Belostok Oblast

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).

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Please keep off topic posts to the current Open Thread.

    If you are new to my work, start here.

  2. Undocumented Shopper says

    It’s very simple.
    The triangle Hajnowka-Bielsk-Narewka is the only part of Poland that is majority Eastern Orthodox. They distrust anything that smells of Catholicism and Polish nationalism and it is the only part of the country where former Communists (SLD) won majority of the vote.
    Bialystok (whose residents often have Belarussian ancestors) is majority Catholic and votes solidly for Law and Justice.

  3. I think you are correct even if the EO’s would not constitute an absolute majority. The phenomenon is that ethnic minorities always go against all nationalistic tendencies of the majority. For the same reason Poles and Russians in Lithuania vote alike. This phenomenon to large extent explains why Jews always stand on the side of the so-called progress and why they haven’t yet found a country for their diaspora that would be sufficiently progressives for them. They always will be pushing the envelope in one, towards the left, direction.

    About the East-West divide, which has been discussed here before, I continue to believe that the effect of uprooting and the long term state of precariousness that followed the so-called repatriation accounts for political inclinations of the settlers in Western territories plus the subsequent somewhat higher living standards than in the East.

    Neither Hajnal line nor HBD have any explanatory power for what is going there. It is really silly to even mention the two.

  4. Philip Owen says

    Good post. Looking ahead to the next move? I agree with @utu. The Hajnal Line can be pushed too far.

  5. The truth is that Europe is divided in 3 general ways:
    North-Roman South (barbarity vs civilization)
    North/West-East/South (technocapitalism vs peripheries)
    Latin-Orthodox/Greek (different history, cultural & philosophical concepts)

    So Hajnal line is crap.

  6. 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).

    Lithuania is much more closer to being ethnically homogeneous than Estonia and Latvia. The ethnic Lithuanians feel comparatively more secure. That might explain why the ethnic tension level in Lithuania doesn’t seem as great as in Estonia and Latvia.

  7. Lolowitzky says

    That slice of what was Germany before WW2 but later Poland after WW2 would have had a high rate of top figures produced in the arts and sciences characteristic of the prolific, and one of the most thereof in absolute terms in history even when excluding German Jews, output of Germany because it indeed was Germany. How did this rate or number of figures change when it became part of Poland?

  8. When I went on a walking tour of Vilnius the guide said exactly that.

  9. Lolowitzky says

    I mean to say that you have the same Western European/German environment with two groups of different ethnicities, so the difference in their rates of achievement would not be due to cultural differences…
    Come to think of it, you have the same thing with Kaliningrad

  10. Based on the last census, Vilnius is around 65% ethnic Lithuanian, with Lithuania overall having an about 85% ethnic Lithuanian makeup.

  11. Incidentally, the Poles who remained in Lithuania have become somewhat Russified

    Interesting, this was an ah-ha moment for me. My wife and I were once having dinner at a restaurant in Berlin and were approached by a couple from Lithuania. They wished to make our acquaintance merely on the basis of hearing us speak Russian. He was Polish, her a Jew. They were quite friendly, and it turned out that they traveled frequently to Russia, spoke excellent Russian, and had a large circle of Russian friends.

    They complained of hostility to the Russian language in the Baltics, even though their political views could hardly be called pro Russian. We were surprised that there were any Russophiles in Lithuania at all, let alone Polish or Jewish ones. Unaware of this phenomenon, we just assumed they were a quirky couple, for whatever reason far outside the norm.

  12. Europe Europa says

    Britain is politically similar to this, the South outside London is heavily Conservative voting, both urban and rural areas.

    The large urban conurbations of Northern England are almost exclusively Labour voting, but the rural areas of the North are largely Conservative voting like Southern England.

    This is also true of Scotland to a lesser extent, the urban areas are almost exclusively SNP and Labour (although Labour has been mostly wiped out by SNP in Scotland), but many areas of rural Scotland are Conservative voting like England, particular Southern Scotland and North East Scotland.

    I think this is because many if not most of the white population of urban Northern England and urban Scotland are of Irish Catholic immigrant descent, due to the industrial history of those places. In that sense those places are comparable to Western Poland demographically.

    Rural areas of Northern England and Scotland are much more likely to vote Conservative because the population is largely native and far more rooted in those places. I wonder if the tradition of Labour voting in most of London, which is in contrast to the rest of Southern England, is because London is the only part of Southern England that had a significant Irish immigrant population, again because of its industrial history.

  13. Philip Owen says

    It could be seen in the days (up to ’70’s) when local newspapers published the names of those charged in the magistrates court on a Monday morning. A disproportionate number of offenders -fighting, drunkeness, petty theft – had Irish surnames. Of course, no one fights anymore and drunkeness is tolerated.

    Irish surnames have their class distinctions too. Sheridan tends to be gypsy/traveller. O’Neill not so much and less often seen in court. The poor and oppressed are probably the ones who emingrated to Britain. The better off could afford the USA.

  14. Kent Nationalist says

    Obviously absurd theory. The strongest Labour areas were coal-mining district which were the most rooted communities. Birmingham was the most Irish city but one of the more Conservative large cities.

  15. Absolutely. When Kaczyński once said about special relations of Poland with catholicism and when PiS was courting “cursed soldiers” he wasn’t making friends with orthodox Poles in the region.

    For the record, part of my family lives there too and they are orthodox 😀 Actually I wasnt able to determine the exact relationships with guys there, but they share my name and coat of arms, so we are sure they are my distant cousins.

  16. Undocumented Shopper says

    When Kaczyński once said about special relations of Poland with catholicism and when PiS was courting “cursed soldiers” he wasn’t making friends with orthodox Poles in the region.

    Agreed. I don’t have any relatives in the area but decades ago I visited Hajnowka when the new big Orthodox church (Sobor Swietej Trojcy) was being built and the man who showed me around said the local Catholics pay a courtesy visit to the Orthodox church once a year and vice versa. He also said he knew “Our Father” in Polish. So my impression is that the Catholics and the Orthodox get along reasonably well. The outsiders should leave them alone.

  17. As the USSR was breaking up, Poles in Lithuania often aligned with Russians, fearing Lithuanian nationalism. One writer commented that Poles from Poland itself tended to find the Poles in Lithuania Russified, and the quality of the Polish in their main newspaper was rather poor. The writer said the reason was more profound, as Lithuanian Poles actually spoke dialects that might be a form of Polish, a form of Belarusian or even a form of Ruthenian or Rusyn.

  18. It’s been already said in the comments of your old post that it was mostly people from central Poland who came to settle the former German territories. People from former Eastern Poland where a minority. It’s plausible that those Central Poles in particular who gave up their previous homes by choice in search of better fortunes in the West were on average genetically predisposed towards less conservatism for example.

  19. The Białystok mayor is from the Civic Platform (PO), the party that bends over backwards for the EU and Russia. The city has always been more towards the left than the rest of the region, which itself has not been one where Law and Justice could score a guaranteed victory.

    Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, the son of a communist military counterintelligence officer, (who at 22 worked for the Soviets when WWII broke out, collecting/extorting agricultural produce from Polish farmers, and who liked to talk to subordinates gun in hand, and even killed one accidentally that way) was always a favourite there.

    The Russians in Hajnówka always support whoever is at heart closest to their country, so the former communists that formed the puppet government come naturally, and who cares about their anti Christian ideology when they’re enemies of Poland. They’re anti Polish first, and Lawpraisers (as the Orthodox are called in Poland) second. I’ve no idea how russified the Poles in Belarus are, but heard a retired female physician from the Grodno region talk quite dismissively about Belarussians, whom she said possessed too many soviet/collective farm character traits- those Belarussians, she saw herself as distinct.

    In the Lubelsie voivodeship, the majority Russian (Ukrainian if you will) districts have similarly voted like a block against Law and Justice, and more for the former communists than the Civic Platform (PO), and stand out like islands on the electoral map.

  20. Prawosławny does not mean “lawpraisers” in Polish. There are about 200 thousand – up to half of million of them in Poland and while some orthodox are Belarussians, most of them are Polish, just not catholics.

  21. Kościół Prawosławny (The Orthodox Church) sounds exactly like that, law glorifying, especially since the noun ‘law’ is in the nominative case. They don’t worship in our language, or latin- which was used universally throughout the world if you want to bring that up- in church.

    The Russian Empire would exile Poles to Siberia, confiscate their land holdings, including in the Białystok region, and bring Russian settlers in. An Orthodox priest, a friend of a friend, complained to me and him how bad it is that Poland had removed monuments to the Red Army, and other Soviet era relics, while other countries of the old block don’t do that. It was a priest screaming bloody murder in defence of the Soviet Union. So I’m suspicious, though I’d never expected any better from him.

    There are Poles in Ukraine and Belarus up to a million in each, unofficially, compared to the 200k of the Rus in Poland. Lukashenko sent reinforcements to Grodno because of the Poles, he does not confuse citizenship with nationality. It’s human nature to get along on the personal level, politics and national interests is where it stops. They vote communist undermining me, if they want to be left alone by ‘outsiders’ they’d better leave our politics alone, or leave for Russia altogether. In my view minorities should be second if not third class citizens.

  22. AltanBakshi says

    They don’t worship in our language, or latin- which was used universally throughout the world if you want to bring that up- in church.

    Strange that the main language of the Church of the Roman Empire was Greek….. Strange that the New Testament was originally written in Greek, strange that almost all the fathers of the Church wrote and spoke in Greek, even stranger that there were many apostles who did speak in Greek, it was probably the main language of the Apostle Paul himself. Sad that they were so silly and didnt use the “universal language of the church.”

  23. If you think “prawosławny” means “lawpraisers”, then “prawy człowiek” means “men of the law”, “dobrze prawisz” means “you are talking law”, “prawa ręka” is “law hand”, “prawiczek” is “little law men”, right? “Prawo” is quite obviously not a noun here, but przysłówek, just as it would be in “zielonooki” or “prawoskrętny” (turning to law, lol). If you want “law” in old words, compare “starozakonny” (Jewish, “of old law”, “zakon” here means “law”).

    “Prawosławny” means “people who worship the true, the proper way”, not “lawpraiser”

    And once again, not every orthodox is Rusin. There are ethnic Poles who are orthodox.