The resettlement policy pursued by the Russian government with regard to Polish peasants from the western provinces of the Russian Empire in 1885–1914
Beginning with the late 19th century Polish peasants from various provinces of the Kingdom of Poland began to move to Siberia, but the information included in the present article concerns mainly the Governorates of L ublin and Piotrków, less so the Governorates of Kielce, Kalisz and Siedlce. In that period peasants from other regions of the Kingdom of Poland also moved to Siberia, as did peasants from Ukrainian, Belarusian and Lithuanian governorates. However, so far this migration has not been studied in detail by scholars dealing with the Polish-Siberian relations. At that time various administrative activities of the authorities of western governorates were to boost the resettlement of Poles and stemmed from the principles of the Russian government’s general policy focused on agricultural development of Siberia.
In 1885–1904 175,979 peasants officially moved to Siberia from north-western and southwestern governorates. There were six governorates in the north-west: Kaunas, Vilnius, Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev and Vitebsk. The south-western governorates (or western governorates, as they were usually referred to in administrative documents) included: Volhynia, Kiev and Podolia. Given the fact that Russian peasants were discouraged from resettling, half of those resettling peasants may have been Polish. The resettlement movement intensified in 1904–1914, when relevant government provisions allowed also Russian peasants to move beyond the Ural Mountains.
The present article deals with the phenomenon of migration typical of the Polish population of peasant origin. Peasants’ decisions to resettle were strongly influenced by campaigns carried out by the local administration. There was a lot of publicity material promoting migration: leaflets with instructions were handed out for free in local, district and provincial offices. 368,000 peasants moved from five western governorates (Grodno, Vilnius, Kaunas, Vitebsk and Mogilev), out of whom 70% moved in 1907–1909, at the height of the resettlement frenzy. Voluntary resettlement to Siberia lasted about 20 years and ended with the outbreak of World War One.
Between 1885 and 1914 59 villages inhabited by Poles were established in Siberia. The biggest number of them were founded by migrants from the north-west — primarily from the governorates of Godno (e.g. the well-known village of Bialystok in the Tomsk Governorate), Minsk (Minsk-Dvorianski in the Tobolsk Governorate), Vilnius and Vitebsk (Vilenka, Vitebka, Polski Vyselok, and Kanok in the Yeniseysk Governorate and e.g. Wershyna near I rkutsk). Descendants of these migrants still live all over Siberia. Some of them are aware of their Polish roots, while others have lost their sense of Polish national identity and have become assimilated into the Russian nation.
Translated by Anna Kijak