MILITARY SETTLEMENTS ON THE EASTERN BORDERLANDS
6. Engagement with the Indigenous Population
The initial hostility towards the settlers on the part of the local Kresy population - Ukrainians and Belarussians, demanding the parcelling of land in their favour - relatively quickly gave way to cooperation, particularly in the economic field. To a large extent, this depended on the organisational and economic effectiveness of the settlers. Admittedly, the Ukrainian and Belarussian members of the Sejm did criticise the settlement policy in the Sejm throughout the entire period of the Republic - at first, military settlements, then followed by civil settlements - but the direct contacts between the local population and the settlers consistently improved over time. The settlers remembered the instruction of Piłsudski who in January of 1920, during an inspection of the Volhynian (Wołyń) Front in Równe said: “Even if there is dishonesty throughout the world towards Kresy politics, I would like politics in Kresy to be honest”, but on the other hand, the local population understood the benefits of their economic cooperation with the settlers.
As early as in 1922, the settlers, despite land management problems, became recognised as village teachers, local writers, and sometimes even as village or settlement administrators. Almost since the very first days of their presence in the Kresy, they started to organise various kinds of agricultural cooperatives and organisations, and the Consumer Settlers’ Union Association was established in March of 1922. All these organisations were wide open to the local population and fulfilled the role of a magnet that attracted people to the settlements. Ukrainians and Belarussians, witnessing the better management results of their neighbours, followed their methods and techniques and introduced chemical fertilisers, selective grains, and improved cultivation and husbandry. They also turned to them for farming advice, which was eagerly given.
According to the reports from 17 Kresy districts that were sent to the Department of Military Settlements at the Ministry of Military Affairs in August 1925,27 the relations between the settlers and the local population were still distrustful only in two districts; whereas, in the remaining 15, they were assessed as good or very good. There were also reports of pernicious relations between the authorities, landed gentry, and political parties. For instance, it was reported from the Kamieniec-Koszyrski district that “the settlers are most concerned about agitators from political families and all kinds of Sejm representatives who, in order to enlist the support of the population, included the resettlement of military settlers in their accusations against the government”. In the following years, reports of the representatives of the Ministry of Military Affairs at District Land Offices also described close contacts between settlers and the local population. The report from the province of Wolyń in December 1927 contains the following data: in 52 National Farmers Cooperative Banks - organised with the significant cooperation of the settlers - the number of members reached 12,377, a total 6,043 of whom were Poles, with 3,785 settlers and 6,334 members of different nationalities, of whom 5,836 were Ukrainian.28 In the first half of the 1930s, 16.8% of all the settlers were on the management boards of various kinds of cooperatives, 8.4% served on the management boards of agricultural organisations, and 7% attended agricultural association management boards.29
The participation of settlers in territorial self-governments in the Kresy was also visible, particularly at the municipal level, which is the level with the most direct contact with the local population. In the period from 1933-35, across four Kresy provinces settlers held 115 which is 32% of the village/settlement administrator positions, and 561 (8%) of the village/settlement councillor positions,30 where their number in these areas did not exceed 0.9% of all the farmers. This was largely down to governmental policy but the local population also, without a doubt, saw the advantages of electing settlers to local government. The settlers represented a higher level of culture and were more self-confident, thus, they handled and arranged matters with various authorities and civil servants with greater ease. The prudent approach and sound policy of the Voivode Henryk Józewski, also a settler from the Krzemieniec area, had a big role to play in forging good neighbourly relations between the settlers and the Ukrainians in Wolyń.
Settlers grew into the land - into the management of which they put a great deal of effort - and were able to say about themselves: “we consider ourselves indigenous”.31 A prominent expert on national minorities and a great advocate of far-reaching cooperation with the Ukrainians and Belarussians, Tadeusz Hołówko, had the highest opinion of settlers. In his words: ”today, settlers are creating the Polish democratic element in the Kresy villages, who - in relation to the local population - play the role of village mentors of a modern organisation of social life and a sustainable agricultural economy.32
27 Raport Wydziału Osad Żołnierskich przy Ministerstwie Spraw Wojskowych z sierpnia 1925 r., skierowany do Biura Ścisłej Rady Wojennej [Report of the Department of Military Settlements at the Ministry of Military Affairs of August 1925 addressed to the Office for the Supreme Council of War], CMA, Gabinet [Cabinet], I-300-1-655.
28 Report of the Representative of the Ministry of Military Affairs at the Volhynian (Wołyń) OUZ, 9 XII 1927, CAW, Gabinet, I-300-1-656.
29 Związek Osadników [Settlers’ Union], Sprawozdanie z działalności za czas od 1 IV 1931 roku do 1 XI 1933 roku [Report on activities for the period from 1.4.1931 to 1.11.1933], Warsaw 1933, pp. 54-55.
30 Związek Osadników [Settlers’ Union], Sprawozdanie z działalności za czas od 1 listopada 1933 r. do 1 października 1935 r. [Report on activities for the period from 1.11.1933 to 1.10.1935], Warsaw 1935, p. 62. The percentages have been calculated based on data from the Report and the 1939 Statistical Pocketbook [Mały Rocznik Statystyczny 1939], Table 4.
31 Stenogramy Sejmowe [Sejm Transcripts], 56 Session of 17.2.1932, łam [section] 40 (Speech of Member of the Sejm Władysław Kamiński)
32 Tadeusz Hołówko, “Kresy. Osadnicy Wojskowi” [Kresy. The Military Settlers], Gazeta Polska [The Polish Newspaper], 17 September 1930.
5. Settlers’ Union 7. September 17, 1939
Translation from the book
Z Kresów Wschodnich R.P. Wspomnienia z Osad Wojskowych 1921-1940
(From: The Eastern Borderlands of Poland, Memories of Military Settlements 1921-1940)
Pub: Ognisko Rodzin Osadników Kresowych (OROK)
(Association of the Families of the Borderland Settlers)
London, UK. 1992 and 1998 (out of print)
ISBN 1 872286 33 X
Province (Województwo) WOŁYŃ