Apr 1, 2021
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On the satisfaction of the gentry and the suppression of the people

Today in Belarus the fading of political passions is noticeable. The time is coming for a calmer comprehension of what is happening. In such circumstances, turning to history lessons is very useful. After all, the choice that the people of Belarus made after the referendums on the creation of a close alliance with Russia and which Belarusian nationalists have been trying to question for several years is largely due to the general course of the history of Eastern Europe. Let us recall the consequences of such a turning point in the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as the Kreva Union, which determined the course of Lithuanian-Russian history for four centuries ahead. This political agreement with the Kingdom of Poland ended with the merger of the ruling estates of the two neighboring states and became the reason for the centuries-old social and cultural oppression of the Belarusians in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The “turn to the West” brought satisfaction to the gentry, this narrow stratum of the population, but for the majority, that is, the bourgeoisie and peasants, it turned into socio-economic suppression. And today there are not many advocating a new civilizational choice in Belarus, but you need to understand that in the event of a new reversal, everyone will have to pay for it, as happened after the signing of the Krevo Union. Record of the Union of Kreva Then in 1385, on the day of the Assumption of the Virgin in the Krevo princely castle (now Krevo is an agro-town in the Grodno region of Belarus), an agreement was reached between the Lithuanian prince Yagailo and the Polish ambassadors. It was about the marriage of Jagiello to the Polish queen Jadwiga. The marriage was politically motivated. Jadwiga was only 12 years old, she had a beloved fiancé from the Austrian ducal house, and Jagiello was a mature man who was over 30. The planned union promised him the election of the Polish king and, it seemed, ensured power over the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Although the text of the bilateral agreement has not survived, from the existing written assurance of Jagiello, given to Krevo for subsequent negotiations with Jadwiga’s mother, the obligations of the Lithuanian prince become known. Attention is drawn to his promises to be baptized himself, to convert the Lithuanian people to Catholicism and to annex the lands of Lithuania and Russia to Poland “for eternity”. These promises promised great benefits to the Poles. Why did the Lithuanian prince go for something that neither his father Olgerd nor his grandfather Gediminas ever agreed to? The Polish queen Jadwiga Jagiello, although he was considered the ruler of a huge country, did not use his power alone. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania consisted of districts-volosts, in which his brothers and other relatives along the Gediminovich line sat. In their estates, the princes ruled independently: they administered the courts, collected taxes, and maintained military squads. The more the appanage princes were drawn into the interests of their land, the less willingly they took part in national events if they took place far from the borders of their appanage principalities. It even happened that representatives of one Lithuanian princely dynasty ended up in opposing camps. For example, in the Kulikovo battle on the side of Dmitry Donskoy, Andrei and Dmitry Olgerdovich fought with their squads, while Yagailo Olgerdovich acted as an ally of Mamai. Appanage princes have repeatedly rebelled against the Grand Duke. So it happened with Jagailo, against whom brother Andrei Olgerdovich, uncle Keistut and, finally, the son of the latter, Vitovt, acted in turn. The most dangerous thing was that Vitovt, who had been treacherously captured by Jagiello, escaped from prison and began to act against him in alliance with the knights of the Teutonic Order. King Vladislav-Jagiello Under the conditions of the internal struggle for power between the princes in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the importance of external political alliances increased. Moreover, the neighbors, including the Order, were ready to intervene in civil strife, supporting one or the other side. Jagiello turned to the east in search of an ally. It is not known exactly when and under what circumstances his negotiations began with the Moscow Grand Duke Dmitry Ivanovich (Donskoy). Information about them was preserved only in later records in the Moscow ambassadorial book of 1626. According to one record, it was about Yagailo’s marriage to the daughter of Dmitry Ivanovich, subject to the vassal subordination of the Lithuanian prince and his acceptance of baptism. Interestingly, the negotiations were not conducted by Jagiello himself, but by his mother Iuliania. In practice, however, nothing happened, since the Moscow principality was weakened by the sudden attack of Khan Tokhtamysh. In 1384, an exchange of letters of agreement between Yagailo, his brothers Skirgailo and Koribut with the Moscow prince Dmitry Ivanovich (Donskoy) and the prince of Serpukhov Vladimir Andreevich (the Brave) took place. What was the subject of these negotiations, one can only guess. Probably, Jagailo pledged not to participate in hostile actions directed against Moscow, in exchange for a promise from the Moscow side to refrain from interfering in the Lithuanian civil strife. One way or another, Yagailo abandoned his father’s policy of “collecting” Russian lands in the east in order to acquire a crown for himself in the west. Modern popularizers of Belarusian history explain this turn in the foreign policy of the Lithuanian prince tendentiously. Like, all because of the unjustified ambitions of Moscow: Jagiello did not agree to be a Moscow “henchman”, but chose a more prestigious royal place in Polish Krakow. However, there is too little basis for such an explanation. The texts of the treaties have not survived, and the records about them were made in such a way that they can have different interpretations. But the opposite of the popular explanation is clear: Yagailo at a certain moment just agreed to the Moscow conditions and confirmed his consent in writing. And why the contract was not executed, one can only guess. It is equally admissible that not only the Lithuanian, but also the Moscow side could refuse it. The Polish choice of Grand Duke Jagiello has a completely natural interpretation. The weakened Moscow no longer seemed to the Lithuanian prince to be either a strong ally or a dangerous rival in comparison with another, closer and therefore dangerous neighbor – the Teutonic Order. The union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania significantly strengthened both states against a common enemy. In addition, the baptism of the pagan Lithuanians robbed the Order of justifying its offensive policy. The Polish crown also seemed to Jagiello to be a reliable guarantee of retention of power in his own principality. In Catholic baptism, he took the name Vladislav. However, for all these benefits, the Lithuanian prince had to pay a high price. He became king not by right, but by election, his power in the Kingdom of Poland was limited by the developed privileges of Polish magnates. Subsequently, Jagiello was forced to ask their consent, so that his own son Vladislav would succeed him on the Polish throne. The Poles did not fail to intervene in the internal affairs of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the grand ducal council, along with five noble Gediminovichs under Jagiello, there were nine Polish princes, governors and kashtelians at once. The newly baptized Lithuanian flock itself was subordinated through the Vilna bishop to the Catholic metropolitan from the Polish Gniezno. Jagiello could not retain power over the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which had to yield to his cousin Vitovt. As a result of the Krevo union, a union of two states was formed, linked by one supreme ruler. Although in the person of Vitovt, a separate princely power in the Lithuanian-Russian state was restored, even this capable and strong ruler recognized the Polish king as his suzerain. Their successors, with some exceptions, combined in one person at once two positions of king and grand duke, but they lived most of all in Poland. The event that took place was significant for both states. Until now, the Polish kingdom united the ethnically Polish lands. But now territories in the east, larger than the ethnically Polish lands, were associated with the Polish crown. The inhabitants of the eastern regions differed from the Poles in language, culture, social structure, and confession (Russians professed Orthodoxy). The Catholic faith in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania immediately received a privileged position, which upset the previously former religious balance. The Jagiellonian dynasty faced the difficult question of coordinating the administration of two motley states. As a result, the beginning of the civilizational assimilation of Lithuanians and Russians within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was laid. However, it was not possible to fully implement it – the task turned out to be unbearable for the ruling elite. Almost simultaneously with the formation of the dynastic union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, there was a tendency to break this artificial union of different nationalities. After Yagailo, the internecine struggle within the princely family of the Gediminids was transferred to ethnic and religious grounds. Its echoes still make themselves felt. This is the price of the political decision on an alliance with the western neighbor, which was once made in the castle of Kreva. Isn’t it a lesson for today? Cover photo: Krevo Castle, modern look

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