Jan 1, 2022
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Fashion for Polish gentry in Western Russia

On the cultural separation of the people from the Russian identity

Folk culture lives on by tradition. And nowadays the media often say: according to folk tradition, such and such a day is called so and so, it was customary to do such and such a day on it, our ancestors greeted it according to this custom, etc. However, contrary to tradition, fashion, a new trend, a new cultural program operate. Adherents of novelty make fun of old traditions, break the foundations, and advocate for change. A contradiction is growing between the old and new orders, which can lead society to a cultural rift. Some strata continue to live by tradition, others assimilate the novelty and become isolated from the people, completely separate from the “low-cultured lower classes”. All this is fraught with serious social conflicts.

Do I need to talk about such a problem in school lessons? I think that it is necessary. Otherwise, the reason for not only the social upheavals of the past, but also the social fluctuations of the present will not be clear. This is especially true in Belarus, where the past year was officially declared the Year of National Unity.

However, in modern Belarusian history textbooks, the problem of cultural contradictions and conflicts is obscured. An example is the newest textbook for the 10th grade, where the section on ethnic development asserts “the unity of the material and spiritual culture of the Belarusian nation” in the XIV-XVI centuries. At the same time, the text speaks only of peasants who really lived in similar material conditions, ate the same, sang traditional songs, and retold the same legends. It turns out that the “Belarusian nationality”, as interpreted by the authors of the textbook, is a peasant mass. However, they do not dare to say this directly, so as not to fall into contradiction with themselves, because the same authors refer the feudal lords to the “Belarusian ethnos”.

Peasant clothing

What was common in the material and spiritual culture of landowners and peasants who, as noted in the educational text, belonged to the same “nationality”?

Until the beginning of the XVI century. in the everyday life of Western Russian people there was a lot in common. Both feudal lords and peasants lived in wooden log houses covered with chips, slept on benches, dressed simply, wore long beards, ate borscht and drank mead. We went to the same church, where they prayed in Church Slavonic. However, in the XVI century. the situation began to change. The landowners separated themselves from the peasants by estates, acquired the right to judge them to collect taxes from them, pledging to carry military service in favor of the sovereign. This service class in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) appeared on the model of the Polish “knighthood”, the gentry. A new fashion has started to dress “in German”, to shave a beard, to wear narrow tunics instead of wide shirts and caftans. The wooden houses of the noble people were replaced by stone palaces-palaces with cooks for receiving guests and kennels for hunting. Hungarian and Spanish wines, all kinds of spiced dishes appeared at the feasts. For outings, the magnates began to acquire carriages and an entourage in the royal style. It was made up of small-scale gentry, many of whom were secularly courteous Poles. The use of the Polish language became a sign of education, the prestige of the Catholic faith and the then fashionable Protestantism grew. The arrogant gentry (“native” people) began to look at the Orthodox faith and the Church Slavonic language with contempt, as at the religion of the ignorant (“vile”) lower classes. The Catholic clergy, for example, the Jesuit Pyotr Skarga, spoke with emphasis about the “rudeness” of the Russian faith.

Gentry costumes

Gentry costumes

For the sake of acquiring the coats of arms of the Polish knighthood, the Western Russian nobility entered into marriages with Polish surnames, together with Polish wives, Polish confessors, servants and teachers appeared at the courts. The Polish speech became native to the descendants of many Russian princes, who began to sign documents in the Polish manner with the words “the hand is in power” (with their own hand).

However, against the background of the gentry enthusiasm for Western fashions, which the Poles supplied to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the voices of critics of monkeyism were heard. An example is the “Rech” of the Smolensk commandant (kashtelian) Ivan Meleshko (end of the 16th century), which was passed around in handwritten form. The author begins his speech by contrasting the Diet speeches of his contemporaries with the advice of the old times, when they simply said before the Polish kings and rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, “No offers” and “politicians”but from the heart “They threw the truth into my mouth, like salt in my eyes,”… And if King Sigismund I “Lithuania and our Rus lovingly mercy”then his son Sigismund Augustus, “Calling himself a Lyakh (Pole)”, distributed to the Poles the lands acquired by his ancestors, for example, Volhynia and Podolia. Now many have begun to imitate the Poles, so they have learned to speak in Polish that one is dashingly troubled: “There are many who, although our bone, has overgrown with dog meat and stinks.”

“Polish servant, – says Ivan Meleshko, – Give him Dutch cloth for clothes, feed him fat and do not ask for any service: the only thing he has is that, having cleared out brightly, in high heels, he jumps near the girls, and blows a big goblet of wine. The master at the table, and the servant at his table; the master for borscht, and the servant for a fat piece of meat; the master for a bottle, and the servant for another, and if he doesn’t hold his own well, he will tear it out of his hands. And when the lord is out of the house, then look what he cares about his wife. And such a thistle, together with the Germans, would be driven out of us, that they climbed into us against our right “

Elsewhere, Meleshko touches on food fashion: “In my memory, there were no such dishes (“ pysmaks ”), it was good: goose with mushrooms, porridge with pepper, liver with onions or garlic, and as a luxury – rice porridge with saffron. Hungarian wines had not been used before – they drank Malvasia modestly, they drew mead and a burner. And there was a penny surplus – they erected the walls and withstood the war with glory stronger than now “

Gentry fashion

Gentry fashion

The cultural diversity of the gentry class in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was evident to all foreigners. Various fashion trends mixed and acquired the most pretentious outlines. Clothing was an indicator in this respect. Poles dressed up in a lot: short and long, with a huge collar and no collar at all, with various combinations of laces, buttons and buttonholes. According to the opinion of the Polish writer Nikolai Rey, all peoples had their own national clothes, only the Poles did not have them, why someone, depicting the costumes of other peoples, did not find anything better than to draw a Pole with just a piece of cloth.

There was no religious unity in the Commonwealth. Here, along with Catholics, moderate Lutherans, strict Calvinists, and Anabaptist sectarians found refuge for themselves. Against this background, the GDL added even more diversity thanks to the masses of the Orthodox population in villages and cities.

Taking all this into account, can we talk about the unity of the material and spiritual culture of the inhabitants of the Belarusian lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania? In the XVI century. not only did the class stratification of society take place, but also its cultural rift. From the people “Rus” to the Polish gentry, noble families flowed one after another, renouncing their language, faith and cultural traditions. They began to dress differently, eat and drink differently, showing in every possible way their contempt for the traditions of “stupid Russia.” In fact, we are talking about the stratification and cultural separation of the people from the Russian identity. The peasantry and petty bourgeoisie, suppressed by the nobility, who had become the nobles, remained the guardians of the primordial folk traditions and language.

Today in Belarus there are similar parallels: the “Europeanizers” boast of their “progressiveness”, their desire for change, opposing themselves to the “miserable silent cattle”. What all this can lead to is shown by the subsequent internal conflicts of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th century. However, this is obvious only to those who want to know and understand the lessons of history. They must be learned already from school.

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