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Podlasie, or Podlachia (Polish: Podlasie, Belarusian: Падляшша Padlyashsha) is a historical region in the eastern part of Poland. Between 1569 and 1795 it was a voivodeship with the capital in Drohiczyn. Now the part north of Bug River is included in the modern Podlaskie Voivodeship with the capital in Białystok.
The region is called Podlasie, Podlasko or Podlasze in Polish, Palenkė in Lithuanian, Padljašša (Падляшша) in Belarusian, Pidlissja (Підлісся), Pidljasije (Підлясіє), Pidlyashya (Підляшшя) or Pidljakhija (Підляхія) in Ukrainian, Podljas’e (Подлясье) in Russian, "Podlyashe" (פּאָדליאַשע) in Yiddish, and Podlachia in Latin.
There are two opinions regarding the origin of the name of the region. Commonly people derive it from the Slavic word les or las meaning "forest", i.e., it is an "by the wood(s)" or "area of forests", making Podlachia close in meaning to adjacent Polesia. The theory has been questioned, as it does not properly take into consideration the vowel shifts "a" > "e" > "i" in various Slavic languages (in fact, it mixes vowels form different languages).
The second opinion holds that the term comes from the expression pod Lachem, which may be translated literally as "under the Poles" (see: Lechia). Some claim it to mean "under Polish rule" which does not seem historically sound, as the area belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until 1569. A better variant of this theory holds that the name originates from the period when the territory was within the Trakai Voivodeship of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, along the borderline with the Mazovia province, primarily a fief of the Poland of the Piasts and later on part of the Kingdom of Poland of the Jagiellons. Hence pod Lachem would mean "near the Poles", "along the border with Poland". The historical Lithuanian name of the region, Palenkė, has exactly this meaning.
Podlasie is divided along the Bug River, at which the traditional capital Drohiczyn lies, into northern and southern parts. The former is included in the modern-day Podlaskie Voivodeship with its capital at Białystok (the historical boundary goes exactly through the city). Sometimes, Siedlce has been considered the capital of the region.
Throughout its early history, Podlasie was inhabited by various tribes of different ethnic roots. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the area was likely inhabited by Lechitic tribes in the south, Baltic (Yotvingian) tribes in the north, and Ruthenian tribes in the east. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, the area was part of the Ruthenian principalities. The area became perhaps a part of the Medieval Slavic territory of Cherven Cities. Temporarily it was a part of Polish Piast duchies in the 13th century. Until the 14th century the area was part of Ruthenian states, and was then annexed by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569, after the Union of Lublin, Podlasie was ceded to the Kingdom of Poland. It has been forming the voivodeship called officially podlaskie (adjective of Podlasie) until the Third Partition of Poland in 1795.
Podlasie is the land of the confluence of cultures – mainly Polish and Belarusian – and is indicative of the ethnic territories limits. East of Podlasie lie ethnically non-Polish lands, while westward ethnically non-Ruthenian. Today, Polish is spoken in western, northern and southern Podlasie, while Belarusian in eastern.
Until the 19th century, Podlasie was populated by the Polish-speaking yeomanry (drobna szlachta), Jews (primarily in towns), and Ruthenian Greek-Catholics speaking a dialect related to modern Ukrainian – the so-called Khakhlak (Chachlak) dialect, which derived its name from a derogatory term for Ukrainians (khakhol or khokhol being the name of the traditional haircut of Ukrainian Cossacks).
In the 19th century, the inhabitants of Podlasie were under the rule of the Russian Empire, with southern Podlasie constituting a part of Russian-controlled Congress Poland. After 1831, Russian authorities forbade the Greek-Catholic faith in northern Podlasie and it disappeared from the area. In 1875, Russians forbade this rite in southern Podlasie as well, and all Greek-Catholic inhabitants were forced to accept the Eastern Orthodox faith. However, the resistance of the local people was surprisingly strong and Ruthenian speakers from this area rejected the separation from the pope. In 1874, blessed Wincenty Lewoniuk and 12 companions were killed by Russian soldiers in Pratulin. In reaction to these measures, the Ruthenians of southern Podlasie began to identify themselves with the national movement of the Roman Catholic Poles. To preserve the full communion with the pope, they have changed the rite from eastern to Latin before the compulsory conversion of Greek Catholics into Orthodoxes. In 1912, Russian authorities issued a tolerance edict that made it possible to change confessions from Orthodox to Roman Catholic (but not to Greek-Catholic, which has been completely deleted). A majority of the inhabitants of southern Podlasie changed their faith from Orthodox to Roman Catholic. At present, very few people in this area continue speaking Ruthenian (Ukrainian) and nearly all consider themselves Poles. Meanwhile, eastern part of northern Podlasie is still populated by Belarusians.
Podlasie is also the cultural center of Poland's small Tatar minority as well. After the annexation of eastern Poland into the Soviet Union following World War II, Poland was left with only 2 Tatar villages, Bohoniki and Kruszyniany (both outside the historical borders of Podlachia). Some Tatars from the territories annexed to the USSR have been repatriated to Poland and clustered in cities, particularly Białystok. In 1925 the Muslim Religious Union (Muzułmański Związek Religijny) was formed in Białystok. In 1992, the Union of Tatars of the Republic of Poland (Związek Tatarów Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) with autonomous branches in Białystok and Gdańsk began operating.
Major towns and cities
- Białystok (about 300,000 inhabitants)
- Bielsk Podlaski
- Sokołów Podlaski
- Wysokie Mazowieckie
- Bedford, Neal (2008). Poland. Lonely Planet. pp. 138–139. ISBN 978-1-74104-479-9.
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- The Gate of Podlasie
- Introducing Mazovia & Podlasie
- Podlasie Jazz Festival
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- Zigmantas Kiaupa. The History of Lithuania. Baltos Lankos, 2005. p.52.
- Zenon E. Kohut, Bohdan Y. Nebesio, Myroslav Yurkevich. Historical Dictionary of Ukraine. Scarecrow Press, 2005.
- Jerzy Kłoczowski. A History of Polish Christianity. Cambridge University Press, 2000, p.268.