all-national census was held on all territory under Polish control. However, the territory of Central Lithuania, seized by the forces of General Lucjan Żeligowski in the effect of a staged mutiny in 1920 was outside of the Polish borders and it was not until March 22, 1922, when the short-lived state, considered to be a puppet state of Poland by Lithuanians, was incorporated into Poland.

Because of that, the census of September 20, 1921 covered only parts of the future Wilno Voivodship area, that is the communes of Brasław, Duniłowicze, Dzisna and Wilejkapl icon cite journal | author=Ludwik Krzywicki | title=Organizacja pierwszego spisu ludności w Polsce | journal=Miesięcznik Statystyczny | volume=V | issue=6 | year=1922 | pages= ] . The remaining part of the territory of Central Lithuania (that is the communes of Wilno, Oszmiana, Święciany and Troki) was covered by the additional census organised there in 1923. The tables on the right give the combined numbers for the area of Wilno Voivodship ("Administrative Area of Wilno"), taken during both the 1921 and 1923 censuses.

Polish census of 1931

Source: 1931 Polish census

The 1931 Polish census was the first Polish census to measure the population of whole Wilno and Wilno Voivodship at once. It was organised on December 9, 1931 by the Main Statistical Office of Poland and was widely considered impartial at the time it was taken. However, in 1931 the question of nationality was replaced by two separate questions of "religion worshipped" and the "language spoken at home" Fact|date=July 2008. The numbers listed in the tables on the right give the overview of the language criterion. Because of that, it is sometimes argued that the "language question" was introduced to diminish the number of Jews, who were in large part Polonized and spoke Polish language rather than Yiddish or Hebrew. At the same time, Lithuanian authorities often argued that the large majority of Polish-speaking people were in fact Polonized Lithuanians. However, there are no proofs for such stance.

Lithuanian census of 1939

In December 1939, shortly after their take-over of the area, the Lithuanian authorities organized a new census in the area. However, the census is often criticized by Polish statisticians, as skewed, intending to prove the historical and moral rights of Lithuania to the disputed area, rather than to determine the factual compositionen icon cite book | author =Zakład Wydawnictw Statystycznych (corporate author) | title =Concise Statistical Year-Book of Poland: September 1939-June 1941 | year =1990 | editor = | pages = | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Zakład Wydawnictw Statystycznych | location = | id =ISBN 83-7027-015-8 | url = | format = | accessdate = ] .

German-Lithuanian census of 1942

Source: 1942 German census

After the outbreak of the German-Soviet War in 1941, the area of former Central Lithuania was quickly seized by the Wehrmacht. On May 27, 1942 a new census was organised by the German authorities and the local Lithuanian collaborators. The details of the methodology used are unknown and the results of the census are commonly believed to be an outcome of the racial theories and beliefs of those who organised the census rather than the actual ethnic and national composition of the area. Among the most notable features is a complete lack of data on the Jewish inhabitants of the area (see Paneriai for explanation) and a much lowered number of Poles, as compared to all the earlier censusespl icon cite book|author=Główny Urząd Statystyczny (corporate author) |year=1939|title=Mały rocznik statystyczny 1939|publisher=Główny Urząd Statystyczny, Warsaw|id= ] pl icon cite journal | author =Stanisław Ciesielski | coauthors = Aleksander Srebrakowski | year = 2000 | title = Przesiedlenie ludności z Litwy do Polski w latach 1944-1947 | journal = Wrocławskie Studia Wschodnie | issue = 4 | pages = 227–53 | issn = 1429-4168 | url = ] .

Soviet census of 1959

Presents results of two mass migrations to Poland and the growth of the city due to industrial development and the Soviet Union policy. Source:

Soviet census of January 1989


258,000 Poles in Lithuania, including 63.5% in the Vilnius rayon (currently Vilnius district municipality, excluding the city of Vilnius itself) and 79.5% in the rayon of Šalčininkai (currently known as Šalčininkai district municipality).

Lithuanian census of 2001

Source: 2001 Lithuanian censusFact|date=February 2007

Jews of Vilnius

Jews of Wilno had their own complex identity, and labels of Polish Jews, Lithuanian Jews or Russian Jews are all applicable only in part.Ezra Mendelsohn, "On Modern Jewish Politics", Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0195083199, [,M1 Google Print, p.8] and Mark Abley, "Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages", Houghton Mifflin Books, 2003, ISBN 061823649X, [ Google Print, p.205] ]

The situation today

Today, the "Po prostu" (poorly spoken Polish-Belarusian mixed language as described above) dialect is the native language for people identifying themselves as Poles in Šalčininkai district and in some territories of Vilnius districtFact|date=August 2008. Its speakers consider themselves to be Poles and believe "po prostu" language to be purely Polish [ Lietuvos rytai; straipsnių rinkinys The east of Lithuania; the collection of articles; V. Čekmonas, L. Grumadaitė "Kalbų paplitimas Rytų Lietuvoje" "The distribution of languages in eastern Lithuania"] . "Po prostu" and its speakers, "tuteishians" ("the locals") identity are considered by some to be of a low worth and shameful in comparison with "prestigious" Polish language and identity Fact|date=August 2008. This came in the aftermath of politics and the situation when Polish language was identified as the only language of Catholicism in the area by the Polish priests and Polonised szlachta Fact|date=August 2008. "Po prostu" translates as "Simple Language". Polish was a difficult language to learn for some of the Lithuanian peasants in the region because Lithuanian that they presumably spoke is a very different Baltic Language and "Simple — Basic Language" was maximum what local population could learn of Polish Fact|date=August 2008. On the other hand, Ruthenian, being a Slavic language, was similar to Polish. Linguistically, "Po prostu" it is regarded as a dialect of Polish Fact|date=August 2008. The grammar and a clear majority of words of this language are Polish, though it contains a share number of Lithuanian too. Pronunciation clearly resembles Polish rather than any other language Fact|date=August 2008. It clearly belongs to the Western Slavic language group Fact|date=August 2008. The population has extremely strong Polish identity (including those of "the locals" who live in the other part of historical Vilnius region that is now part of Belarus) and sometimes is angered when Lithuanians suggest that they are just pure Lithuanians who did not learn Polish well enough Fact|date=August 2008. However, some of "the locals" admit their Lithuanian background.

At the end 20th century some Belarusian historians and politicians claimed that "the locals" were indeed Belarusians and "Simple language" was a simplified version of Belarusian and not of Polish Fact|date=August 2008. "The locals" rejected this theory Fact|date=August 2008. It was immediately embraced by a large proportion of Lithuanian linguists in their attempt to indignate local Poles, because Belarusian identity was viewed as even more shameful rather than the "tuteishian" one Fact|date=August 2008.

Notes and references


External links

* Theodore R. Weeks, [ From “Russian” to “Polish”: Vilna-Wilno 1900–1925]
* [ Lithuanian-Belarusian language boundary in the 4th decade of the 19th century]
* [ Lithuanian-Belarusian language boundary in the beginning of the 20th century]
* [ List of the XIXth century Suwałki region family names]
* [ 1921 and 1931 censuses] (DOC), [ HTML]
* [ Repatriation and Resettlement of Ethnic Poles]
* [] 2001 census (PDF) [ In English]
* []

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