This is a quick addendum to this post about Poland’s cultural/electoral geography.
Everybody who has spent time in our corner of the Internet is familiar with the basics, in which the territories formerly controlled by Russia and Austria-Hungary vote conservative while the Prussian-controlled areas vote liberal. (With adjustment for liberal tilt in big cities).
However, what I want to quickly remark on here is that strongly liberal – and really, probably more left than liberal as such, it used to be the stronghold of the socialist SLD – in the east.
This area corresponds to the eastern part of Podlaskie Voivodeship, with the regional capital in Białystok.
It’s not a particularly rich region. In fact, it’s one of the poorer areas. But it votes like the richer (more urbanized) west.
But a few interesting observations about it:
(1) Under the Russian Empire, it was not in Congress Poland as such, but within the core Russian Empire (first as Belostok oblast, later incorporated into the Grodno Governorate).
(2) It was ethnically mixed. Here’s a map of %Poles in 1897:
Back then, it was basically 34% Polish, 1/3 Russian (26% Belorussian, 7% Great Russian), and 28% Jew. It went to Poland after WW1. The USSR initially incorporated it back as the Belastok region, but eventually decided to let it merge back into Poland in 1944. (In fairness, by that time, it was 60%+ Polish).
In the region just south of it, Bielsk, All-Russians constituted almost half the population, though here the dominant component was Ukrainians (39%), not Belorussians; the Poles were at 35%.
An acquaintance who has been to Białystok noted that the town retains significant traces of its Russian heritage, such as many Orthodox churches where services are carried out in vernacular Russian. Though those Belorussians/Russians that remained there have been almost entirely Polonized. (Just as most Poles that remained in Belarus have been Russified, yet nonetheless retain a distinct electoral/political “imprint”, i.e. the modestly more anti-Lukashenko/pro-Western “Veyshnoria” region in the north-west).
They also vote for the more liberal, cosmopolitan parties as opposed to the conservative, nationalist ones in eastern Poland.
Why is this notable? Well, to recap, one minor element of the HBD vs. culture debate concerns why western Poland is more liberal than the east, even though many denizens of the former are derooted transplants from what is now Ukraine and Belarus.
One suggestion is that the “derooting” itself is what made them more liberal, i.e. the culture-dominant explanation.
I think that’s valid, to some extent.
But the other explanation, which is more “HBD friendly” and which I have also already made, is that this simple west-east schema may not work that well anyway:
Is this purported West/East division even valid at all, even just within Poland?
The Hajnal fundamentalist would say yes. But as I covered in this post, historical “Poland-East” (later Russian) actually had comparable if not higher human capital than “Poland-West” (19C Austria/Prussia) through to at least the late 18th century.
So it would not automatically mean that they would adopt political positions more frequently associated with more “backwards” people.
And it is also worth noting that Belorussia is more atheist than the Ukraine, and significantly more socially liberal than either Russia or the Ukraine (e.g. support for gay marriage ~20%, vs. <10% in the latter). So there’s no reason to think that Poles living in the areas of what is now Belarus would have been “imprinted” with a penchant for conservative politics anyway.
It’s probably well past time time to retire the Hajnal concept as something that explains anything about Eastern Europe.
In the areas around Białystok and Bielsk, which host perhaps the closest existing approximations to the Poles who were transferred west into forfeited German territory, it turns out that Poles there vote much the same.
It would be good to have region experts weigh in, but if this account is more or less accurate, it would further dissipate this particular “puzzle.”
PS. Incidentally, the Poles who remained in Lithuania have become somewhat Russified and tend to vote for liberal-leftist, anti-Lithuanian nationalist parties along with the Russian minority there. Though there it might have less to do with general penchant for lib-left politics and more to do with ethnic minorities being in general opposed to big nation nationalisms (Lithuanians are hardly a big nation, but everything in life is relative).